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IMMUNOTHERAPY: New Frontier in Fighting Cancer

Robert Oldham, M.D.
Hasan Murshed, M.D.

Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses the power of your body’s immune system to attack cancer cells. Your immune system is a collection of tissues, organs and cells that work together to protect you from infections and diseases. It can keep track of the substances normally found in your body. New “foreign” substances that the immune system doesn’t recognize cause it to go into self-defense mode to protect you by killing off these invaders.

Cancer cells are foreign to the body. As such, once the immune system recognizes the cancer cells in the blood stream, it then activates the T cells and other immune cells within the lymph nodes. These T cells are then transported to the site of the cancer location, where T cells recognize and kill the cancer cells.

The main types of immunotherapy now being used to treat cancer include:

  • Cancer Vaccines: Immune system cells are removed from the patient’s body, which are then sensitized to the cancer cells. The cells are infused back to the patient, which produces immune response to the cancer. Provenge vaccine is now approved for prostate cancer treatment. There are other cancer vaccines under development.
  • Monoclonal Antibodies: These are man-made versions of immune system tumor specific proteins that are designed to attack a specific cancer cell. Herceptin is a monoclonal antibody used in treating breast cancer.
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors: These drugs alert and activate the immune system so tumor cells have no place to hide from the immune system. Most recently, Keytruda was approved for melanoma treatment and Opdivo was approved for lung cancer treatment.

Immunotherapy is administered through an IV or as a pill. Today, it is being used to treat many different types of cancer including melanoma, breast, lung, gastric, colorectal, cervical, kidney, bladder, prostate and ovarian cancer.

Immunotherapy is a relatively new therapy in the cancer fighting arsenal. It has been found to be effective for certain cancers when other treatments are not. As a combination therapy with other treatments, it may help them to work better. Side effects such as flu-like symptoms, fatigue, rash and dizziness may occur during or after treatment.

Fortunately, the Bay County community now has access to these novel immunotherapies at Hope Regional Cancer Center. If you are diagnosed with a cancer, before undergoing any treatment, you should talk with several cancer specialists to find out which treatment options are appropriate for you.

[Dr. Hasan Murshed and Dr. Robert Oldham are board-certified cancer specialists and consultants at the Bay Medical Regional Cancer Center and at Gulf Coast Medical Center. Reach them at 850-481-1697 or This information is intended for education only. For treatment, seek advice from your physician.]