About Immunotherapy (Biologic Response Modifiers - Colony-Stimulating Factors & Tumor Vaccines)
Biologic Response Modifiers (BRM), also called immunotherapy, is a type of treatment
that mobilizes the body's immune system to fight cancer. The therapy
mainly consists of stimulating the immune system to help it do its job more effectively.
Tumor Vaccines also work to stimulate the body's immune system. To help understand
the role that biological agents play in cancer treatment some understanding of how
the immune system (such as lymphocytes,
dendritic cells and macrophages) works is helpful.
Biological response modifiers are substances that are able to trigger the immune
system to indirectly affect tumors. These include cytokines such as interferons
and interleukins. This strategy involves giving larger amounts of these substances
by injection or infusion in the hope of stimulating the cells of the immune system
to act more effectively.
An understanding of Biologic Response Modifiers and the immune system components
such as lymphocytes, dendritic cells, and macrophages demonstrates how working with
the body to treat cancer is a potentially effective strategy in cancer care.
Hormone therapy is another therapeutic
method that works with the body to treat cancer.
Side Effects of Biologic Response Modifiers
Like other forms of cancer treatment, immunotherapies can cause a number of side
effects. These side effects can vary widely from patient to patient. Biologic
response modifiers, may cause flu-like symptoms including fever, chills, nausea,
and appetite loss. Rashes or swelling may develop at the site where they are
injected. Blood pressure may also be affected, usually decreasing it. Fatigue
is another common side effect of biologic response modifiers. Side effects
of colony stimulating factors may include bone pain, fatigue, fever, and appetite
In the body's bone marrow (the soft, sponge-like material found inside bones) blood
cells are produced. There are three major types of blood cells; white blood
cells, which fight infection; red blood cells, which carry oxygen to and remove
waste products from organs and tissues; and platelets, which enable the blood to
Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy can effect these cells
which put a person at risk for developing infections, anemia and bleeding problems.
Colony-stimulating factors are substances that stimulate the production of blood
cells and promote their ability to function. They do not directly affect
tumors but through their role in stimulating blood cells they can be helpful as
support of the persons immune system during cancer treatment.
Researchers are developing vaccines that may encourage the patient's immune system
to recognize cancer cells. These would in theory work in a similar way as
vaccines for measles, mumps and small pox. The difference in cancer treatment
is that vaccines are used after someone has cancer. The vaccines would be
given to prevent the cancer from returning or to get the body to reject tumor lumps.
This is much more difficult than preventing a viral infection. The use of
tumor vaccines continues to be studied in clinical trials.
Caution: There are people who promote unproven therapies as immune system boosters.
Be careful when evaluating these claims. The following are types of immunotherapies
that are commonly and legitimately used in traditional and scientific medical practice.
More Chemotherapy Information:
Protocols - How Chemotherapy Works
How Chemotherapy Is Given
How Doctors Decide Which Chemotherapy Drugs To Give
How Long Chemotherapy Is Given
How To Tell If Chemotherapy Is Working
Cancer Cells & Chemotherapy
Short & Long Term Side Effects of Chemotherapy
Cancer Clinical Trials