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Immunotherapy: Fighting Cancer from Within

Publication: Corsicana Daily Sun

In the fight against cancer, chemotherapy and radiation have been the primary treatment options for decades, and a significant amount of research has focused on making these more effective. But what if we could give the body’s immune system the boost it needs to fight cancer the way it would fight another disease? Thanks to advances in medical technology, research, and a better understanding of the human immune system, it’s possible to do just that.

Cancer researchers are just starting to scratch the surface of what may be one of the biggest revolutions in cancer treatment in our lifetimes – harnessing the immune system to help fight cancer. It’s called immunotherapy. As cancer research continues to evolve, treatment is becoming less about the type of cancer and where it’s located in the body, and more about what it is about cancer cells that allows them to misbehave.

What is immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is defined by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) as “a type of cancer treatment that boosts the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer by using substances naturally produced in the body or in a laboratory.” When the immune system encounters foreign organisms, such as a virus or bacteria, it recognizes certain traits and starts fighting them. Within a few days, the body is healthy again. However, the immune system has a harder time recognizing threatening cancer cells.

How does immunotherapy work?

While chemotherapy works by killing cancer cells, it cannot tell the difference between cancer cells and normal cells. Immunotherapy uses certain parts of a person’s immune system to attack cancer cells to stop or slow their growth or limit the cancer’s ability to spread. It is used to treat many types of cancer, and can be given as an IV, oral, topical, or intravesical (directly into the bladder) application. When used alone or in combination with other types of treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery, immunotherapy has been shown to improve patient outcomes.

At the cellular level, immunotherapy aims to give the immune system what it needs to fight cancer just as it fights against other illnesses in many ways including:

  • Stimulating a patient’s immune system to work harder or smarter to attack cancer cells.
  • Giving the patient’s immune system man-made immune system proteins.
  • Inhibiting cancer cell defenses against the human immune system.

Are there side effects of immunotherapy?

Everyone responds differently to cancer treatment. Immunotherapy may entail many different side effects ranging from mild to very severe. The key to controlling cancer symptoms and treatment side effects is understanding them. Patients are encouraged to stay connected with their care team throughout treatment, and talk openly about their symptoms, questions, and concerns.

What is CAR-T therapy?

CAR-T, or chimeric antigen receptor T cell therapy, is personalized therapy that involves engineering a patient’s own immune system’s blood cells to attack cancer cells. During the complex procedure, doctors remove some of the patient’s T cells, a type of white blood cells, which are then genetically reprogrammed to identify and attack cancer. Weeks later, doctors then infuse the re-engineered cells back into the patient’s body.

Using the body’s own tools to fight cancer is opening a new and exciting horizon in cancer care. Breakthroughs like immunotherapy are helping cancer patients live longer, higher quality lives. Research continues, including at Texas Oncology, to rapidly discover better ways to treat, diagnose, and prevent even the most aggressive forms of cancer.

This article appeared in:

Corsicana Daily Sun

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