The MedStar Health Cancer Network: Helping You Fight Cancer on Your Own Terms
Today, thanks to the many advances in cancer treatment that have occurred during the past decade alone, more and more individuals are surviving cancer. This is due in large part to a growing understanding of what cancer is and how it forms, grows, and spreads–knowledge that is transforming how we treat cancer.
At the MedStar Health Cancer Network, we’ve long been committed to a patient-first approach to cancer care. Our patients benefit from a multidisciplinary approach to cancer care that culminates in a customized, treatment plan for each individual. Now, with immunotherapy, we are able to treat cancer in an entirely new way—offering new hope to many and the potential of long-term protection against the disease.
Immunotherapy works by harnessing the power of the immune system to fight cancer. Currently, we offer immunotherapy as a treatment option for lung cancer as well as melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. We are also participating in several clinical trials involving immunotherapy, making it possible for us to offer many of these drugs sooner and to a wider population.
As additional new immune treatments are researched and approved—an ongoing process—so will our ability to treat other types of cancer with immunotherapy. With targeted treatments such as immunotherapy, we can treat cancer cells as aggressively as possible right from the start to achieve the best outcomes.
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What is Immunotherapy and How Does It Work?
Your immune system is a collection of organs and special cells that help protect you from infections and some diseases by keeping track of the substances normally found in the body. Any new substance it doesn’t recognize—such as germs or abnormal cells—raises an alarm, causing the immune system to attack and try to destroy it.
The immune system’s natural capacity to detect and destroy abnormalities may prevent the development of many cancers. However, cancer cells are sometimes able to avoid detection and destruction by the immune system. To overcome this, researchers have found ways to help the immune system recognize cancer cells and strengthen its response so that it will destroy them.
Immunotherapy drugs are now used to treat many different types of cancer. These new drugs act in different ways:
- Some boost the body’s immune system in a very general way.
- Others help train the immune system to attack cancer cells specifically.
Immunotherapy works better for some types of cancer than for others. It’s used by itself for some cancers, but for others it seems to work better when used with other types of treatment.
Types of Cancer Immunotherapy
The main types of immunotherapy now being used to treat cancer include:
- 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.
- Immune checkpoint inhibitors: These drugs basically take the “brakes” off the immune system, which helps it recognize and attack cancer cells.
- Cancer vaccines: Vaccines are substances put into the body to start an immune response against certain diseases. While we usually think of them as being given to healthy people to help prevent infections, some vaccines can help prevent or treat cancer.
- Other, non-specific immunotherapies: These treatments boost the immune system in a general way, which can still help the immune system attack cancer cells.
Many types of immunotherapy are now being studied for use against cancer. These advances in cancer immunotherapy will continue to transform cancer treatment, with the potential for more powerful and less toxic approaches.
Meet Our Team
At the MedStar Health Cancer Network, our medical oncologists are at the forefront of cancer treatment working as a team to tailor treatment regimens for optimal outcomes. These specialists can address all of your questions about immunotherapy.