Your immune system is not a single entity, but, an amazing and remarkable system. Most of the time, it effectively defends you against foreign and dangerous organisms, such as bacteria and viruses, which enter your body.
In recent years, researchers have looked at what role the immune system can play in combating tumor cells. This has led to immunotherapy, which is a biologic therapy that uses certain parts of the immune system to fight diseases, including cancer.
What is Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy stimulates or restores the immune system’s ability to fight infection and disease. As a treatment for cancer, the therapy mainly consists of stimulating the immune system with highly purified proteins. (1)
Types of Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy works in several ways. Active therapy stimulates the immune system to fight the disease. Passive therapy relies on immune system components, which are made in a laboratory.
Specific immunotherapy targets a certain type of cell. In certain situations, non-specific immunotherapy, which stimulates the immune system in general, is used with other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy. Targeted therapy attacks one type of cell without damaging other cells. (2)
Forms of Immunotherapy
Biologic response modifiers are substances which have no direct anti-tumor effect but are able to trigger the immune system to indirectly affect tumors. These include cytokines, such as interferons and interleukins. Cytokines are substances produced by macrophages, which are immune cells that first recognize and engulf foreign substances.
Large amounts of biologic response modifiers are injected or infused in the hope of stimulating the immune cells to become more effectively active. (1, 3)
Blood cells are produced in our bone marrow. There are three major types, white blood cells, which fight infection, red blood cells, which carry oxygen to and remove waste products from organs and tissue, and platelets, which enable the blood to clot. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy affect these blood cells which puts a person at risk for developing infections, anemia and bleeding problems.