Immunotherapy: A Different Approach to Cancer Treatment

by GregP_WN, JoyB

The Promising Future of Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy A Different Approach To Cancer Treatment

Instead of disrupting the immune system like other treatments do, immunotherapy uses certain parts of your own immune system to fight cancer. Cancer cells often hide from the body’s immune system, but immunotherapy works to understand how cancer works, helping the immune cells find cancer cells and destroy them. Immunotherapy helps your body fight cancer in a couple different ways, including:

A) Giving your body important immune system components, such as immune system proteins that are man-made
B) Stimulating the immune system to work smarter or harder to fight cancer cells

How Does Immunotherapy Work

Just a few of the types of cancer that can be treated using immunotherapy include:

Breast Cancer
Bladder Cancer
Lung Cancer
Cervical Cancer
Prostate Cancer
Brain Cancer
Colorectal-Colon Cancer
Ovarian Cancer
Kidney Cancer
Gastric/Stomach Cancer
Metastatic Melanoma 

Benefits of Immunotherapy for Cancer Patients

How can immunotherapy help you as you fight cancer? Immunotherapy treatments offer several benefits:

Benefit #1 – May Work If Other Treatments Haven’t – Some types of cancer may not respond well to chemotherapy or radiation. If traditional “Big 3” treatments haven’t worked for you, immunotherapy may be the answer.

Benefit #2 – Comes with Fewer Side Effects – Treatments like chemotherapy are well-known for their many side effects. Since immunotherapy targets your immune system, it has far fewer side effects.

Benefit #3 – May Boost the Effects of Other Treatments – Immunotherapy may actually help boost the effects of other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, so you enjoy the best results.

Benefit #4 – May Prevent Cancer From Returning – The “memory” function of immunotherapy allows it to stay effective in your body, even after treatment. This may help prevent cancer from returning, increasing your survival rate.


How Immunotherapy is Changing

Currently, only a few immunotherapy drugs have been approved to fight cancer. However, hundreds more are currently in clinical trials. As researchers continue to study the current immunotherapy drugs being used, they’re learning more about who can benefit most from these treatments and how they can best be used for improved results.

A recent study found in the New England Journal of Medicine took a closer look at CAR-T cell therapy, which trains your immune system to find and destroy cancer cells. This study found that using immunotherapy treatment earlier in the disease while a patient’s immune system is stronger can offer improved results. Researchers also found that using the therapy after one or two failed chemotherapy rounds worked better than waiting until patients failed other treatments.

Immunotherapy Success Stories

One of the biggest success stories with immunotherapy happens to be the story of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. In 2015, he announced that he had melanoma that spread from his liver to his brain, and his prognosis looked grim. Then, a few months later after being treated with new immunotherapy drug Keytruda, he announced that scans showed his brain cancer was gone. Although his story is one of the most high-profile cases, it’s not the only immunotherapy that sounds like a miracle. Several WhatNext users have reported excellent results too, with several users noting that their tumors have shrunk with immunotherapy treatment.

Jimmy Carter Cancer Free Thanks To Immunotherapy

Several WhatNexters are currently under immunotherapy treatments and have reported good results. "LiveWithCancer" recently posted on the site some good news about her treatments with Opdivo. "Celebration (Cancer is shrinking): I started back on Opdivo after radiation was completed. When I had my last CT scan (12/2017), they showed that the radiation worked on the tumor in my supraclavicle lymph node (it is gone!) and a tumor in my right lung that has been stable (not shrinking or growing) for 4+ years shrank by about half."

"JeepNut40" said: "It's been awhile since I updated my page. I'm now 10 treatments into Keytruda or PD1 with my 11th coming this Thursday afternoon. I'm still NED with three clear scans under my belt where the tumor is shown dead and still shrinking. My side effects have been minimal so far and have been confined to my skin, I'm broken out like a high school kid right before prom, and to some general fatigue. otherwise doing well.

"DonnaInRI" reported that when she started Opdivo and Yervoy on the 16th of January, there were no real effects as of yet, but they gave me a huge list of possible side effects/toxicities and told me I need to call asap for even small changes in how I feel. I had no problem other than being a bit tired the next day but did not have the deep aches that others describe, no rash, no GI effects as yet. Hoping it stays that way. I will get a total of four double drug treatments given every three weeks, then will have a CT to see how I am doing. Most likely next step, depending on CT results, is to start Opdivo only once every two weeks.

Your immune system can be very powerful, and immunotherapy harnesses the power of your immune system to help you fight cancer in a new way. New immunotherapy drugs are being developed all the time, and studies show that using this type of treatment earlier can offer excellent results for patients fighting cancer. Even if other treatments have failed for you, advances in immunotherapy offer new hope. Have you tried immunotherapy? How did it work for you? Let us know in the comments!

What Are the Negatives Associated With Immunotherapy?

Treatment with an immunotherapy drug is complicated. In this process, a patient’s own genetically modified T-cells are engineered to express receptors that latch on to a specific cell surface protein, connecting them to cancer cells to be destroyed. Treatments for individual patients take weeks to create, to say nothing of the costs of care to receive the therapy or the millions to develop it.

It all adds up to some of the most expensive therapies ever invented. The first CAR T-cell therapy, tisagenlecleucel (Kymriah)—a treatment for children and young adults with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) developed by Novartis—was priced at $475,000 for a one-time treatment.3 Axicabtagene ciloleucel (Yescarta), Kite Pharma/Gilead’s treatment for adult patients with relapsed or refractory large B-cell lymphoma, soon followed, priced at $373,000.4 Such ground-breaking therapies, with equally unprecedented prices, would clearly change the way payers did business.

Express Scripts’ chief medical officer Steve Miller, MD, did not hold back in a September blog post, saying the arrival of gene therapies would demand payment models “as novel as the medications themselves.” Critics of the cost of the Kymriah, writing in Health Affairs as Evidence-Based OncologyTM (EBOTM) went to press, said the issue of cost matters because CAR T-cell therapies are expected to receive FDA and overseas approval to treat many other blood cancers, including adult ALL, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. They argue Novartis should be charging only $160,000 per treatment, in part because so many millions in federal research funds helped spark CAR T-cell discoveries.

For now, there’s a lot of uncertainty, as both government and commercial insurers, and a handful of the nation’s leading cancer centers, navigate a reimbursement structure that truly has no precedent. “Ideas on the table include paying for a treatment over time, establishing insurer risk pools and financing one-time payments,” Miller wrote. “A successful model must address patients who change insurers or employers, and tracking their health outcomes over time to ensure payments aren’t being made if the treatment stops being effective.”

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