Cancer Immunotherapy Fighting The Cancers From Inside

The statistics are grim: one out of three people is expected to develop cancer in their lifetime; one in four cancer patients dies. To make matters worse, there are also more than two hundred different types of cancer, all asking for different treatment approaches. As of recently, there is a new hope for cancer patients - a potentially revolutionary new treatment: cancer immunotherapy.

Cancer Immunotherapy Fighting The Cancers From Inside
Image: Wikipedia.org


Science magazine's editors have named cancer immunotherapy as breakthrough of the year for 2013. Will we remember the past year as the one in which the new era in biotechnology has dawned? A triumph for scientists that presents a new hope for cancer patients? Quite possibly.

Immunotherapy uses the body's own immune system to fight disease. The most familiar form of immunotherapy is vaccination: when a weakened or dead virus responsible for the disease is injected into an organism, his immune system is prompted to produce antibodies and white blood cells that ward off infection from the live virus. How can this be used for treatment of tumors? The first approved therapeutic cancer vaccine uses patient's own tumor cells to spark an immune system attack on cancer.

Cancer immunotherapy differs from all the other forms of cancer treatment in that it doesn't target the cancer itself - it targets the patient's immune system. The goal is to stimulate the immune system so that it can destroy cancer by itself. There are two approaches to using immunotherapy for cancer. One technique uses antibodies that release a brake on T cells, making them attack tumors. The other technique uses T cells taken from a cancer patient, genetically modified to better target cancer.

The idea to use the body's own defense mechanism, the immune system, to combat tumors in nothing new. More than a hundred years ago, an American surgeon named William Coley tried an experiment: he injected cancer patients with bacteria in hopes of igniting an immune response. He observed that his method made the tumors shrink. Still, for decades, scientists have struggled to make it work.

Finally, in 2010, FDA approved the first therapeutic vaccine for prostate cancer, followed by the therapeutic vaccine for melanoma in 2011. For now, immunotherapy doesn't work for all cancer patients, and doctors cannot yet predict which ones will respond to the treatment. Still, when they do work, the response is often quick. Cancer immunotherapy is showing promise in treating the lung cancer, kidney cancer, melanoma, breast cancer, and head and neck tumors.


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