Immunotherapy is a form cancer treatment that uses or helps your immune system to fight cancer. It is a type of biological therapy and these type of treatment uses substances made from living organisms to treat cancer. This can be done in a couple of ways including stimulating your own immune system to work harder or smarter to attack cancer cells or by giving you immune system components, such as man-made immune system proteins. Immunotherapy includes treatments that work in different ways. Some boost the body’s immune system in a very general way. Others help to train the immune system to attack cancer cells specifically.
In the last few decades immunotherapy has become an important part of treating some types of cancer. Newer types of immune treatments are now being tested and undergoing research, and they will impact how cancer is treated in the future.
What does your immune System does?
An individual’s immune system is a collection of organs, special cells, and substances that help protect the person from infections and some other diseases. Immune cells travel through the body and protect from viral or bacterial infections. They also help to protect an individual from cancer in some ways.
The immune system keeps a memory of most of the foreign materials from viruses and bacteria. Any new substance that the immune system doesn’t recognize, it raises an alarm, causing the immune system to mount an attack.
It is not an easy task for the immune system to target cancer cells, this is largely due to the nature of cancer cells itself becoming altered and expressed in a way that our immune system does not recognize cancer cells as foreign. There are limitations on the immune system’s ability to fight cancer on its own, as many individuals with healthy immune systems still develop cancer. Sometimes the immune system recognizes the cancer cells, but the response might not be strong enough to destroy the cancer.
To overcome this, researchers have found ways to help the immune system recognize cancer cells and strengthen its response so that it will destroy them.
Types of immunotherapy
The main forms of immunotherapy now being used to treat cancer include:
- Monoclonal antibodies, which are man-made versions of immune system proteins. These drugs are designed to bind to specific targets in the body and causes immune response that destroys cancer cells.
- Immune checkpoint inhibitors are drugs that remove obstacles from the immune system, which helps it recognize and attack cancer cells.
- Cancer vaccines are substances put into the body to boost your immune system’s response to cancer cells.
- Adoptive cell transfer is a type of treatment that attempts to boost the natural ability of your T-cells (a type of white blood cell) to fight cancer. This treatment requires blood or tumour sample which contactis an actuve T- cells, it is then modified and grown in large batches of T-cells in a lab. Subsequently, these T-cells will be given back to you into your vein.
Side effects of Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy has its side effects as well which affect people in different ways.
Common side effects may include skin reactions at needle site such as pain, swelling, redness, rash or itchiness. You may also experience flu-like symptoms eg. Fever, chills, diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting, muscle or joint aches, fatigue or trouble breathing. The rarer occurrence of side effects may include allergic reactions.
How Immunotherapy is given?
- Oral – in the form of pills or capsules
- Intravenous – treatment given through a vein
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