In the field of medicine, immunotherapy is anything but a new concept. This method of treatment, which is now most notably utilized to the benefit of cancer patients, has been traced back to ancient Egypt and has reemerged time and time again throughout history.

However, now that the medical field is equipped with the power of advanced technology, progression in the research and development of cancer-treating immunotherapy is faster than ever before. Additionally, immunotherapy drugs are becoming more and more effective, providing even patients with aggressive forms an improved quality of life, if not lengthened lives.

With that in mind, let us take a deeper look at the latest breakthroughs in cancer immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy treatments may decrease the risk of future recurrence

It is not uncommon for cancer survivors to go to a follow-up appointment months, years, even decades down the line and be informed the disease has returned. When this occurs, the cancer cells are typically more aggressive and localized the second time around — meaning they have not only outwitted the body’s immune system to foster extensive regrowth, but have also become resistant to many forms of treatment.

Specific events or habits that trigger relapses are not fully known, however, it is known that “resistant malignant cells [that have survived extensive traditional treatments] are covered with a large amount of a molecule called PD-L1, which, in turn, interacts with another molecule called PD-1 on immune cells, ‘instructing’ T-cells not to attack.”

Now, with the aid of immunotherapy that is infused with PD-1 or TNF-alpha inhibitors, the body ought to be able to outsmart even the wiliest cancer cells and slow, if not prevent, recurrence altogether.

In some cases, immunotherapy may be able to drive cancer into full remission

Depending on any number of variable factors — ranging from when a patient’s cancer was discovered and diagnosed to each patient’s individual level of drug resistance — immunotherapy may be able to provide the most favorable long-term result, remission, with far less punishing side-effects.

However, one should never stop stressing the fact that these results are not guaranteed. In the worst case, immunotherapy drugs can cause the immune system to go into overdrive, effectively causing discomfort or, at its very worst, fatal side-effects. Therefore, it is imperative that patients seeking treatments of the immunotherapy caliber be made fully aware of all potential outcomes — even if they are not the most favorable.

Evidently, immunotherapy has made remarkable progress in the several short years it has been branded a form of cancer treatment. However, it is important to note that these developments are far from over, and that those in the field of immunology have a long way to go before they can settle on a surefire, effective treatment — or, better yet, cure — for cancer.