What is Immunotherapy?
The immune system is made up of a network of organs, cells, and chemicals that work together to protect the body against diseases. In light of that, immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that works by enhancing your body’s immune system to fight infections and diseases. However, before you decide to undergo immunotherapy, there are a number of important things to consider. Some of these things include: the test, previous illness, age of the patient, and environmental factors.
The Phases of Allergy Shots
When undergoing immunotherapy, the doctor will make you go through a series of shots that will be delivered in a period of time that is recommended for optimum performance.
First Phase - In this initial phase, the doctor will give you the injections once or thrice a week depending on the circumstances. This will continue for about 12 to 24 weeks depending on the patient's needs. This is also the phase where the doctor will start reducing the dosage so as to allow the body to develop on its own and, finally, become stronger in the process.
Second Phase - This is also referred to as the maintenance phase. For the next 3 to 5 years after the first phase, you will be required to go for monthly shots that will ensure everything works out well.
Things to Consider Before Immunotherapy
1. The Test
When you go to the doctors for immunotherapy, they are required to perform a test on you to verify how your body responds to certain allergens. This is primarily because immunotherapy targets allergens, thus they will inject a small amount of substance that you might be allergic to and observe how your body reacts. If there is redness and swelling, it will be conclusive that you are allergic to that particular substance. These substances are designed to show exactly what you are allergic to and address it accordingly depending on your body's specific reaction.
2. Previous Illnesses
Before you get allergy shots, the doctors must ascertain that you do not have any reactions to what you are about to receive. These shots require optimum conditions to work.
The doctors have to be thorough with the whole process to make sure that everything goes according to plan. It is crucial to be upfront with your doctor about previous illnesses - what, when, and how it was dealt with. In most cases, your doctor will be particularly interested if you suffer from asthma.
3. Age of the Patient
Your doctor will then inform you of the age requirement for individuals who can undergo immunotherapy.
Children who are less than 24 months old will have to go through other methods of treating allergic conditions before considering immunotherapy. Infants are usually too young to be exposed to sufficient allergens that can cause a visible, easily determinable reaction. Thus when the doctor refuses to have a child undergo immunotherapy, he or she will recommend other methods of how to deal with the situation, or until such time the child is old enough for the procedure.
However, the chances of immunotherapy working at an early age are higher than when the child is older. But the reactions will be classified as "hypersensitive" first due to the child possibly developing immunity if the reaction is relatively mild.
When you decide to go for immunotherapy, the doctors will ascertain that you are indeed in dire need of it. This is due to environmental factors that may not be favorable for you. A good example is a person who's allergic to dog or cat fur only. A remedy for this is that the person stays away from dogs and cats to ensure that everything will be alright. Such simple methods of controlling the environment should be used to ascertain whether or not the risk is too great.
The real problem though is if the patient has multiple allergies to multiple things that can be found possibly everywhere he/she goes. This poses a great burden since you're required to avoid all possible allergy triggers. Thus you will be eligible for immunotherapy.
Types of Immunotherapy
Finally, another thing to consider is the method of treatment that best suits you. Here are the major types of immunotherapy available to treat cancer:
1. Cancer Vaccines
Despite the fact that we only think of vaccines as preventive of an imminent or expected attack, they have been used in treating cancer even after it has set in. Cancers of the mouth, throat, and cervix are among those that have been prevented, and even treated, by cancer vaccines. These vaccines are used to program the natural immune system to combat the specific cancer cells before they can grow and take over.
2. Monoclonal Antibodies
When cancer cells enter the body, they look for antigens that are conducive for them. Cancer cells attach themselves to these antigens and utilize them for their own growth. Monoclonal antibodies are the ones that target these antigens and destroy them before they spread the cancer.
3. Checkpoint Blockers
The body has T-cells which are the strongest and most successful when it comes to battling cancer. The problem is that there are checkpoint molecules that inhibit these T-cells. When the checkpoint blockers are introduced, they open up the way for the T-cells to do their job effectively.
Research has shown significant promise for these drugs. Its success is largely dependent, at the moment, on a patient-to-patient basis. Ongoing research are investigating why it only works for certain patients and how to deal with its known side effects.
4. General Immunotherapy
These are the ones that are done to generally boost the immune system to work against disease sin general. They are also important in battling cancer. In effect, general immunotherapy already helps the immune system in fighting cancer cells.
The Bottom Line
Over the past few years, immunotherapy has been an important option for treating some types of cancer. It works by bolstering the body’s immune system in order to slow down or stop the growth of cancer cells. However, not all individuals are eligible for immunotherapy. If you have certain allergies or have autoimmune disorders, it is best to consult your doctor first for proper guidance.