Humans have been fighting against cancer for millennia. Fortunately, medical technologies currently available to us mean that we can detect this deadly disease earlier than ever. This, inturn, makes successful treatment for early stage cancer more likely.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization (WHO), stated in its 2018 annual report that the number of new cancer patients globally exceeded 18 million. Moreover, fatalities resulting from the disease rose to 9.6 million in that year alone. What’s even more shocking is that over 50% of all deaths resulting from cancer occurred in Asia. And the main reason is because not enough Asians are prioritizing making healthier lifestyle choices.
The main problem with some forms of cancer is that they can suppress signals being sent via the immune system or stop white blood cells. And these are the mechanisms responsible for protecting the body against invasive enemies by destroying cancerous cells. As a result, the cancer is able to stay hidden, enabling it to spread unhindered by the immune system. To combat that, the cancer immunotherapy treatment was developed.
Irregularities affecting cells which cause them to turn cancerous usually develop a specific surface. This allows white blood cells to differentiate them from regular cells. After identifying the cancer cells, white blood cells can destroy them before they can grow into a lump. However, if the cancer cells are allowed to strengthen or the patient’s immune system weakens for any reason, those cancer cells will develop. Then, they will produce chemicals that protect them against detection by the white blood cells. As a result, cancer cell destruction becomes impossible. Cancer immunotherapy drugs operate by improving white blood cell function. Simply put, the therapy drugs enable white blood cells to detect and destroy the foreign body (cancer).
Chemotherapy drugs target both healthy and cancerous cells. Working differently, molecular targeted therapy is a personalized form of treatment. This means that medical staff must carefully consider the patient’s specific needs before selecting which drugs to utilize.
Cancer immunotherapy, on the other hand, helps to improve the work carried out by white blood cells. Therefore, it carries with it fewer side effects than chemotherapy. However, increased white blood cells function does increase the likelihood of numerous other side effects. This includes rashes, intestinal inflammation, diarrhea and pneumonia. Moreover, it may negatively impact the thyroid, causing the thyroid to be overworked or under-worked, heightening blood glucose levels, etc.
In addition, the stage of the patient’s cancer also plays a crucial role in the treatment method the doctors select and the medication they prescribe. Molecular targeted therapy and immunotherapy are both useful in terms of treating cancer at stage 3 and 4.
Doctors can treat the following types of cancers with immunotherapy:
Doctors may use cancer immunotherapy as the sole course of treatment for cancer. Or, they may use it in conjunction with other types of cancer drugs, depending on the cancer’s stage.
Statistics related to cancer treatment have found that before immunotherapy treatment was available, the 3-year survival rate of melanoma skin cancer patients averaged around 5%. Once immunotherapy treatment became more widespread, this number rose to 42%. An example of its success is a stage 4 melanoma skin cancer patient in which case the disease had already spread to the lungs, liver and bones. When the patient received immunotherapy treatment for a period of 1 ½ years, it resulted in cancer dormancy. The patient also experienced far fewer side effects than before, and was able to carry on with his/her normal life.
Such findings were the same for the 5-year survival rate of lung cancer patients, which rose from 6% to 15% after immunotherapy was introduced. This was also the case for a kidney cancer patient who received immunotherapy treatment for around one year, and was able to lead a life free from complications. Cancer immunotherapy treatment is, therefore, considered an effective medicated form of cancer treatment.
To conclude, cancer immunotherapy results in a significant transformation for the daily life of the cancer patient. This is because it provides effective treatment with minimal side effects. Nevertheless, the type of cancer treatment available to each individual is very specific. This means patients should attend a medical consultation and undergo a detailed health checkup in order to allow doctors to make the best choice for their specific needs.
The earlier doctors can detect the cancer, the greater the chance of successfully treating it. Hence, it is crucial that we all attend annual health checkups and undergo additional age-related health screening procedures, in order to aid doctors in identifying any irregularities. This is especially important for cancer which is an extremely dangerous disease that can be successfully treated if found early enough. Furthermore, treatments such as immunotherapy mean that it is now also possible to treat stage 4 cancers or cancer that has spread to other organs. The treatment keeps the cancer dormant and enables the patient to lead a normal lifestyle for as long as possible.
The Second Class Honors M.D., Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, 1993.