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Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy for Cancer

Everyone has an immune system that protects the body from viruses, bacteria, allergens, and toxins. Usually, the immune system does not recognize cancer as a threat to the body, because it originates from the body’s own cells. Therefore, there is no immune response and cancer grows unchecked by the body’s defense system. Immunotherapy for cancer is a method of treatment that uses the body’s immune system to find and destroy cancer cells.

Immunotherapy can be used to target cancer cells directly, boost the immune system so that it responds to the cancer, prevent cancer from returning after treatment, or rebuild the immune system. Immunotherapy is a common treatment for breast cancer, prostate cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, lung cancer, bladder cancer, and melanoma, but it is being studied as a treatment for other types of cancer, as well.

Types of Immunotherapy for Cancer

Monoclonal Antibodies (mABs)

This targeted immunotherapy consists of antibodies created in a laboratory that target a specific protein on the surface of a cancer cell to mark it as cancerous. They may also block a receptor that is important for cell growth.

Cancer Vaccines

Cells are modified in a laboratory to either prevent disease, like the HPV vaccine, or treat cancer directly, like tumor cell vaccines.

Cytokine Therapies

Cytokines allow immune cells to communicate. This type of therapy focuses on the communications that activate the immune system.

Adoptive T-Cell Transfer

This therapy removes T-cells directly from the tumor and either replicates or enhances them to try to initiate an immune response against the cancer cells.

Donor Lymphocyte Therapy (DLI)

Lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, are infused from a donor to a patient who has received an allogenic bone marrow transplant from the same donor. The donor lymphocytes help guide the patient’s immune system to find targets.

Radioimmunotherapy

This is a combination of radiation and monoclonal antibodies that delivers radiation directly to the tumor cells, often in lower doses and over a longer period of time.

Virus Immunotherapy for Cancer

Viruses are used to infect cancer cells, so that when the immune system responds to the virus, it eliminates the cancer cells in the process.

Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors

These medications prevent cancer cells from deactivating T-cells, so the immune system remains active against the cancer cells.

Immunotherapy Side Effects

The most common side effects of immunotherapy for cancer are results of the stimulation of the immune system, which can sometimes feel similar to getting the flu. Each specific type of therapy may have some additional unique side effects that can be explained by the care team.

  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chills
  • Loss of appetite
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue

Some patients can also have an allergic reaction.

  • Low blood pressure
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rash or swelling at injection site