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Understanding Immunotherapy as a Cancer Treatment

Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that encourages the immune or immune system to work more effectively in fighting diseases, including cancer. This treatment can be given intravenously, drinking drugs, topical creams, or injected directly into the bladder of cancer patients.

Immunotherapy is said to slow down, stop the development of cancer cells, and prevent them from spreading to other organs. A number of types of cancer, such as skin, lung, kidney, bladder and lymphoma cancers, have been shown to be treated with immunotherapy.

Reasons for Using Immunotherapy to Deal with Cancer

One reason that cancer cells are difficult to deal with is that the immune system can sometimes not recognize it as a foreign body. Some cancer cells are very similar to normal cells, so the immune system doesn't attack them.

Although the immune system can recognize cancer cells, the response is sometimes not strong enough to be able to eradicate it. Moreover, the development of cancer cells is very fast and uncontrolled.

Treatment with immunotherapy is done so that the immune system smarter recognizes cancer cells and strengthens the immune system's response to cancer cells so that the development of malignant cells can be slowed down and even stopped.

Immunotherapy is chosen as a cancer treatment for the following reasons:

  • Immunotherapy is considered more effective than other cancer treatments, such as radiation or chemotherapy, especially in skin cancer.
  • Immunotherapy can help the effectiveness of other treatments that are being carried out. For example, the performance of chemotherapy can be better when patients also undergo immunotherapy.
  • Immunotherapy has smaller side effects than other treatments because immunotherapy makes the immune system only attack cancer cells specifically.
  • Immunotherapy can minimize cancer reappear because this treatment triggers immunomemories, namely the ability of the immune system to remember cancer cells, so it will be attacked immediately if it reappears.

Various types of immunotherapy

In handling cancer, there are several types of immunotherapy that can be used, namely:

1. Monoclonal antibodies

Monoclonal antibodies are artificial immune proteins. This protein is specifically designed to be able to mark cancer cells specifically so that it can kill malignant cells without participating in destroying healthy cells.

2. Checkpoint inhibitors

Checkpoint inhibitors are drugs that can help the immune system respond to cancer cells. The way it works is by disrupting the ability of cancer cells to avoid attacking the immune system.

3. Vaccine

A vaccine is a substance that is injected into the body to encourage an immune response to an illness. In the treatment of cancer, vaccines can be used both to prevent and treat cancer.

4. T-cell therapy

There are two forms of T-cell therapy that are currently used to fight cancer. First, experts will take your immune cells that are actually able to detect and prevent cancer growth, but the numbers are too little or the response is too weak. These immune cells will then be duplicated in the laboratory and injected back into the body so that the reaction becomes stronger. Secondly, your immune cells will be engineered in such a way as to work more effectively in detecting and stopping cancerous growth in the body.

5. Non-specific immunotherapy

Non-specific immunotherapy is a type of immunotherapy that can improve overall immune system performance. Several types of immune system strengthening agents commonly used are cytokines and BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin).

Consider the negative effects of immunotherapy

Some of the common side effects during treatment are pain, swelling, redness, itching, and rashes on the area of the injection. In addition, flu symptoms can also appear, such as fever, dizziness, muscle aches, and headaches.

These side effects can vary in each patient, depending on his health condition, type of cancer suffered, type of immunotherapy performed, and dosage given.

Besides having side effects, immunotherapy also has a number of other risks, namely:

1. Not necessarily suitable for everyone

In some people, immunotherapy does not kill cancer cells, but only makes them stop developing. However, the cause is unknown.

2. Potential to damage other organs

Some types of immunotherapy can make the immune system attack other organs, such as the heart, intestines, lungs, and kidneys.

3. The results of therapy are not always fast

In some cases, immunotherapy can last longer than other cancer treatments.

4. The possibility of cancer cells developing again

The body can become immune to this therapy, where some initial therapy can produce positive results, but then the cancer cells develop again.

Besides having benefits, immunotherapy also has risks. Therefore, discuss it first with your doctor in detail, before you decide to undergo immunotherapy as a cancer treatment.



1. Canadian Cancer Society. Immunotherapy.

2. Cancer (2016). Cancer Immunotherapy.

3. National Library of Medicine (2018). Medline Plus: Immunotheraphy for Cancer.

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