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What is Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is a type of medical treatment that harnesses the power of the immune system to fight diseases, particularly cancer and certain autoimmune disorders. The immune system is the body’s natural defense mechanism that fights against foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses, and abnormal cells, along with cancer cells.

How does it work for Cancer Treatment?

Immunotherapy boosts the body’s immune system by using substances made by the body to find and destroy cancer cells. However, cancer cells can sometimes evade the immune response by disguising themselves or suppressing immune activity. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide to how immunotherapy works for cancer treatment –

  1. Recognition of Cancer Cells – Cancer cells often express abnormal proteins or antigens on their surfaces. Immunotherapy aims to exploit these differences by training the immune system to recognize these antigens as foreign and potentially harmful.
  2. Activation of Immune Response – Immunotherapy can involve immune checkpoint inhibitors, which are drugs that block the inhibitory molecules. By doing so, they unleash the immune system to attack cancer cells.
  3. Priming the Immune System – Cancer vaccines are a form of immunotherapy that introduces cancer-specific antigens to the immune system. This “primes” the immune cells to recognize and attack cancer cells displaying these antigens. 


4. Enhancing Immune Cell Activity – CAR-T cell therapy is a personalized immunotherapy that involves extracting a patient’s T cells (a type of immune cell), modifying them in a lab to express chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) specific to cancer cells, and then infusing these modified cells back into the patient. CARs allow T cells to recognize and attack cancer cells more effectively.

5. Antibody-Mediated Targeting – Monoclonal antibodies are engineered molecules that can specifically bind to antigens on cancer cells. This binding can lead to direct killing of the cancer cell by causing interference with its growth signals.

6. Immune Attack and Destruction – Once the immune system is activated and directed toward cancer cells, immune cells like T cells and natural killer (NK) cells release substances that rupture the cancer cells’ membranes and induce cell death.

7. Immune Memory – Successful immunotherapy can create immune memory. This means that even after the initial attack, the immune system “remembers” the cancer cells, allowing for a faster and stronger response if the cancer attempts to return.

8. Combination Therapies – Immunotherapy can be combined with other treatments like chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or targeted therapy. This approach aims to capitalize on the strengths of each treatment and improve overall outcomes.

Overall, Immunotherapy represents a promising avenue for cancer treatment that offers specificity, potential durability, and fewer systemic side effects compared to traditional treatments.

Types of Immunotherapy

There are several types of immunotherapy approaches used for cancer treatment, each targeting different aspects of the immune response to fight cancer. Here are some key types of immunotherapy –

  1. Monoclonal Antibodies – These antibodies are designed to bind to specific molecules on the surface of cancer cells. They can interfere with cancer cell growth, block signaling pathways, or mark cancer cells for destruction by immune cells. Examples include rituximab for certain types of lymphoma and trastuzumab for HER2-positive breast cancer.
  2. Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors These drugs block immune checkpoints, which are proteins that can inhibit the immune response. Common checkpoints include PD-1 and CTLA-4. By inhibiting these checkpoints, immune cells are unleashed to target and destroy cancer cells more effectively. Examples include pembrolizumab, nivolumab, and ipilimumab.
  3. Non-specific immunotherapy – It is a treatment that aims to activate the immune system in a generalized manner, allowing it to recognize and attack cancer cells more effectively. Some examples of non-specific immunotherapy approaches are –
  • Cytokines – Interferons and interleukins are types of cytokines that can enhance immune activity. Interferons help control cell growth and division, while interleukins stimulate immune cells like T cells and natural killer cells to attack cancer cells. Interleukin-2 (IL-2) is an example of an immunotherapy that has been used to treat certain types of cancer.
  • Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) – BCG is a type of bacteria that has been used as a non-specific immunotherapy for bladder cancer. It’s instilled into the bladder to stimulate an immune response against cancer cells.

4. Oncolytic Virus Therapy – Some viruses are engineered to infect and kill cancer cells while also inducing an immune response. The immune system is then activated to recognize and attack cancer cells more vigorously.

5. CAR-T Cell Therapy – Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy involves modifying a patient’s T cells in a laboratory to express CARs, which are engineered receptors targeting specific cancer antigens. These modified T cells are then infused back into the patient to recognize and eliminate cancer cells. Examples include treatments like Kymriah and Yescarta for certain types of blood cancers.

6. Cancer Vaccines – Unlike traditional vaccines that prevent infections, cancer vaccines stimulate the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells. They can be made from cancer cell fragments, tumor antigens, or genetic material. Examples include sipuleucel-T for prostate cancer and the development of personalized neoantigen vaccines.

These various types of immunotherapy can be used alone or in combination with each other, as well as with traditional treatments like chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and targeted therapy. The choice of immunotherapy depends on the type of cancer, the patient’s health, and other individual factors.

When is Immunotherapy given and what are its benefits?

Immunotherapy can be given at different stages of cancer treatment, and its benefits depend on the type of cancer, the patient’s individual situation, and the specific immunotherapy approach used. A general overview of immunotherapy and its benefits –

When is Immunotherapy Given?

  1. Advanced or Metastatic Cancer – Immunotherapy is often used when cancer has reached an advanced stage or has spread to other parts of the body (metastasized). It can offer a treatment option when traditional treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation are not providing satisfactory results.
  2. First-Line Treatment – In certain cases, immunotherapy is used as a primary treatment, either alone or in combination with other therapies. For example, immune checkpoint inhibitors have been approved as initial treatments for specific types of advanced cancers like melanoma and lung cancer.
  3. Combination Therapy – Immunotherapy is frequently used in combination with other treatments like chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or radiation therapy. Combining treatments can lead to improved outcomes by targeting cancer cells through multiple mechanisms.
  4. Maintenance Therapy – After achieving a positive response to initial treatments, immunotherapy might be used as maintenance therapy to extend remission or prevent recurrence.
  5. Adjuvant Therapy – Following surgery to remove the primary tumor, immunotherapy can be used as adjuvant therapy to help eliminate any remaining cancer cells and reduce the risk of recurrence.

Benefits of Immunotherapy

  1. Targeted Approach – Immunotherapy targets cancer cells specifically, potentially sparing healthy cells and reducing side effects associated with traditional treatments like chemotherapy.
  2. Durable Responses – Some patients experience long-lasting responses to immunotherapy, with the potential for extended remission or even cure in certain cases.
  3. Immune Memory – Successful immunotherapy can lead to immune memory, allowing the immune system to recognize and respond quickly if cancer reappears.
  4. Fewer Systemic Side Effects – Compared to chemotherapy, immunotherapy often has fewer severe systemic side effects, as it focuses on enhancing the body’s natural defenses.
  5. Potential for Multiple Cancers – Some immunotherapies target shared immune mechanisms, potentially making them effective against various cancer types.
  6. Extended Survival – Immunotherapy has shown the ability to extend overall survival for certain patients, even in cases where previous treatments were unsuccessful.
  7. Quality of Life – Due to reduced side effects, patients undergoing immunotherapy might experience better quality of life during treatment.

Immunotherapy Treatment by UHAPO

UHAPO is a well-qualified cancer care service network that specializes in providing a variety of cancer treatments. We are a dedicated team of health professionals providing effective solutions to all cancer patients in need. Our Mission is to reach every cancer patient in Mumbai to ensure early detection, prevention, and treatment of cancer with adequate care. 

All cancer patients are qualified to receive Immunotherapy treatment. However, immunotherapy vastly depends on the diagnosis and the patient’s cancer type as well. A combination of chemotherapy or targeted therapy is required to achieve the desired result.

At UHAPO Healthcare Services you can receive immunotherapy treatments in a homecare setting. It eliminates the unnecessary expenses and time involved in hospitalizations and overnight stays for therapies. This is a sigh of relief as it provides hassle-free treatment in a single day for cancer patients at a low cost.

In addition to that, we also navigate to skilled medical oncologists for any concerns related to your treatment, medications, and therapeutic conditions for early recovery.

We're not just a cancer treatment navigator, we're a community for cancer patients and caregivers because Community is Stronger than Cancer.

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