Immunotherapy & Biologics for Cancer Treatment

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Immunotherapy is a type of biologic therapy. Biologic therapies use living organisms, natural or lab-created, to treat cancer. When we use your own immune system to fight cancer, it’s called immunotherapy. This treatment enhances and supports your body’s own power.

At UVA, we continue to research new immune and biologic treatments. Through clinical trials, we strive to expand the ability of immune therapies to fight cancer. You’ll find we have advanced options not available everywhere else.

Types of Immunotherapy

A wide range of therapies exist. Some attack certain types of tumors. Others suppress or kickstart your immune system.

We often turn to immunotherapy and other biologic therapies when other treatments don’t work.

Types include:

  • Targeted therapies
  • T-cell transfer
  • Treatment vaccines
  • Colony-stimulating factors
  • Immune checkpoint inhibitors
  • Immune system modulators
  • Monoclonal antibodies

What Does Immunotherapy Do?

Immune therapies can:

  • Get rid of conditions that allow cells to grow uncontrollably
  • Help your immune system stop the growth of cancer cells
  • Make cancer cells easier for your immune cells to destroy
  • Make cancer cells grow like normal cells, to make them less likely to spread
  • Block the process that changes a normal cell into a cancer cell
  • Help repair normal cells damaged by chemo or radiation therapy
  • Prevent a cancer cell from spreading to other parts of your body

What to Expect with Immunotherapy Treatment

How you get treatment, where, and how often you get treatment will depend on your specific situation. You could get immunotherapy:

  • Through an IV at the infusion center or other location
  • By mouth in the form of a pill
  • On your skin for early skin cancer

Side effects vary, depending on the therapy type.

Immunotherapy Highlight: Monoclonal Antibodies (mAbs)

You may have heard that monoclonal antibody infusions prevent severe symptoms in people with COVID-19. This shows how research at UVA continues to develop immunotherapies for a variety of conditions. It also demonstrates the power of this kind of treatment.

We create (mAbs) in a lab. They can:

  • Rehab your immune system
  • Interrupt the growth of cancer cells
  • Tag cancer cells and alert the immune system to destroy them
  • Possibly help destroy cancer cells in bone marrow (during a bone marrow transplant)

We use mAbs to treat:

  • Brain tumors
  • Breast cancer 
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia
  • Colon and rectal cancers
  • Head and neck cancers
  • Kidney cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Melanoma
  • Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma

Blood Cell Support: Colony-Stimulating Factors (CSF)

Many cancer treatments reduce how many blood cells you have. This raises your risk of infection, anemia, and bleeding problems.

CSFs don’t affect cancer cells directly. Instead, CSFs help make new red blood cells and white blood cells. These new blood cells reduce:

  • Infection risks
  • Transfusions

CSFs can also increase the number of stem cells in your body. That means we can use CSFs to prepare you for a stem cell transplant.