It is an exciting time in oncology as more treatment options are becoming available to cancer patients. Most of us have been affected by cancer either through personal diagnosis, or the diagnosis of a loved one. The standard of care has been the use of chemotherapy to treat the cancer. In recent years, the use of Immunotherapy is being used more readily in place of chemotherapy.
Immunotherapy is treatment that uses a person’s own immune system to fight the cancer. The use of immunotherapy has shown to be effective treatment in an increasing amount of cancer types. Immunotherapy includes treatments that work in different ways. Some boost the body’s immune system in a general way, while others ramp up the immune system to attack cancer cells directly. The immune system recognizes substances normally found in the body. When a new substance is introduced, the immune system is alarmed and attacks the substance. An example of this would be a common cold virus. The immune system is very good at attacking the cold virus. The immune system has a more difficult time targeting cancer cells. This is because cancer cells are altered at some point and they begin to grow out of control. Therefore, the immune system doesn’t always recognize cancer cells as foreign. Another factor is that cancer cells can also give off substances keeping the immune system from destroying them. This is why researchers have found ways to “ramp up” the immune system, allowing for the destruction of cancer cells. Most patients tolerate immunotherapy with fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy. Although, immunotherapy is effective for some cancers, chemotherapy is still more effective in other cancer types. Immunotherapy consists of IV therapy, vaccines, and even injecting viruses into a person to initiate the immune system response. Scientists are utilizing immunotherapy to rapidly advance the treatment of cancer. Although we have not yet found the “cure” for cancer, the use of immunotherapy brings us one step closer to that goal.
Danielle Gallegos, BSN, Oncology Nurse Navigator