Immunotherapy, sometimes called biologic therapy, has been a game changer for many types of cancer. This might actually improve your life and extend your years longer than with other treatments.

With allergies, you might have gotten allergy shots. With each shot they provided a very small amount of the allergen, which was the thing that caused your problems. These shots put your immune system on alert but don’t make you sick. Over some time your doses get bigger and that helps you build a tolerance to the allergen, or causes you to become immune. These shots are a type of immunotherapy. Vaccines for diseases like the measles, mumps and flu are all a type of immunotherapy as well.

In relating to cancer, the disease starts when one cell in your body goes rogue and the researchers are hoping that immunotherapy treatment will harness the power of your body’s natural defenses to fight cancer cells, just as it would with a germ, virus or allergy. Two approaches can be used: one is to tell your system to stage a full-out assault on cancer cells and another is to try to make your defenses stronger. Currently, the researchers are exploring new ways to help your immune system recognize and destroy cancer cells. New Hope Unlimited has been doing Immunotherapy with great success for years without using synthetic drugs.

The Adoptive T-cell immunotherapy is designed to boost your key immune cells. This is where the researchers remove T cells (the white blood cells in your immune system) from your tumor and then figure out which ones are fighting the growth the most. Then they can genetically engineer the genes in those cells to be stronger and return them to your system through an IV. Using this approach shows a lot of promise in the treatment of many types of cancer.

Cancer vaccines work like many others and fall into two groups. Preventive vaccines have a lot in common with tradition types and work with a substance called an antigen that gives your immune system a nudge. The preventive cancer vaccine is used against the human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes cervical, anal and other types of cancer. Treatment vaccines help your T cells pick out and destroy specific cancers.

Checkpoint inhibitors work with the cancer cells that hide from your defense, almost disguising themselves as normal cells. These drugs will help your immune system see the cancer as a problem and then fight it. The inhibitors are in clinical trials for many cancers and some people with metastatic melanoma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma are being treated with them.

Monoclonal antibodies are molecules that are made in a lab. They are designed to act the same way as your own antibodies, which are part of your defense against viruses and germs. The immune system can spot things that cause harm, but don’t always see cancer cells as bad. The monoclonal antibodies help to mount an offense as they attach to cancer cells. Like a beacon, they then make those cells more visible to your immune system in order to fight them better. It might also be possible for this to help stop the growth of cancer and help traditional treatments better target the cancer cells.

The researchers are working to find other ways to help your immune system fight cancer and to better understand your defense and how they protect you. How to combine immunotherapy with other treatments to make them work even better is also being investigated along with looking into what happens when you pair two types of immunotherapies. The big question is still, why does this work for one patient but not another? Much more study, and discovery will continue for the sake of those suffering from cancer.

Dr Fredda Branyon