Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that involves utilizing certain parts of the immune system to fight disease in the following ways:
- By giving the patient immune system elements, or man-made immune system proteins.
- By stimulating the immune system to work harder and better in attacking the cancer cells.
In recent times, immunotherapy has become one of the most important treatments for kidney cancer, chronic myelogenous leukemia, leukemia, and lymphoma. Other types of immune treatments are also being studied for their impact on treating disorders such as follicular non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and cutaneous T-cell lymphoma.
What are the different types of immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy involves a number of treatments administered in different ways for boosting the immune system and/or for training the immune system to attack the cancer cells in a specific manner. The most common types immunotherapy used in cancer treatment are as follows:
1. Monoclonal antibodies
Monoclonal antibodies are man-made immune system proteins specifically designed to attack a certain part of a cancerous cell. Interleukins and interferons are generally the best classes of man-made immune system proteins.
2. Cancer vaccines
These substances that are put into the body to initiate an immune response against some diseases. Cancer vaccines are administered to healthy individuals and are useful in preventing infections. However, they can also treat different types of cancers.
3. Immune checkpoint inhibitors
These drugs help the immune system to identify and attack the cancerous cells.
4. Non-specific immunotherapies
These treatments help to boost the immune system while helping it attack the cancer cells.
What are the side effects of immunotherapy?
The major side effects of immunotherapy include:
- Mouth sores
- Fluid buildup
- High blood pressure
Patients with breast cancer might experience side effects such as:
How are the side effects of immunotherapy managed?
During treatment, there are different therapies used for reducing the side effects and improving the overall life quality of the patients. The therapies used for managing the side effects of this treatment are:
- Integrative oncology
- Naturopathic medicine
- Pain management
- Spiritual support
- Mind-body medicine
- Oncology rehabilitation
Who receives immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy is still not as widely used as radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery. Nevertheless, it is approved to help in treating people with different varieties of cancers.
How does immunotherapies work?
- Cancer cells generally thrive because they have the ability to avoid detection by the immune system.
- There are certain immunotherapies that can mark cancer cells for destruction, thus it gets easier for the immune system to identify them and destroy them.
- There are other immunotherapies that boost or train the immune system to improve it’s cancer-fighting prowess.
How are immunotherapies administered?
Immunotherapy can be administered in a clinic, doctor’s office or at an outpatient unit. The different forms of immunotherapies are administered various ways, for instance:
- Intravenously, which injects the treatment directly into a vein.
- Topically, in which treatment is available in a topical cream or ointment that is applied directly to the skin.
- Orally, in which the treatment comes in oral capsules or pills form and is swallowed.
- Intravesically, where the treatment is injected directly into the bladder.