On the Forefront of Immunotherapy
One of the most promising and successful new treatment areas for cancer is immunotherapy, which uses the body’s own immune system to find, target and fight many forms of the disease, even at advanced stages.
Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute (FCS) continues to make great strides in the advancements of these novel therapies, which are enabling the development of truly targeted treatment plans individualized for each patient’s unique genetic profile.
A Closer Look at Immunotherapy
The immune system is a complex collection of organs, tissue and proteins, including the spleen, thymus, bone marrow, and white blood cells. These special substances travel through the body, protecting it from germs that cause infection. When it encounters a new substance that it doesn’t recognize, it signals an alarm and works to destroy anything containing the foreign substance.
Cancer starts when normal, healthy cells become changed or altered and begin to grow out of control. Immunotherapies boost or change the immune system to work harder and smarter to find, target and attack cancer cells.
Chemotherapy and radiation have been widely used for decades, and directly target cancer cells. While effective, these treatments can also destroy healthy blood cells and harm the body’s production of new cells.
Immunotherapy may be used alone or in combination with chemotherapy, radiation and/or surgery. While side effects can occur with immunotherapy, a key difference is that they are often less severe than those encountered with conventional therapies.
How Immunotherapy Works
Immunotherapies stimulate or boost the immune system’s natural defenses to work harder to fight cancer. They can be injected directly into a vein, swallowed in pill or capsule form or applied topically through a cream that is rubbed onto the skin.
Some of the most common types of immunotherapies used to treat cancer include:
- Immune checkpoint inhibitors: These are drugs that block immune checkpoints, which are a normal part of the immune system, and allow cells to respond more strongly to cancer.
- CarT-cell therapy: Sometimes talked about as a type of cell-based gene therapy, this involves altering immune cells called T cells(a type of white blood cell) in a laboratory so that they are better able to find and destroy cancer cells. They are placed back into the body intravenously, through a needle in a vein.
- Monoclonal antibodies: These immune system proteins are created in a lab and designed to bind to specific targets on cancer cells. They are then marked so that they will be better seen and destroyed by the immune system.
- Vaccines: These treatments are different than vaccines that help prevent disease; they work against cancer by boosting the body’s response to cancer cells.
In the last few decades Immunotherapy has been approved for the treatment of many cancers, including bladder, cervical, breast, colorectal, lymphoma and melanoma, among others. Patients may receive immunotherapy in a doctor’s office, an oncology clinic or, in some cases, in a hospital setting.
More Promise on the Horizon
Even though immunotherapy can prevent or slow cancer growth, cancer cells do have ways to avoid destruction by the immune system. New ways of working with the immune system and new immunotherapy treatments are being discovered at a very fast pace.
Researchers are focusing on several major areas to improve immunotherapy. Increased understanding of how cancer cells get around the immune system could lead to the development of new drugs that block those processes. Other areas of focus include finding ways to overcome the body’s resistance to immunotherapy, finding ways to predict which patients will respond best to this form of treatment and ways to reduce the side effects of treatment.
Every person and every cancer is unique. FCS medical oncologists work with each patient and their entire healthcare team to devise a personalized treatment plan using every resource available to achieve the best possible outcome.