Immunotherapy includes several types of immune system mobilizing therapies designed to treat cancer. In essence, these therapies use your own immune system to fight your disease.
You hear your treatment professionals discussing immunotherapy, also known as biologic response modifiers. Biologic modifiers include colony-stimulating factors or tumor vaccines. Which immunotherapy procedures are right for you depends on your cancer type and other factors. Your doctor will discuss options with you, if immunotherapy will help you in your cancer fight.
Biologic Response Modifiers (BRM), also called immunotherapy, encourages your body’s immune system to engage in your fight against your cancer. Some types of immunotherapy, such as tumor vaccines, stimulate your body’s immune system to reject the tumor. The BRM immunotherapy is a drug injected or infused into your body, triggering the immune system to work more effectively against the cancer.
There are side effects to these medications. Each patient experiences side effects in their own way, but many people experience flu-like symptoms. Fever, nausea, chills, fatigue, bone pain and appetite loss are common. Some people develop rashes or swelling at injection sites or low blood pressure. Your doctor can help you feel better after immunotherapy through appropriate symptom-reducing medications or by providing some helpful guidelines for getting through uncomfortable side effects.
Your body produces its blood cells in your bone marrow. Marrow is the soft, spongy material inside your bones. It is there that you generate white blood cells for fighting infection, red blood cells to carry oxygen and clear your organs and tissues of waste, and platelets that help your blood to clot.
Traditional cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy, affect these blood cells. This results in risk of infection, anemia and bleeding, as the white, red and platelet blood cells fail to do their jobs effectively.
Colony-stimulating factors do the opposite for your blood cells. They are substances stimulating your blood cells to function better. These colony-stimulating factors do not work directly against tumors. But they stimulate blood cells to improve in their work. When you go through cancer treatment, colony-stimulating factors help support your immune system in ways that the traditional cancer therapies harm your immune system. This helps maintain your immunity during your cancer treatment.
After gaining your cancer diagnosis, you may undergo clinical trial treatment or study participation related to tumor vaccines. These vaccines are currently in development by researchers. The goal of tumor vaccines is to encourage your immune system to recognize your cancer cells. These vaccines work like other vaccines, for diseases such as small pox, measles and mumps. The major difference between those vaccines and one for tumors is that the tumor vaccine is used after you have the disease, cancer. The vaccine helps your body reject tumor lumps or prevents cancer from returning. Of course, these are theories based on current research and studies. It will be some time before tumor vaccines gain widespread use in cancer treatment, after they prove effective.
Of course, you should always be cautious about clinical trials and unproven therapies. It is your treatment team’s goal to keep you healthy, safe and working toward freedom from cancer in the right ways. There are many bold claims about unproven treatments and immune system boosters. So it is important you have a treatment team around you that you can trust, one you turn to for advice about these methods. Your team will use proven immunotherapies first and foremost.
Arizona Center for Cancer Care provides more than 35 offices and 55 physicians across Maricopa County for your cancer treatment. Whether you live in the Northeast Valley, Southeast Valley or West Valley, you benefit from the best physicians, leading treatment technologies and most up-to-date research in the country, right near your home.