Cancer Treatments: Biological Therapy
Commonly asked questions about biological therapy:
- What is biological therapy?
- What are the different types of biological therapy?
- When is biological therapy used?
- What are side effects of biological therapy?
What Is Biological Therapy?
Biological therapy is a treatment method that utilizes living organisms, materials based on living organisms or synthetic replicas of living organisms to combat the effects of cancer. These organism-based treatments are introduced to a cancer patient’s body to stimulate the immune system into increasing its ability to combat cancer.
There are several different types of biological therapy, as although the basis of the treatments may remain rooted in living organisms, some methods of the therapy target different aspects of the cancerous cells.
Cancer is often able to develop because the immune system is unable to detect the abnormality that is the genetic mutation preceding cancer. Biological therapies work to increase the body’s ability to identify the cancer abnormalities, allowing to to begin attacking the cancer growth.
To promote cancer identification, biological therapy will either work to introduce the immune system directly to the cancer cells or simply make it easier for cancer cells to be detected.
Methods that introduce the immune system to the cancer cells work by a number of ways including using chemicals that stimulate the immune system and training a sample of immune system cells to attack cancer cells before reintroducing them to the host body.
What Are The Different Types Of Biological Therapy?
Biological therapy is not one specific form of cancer treatment, rather, it serves as a category covering several drug treatments that have been approved for use or are currently undergoing testing.
Treatments that qualify as forms of biological therapy each utilize different drugs with the goal of combating cancer in a different way. While all forms utilize the body’s immune system to lead the attack against cancer, the manner in which they do so may differ.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the following are the most common or notable biological therapy cancer treatment methods.
What Is Bacillus Calmette-Guerin Therapy?
Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) therapy is a form of biological therapy used to treat early-stage bladder cancer. BCG works through direct administration into the bladder through a catheter. Immune system cells attracted to the bladder become activated as they come into contact with BCG.
The cells introduced to BCG are then directed against all present bladder cancer cells. Although the reason for its effectiveness is not well documented, it is known that the treatment is often extremely effective as 70% of BCG users experience remission.
What Is Oncolytic Virus Therapy?
Oncolytic virus therapy is a form of biological therapy approved in October 2015 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to combat melanoma lesions in the skin and lymph nodes.
The therapy utilizes the oncolytic virus to infect the cells of the area in which cancer has began developing. The the virus does little to healthy cells but once it is inside a cancer cell it rapidly reproduces, overwhelming and killing the cancer.
While some forms of oncolytic viruses are naturally occurring – mumps and reovirus – most forms of this therapy use genetically engineered oncolytic viruses to create a treatment more able to target and destroy specific forms of cancer.
A major pitfall that medical researchers have attempted to remedy with oncolytic virus therapy is the tendency for the virus to be destroyed by the immune system before it has reached the cancer. Some of the solutions to this problem proposed by medical professionals include executing the therapy in conjunction with immune-suppressing chemotherapy drugs.
This treatment is not yet approved for use in the United States although a form of it was approved for use in China nearly a decade ago. Although not yet approved, clinical trials are still being pursued using the therapy to determine its efficacy.
What Is Gene Therapy?
Gene therapy is a form of biological treatment that utilizes the delivery of genetic material through a carrier – most commonly a virus. The genetic material that is then introduced to the cells genetic makeup work to target cancer cells or enhance cells ability to fight cancer.
This method is still under testing with little known about efficacy or safety. With the method not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, testing is still under the clinical trial category.
What Is Adoptive T-Cell Transfer Therapy?
Adoptive cell transfer is a anticancer treatment still in the experimental stages that works to increase the ability of T cells to combat cancer. While still being researched, there are several forms of this therapy that may one day standard forms of cancer treatment.
The first of these forms involves harvesting cytotoxic T cells within a cancerous tumor, grow large populations of cells with antitumor activity, depleting a patients immune cells, and infusing the patient with the improved T cells.
Another form of this therapy involves isolating T cells from a blood sample, genetically modifying a cell, infusing the cell into a patient with depleted immune cells, and then allowing those cells to attach to antigens on the surface of the tumors which activates their ability to kill the cancer.
When Is Biological Therapy Used?
Most forms of biological therapy are not yet available for use by the public, especially in the United States. While other countries with softer approval criteria may employ limited use of some biological treatments, most treatments remain in the developmental stage.
However, with clinical trials continuing it is likely that understanding of biological therapy will grow in the coming years as it comes closer to becoming a mainstay in the effort to treat and eradicate cancer.
What Are Side Effects Of Biological Therapy?
With most forms of biological therapy still in testing, the long-term or full extent of the treatment induced side effects may remain unknown for some time. However, in testing and observation the medical community has been able to identify some common side effects.
Most side effects are specific to the exact type of biological cancer method being utilized although some of the common ones across most or all forms of the therapy include:
- Flu-Like Symptoms
- Allergic Reaction
- Changes In Blood Chemistry
Some of the specific side effects that clinical testing has discovered are as follows:
- Organ Damage (MAbs/Cytokines Therapy)
- Lowered Blood COunts (MAbs/Cytokines Therapy)
- Urinary Tract Complications (BCG)
- Tumor Lysis Syndrome (Oncolytic)
- Secondary Cancer (Gene Therapy)