Cancer is a deadly disease that has claimed millions of lives worldwide. Traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy have been used for decades, but they come along with side effects that harm the body. Immunotherapy is a promising alternative to traditional cancer treatments, and many people believe it is the last resort. However, before we discuss whether Immunotherapy is a last resort, let’s delve into the basics of cancer and how it is treated.
What is cancer, and how is it treated?
Cancer is a disease characterized by the growth of abnormal cells in the body. These cells divide rapidly, and they crowd out the normal cells, leading to the development of tumors.
The different types of cancer are treated differently, and the treatment method used depends on the type of cancer, stage of cancer, and the individual. The common cancer treatments include:
- Radiation therapy
These treatments have been used for decades and have been successful to a certain extent. However, they have unpleasant side effects that leave the body weak and vulnerable to infection. Furthermore, they don’t always work on all people, especially those with advanced-stage cancer.
What is Immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that boosts the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer cells. It uses the immune system to recognize cancer cells so that they can be attacked and destroyed. This approach is different from traditional cancer treatments, which target cancer cells directly.
The immune system is a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to fight off harmful pathogens such as viruses and bacteria. The immune system recognizes these harmful cells by looking for specific markers on their surface that differentiate them from the body’s normal cells.
In cancer, the immune system does not recognize the cancer cells as harmful cells. This is because cancer cells can cloak themselves with molecules that the immune system does not recognize. Immunotherapy works by removing the cloak or by introducing cancer-fighting cells into the body. Once the immune system recognizes cancer cells as harmful cells, it attacks and destroys them.
Types of Immunotherapy
Checkpoint inhibitors are drugs that block proteins that prevent the immune system from attacking cancer cells. These proteins are known as checkpoints, and they keep the immune system in check to prevent it from attacking normal cells. By blocking these proteins, the immune system can recognize cancer cells and destroy them.
Monoclonal antibodies are drugs that attach themselves to specific proteins on the surface of cancer cells. These drugs work by blocking the signals that cancer cells send to the immune system to evade detection. This makes the cancer cells more visible to the immune system, and they can be destroyed.
Cancer vaccines are drugs that introduce small amounts of cancer cells or their proteins into the body. This is to stimulate the immune system to recognize and attack the cancer cells. Cancer vaccines can be used to prevent cancer from occurring, or they can be used to treat cancer that has already developed.
Adoptive cell transfer
Adoptive cell transfer is a treatment that involves removing immune cells from the body and altering them in the laboratory. The altered immune cells are then introduced back into the body, where they can recognize and attack cancer cells. This approach is used in people with advanced-stage cancer and has shown promising results.
Is Immunotherapy a Last Resort?
Immunotherapy is a promising approach to cancer treatment that has shown remarkable results in some people. It has been used to treat different types of cancer, including melanoma, lung cancer, and kidney cancer, among others.
However, Immunotherapy is not always the last resort. The decision to use Immunotherapy depends on various factors, such as the stage of cancer, the type of cancer, and the individual’s general health. Immunotherapy can be used in combination with traditional cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, to increase their effectiveness.
Advantages of Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy has several advantages compared to traditional cancer treatments. These include:
- Lower toxicity levels
- Reduced side effects
- Increased effectiveness of traditional cancer treatments
- Slower development of drug resistance
- Potentially lifelong protection against cancer recurrence
Disadvantages of Immunotherapy
While Immunotherapy is a promising approach to cancer treatment, it has some disadvantages, including:
- High cost of treatment
- Not suitable for all types of cancer
- Not effective in all people
- Potential for severe side effects
- Limited long-term data on treatment effectiveness and safety
Immunotherapy is a promising approach to cancer treatment that has shown remarkable results in some people. It works by stimulating the body’s immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells. However, it is not the last resort and is not suitable for all types of cancer. The decision to use Immunotherapy depends on various factors, and it can be used in combination with traditional cancer treatments to increase their effectiveness.
Common Questions and Answers
- Is Immunotherapy safe?
- Immunotherapy is generally safe, but it can cause severe side effects in some people. These side effects can include flu-like symptoms, skin rashes, and diarrhea, among others.
- How long does Immunotherapy take to work?
- Immunotherapy can take a few weeks to months before any noticeable signs of improvement are seen.
- Is Immunotherapy painful?
- Immunotherapy is not painful, but it can cause some discomfort due to the insertion of needles for drug administration.
- Does Immunotherapy cure cancer?
- Immunotherapy can lead to the complete disappearance of cancer cells in some people, but it does not cure cancer in all people.
- How effective is Immunotherapy?
- Immunotherapy can be very effective in some people, especially those with advanced-stage cancer. However, it is not effective in all people.
- National Cancer Institute. (2021). Cancer stat facts: melanoma of the skin. https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/melan.html
- National Institute of Health. (2021). Cancer immunotherapy. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/immunotherapy
- American Cancer Society. (2021). Immunotherapy for cancer. https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/immunotherapy.html