The immune system is developed to help protect the body from infections and diseases. Immune cells are designed to travel through the body to detect harmful germs or cells that can cause infections. The immune system can also help protect the body from cancer in some ways; however, there are limits to what the immune system can do to fight cancer on its own.
The immune system is developed to help protect the body from infections and diseases. Immune
cells are designed to travel through the body to detect harmful germs or cells that can cause
infections. The immune system can also help protect the body from cancer in some ways;
however, there are limits to what the immune system can do to fight cancer on its own.
When dealing with cancer, there are many treatment options available. Determining the best and
most effective treatment for your cancer case can seem overwhelming, which is why you need a
cancer expert on your side to answer questions. And one set of questions you may have may be
about immunotherapy, which can include cancer vaccines.
“Immunotherapy is a constantly evolving treatment option for cancer,” said Dr. Jorge Perez with
Sierra Nevada Cancer Center. “Its focus is on enhancing the immune system, enacting the body’s
own defenses to fight off, or stop, the spread of cancer in the body.”
Immunotherapy can help treat a variety of cancers such as melanoma, breast, prostate and lung
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and is responsible for the majority of skin cancer-
related deaths. Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women, whereas
prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men and lung cancer is a leading cause of
cancer deaths. The most common treatment options for these types of cancer may consist of
surgery followed by radiation therapy, chemotherapy and targeted therapy.
But for many different types of cancer, immunotherapy has shown to be effective in a variety of
clinical outcomes for patients with cancer. Immunotherapy can be used in conjunction with
other cancer treatment options such as radiation or chemotherapy.
The most effective immunotherapy treatments for cancer consist of:
●cancer vaccines, which help trigger the immune system to attack tumor antigens;
●monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), where generated molecules or antibodies target cancer
tumors by causing an immune response;
●Checkpoint inhibitors, which are target molecules that produce or enhance pre-existing
anti-cancer immune responses to attack cancer cells.
There are two different types of cancer vaccines: vaccines that can prevent certain types of
cancer and vaccines that can help treat cancer.
Similar to traditional vaccines used to prevent the chickenpox or the flu, cancer vaccines can
help prevent or treat cancer. Preventive cancer vaccines are most effective for cancers known to
be caused by infections, like the HPV vaccine, which helps prevent cervical, anal or throat
cancers that can begin as an infection. Most cancers such as lung, prostate and breast cancers are
not thought to be caused by infections and therefore can not be prevented by a cancer vaccine.
However, treatment cancer vaccines help boost the immune system to attack against cancer cells
in the body. Take, for example, Sipuleucel-T (Provenge®), the only U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) approved vaccine used to treat advanced prostate cancer that is no longer
being helped by hormone therapy. Although the vaccine cannot cure prostate cancer, it has
helped extend the lives of men with prostate cancer.
Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) are man-made antibodies that specifically target a certain
antigen, such as one that is found in cancer cells. When dealing with cancer, creating monoclonal
antibodies can be difficult, especially when trying to identify the right antigen to attack. The
FDA has approved more than a dozen mAbs to treat certain cancers. There are two main types of
mAbs: naked mAbs, which are antibodies not attached to drugs or radioactive material, and
conjugated mAbs, which are joined to a chemotherapy drug or a radioactive particle. Adoptive T
cell therapy can be similar to mAbs, but instead, T cells are removed from a patient and then
modified or treated to enhance activity. They are then transferred back into the patient to
improve the immune system’s anti-cancer response.
Checkpoints in the immune system are important to keep the immune system from attacking the
normal cells in the body, but oftentimes cancer cells can find ways to avoid these checkpoints
and avoid being attacked by the immune system. Checkpoint inhibitors can access these immune
cells that need to be activated to start an immune response to recognize and attack cancer cells in
the body. These inhibitors are particularly effective in treating advanced melanoma by blocking
the protein that typically prevent the immune system from attacking itself, often shrinking
tumors and helping patients live longer.
Although they cannot cure or prevent cancer, these immunotherapy treatments have helped
certain patients with their specific cancer case. As researchers begin to understand and learn
about the immune system and how it can be used to treat cancer, immunotherapy treatments are
constantly changing and advancing. Some immunotherapy treatments focus on simply boosting
the body’s immune system, whereas others are used to train the immune system to specifically
attack cancer cells.