Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to fight some types of cancer. Immunotherapy can be used to stimulate the immune system to attack cancer cells or boost the immune system to fight cancer.
Baptist Health is nationally recognized for excellence in cancer care. We offer a comprehensive oncology program, including advanced treatments like immunotherapy. Best of all, you’ll appreciate convenient appointment times, locations near you and a personalized focus to meet your needs before, during and after your treatment.
What Is Immunotherapy?
By introducing certain substances made in a laboratory or by the body into the immune system, the body is able to fight certain types of cancer better. These substances can help make it easier for the immune system to identify cancer cells; boost the immune system’s response to cancer cells; or help the immune system effectively attack a certain part of a cancer cell. Different forms of immunotherapy can be given in different ways, including directly into a vein, by mouth, as a cream rubbed on the skin, or, in the case of bladder cancer, directly into the bladder.
Types of Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy types include:
Monoclonal antibodies are made in a laboratory and can do two things: attach to certain proteins on a cancer cell to mark it for the immune system to attack; or cause the immune system to respond to a cancer cell by killing it.
Adoptive cell transfer is a process that takes a person’s disease-fighting white blood cells (called T cells) from the blood and then changes those cells to have a specific protein called a receptor. Receptors help T cells recognize cancer cells. The changed T cells are grown in the laboratory over two to four weeks and are then injected in the person’s body.
Non-specific immunotherapies are often given after or at the same time as other cancer treatments. Cytokine proteins in the blood tell cells when and where to launch an immune response. In this type of immunotherapy, two kinds of cytokines (interferons and interleukins) are grown in a lab and then injected in larger doses than the body normally produces.
Treatment vaccines work to boost the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer. These vaccines can help prevent cancer from returning, destroy cancer cells still left after treatment or stop a tumor from growing or spreading.
Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) is an immunotherapy that is used to treat bladder cancer. It is a weakened form of the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. When inserted directly into the bladder with a catheter, BCG causes an immune response against cancer cells.
What Can Immunotherapy Accomplish?
Immunotherapy boosts the body’s ability to fight some types of cancer and can help:
- Stop or slow the growth of cancer cells
- Stop cancer from spreading
- Destroy cancer cells
What Can I Expect During the Procedure?
The immunotherapy process depends upon the type of cancer being treated and your health. You will receive immunotherapy in a clinic or doctor’s office, and it may be given by an injection through an IV, applied directly to the skin or given by mouth. If you are receiving BCG therapy, the treatment will be applied directly to the bladder through a catheter.
Some immunotherapy is given in cycles, which means you will receive a treatment and then your body is given time to rest and build new cells. You may have treatments every day, week or month for a specific period of time, depending on the type of cancer being treated. Treatments can take less than 30 minutes or last several hours.
You will meet with your physician regularly during treatment to discuss any side effects, and you may also undergo scans and other tests to see how the immunotherapy is affecting the cancer, which will also allow your physician to adjust your treatment as necessary.
Immunotherapy can cause side effects. Your recovery from the side effects will depend upon your health before treatment begins, the dose of immunotherapy and the type of cancer. You may experience side effects such as flu-like symptoms, diarrhea, fluid retention, heart palpitations and soreness at the injection site.
Immunotherapy Possible Risks
Most side effects of immunotherapy subside after treatment ends. Other risks vary depending on the treatment, and can include:
- Increased risk of infection
- Allergic reaction
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