The Promise of Immunotherapy in Cancer Treatment | Blog

Immunotherapy in Cancer Treatment

The Promise of Immunotherapy in Cancer Treatment

Thu, Jun 28, 2018  -  Comments (0)  -   Posted by Lori Adams

As CHAMPS Oncology’s primary Pinterest “pinner,” I’ve been reading (and pinning) a lot of articles recently which have captured accounts of cancer patients fighting their disease with an innovative treatment that harnesses the body’s own immune system. First used in treating melanoma, then branching out to lung cancer, the breakthrough of immunotherapy in cancer treatment has been stunningly impressive. 

You might be surprised that this new approach to treating cancer has its roots that date back as far as 1891, when Dr. William Coley was an American surgeon struggling with heartbreaking cases of patients dying from sarcoma. In his investigations of the disease, he ran across a case of a patient who had several unsuccessful surgeries to remove a mass from his face. The case seemed to take a more deadly turn when a severe wound infection followed. Everyone expected this patient to die – but not only did he survive, the cancer completely disappeared.

Coley’s research then revealed more cases where the presence of infection had set off a killer response from the body’s own immune system. Experimentation with the introduction of this infectious agent into cancerous tumors proved fruitful in some patients – appearing to cure or at least promote regression in the tumors. However, not everyone experienced benefit and Coley was left to wonder why some responded well and others did not. 

With the introduction of radiation treatment and the use of chemotherapy drugs, the medical establishment eventually moved away for this approach to treating cancer. It would be several years before researchers took another look at Coley’s research to find out more about how to use the body’s own defenses against cancer cells through immunotherapy cancer treatment. There are two types of immunotherapy now showing promise:

Immune cells from the patient’s own body are genetically programmed to kill cancer. This treatment has worked well in children and adults suffering from leukemia or lymphoma where standard treatments have failed.

A patient’s cells are not altered, but instead drugs are created to free up the immune system and allow it to fight cancer. The drug’s focus removes the mechanism that cancer uses to shut down the immune system, allowing the patients fighter cells to recognize, target and destroy invading tumors. The success of these drugs has gained FDA approval for the treatment of melanoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and cancers of the lung, kidney and bladder.

Though we are not sure immunotherapy is a solid “cure” for cancer, it is an important option to consider for patients with advanced disease. This gives patients and families real hope for prolonging life and is a promising move forward in the fight against cancer.

To learn more about immunotherapy in cancer treatment, visit our Immunotherapy Pinterest board.

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