Immunotherapy Helps Improve Survival in Mesothelioma, Lung Cancer, and Other Cancers
Immunotherapy is a great way to treat cancer because it uses the patient’s own immune system. There are two different ways it can do this. The patient’s immune system can be stimulated or substances can be engineered in a lab that act like the immune system to restore or improve it. Certain cancers have responded very well to this treatment, making once very hard to treat cancers much easier to treat. Immunotherapy can be used by itself or with other treatments, it just depends on what cancer is being treated.
To understand immunotherapy, you have to understand the immune system. It is a system consisting of organs, special cells, and substances that fight infection and disease originating in and out of the body. The immune system knows what goes on throughout the body and if an unrecognizable element shows up, the immune system attacks it. Germs for instance have certain proteins that are not part of the human body. When the immune system sees these proteins, it recognizes that these proteins are foreign and attacks them. Cancer cells are harder to kill though because they start as normal cells. They are not marked as foreign substances like other pathogens and the immune system lets them go.
Different types of immunotherapy can be used on patients like Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy, where T cells from the patient’s blood are exposed to a virus that teaches them how to bind to and kill cancer cells. Cytokines are another treatment where proteins called cytokines, which are messengers for cells, stimulate immune system cells and tell them to attack cancer cells. Cancer vaccines are also used, where something is injected to create an immune response to a certain cancer. Monoclonal antibodies can be used as well, where man-made immune system proteins are engineered to attack cancer cells. They can even be created to kill very specific parts of a cell. Oncolytic viruses, which are viruses that are modified to infect and kill cancer cells, are also used.
Checkpoint inhibitors are another useful type of immunotherapy. They help the immune system recognize and attack cancer cells. Two well-known checkpoint inhibitors include Opdivo and Yervoy, which are used in conjunction to treat non-small cell lung cancer. Opdivo blocks the PD-1 protein and Yervoy targets the CTLA-4 protein on T cells. Once these proteins are blocked, the immune system is able to recognize cells as cancer and attack them. In 2020, this treatment was approved for mesothelioma, improving survival to 18.1 months versus the survival for chemotherapy patients, which is 14.1 months.
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