Immunotherapy Cancer Treatment

What is immunotherapy cancer treatment? How does immunotherapy work?

Immunotherapy cancer treatment uses checkpoint drugs and genetically modified immune cells to attack cancer cells. Denise Grady of the New York Times explains, “rather than attacking the cancer directly, as chemo does, immunotherapy tries to rally the patient’s own immune system to fight the disease.” Immunotherapy allows doctors to use their patient's own immune system to fight cancer through checkpoint drugs and genetically changed immune cells. Checkpoint inhibitors are mass produced drugs that are placed in the immune system. The second method involves genetically modified immune cells. Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment that focuses on improving the immune system through checkpoint inhibitors and genetically modified cells.

What are checkpoint inhibitors?

Checkpoint inhibitor drugs are placed in the immune system to fight off cancer. Grady explains that, “The drugs free immune cells to fight cancer by blocking a mechanism — called a checkpoint — that cancer uses to shut down the immune system.” Checkpoint drugs create a barrier between the immune cells and cancer in the body. By doing this the immune system has the ability to work against the cancer. Without these checkpoint drugs the immune system is often taken over by cancer cells. Doctors use different checkpoint drugs based off what cancer they are fighting. According to the Cancer Treatment Center of America, the 4 common checkpoint inhibitor drugs are Ipilimumab, Pembrolizumab, Nivolumab, Lambrolizumab. The 4 drugs listed above have been approved by the FDA to treat different types of cancer in patients. These checkpoint inhibitor drugs are most successful to fight off cancer when they are combined with other cancer treatments.

What other treatments are paired with immunotherapy?

Cancer treatments paired with immunotherapy include cytometry treatment and chemotherapy. Pete Farley of the University of California states that, “They are using a technology called flow cytometry that will measure the abundance of cells and how immune cells live inside a tumor and how they compare to each other.” Flow cytometry helps doctors determine how the immune cells will react with the cancerous tumor. This helps make immunotherapy more successful in patients because it tells doctors exactly how a specific persons immune cells will adapt and attack the cancer treatment. In addition to flow cytometry, chemotherapy is often used with immunotherapy. According to Science daily, “Immunotherapy combined with chemotherapy destroyed a majority of dormant cancer cells. Chemotherapy alone has known to build up two different types of dormant cancer cells that have become more and more resistant.” Chemotherapy uses chemical substances or drugs to kill cancer and other diseases. While chemotherapy kills the cells, immunotherapy works to keep the cells dead through a natural body process. Using immunotherapy allows doctors to ensure that cancer cells in the body don’t continue to build a resistance to the treatment being used. Flow cytometry and chemotherapy help immunotherapy be as successful as it is.

How successful is immunotherapy?

Tumors have been shrinking and patients have been positively responding to immunotherapy treatments. Deputy Cheif medical officer for the American Cancer Society Leonard Lichtenfeld, has found that immunotherpy is working against the most advanced cancers. Lichtenfeld says, "What we're seeing is that with a disease like melanoma, where we had nothing much to offer, we now have 35 to 40 percent of the patients with the most advanced disease responding in a meaningful way to immunotherapy." Melanoma the most advanced form of skin cancer with nearly no treatment options has been responding with immunotherapy. By improving treatment options for melanoma doctors are hoping to be able to develop more treatment options for other advanced cancers. Mary Williams was a patient of immunotherapy cancer treatment for melanoma. Williams states that “as (her) trial expanded, nearly 58 percent of patients had "significant reduction in tumor size," an achievement (her) doctor, Memorial Sloan Kettering's Chief of Melanoma and Immunotherapeutics Service Jedd Wolchok, MD, noted at the time by saying, "Just five years ago, many of these patients would have been expected to live for only seven months following diagnosis." While other patients recieving immunotherapy had reductions in tumor size, Williams severe melanoma cancer was entirely fought off by her immune system. By shrinking and killing this cancer, researchers are improving the life span of people living with melanoma cancer. The success of immunotherapy also goes hand in hand with a few common cons found in cancer treatments.

What are the cons of immunotherapy?

The treatment of immunotherapy has a few cons including the price and the side effects from enduring the treatment. The American Cancer Society writes that, side effects of immunotherapy treatment include fatigue, nausea, evomiting, loss of appetite, fever or chills, skin irritation/rash, and a cough. By recieving immunotherapy patients reported each of the following conditions. A majority of these side effects are caused because the immunce cells attack healthy cells that have to reproduce before they can fight off the system. Along with these side effects is the price of the treatment. Patient Steve Cara joined a clinical trial in hopes to battle off his lung cancer. Grady states that, “in December 2014, he began treatment with two checkpoint inhibitors. They cost about $150,000 a year, but as a study subject he did not have to pay.” If Mr. Cara didn’t join the clinical trial he would have had to pay the 150,000 dollars out of pocket. The price of immunotherapy depends on the type and will continue to increase as the demand grows. The cons of immunotherapy are something to consider, but so are the immediate advantages and positive results.


Colitis: A bowel disease that causes swelling in the colon

Melanoma: Most severe and advanced form of skin cancer

Palliative: End of life care based on helping reduce pain, not treating the illness itself.

Predisposition: Suffering from a specific illness, condition, or attitude.

Subsequent: Comes after something in time

Vigilant: Staying alert and aware of danger or difficulties

Works Cited

"China's Cancer Doctor for the very Sick and very Rich." TCA Regional News, Jun 24 2016, ProQuest Newsstand,

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. "Researchers take step toward eliminating cancer recurrence: When combined, immunotherapy and chemotherapy kill a majority of dormant tumor cells." ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 1 September 2016,

Grady, Denise. "Harnessing the Immune System to Fight Cancer." The New York Times. The New York Times, 30 July 2016. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.

"University of California San Francisco." News Center | UC San Francisco. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.

Williams, Mary Elizabeth. "Could This Be The End Of Cancer?." Health 30.4 (2016): 73-77. EBSCO MegaFILE. 2 Feb 2017.

“What you should know about Immunotherapy.” Cancer Treatment Center of America. 2016.


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