Not every type of immunotherapy works with every type of cancer.
Immunotherapy is a breakthrough cancer treatment that harnesses your own body’s immune system to identify and destroy cancer cells. When doctors talk about immunotherapy as a cancer treatment, they are actually referring to different kinds treatments that fall under the umbrella of immunotherapy, such as antibodies, vaccines, cytokines, and checkpoint inhibitors. Each immunotherapy treatment affects the immune system differently, and each immunotherapy option is FDA-approved to treat only certain kinds of cancer.
Antibodies have been successful for patients with breast cancer and non-hodgkin’s lymphoma. In this immunotherapy treatment, researchers create an antibody that specifically targets cancer-causing molecules in the body.
Another form of immunotherapy, vaccines are used to treat prostate cancer. These immunotherapy vaccines strengthen the body’s immune system so it is better able to respond to cancer.
Cytokines have been used to treat kidney cancer and melanoma. Cytokines are proteins produced by white blood cells, and they can aid in slowing the growth of cancer cells or even killing off cancer cells entirely. These are used less frequently since the emergence of checkpoint inhibitors, the newest class of immunotherapy treatment, which may work better for some patients.
Checkpoint inhibitors are FDA-approved to treat melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer, and non-hodgkin’s lymphoma. Checkpoint inhibitors help signal to the immune system which cells in the body to attack—and which to leave alone. This is important because cancer cells tend to find ways to evade the immune system, and checkpoint inhibitors counteract this.
Currently, researchers are testing whether immunotherapy can effectively treat even more types of cancer. Clinical trials for immunotherapy are being run for breast cancer, head and neck cancer, colorectal cancer, gastric cancer, and lymphomas.
Typically doctors use immunotherapy to treat metastatic cancer, which is when the cancer has already spread to other areas of the body. But doctors and researchers are researching how to use immunotherapy in earlier stages of cancer to help prevent cancer from returning in the first place.
Dr. Wilson is an assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, focusing on melanoma.
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Cancer immunotherapy is a global term, and
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it really encompasses very different
types of treatments for cancer patients.
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Some of these immunotherapies include
antibodies, some include vaccines,
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some include cytokines, and
some include checkpoint inhibitors.
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Using immunotherapy antibodies in
cancer has really revolutionized
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In breast cancer, adding antibodies to
patients who express this one particular
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molecule has really improved outcomes for
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we see improved outcomes for
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patients with non-hodgkin's lymphoma
with the use of the antibody as well.
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Vaccines are proved to treat prostate
cancer, it's the sipuleucel-T vaccine.
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And cytokines have certainly been used
less since the advent of checkpoint
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However, there still are certain times
where it is used, it is used with kidney
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cancer and it is actually used in
adopted T cell transfer in melanoma.
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So, checkpoint inhibitors are approved
to treat melanoma, non-small cell lung
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cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer,
and non-hodgkin's lymphoma.
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So, immunotherapy is actually being
explored to treat a number of other
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kinds of cancers in clinical trials.
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Including, breast cancer,
head and neck cancer,
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colorectal cancer, gastric cancer,
and other types of lymphomas as well.
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Right now, we're using immunotherapy
mainly, in metastatic disease.
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Meaning, what we're trying to prevent
cancer that's already spread.
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And, we're using what we've learned from
treatment now to make future decisions.
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And so right now, we're doing better at
treating patients once has disease has
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they develop metastatic disease.
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And we're seeing responses,
partial responses and complete responses.
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We're actually using this information and
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saying well can we now use these
medicines, use these antibodies,
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use these immunotherapies to prevent
the disease from coming back.
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And so I suspect we'll see more clinical
trials using these medicines in
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the adjuvant setting, again,
in earlier stages of cancers.
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To try to prevent the disease
from coming back, and
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it's very possible we'll see
these move into that realm.
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Monoclonal antibodies to treat cancer. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2016. (Accessed on June 29, 2017 at https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/immunotherapy/monoclonal-antibodies.html.)
What is cancer immunotherapy? Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2016. (Accessed on June 29, 2017 at https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/immunotherapy/what-is-immunotherapy.html.)