Cancer treatment is a field where medical experts continue to progress as time goes on, providing better solutions to all types of cancer known to man. Currently, the most recommended method of deterring cancer is through early detection with cancer-focused health screenings. This allows prompt treatment that leads to greater chances of longer-lasting remissions or complete elimination of cancer cells.
Usually, treatments such as chemotherapy involve a direct approach by outright killing cancer cells in the body. However, that is not the case with immunotherapy, another solution that takes a different approach to cancer treatment. Let us share how immunotherapy works and some of the cancers it treats well.
A brief overview of immunotherapy Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that harnesses the naturally potent capabilities of the human immune system. This treatment essentially involves drugs that help bolster a patient’s immune system, making it much more proficient at recognising, targeting, and eliminating cancerous cells in the body. Due to the different approach, immunotherapy can work against most types of cancers.
Apart from the way they function, one main difference between immunotherapy and chemotherapy is that the latter can persist and provide long-lasting protection even after the treatment’s drugs expire from the body. This phenomenon is called “immune memory”, where a patient’s immune system is improved to the point it can recognise and remember the cancer cells they must eliminate. The types of cancer best treated with immunotherapy Although immunotherapy can provide treatment for various kinds of cancer, it is essential to note that not all patients may be eligible for the treatment. This can be due to many factors, such as the cancer cell’s genetic makeup, its overall spread, and its response to previous types of cancer treatment.
These factors and more determine if and when immunotherapy can be a part of a patient’s standard cancer treatment path. Leukaemia Immunotherapy has become incredibly prominent in treating blood-related cancers and diseases like leukaemia. One such form of immunotherapy that works best is a stem cell transplant, where a donor’s blood-making cells endow a patient with a new and improved immune system that is far more effective at fighting the disease.
Adoptive cell therapy is another immune-based solution targeting adult acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). In this treatment, patients are infused with genetically enhanced T cells (a part of the immune system that targets specific foreign particles) that mount an effective and powerful attack against tumour cells. Melanoma Immunotherapy made its first breakthrough treating metastatic melanoma, a type of skin cancer. Today, a range of immunotherapy treatments are approved for treating subsets of patients diagnosed with advanced melanoma.
Studies have revealed that using immunotherapy allows for a 50% chance of survival in the long term. While using a mix of drugs, such as the anti-PD-1 and the CTLA-4 antagonist ipilimumab combination, can raise the 5-year survival rates above 50%, the method is considered highly toxic.
As a result of this breakthrough, treating melanoma has changed for the better by increasing the survival rate of patients with metastatic melanoma. Kidney cancer Immunotherapy has been used to treat kidney cancer for more than a decade. The first indication that immunotherapy has proven to be effective for kidney cancer is the spontaneous regressions from patients that had their tumours surgically removed.
In the past, the standard first-line therapy used for advanced kidney cancer primarily used substances that stimulate the immune system called cytokines. These substances proved to be effective at causing kidney cancers to shrink in as much as 10-20% of patients and even providing long-lasting remissions in some cases.
Now, newer and improved immunotherapies have become integral in managing advanced or metastatic kidney cancer, tremendously changing the disease's treatment landscape and overall survival rate. Lung cancer Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers among Singaporeans, ranking 2nd in men and 3rd in women. More often than not, this type of cancer gets diagnosed too late when the cancer is in its advanced stages. Once the cancer reaches that point, the effectiveness of conventional treatment methods, such as chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy, are significantly diminished.
However, immunotherapy with its immune-based approach has been shown to help the survival chances of patients and provide symptom relief, resulting in longer and more comfortable life.
Recent studies on immunotherapy reveals that lung cancer patients have shown significant improvements in their condition when using immune checkpoint inhibitors, a type of immunotherapy.
This suggests that as a first-line treatment for cancer, immunotherapy will provide a higher survival rate, progression-free survival, quality of life, and overall response rate than platinum-based chemotherapy. Conclusion Immunotherapy and its immune-based approach to treating cancer show promising possibilities, especially for the kinds of cancer that have been historically resistant to conventional treatments like chemotherapy.
Regardless, it is vital to know that immunotherapy may not always be eligible for each patient, and it is best to consult with a care provider first to determine the best treatment path.
Getting the proper cancer treatment plan starts from a consultation with a care provider. If you require assistance with cancer-focused screenings or any other cancer treatment and diagnosis needs, the International Cancer Specialists are always available to offer a helping hand.
As one of the leading cancer treatment centres in Singapore, we are dedicated to providing our patients with the best care possible with the latest medical advancements. Contact us today if you require consultation with our specialists. References:
Immunotherapy by cancer type. Cancer Research Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2021, from https://www.cancerresearch.org/en-us/immunotherapy/cancer-types
Rahma, O. (2020, December 16). What types of cancer can be treated with immunotherapy?: Dana-Farber. Dana. Retrieved December 15, 2021, from https://blog.dana-farber.org/insight/2020/04/what-types-of-cancer-can-be-treated-with-immunotherapy/
Goswami, S. (n.d.). Immunotherapy for kidney cancer. Cancer Research Institute. Retrieved December 15, 2021, from https://www.cancerresearch.org/immunotherapy/cancer-types/kidney-cancer
Hellmann, M. (n.d.). Immunotherapy for lung cancer. Cancer Research Institute. Retrieved December 15, 2021, from https://www.cancerresearch.org/immunotherapy/cancer-types/lung-cancer
Steininger, J., Gellrich, F. F., Schulz, A., Westphal, D., Beissert, S., & Meier, F. (2021). Systemic therapy of metastatic melanoma: On The road to cure. Cancers, 13(6), 1430. https://doi.org/10.3390/cancers13061430
Ferrara, R., Imbimbo, M., Malouf, R., Paget-Bailly, S., Calais, F., Marchal, C., & Westeel, V. (2020). Single or combined immune checkpoint inhibitors compared to first-line platinum-based chemotherapy with or without bevacizumab for people with advanced non-small cell lung cancer. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.cd013257.pub2