What is Immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy is basically a group of cancer treatment methods that aim to destroy the cancer cells in the body using the natural immune system of the body.
The cancer cells differ from the normal cells in the body. These cancerous cells are able to divide and grow uncontrollably and are harder to kill than the normal cells. These cancer cells are even able to evade the immune system at times through mutation.
The special drugs used in immunotherapy are designed to enhance and focus the functioning of the body’s natural immune system in order to destroy the cancer causing cells.
This can be done either by stimulating the immune system to perform harder in order to destroy the mutating cancer cells or through administering supplementary immune system components such as man-made immune system proteins.
An immunotherapy involves biologic therapy, or biotherapy.
How Immunotherapy works?
The body’s immune system works by using the white blood cells (t-cells) to fight infection and cancer. These cells are responsible for detecting the presence of abnormal cells (infectious/cancerous) in the body and alerting the immune system about it. These cells however, are not recognized as invaders by the t-cells and can keep growing at an uncontrollable rate and may also spread to the surrounding parts (metastasize).
The PD-1 receptor tricks the body into ignoring the cancerous cells. An immunotherapy would usually involve the use of a PD-1 inhibitor, which stimulates the immune system and allows the immune system to detect the cancer cells and to take preventive and offensive action.
What are the types of Immunotherapy?
These are the most commonly used immunotherapy methods used today:
Monoclonal Antibodies – These are artificially-made immune system proteins that can be very useful in treating cancer as they are designed to attack specific parts of the cancer cells.
Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors – These are artificial drugs that enhance the functions of the immune system and helps increase its ability to detect and destroy cancer cells in the body.
Cancer Vaccines – These are artificially-prepared substances that are designed to stimulate the immune system into responding against certain diseases.
Are there any side effects of Immunotherapy?
There are a few side effects that can be seen due to an immunotherapy, such as:
- Mouth sores
- High blood pressure
- Fluid accumulation (mostly in legs)
These side effects are more prominent immediately after immunotherapy however most of them subside once the immune system begins to function normally again.
The immunotherapy treatment also involves various factors such as complete and integrated oncology service which includes nutrition therapy, pain management, naturopathic medicine, oncology rehabilitation as well as moral support. These help to significantly reduce the side effects and also help to improve the quality of life of the patient.