Immunotherapy -A New Way of Fighting Mesotheloma

Conventional cancer treatments like radiotherapy and chemotherapy are more widely used to treat mesothelioma, but alternative treatments such as immunotherapy are becoming more and popular too. Other therapies such as immunotherapy provide the patient with additional options for the control of symptoms. While immunology does not yet offer a cure for mesothelioma, researchers continue to experiment with the treatment in hopes of achieving better results.

Immunotherapy involves the use and manipulation of a patient's own immune system to help them fight diseases to which the immune system would not normally respond.

In the case of mesothelioma and other types of asbestos cancer, the patient's immune response does not typically react or destroy cancer cells for one very important reason: a normal healthy immune system does not recognize cancer cells as foreign cells so it does not destroy them.

Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that tricks the immune system into believing that cancer cells are foreign. When this type of treatment is administered to cancer patients, the immune system can be made to destroy cancer cells, while leaving normal healthy cells unharmed.

Treating mesothelioma patients with immunotherapy relies on helping the body's immune system to recognize the difference between healthy cells and cells that have become cancerous.

To understand how immunotherapy works, it is first important to understand how the immune system differentiates between normal body cells and foreign cells. The immune system does this by recognizing and reacting to antigens. Antigens are molecules that are present on the surface of all cells, whether human, bacterial, or viral. A normal immune system can react to and destroy cells that produce antigens that are foreign, but cannot react to cells that produce "self" antigen (an antigen produced by the body).

Immunotherapy, therefore, is geared towards making the immune system recognize antigens on cancer cells as being foreign, allowing the immune system to destroy those cells. There two ways by which immunotherapy can be used:1]Active immunity and 2]Passive immunity

Active Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma

Active immunotherapy treatments stimulate the immune system to fight disease. Vaccines, for example, are a type of active immunotherapy. Cancer vaccines are slightly different in that they are designed to fight diseases that already exist in the body, whereas most other vaccines are administered to prevent disease.

Mesothelioma vaccines may be created by removing cancer cells from a mesothelioma patient. This is usually done in a laboratory by using either whole cancer cells or antigens removed from cells. The cells or antigens are modified in a laboratory so they can be recognized by the patient's immune system and are then injected back into the patient.

Active immunotherapy treatments for mesothelioma are highly specific treatments made with cells from the patient's own body. Thus, a different vaccine is created for each patient who receives active immunotherapy treatment.

Passive Immunotherapy Treatment for Mesothelioma

Passive immunotherapy treatments are those which use components that are created outside the body. These types of treatments differ from active immunotherapy in that passive treatments do not attempt to force the immune system to actively destroy cancer cells.

One example of a passive immunotherapy treatment is monoclonal antibody therapy, which is currently the most widely used immunotherapy for treating cancer. Antibodies are molecules the immune system produces to help fight infections. In an immune system that is functioning normally, antibodies are produced that recognize and bind to foreign antigens present on foreign cells, which effectively targets foreign cells for destruction by other parts of the immune system.

Monoclonal antibody therapy involves removing cancer cells from a patient, which are then grown together in a laboratory with other cells that produce antibodies in response to antigens on the cancer cells. During this process, identical antibodies are produced that recognize the same antigen (hence the termed monoclonal).

The next stage of the treatment involves injecting the patient with the monoclonal antibodies. Once inside the body, the antibodies recognize and bind to tumor cells, as the tumor cells possess the specific kind of antigen that the antibodies were created to identify. If the cancer treatment is successful, the immune system will recognize the monoclonal antibodies and destroy the cancer cells.

Immunotherapy is however still largely in experimental stages of different clinical trials all over the world and most of them are yet to be approved for general use, so if any mesothelioma patient wants to benefit from immunotherapy they must participate in relevant clinical trials.

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