Immunotherapy is a treatment program that uses vaccinations or other substance that builds immunities and raises the body’s resistance to disease and illness. Treatments involved in immunotherapy are created to cause a response between the host and the invading organism or tumor. These interactions can be very complex and difficult to anticipate.
Immunotherapy circumvents the immune system and helps to establish anti-bodies that eventually become part of the body’s immune defense against specific cells and organisms. Immunotherapy has become a common treatment for severe allergies and childhood diseases, such as measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox. Recently it has been used as a possible treatment for various types of cancer.
One of the encouraging signs that immunotherapy is working is the reduction of symptoms. For people who have severe allergies, injections are given on a daily, weekly or monthly (maintenance level) basis. The serum is created from the allergens themselves in minute doses. This helps the body create antibodies to counteract the symptoms caused by the allergies. As the body’s immunities increase, the symptoms and their severity decrease.
In the case of childhood illnesses, vaccinations are used to prevent the body from contracting a specific illness or disease. The vaccinations are introduced at a young age and supported by booster shots at various intervals. This form of immunotherapy has wiped out many childhood diseases that at one time were fatal for children. Whooping cough and polio are almost non-existent today because of the use of these inoculations.
Cancer on the other hand is not so easy. Researchers and physicians are trying to determine if the introduction of certain cells and substances can decrease the size of tumors or prevent various types of cancer altogether. Once such study involved the introduction of GVAX (granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor) in the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer. The hope of the study is that by introducing GVAX and vaccinations like it, the body will react positively by building the antibodies it needs to fight the disease and prevent its recurrence.
Other types of immunotherapy medications that are used for the treatment of various cancers are Stimuvax, Lucanix and Saccharomyces-CEA vaccines. Each in its own way, acts as other vaccines in the use of immunotherapy. Signs that the vaccines are working include reduction in the size of tumors or lesions, the prevention of new tumor growth and the limiting or reducing the area affected by the cancer or illness.
Encouraging signs that immunotherapy works are monitored closely. As the signs of healing increase, the amount of the vaccinations given may be decreased or given less frequently. If signs do not appear to be encouraging the doses may be given closer together or in larger amounts.