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Immunotherapy

01:18 EDT 21st September 2017 | BioPortfolio

Immunotherapy (biologic therapy or biotherapy) is treatment that uses certain parts of the immune system to fight diseases such as cancer. This can be done in a couple of ways.

  • Stimulating your own immune system to work harder or smarter to attack cancer cells
  • Giving you immune system components, such as man-made immune system proteins

In the last few decades immunotherapy has become an important part of treating several types of cancer.  Some seem to work by boosting the body’s immune system in a very general way, others help train the immune system to attack cancer cells specifically.

Immunotherapy seems to work better for some types of cancer than for others, but for many cancers it seems to work best when used along with other types of treatment.

Types of immunotherapy

There are many types of cancer treatments that could be thought of as immunotherapy.  Some work by stimulating your body's own immune system to fight the disease by boosting the immune system in a very general way, or by training the immune system to attack some part of cancer cells specifically.

Other treatments sometimes considered immunotherapy use immune system components such as proteins called antibodies. Some of these boost the immune system once they are in the body, others target specific parts of cancer cells, stopping them from growing or making them die.

The main types of immunotherapy now being used to treat cancer are discussed in the following sections. They include:

  • Monoclonal antibodies: These are man-made versions of immune system proteins and can be very useful in treating cancer because they can be designed to attack a very specific part of a cancer cell.
  • Cancer vaccines: Vaccines are substances put into the body to start an immune response against certain diseases. We usually think of them as being given to healthy people to help prevent infections. But some vaccines may help prevent or treat cancer.
  • Non-specific immunotherapies: These treatments boost the immune system in a very general way, but this may still result in more activity against cancer cells.

Immunotherapy drugs are now used to treat a number of cancers, including cancers of the bladder, breast, colon, kidney, lung, and prostate, as well as leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and melanoma.  Many types of immunotherapy work by targeting specific parts of cancer cells which differs from less specific treatments like chemotherapy. 

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Useful Resources:

American Cancer Society

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