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Chemotherapy isn’t the only cancer treatment option

Health & Fitness

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This story is brought to you by Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, the largest medical facility in the region. EIRMC’s priority is to provide the highest level of care.

Cancer treatment doesn’t automatically mean chemotherapy. In some cases, making changes to the patient’s immune system can be more effective than traditional methods and less intense on the body.

Indeed, immunotherapy has led to significant medical breakthroughs for many kinds of advanced cancer. It is more narrow in its approach than traditional chemotherapy, which Dr. Heather Steele of the Idaho Cancer Center at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center says “targets areas of the cell cycle that are not specific to cancer cells alone.”

Immunotherapy is centered around the power of our immune system. When the immune system encounters a foreign substance, it normally fights it, which prevents us from contracting various infections and cancers. Unfortunately, though, cancer cells occasionally slip past the immune system’s detection.

Immunotherapy addresses the problem in a variety of ways, with some aiming to train the immune system to attack specific cancer cells. Other immunotherapy treatments enhance and restore the immune system.

Although basic immunology principles and treatment of tumors have been intertwined for many years, there has recently been an explosion in new and successful cancer treatments based on tumor immunology.

One development has become notably successful in fighting cancer as of late: checkpoint inhibitors.

“These are immunomodulatory antibodies that are used to enhance the immune system,” Steele says.

These are given via IV and are administered anywhere between every two to four weeks, depending on the individual diagnosis and specific drug chosen for treatment.

Checkpoint inhibitors have “substantially improved the prognosis for patients with advanced cancer,” she says.

Another benefit to immunotherapy is that the side effects of immunotherapy tend to be better tolerated and less frequent than those of traditional chemotherapy.

Consult with your oncologist to find out if immunotherapy is right for you.