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Immunotherapy is treatment that uses certain parts of a person’s immune system to fight diseases such as cancer. This can be done either by stimulating patient’s own immune system to work harder or smarter to attack cancer cells or by providing the body with immune system components, such as man-made immune system protein. Some types of immunotherapy are also sometimes called biologic therapy or biotherapy.

In the last few decades immunotherapy has become an important part of treating some types of cancer. Newer types of immune treatments are now being studied, and they’ll impact how we treat cancer in the future. Immunotherapy includes treatments that work in different ways. Some boost the body’s immune system in a very general way. Others help train the immune system to attack cancer cells specifically. One reason that cancer cells thrive is because they are able to hide from your immune system. Certain immunotherapies can mark cancer cells so it is easier for the immune system to find and destroy them. Other immunotherapies boost your immune system to work better against cancer.

Immunotherapy may work by stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells, stopping cancer from spreading to other parts of the body or helping the immune system work better at destroying cancer cells. Immunotherapy works better for some types of cancer than for others. It’s used by itself for some of these cancers, but for others it seems to work better when used with other types of treatment. The duration of immunotherapy treatment depends on the type of cancer and how advanced it is, the type of immunotherapy you get and how your body reacts to treatment. The treatment might include every day, week, or month. Some immunotherapies are given in cycles. A cycle is a period of treatment followed by a period of rest. The rest period gives your body a chance to recover, respond to the immunotherapy, and build new healthy cells. Several types of immunotherapy are used to treat cancer. These treatments can either help the immune system attack the cancer directly or stimulate the immune system in a more general way. They include the use of:

  • Monoclonal antibodies are a specific type of therapy made in a laboratory. They attach to specific points on cancerous cells and enhance the immune response to those cells.
  • Non-specific immunotherapies are given after or at the same time as another cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. These may include Interferons that help the immune system fight cancer and may slow the growth of cancer cells or Interleukins that help the immune system produce cells that destroy cancer.
  • Oncolytic virus therapy T-cell therapy includes modified T cells that fight infection.
  • A Cancer vaccine exposes the immune system to an antigen specific for the cancer cells. This triggers the immune system to recognize and destroy the cancerous cells.