Immunotherapy is a treatment for cancer where the treatment aims to stimulate and boost the body’s natural defense system, a.k.a our immune system to help prevent metastasis (spread of cancer) if not cancer completely.
Our body has a natural power of healing, thanks to the WBCs and antibodies that recognize foreign substances in our system and fight them off. These bits form a part of our body’s immune system and are structured to help us fight diseases. Immunotherapy uses this very concept where it recognizes our body’s natural immunity as a powerful weapon to fight off the abnormal cell function within the body, thereby aiming to prevent cancer cell growth.
Benefits of Immunotherapy
The 3 primary benefits of Immunotherapy
While used in combination with other / alternative cancer treatment and therapy methods- Immunotherapy as a standalone therapy can help your body in 3 key ways:
- Stimulates the Immune System to boost their attack intensity
- Helps the body with additional components to help them fight off better
- Educates the Immune System so that it can recognize or diagnose specific cells that are cancerous or abnormal in nature.
Types of Immunotherapy
There are primarily 4 distinct immunotherapy types that doctors recommend. Based on your diagnosis, your healthcare professional will determine which type is more suitable for you. These are as follows:
1. Monoclonal Antibodies
Monoclonal antibodies are much like the antibodies that your body produces to fight off abnormalities, except, these antibodies are often created in a lab and infused with your body’s antibody to help them fight off cancer in various ways. Also popularly known as targeted therapy, this type of therapy can even be used to prevent your natural antibodies from harming healthy cells.
2. Oncolytic Virus therapy
This therapy uses external viruses modified in a lab to help destroy the existing cancer cells in your body. Once the virus is injected into your system, these genetically-enhanced viruses infiltrate the cancer cells and copies them, causing the cancer cells to burst and die. The dying cells in turn releases certain proteins which alerts our immune system and helps us fight off the remaining cancer cells in a better way.
3. T-cell therapy
In this procedure, the doctor will extract the T cells from your blood and modify it in a lab by adding certain proteins to it. These modified T cells will now be able to diagnose or recognize the cancer cells. Once put back in the body, the enhanced T cells seek out and destroy the cancer cells.
4. Cancer vaccines
Cancer cells when introduced in your body exposes your immune system to antigens, a foreign substance. Your immune system gets triggered on encountering the antigens and boosts the immunity level which in turn helps your body naturally fight off the cancer cells.
What type of cancer does Immunotherapy target?
Each type of immunotherapy focuses on a particular part of your body, depending on where the origin of the cancer is. For instance,
Monoclonal antibodies are usually used for:
- Brain or lung cancer
- Breast or ovarian cancer
- Stomach or prostate cancer
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
T-Cell therapy usually focuses on:
- B-cell lymphomas
- Acute leukemia
Vaccine therapy is often used for:
- Different types of prostate cancer
- Hepatitis B
Why Opt for Immunotherapy?
Now, there are multiple (more common) treatment methods for cancer out there, so you must be wondering- why Immunotherapy? Is it safe? Is it effective? Will it improve your cancer-cure chances? Let us answer that for you.
To begin with, Immunotherapy is a certified treatment method approved in the US amongst other countries. These approvals are backed by years of proficient research, development, and success which is why this is completely a safe procedure, much like any other cancer treatment alternatives.
Now that being said, Immunotherapy is still not a standalone treatment method, and may or may not impact the patient’s cancer growth based on the intensity of the condition or the type of immunotherapy used. Nevertheless, this therapy has actually helped countless patients extend their lives and is constantly being developed further as we speak.
Advantages & Disadvantages of Immunotherapy
Much like any other cancer cure, Immunotherapy too comes with its pros and cons. We have listed some of them to help you understand this therapy better.
- Since this therapy aims to stregthen your immune system, side effects from cancer or from alternate therapies for cancer will be less intense.
- Once your immune system gets a permanent boost from this therapy, cancerous conditions are less likely to come back. In fact, immunotherapy can effectively slow down rapid cancer growth in the body while the other treatment methods focus on eliminating the existing cancer cells.
- Immunotherapy can be effective if all the other treatment methods have failed.
- Since cancer treatments often include a medley of therapies, Immunotherapy can act as a great support system for other therapies and can actually help them work better.
- The first thing we need to keep in mind is that Immunotherapy is not for everyone. It may or may not impact your body.
- Much like any other cancer treatment method, immunotherapy too comes with side effects of its own which can be in the form of fever, chills, extreme tiredness, unexplained weight gain.
- Immunotherapy can also leave a bad reaction on your skin. It has been noticed that the immunotherapy spot often experiences redness, itchiness, and other allergy-like symptoms
- Alongside the cancerous tumors or cells, this therapy can affect the healthier organs in your body too.
While chemo and radiation therapy are relatively faster, immunotherapy is not. This therapy takes time boosting your immunity gradually which means if you’re looking for a quick fix, this therapy may not be for you.
Immunotherapy Quick Points
- Make sure you give a thorough medical history report to your doctors before the procedure with elaborate details on past or current conditions, past or current medications, lifestyle choices like alcohol and tobacco smoking etc.
- Since immunotherapy is a long-running treatment method, you may need to take significant time off before you can return to your everyday life. We recommend having a caregiver nearby for your personal day-to-day help.
- If the side-effects such as tiredness, fever, and chills start increasing after the therapy and refuses to go away- Do Not wait! Contact your doctor immediately .
1. What is the success rate of Immunotherapy?
According to a recent study, the success rate has been determined as 15% depending on the cancer type or stage. Records also show 25% of the times, this therapy has added at least 5 years for cancer patients.
2. Will Immunotherapy affect my hair or weight like Chemo does?
There are no proven records that stated hair loss for immunotherapy. However, this therapy can make you gain weight.
3. Is there any way to know if the Immunotherapy is working positively or not?
You will be prescribed periodical checkups and blood tests by cancer specialists which will help them determine whether the therapy is positively impacting your cancer cure or not.
4. Will the side effects show up immediately after immunotherapy?
No, 40-60% of the times, the side effects took about 2-3 months to show up