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Immuno-oncology: a new weapon against cancer

semmelweis.hu 14 September, 2015, Monday

The immune system is able to recognise and destroy tumour cells – this is what immuno-oncology, the science applying a new perspective exploits. The research which have been carried out for a few years now have produced remarkable results in the case of certain diseases (melanoma, lung cancer), and there are promising researches going on at present relating to other tumours (lung, breast, kidney and prostate cancer) as well, said Dr Magdolna Dank, associate professor at Internal Medicine Department No I of Semmelweis University, according to her the main goal is to achieve that immune(onco)therapy becomes a routine treatment.

Immunotherapy starts from the recognition that there exist cancer cells in every human body, but in a normal case the immune system is able to recognise and destroy them. When tumour cells are able to “hide”, the disease is activated. In this case, they block the immune-response by installing “receptor blockers”. Immuno-oncology developments aim to cancel these blocking points, and as a result of medical treatment a normal immune response is created, and in this way normal operation is activated. Immunotherapy enhances the capacity of T-cells to destroy malignancies, explains Dr Magdolna Dank. The tumour may either disappear or remain, but if the patient’s immune system is under constant control, long-term survival may be ensured. According to the results achieved so far, immunotherapy may also be combined with other treatments, thus its effect may be accordingly enhanced.

The professor recommends those involved to contact an oncology centre where they can get information about how/where to receive the therapy for the respective disease. At the same time she emphasised that not every patient with melanoma for instance is suitable for receiving immuno-oncology treatment, for which several criteria have to be met. However, if a patient gets the opportunity to participate in an immune-oncology clinical trial, he/she can accept it if advised by the oncologist.

According to the associate professor, the procedures applied in cancer treatment so far, which have been focused on destroying cancer cells (chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery and different targeted medication therapies) have been important milestones in medical treatments, but in many cases did not result in complete recovery. Immuno-oncology on the other hand, is based on a completely different concept: it activates the immune system of the body, which practically heals itself. It is an absolute teamwork where the physician involved, oncologists, radiologists, professionals and imaging professionals and pathologists have to work in a highly coordinated manner. This treatment, which is different from traditional methods, also requires doctors to think in a different way, it may bring a change in paradigm in oncological care in the next 10 years, and nearly 60 percent of all the treatments will be based on it. This ratio is 3 percent at present.

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