There are two major approaches to combatting cancer. The more external approach includes the direct attack of tumors through methods that originate from outside the body—such as radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy. The other approach involves getting your immune system to kill the cancer. One way to do this is through immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy activates and restores the immune system to its normal function. People diagnosed with cancer have a compromised immune system. This means that system is not effectively doing its job—which is to attack disease and maintain health.

How immunotherapy works is far too complex for me to explain in its entirety here, but I can share some of the basics. Immunotherapy uses the body’s own cells for treatment. There are many types of immune cells; those commonly used in immunotherapy are dendritic cells, natural killer (NK) cells, and lymphocytes, among others. These cells are removed from the body through the blood and are sent to a lab where they are matured and/or modified to increase function. The cells are then returned to the patient’s body. Usually this type of therapy requires a hospital setting or a high-tech clinic.

In order for the immune system to work effectively, there must be proper communication between the cells that make up the system. The immune system has an intricate communication network, and all its cells must work together in order to kill cancer and other invaders. Different types of immune cells have different tools and different jobs. For example, the lymphocytes tell the NK cells the location of the cancer (the NK cells cannot kill the cancer if they don’t know where it is). Other cells tell the NK cells the nature of the invader so the “attack” can match the “threat.”

Some consider immunotherapy experimental. The concepts are not new, but the applications, in many ways, are still in their infancy.


For Further Exploration:

Dr. Ariel Perez Talks about Immunotherapy: Using Dendritic Cells, Natural Killer Cells, and Activated Lymphocytes to Kill Cancer

View My “Back from Mexico” Video for My Angle on (and My Experience of) Immunotherapy

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