Immunotherapy is an advanced type of cancer treatment. Instead of surgical procedures or radiation therapy, it works alongside the body’s natural immune system to fight cancer. It’s just one of the treatments employed by the oncologists at Regional Cancer Care Associates.
Here’s a brief overview of cancer immunotherapy and how it works.
Your Immune System
Before understanding immunotherapy, it’s essential to know how the immune system works. Your immune system is a collection of organs, special cells, and hormones that help protect your body from infections and diseases. It keeps track of all substances normally found in the body. If there is any substance it doesn’t recognize, the immune system will begin to attack that substance to destroy it or remove it from the body.
While this immune function works well against bacteria and viruses, it’s less effective on cancer. A tumor is composed of normal, healthy cells that have been altered so that their growth is no longer controlled. Because of this, the immune system doesn’t always recognize cancers as foreign, so it won’t always attack them.
How Cancer Immunotherapy Works
Researchers have found ways to overcome the immune system’s limitations and help it identify cancer cells as a threat. This is known as cancer immunotherapy. Using this method, doctors can empower your body to remove the cancer and perhaps also boost your body’s resistance to cancer.
Immunotherapy has been approved to treat most types of cancer. Though it has some minor side effects, immunotherapy may be a safer alternative to treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.
Types of Immunotherapy
Several types of immunotherapy exist. Each works with the immune system in a different way to target cancer cells. The most common kinds include:
Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors
These drugs block immune checkpoints, which are parts of the immune system that keep the body from responding too strongly to infection. By blocking these checkpoints, the drugs allow your immune system to respond more strongly to cancer.
T Cell Transfer Therapy
T cells are a type of white blood cell that attack infection. Doctors can take immune cells from a tumor and alter them to improve their ability to attack cancer cells. The T cells are then reinserted into the body by injection to help fight the tumor.
An antibody is a particle in the bloodstream that attaches itself to foreign substances, helping the immune system identify what to attack. Researchers have found a way to design antibodies to bind to cancer cells and encourage your body to attack them.
Cancer cells contain substances called antigens that are not present in normal cells. A vaccine helps the immune system identify antigens, and this helps the immune system discern cancerous cells from healthy ones.
Immune System Modulators
This treatment changes the way your immune system responds by encouraging some reactions while discouraging others. For instance, a modulator may cause certain kinds of highly effective white blood cells to become active, increasing your body’s ability to fight cancer.
Fight Cancer with Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy is just one of the many advanced ways modern medicine can fight cancer. It’s also one of the treatments employed by our oncologists at Regional Cancer Care Associates in Connecticut, Maryland, and New Jersey. If you or a loved one suspects symptoms of cancer, we can provide a diagnosis and plan personalized treatment. To learn more about cancer immunotherapy, contact us today.