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Donate to Tree of Hope today so that we can continue to help children

Understanding Immunotherapy

Immunotherapies are treatments that stimulate the body’s immune system to recognise and fight disease. Immunotherapy is used in the treatment of certain cancers. It was been described by the charity Children with Cancer UK as “the most promising new cancer treatment since the development of chemotherapy in the late 1940s”.

The immune system is highly adept at fighting off all manner of infections, including cancer cells. However, cancer cells are intelligent and can trick the immune system into thinking they are normal tissue and not malignant. Immunotherapy drugs empower the body’s immune system, therefore enabling it to recognise tumour cells and destroy them. There are different types of immunotherapy, including vaccines, cytokines and checkpoint blockade therapies.

Types of immunotherapy

  • Vaccines. Also called therapeutic or treatment vaccines, these work to boost the body’s natural defences to fight cancer. The vaccines may prevent cancer from coming back, destroy any cancer cells still in the body after other treatment or stop a tumour from growing or spreading. Some vaccines are made for each patient from a tumour sample. Other vaccines target specific antigens. They are given to patients whose tumours have those antigens on the surface of the tumour cells. Vaccines are administered every few weeks for a period of time through skin injections.
  • Cytokines. Proteins that aid cell to cell communication in immune responses and stimulate the movement of cells towards sites of inflammation, infection and trauma. They are administered into the skin, or in some situations, through an IV (intravenous) infusion, typically every 2 to 3 weeks. The treatment is commonly administered over 45 to 100 minutes at a time to avoid acute immune reactions.
  • Checkpoint blockade therapies. Drugs that block certain proteins made by some types of immune system cells, such as T-cells and some cancer cells. These proteins help keep immune responses in check and can keep T-cells from killing cancer cells. When these proteins are blocked, the “brakes” on the immune system are released and T-cells are able to kill cancer cells better.
  • Bone marrow transplant. Often used in the treatment of children with leukaemia. A bone marrow transplant is itself a form of immunotherapy as the donated immune cells help by attacking the patient’s remaining leukaemic cells. This is an effect known as graft versus leukaemia.

How can immunotherapy help my child?

Traditional treatments used for childhood cancer can be toxic, unpleasant and uncertain as they can produce negative long-term effects. Because immunotherapies work with the body to attack cancer, rather than relying on poisonous substances, they can be less harmful to young bodies than traditional methods like chemo and radiotherapy. However, it can also be used as a powerful combined treatment with other traditional methods, where required with aggressive and hard to treat cancers. Radiotherapy.

Immunotherapy does not help everybody affected by cancer. Currently, only one in five patients gets into remission. Important work is now going on to try to ascertain who will get the benefit and who will not.

How can Tree of Hope help fund immunotherapy treatment?

Tree of Hope is the crowdfunding charity that helps families raise money for specialist care for children and young people. Therefore, if you think immunotherapy might help your child, or you are already looking to crowdfund to help with the cost of the therapy, get in touch with us to see how we can help. Get in touch by calling us on 01892 535525, while you email us via info@treeofhope.org.uk. You can also find out more about what we do on our service offering page.

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