Thanks to the evolution of cancer medicine in recent years, patients can feel confident that new, advanced treatments offer hope to countless families. Among these treatments, immunotherapy is one of the most promising. Also known as biologic therapy, it uses specialized medications to boost the immune system’s natural response in fighting off cancer cells. The immune system cannot detect cancer cells, but immunotherapy helps the body identify and eliminate them. It also aids in decreasing the spread of cancer to other areas of the body and slowing the disease’s progression.
The oncologists and physicians at Richmond University Medical Center are helping patients achieve more positive outcomes with assistance from this high-tech treatment. Richmond University Medical Center serves patients on Staten Island, NY, and the surrounding area.
Immune System Stimulation
Immunotherapy generally involves two approaches. One of these uses medications that stimulate the patient’s immune system. The goal is to enhance the body’s ability to detect cancer cells and attack them.
Checkpoint inhibitors stand out as one of the most common methods used with this type of immunotherapy. T cells within the immune system can recognize which cells display healthy proteins and attack those with signs of infection. Cancer disguises itself as healthy cells to trick the T cells, but immune checkpoint inhibitors thwart this disguise, allowing T cells to identify and attack the proteins that give cancer cells their healthy appearance.
Vaccines provide another effective form of immunotherapy and may be used to prevent and treat cancer. Preventative vaccines, including those for human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B, trigger the immune system to recognize and eliminate infections that can lead to cancer. For patients who have already been diagnosed, treatment vaccines are composed of cancer cells. After the vaccine is administered, the immune system is forced to identify these cells as unhealthy and unwanted, ultimately eliminating them.
Other patients may benefit from nonspecific immunotherapy. While these medications do not specifically target cancer, they enhance the immune system’s overall response to infections and diseases, including cancer cells. The most common form, interleukins, enables the immune system’s T cells to divide more rapidly and become more effective in their attacks on cancer cells.
Immunotherapy may be recommended in combination with other cancer treatments, such as radiation or chemotherapy. First approved as a cancer treatment in 2011, immunotherapy is now a rapidly growing area of medical advancement. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, there are more than 1,000 immunotherapy clinical trials in the United States testing new drugs and treatment methods.
Another approach to immunotherapy involves the injection of proteins, which were produced or modified in a laboratory, into the immune system. These proteins force a stronger response to cancer cells while training the immune system to recognize and attack them. This type of immunotherapy may include:
- T-cell therapy: This treatment modifies the immune system’s T cells to create a heightened response to cancer.
- Monoclonal antibodies: Produced in a laboratory, these antibodies mimic immune system proteins that can identify and attack certain components of cancer cells.
- Oncolytic virus therapy: This treatment injects patients with a virus that targets cancer cells and breaks them down.
Receiving Immunotherapy Treatment
Immunotherapy is administered as an intravenous infusion treatment. Typically, patients will receive treatment at an infusion center, although some patients may receive treatment at home. Immunotherapy treatments may be administered daily, weekly, or monthly. The length of a treatment cycle will depend on the individual patient, their diagnosis, and other forms of cancer treatment they receive.
Immunotherapy can be used to treat many different types of cancer, such as:
- Bladder cancer
- Breast cancer
- Colon cancer
- Lung cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Skin cancer
Some patients experience side effects during or after a course of immunotherapy. These can include:
- Fever or chills
- Nausea or vomiting
- Skin rash
There are different forms of immunotherapy for specific types of cancer. For example, patients who have early-stage skin cancer may receive topical immunotherapy treatment. Patients diagnosed with bladder cancer may be treated with intravesical immunotherapy, administered via a catheter. Blood tests and imaging scans will be used to track the progress of a patient’s immunotherapy treatment.
Learn More About Advanced Immunotherapy on Staten Island
Immunotherapy continues to make strides in its ability to fight off cancer cells, and many in the medical community expect that these treatments will continue to improve their effectiveness. The experienced oncologists, physicians, nurse navigators, and other medical professionals at Staten Island’s Richmond University Medical Center are here to help patients battling cancer.
The physicians at Richmond University Medical Center will consider immunotherapy and other forms of treatment to deliver the best possible outcome for each patient’s specific needs. For more information about oncology services or to request a referral, contact us today.