Cancer Immunotherapy: Body heal thyself!
It isn’t often one can say that something exciting and positive is happening in cancer treatment but there is good news with immunotherapy. The science and treatments are changing rapidly. What is so amazing is that the source of this change is hidden within our own bodies. Cancer Immunotherapy is at the forefront of the battle to fight and perhaps cure certain types of cancer.
What is Cancer Immunotherapy and how does it work?
It is quite complex, but basically Immunotherapy is treatment that uses certain parts of a person’s own immune system to fight diseases including cancer. This can be done a few different ways.
First, doctors determine how to stimulate your own immune system to work harder or smarter to attack cancer cells. Secondly, doctors are developing drugs that give your immune system components and weapons to use, such as man-made immune system proteins.
Multiple tests and studies are ongoing and reports of positive results continue to trickle in.
Since the Late 1800's
For a long time, since the late 1800’s, doctors and scientist suspected that a person’s own immune system could affect certain cancers. Even before the immune system was well understood, William Coley, MD, a New York surgeon, first noted that getting an infection after surgery seemed to help some cancer patients. The ability to think outside the box and to always think proactively helped Dr. Coley as he began treating cancer patients by infecting them with certain kinds of bacteria. This came to be known as Coley Toxins.
Although he had some success, his technique was overshadowed when other more drastic forms of cancer treatment, such as radiation therapy, came into use. We have all heard about how awful chemotherapy and radiation are and the side effects they cause including hair loss, fatigue, and loss of appetite to name a few. Hopefully, the new therapy will work better, quicker and be less damaging to the parts of the body that are not infected with cancer.
Thankfully, science and medicine continue to explore immunotherapy. A recent Wall Street Journal article entitled Cancer Super-survivors: How Immunotherapy is transforming Oncology, described a growing group of “super-survivors” who are transforming the world of oncology. In both total numbers of survivor’s and time of survival, the super-survivors are charting new territory. They are reviving hopes that the long-maligned idea of enlisting the power of one’s own immune system against cancer may help to turn the tide against some of the most lethal and resistant forms of the disease.
Since Coley’s Toxins were used in the late 1800’s doctors and scientists have learned a great deal about the immune system and how it might be used to treat cancer. Advances are rapid and there are numerous startup companies working in the field. It is complex, highly technical and very expensive. Treatments can total well over $120,000 per treatment and some average $12,500 per month or $150,000 a year. Hopefully the cost will go down as the drugs are developed.
In the last few decades immunotherapy has become an important part of treating some types of cancer. Newer types of immune treatments are now being studied for many other types, and they’ll impact how we treat cancer in the future. Immunotherapy includes treatments that work in different ways. Some boost the body’s immune system in a very general way. Others help train the immune system to attack certain cancer cells specifically. Your immune system is a collection of organs, special cells, and substances that help protect you from infections and some other diseases. Immune cells and the substances they make travel through your body to protect it from germs that cause infections. They also help protect you from cancer in some ways.
Think of Your Body as a Castle
It may help to think of your body as a castle. Germs like viruses, bacteria, and parasites are like hostile, foreign armies that are not normally found in your body. They try to invade your body to use its resources, and they can hurt you in the process. Your immune system is your body’s defense force. It helps keep invading germs out, or kills them if they do get into your body. The immune system keeps track of all of the substances normally found in the body. Any new substance in the body that the immune system doesn’t recognize raises an alarm, causing the immune system to attack it. Substances that cause an immune response are called antigens. The immune response can destroy anything containing the antigen, such as germs or cancer cells.
Two Cancer Immunotherapy drugs being developed by major drug companies have proved remarkably effective against blood cancer Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This adds to the growing evidence of the potential for enlisting the immune system in the fight against a wide range of tumors. The drugs are among an emerging class of agent’s know as immune checkpoint inhibitors which have shown the most promise against skin cancer and Lung cancer.
Wallace & Graham is Watching
Wallace & Graham is watching this closely as we represent victims of asbestos exposure who suffer from lung cancer. We are hopeful this promising research can be used to help our clients survive this occupational disease and are looking to see if it can apply to treatment of mesothelioma.
Tumor cells are very clever and they develop mechanisms that allow them to persist and not be seen effectively by T cells. If you can inhibit that mechanism you are unleashing the “T” cells and you are able to mount an immune response against the tumor.
For more information on this please read the American Cancer Society’s research papers on the latest developments in Cancer Immunotherapy.
American Cancer Society-Cancer Immunotherapy. Wall Street Journal articles including “Cancer Drugs Show Promise” and “Cancer’s Super-Survivors: How immunotherapy is transforming Oncology.”
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