For a cancer patient, one goal often trumps all the others: beating cancer and ensuring a long and healthy life. However, modern medicine offers different and confusing paths for this objective.
Popular, well-established methods are easier to access but often fail to secure a complete and permanent recovery. Does this mean immunotherapy is better? With limited time, how can we make this choice?
How to Choose Between Chemotherapy or Immunotherapy
Choosing between chemotherapy and immunotherapy is meaningless, especially if done in a vacuum.
For this, we need to consider two things. First, that cancer is not a single, unique disease. There are thousands of different mutations that can cause cancer, and each one spreads at different rates and responds to treatment differently. Second, a patient’s quality of life is as important as the length of their life. In reality, both conventional and immunotherapy treatments have their place and time. When treating cancer, we should start with the most readily available treatments: surgery, chemotherapy, or radiotherapy.
What is Chemotherapy Best For?
Alongside surgery, chemotherapy offers the best way to shrink tumors until they reach the “minimally residual disease” stage. When chemotherapy or radiotherapy succeeds, they can significantly shrink a tumor until they are nearly imperceptible. This will temporarily halt the chances of metastasis or widespread cancer cells. However, some cancer types do not respond to chemotherapy to begin with, or may become resistant to it over time. In addition, conventional treatments often fail to eliminate the “starter cells” of cancer, known as cancer stem cells. Often, repeated courses of chemotherapy will cause severe damage to healthy cells and weaken the patient, but leave resistant and starter cells intact.
What Immunotherapy Does Best
Immunotherapy is remarkably more effective against resistant cells and cancer stem cells. These are the cells that initiate cancers. As long as these cells remain, the possibility of the tumor growing back will remain.
Immunotherapy treatments are not as effective in shrinking large tumors, but are the best at the minimally-residual stage. However, cancer immunotherapy treatments offer the best chance at long-term remission. In turn, some of the experimental treatments we pioneer at our clinic, such as oncolytic viruses, anti-cancer vaccines, and Allogeneic Targeted Activated Cancer Killer Cells (ATACK) have shown the best results so far at eliminating stem cells and treatment-resistant cells.
In Conclusion: No Absolute Answer
Some cancers respond exceptionally well to chemotherapy and can even be cured by it. But immunotherapy is a more effective method when dealing with resistant types of cancer. This is why treatment should begin with conventional chemotherapy first – and then consider immunotherapy to kill cancer to the last cell.