Diseases We Treat With Immunotherapy
Moffitt Cancer Center — a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center — proudly offers immunotherapy to treat a number of different malignancies.
What is immunotherapy?
Before discussing what types of cancer can be treated with immunotherapy, it may be helpful to first define immunotherapy. Simply put, immunotherapy (sometimes referred to as "biological therapy") is a form of treatment that uses the patient’s own immune system to fight the disease.
So, how is immunotherapy administered? There are a variety of administration methods. Many immunotherapies are administered by injection — either into a vein (intravenously), under the skin (subcutaneously) or into a muscle (intramuscularly) — while others are introduced directly into the body cavity in which the tumor is located.
How does immunotherapy work to treat cancer?
Now that you're aware of the immunotherapy definition, what is immunotherapy for cancer? Immunotherapy cancer treatment involves either:
- Teaching the patient’s immune system how to recognize and destroy cancer cells
- Strengthening the patient’s immune cells to help them destroy cancer cells
- Providing the patient with the support needed to further enhance their immune response
Using immunotherapy for cancer treatment is a relatively recent advancement in the medical industry.
Types of immunotherapy
Immunotherapy treatment to treat cancer can take a number of different forms, including:
- Adoptive cell transfer – This involves removing the patient’s T-cells, modifying them and then reinfusing them back into the patient’s body so that they can find and destroy cancer cells. For example, CAR T-Cell immunotherapy involves modifying T-cells with cancer-fighting chimeric antigen receptors. Another example is TIL (tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte) therapy where anti-cancer T cells are obtained from the tumor and re-infused into the patient.
- Cytokine therapy – This relies on man-made versions of certain proteins found naturally within the body to stimulate the immune system.
- Immune checkpoint inhibitors – These are drugs that help a patient’s immune system better recognize and destroy cancer cells.
- Monoclonal antibody immunotherapy – This involves administering man-made monoclonal antibodies to the patient to attack and destroy specific parts of cancer cells.
- Vaccines – More specifically, vaccines that stimulate the immune system and teach it how to work against cancer and certain other diseases. For example, the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine prevents patients from developing an infectious disease that would in turn have the potential to cause anal, cervical, penile or throat cancer.
What types of cancer can be treated with immunotherapy?
Research has shown that cancer immunotherapy may be used to treat the following malignancies:
- Bladder cancer
- Brain cancer
- Breast cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Head and neck cancers
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Lung cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Ovarian cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Skin cancer
- Stomach cancer
Does immunotherapy work for everyone with these malignancies? Not necessarily. The question of who qualifies for immunotherapy is decided on a case-by-case basis, and a cancer patient's physician will need to determine whether immunotherapy is appropriate based on their specific circumstances.
Immunotherapy vs. chemotherapy
Many people are unsure of the difference between chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Is immunotherapy chemo? In short, no. Immunotherapy involves harnessing the power of the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer. Chemotherapy, on the other hand, involves using drugs to directly destroy cancer cells, separate and apart from the patient’s immune response. In many cases, immunotherapy and chemotherapy will be used alongside each other, sometimes in combination with other treatment methods as well, such as surgery or radiation therapy.
Targeted therapy vs. immunotherapy
People also often wonder about the difference between targeted therapy and immunotherapy. Like chemotherapy, targeted therapy involves using drugs to attack cancer cells. So, in that way, it is dissimilar from immunotherapy, which involves enhancing the patient’s immune response, rather than directly attacking cancer. The difference between chemotherapy and targeted therapy lies in the type of cells being destroyed—while chemotherapy often damages healthy cells in the course of destroying cancer cells, targeted therapy is less likely to cause harm to normal, noncancerous cells.
Moffitt's approach to immunotherapy cancer treatment
At Moffitt Cancer Center, we’ve made it our goal to better understand and treat all types of cancer, and that involves consistently making strides toward developing new cellular immunotherapy treatments. Whenever a new treatment option is discovered, we try to make that treatment available through clinical trials as soon as possible for our patients’ benefit.
Medically reviewed by Michael Jain, MD, PhD
For more information about our approach to cellular immunotherapy, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online. Your cancer diagnosis is our top priority, so you can expect to speak to a cancer expert as soon as possible. What’s more, even before you step in the door, we’ll have already begun planning for your personalized treatment.
American Cancer Society: What is Targeted Therapy
Cancer Champions: What's the Difference Between Chemotherapy, Immunotherapy and Targeted Therapy
Cancer Research Institute: Differences of Cancer Immunotherapy and Chemotherapy
Cancer Research Institute: What is Immunotherapy?