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designated cancer center

Biological Therapy For Cancer Treatment

What is biological therapy?

Biological therapy (also called immunotherapy, biological response modifier therapy, or biotherapy) uses the body's immune system to fight cancer. The cells, antibodies, and organs of the immune system work to protect and defend the body against foreign invaders, such as bacteria or viruses. Physicians and researchers have found that the immune system might also be able to both determine the difference between healthy cells and cancer cells in the body, and to eliminate the cancer cells.

Biological therapies are designed to boost the immune system, either directly or indirectly, by assisting in the following:

How does the immune system fight cancer?

The immune system includes different types of white blood cells - each with a different way to fight against foreign or diseased cells, including cancer:

These types of white blood cells - B cells, T cells, natural killer cells, and monocytes - are in the blood and thus circulate to every part of the body, providing protection from cancer and other diseases. Cells secrete two types of substances: antibodies and cytokines. Antibodies respond to (harmful) substances that they recognize, called antigens. Specific (helpful) antibodies match specific (foreign) antigens by locking together. Cytokines are proteins produced by some immune system cells and can directly attack cancer cells. Cytokines are "messengers" that "communicate" with other cells.

What are the different types of biological therapies?

There are many different types of biological therapies used in cancer treatment, including the following:

Are there side effects of biological therapies?

As each person's individual medical profile and diagnosis is different, so is his/her reaction to treatment. Side effects may be severe, mild, or absent. Be sure to discuss with your cancer care team any/all possible side effects of treatment before the treatment begins.

Side effects of biological therapy, which often mimic flu-like symptoms, vary according to the type of therapy given and may include the following:

Specifically, cytokine therapy often causes fever, chills, aches, and fatigue. Other side effects include a rash or swelling at the injection site. Therapy can cause fatigue and bone pain and may affect blood pressure.

Stanford Medicine Resources:

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