Recent years have brought a boom in the use of immunotherapy to treat cancer. This method is quite different than other traditional forms of cancer treatment, such as radiation or chemotherapy, which are administered to the body and directly kill the cancer cells. Instead, immunotherapy works to activate a patient’s immune system so that their body fights the disease instead of the drug.
Since immunotherapy activates a person’s immune system, someone undergoing this treatment might feel flu-like symptoms. However, most patients report that they actually feel better on immunotherapy than they do on chemotherapy; and often times, if they feel worse, it means the drug is working, before they feel better.
But immunotherapy may not be for every patient, so it is important to talk to health care providers about eligibility. If a person is eligible, they may be offered one of a few different immunotherapy types, depending on their disease.
Oncolytic viruses are gathering speed (and excitement) in the world of oncology. This uses engineered viruses to fight cancer cells, and while there is only one oncolytic virus approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the cancer space – Imlygic (T-VEC; talimogene laherparepvec) to treat inoperable melanoma – there are more than a dozen trials underway.
Checkpoint inhibition is a more familiar form of immunotherapy, and has expanded its use across tumor types including lung cancer, bladder cancer and melanoma in recent years. This type of treatment works by inhibiting certain proteins (referred to as checkpoints), such as PD-1, PD-L1 and CTLA-4, making cancer cells more visible to the immune system.
Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapy is gaining momentum in the hematologic oncology space for treatment of diseases. It works by injecting engineered T cells into a patient’s body. These cells have a knack for recognizing a certain protein on cancer cells, making it easier for the immune system to fight the cancer.
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