Why is Immunotherapy Recommended?
Nowadays, most hospitals worldwide begin cancer treatments with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. These treatments are generally effective for many types of cancer and are available at pretty much any high-level hospital.
On the other hand, anti-cancer immunotherapy is usually harder to access and may not be covered by many national healthcare systems. Then, why do we recommend it? In short, it’s because immunotherapy can act even when standard treatments cannot.
When is Immunotherapy Recommended?
Anti-cancer immunotherapy encompasses a series of novel methods that can help patients deemed incurable by standard anti-cancer modalities. Although each patient is unique, most good candidates for immunotherapy fall into one of two categories:
Patients who stop responding to standard treatments
Often, patients who begin treatment with chemotherapy see a marked initial improvement: their tumor cells shrink, die off, and their tumors become undetectable. However, an undetectable tumor is not the same as a nonexistent tumor. Leftover cells can grow back, and when they do, patients are then recommended a new course of chemotherapy.
However, new cancer growths sometimes spawn from cells that are now resistant to previously-used treatments. When this happens, patients will no longer see a good response, no matter how many chemotherapy cycles they undergo.
Patients with known resistant mutations
In some cases, oncologists can identify a resistant mutation from the start immediately following the first biopsy. When dealing with mutations known to be resistant to chemotherapy, the patient risks getting minimal benefits from the treatment but will still face its toxicity and uncomfortable side effects.
Why is Immunotherapy better in these cases?
The advantage of immunotherapy is that it offers a completely new way to combat cancer cells, where resistance is unlikely.
The main principle of immunotherapy is that it enables the patient’s immune system to fight cancer cells directly. This is done by activating killer cells that can recognize tumor cells as “non-self.” After recognizing them as an enemy, it will direct targeted attacks against tumor cells, even if they are resistant to standard treatment.
These killer cells are usually prepared with a specific mutation in mind, so the treatment can be adjusted and repeated if further mutations occur. This offers a renewed chance for patients considered incurable by standard treatment modalities.