Colon Cancer Treatments Experimental

Immunotherapy, also called biological therapy, biotherapy or biological response modifier therapy is an exciting new development in the field of cancer research. Many groundbreaking clinical trials are currently underway to evaluate new methods of tackling CRC using immunotherapy.

Findings from the latest clinical trials have already led to significant advances in the treatment of CRC.

What is Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy works by stimulating and boosting the body’s immune response and activating its natural cancer fighting mechanism. This type of therapy uses the body’s immune system, either directly or indirectly, to fight the diseased cells.

Recent cancer research has established that the immune system is normally able to distinguish between healthy cells and malignant cells in the body and to kill only those cells that are cancerous. New strategies are aimed at helping the immune system to serve this function in individuals whose tumors may be evading the body’s natural defenses.

Therapy may be given after surgery, either alone or as adjuvant therapy, in combination with chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Immunotherapy is usually given by injection into a vein (IV). It may also be used to minimize the side effects often caused by chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Possible Side Effects of Immunotherapy

As with any other type of cancer treatment, immunotherapy may produce certain side effects. Also, symptoms tend to vary considerably from one patient to the next.

A common side effect of immunotherapy is a temporary skin rash or irritation at the site of the injection. Other possible symptoms are localized swelling and/or bruising, fatigue and aching muscles.

Less common side effects include fever, digestive tract problems and blood pressure variations. Occasionally, immunotherapy may cause an allergic reaction.

What is Biological Response Modifier Therapy?

Biological response modifiers (BRM) are natural substances in the body, such as cytokines or antibodies. These substances help the body fight disease. Although BRMs occur naturally in the body, they can also be made artificially in the laboratory. BRMs work best in combination with one another or with treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Much research is currently focused on the dual capabilities of manufactured BRMs. They have been found to inhibit the growth of cancer cells while, at the same time, help healthy cells control and fight the cancer. Studies have also shown that BRMs can reverse the processes that change pre-cancerous cells into cancer cells and may even be able to prevent a malignancy from spreading to other parts of the body. Some BRMs are now being tested in research trials in the form of colorectal cancer vaccines.

Vaccine Therapy

Although still at the experimental stage, vaccine therapy is emerging as one of the most promising new treatments for CRC. A number of clinical trials are currently being conducted into the effectiveness of cancer vaccines for tackling this widespread disease.

Cancer vaccines work by activating the T and B immune cells and enabling them to identify and “remember” the cancer antigens in the body. Next time these antigens invade the body, the immune system is able to recognize, remember and destroy the malignant cells.

How Are Cancer Vaccines Produced?

Cancer vaccines are made from whole cancer cells or from antigens found in malignant tumors and are intended to create a strong immune reaction when re-injected into the body. The hope is to stimulate eradication of the tumor by triggering the body’s immune system to localize and attack it.

When vaccines are produced from whole cells, the diseased cells are removed from the patient and treated in a laboratory to prevent them from multiplying when re-injected into the patient. The two main types of whole cell vaccines are autologous whole cell vaccine-produced from the patient’s own body-and allogenic whole cell vaccine-using another person’s tumor cells.

Antigen vaccines, on the other hand, are composed of several isolated proteins or pieces of protein from the tumor cells.

Cancer vaccines may also be used in parallel with cytokines and other adjuvant substances that stimulate the body’s immune cells and help the T cells to attack and kill the cancer.