Immunotherapy - The revolutionary cancer treatment?
Posted on June 08 2022
You’re probably wondering… what is cancer immunotherapy? Not to worry, we’ll tell you all about it. This is a treatment modality that utilizes the immune system and involves prevention, recognition, and targeted attack of the tumor, including stimulation and augmentation of the response of other modalities such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Immunotherapy treatment for cancer, currently the most frequent treatment is the administration of monoclonal antibodies inhibitors of immune controllers. In these cases, it is an intravenous injection of monoclonal antibodies in a period of 1-3 hours every 2, 3 or 4 weeks. The side effects are less than chemotherapy because they prevent hair loss, nausea, and vomiting, drop in white blood cells and platelets in blood tests and other toxicities, although they also have important side effects. However, there are some side effects such as toxicity which is generally caused by excessive autoimmune reactions and must be monitored with different tests, generally blood tests. When they appear, treatment must be suspended, but if the immunological reaction against the tumor is well developed, the patient continues to exhibit the antitumor response, even if they have stopped the medication.
When is immunotherapy indicated in cancer patients?
In immunotherapy there are more than 50 different indications approved and they cover many types of tumors. Authorizations are being extended every year, and new drugs are emerging, so this represents an important field of innovation. There are indications in localized cancer, in preventive treatment after surgery and in the treatment of metastatic cancer.
The list of tumors that respond to checkpoint inhibitor monoclonals are: melanoma, skin cancer, cutaneous Merkel's tumor, lung cancer, upper aerodigestive tract, liver and bile duct cancer, kidney cancer, urinary bladder cancer, uterine and cervical cancer, mesothelioma, triple negative breast cancer, esophageal and gastroesophageal cancer, and some tumors without designation of origin if they have genetic alterations in repair genes or high rate of DNA mutations. Adoptive immunotherapy with the patient's own modified T-cells, called CAR-T, is especially aimed at hematological tumors found in leukemias and lymphomas.
Duration of immunotherapy treatment
It is not yet well known whether treatments can be stopped and restarted if the tumor reappears. When given preventively, after surgery, they are usually given for at least one or two years.
Differences between chemotherapy and immunotherapy in cancer treatment
- Chemotherapy seeks to destroy the tumor by preventing the vital functions of the tumor cell while immunotherapy seeks to reject and destroy the tumor by means of the patient's immune reaction.
- While chemotherapy is primarily a method of direct destruction that indiscriminately attacks other cells in the body, immunotherapy is directed almost exclusively at tumor cells. It is therefore more selective and less toxic.
- Immunotherapy makes it possible to maintain an immunological memory which allows immunosurveillance of the cancer after treatment.
Benefits of immunotherapy in cancer treatment
At the moment, the most important benefit is that it is a modality in development with an important impact: high specificity, lower toxicity, higher quality of life, better duration of response and an increase in the cure rate of many common tumors. On the other hand, the knowledge of antitumor immunity makes possible an advance in the diagnosis, follow-up, and treatment of tumors, with concrete, specific and less aggressive maneuvers. Particularly important is the development of personalized cancer immunotherapy also known as adoptive immunotherapy, which now represents the most important point of cancer research.
Effectiveness of cancer immunotherapy
All indications approved by the American FDA or the European EMEA represent indications of well-proven effectiveness. In general, immunotherapy with checkpoint inhibitors provides prolonged response and, in some cases, can lead to cancer cure. Not enough years have passed yet to be able to give final figures on the results in terms of prolonged responses or cures because this field has only recently developed.
Keep in mind that every person is different, and symptoms and types of cancer are different, it is essential that you always check with your medical team in order to make the best choice for your specific situation.
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