Immunotherapy: A Hope for Cancer Patients
Immunotherapy is a specific treatment for cancer that is growing in popularity every day. In this treatment, the patient's immune system is targeted, and it is made strong enough to fight cancer. As we all know, the immune system is responsible for the human body to fight diseases and infections; it is the main requirement to fight cancer. The immune system is mainly comprised of WBCs or white blood cells, other organs, tissues and the lymph system.
Essentially, immunotherapy is a type of biological therapy. Here, the substances used for treatment are derived from other living organisms to treat cancer and eradicate it from the human body. It is reported to be an effective type of cancer treatment and is said to have helped cancer patients live longer than usual.
How does Immunotherapy Work?
In cancer cases, the immune system sends immunity cells to and around the cancer region or the tumour. These cells are known as tumour infiltrating lymphocytes or TILs. TILs around the cancer-affected area indicate that the immune system works effectively against cancer. In such cases, the chances of getting cured are high. However, in some instances, TILs are not present near cancer-affected areas and getting fixed is challenging.
Either way, immunity cells can prevent or stop the growth of cancer cells completely. However, cancer cells still find a way to dismantle the immunity system and here is how:
- Getting themselves genetically modified, thereby avoiding the immunity cells.
- Have specific substances or proteins on their surface that destroy the power of immunity cells.
- Change the genetics of the healthy cells around the tumour that interfere in the immunity process for the cells.
Whatever the case is, immunotherapy treatment works directly to make the immune system more powerful and help it defend against cancer.
Types of Immunotherapy
There are multiple types of immunotherapy cancer treatment methods. Some of them are:
- Immune checkpoint inhibitors- These are specific drugs that block the immune checkpoints, allowing the immune system to get extremely strong. With the drug, their power is balanced, and the cells can respond to cancer cells better.
- T-cell transfer therapy- In this treatment, the T-cells are given an immunity boost to fight the cancer cells better. Here, the most active immunity cells in the cancer tumour are taken and genetically modified. The genetically modified, powerful T-cells are then grown in huge batches and transferred back to the body to fight cancer. T-cell transfer therapy is also known as adoptive cell therapy, adoptive immunotherapy or immune cell therapy.
- Monoclonal antibodies- These are specific, protein-rich cells created in the lab to target and bind to specific cancer cells. These monoclonal antibody cells bind and mark specific cancer cells so the immunity cells can attack and destroy them.
- Vaccines- These usually are used to prevent the disease in the first place. They work against the affected cells to tie up with the immunity system and destroy them.
- Immune system modulators- These are specific agents that enhance the natural immune system to work against cancer. They work in a generalized pattern and target the necessary cells.
How is Immunotherapy Implemented?
Immunotherapy treatment is done in different ways. They are:
- Intravenous- The immunotherapy medication is injected directly into the vein.
- Oral- Oral medication in pills and capsules is available for immunotherapy.
- Topical- This is usually done for skin cancer, whereby a specific cream or ointment is applied as an immunotherapy treatment.
- Intravesical- This is a method where the immunotherapy medication is directly pushed into the bladder. The immunotherapy cost for this particular type is relatively high, so this treatment is rare.
What is the Schedule for Receiving Immunotherapy?
The schedule or gap between every immunotherapy sitting or the total duration of the therapy depends on three factors:
- The type of cancer and its current stage
- The type of immunotherapy you are getting
- How the body reacts to the treatment overall
Depending upon such factors, the duration or schedule of immunotherapy can be determined.
What Cancers can be Treated with Immunotherapy?
Since there are different types of immunotherapy methods, they can serve various types of cancers. Some of the types that can be cured or reduced are:
- Bladder cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Non-small lung cell cancer
- Mesothelioma (organ-wall cancer)
- Oesophageal cancer
- Head and neck cancer
- Melanoma (skin cancer)
- Hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer)
- Triple-negative breast cancer
- Kidney cancer
Current Research Scenario in Immunotherapy
Researchers are always trying to better the existing process and techniques of immunotherapy. Here are some of the areas in which they have found scope for improvement in:
- Researchers are combining immune checkpoint inhibitors along with other immunotherapy types, targeted therapy and radiation therapy techniques to overcome the hurdles and resistance against the general type.
- Learning and exploring the various ways cancer cells suppress the power of immunity cells in the affected region. They believe this would lead to better drugs and medications to fight cancer.
- They are exploring newer and more powerful ways in which patients can respond to immunotherapy better and have better results.
With more and more techniques developing to fight cancer these days, immunotherapy is making positive strides. Although the process needs to be more affordable, the results are pretty high. It is showing promising signs of curing cancer or at least reducing it to a significant level whereby the life expectancy of the patients is increasing. Moreover, the added research is also working wonders to make the whole technique more powerful.