What is immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy, a type of biological therapy—sometimes referred to as immuno-oncology when treating cancers—uses certain parts of a person’s immune system to fight diseases. A person’s immune system works to help fight diseases and infections, and as part of its normal function, it can detect and destroy abnormal cells, preventing or curbing the growth of many cancers. Though our immune systems work hard to protect our bodies, cancer cells can sometimes avoid destruction by the immune system.
Immunotherapy for cancer is a treatment that works with a person’s immune system to boost or change how it fights against certain diseases, including cancer. Immunotherapy for cancer can:
- Boost or stimulate the natural defenses of a person’s immune system so that it can work smarter to find and destroy cancer cells
- Provide the body with additional immune system components to improve or restore how a person’s immune system functions
Many immunotherapy treatments for preventing, managing or treating different types of cancers can also be used in combination with chemotherapy, radiation, surgery or other targeted therapies to improve their effectiveness. Recent years have shown how important immunotherapy can be when treating certain types of cancers, with new treatments being tested and approved and new research being done at a very fast pace.
Why Baylor Scott & White Health for immunotherapy
Finding comprehensive immunotherapy for cancer can feel complicated. Baylor University Medical Center, part of Baylor Scott & White Health, in Dallas is a destination center for immune therapy in cancer care, offering patients access to clinical trials and advanced treatment options that utilize these living drugs to treat the most complex forms of cancer. Pioneering research and treatment in immunotherapies, Baylor University Medical Center is one of the first North Texas providers to offer adult commercial use of chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, or CAR-T, to treat patients with large B-cell lymphoma and acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
The innovative therapies produced at Baylor Scott & White Research Institute’s Good Manufacturing Practice Core lab (cGMP) at Baylor University Medical Center combine with the comprehensive cancer care Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center – Dallas to provide a single destination of cancer care to make your journey of healing easier and more streamlined.
We continue to research and advance numerous other immunotherapies every day. For fighters like you, this means access to clinical trials you won’t find elsewhere and even more hope to destroy cancer.
Baylor Scott & White Health is the third-largest network of cancer centers accredited by the Commission on Cancer.
Nationally accredited by the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT)
Types of immunotherapy
There are several main types of immunotherapy used to treat cancer, and many are being studied. The current types of immunotherapy offered at Baylor Scott & White Health include:
Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR-T) T-cell therapy is a form of immunotherapy for cancer that uses T cells—a type of immune cell often referred to as the workhorses of the immune system—to fight cancer. After taking T cells from a patient’s blood, a synthetic receptor called a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) is added to T cells in the lab, and the cells are then multiplied. These new CAR-T cells are then infused back into your body to target specific antigens on the surface of cancer cells.
Monoclonal antibodiesAntibodies are proteins made by your immune system that stick to specific foreign cells to help your body destroy them. Monoclonal antibodies are manufactured antibodies that act like natural antibodies. There are a few different types of monoclonal antibodies, but they are all designed to help your immune system find and attack cancer better.
Learn more about Monoclonal Antibody Therapy
T cell receptor (TCR) therapySimilar to the cancer treatment called CAR-T therapy, T cell receptor (TCR) therapy modifies a person’s own T cells in the lab with a receptor that can target specific cancer cells. These modified cells are multiplied and infused back in the person to attack cancer. TCR is different from CAR-T in the type of antigens the T cells target.
Blood and marrow transplant
Bone marrow produces stem cells that are harvested (collected) for a BMT transplant. A donor or the transplant patient him or herself can serve as the source for the bone marrow stem cells. Depending on the care plan devised by our team of specialists, the transplant patient will receive chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of both, to kill her or his cancer cells, immune system, or both. The stem cells are infused (injected) into the patient’s bloodstream where they begin to produce healthy stem cells and bone marrow. From start to finish, the transplant generally takes a few months.
The cGMP lab on the Dallas hospital campus is involved in manufacturing dendritic cell vaccines to treat various types of cancer. When modified in the lab and delivered as a vaccine, immature dendritic cells, a type of immune cell, can help prompt the immune system to target cancer cells as invaders.
Immune checkpoint inhibitors
Your body has immune checkpoints to help keep your T cells from destroying healthy cells. However, when immune checkpoints are present on cancer cells, it can shut off T cells so that they don’t attack the cancer. Immune checkpoint inhibitors block these checkpoints on cancer cells, allowing T cells to recognize and destroy them as part of your cancer treatment.
Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes are immune cells that go from your blood into a tumor to kill cancer cells. These lymphocytes can be taken from a person’s tumor and multiplied in the lab. In this type of immunotherapy for cancer, the larger number of lymphocytes is then infused back into the person to boost the immune system’s ability to destroy cancer.
Natural killer (NK) cell therapy
A natural killer (NK) cell is a type of immune cell that looks for many types of abnormal cells in the body and attacks them. In the lab, NK cells can be multiplied or modified and then infused into a person to help the body better attack cancer cells. Unlike T cell therapies, NK cell therapy doesn’t require the use of an individual’s own cells.
Benefits of immunotherapy
Historically, cancer treatment has generally included three main approaches—chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. Now, immunotherapy gives you a fourth tool to defeat cancer.
Certain cancers, like skin cancer, do not respond well to treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy, so your doctor may recommend immunotherapy as an effective way to attack cancer cells. Immunotherapy is seen as an effective addition to a patient’s treatment plan. Research shows that other therapies, like chemotherapy, may be more effective if a patient also receives immunotherapy for cancer.
A person’s cancer may also be less likely to return if immunotherapy is used, since their immune system learns to go after cancer cells if they ever come back. While immunotherapy for cancer may take more time to have an effect, the benefits can sustain long after treatment ends.
What to expect during immunotherapy treatment
Immunotherapy for cancer is typically administered intravenously directly into a vein near the location of the cancer.
The frequency and duration of immunotherapy treatment depend on:
- A patient’s type of cancer
- How advanced the cancer is
- The type of immunotherapy used
- How a patient’s body reacts to immunotherapy treatment
Some patients have immunotherapy treatment every day, every week or every month—where others may be given immunotherapy for cancer in cycles to allow for periods of treatment and periods of rest.
Following treatments, patients regularly visit with their cancer doctor for physical exams and discussions about immunotherapy side effects. Cancer patients will have frequent blood tests and different types of scans to determine any changes in blood work and the size of tumors.
Immunotherapy side effects and risks
Immunotherapy side effects and risks can vary depending on the cancer type and drug used.
Cancer patients may experience these immunotherapy side effects:
- Diarrhea or colitis
- Muscle or bone pain
- Flu-like symptoms, such as chills or fever
- Loss of appetite
- Mouth sores
- Skin rash
- Shortness of breath
In most cases, potential immunotherapy-related side effects can be managed safely as long as any potential side effects are addressed early. Patients will be closely monitored by their cancer doctor for any potential side effects, and treatment may be paused or stopped at any time.
How effective is immunotherapy for cancer?
Success rates of any cancer treatment are dependent on many individual factors such as cancer type and stage. While some cancers provoke more of an immune response than others, in general, immunotherapy is considered effective across a wide variety of cancer types, especially when paired with another type of cancer treatment.
Research also suggests that immunotherapy helps the immune system remember how to attack cancer cells long after treatment ends.
Finding immunotherapy care in Texas
When it comes to cancer treatment in Texas, Baylor Scott & White Health is here to offer the most innovative treatment plans at our comprehensive cancer centers. Immunotherapy in Dallas at Baylor University Medical Center offers patients even more hope to destroy cancer.
For more information on immunotherapy in North Texas or to get a second opinion on your cancer treatment plan, contact our patient navigators today.
You have access to multiple cancer care centers in Texas, including centers specializing in immunotherapy and research centers. Get started by finding a Immunotherapy location near you.
Manufacturing innovative immunotherapies
Baylor University Medical Center is also home to Baylor Scott & White Research Institute’s Good Manufacturing Practice Core lab (cGMP), a facility approved to manufacture and process select drugs and biological materials for Phase I and Phase II research trials. Established in 2005, Baylor University Medical Center was one of the first healthcare systems in North Texas to have this type of facility on its campus to bring innovative early stage cancer research to the clinical setting. The collaborative power between the physicians on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center and the research staff at Baylor Scott & White Research Institute not only strengthens the patient experience, but improves access to resources and technology like immunotherapies for patients across the region