A Primer on Immunotherapy

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

FEBRUARY 03, 2017

Most of us are familiar, to a greater or lesser degree, with immunotherapy. Here is the definition from the American Cancer Society:

Immunotherapy is treatment that uses certain parts of a person’s immune system to fight diseases such as cancer. This can be done in a couple of ways:

Stimulating your own immune system to work harder or smarter to attack cancer cells
Giving you immune system components, such as man-made immune system proteins
Some types of immunotherapy are also sometimes called biologic therapy or biotherapy.

From a patient's perspective, there are a couple of very big advantages to this approach: it often works really well, and there are usually fewer side effects than from traditional chemotherapy. The reason for that is that immunotherapy targets particular cells or parts of cells and does not interfere with other non-cancer cells--this translates to no hair loss, usually less GI distress, etc.

This article is from ASCO's CancerNet and gives a very nice summary:

Immunotherapy 2.0: The 2017 Clinical Cancer Advance of the Year

Today, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) released its Clinical Cancer Advances 2017 report. This annual report outlines the important progress being made in cancer research and highlights current and upcoming trends in the field. Included in this report is ASCO’s selection of the year’s most important progress made in the care of people with cancer. The 2017 Advance of the Year is Immunotherapy 2.0. Why 2.0? Because in the past 12 months, the role of immunotherapy has significantly grown.
Research has uncovered early clues about when these treatments may work better. These insights will help guide treatment planning.
“Over the last year, there has been a wave of new successes with immunotherapy,” writes ASCO President Daniel F. Hayes, MD, FASCO, FACP. “Research has proven this approach can be effective against a wide range of hard-­to-­treat advanced cancers previously considered intractable.”
Immunotherapy is a treatment designed to boost the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer. It uses substances, or cells made by the body, or treatments made in a laboratory to improve or restore immune system function. While scientists have been exploring various immunotherapy approaches for more than 100 years, the biggest success so far has been with treatments known as immune checkpoint inhibitors. Checkpoint inhibitors are a type of immunotherapy that works by taking the brakes off the immune system so it is better able to destroy the cancer.

Read more: http://www.asco.org/research-progress/reports-studies/clinical-cancer-advances/advance-year-immunotherapy-20

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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