Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that helps your immune system fight cancer. Normally your immune system, which consists of red blood cells, white blood cells and lymph cells, fights off foreign cells as part of its function. However, cancer cells are able to block the immune system from seeing them as cancer. That allows the cancer to continue growing undisturbed. 

Immunotherapy is a type of biological therapy that is showing great promise in the cancer field as a way to treat certain cancers. It turns on the immune system, allowing it to see the cancer cells as dangerous and attacks them. 

The drugs used in immunotherapy are developed to work with specific types of cancers, meaning it’s not a suitable treatment for every patient. Your oncologist may recommend it as part of your overall cancer treatment plan.

How Immunotherapy Works 

Cancer cells are able to hide from your immune system, making it easier for them to thrive and multiple. Certain immunotherapies can mark cancer cells so a person’s immune system can find and destroy them.  

This can be done in a few different ways, which include: 

  • Stimulating the immune system to work harder or smarter so that it attacks cancer cells
  • Giving the immune system man-made components, such as immune system proteins

Immunotherapy includes treatments that work in different ways. Some treatments boost the immune system in a very general way, while others help train the immune system to attack cancer cells specifically. 

Types of Immunotherapy

There are a few categories of immunotherapy drugs. Some help the immune system stop or slow the growth of cancer cells while others help the immune system destroy cancer cells or stop it from spreading to other parts of the body. 

  • Monoclonal antibodies, these drugs that are designed to bind to specific targets in the body. They can cause an immune response that destroys cancer cells. Other types of monoclonal antibodies can “mark” cancer cells so it is easier for the immune system to find and destroy them. These types of monoclonal antibodies may also be referred to as targeted therapy.
  • Immune checkpoint inhibitors, these are drugs that stimulate the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells.
  • T-cell transfer therapy, which is a cancer treatment that attempts to boost the natural ability of your T cells to fight cancer. T cells are a type of white blood cell and part of the immune system. Researchers take T cells from the tumor. They then isolate the T cells that are most active against your cancer or modify the genes in them to make them better able to find and destroy your cancer cells. Cancer researchers then grow large batches of these T cells in the lab.

    You may have treatments to reduce your immune cells. After these treatments, the T cells that were grown in the lab will be given back to you via a needle in your vein. The process of growing your T cells in the lab can take 2 to 8 weeks, depending on how fast they grow.

Side Effects of Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy can cause side effects, many of which depend on factors such as your health going into treatment, how advanced the cancer is, and the type and dose of therapy you’re given. Side effects of immunotherapy can be mild, moderate, or severe.

Some common side effects of immunotherapy can include: 

  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, aches, weakness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, fatigue, and headache
  • Bacterial, viral, or yeast infection
  • Rash
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hepatitis
  • Pneumonitis
  • Endocrinopathies
  • Swelling and fluid retention-related weight gain

Preventing and treating side effects is an important part of your overall cancer treatment. Your NYOH cancer care team can help you manage many side effects. 

Immunotherapy, the Future of Personalized Medicine  

Immunotherapy has revolutionized the field of oncology. In addition to targeting cancer cells directly, we can now target immune cells. This combination in strategy against a particular tumor helps us improve outcomes for our patients and gives new hope for the future of cancer treatment.

How to Access Immunotherapy

Many immunotherapy drugs are approved and in use regularly to treat certain cancers. There is extensive research underway, including clinical trials available in the Albany area through New York Oncology Hematology. We have the largest research operation in the region and we participate in the same trials offered at large, national cancer centers, such as Sloan Kettering, Dana Farber, or Roswell Park. 

Our physicians are dedicated to learning about and shaping the newest findings in cancer treatment, and as a result, are able to extend the latest in high-quality care to our patients as soon as new options become available.

If you would like more information, you may speak to your physician about available cancer clinical research trials.

Immunotherapy Cancer Care Close to Home 

Our team at New York Oncology Hematology, along with the thousand physicians of The US Oncology Network, are focused on joining together to shape the future of cancer care. We believe that we can have the greatest impact by bringing the most advanced care to patients in community-based practices, near where patients live and have support systems. 

If you would like more information, request an appointment with one of the cancer specialists with offices in Albany, Troy, Amsterdam, Clifton Park and Hudson. The NYOH oncologists are here to provide state of the art care for patients through personalized cancer treatment plans. Second opinions are also available through NYOH.

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