How Immunotherapy Helps In Treating Cancer?

Immunotherapy is like giving your body’s defense system a power boost to spot and defeat cancer cells. Think of it as supercharging your immune system, which naturally fights off bad stuff, including cancer. Many folks with cancer are seeing great results with immunotherapy. Plus, scientists are always working on new and improved versions to help even more people. It’s a game-changer in the fight against cancer!


How Immunotherapy works:

Think of your immune system as your body’s security team, always on the lookout for troublemakers, from colds to damaged cells that might turn nasty. This team is super vigilant, always hunting down and taking out potential threats. But sometimes, cancer cells play hide and seek, cleverly dodging our natural defenses. That’s where immunotherapy steps in. It:

    • Gives a pep talk to our immune system, gearing it up to better spot and defeat cancer cells.

    • Supercharges the body, producing more security agents that are experts at finding and squashing cancer cells.

In simple terms, immunotherapy boosts our body’s natural defenses, making them smarter and stronger in the fight against cancer.

What cancers does immunotherapy treat?

Think of immunotherapy as a super boost for our body’s defense system, especially when dealing with stubborn cancers that have spread. Doctors often use immunotherapy as a starting point for treating many such advanced cancers. Sometimes, they team it up with other treatments like chemotherapy or targeted therapies. The cool thing? There are various types of immunotherapy, each tapping into different parts of our immune system, making them suitable for tackling a wide range of cancers. So, no matter the cancer type, there’s a good chance immunotherapy might be on the treatment menu.

What are types of immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Instead, there are various flavors to it! Some popular types include:

    • Checkpoint inhibitors, which act like immune system traffic controllers.

    • Adoptive cell therapy, often called T-cell transfer therapy, is like giving your body’s defense a special forces unit.

    • Monoclonal antibodies that are like guided missiles, specifically targeting cancer cells.

    • Cancer vaccines – yes, just like those shots that prevent illnesses, but these are designed to jumpstart your immune response to cancer.

    • And lastly, immune system modulators that tweak and tune our body’s defense mechanisms.

Each type has its unique way of giving your immune system that extra edge against cancer!

What Are Checkpoint Inhibitors?

Your immune system is like a vigilant guardian, but it needs to strike a balance. It has checkpoints to make sure it doesn’t go overboard and harm your healthy cells while fighting off threats.

For instance, in your bone marrow, you have special white blood cells called T lymphocytes, or T-cells. These champions shield your body from infections and even confront cancer cells. Now, immune checkpoints are like security guards, and they interact with proteins on the surface of these T-cells.

How Do Checkpoint Inhibitors Work?

Think of checkpoint proteins as traffic managers for your body’s immune system. They control the signals that tell T-cells (the warriors of your immune system) when to get active and when to take a break. It’s a bit like traffic lights at an intersection, switching on and off to manage the flow. T-cells need to turn on to combat cancer cells but also turn off to avoid harming healthy ones.

Checkpoint inhibitors are like the superheroes of immunotherapy. They break the communication link between checkpoint proteins and other proteins, ensuring that the “off” signal isn’t sent to T-cells. This means the T-cells keep doing what they do best—attacking cancer cells.

Which Cancers Are Treated with Checkpoint Inhibitors?

Healthcare experts often use checkpoint inhibitors to treat various cancer types, especially advanced, spread, or surgery-resistant ones. They might also combine these inhibitors with other treatments like chemotherapy or targeted therapy. The list of cancers treated with checkpoint inhibitors is expected to grow as research progresses, but for now, it includes:

    • Bladder cancer

    • Cervical cancer

    • Esophageal cancer

    • Head and neck cancer

    • Hepatocellular carcinoma

    • High-risk triple-negative breast cancer

    • Kidney cancer

    • Melanoma

    • Mesothelioma

    • Non-small cell lung cancer

Adoptive Cell Therapy (T-cell Transfer Therapy)

Think of this treatment as giving your body’s defense team a boost. Doctors take some of your immune cells, let them grow stronger in a lab, and then put them back into your body. These supercharged cells then work hard to tackle cancer cells. The two main ways this is done are through CAR T-cell therapy and tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy. It’s like training and leveling up your body’s own warriors to better fight cancer.

How CAR T-cell Therapy Functions

Think of CAR T-cell therapy as giving your body’s defenders a pair of special glasses to see tricky enemies. T-cells, which are like your body’s security guards, look out for harmful invaders, such as cancer cells. These invaders wear sneaky disguises, but the T-cells have tools, called receptors, to spot and tackle them. Sometimes, though, these invaders are too sneaky. That’s where CAR T-cell therapy comes in – it makes sure your T-cells can always see through the invaders’ tricks.

Cancers Addressed by CAR T-cell Therapy

Right now, CAR T-cell therapy mainly helps with certain blood cancers, like some kinds of leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. But there’s hope and ongoing research to see if it can also work for breast and brain cancer.

How Tumor-Infiltrating Lymphocytes (TIL) Work

Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) are like a small group of soldiers who go on a mission to explore enemy territory. These TIL cells can sneak close to or even inside cancerous tumors, but unfortunately, they can’t effectively fight against the cancer cells because they are outnumbered. Moreover, they can’t call for backup because the cancer cells send signals that suppress our immune system.

In TIL therapy, doctors grow larger and stronger TIL cells. They take these cells from tumors and treat them with substances that help them grow. Once the improved TIL cells are returned to the cancerous tumors, they can kill the cancer cells and disrupt the signals that suppress our immune system.

Cancers Treated with TIL

TIL therapy is not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a standard cancer treatment. However, medical researchers are studying TIL therapy as a potential treatment for melanoma (skin cancer), cervical squamous carcinoma (a type of cervical cancer), and cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer).

Monoclonal Antibody Therapy

When your immune system detects invaders, antibodies step up as the first line of defense. These special proteins fight infections by tagging the intruders, signaling your immune system to eliminate them. In cancer treatment, monoclonal antibody therapy uses laboratory-created antibodies to either boost your existing antibodies or act as a separate attacking force.

How Monoclonal Antibodies Work

Lab-created antibodies can target specific parts of cancer cells. For instance, they can block abnormal proteins found in cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies can also be used to deliver drugs, toxins, or radioactive substances directly to cancer cells, effectively killing them. Healthcare providers consider monoclonal antibody therapy as a type of targeted treatment, where they focus on specific genes, proteins, or tissues associated with the cancer.

Cancers Treated with Monoclonal Antibody Therapy

The FDA has approved over 60 different monoclonal antibody drugs to treat various types of cancer. Some common cancers treated with different monoclonal antibodies include:

    • Bladder cancer

    • Breast cancer, including triple-negative breast cancer

    • Colorectal cancer

    • Lymphomas, such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, and B-cell lymphoma

    • Leukemia, including acute lymphoblastic leukemia, hairy cell leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia

    • Multiple myeloma

    • Non-small cell lung cancer

Cancer Vaccines

Vaccines are like shields that protect your body from certain diseases. For example, the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV) safeguards against an infectious disease that can be linked to anal cancer, throat cancer, and penile cancers. These vaccines work by preventing you from getting an infection that could potentially lead to cancer later on. It’s important to note that cancer vaccines do not prevent cancer from occurring initially. However, if you do develop cancer, these vaccines help train your body to fight against it.

How Cancer Vaccines Work

Cancer vaccines function by assisting your immune system in recognizing antigens present in cancer cells. Similar to other vaccines, cancer vaccines utilize either the entire cancer cells or specific parts of them to help your body identify and target harmful tumors within your system.

Scientists are currently exploring various methods to develop cancer vaccines. One cancer vaccine that has received FDA approval involves using immune cells that respond to specific antigens found on prostate cancer cells.

Immunomodulators/Immune System Modulators

Immunomodulators are substances that enhance your body’s response to cancer. They include cytokines, BCG, and immunomodulatory drugs.

Cytokines Cytokines are proteins that help regulate your immune system’s reaction to invaders, including cancer cells. They play a crucial role in managing the growth and activity of immune and blood cells.

For instance, cytokines act as messengers to alert your immune system when it’s time to take action against intruders like cancer cells. They facilitate communication between immune cells, enabling them to coordinate targeted attacks on specific cancerous targets. Cytokines also aid in the destruction of cancer cells by sending signals that promote the survival of healthy cells while causing cancer cells to die. Healthcare providers use two types of cytokines to treat cancer:

Interferons: These substances assist your immune system in fighting cancer and slowing down the growth of cancer cells. Lab-made interferons are used to treat various types of cancer. Interleukins: These proteins initiate an immune response and facilitate communication among immune cells. One specific interleukin, IL-2, increases the number of white blood cells in your body, including T-cells and B-cells, which are crucial in fighting cancer. Lab-made interleukins are used to treat specific cancers like melanoma and kidney cancer.

Immunomodulatory Drugs

Immunomodulatory drugs, also known as biologic response modifiers, are medications that give a boost to your immune system. Some of these drugs work by preventing cancerous tumors from developing new blood vessels. Healthcare providers may use these drugs to treat individuals with advanced forms of certain types of lymphoma. Here are some examples of immunomodulatory drugs:

    • Thalidomide (Thalomid®)

    • Lenalidomide (Revlimid®)

    • Pomalidomide (Pomalyst®)

    • Imiquimod (Aldara®, Zyclara®)

Thalidomide, lenalidomide, and pomalidomide stimulate the release of a cytokine called IL-2. IL-2 helps your body produce more white blood cells to fight against cancer. These three drugs also help inhibit the growth of cancerous tumors by preventing the formation of new blood vessels that the tumors need to keep growing. Another immunomodulatory drug, imiquimod, triggers the release of cytokines by cells.

Thalidomide, lenalidomide (Revlimid), and pomalidomide (Pomalyst) fall under the category of immunomodulatory drugs, which activate your immune system. These drugs also prevent the formation of new blood vessels that supply myeloma cells.

Thalidomide and lenalidomide are approved for treating individuals who have been newly diagnosed. Lenalidomide and pomalidomide are also effective in treating recurrent myeloma. These drugs stimulate your immune system and some of them prevent cancerous tumors from forming new blood vessels that are necessary for their growth. Healthcare providers often use these drugs to treat metastatic cancer.

What are immunotherapy side effects?

Just like other cancer treatments, immunotherapy can come with its set of challenges. While it’s tweaking your immune system to be a better cancer-fighter, it might sometimes get a bit overzealous and mistakenly target some of your healthy cells. This is what we call an immune-related adverse effect, or for short, irAE. In fact, about 1 in 5 people undergoing immunotherapy might face a severe irAE. Some of the usual suspects in the side effects lineup include:

    • Feeling super tired.

    • An annoying itchy rash.

    • An upset tummy leading to diarrhea.

    • Feeling queasy with nausea or even throwing up.

    • A drop in thyroid hormone levels, which can affect your energy and mood.

Remember, these effects are your body’s way of adjusting to the treatment. Always chat with your doctor about any concerns!

Benefits of immunotherapy:

Immunotherapy can come to the rescue when other cancer treatments don’t do the trick or when cancer makes a comeback after the usual treatments. It’s like a superhero treatment for those tough-to-beat cancers.

Here’s what this superhero treatment offers:

    • Second Chances: It can combat cancers that didn’t respond well to standard treatments. Think of it as a backup plan when the usual methods don’t work.

    • Resilient Response: For those times when cancer returns post-treatment, immunotherapy stands strong, fighting back with renewed vigor.

    • Harnessing Your Power: Instead of introducing foreign agents, it boosts your own immune system to fight off cancer cells. It’s your body’s natural defense, supercharged.

    • Tailored Treatment: It can be customized to each person, targeting specific types of cancer cells and improving the chances of success.

By tapping into the body’s own defense mechanisms, immunotherapy offers a promising avenue for those seeking effective cancer treatments.

Risks of immunotherapy:

While immunotherapy offers hope for many, it doesn’t suit everyone. Not all cancers respond to it, and not every patient sees results. Like many treatments, it comes with side effects. But don’t worry; if your doctor suggests immunotherapy, they’ll guide you through the potential risks and help manage any issues that might pop up

While immunotherapy is an exciting frontier in cancer treatment, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Here’s the real talk on its challenges:

    • Not Always a Match: Just as some shoes don’t fit everyone, immunotherapy might not click with all types of cancer or all patients.

    • Side Effects: Like most treatments, immunotherapy can come with its own set of side effects. But don’t worry – your healthcare provider will guide you through what to expect and how to cope.

    • Personalized Approach: If your doctor suggests immunotherapy, they’ll ensure you’re well-informed about potential risks and the support available to manage any complications.

Remember, it’s all about finding the best path for your health journey.

What cancers does immunotherapy treat?

Immunotherapy is becoming a go-to choice for treating many advanced-stage cancers that have spread. It’s often paired with other treatments like chemotherapy or targeted therapies to boost its effectiveness. The beauty of immunotherapy? It’s tailored to work with various aspects of our immune system, making it suitable for treating a range of cancers. Whether you’re battling lung, breast, or skin cancer, there’s a chance immunotherapy might be a part of your treatment plan, among other types. It’s a fresh approach, using our body’s defense system to target and defeat cancer.

How is immunotherapy given?

Immunotherapy can be administered in different ways, depending on the specific treatment. Here are some common methods:

    • Intravenous (IV): The immunotherapy is delivered directly into a vein through a needle or catheter.

    • Oral: The immunotherapy is in the form of pills or capsules that you can swallow.

    • Topical: The immunotherapy is applied as a cream that you gently rub onto your skin. This type of immunotherapy is often used for early-stage skin cancer.

    • Intravesical: The immunotherapy is inserted directly into the bladder through a catheter.

These various methods allow healthcare providers to tailor the delivery of immunotherapy based on the specific needs of each patient.

Can immunotherapy wipe out cancer entirely?

While immunotherapy doesn’t typically cure cancer, it’s showing promise in keeping it in check, helping many live longer. For some, it manages to slow down the cancer’s progression, and for others, it might even reduce tumor sizes. But, it’s essential to remember that everyone’s body reacts differently, and immunotherapy may not work for all. It’s a hopeful step in the right direction in the world of cancer treatments.

How is immunotherapy given to patients?

Immunotherapy is usually given through a drip into the vein, known as an intravenous (IV) infusion. Depending on the kind of cancer and the treatment type, patients might get it daily, weekly, monthly, or even in cycles, with breaks in between. These breaks help the body recover and generate healthy cells. The duration of the treatment mainly hinges on the type and stage of cancer, the specific immunotherapy drug used, and how well someone’s body responds to the therapy.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

If you’re considering immunotherapy as a cancer treatment, you may have some questions for your healthcare provider. Here are a few common ones:

1: Which type of immunotherapy do you recommend for me?

2: Will I need to undergo any other cancer treatments alongside immunotherapy?

3: Are there any ongoing clinical trials for immunotherapy that I could participate in?

4: How will the immunotherapy treatment be administered to me?

5: How long will each treatment session last, and how frequently will I need to receive it?

6: What are the potential short-term side effects of immunotherapy, and how can they be managed?

7: Are there any long-term side effects I should be aware of, and how can they be addressed?

8: What specific side effects should I report to you immediately?

9: How will this treatment impact my daily life, including work, exercise, and other activities?

10: How will we determine if immunotherapy is effectively treating my cancer?

Remember, it’s important to have open and honest discussions with your healthcare provider to ensure you have a clear understanding of your treatment options and what to expect.


Immunotherapy is a groundbreaking cancer treatment that boosts the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells. It offers hope for advanced-stage cancers and can be tailored to different types of cancer. While it may not cure cancer entirely, it can control its growth and improve survival rates. Side effects are possible, but healthcare providers closely monitor patients. Consult with your healthcare provider to explore the potential benefits of immunotherapy for your specific situation.

Although immunotherapy cannot cure stage 4 cancer, it can enhance your quality of life and potentially extend your lifespan.

Melanoma immunotherapy is a treatment that uses the body’s immune system to fight against melanoma, a type of skin cancer. It has shown promising results in improving outcomes for patients with melanoma.

Immunotherapy boosts the body’s natural defenses to better identify and fight off cancer cells.

Yes, immunotherapy can be quite expensive, but costs vary depending on the specific treatment, location, and healthcare coverage.

On Average it Costs $100,000 per patient.

Immunotherapy provides lasting results for about 15-20% of patients.

Immunotherapy aims to target cancer cells, but sometimes it accidentally affects healthy tissues, leading to inflammation and side effects. This unintended reaction is called an immune-related adverse effect, or irAE.

Immunotherapy has shown promise in treating a variety of cancers, including Mesothelioma, Multiple myeloma, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Prostate cancer, Skin cancer, Soft tissue sarcoma, Stomach cancer, and advanced uterine cancer, where checkpoint inhibitors can be considered.

Immunotherapy can be given in various ways, including through a vein (intravenously), as an injection under the skin (subcutaneously) or into a muscle (intramuscularly). Some specific types might be applied directly to the area where the tumor resides.

If you’re dealing with mouth irritation or sores during immunotherapy, it might be a good idea to steer clear of certain foods that can aggravate the condition, like:

  • Fruits high in citrus.
  • Salad dressings with vinegar.
  • Tomatoes.
  • Fizzy drinks.
  • Alcoholic drinks.

Treatment might be daily, weekly, or monthly.Its frequency varies based on the treatment type and patient’s needs