The immune system is our body’s way to defend itself from the unknown, the unknown being diseases or anything that doesn’t belong in our body. The immune system can help us fight infections or diseases primarily caused by bacteria, parasites, and fungi. It also attacks viruses.
The immune system keeps track of all your normal substances, as soon as it detects an unknown substance it attacks and kills it. These are known as antigens, substances with foreign proteins on their surface that create a response from the immune system that can include cancer cells. Clearly, the immune system’s normal ability to fight cancer is limited, because many people with healthy immune systems still develop cancer. The immune system may not see the cancer cells as foreign because the cancer cells (and their antigens) are not different enough from those of normal cells. To overcome this, researchers have designed ways to help the immune system recognize cancer cells and strengthen its response so that it will destroy them.
Immunotherapy is a medical term to refer to the treatment of diseases by stimulating your own immune system to work in a more effective way or by giving you man-made immune system proteins. Immunotherapy can be a strong option for the treatment of cancer. Immunotherapy drugs are now being used as treatments for cancers, including cancers of the bladder, breast, colon, kidney, lung, and prostate, as well as leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and melanoma.
Some cancers are actually caused by viruses and therefore a vaccine can help prevent those cancers. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) has been linked to cervical, anal, throat, and a few other cancers, thus getting the HPV vaccine can in many cases prevent these cancers. Receiving the Hepatitis B vaccine can help lower the risk of getting liver cancer for individuals that suffer from long-term infections from the Hepatitis B virus. Although most cancers are not caused by infections, researchers are in very early stages in trying to see if it is possible to develop vaccines for other cancers.
Another form of immunotherapy is Monoclonal Antibody. An antibody is a protein that targets a specific antigen. Antibodies identify and attach to the antigen while recruiting additional immune system help to destroy the cells containing the antigen. A monoclonal antibody is a lab-engineered antibody specially designed to attach to specific antigens found in cancer cells. They mimic the natural antibodies made by your body. A monoclonal antibody can be directed to attach to certain parts of a cancer cell. In this way, the antibody marks the cancer cell and makes it easier for the immune system to find and attack it. Monoclonal antibodies can also help control the growth of cancer cells by blocking the signal sent from the receptors to the cell. A chemical called growth factors attach themselves to the receptors of all cell, normal and cancer cells, but often cancer cells make too many copies and start to grow out of control. These same cells often send signals to obtain more blood vessels to supply the nutrients and oxygen they need to continue growing. The monoclonal antibodies also block this signal, making it impossible for the cell growth to continue. If a tumor already exists, then the antibody blocks further signals from the cells to the current blood vessels providing nutrients causing it to die and the tumor to shrink. Another very helpful function of the monoclonal antibodies is combining a radioactive particle with a monoclonal antibody, delivering radiation directly to the cancer cells. This way, most of the surrounding healthy cells aren’t damaged.
There is also the option to simply boost your immune system in general, which will have a higher potential to fight cancer cells. In short, immunotherapy just makes sense right? Using our own immune system to fight cancer.