An expert recently said that some patients have significant responses to immunotherapy that last for years. In some circumstances, so many years that it has been thought that these patients may have been treated for their disease.

According to the Prevention report, Precision Immunotherapy Clinic at UC San Diego Health co-director Ezra Cohen, MD said, such a therapy is not effective "for every cancer yet," although recent developments have been presented.

For decades now, the most effective cure for cancer has comprised of surgery and rounds of chemotherapy or radiation sessions.

Nonetheless, some of these treatments can be dangerous for healthy cells, which is why advancements harnessing the power of the immune system are said to be "a big deal."

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Science Times - Immunotherapy Can Treat Some Types of Cancers, Medical Experts Explain
(Photo : Sandi Shen, Gaofang Xiao, Richang Du, Ningdong Hu, Xu Xia and Haibo Zhou on Wikimedia Commons)
High Ki-67 expression in an invasive breast cancer, with cancer nuclei being stained. There is tumor cell positivity in 70% of the cells.

How Immunotherapy Really Works

Typically, the immune system attacks anything foreign to the human body like viruses and bacteria, among others.

But since cancer begins in non-cancerous cells, the immune system does not always consider it as dangerous.

According to University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston investigational cancer therapeutics professor Aung Naing, MD, the objective of immunotherapy is to teach the immune system to "acknowledge and kill cancer cells."

Furthermore, the most typical type of immunotherapy for cancer comprises checkpoint inhibitors. These medications take the brakes off an immune response that is already taking place, setting free its full power.

CAR T Cell Therapy

Using chimeric antigen receptor or CAR T cell therapy, doctors are taking T cells from the blood of a patient, engineering them to target the tumor, and take them back to the patient "to attack the cancer."

Scientists are currently developing vaccines, too, not just ones that preempt cancer like the HPV vaccine for one, but ones too that enhances immune response.

More so, to rump up the attack on cancer, they are developing mono-clonal-antibodies, a version of the own disease-combating antibodies of the body, in the lab.

Cancer Type Immunotherapy Treats

Up to now, it is patients who have cancers like melanoma, head and neck cancers, and kidney, bladder, and non-small-cell lung cancer, that are hard to treat who have benefited from immunotherapy.

These tumor types, Dr. Naing explained, are regarded as "hot" since the immune cells in them can be stimulated. The doctor added, they are responding well to immunotherapy.

Meanwhile, other types of cancer like colon and pancreatic cancers, as well as most breast cancers, are regarded as severe immunosuppressive "or cold," although researchers are beginning to see success by integrating immunotherapy with traditional therapies.

The Food and Drug Administration recently authorized the first immunotherapy for breast cancer following atezolizumab, a checkpoint inhibitor integrated with chemotherapy was exhibited to have substantial impacts.

First-Line Treatment for Some Breast Cancer Tumors

This is now considered first-line therapy for some women who have breast cancer tumors that are found to be "triple-negative, an aggressive" and specifically fatal form of illness.

Pembrolizumab, a monoclonal antibody, was approved as well, along with chemotherapy for some types of early-stage and triple-negative breast cancer.

Currently, study investigators are trying to understand the reason immunotherapy agents are working for only roughly 20 percent of cancer patients and the reason some patients are experiencing life-threatening complications while others are experiencing nearly no side effects.

In the meantime, the race for developing more therapies continues. Dr. Cohen explained, immunotherapies have been authorized for "20 different cancers, at last count." This, the expert added, is "signaling a new era" of cancer treatment.

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