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Immune therapy



Immune system is a unique mechanism, which is meant to react to diseases and infections.

Already in late 19th century an American surgeon William Coley noticed, that when a cancer patient got infected, which in turn boosted their immune response, the immune system attacked also cancer. He applied his findings in devising “Coley toxins” (also called “Coley vaccine”): toxins that were introduced to the patient, provoking a stronger immune response, targeting cancer cells as well. At that time his revolutionary technique for cancer treatment was outshadowed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy, which were rapidly developing.

Now that patients and doctors seek a safer treatment method with less side effects, immunotherapy is gaining its weight. Much research is being conducted, and many results have been gained.


Immune therapy utilizes two methods:

  • stimulating the patient’s immune system so that it could attack cancer cells;
  •  introducing man-made immune system proteins (antibodies/ immunoglobulins, interferones, etc.)

Immunotherapy includes treatments that work in different ways: some boost the body’s immune system in a very general way, while others help train the immune system to attack cancer cells specifically.


Types of cancer immunotherapy.

  • Monoclonal antibodies: These are man-made versions of immune system proteins. Antibodies can be very useful in treating cancer because they can be designed to attack a very specific part of a cancer cell.
  • Cancer vaccines: Vaccines are substances put into the body to start an immune response against certain diseases. We usually think of them as being given to healthy people to help prevent infections. But some vaccines can help prevent or treat cancer.
  • Non-specific immunotherapies: These treatments boost the immune system in a general way, but this can still help the immune system attack cancer cells.


The uniqueness of immunotherapy is the lack of serious side effects. It is non-toxic and causes no harm to healthy tissues, which helps avoid the drastic side-effects of chemotherapy. The possible side effects – fever, rash, low blood pressure – are far milder than those of chemo- or radiotherapy. 


Vaccines to help treat cancer.

Cancer treatment vaccines are different from the vaccines that work against viruses. These vaccines try to get the immune system to attack cancer cells in the body. Instead of preventing disease, they are meant to get the immune system to attack a disease that already exists.

Some cancer treatment vaccines are made up of cancer cells, parts of cells, or pure antigens. Sometimes a patient’s own immune cells are removed and exposed to these substances in the lab to create the vaccine. Once the vaccine is ready, it’s injected into the body to increase the immune response against cancer cells.

Vaccines are often combined with other substances or cells called adjuvants that help boost the immune response even further.

Cancer vaccines cause the immune system to attack cells with one or more specific antigens. Because the immune system has special cells for memory, it’s hoped that the vaccine might continue to work long after it’s given.


  • Dendritic cells vaccine Sipuleucel-T

This vaccine is used to treat advanced prostate cancer that is no longer being helped by hormone therapy.

For this vaccine, immune system cells are removed from the patient’s blood and sent to a lab. There they are exposed to chemicals that turn them into special immune cells called dendritic cells. They are also exposed to a protein called prostatic acid phosphatase (PAP), which should produce an immune response against prostate cancer. The dendritic cells are then given back to the patient by infusion into a vein (IV). This process is repeated twice more, 2 weeks apart, so that the patient gets 3 doses of cells. Back in the body, the dendritic cells help other immune system cells attack the prostate cancer.

Although the vaccine doesn’t cure prostate cancer, it has been shown to help extend patient’s lives by several months on average. Studies to see if this vaccine can help men with less advanced prostate cancer are now being done.

Side effects are usually mild and can include fever, chills, fatigue, back and joint pain, nausea, and headache. A few men may have more severe symptoms, including problems breathing and high blood pressure.


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