Everything You Need to Know About Immunotherapy

medical referral form with a pen to check the box labeled Cancer immunotherapy

Everything You Need to Know About Immunotherapy

Your oncology team may prescribe immunotherapy as part of your treatment plan. There are many new and unfamiliar things that come with a cancer diagnosis, but understanding the treatments that are available to you doesn’t have to be a mystery. Here is everything you need to know about immunotherapy and its uses. 

What is Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses part of a person’s immune system to fight off cancer. Immunotherapy can be performed using substances present in the body or created in a lab. In both cases, the treatment is performed to improve the functionality of your immune system and boost its ability to find and destroy cancer cells. 

Immune System VS Cancer

Your body uses the immune system to fight off illnesses and protect you from germs, viruses, and harmful bacteria. Unfortunately, cancer can get around many of the body’s natural defenses, making it difficult to eradicate. Immunotherapy can help strengthen the immune system and make it better equipped to detect and fight cancer. 

There are several different types of immunotherapy. The type of drug, dose, and treatment schedule will depend on various factors, which your doctor will discuss with you. Here are the available types of immunotherapy.

Monoclonal Antibodies and Tumor-Agnostic Treatments

When your body encounters something harmful, it makes antibodies designed to fight that particular harmful invader. Monoclonal antibodies are made in a lab to boost your natural antibodies or to act as antibodies themselves. 

Monoclonal antibodies can help block abnormal proteins in cancer cells. This method is called “targeted therapy” and works by inhibiting cancer’s specific genes and proteins that allow a tumor to grow. 

Oncolytic Virus Therapy

Oncolytic virus therapy uses lab-modified viruses to help destroy cancer cells. Your doctor will begin by injecting the genetically modified virus into the tumor. The virus will then make copies of itself within the tumor, causing cancer cells to burst and die. 

As the cancer cells die, they create a specific protein. Your body is then able to spot this protein and direct the immune system to target and destroy any other cells with similar proteins, without harming any healthy cells. 

T-Cell Therapy 

T-cells are immune cells tasked with fighting infection. For T-cell therapy, your doctor will remove T-cells from your blood and send them to a lab. In the laboratory, technicians will add specific proteins called receptors to the T-cells. These receptors will allow T-cells to recognize cancer cells. 

Your doctor will put these modified T-cells back into your body where they can begin to find and destroy cancer cells. T-cell therapy is especially useful in fighting certain blood cancers.

Cancer Vaccines

Most vaccines work by exposing your body to a certain protein called an antigen. This causes your body to recognize and destroy any other similar antigen. The two types of cancer vaccines are prevention vaccines and treatment vaccines. 

Prevention vaccines help prevent healthy people from getting certain cancers caused by viruses. The two FDA-approved cancer prevention vaccines are the HPV vaccine and the Hepatitis B vaccine. 

Treatment vaccines and therapeutic vaccines are used to treat existing cancers. They work by boosting the body’s immune system to help fight cancer. Treatment vaccines can keep cancer from coming back, destroy cancer cells left in the body after other treatments, and stop a tumor from growing or spreading. 

Alabama Cancer Care is here to help!

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be daunting and scary, but Alabama Cancer Care is here to help. For more information regarding immunotherapy treatments, call us in Anniston at (256) 847-3369, Ft. Payne at (256) 845-3500, Gadsden at (256) 547-0536, Montgomery at (334) 273-8877, and Sylacauga at (256) 245-0297.