Immunotherapy uses your body’s immune system to fight cancer. It is based on the understanding that your own immune cells can be enhanced in a lab so they have cancer-fighting abilities — targeting very particular types of cancer cells. Once re-engineered, these personalized cancer-fighting cells are infused into you to help the immune system defeat the cancer.
There are three basic immunotherapy approaches:
- Immune cells can be taken from you or donor to attack cancer cells that are left in the body after chemotherapy.
- Manmade antibodies can be used that attach to molecules (antigens) that are particular to a cancer cell to kill the cancer
- Vaccines can be used to suppress cancer cells that remain after treatment to prevent recurrence or prolong remission.
The Froedtert & MCW Cancer Network offers many types of immunotherapy, including:
- Chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy (CAR-T therapy): Your T cells are collected and engineered to recognize CD19 and CD20 molecules (also called antigens) on a cancer cell’s surface. The re-engineered T cells are infused into you to become part of your immune system and can then identify and attack unique cancer cells.
- Cytokine treatment: Cytokines are hormones that help the immune system do its job. Cytokines can also be produced in a lab to be used as therapy to give the immune system a boost.
- Donor lymphocyte infusion: Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell. Patients who have certain types of blood cancers and have had a stem cell transplant may relapse. They could benefit from lymphocyte infusion from the original stem cell donor’s blood. The donated lymphocytes trigger an immune reaction to fight cancer cells (called graft vs. tumor effect).
- NK cell therapy: NK cell therapy uses a type of immune cell called a natural killer cell that has built-in anti-cancer abilities. These specialized cells from a donor are infused into you to fight cancer.
- Monoclonal antibody therapy: A monoclonal antibody is a lab-designed immune protein whose function is to mimic natural antibodies everyone’s body produces. The monoclonal antibody is made to target specific antigens (molecules on the surface of cancer cells). By attaching itself to the antigen on the cancer cell, a monoclonal antibody can block or suppress the cell’s activity. It’s sometimes called targeted therapy because of its specific targeting abilities.
- Reduced-intensity allogeneic stem cell transplantation: Also called a non-myeloablative transplant, this treatment approach is a modified version of an allogeneic transplant, where you receive stem cells from another person. The chemotherapy or radiation therapy dose a you receive is less than usually given in a traditional allogeneic transplant, but still strong enough to suppress the immune system and make it possible for the new immune system from donated stem cells to eradicate remaining cancer cells.
- Therapeutic cancer vaccines: These vaccines are used to treat existing cancers by delaying or stopping cancer cells’ growth, shrinking a tumor, preventing cancer recurrence or eliminating cancer cells that remain after other treatment. Treatment vaccines work by activating T cells that will find and act against particular cancer cells. They can also encourage production of antibodies (cancer-fighters) that attach to antigens on cancer cells.