Biological therapy, also called biotherapy or immunotherapy, is a treatment developed to manage and treat cancer as well as other medical conditions. Biological therapy uses the body’s natural immune system to treat a disease. The treatment works to stop or slow tumor growth and prevent cancer spread.
Biological therapy is an effective alternative treatment for different cancers, as it causes fewer side effects compared to other treatments, such as radiation, chemotherapy, etc.
How Does Biological Therapy Fight Cancer?
The immune system is the body’s natural defence mechanism that safeguards and defends your body against disease and infections. Biological therapies are used to boost the immune system to recognize and kill cancer cells.
The objective of biological therapy for cancer is to:
- Induce the immune system to produce more disease-fighting immune cells.
- Facilitate the immune system to detect and destroy cancer cells.
Who Qualifies for Biological Therapy?
Biological therapy targets specific parts of cancer cells, such as proteins or genes, that help cancers grow and spread. For some types of cancer, biological therapies perform better than other treatments. Biological therapy can treat certain types of cancer, including that of the brain, breast, lung, colon, prostate, bladder, kidney, liver, skin, leukemia, head, neck, cervical, ovarian, and lymphoma.
How Is Biological Therapy Performed?
Biological therapy is performed through an intravenous infusion into a vein at a hospital. The treatment depends on the cancer type and stage, the drug used, and the body’s response to the given treatment. Based on these factors, the treatment can be scheduled on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis or in a cycle.
What Are the Different Types of Biological Therapy?
There are various types of biological therapy offered to treat and prevent cancer. Here are a few main types:
a. Adoptive cell therapy: In this treatment, a sample of your immune cells is removed, modified, and reintroduced in the body. The modified cells find and fight cancer cells. Types of adoptive cell therapy include:
- CAR T-cell therapy – T-cells are high-powered white blood cells that target infections. The T-cells are activated with chimeric antigen receptors (CAR). This allows the T-cells to capture and kill the cancer cells.
- Natural killer (NK) cell therapy – The NK-cells are modified with CAR, enabling them to attract and attack foreign invaders like cancer cells more efficiently.
- Tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) therapy – A sample of T-cells targeting the tumor is removed and multiplied in a lab. These cells are called tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs). The TILs are then reintroduced to your body to kill the cancer cells at a quicker rate.
b. Cancer vaccines: Vaccines boost the body’s natural defense mechanism to fight against diseases. The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine shields the body against an infectious disease that causes cancer of the throat, anus, penis and cervix . Also, the Hepatitis B (HBV) vaccine guards against HBV infections that can cause liver cancer.
c. Immune System Modulators: These drugs modify the body’s biological response and improve the immune system’s ability to destroy cancer cells. These drugs are categorized as:
- Interleukins: These are a type of cytokine, a protein produced by some white blood cells to manage the immune system’s response to cancer. An artificially made version of the interleukin increases the number of T cells and NK cells in the body.
- Interferons: These are another type of cytokines that makes the immune cells more active against cancer.
- Immunomodulators: These boost the immune system’s response to treat some types of cancer.
d. Monoclonal antibodies: The immune system naturally produces proteins called antibodies. Monoclonal antibodies are proteins artificially created in the lab to attack specific parts of a cancer cell. The different types of monoclonal antibodies are:
- Naked monoclonal antibodies: These antibodies enhance the immune system’s ability to fight cancer or obstruct molecules that facilitate cancer growth. They are not attached to any particle.
- Conjugated monoclonal antibodies: A radioactive molecule or chemotherapy medication is attached to the conjugated monoclonal antibodies. These antibodies then attach to the cancer cells, preventing side effects and promoting better treatment outcomes like radiation or chemotherapy.
- Bispecific monoclonal antibodies: These antibodies can simultaneously attach to two cells at once, such as an immune cell and a cancerous cell, boosting the body’s immune capability to attack cancer.
e. Oncolytic viruses: Viruses usually cause sickness and diseases. Oncolytic viruses are lab-modified viruses that infect the cancer cells and destroy them without harming the healthy cells.
What Are the Benefits of Biological Therapy?
Biological therapy for cancer is a medically recommended treatment due to its benefits, such as:
- Works when other treatments don’t. Certain types of cancers don’t respond well to other cancer treatments like radiation or chemotherapy but show better results after biological therapy.
- Fewer side effects. The treatment targets only the immune system and not all the cells in your body; hence it has fewer side effects than other cancer treatments.
- Reduce cancer recurrence. During biological therapy, the immune cells learn to recognize and destroy cancerous cells. The immune memory enables the immune system to remember cancer cells even after the therapy ends. Therefore, the immune system will continue attacking the cancer cells and prevent a recurrence.
- Boost other cancer treatments. Biological therapy can help other therapies like chemotherapy deliver better results. The monoclonal antibodies allow to directly attach the chemotherapy drugs to the cancerous cells and boost the treatment.
What Are the Side Effects Related to Biological Therapy?
Here are a few side effects of biological therapy depending on the drug and cancer types, such as:
- Muscle aches
- Infusion-related reactions
- Damage to other organs like the lungs, liver, heart, kidneys, or intestines
- Flu-like symptoms, such as fever and chills
- Skin rash
- Mouth sores
- Shortness of breath
Call or visit the doctor immediately if you experience these symptoms after the therapy:
- Heart palpitations
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Chest pain
- Fever or chills
- Rashes on skin
- Diarrhea or colitis
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How are the immune cells trained to fight cancer?
Some of your immune system cells are removed from the body and primed to attack cancer cells after which the sample cells are reintroduced to your body to treat cancer more effectively.
How does biological therapy target cancer cells?
Biological therapy can target the cancer cells, or it may target proteins that cause the growth of cancer cells. For example, immune checkpoint inhibitors are drugs that can target specific chemical receptors on cancer cells. This obstructs the cancer cells from sending signals about suppressing the immune system.
Does biological therapy work the same way for all people?
Although biological therapy may be a better alternative to other cancer treatments, in some instances, it takes longer to work than other treatments. Also, the therapy delivers only a partial response in some people. Over time, the body can get used to the therapy, and the medications may stop affecting the cancer cells.