Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that helps your immune system to fight cancer. Immune system is made up of white blood cells and organs and tissues of the lymph system. The immune system is responsible for helping your body fighting infections and other diseases. It also helps protect you from cancer in some ways as it can detect and destroy abnormal cells. But sometimes cancers are able to avoid detection and destruction by the immune system. Immunotherapy is a type of biological therapy which is a type of treatments that uses substances made from living organisms to treat cancer. Immunotherapy includes treatments that work in different ways. Some can stimulate the activities of specific components of the immune system. Others help train the immune system to attack cancer cells specifically.
The main types of immunotherapy now being used to treat cancer include:
– Monoclonal antibodies: These are man-made versions of immune system proteins. Antibodies are designed to cause an immune response that destroys cancer cells. There are other types of monoclonal antibodies that can mark cancer cells to allow the immune system to find them easily and destroy them.
– Immune checkpoint inhibitors: These drugs basically take the ‘breaks’ of the immune system, which helps it recognize and attack cancer cells.
– Cancer Vaccines: vaccines are substance put into your body to boost your immune system’s response cancer cells. They are different from the ones that are being given to healthy people to prevent infections.
– Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG): Is an immunotherapy that is used to treat bladder cancer. It is a weakened form of the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. When inserted directly into the bladder with a catheter, BCG causes an immune response against cancer cells.
Immunotherapy can cause some side effects that vary according to the type of the immunotherapy you receive and how your body reacts to it. The most common side effects are skin reactions at the needle site which include: pain, swelling, soreness, redness, itchiness, and rash. And you may also experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, weakness, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, trouble breathing and headache.
Immunotherapies can be given in many ways which are:
• Intravenous: The immunotherapy goes into a vein.
• Topical: The immunotherapy comes in a cream that you apply onto your skin. This type can be given for very early skin cancer.
• Intravesical: The immunotherapy goes directly into the bladder.
• Oral: The immunotherapy comes in pills or capsules.