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Is Immunotherapy the Future of Cancer Treatment?

Unlike in the past, cancer has become quite a common disease now. Most of us would have witnessed at least one cancer patient in our family circle is the fact. We would have felt the extreme pain they go through to fight the disease.

Cancer is just a cell that threatens a man’s life. Though there are many treatment methods, medicines that are discovered to combat this disease, there is no known cure for cancer. But immunotherapy is producing some amazing results in the recent past when it comes to treating cancer.

Immunotherapy is not a treatment to treat cancer cells or tumours. It is just a stimulation to our immune system. It encourages our immune system to fight against cancer cells. Once we modify the immune system to fight cancer cells, it will fight against any type of cancer and start to eradicate it. It is considered as one of the biggest inventions used in the treatment of cancer in the recent past.  Particularly, it is one of the best treatment options for kidney cancer, melanoma cancer, and lung cancer.

What is Immunotherapy?

The main purpose of immunotherapy is to make our immune system to work at its peak capacity. It has always been a big question mark as to why our immune system fails to combat against cancer cells for decades. The answer to this question was discovered in the year 1980.

The answer is, cancer cells carry similar identity as normal cells. It alters itself for different situations and protects itself. This confuses the T-cells or immune cells in our body. The immune cells fail to combat against cancer cells thinking it is like any other normal cells. What immunotherapy does is, it informs the T-cells that cancer cells are not normal cells, so it must fight against it. This will make the T-cells more aggressive against cancer cells and starts to kill it.

How does this medicine work?

Just consider our immune system to be a defence head of our body. This defence head has an army of T-cells under his control. When the situation arises, the army head will release his army of T-cells to combat against the enemies. But as the cancer cells are dressed up like T-cells, they fail to detect it as its enemy. In this situation, the medicine used for immunotherapy alerts our immune system that cancer cells are normal cells so makes it send the army of T-cells to fight against it. We call the medicine used in immunotherapy as Immune Checkpoint Inhibitor. This type of treatment has currently started to reproduce good results.

A research has been carried out in over 5000 individuals around the world who were suffering from deadly Metastatic Melanoma cancer. In general, the life expectancy of these patients is only around 11 months. But nearly 20 percent of the patients who took an immunotherapy namely Ipilimumab survived for nearly three years. Exceptionally, there are few individuals who survived for more than 10 years. Researchers claim if the disease is detected in its earlier stages, it can be completely cured through immunotherapy.

What are the advantages of Immunotherapy?

Current treatment for cancer involves chemotherapy and radiation. These treatment options totally destroy the body’s immune system. Apart from killing the cancer cells, they also destroy the white blood cells responsible for our body’s immune system. This makes the cancer patients more vulnerable to infections. But with immunotherapy, there are very little chances for external infections. Main reason being, this treatment protects the white blood cells in our body. This makes the immunotherapy more effective over other treatment options. Cancer cells that don’t subside with other treatments get destroyed with immunotherapy.

Additionally, if a T-cell identifies a cancer cell in our body, then it will naturally start to detect the formation of cancer cells in our body in future as well. So it will destroy the cancer cells before we even realise its presence. So everything seems to be very positive for immunotherapy, but we should know that studies and research on immunotherapy is still in progress.

Are there any side effects attached to Immunotherapy?

Though many researchers claim that immunotherapy brings forth very little side effects, nearly 20 percent of the cancer patients who involved in the research claimed to have serious side effects. This treatment can bring about cold, fever, tiredness, high or low blood pressure, and thyroid problems. As it stimulates the immune cells, we can notice swelling in parts of the body. This can lead to problems with skin, lungs, kidneys, and joints.

What Types of Cancer Can be Treated with Immunotherapy?

So Therapeutic Goods Administration which belongs to Australia has given permission for the use of drugs belonging to Checkpoint Inhibitor category. These drugs work great on melanoma, lung cancer, and kidney cancer. In some other countries apart from Australia has approved the immunotherapy treatment which is called as Car ’T’ Cell Therapy. This therapy is used for treating lymphoma and leukaemia.

Why hasn’t Immunotherapy Proved to be Effective on All Cancer Patients?

So far this treatment has proved to be effective only for 20 to 30 percent of cancer patients. There are studies and research that is still in progress as to why it is not effective on others. In particular, a study that was conducted around Tumour Micro Environment reveals that cancer tumours in certain people create a protective shield around itself, this shield is very effective in protecting themselves from T-cells. If we can achieve to break this shield by stimulating T-cells then researchers claim immunotherapy will definitely prove to be the most effective treatment option for every cancer patient in the world. If we can someone achieve this task, then, without doubt, we can very easily save millions of lives in the future.