Immunotherapies enlist the body’s own defenses to fight cancer
Within your body, a war is waging. Whether it’s environmental toxins or the common cold, your immune system is constantly on alert to protect you. The same process in your body that helps you fight colds and infections is becoming the latest promising weapon in the fight against cancer – Immunotherapies.
Immunotherapies are a type of cancer treatment in which drugs stimulate the body’s normal immune system, according to Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers Pharmacy Manager Michael Forsyth.
Ideally, the immune system would work on its own against cancer, and often it does. But cancer cells have learned to protect themselves by hijacking the body’s normal protective immune system checkpoints.
Immunotherapies overcome some of the methods cancer cells use to thwart the immune response, Forsyth says. In patients who respond to treatment, immunotherapies can slow or stop disease progression, or even shrink tumors.
While there are several types of immunotherapies, many work by using the patient’s own immune system to:
- Stop or slow the growth of cancer cells
- Stop cancer from spreading to other parts of the body
- Destroy cancer cells
Lung cancer therapies like Opdivo and Keytruda, for example, target a protein on the cancer cell that makes them resistance to attack by the immune system. By deactivating that protein, the immune system can then attack cancer cells, which shrinks tumors or slows their growth. Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers was a partner with pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. in evaluating the effectiveness of Opdivo for lung cancer treatment.
So far immunotherapies are approved for treatment of:
- Non-small cell lung cancer
- Head and neck cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Renal cell cancer
But, Forsyth says, numerous clinical trials are underway testing immunotherapies on other cancers. “Breast cancer and colon cancer are two cancers under current investigation. They really are looking at all cancers.” And, while immunotherapies currently are used to treat advanced disease, he says their effectiveness is being tested on earlier stage breast cancers as well.
In addition to researching new immunotherapies and new uses for existing immunotherapies, many studies are ongoing that look at combining immunotherapy agents with more traditional chemotherapy. Technically, immunotherapy isn’t chemotherapy, which means it doesn’t usually trigger the side effects associated with chemotherapy such as nausea and hair loss. But other kinds of side effects could be possible.
Researchers are continuing to evaluate the benefits and potential side effects of these new types of treatment, looking for new ways for your body to help protect itself.
Learn more about how Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers is using immunotherapy to help colon cancer patients.