What Is It?
Immunotherapy refers to treatments that stimulate, enhance or suppress the body's own immune system.
Immunotherapy is also called:
Immunotherapy is used to treat certain types of cancer. It is also used to treat inflammatory diseases. These include:
Our body's immune system recognizes cancer cells as foreign or abnormal. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells have unique proteins (antigens) on their outer surface. Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system. They latch onto the cancer cells' antigens. In this way, they label or tag the abnormal cells.
Ideally, special cells in the immune system would be recruited to destroy the tagged cancer cells. Sometimes, however, the immune system needs some help.
Biological therapy helps to stimulate the immune system to fight cancer. The chemicals used in immunotherapy often are called biological response modifiers. They enhance the body's normal immune-system reaction to a cancer threat.
Some biological response modifiers are chemicals that occur naturally in the body. But they are produced in larger amounts in a laboratory to help boost a person's immune response.
Biological response modifiers can play many different roles in fighting cancer. For example, they can:
Immunotherapy also can be used to suppress the immune system. This is particularly helpful in autoimmune disorders. In these disorders, the immune system "misfires." It wrongly attacks normal tissues.
Inflammation is useful for fighting infection. But in autoimmune diseases, it damages normal tissues. Biological therapies can cool off this harmful inflammation.
Examples of biological therapies currently in use include:
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