Cancer

Immunotherapy: Empowering your immune system to fight cancer

close up view of a mans arm while having an IV immunoglobulin infusion at hospital

Cancer treatment has advanced beyond surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy alone. Immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer cells.

What is the immune system?

Our body’s immune systems are the first lines of defense to keep us healthy. Immune systems protect against invaders like disease-causing bacteria, viruses and even cancer cells.

Our lymphatic organs, tissues and specific types of cells make up our immune system as well as healthy bacteria in and around our bodies. When the immune system identifies something that may harm the body, like cancer cells — white blood cells and other immune agents attack the cancer cells to keep us healthy.

The immune system fighting cancer

Immunotherapy strengthens the body’s immune response against cancer. The way immunotherapy boosts the immune system’s reaction depends on the specific type of therapy.

Available immunotherapies include:

  • Checkpoint inhibitors: take the brakes off the immune system to respond more powerfully
  • T-Cell therapy: identifies your most active cancer fighting cells and increases the number in your body
  • Immunomodulators: enhance the body’s immune response by supporting specific immune system agents such as cytokines. Cytokines help to kill cancer cells and slow the growth of cancer.
  • Vaccines: train the immune system to respond by introducing a small amount of the disease-causing material into the body.
  • Monoclonal Antibodies: mark cancer cells so they are better identified and targeted by the immune system

Cancers commonly treated with immunotherapy

Like most cancer therapies, immunotherapy works better for some types of cancer more than others. Bladder cancer was the first to be treated with immunotherapy in 1990. Since then, research has advanced to make this approach available in the prevention and treatment of many different types of cancer including:

  • Melanoma
  • Lung cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Liver cancer (Hep B Vaccine)
  • Cervical cancer (HPV Vaccine)
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Lymphoma
  • Kidney cancer
  • Head and neck cancers

“Immunotherapy is another tool in our cancer prevention and treatment toolbox. The more treatments we have available, the better we can help our patients fight this disease,” says Alexander Starodub, M.D., medical oncologist with Riverside Health System.

How is immunotherapy given?

Immunotherapy can be delivered in a few different ways depending on the cancer and therapy type. These include:

  • Oral medication in pills
  • Intravenous injection
  • A cream rubbed onto the skin
  • Medication injected into the bladder

Can you benefit from immunotherapy?

If you or someone you love has recently been diagnosed with cancer, immunotherapy may be a possibility as part of your treatment plan. Make sure to discuss all available therapies with your oncologist to make an informed decision.

For help developing a cutting edge treatment plan to fight your cancer and to see if immunotherapy could be a good fit, request an appointment with one of our board-certified oncologists today.

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