What is Immunotherapy? and Breast Cancer Immunotherapy Treatment

Immunotherapy medicines use the power of your body’s immune system to attack cancer cells. Your immune system is made up of a number of orga...

Immunotherapy medicines use the power of your body’s immune system to attack cancer cells.

Your immune system is made up of a number of organs, tissues, and cells that work together to protect you from foreign invaders that can cause disease. When a disease- or infection-causing agent, such as a bacterium, virus, or fungus, gets into your body, your immune system reacts and works to kill the invaders. This self-defense system works to keep you from getting sick.

About Immunotherapy

Cancer immunotherapy medicines work by helping your immune system work harder or more efficiently to fight cancer cells. Immunotherapy uses substances -- either made naturally by your body or man-made in a lab -- to boost the immune system to:

About Cancer Immunotherapy

  • stop or slow cancer cell growth
  • stop cancer cells from spreading to other parts of the body
  • be better at killing cancer cells
To start an immune system response to a foreign invader, the immune system has to be able to tell the difference between cells or substances that are “self” (part of you) versus “non-self” (not part of you and possibly harmful). Your body’s cells have proteins on their surfaces or inside them that help the immune system recognize them as “self.”

Breast Cancer Immunotherapy


This is part of the reason the immune system usually doesn’t attack your body’s own tissues. (Autoimmune disorders happen when the immune system mistakenly attacks your own tissues, such as the thyroid gland, joints, connective tissue, or other organs.)

Immunotherapy provides a promising area, provides relatively new treatment options. There are a number of clinical studies suggest that it can improve major outcomes for people suffering from breast cancer. Immunotherapy has lesser side effects in the comparison of chemotherapy; it works by raising the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer.

One type of Immunotherapy is Pembrolizumab, which is a checkpoint inhibitor, which has shown solid promise for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer. It works differently by blocking specific antibodies, which works to fight cancer by the immune system. One research result told that 38% of patients had a decrease in their tumor burden. Immunotherapy is not FDA approved until now, yet most of the treatment is available through clinical trials only.

In general, immunotherapy medicines can be divided into two main groups:

Active immunotherapies, which stimulate your immune system to respond to the cancer. Cells from a cancer are examined in the lab to find antigens specific to that tumor. Then an immunotherapy treatment is created that makes the immune system target those antigens. Cancer vaccines and adoptive cell therapy are examples of active immunotherapies.

Passive immunotherapies, which give the body man-made immune system components to help it fight cancer. Passive immunotherapies don’t stimulate your immune system to actively respond the way active immunotherapies do. Immune checkpoint inhibitors and cytokines are examples of passive immunotherapies.

While there are many types of immunotherapies being studied, some of the most relevant to breast cancer treatment are:
  • Cancer Vaccines
  • Cytokines
  • Adoptive Cell Therapy
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors
  • Immune Targeted Therapies
Right now, there are three immunotherapies approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat breast cancer: the immune targeted therapies Herceptin (chemical name: trastuzumab), Perjeta (chemical name: pertuzumab), and Kadcyla (chemical name: T-DM1 or ado-trastuzumab emtansine). These three medicines treat HER2-positive breast cancer by targeting the HER2 receptors on breast cancer cells.

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