Immunotherapy: What Makes this Cancer Treatment So Promising?

Immunotherapy and Cancer: It’s the buzzword in cancer treatment, but how does immunotherapy work?

2 min read

Immunotherapy to treat cancer has been around for a while, but new research is making headway in directions that are both exciting and are giving hope to patients fighting cancer.

Dr Shubham Pant, an oncologist in Houston Texas, demystifies immunotherapy for us.

How Does Cancer Occur?

Let’s first understand how we get cancer – cancer occurs when a cell in our body undergoes mutation. Think of the body like an assembly line. Normally, the human body is really resilient. Whenever there is a defective part, the body just removes it. But sometimes the mechanism fails and the defective cell goes rogue and starts to multiply, leading to the spread of cancer.

Traditional way to target cancer cells.
Traditional way to target cancer cells.
(Photo: FIT/ Puneet Bhatia)

We traditionally treat cancer by attacking the cell using chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. This medicine leaves you exhausted and sometimes the body fails to fight back.

Body as the War Zone

Now imagine if instead of depending upon these drugs, we just train the body’s own immune system to fight these rogue cancer cells?

Think of the body like a war zone. Cancer cells are the enemy and your immune system is defending the borders. One of the main defences against cancer are special cells called T cells. They are like the soldiers in the body who strategise, multiply and attack.

But here’s the catch, tumors are smart. They turn on a safety switch to prevent T Cells from attacking them. This safety switch is called a checkpoint.

The newest kids on the block.
The newest kids on the block.
(Photo: FIT/Puneet Bhatia)
Now enter these new class of drugs called check point inhibitors – the newest kids on the block.

These drugs remove the breaks on the immune system so that the T Cells then go and destroy the enemy

Immunotherapy as Treatment

From just a concept a decade ago, immunotherapy has moved rapidly in the last few years and has been approved to treat a number of different cancers including,

  • Bladder Cancer
  • Head and Neck
  • Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Kidney Cancer
  • Melanoma

Immunotherapy has great potential because it trains the body’s immune system to continuously fight the rogue cancer cells. With literally 1000s of trials going on to develop different drug combinations, this is just the beginning in our fight against cancer.

Animation and Editing: Puneet Bhatia

Camera: Shiv Kumar Maurya

Producer: Vaishali Sood

(Dr Shubham Pant is an Oncologist at Houston, Texas)

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