Treatments & Procedures

Advances in Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy was first approved for use as a cancer treatment in 2010. Since then, it has changed the way some cancers are treated. More and more immunotherapy treatments have been introduced, offering hope to patients for whom chemotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery have not been successful.

However, immunotherapy was not suitable for everyone and not suitable for all types of cancer. Thankfully, in recent years, there have been significant advances in immunotherapy which have changed the cancer treatment landscape, treating more patients and more types of cancer.

In particular, these advances have significantly improved the prognosis for many types of blood cancer, transforming them from fatal diseases to chronic conditions that can be managed and often cured.

What is Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment which uses the body’s own immune system – our defense system against viruses and bacteria – to fight cancer. It activates the immune system so that it is more effective. There are many different types of cells which are involved in the immune response, such as, granulocytes, macrophages, B lymphocytes, T lymphocytes, and dendritic cells.

Your immune response is a coordinated process, with all of the immune system cells communicating together to work as an effective unit.

Other substances are involved in the immune response, including cytokines, interferons, colony-stimulating factors, tumor necrosis factors, and interleukins. Some immunotherapy treatments involve injecting cytokines into the body to make tumor cells more recognizable to the immune system, or to stimulate it to work more effectively.

Learn more about how the immune system works and the roles of each type of cell and protein here.

Types of Immunotherapy

Immunotherapies that have been around for several years include:

  • Colony-stimulating factors:A supportive therapy which can stimulate an increased production of blood cells in our bone marrow which may have been damaged through chemotherapy or radiotherapy, giving a boost to the immune system whilst undergoing cancer treatment.
  • Biological response modifiers:Cytokines, such as interleukins and interferons can be injected, which trigger the immune system to target a tumor and stimulate the immune system cells to work more effectively.
  • Monoclonal antibodies:These attach to specific tumor proteins located on the cells’ surfaces, helping to locate tumors and delivering drugs directly to it.

Advances in Immunotherapy

Advances in immunotherapy have improved the prognosis and chances of survival for many cancer patients. Novel therapies include:

  • BiTE (Bispecific T-cell Engager) Therapy: BiTE is a bispecific antibody which is unique in that it brings together antigens on tumor cells and a surface molecule on T cells. This helps the immune system to attack the cancer cells by inducing a breakdown of the tumor cell’s membranes. BiTE therapy has shown to be very effective in the treatment of blood cancers such as leukemia as well as other types of cancer.
  • CAR-T Cell Therapy: Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell (CAR-T) is a type of immunotherapy which uses altered T cells to fight cancer cells. A patient’s T cells are taken from a blood sample and then modified in a lab so that they produce something called chimeric antigen receptors on their surface. The cells are then infused back into the patient where they attach to cancer cells. CAR-T cell therapy represents a breakthrough in treating certain types of blood cancers, such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia and certain types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • Tumor vaccines:Some tumor vaccines have been around for several years, which can prevent people from getting cancers which are caused by certain viruses. This includes the HPV vaccine which can prevent cervical cancer, and the hepatitis B vaccine which can protect against liver cancer. But there are many more under development which aim to boost the immune system to effectively fight cancer.

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This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, part of the M42 group, and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

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