Brazilian Natural Medicine

Immunotherapy: what it is, what it is for and how it works

Immunotherapy, also known as biological therapy, is a type of treatment that strengthens the immune system, making the person’s own body better able to fight viruses, bacteria and even cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Generally, immunotherapy is started when other forms of treatment are not having a successful treatment of the disease and, therefore, its use should always be evaluated with the physician responsible for the treatment.

In the case of cancer, immunotherapy can be used together with chemotherapy in cases of difficult treatment, appearing to improve the chances of curing certain types of cancer, such as melanoma, lung cancer or kidney cancer, for example.

How immunotherapy works

Depending on the type of disease and its degree of development, immunotherapy can work in different ways, which include:

  • Stimulate the immune system to fight the disease more intensively, being more efficient;
  • Providing the proteins that make the immune system more effective for each type of disease.

As immunotherapy only stimulates the immune system, it is not able to quickly treat the symptoms of the disease and, therefore, the doctor may associate other drugs, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids or analgesics, to reduce discomfort.

Main types of immunotherapy

Currently, four ways to apply immunotherapy are being studied:

1. Adoptive T cells

In this type of treatment, the doctor collects T cells that are attacking the tumor or inflammation in the body and then analyzes the sample in the laboratory to identify those that are contributing most to healing.

After analysis, the genes of these cells are modified to make the T cells even stronger, returning them to the body to more easily fight the disease.

2. Inhibitors of checkpoint

The body has a defense system that uses checkpoints to identify healthy cells and prevent the immune system from destroying them. However, cancer can also use this system to disguise cancer cells from healthy cells, preventing the immune system from being able to eliminate it.

In this type of immunotherapy, doctors use drugs at specific sites to inhibit this system in cancer cells, allowing the immune system to re-identify and eliminate them. This type of treatment has mainly been done in cancers of the skin, lung, bladder, kidneys and head.

3. Monoclonal antibodies

These antibodies are created in the laboratory to be able to more easily recognize tumor cells and tag them, so that the immune system can eliminate them.

In addition, some of these antibodies can carry substances, such as chemotherapy or radioactive molecules, which prevent the tumor from growing. See more about the use of monoclonal antibodies in cancer treatment.

4. Cancer Vaccines

In the case of vaccines, the doctor collects some tumor cells and then changes them in the laboratory so that they are less aggressive. Finally, these cells are injected back into the patient’s body, in the form of a vaccine, to stimulate the immune system to fight cancer more effectively.

When immunotherapy is indicated

Immunotherapy is still a therapy under study and, therefore, it is a treatment that is indicated when:

  • The disease causes severe symptoms that interfere with day-to-day activities;
  • The disease puts the patient’s life at risk;
  • The other available treatments are not effective against the disease.

In addition, immunotherapy is also indicated in cases where the treatments available cause very intense or serious side effects, which can be life-threatening.

Possible side effects

The side effects of immunotherapy can vary according to the type of therapy used, as well as the type of disease and the stage of its development. However, the most frequent side effects include excessive tiredness, persistent fever, headache, nausea, dizziness and muscle pain.

Where can immunotherapy treatment be performed?

Immunotherapy is an option that can be suggested by the doctor who is guiding the treatment of each type of disease and, therefore, whenever necessary, it is performed by a specialist in the area.

So, in the case of cancer, for example, immunotherapy can be done in oncology institutes, but in the case of skin diseases, it should already be done by a dermatologist and in the case of respiratory allergy, the most suitable doctor is the allergist.

Always consult a doctor.

Verified by RJ985 – Brazilian natural medicine CMIO.org




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