Immunotherapy and Immuno-Oncology (I/0)


What is Immunotherapy and Immuno-Oncology?

Immunotherapy utilizes your own immune system to fight diseases. Immunotherapy includes vaccines, allergy treatments and other approaches to combat disease. Immuno-Oncology (I/O) is a type of Immunotherapy that specifically targets cancer.

How is Immuno-Oncology different from other treatment options?

Immuno-Oncology is a targeted approach that uses your own immune system to help fight cancer. Close your eyes and imagine that your body is a strong tree full of leaves and branches. However, a disease has been circulating throughout your roots and causing damage. Immuno-oncology is an approach administered to the roots to help them fight off the disease by regaining strength in those roots and not allowing more damage.

Now open your eyes and imagine this same approach being used to fight off the cancer cells within your body. It acts to strengthen your immune system and control the disease, thereby regaining your health.

How is Immunotherapy different from Targeted Therapy?

Targeted therapy research has led to the differentiation of how some cancer cells work and various cells that are nearby that help them grow and thrive. Targeted therapy is a form of chemotherapy, but is different because it is applied to the inner workings of the cancer cells – it kills the parts of the cell that are abnormal or the parts of other cells that help the cancer grow and spread.

In Immuno-Oncology, the approach is to help control the spreading of those cells and to make your immune system stronger. For example, on the surface of tumor cells, there are often molecules which clinicians refer to as “PD-L1”. You may have heard that your body produces immune cells to fight off disease – these are what clinicians call “T-cells”. Usually, the T-cells will recognize the cancer cell as being an intruder in your body and attack the cancer cells. However, if a cancer
cell has the PD-L1 molecule on its surface, the T-cell may no longer recognize it as an intruder.

Therefore, researchers are trying to identify approaches to blocking that molecule so your immune system can recognize the cancer cells and attack them.

Is Immuno-Oncology available for my type of cancer?

Immuno-Oncology approaches are being studied as a treatment option for oral, head and neck cancers. Please ask your medical team about it being a treatment option for you.

How might the tumor respond to Immunotherapy?

The response of your tumor cell to Immunotherapy depends on how well prepared your immune system is to attacking the cancer cells. Even though you may think that your oral, head or neck cancer is similar to another individual’s, this might no be the case because your genetic framework is different. Because of those differences, Immunotherapy may shrink the tumor in some people, slow its growth in others, be detectable but not actively growing in some, or in other patients, unfortunately, have no outcomes.

Are there clinical trials using Immuno-Oncology as an approach for oral, head and neck cancers?

At present, researchers and clinicians all over the world are studying Immuno-Oncology approaches for oral, head and neck cancers. These trials may include both individuals who have oral, head and neck cancers and/or healthy individuals.

In talking with your medical team, you may want to ask them about clinical trials and whether the option is applicable to your cancer. The medical team is able to conduct research on the benefits and risks of the study and see if it is applicable to your case.

You may also want to visit the clinical trials website – to learn more about clinical trials, trials that are recruiting oral, head and neck cancer patients and guidelines
for participating.

Are there any side effects in Immuno-Oncology treatment?

The side effects that you may experience will depend on the specific Immunotherapy and how your immune system reacts to that treatment. Each individual has a unique immune system, therefore, side effects are possible during and after treatment.

Your medical team will have a better understanding of how your immune system may react to the treatment. Therefore, talk openly with them about it before starting the treatment and ask them for a list of side effects so you can recognize and manage them during treatment.



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As a decade-long survivor of stage IV tongue cancer and Founder of WesternOhio Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Support, Hank refers to head and neck cancer as an “orphan” cancer: “Very little is known about head and neck cancer, and comparatively, it receives less attention than other cancers. HNCA is working to change this.Hank Deneski
Survivor of Stage IV tongue cancer and Founder of WesternOhio Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Support

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