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Immunotherapy is a method of treatment which uses substances to encourage or to subdue your immune system to help your body fight cancer, infection, and other diseases.
Some types of immunotherapy target certain immune cells; others affect the whole immune system in a general way. The immune system has a tougher time targeting tumour cells than other foreign substances. This is because:
However, immunotherapy research has had some success in some tumours/cancers, by increasing survival by several months.
Unfortunately, there has, so far, been less success in brain tumours.
When it comes to the brain, immune-based treatments face a number of obstacles before they can even reach the tumour. One of the most significant challenges is the blood-brain barrier which protects the brain from harmful substances.
Also some brain tumours are very good masters of disguise and can use a 'cloak' of molecules to make them look like normal cells to the immune system. This prevents immune cells from attacking them.
As yet, immunotherapy isn't a proven treatment for brain tumours, but there are clinical trials that are helping us move closer to a treatment. For example:
The Brain Tumour Charity is also funding immunotherapy research.
If you are interested in taking part in a clinical trial and would like to know more about whether immunotherapy is suitable for you, talk to your medical team. Below are some questions to help you with this.
You might find it helpful to think about any questions you have and write them down before going to see your doctor. It can also be helpful to have someone with you to write down the answers.
Questions to ask your doctor:
Current immunotherapies for brain tumours fall into six main categories (some of which overlap). These are known as: