Immunotherapy continues to change the way doctors treat cancer by harnessing the power of the patient’s own immune system. Today, excitement around immunotherapy lies in its ability to provide patients with fewer side effects. “The unique thing about immunotherapy is that for most patients, it’s much less toxic than chemotherapy, has fewer side effects and there are a lot of patients that have no side effects,” says Dr. Evan Yu, medical oncologist at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. The work now for cancer researchers is to find ways to apply immunotherapy options earlier in treatment and in combination with other therapies, such as chemo and radiation. “I think there’s a good chance that what will happen down the road is most patients will get some sort of immunotherapy to stimulate their immune system because obviously it’s a critical component in the battle against cancer,” says Dr. Yu.
Dr. Yu primarily treats patients with prostate, bladder and testicular cancers. peaking with him in our recent video series, he explains the core principal behind immunotherapy, using the body’s own immune system to treat cancer, as well as some of the ways it can be effectively implemented in combination with other therapies by stimulating the immune system. He shares that the immune system needs to be “taught” to react to immunotherapy drugs so that the cancer responds positively, whether by first treating a patient with more traditional therapy. For instance, “giving a vaccine first or giving chemotherapy or potent therapy that will kill cancer cells to release all of these abnormal proteins so that then you can follow up with immunotherapy that can then stimulate your immune system to go after all those new targets.”
Immunotherapy treatments are not yet available for all types of cancer, and are effective only for a percentage of patients. But optimism remains that these options will become more widely available as physicians and researchers like Dr. Yu find more ways to apply these therapies into treatment plans. These options represent a greater chance that patients will have a better life during and after treatment, allowing them to return to the things that they love to do.
To learn more about the five different types of immunotherapy treatments offered at SCCA, click here.
To view Dr. Evan Yu’s video series on immunotherapy, click here.