Chemotherapy is generally the first thing that comes to people’s minds when cancer treatment is mentioned. It has been proven to be effective at curing some cancers and alleviating the symptoms of many other types of cancer. Chemotherapy works by directly attacking cancer cells and eliminating them, but its efficacy only lasts if the drugs remain in the body.
This shortcoming is something that immunotherapy solves while also providing a new approach to combating cancer. Below, we discuss this type of treatment and further explain how it works.
1. Immunotherapy does not directly attack cancer cells Unlike the usual cancer treatments we know of such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, immunotherapy does not actively eliminate cancer cells and tumours in a patient’s body. Instead, it works by harnessing the natural power of the immune system and bolstering it to become better at dealing with such cancer cells themselves.
Immunotherapy essentially “teaches” a patient’s immune system to better recognise the rapidly dividing cancer cells proliferating throughout its body, making it more effective at targeting and destroying them.
This approach of stimulating the immune system is proven effective against cancers that have not responded to or developed resistance against cytotoxic therapy like chemotherapy. 2. Immunotherapy can provide long-lasting effects As mentioned, chemotherapy makes use of anti-cancer drugs that specifically target rapidly dividing cells, whether they are cancerous or non-cancerous. This method results in the treatment’s well-known side effects. However, its efficacy only lasts for as long as they remain in the body’s system, which is only temporary.
In contrast, immunotherapy’s effects can last for the long term, even well after the treatment is completed. This is due to the “immune memory” phenomenon, wherein the immune system continues to recognise and remember the types of cancer cells that they are supposed to eliminate.
Therefore, immunotherapy enables longer-lasting remissions in patients. Clinical studies have also revealed that the advantages of immunotherapy are durable and can be maintained after the treatment is complete.
3. Immunotherapy can work against most cancer types Chemotherapy is a popular treatment among many cancer treatment centres in Singapore. Still, it is not something that care providers can always prescribe patients with, since other solutions may work better than chemo. One of these solutions is immunotherapy.
Due to how the treatment works, (i.e. boosting the immune system instead of directly targeting cancer cells), immunotherapy is effective against many types of cancer, including those that have been historically resistant to general cytotoxic therapies like chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
4. Immunotherapy is beneficial against lung cancer Based on how immunotherapy works, it is considered a less toxic treatment for lung cancer. After all, it does not outright damage healthy cells as chemotherapy does. Hence, some patients can keep up immunotherapy for a long time.
Those who manage to yield positive results from the treatment may often continue receiving it for years with fewer short and long-term side effects than patients that take conventional therapies like radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
In other cases, immunotherapy can at least help keep lung cancer under control, even if it cannot eliminate the disease for good. Ultimately, studies have shown increased progression-free survival, and overall survival rates of lung cancer patients treated immunotherapy. An important thing to note about immunotherapy Not everyone is eligible for immunotherapy treatment. To determine if a patient is suitable for it, they must first undergo genomic and PD-L1 testing. These tests determine which therapy is best for treating certain cancers. In the case of lung cancer, they detect the sensitivity of cancer cells to immunotherapy.
Genomic test results are measured in percentage. If it is above 50%, patients may be treated with immunotherapy alone. Otherwise, a combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy is more suitable.
Doctors will also consider if the patients currently suffer from an autoimmune disease, such as Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. In that case, they may not be good candidates for immunotherapy.
This is because immunotherapy drugs increase the activity levels of the immune system, which could prove problematic for patients whose immune systems are already overactive. Conclusion Immunotherapy and its promising new approach to cancer treatment are arguably just as exciting as the development of the first chemotherapies in the 1940s. However, even with its potential, it is essential to note that patients must first consult with their care provider and decide which type of cancer treatment is best suited for their needs.
Although immunotherapy is undoubtedly a great way of treating cancer, doctors and care providers worldwide will still emphasise on the importance of early detection. Here at International Cancer Specialists, you can rest assured that our team of specialists can help you be ready for this disease.
As a premier cancer diagnosis and treatment in Singapore, we offer care and management services for various types of cancer such as colorectal cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer.
For professional assistance on cancer treatment or screening tests reviewed by experienced oncologists, allow us to lend you a compassionate hand by reaching out to us via our 24/7 hotline, email, or WhatsApp today. References
McCluskey, K. (2016, June 2). Immunotherapy vs. Chemotherapy: What's the difference? Cancer Research Institute. Retrieved December 14, 2021, from https://www.cancerresearch.org/en-us/blog/june-2016/difference-cancer-immunotherapy-and-chemotherapy.
Grier, M. A. (2021, February 9). Fast facts for the frontline: Immunotherapy. Oncology Nursing News. Retrieved December 14, 2021, from https://www.oncnursingnews.com/view/immunotherapy.
Immunotherapy for lung cancer: Unleashing the power of the immune system. Cancer Treatment Centers of America. (2021, November 23). Retrieved January 11, 2022, from https://www.cancercenter.com/community/blog/2021/03/immunotherapy-for-lung-cancer