Immunotherapy is a method of treatment which uses medicines to encourage or to subdue your immune system to help your body fight cancer, infection, and other diseases. While immunotherapy has, so far, shown less success in treating brain tumours than other types of cancers, research into this is ongoing.
Immunotherapy for treating cancer
Immunotherapy for treating brain tumours
Clinical Trials for immunotherapy
Treating cancer with immunotherapy
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:
- Sometimes the tumour cells aren’t different enough from normal cells for your immune system to see them as foreign
(Unlike infectious organisms, tumours are fundamentally “self” i.e. are your body’s own cells)
- Sometimes the immune system recognises the tumour cells, but its attack isn’t strong enough to destroy the tumour
- Tumour cells can also give off signals that fool the immune system into thinking they are not foreign, or signals that shut down the local immune system activity
However, immunotherapy research has had some success in some tumours/cancers, in patients with advanced cancer, increasing survival by several months. Studies are also being performed where immunotherapy is given after surgery and radiotherapy to see if it reduces the risk of tumour recurring.
- In the US, the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) has approved some immunotherapy treatments, including immunotherapies for some skin, liver, breast, prostate, kidney and lung cancers.
- In Europe, the EMA’s (European Medicines Agency) has approved immunotherapies that include those for some lung, bladder, skin, lymphoma and neuroblastoma cancers.
The Cancer Research Institute has produced short videos on how these different types of immunotherapy work.
Please note that comments about the success/approvals for use in the above video relate to other tumour/cancer types NOT brain tumours.
Treating brain tumours with immunotherapy
Unfortunately, there has, so far, been less success in brain tumours than in other cancer types.
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 and many medicines.
For this reason, research is continuing within clinical trials.
Types of immunotherapyCurrent immunotherapies for brain tumours fall into six main categories (some of which overlap). These are known as:
Clinical trials for immunotherapy treatment of brain tumours
Trial finds DCVax-L can prolong the lives of those living with a Glioblastoma
A major phase III clinical trial has found that novel treatment DCVax®-L can prolong the lives of people diagnosed with a new or recurrent glioblastoma
Read more about finding clinical trials here
The Brain Tumour Charity is also funding immunotherapy research.
Previous immunotherapy projects funded by The Brain Tumour Charity:
- Resetting the tumour microenvironment to improve glioblastoma immunotherapy
- Cancer-killing viruses in the fight against high grade gliomas
- Developing a personalised vaccine to beat brain tumours
Where to get more information
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:
- What can you tell me about immunotherapy?
- Can I have immunotherapy? If not, what is suitable for me?
- How might I feel during immunotherapy treatment?
- What are the possible side-effects of immunotherapy?
- Are there any immunotherapy clinical trials for my brain tumour type?
- How can I request to be part of a clinical trial?
- Is it possible to access immunotherapy privately, if so where?
- How much does immunotherapy cost (privately)?
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Research & Clinical Trials Information
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