Approximately 40 percent of people born today will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. Cancer has traditionally been treated with chemotherapy and radiation, but there’s a relatively new way to fight the oftentimes deadly disease: immunotherapy.
Immunotherapy aims to redirect the body’s immune system to specifically target cancerous cells – even cells with camouflaging proteins that allow them to grow unabated. Immunotherapy can be used to treat most types of cancer and is typically used in conjunction with traditional cancer treatments. In patients with recurring tumors, the combination allows doctors to reduce the amount of chemo or radiation needed, which in turn leads to less toxicity for patients.
In this episode of San Diego Health, host Susan Taylor and guest Michael Kosty, MD, a medical oncologist and director of the Scripps Green Cancer Center, discuss the history of immunotherapy, how it works, and how to decide if it’s the right treatment for you.
Immunotherapy is changing the way we think about cancer. For instance, in early stage lung cancer, the goal is to cure or eradicate the cancer, according to Dr. Kosty. But in patients with more advanced forms of the disease, the goal is extending survival. The hope for immunotherapy is to change cancer from a rapidly fatal disease into more of a chronic condition not unlike diabetes, hypertension or high cholesterol. Although doctors can’t yet eradicate the cancer, with the help of immunotherapy, they can better control it.