Your immune system consists of a variety of cells that exist to fight pathogens and other invaders. While the immune system generally wards off bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other problems, sometimes these cells are not enough to overcome powerful diseases such as cancer. However, a new treatment called immunotherapy is being developed to help you fight back against cancer.
Most of your immune system cells are general germ fighters. For instance, cells called neutrophils simply identify foreign particles in the body, attach themselves to the invader, and release enzymes to kill it. Additionally, though, you have specialized cells called antibodies that are specifically attuned to certain germs. It is through the antibodies that you develop “immunity” to a disease–once your body identifies the invader, it will produce antibodies that will always be prepared to attack that specific germ.
Frustratingly, it can be very difficult for the immune system to target and fight cancerous cells. This is because cancer cells are basically your own cells but with dangerous mutations that make them turn into tumor masses. However, doctors and scientists are researching the potential to train your immune system to recognize the cancerous cells. This way, you can fight back against the bad cells yourself. This is called immunotherapy.
With immunotherapy, doctors are trying to strengthen the immune system against cancer in several different ways. First, they can remove cancerous cells, tag them with a “non-self” marker, and then release them into the body. Then, your immune system finally recognizes that these cancerous cells are abnormal, which, in theory, enables them to fight back. Additionally, in some clinical trials, some cancer patients are receiving vaccines that lead to the development of anti-cancer antibodies.
Although some tests for immunotherapy have showed much promise, it is not yet a standard treatment for many different types of cancer.
If you suffer from deadly cancers such as mesothelioma, it is important to learn everything you can about treatment options, including clinical trials and immunotherapy, before you commit to a treatment plan. This way, you stay in control of your life as you pursue treatment.