Immunotherapy is a type of treatment in which the patient’s immune system is used to fight off disease. In some cases, the immune system itself is stimulated to create an increased response; for other patients, man-made immune system proteins are administered to support the body’s existing immune function. In most cases, immunotherapy is used in combination with other types of treatment, though some cancers respond well to immunotherapy alone.
According to the American Cancer Society, there are currently four main forms of immunotherapy used for treatment, which can be given either orally, topically or through an injection.
Monoclonal antibodies: These man-made versions of immune system proteins can be used to target a very specific part of a cancer cell. They work either by binding to specific receptors in the body or by marking cancer cells so the immune system can detect them more easily.
Immune checkpoint inhibitors: These drugs remove the immune system’s natural barriers, allowing it to find and target cancer cells.
Cancer vaccines: Certain types of vaccines can treat or prevent cancer; for example, the Gardasil vaccine is effective in warding off cervical cancer.
Other non-specific immunotherapies: These treatments stimulate the immune system to allow it to better defend against cancer cells.
Immunotherapy is safe for most patients. It is most commonly effective for melanoma, lymphoma, leukemia and kidney cancer. However, as researchers find new ways to use this modality, more types of cancer continue to be added to the list. In April, researchers from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle published findings that immunotherapy drugs can effectively treat virus-driven cancers, a category that makes up 20 percent of all cancer cases. Notably, former President Jimmy Carter was part of the study, and was unable to stop treatment for advanced melanoma after his tumors disappeared altogether.
Beyond the potential to treat additional forms of cancer, immunotherapy is unique in that it can often stop skin cancer progression even when used when the disease is already advanced. By contrast, most types of cancer treatments are most effective when the disease is discovered before it has spread.
We encourage you to visit Metro Dermatology to learn more about immunotherapy and how it can benefit you. This treatment can be used for a variety of skin conditions, such as precancerous skin lesions, alopecia and warts. Metro Dermatology has locations in Elmhurst, Flushing, Englewood and the Bronx. Contact us today to schedule your consultation to learn more.