Immunotherapy is generally the therapy that treats diseases either by suppressing or activating the immune system. The next term for this is Biological therapy. Incidentally, the treatment of cancer cells using immunotherapy is called immuno-oncology. For the most part immunotherapy drugs work for some patients. However, there is no guarantee that it works for all. Hence the overall response rate is around 15-20 percent.
This therapy can treat various types of cancers like lung cancer, melanoma, leukemia, etc. In this case, cancer cells create a protein called PD-L1 which blocks the immune system from attacking them. As such, current immunotherapy-approved drugs disrupt the communication between the PD-L1 protein and the cancer cells. This helps detect the cancer cells in our body and helps to fight them. Keytruda (Pembrolizumab) drug, in particular, has been approved for certain patients with melanoma along with breast cancer, cervical cancer, and other solid tumors.
Immunotherapy is an expensive method of treatment for cancer cells. Above all, these therapy treatments are meticulously time-consuming to make. Sometimes it needs to be personalized for each patient. Hence it can easily cost over $100,000 a year with the additional cost of drugs bringing the price over $200,000 a year. In the meantime, it has many types. So, as per the patient’s requirements, we can use them. Below are some of the types:
- Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors
- Adoptive Cell Therapies
- Monoclonal Antibodies.
- Oncolytic Virus Therapy
- Cancer Vaccines etc.
Pros of immunotherapy:
- Immunotherapy has a higher rate of success than other methods of treatment for cancer. Some cancers particularly skin cancer don’t react well to chemotherapy or radiation. So, immunotherapy can treat those types of cancers.
- Immunotherapy trains our immune system to remember cancer cells. Thus it prevents the return of cancer after it’s treated once. Similarly, immunotherapy also helps other treatment methods work better if done together.
- Immunotherapy only targets cancer cells without hampering other healthy cells in the patients. As it can be tailored as per the need, there is personalized and precise cancer treatment. Also, there are fewer side effects as compared to other methods of treatment.
- Immunotherapy holds the potential to treat many different kinds of cancer. To begin with, our immune system is capable of eliminating almost all types of cancer under the right conditions. Hence the only challenge is to create effective treatments that allow the Immune system to operate as intended.
Also read: Pros and Cons of the Influenza Vaccine
Cons of immunotherapy:
- Immunotherapy is a time and labor-consuming treatment. Considering this, the cost of immunotherapy treatment is also high. Many cases may require engineering the patient’s individual immune cells requiring additional cost and labor.
- There are instances of various side effects like itching, redness, swelling, etc. after the use of immunotherapy. In the worst-case scenario, there is also the probability of organ failure or permanent damages to the patient. Thus resulting in more harm than good.
- Immunotherapy doesn’t work for all people. In the current scenario, it only works on less than half of the people who try it. On the off chance, it may stop working at all. The effectiveness degrades as used regularly by the patient’s body. Hence, cancer cannot fully heal as it may return.
Our final thoughts
Immunotherapy is not always effective but it is a viable option. As it has a higher success rate than other methods it’s worth a try. Here it may be able to increase the lifespan of the individual if not completely heal them. With various clinical trials done regularly, we can believe that it will eventually have a higher rate of success. Furthermore with various advances in medical science, someday it can be cheaper than today. This may allow it to be accessible for a lot more people. As of now, it is more of an extension than a cure.