Common Questions

About Immunotherapy

What is Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is a broad term for treatment that uses the body’s immune system, either directly or indirectly to fight cancer. Immunotherapy is designed to repair, stimulate, or enhance the immune system’s natural anti-cancer function through the use of substances known as biological response modifiers. Immunotherapy often lessens side effects that are caused by conventional cancer treatments.

What are Biological Response Modifiers?

Biological response modifiers (BRM’s) alter the interaction between the body’s immune defenses and cancer, improving the body’s ability to fight the disease. BRM’s include hormones, antioxidant vitamins, cytokines and certain other natural drugs which may serve to recruit the cancer patient’s immune system into more active participation. They prove to be most beneficial when used in combination with each other and/or with other treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy.

The effects produced by the agents used in immunotherapy may include:

enhancing a cancer patient’s immune system to fight cancer cell growth;
eliminating, regulating or suppressing body responses that permit cancer growth;
making cancer cells more susceptible to destruction by the immune response;
altering cancer cell’s growth patterns to promote behavior like that of healthy cells;
enhancing a cancer patient’s ability to repair normal cells damaged by other forms of cancer;
preventing a cancer cell from spreading to other sites in the body
We tailor the combination of biological response modifiers to the individual and the type cancer.

How does Immunoterapy work?

The body has a natural ability to protect itself against diseases, including cancer. The immune system exists to fight foreign cells, including cancer, and when it is weakened by old age, environmental causes or other factors, it can be more easily overwhelmed by cancerous cells.

Immune system cells with several specialized functioins must work as a team effort to successfully defend the body against cancer. Immune cells include both lymphocytes and monocytes and are found in the blood as well as in many other places in the body. Lymphocytes include B cells, T cells and NK cells.

B cells develop in bone marrow and produce antibodies. An antibody is a protein tailor-made to attach to a specific antigen. Foriegn cells exhibit one or more proteins not found on normal cells. Under the right conditions, antibodies may be constructed which latch onto the cancer specific antigens. working as tiny flags that alert immune cells to attach and destroy the foreign cells.

Different types of T cells have different immune functions: cytotoxic (killer) T cells directly destroy antigen marked cells; helper T cells activate the immune system and cytotoxic T cells; and suppressor T cells inhibit antibody production and other immune responses.

NK (natural killer) cells destroy cancer cells by producing powerful chemical substances known as cytokines that bind to and kill any foreign invaders. NK cells possess destructive ability that is substantially enhanced after exposure to some cytokines, especially interferons or interleukin-2. NK cells have shown the ability to eliminate metastatic tumor cells and thereby resist tumor spread. Using cytokines as a part of our BRM therapy in certain types of cancer, we have seen dramatic rises in natural killer cell count.

Monocytes are white blood cells that travel into tissues and develop, when needed, into macrophages as part of the immune response. Monocytes and macrophages play a key role in phagocytosis, a process by which some cells “eat” other cells and foreign invaders. The substances we use to enhance this natural process are called GM-CSF’s “granulocyte macrophage colony stimulating factors).

Each individually tailored regimen of BRM’s consists of the substances we believe to be best at boosting the immune system’s response to the type cancer.

What benefits might I expect from Immunotherapy?

In quality of life analyses of subjectively perceived problems in advanced cancer patients, the three worst problems are loss of physical strength, pain, and loss of stamina. Our experience has shown that BRM therapy helps many patients feel better, be more energetic and experience less depression.

Patients who are going to respond favorably to BRM therapy usually begin to notice the benefits quickly — often within a week or two . We have also seen an improvement in extended survival in certain types of cancer using immunotherapy.

Will Immunotherapy interfere with the effewctiveness of my chemoterapy or radiotherapy?

To the contrary, immunotherapy actually complements these conventional forms of treatment while helping to lessen side effects commonly aassociated with them.

If Immunotherapy works so well, why isn’t everyone using it?

One reason is that researchers are used to dealing only in easily measured data, and subjective quality of life benefits are hard to precisely quantify. Conventional medicine can sometimes be slow to embrace new methods, but Steven Rosenberg, M.D., chief of surgery at the National Cancer Institute, is working to civilize the treatment of cancer, and his stratagem is immunotherapy. “Immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune system, a system that evolved to detect exquisitely small changes in molecules to tell non-self from the body, to fight cancer. If we can take advantage of that system, we’re more likely to have a treatment that is effective and carries minimal side effects,” says Rosenberg.

Another reason is that because many of these natural supplements that we find so beneficial are unpatentable. This means that pharmaceutical companies do not want to go the major expense to fund a study for FDA approval when they will not be able to have a proprietary drug to bring in revenue to offset the cost of the study.

How can you tell if the BRM therapy is effective?

There are certain measurable markers, such as NK (natural killer) count and CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen) levels, which can be used to show the effects of BRM therapy. Natural killer cells have the ability to recognize and destroy certain tumor cels, so a rise in NK count is a positive indication that the immune system is probably working. CEA levels measure the amount of this particular antigen, which shows that there is a foreign substance under attack in the body. Along with the rise in natural killer count, there is often a corresponding fall in CEA levels in response to BRM therapy.

How did this center come to specialize in Immunotherapy?

R. Arnold Smith, M.D., Medical Director of the Center, has been a strong proponent of immunotherapy for more than 25 years. As far back as 1978, Dr. Smith began corresponding with the late Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling, sharing common interests in the use of BRM therapy in cancer treatment. After years of patient study, statistical analysis of outcome data provides a mounting body of evidence to support Dr. Smith’s theories that certain types of cancer may respond with significant improved survival as a consequence of this type therapy. Dr. Smith holds three U.S. patents for combinations of BRM’s which have been shown to improve immune parameters.