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.
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 loss.
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 clot.
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.
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