In immunotherapy, a person’s own immune system is influenced by medication. Immunotherapy can be used as a treatment for cancer and allergies. In case of cancer, drugs are administered that stimulate the immune response against the cancer cells. If immunotherapy is used for allergies, such as hay fever, the immune system must be inhibited.
In case of allergy, the treatment is aimed at influencing people’s immune system, so that the allergy will decrease and people become tolerant to the substance (allergen) they are allergic to.
In the treatment of cancer, the cells that are to stimulate the immune cells (T cells) are removed from the body. Outside the body these cells are trained and then placed back into the body. Thus, the immune system will be reinforced and it defeats the cancer cells. So the body can do it by itself, but needs a boost. Immunotherapy is successful especially for cancers where no other therapy has shown good results. Another major advantage is that there are no significant side effects, which are often the case in other therapies.
Examples of allergies for which immunotherapy may be used are:
- Hay fever.
- House dust mite allergy.
- Animal or pet allergy.
- Insect venom allergy.
Immunotherapy can be part of the treatment for various types of cancer.
The medication of immunotherapy is administered via an infusion, tablet or subcutaneous injection. How long the treatment lasts, depends on the purpose. Immunotherapy for allergies takes about three to five years, in which each time the patient gets a small dose of the substance he or she is allergic to. Immunotherapy in case of cancer can be given in one go, but can also be given according to a fixed schedule in a certain period. For example, every three weeks. This is called a course. A treatment often includes several courses.
The treatment of allergies with immunotherapy does not completely cure a person from his or her allergy. However, it can significantly reduce the symptoms. In the case of grass and tree pollen, the symptoms often reduce by 50 to 60%, with house dust mites around 40%.
The effect of immunotherapy in case of cancer depends on the therapy. This can be given in addition to an operation to try to destroy any remaining cancer cells or as palliative therapy. In the latter case, the cancer can no longer be cured, but the treatment serves to ensure the best possible quality of life and, if possible, life extension.
- How the body responds to immunotherapy cannot be predicted.
- Possible side effects depend on the person and the type of treatment. Side effects often have to do with the response of the immune system.