Using the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer
While surgery and precise radiation are used to treat tumors that are small and contained, when cancer spreads to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body, other therapies are needed. That’s when “systemic treatments” are used. Systemic treatments use medications to treat cancer throughout the whole body and include chemotherapy and hormone therapy.
One of the newest treatments is immunotherapy, which works with your immune system to help fight cancer — and in some cases, to fight the sides effects of other treatments.
“Biological drugs are currently given when the treatment is approved by the NCCN (National Comprehensive Cancer Network) guidelines,” notes Linda Kight, clinical trials nurse at the Adena Cancer Center. “Biological drugs are very big right now in clinical trials as well, and I think things are going to change in the future for treatment because of them.”
Biological drugs for cancer treatment are immune system substances that help increase the body’s ability to fight cancer. There are several kinds of these drugs, including:
Interferons (IFNs). Interferons can affect the way a patient's immune system responds to cancer, slowing the growth of the cancer cells or helping them to develop into cells that act like normal cells. One particular interferon, Interferon alpha, is used to treat melanoma, hairy cell leukemia and chronic myeloid leukemia
Interleukins (ILs). While many have been identified, interleukin-2 (IL–2) is the most well-known and researched. This drug, which fuels the growth and activity of certain immune cells that can destroy cancer, is approved for the treatment of kidney cancer and melanoma that have spread to other parts of the body from the original tumor site.
Colony-stimulating factors (CSFs). These drugs cause bone marrow stem cells to divide and develop into blood cells — blood cells that are depleted during the course of some cancer drug treatments. CSFs, such as filgrastim, sagramostim, opoetin and others, are often combined with high-dose chemotherapy because of their ability to reduce the risk of infection and the need for a blood transfusion.
Monoclonal antibodies (MOABs). MOABs, which are highly targeted drugs, attach to the cancer cells and poison the tumor to destroy it. One example is the biological drug Trastuzumab, which is used specifically for metastatic breast cancer (breast cancer that’s spread) in women whose tumors produce too much HER2, a protein that causes breast cells to reproduce. Another, Rituxan, is used to help treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Source: National Cancer Institute
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