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Immunotherapy for brain cancer


Immunotherapy / targeted therapy for brain cancer

Immunotherapies and targeted therapies for brain cancer work to (1) stimulate the immune system to turn against a brain tumor, or (2) target specific pathways or abnormalities in brain tumor cells involved in tumor growth. We will likely combine immunotherapy / targeted therapy with other brain cancer treatments, like chemotherapy. This treatment is often an option for brain cancer patients who have a tumor recurrence after previous brain cancer treatments.

One targeted therapy used to treat brain tumors is AvastinTM (bevacizumab), which is given intravenously. A monoclonal antibody, this therapy works to stop the formation of new blood vessels that a brain tumor needs to grow (a process known as angiogenesis).

A common immunotherapy for brain cancer is a drug called Gleevac®. This drug works by helping the body produce larger amounts of substances called biological response modifiers, which help fight disease.

Another drug therapy, Everolimus (Afinitor®) is taken as a pill. It works to block a cell protein known as mTOR, which normally promotes cell growth and division.

Managing the side effects of brain cancer immunotherapy

Immunotherapy / targeted drug therapy can cause side effects, such as low blood counts, tiredness, mouth sores, nausea, diarrhea, high blood pressure and fluid buildup (usually in the legs).

Throughout your brain cancer treatment, your care team provides various integrative oncology services, like nutrition therapy, naturopathic medicine, mind-body medicine and oncology rehabilitation, to keep you strong, reduce side effects and improve your quality of your life.

What is immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is a broad category of anti-cancer therapies that use the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells. These cells are different from normal cells, in that they do not die normally. Think of these rapidly-dividing cells like an out-of-control copy machine that won’t stop creating images. These abnormal cells frequently change, or “mutate,” to evade the immune system. Immunotherapy drugs are designed to alert the immune system about these mutated cells so it can locate and destroy them. 

How does immunotherapy spark the immune system to help fight cancer?

The immune system is always on patrol, like a police force charged with ridding the body of foreign invaders, such as viruses, bacteria or fungi. Lymph nodes, which make up most of the immune system, serve as police stations throughout the body. White blood cells, such as “T cells,” fight infection and cancer. They are the police officers. When a foreign invader is detected, the entire immune system is alerted through chemical signals, just as a police station would radio police officers to alert them about a problem. 

Cancer cells are not recognized as invaders because they are the body’s own cells, only they’ve mutated and changed so that once-healthy lung cells no longer behave like lung cells. The immune system doesn’t recognize this distinction, allowing these dangerous cells to grow, divide and spread throughout the body. One way cancerous cells stay hidden is through the PD-1 receptor, which tricks the body’s police force into thinking cancer cells are normal. Certain immunotherapy drugs work by blocking this evasive maneuver with a PD-1 inhibitor, which quiets the PD-1 receptor, allowing the cancer cells to be exposed as invaders, and triggering the immune system to send out an alert and launch a system-wide attack.

Experienced care team

With our team approach to care, our doctors and clinicians work together to come up with treatment options that meet your needs. Immunotherapy may be an option for you if you have breast, prostate, brain, kidney or spinal cancer, along with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia or melanoma. The treatment may work better for some cancers, so your doctor would monitor your progress closely and may pair immunotherapy with other treatments.

Personalized treatment approach

Patients and their caregivers are the ones who ultimately decide which treatment they want to pursue. Our clinicians are sensitive to your concerns and work to design treatment options that are appropriate for your needs and goals. We will provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision about immunotherapy.

Managing side effects

Immunotherapy can cause a variety of side effects, including fatigue, nausea, mouth sores, diarrhea, high blood pressure and fluid buildup, usually in the legs. Breast cancer patients, in particular, may experience fever, chills, pain, weakness, vomiting, headaches and rashes. The side effects of immunotherapy generally become less severe after the first treatment.

Throughout your treatment, your care team will provide integrative oncology services, including nutrition therapy, naturopathic medicine, pain management, oncology rehabilitation, mind-body medicine and spiritual support. These therapies can help reduce side effects and improve your overall quality of life during immunotherapy.