For several years, it has been a general belief that every attempt to treat cancer and help cancer patients has been futile and has always hit the wall. Actually, that was the case with most treatment measures against the condition. However, that doesn’t mean there have not been some treatment methods that have shown promising results, it was just that the number is not coming up to the scale enough.
Recently, a new treatment for cancer which has also been making waves is the immunotherapy method. This treatment wasn’t recognized until Jimmy Carter, the formal president of the United States announced it that his doctors could no longer find any traces of melanoma in his body, and immunotherapy was one of the treatments given to Jimmy. Since his announcement, the treatment method has become a ground-breaking type of treatment for cancer and simply involves helping the body’s immune system fight cancer naturally.
It is true the study of Immunotherapy has been around for a century, the field started receiving rapid advances in the past few years and has been found to have the potential to dramatically change our approach to cancer treatment. In the case of Carter, cancer in his liver and brain was found to be eliminated after a few months of the administration of a combined treatment of Immunotherapy drugs with radiation therapy
Today, Immunotherapy has been one of the major focuses of cancer research and the U.S Food and Drug Administration has approved several Immunotherapy drugs and much more still remains in the pipeline. So, what is this cancer treatment all about and does the treatment really have what it takes to give cancer treatment a new turn?
What Exactly is Immunotherapy?
Oftentimes referred to as Biological therapy, Immunotherapy is a form of treatment where the patient’s immune system is used to identify and destroy cancerous cells. This new type of therapy against many cancers relies solely on stimulating the immune system to effectively help it do its job. Other treatments like chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery remove tumors by physically attacking them with drugs, radiation, or use the scalpel. However, these approaches could also cause significant damage to neighboring healthy cells which may afterward result in a serious consequence to the patient.
How Does Immunotherapy Work?
Using the patient’s immune system in Immunotherapy is more like using tweezers to remove a splinter rather than opting for a kitchen knife as some immune cells can accurately locate the specific location of a tumor by recognizing some certain molecules called antigens. These antigens prompt such immune cells to detect that a cell is abnormal and needs to be removed.
Which Immunotherapy Treatments Top the List Now?
There are currently two types of immunotherapy options drawing more attention in the treatment of cancer. This includes the checkpoint inhibitors therapy and the CAR T-cells therapy. While checkpoint removes every hindrance to the ability of the immune system to recognize and remove every abnormal cell, CAR T-cells involves a more personalized attack
Checkpoints, as properly called are certain proteins that prevent the immune system from recognizing cancerous cells and thus hinder the effective removal of such cells by the immune system. Four checkpoint inhibitors have been recognized for adults by the Food and Drug Administration. These checkpoints are Yervoy (ipilimumab); Opdivo (nivolumab); Keytruda (pembrolizumab), and Tecentriq (atezolizumab).
These drugs were approved for malignancies like melanoma and Hodgkin lymphoma. It can also be used for kidney, lung, and bladder cancer and other forms of cancers.
In CAR T-cell therapy, however, T cells which are known to play an essential role in the immune system, are removed from the patient and genetically modify it to target and fight specific cancer and then infused back into the patient. This treatment has been tested mainly for lymphoma and leukemia. However, it is only available in clinical trial now but receiving a promising hope of been approved 1st time by the FDA in 2018.
What Are the Latest Developments In Immunotherapy?
There have been a few success stories surrounding Immunotherapy in the past few years, some of which include the use of Kaytruda, also known as pembrolizumab in lung cancer which has been found to be a growing form of cancer among the Americans killing up to 160,000 people in a year. The drug also outperformed chemotherapy for some patients with high levels of PD-L1 protein on their cancer cells.
Also, at one year, for example, 70% of patients on the Keytruda group were alive as against the 54% of the chemo group. Keytruda has also been approved by the FDA as a first-line treatment for lung cancer; that is the first time such drug will be approved for such action.
How Much Does Immunotherapy Cost?
One of the major challenges being faced with having Immunotherapy treatment is the cost. This treatment can be very expensive costing up to $100,000 per year. According to Dr. David Chan, a program director for oncology, “presently, Immunotherapy is the big thing when it comes to cancer research. However, when combined with drugs, this treatment could be over $200,000 per year”.
Even though health insurance often covers Immunotherapy, patients still have to deal with rising minor costs they have to take care of on their own. Surgery and other cancer treatments are also another thing that adds more weight to the overall financial burden.
How Can I Find Immunotherapy Treatments?
It is always best to consult with your doctor regarding the best treatment and options for you. He/she should be able to help you find clinical trials for unapproved treatment. Trials sponsored by the National Cancer Institute can be found at trials.cancer.gov. You can also get few studies listed on such websites as ClinicalTrials.gov and the Cancer Research Institute’s Clinical Trial Finder.