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Immunotherapy: Harnessing the Immune System to Fight Cancer

Dec 15, 2022

Immunotherapy: Harnessing the Immune System to Fight Cancer
Immunotherapy works by enhancing the ability of your natural immune system to fight cancer cells. Review the commonly used immunotherapy modalities for cancer treatment.

As a whole, your immune system is one of your body's most remarkable features. Its job is to eliminate disease-causing germs like viruses, toxins, and bacteria. It becomes increasingly advanced as you go through life, developing new antibodies when you come into contact with pathogens you haven't encountered before. Your innate immune system is there from birth onward, while your adaptive immune system evolves over time.  

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that helps a patient's own immune system fight cancer. It is based on the idea that the body's natural defenses can be used to fight cancer. Immunotherapy works by stimulating the body's own immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed. This is done by introducing something into the body that triggers an immune response, such as a vaccine, a drug, or a monoclonal antibody.   

A cancer diagnosis can put you into a state of anxiety, panic, or fear, but generally, there are plenty of options available to help your body fight cancer, no matter which type you have. Our expert oncologists at Arizona Center for Cancer Care frequently recommend immunotherapy as part of a comprehensive medical oncology treatment plan. Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that assists your natural immune system in fighting and eventually eliminating cancer. 

You can easily access the diagnostic and treatment services you need from any of our convenient offices in Avondale, Chandler, Gilbert, Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Surprise, Anthem, Peoria, Fountain Hills, Wickenburg, Apache Junction, Sun City, Sun City West, Goodyear, and Tempe, Arizona. Our experts can tell you if or how immunotherapy fits into your cancer treatment plan.

Not all forms of immunotherapy are exactly alike, and we use multiple types in our offices. As you go through treatment for cancer, you may encounter one of these three common types. 

1. Immune checkpoint inhibitors

Immune checkpoint inhibitors increase your immune system's ability to differentiate between cancerous and noncancerous cells. Just like your immune system attacks and eliminates unfamiliar viruses and bacteria, it can also attack cancer cells. 

Immune cells carry "checkpoint" proteins that can turn on or off to indicate the start of an immune response. Cancer cells can use these proteins to their advantage, so they avoid being attacked by your immune system. 

Immune checkpoint inhibitors, which are a type of monoclonal antibodies, prevent the cancer cells from affecting the checkpoint proteins present on immune cells. As a result, your immune system is better able to detect and pursue cancerous cells. 

2. T-cell transfer therapy

The T-cells in your immune system are specialized cells that target specific harmful components in your body. For example, you probably have developed T-cells specifically for strains of the flu you've encountered in your lifetime. Some T-cells are specialized to recognize and target cancer cells.  

During T-cell transfer therapy, an oncologist collects immune cells directly from the tumor itself. The oncologist then evaluates those T-cells in a lab setting to collect the cells that are most actively fighting cancer. They then increase the number of those cells, which takes between two and eight weeks.  

Once the large batch of cancer-fighting T-cells is ready, your oncologist injects them directly into your bloodstream so they can travel to the tumor and continue to fight cancer. You might have radiation therapy or chemotherapy alongside T-cell transfer therapy to reduce your overall number of immune cells, which makes the injected T-cells more effective.

3. Treatment vaccines

Vaccines used in cancer treatment aren't quite the same as the vaccines you get to protect you from specific infections. Instead of preventing disease, they boost your immune system so it can fight against cancer more effectively. They work by helping your immune cells detect cancer cells via a special protein that only cancerous cells have. 

In many cases, treatment vaccines for cancer are created in a lab setting using cells from your own tumor. They can also be made using certain types of immune cells from your own body or from antigens associated with specific types of cancer. 

Get started with treatment today.

If you have a cancer diagnosis, our team of experts is here to treat you using the latest evidence-based strategies, such as immunotherapy, along with positivity and moral support. Call Arizona Center for Cancer Care or schedule your appointment online today.