What is immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy, or biological therapy, is a treatment that uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer. It works by boosting the immune system’s ability to target and destroy cancer cells effectively.

Immunotherapy can be administered alone or in combination with other cancer therapies.

Who performs immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is typically performed by oncologists (cancer specialists) and specialists in the field of immunology.

What are different types of immunotherapies?

There are different types of immunotherapies. These include monoclonal antibodies, checkpoint inhibitors, and monoclonal antibodies. Some types of immunotherapies are also known as targeted therapies or biologics.

The Immune system and Immunotherapy

Our immune system protects the body from infections, illnesses, and diseases, including cancer. It consists of important components like lymph glands, the spleen, and white blood cells. Usually, the immune system can detect and eliminate abnormal cells, preventing cancer development. However, cancer can still occur under certain circumstances:

  • Weak Immune Response: Sometimes, the immune system recognizes cancer cells but is not strong enough to destroy them effectively.
  • Immune Suppression: Cancer cells can release signals that prevent the immune system from attacking them.
  • Immune Evasion: Cancer cells may have ways to hide from or escape the immune system’s detection.

Immunotherapy assists the immune system in fighting cancer. Various immunotherapy treatments are available, and each works differently to help the immune system recognize and attack cancer cells. These treatments aim to enhance the immune response against cancer cells and improve the body’s ability to combat cancer.

How does immunotherapy work?

The immune system’s primary role is to protect the body against various threats, including allergens, viruses, and potentially cancerous cells. It has specialized cells that continuously monitor the body for intruders. When they detect damaged or cancerous cells, they eliminate them, preventing the growth and spread of tumors. However, cancer cells can evolve and evade immune system defenses.

Immunotherapy functions by:

  • Enhancing the immune system’s ability to identify and eliminate cancer cells more effectively.
  • Assisting the body in producing immune cells that specifically target and destroy cancer cells.

In simpler terms, immunotherapy trains and strengthens the immune system to detect and eliminate cancer cells, helping the body fight against cancer more effectively.

Types of Immunotherapies:

  • Checkpoint Inhibitors: Checkpoint inhibitors are a form of immunotherapy blocking proteins inhibiting the immune system from attacking cancer cells. They are used to treat cancers such as melanoma, skin cancer, and lung cancer.
  • Monoclonal Antibodies: Monoclonal Antibodies (MABs) are lab-made versions of natural antibodies that fight infections. They recognize and attach to specific proteins in cancer cells. MABs can work as immunotherapy by triggering the immune system or assisting it in attacking cancer cells.
  • Adoptive Cell Transfer (T-cell transfer therapy): This treatment enhances the immune system’s capacity to destroy cancer cells. It is a medical approach involving the transfer of a patient’s own or donor T-cells into the patient’s body to enhance the immune system’s ability to combat diseases, particularly cancer.
  • Cytokines: Cytokines are a group of proteins that significantly enhance the immune system’s function. Among the various types of cytokines, interferon, and interleukin are naturally occurring proteins in the body. Scientists have developed synthetic versions of these cytokines to treat certain types of cancer. These lab-made versions of interferon and interleukin are used as therapies to help fight cancer.

What are the benefits of immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy offers several benefits that make it a favorable choice in certain situations:

  • Immunotherapy may successfully treat cancers that do not respond well to radiation or chemotherapy. For example, certain types of skin cancer show positive responses to immunotherapy even when other treatments have been ineffective.
  • Combining immunotherapy with other therapies, such as chemotherapy, can improve treatment outcomes.
  • Immunotherapy can enhance the effectiveness of these treatments when used together.
    Immunotherapy causes fewer side effects than other treatments because it specifically targets the immune system rather than affecting all cells in the body.
  • Immunotherapy can train the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells, potentially lowering the likelihood of cancer recurrence.

In summary, immunotherapy may be advantageous when conventional treatments have failed; it can enhance the effectiveness of other therapies, has fewer side effects, and may reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.


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