What Is Immunotherapy & What Is It Used For?

What Is Immunotherapy & What Is It Used For?

Immunotherapy, which is one of the new generation treatment approaches in cancer, aims to activate the immune system and enable the body to defeat cancer on its own. Immunotherapy, which has much fewer side effects than chemotherapy and targeted smart therapies, creates a memory in immune cells and provides better, long-term, and permanent responses. Here is everything you need to know about immunotherapy, the immunotherapy definition, frequently asked questions about the procedure, latest immunotherapy costs, and treatment options abroad.

What is Immunotherapy?

One of the newest generation treatment approaches, immunotherapy, is based on the system where the target is to reorganize the immune system and enable the body to defeat cancer itself. While cancer is developing, it uses many mechanisms that prevent the immune system from responding to itself and destroying it. The treatments used in immunotherapy provide an effective remedy by preventing these mechanisms and strengthening the immune system against cancerous cells. Immunotherapy is more effective than chemotherapy and targeted therapies. In addition, the immunotherapy side effects are much fewer. Many cells in the human body fight cancer. “T cells” in the human immune system, called “soldier cells,” destroy cancerous cells largely. However, the activation of these cancer-fighting cells can be up to a point, and a group of cancerous cells survives these attacks and resists the T cell. As a matter of fact, some cells in the body, which turn into tumor cells in the course of our daily life, give the message that they are not foreign to the soldier cells and suppress the immune system by avoiding extinction. This is where immunotherapy, also known as immune-mediated therapy, comes into play. Immunotherapy treatment aims to remove this pressure on the immune system and direct the cancer-fighting cells in the human body to the cancer tissue and treat the disease in this way. The most important problem in chemotherapy and targeted therapies is that the treatment response is not permanent. On the other hand, immunotherapy treatment can provide much better and longer-term responses than chemotherapy and targeted smart therapies. Immunotherapy provides this permanent response by creating a memory in T cells in the immune system.

What Type of Cancer is Immunotherapy Used for?

A new generation of immunotherapies called immune checkpoint inhibitors has been added to cancer treatments based on surgical radiotherapy and chemotherapy and targeted therapies since the 1950s. Immunotherapy treatment, which is a new glimmer of hope for patients, is based on stimulating the activities of certain parts of the immune system or inhibiting the signals produced by cancer cells that suppress immune responses. Studies show that immunotherapy, one of the most up-to-date approaches in cancer, is effective in many types of cancer and provides complete recovery in some patients. Immunotherapy started with the treatment of melanoma in 2011 and is currently under development. It is applied abroad as a treatment method in more than 20 types of cancer, including immunotherapy for lung cancer and immunotherapy for prostate cancer. As a matter of fact, the prevalence of the use of immunotherapy drugs is increasing day by day in many areas of cancer. The immunotherapy success rates are also growing year by year. The types of cancer that immunotherapy drugs have a positive effect on can be listed as follows:
  • Non-small cell lung cancer
  • Small cell lung cancer
  • Skin cancers (melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma)
  • Genitourinary cancers (kidney and bladder cancer)
  • Some gastrointestinal cancers (esophagus, stomach, liver cancer)
  • Triple-negative breast cancer
  • Head and neck cancers

How Is Immunotherapy Performed?

Immunotherapy directs the cancer-fighting cells in the human body to cancer tissue and treats the disease in this way. Patients can receive it in a health center, doctor’s office, and outpatient unit. Today, when cancer immunotherapy is mentioned, checkpoint regulators come to mind first. These immunotherapy drugs activate immune system cells by inhibiting the work of cell surface molecules called PD-1, PD-L1, and CTLA4. In some patient groups, chemotherapy treatments are also performed with two different checkpoint inhibitors or immunotherapy. Immunotherapies can be administered to cancer patients as follows:
  • Intravenous: Immunotherapy drugs can be given intravenously via serum-like chemotherapy. Immunotherapy given via serum is more comfortable than chemotherapy. Immunotherapy drugs administered intravenously into the blood bind to their receptors on the cancerous cells’ surface. After that, the body’s fight against cancer cells begins. These agents, which are given in the form of a serum, can be applied at intervals of 2-3 weeks.
  • Orally: Immunotherapy is in the form of a swallowed pill or capsule.
  • Locally: Immunotherapy for melanoma is also a common type of treatment. It can be used in cream form for a very early detected skin cancer.
  • Intravesical: Immunotherapy is given directly into the bladder. Immunotherapy for bladder cancer has shown growing success rates over the past few years.

Frequently Asked Questions About Immunotherapy

How long does the immunotherapy treatment take?

How often and for how long immunotherapy is received depends on the type of cancer and its progression, the type of immunotherapy, how the body responds to the treatment, and the treatment cycle to be administered. Some immunotherapies are given in cycles. The process includes a treatment period followed by a rest period. The rest period allows the body to recover, respond to treatment, and create new healthy cells.

Are there any side effects to immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy shows more tolerable side effects than chemotherapy and targeted therapies such as radiation. Side effects such as nausea, hair loss, decreased blood values, and fatigue seen in patients with chemotherapy are at a minimum level in immunotherapy. However, milder side effects such as endocrine disorders, diarrhea, skin rashes can also be seen in immunotherapy. Although rare, other side effects can be seen on the musculoskeletal system, kidney, nerve, hematological and cardiovascular systems.

What is the difference between immunotherapy and chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy acts by targeting structures located in the nucleus of the cancer cell. It destroys this structure and eliminates the cancer cell. The aim of immunotherapy treatment is; to strengthen the immune system, to trigger it to fight cancer, that is, to enable the body to defeat cancer on its own.

Is immunotherapy painful?

While immunotherapy holds a lot of promise in cancer treatment, it may have some side effects on the body during and after the procedure. For example, some patients may experience a bad reaction in the area where the medication goes into the body. In contrast, others may experience fatigue, fever, chills, dizziness, and mild nausea shortly afterward.

Which are the leading countries in immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy can be applied in various tumor types in international medical oncology centers with special permissions. Turkey, the USA, Germany, the Netherlands, and France are the top countries with impressive success rates in immunotherapy. For more immunotherapy options abroad and details on costs, click here.