Immunotherapy and leading-edge cancer treatments

kci at mclaren macomb

It is a question Dr. Rana Bilbeisi often gets from her patients.

When the oncologist has to initially tell her patients that they will have to undergo rounds of chemotherapy, she is routinely faced with the question, “Can I just take a pill?”

“Over the last couple of decades, many strides have been made in advancing the care available to cancer patients,” said Dr. Bilbeisi, a hematologist and oncologist with the Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Macomb. “A lot of great progress is still being made.

“Many strides, though, have been made in the breakthroughs with immunotherapy and hormone therapy – using the body to fight its cancer.”

Both immunotherapy and hormone therapy, in the world of cancer treatment, modify the chemistry of the body to fight certain types of cancer.

Each represents radical and progressive forms of less intrusive cancer treatment when compared to more traditional treatments, such as chemo and radiation therapies.

“Chemotherapy and radiation, while being very effective in their treatment, are also very well known for their various side effects,” Dr. Bilbeisi said. “It’s with these therapies that we can limit some of the harsher side effects.”

One of the biggest draw backs for nearly every patient, when it comes to traditional forms of cancer care, specifically chemotherapy, are the side effects. The nausea, vomiting, fatigue, loss of hair and need for blood transfusion among others, it remains one of the most effective forms of cancer treatment.

While immunotherapy and hormone therapy come with their own side effects (such as fever, flu-like symptoms, fatigue, skin reactions and bowel distress), both are much less toxic to the patient.

Immunotherapy uses the body’s existing disease-fighting white blood cells to target and fight cancer cells, while hormone therapy alters the body’s hormones to deny the cancer the hormones that sustain its growth and support its spread throughout the body.

“These are great advancements oncologists have available to us, to add to our treatment of certain cancers,” Dr. Bilbeisi said. “These treatments are effective and can be easier on the patient, and we will use them when a patient’s case permits.

“However, the science has not yet arrived to where these treatments are singular treatment options for all forms of cancers, but they are still very valuable treatments to use in addition to our traditional treatments.”

Immunotherapy and hormone therapy can be used to complement traditional cancer treatments, making them more effective, efficient treatments, not having to solely rely on chemo or radiation.

For instance, hormone therapy can assist in stifling the growth of tumors and other cancers, keeping them from metastasizing and spreading throughout the body. Immunotherapy can restore or improve the body’s natural immune system and assist slowing the growth and spread of the cancer.

“New advancements in cancer care are being made seemingly every day, always with the patient in mind – both the quality of their outcomes and the comfort of their care,” Dr. Bilbeisi said. “Looking back to where we were 10 and 15 years ago, considerable strides have been made in the progress of how we treat cancer. Think of where we will be in the years to come.”