[This story was written by Christina L. Lombardi, PharmD, Cancer Care Service Line & Research Clinical Pharmacist, St. Peter’s Health Partners.]
Immunotherapy has been around for a long time, but started to play a more prominent role in cancer treatment about 20 years ago. Immunotherapy treatment works by turning up your body’s immune system to allow it to fight cancer more efficiently.
Cancer cells are atypical and usually grow more quickly than the body is able to manage on its own. Your immune system finds and destroys cells in the body that are atypical and, therefore, can potentially reduce the growth of cancer cells.
Even with a functioning immune system, though, some cancer cells are able to avoid being detected and destroyed due to their genes, proteins, or other mechanisms of hiding from the immune system. This is where immunotherapy can be of great benefit.
Different types of immunotherapy include:
- Checkpoint inhibitors are medications that block checkpoints in the immune system that allow it to fight cancer more powerfully.
- Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy is a treatment that enhances a patient’s T cells’ ability to fight cancer. T-cells play an important role in the immune system.
- Cancer treatment vaccines are used in individuals diagnosed with cancer to fight cancer cells, which is different than those vaccines utilized to prevent cancer.
- Immune system modulators are medications that enhance the body’s natural immune response to cancer cells.
There are a wide variety of immunotherapy treatments available, which can be given to a patient in different ways, to treat many different cancer types. Immunotherapy can be delivered: via injection directly into a vein; as a pill or capsule to swallow; on the skin as a cream; or directly into the bladder. How immunotherapy is given and when it is given depends on the type of cancer being treated, as well as where the patient is on his/her treatment journey.
As with most medications, immunotherapy can cause side effects and can occur at any time during treatment. Some of the more common side effects include skin rash, diarrhea, and fatigue. Your care team will help ease the side effects and work with you to balance your treatment plan with your daily activities and quality of life.
A cancer diagnosis can be very scary and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. St. Peter’s multidisciplinary cancer care team – at St. Peter’s Hospital Cancer Care Center in Albany or the Hildegard Medicus Cancer Center at Samaritan Hospital, St. Mary’s Campus in Troy – is here to support you and develop a personalized treatment plan based on the type, location, and extent of your cancer.
We are accredited as a comprehensive, community-based Cancer Care Program by the American College of Surgeons Commission and an annual Women’s Choice Award recipient for America’s Best Hospitals in Cancer Care since 2017. For more information, please call 518-525-1827 or visit www.sphp.com.