One of the most exciting and innovating things evolving in cancer research is experimental immunotherapy. With the ability to disguise itself from the immune system, cancer is an extremely cunning disease. The way that the body usually responds to an abnormal cell is to eradicate it with white blood cells. In petri dishes, white blood cells can do this to cancer cells. However, in the body, it’s a totally different scenario.
The immune system is an enormously powerful mechanism. A collection of organs, substances, and special cells, our immune system protects us from a number of things that can threaten our health, including infections and some diseases. Germs have proteins on the outside of the cells that aren’t normally found in the human body. These alert the immune system that there’s something foreign, sounding an alarm so that they can be attacked.
Whereas germs and pathogens are easily recognized by the immune system, cancer cells aren’t as easily seen as a threat. They may have unusual substances on their surfaces that aren’t clearly pinpointed as abnormal, giving cancer cells the opportunity to infiltrate our systems, and to metastasize unchecked by our body’s natural protection mechanism.
Immunotherapy is a way of alerting the immune system to the presence of cancer cells, so it may become activated and naturally fight the cells itself. Cancer cells drape themselves in the body’s natural molecules that tell the immune system to shut off, giving them a chance to go unchecked by the immune system. Immunotherapy drugs block the proteins that put the brakes on the immune system and prevent it from attacking the tumors.
Additionally, because immunotherapy drugs do not attack mutated genes, the cells will not evolve to avoid the drugs the same way that bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics. Immunotherapy drugs simply encourage the immune system to do what it’s meant to do.
While other forms of cancer treatment can be extremely harmful to one’s overall system, immunotherapy is a promising science that harnesses the natural strength and intelligence of the body to recognize and fight the disease itself. Some doctors are predicting a revolution in cancer care and a new era of cancer medication.
Immunotherapy has lower side effects than traditional radiation, and has proven to stop recurrence in patients or many kinds of cancers, including melanoma, kidney and lung cancer. Of course, immunotherapy has its own risks. In one study, the immune system attacked normal cells, the results of which were fatal. Some people do not handle the drugs well, and some experiments with the drugs have been completely unsuccessful.
Cancer plays a massive role as the world’s number one killer. One in two men can expect to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, one in three women. Over 900 people die an hour from it worldwide.
The complexity and strength of cancer have made it an enormous challenge to our health care as a nation, and worldwide. It is through innovations like this and the continual forward movement of courageous and curious researchers and doctors to discover ways to make headway in the realm of cancer research. There’s certainly a lot to look forward to the trajectory of immunotherapy and where this can take the level of our ability to properly target and treat various kinds of cancer.