Immunotherapy and Cancer Treatment

The immune system is the control center of different organs, cells, and tissues that work together to keep the body healthy. Its primary function is to defend the body from diseases and infections. This is why when the body develops cancer, the immune system plays an essential role.

The use of immunotherapy over the past few decades has seen great strides, specifically in the cancer community. Read on to see how immunotherapy might help someone you know.

Immunotherapy, also referred to sometimes as biologic therapy/biotherapy, uses the power of the body’s immune system to fight against harmful cancer cells on its own. Biological therapy is a treatment that requires substances stemming from other living organisms to help treat diseases. When fighting any type of cancer the immune system needs to be able to recognize a threat to the body and work proactively to fend off cancer cells. There are a number of ways immunotherapy is used. Two initial ways immunotherapy can help the body defend itself against cancer are checkpoint inhibitors and adoptive cell transfusions.

Checkpoint inhibitors are drugs that block specific proteins made by the immune system. When the proteins successfully become blocked, the T cell antibodies receive a signal that allows them to start fighting off destructive cancer cells. T cells have proteins that tell the immune system to react and defend when a disease or infection infiltrates the body, however, if T cells are active for too long they can start to confuse healthy cells with cancerous ones and start destroying healthy tissue. Checkpoint inhibitors help recognize the bad from the good and destroy only unhealthy cells. These drugs are also referred to as CTLA-4 inhibitors, PD-1, and PD-L1 inhibitors. Side effects regarding overactive T cells include loss of appetite, tiredness, and inflammation of the lungs, amongst others. 

An adoptive cell transfer is the process of removing T cells from the patient’s blood or the tissue of a tumor and taking them to a laboratory for further manipulation. These cells are then combined with powerful drugs, which make them easily able to target the patient’s cancer cells to attack them. After the cells are manipulated they will then be put back into the patient’s body through a procedure and the cancer treatment will begin. Adoptive cell transfer is also referred to as transfer therapy and cellular adoptive immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy Growth in Treatment

As it stands currently, chemotherapy, radiation and surgical procedures are much more widely practiced than immunotherapy treatments. This is mainly due to a number of immune system treatments still in clinical phases or testing trials. There have been developments made in many different types of cancer ranging from more common to even rarer cancers.

While currently there is some form of immunotherapy being conducted or studied for almost every type of cancer known, some trials have proven to be more successful than others. The good news is, it’s not only successful in the more common types of cancers but also in rare forms too. Both breast cancer and mesothelioma cancer are prime examples of this. Doctors and researchers are hard at work developing new and successful immunotherapy trials for cancers that affect all areas of the body.

As it’s known, breast cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers among women, worldwide. In fact, nearly 1 in every 8 women will develop some form of breast cancer in her lifetime. 2018 alone estimated 266,160 new cases of invasive breast cancer. While the traditional forms of treatment, that is chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, prove successful, there are immunotherapy drugs currently in use as well.

Pertuzumab (Perjeta®) is an anti-cancer chemotherapy drug that can be used in conjunction with surgery and is administered invasively through a vein for 60 minutes. Trastuzumab (Herceptin®) a form of passive immunotherapy that has Trastuzumab, has been successful in the treatment of all forms of breast cancer, no matter the severity. Trastuzumab also reduces breast cancer recurrence by 50%.

Aside from breast cancer, lung cancers are the leading cancer killer in both men and women in the United States, accounting for nearly 25% of all cancer deaths. Another drug that improves success rates in lung cancer patients is known as Pembrolizumab (Keytruda®). Pembrolizumab has been used to treat certain types of non-small lung cancer. The FDA approved this drug to treat lung cancer when it was proven that tumors do in fact respond to the drug. Mesothelioma, a rarer form of lung cancer, has seen promising results using both Keytruda® and bevacizumab (Avastin®).  Avastin works by starving a tumor and preventing new blood vessels to form and by cutting off current blood flow. Avastin has not yet been FDA approved to treat mesothelioma specifically, however, it’s been approved for many other forms of cancer. The testing phases have shown effective when used in combination with a standardized chemotherapy treatment for patients who have pleural mesothelioma.

The Future of Immunotherapy

The continuation of research is a no-brainer. Doctors are striving to develop a deeper understanding of how these drugs affect different cancers. The combination of different treatment options, such as radiation, in conjunction with immunotherapy is paramount in discovering a cure that millions are patiently waiting for.

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1/21/2019 8:00:00 AM
Emily Walsh
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E.Walsh is a rare disease advocate who is passionate about educating the community on the dangers of asbestos while giving mesothelioma patients a platform to share their story. Increasing awareness for this rare disease while discovering new innovations in healthcare and science remains her professional mission.
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