Medical Care ,  Health & Wellness ,  Oncology (Cancer)

Supercharge Your Immunity: How Immunotherapy Can Better Train Your Immune System When Battling With Cancer

February 09, 2023

Advances in cancer-fighting technology now provide different methods of tackling the diagnosis for better outcomes


Supercharge Your Immunity: How Immunotherapy Can Better Train Your Immune System When Battling With Cancer

This year, World Cancer Day falls on 4 February and is celebrated to raise awareness surrounding cancer in its many forms, effects, as well as treatments and recovery. Cancer-fighting technology have improved in leaps and bounds in recent years, and one newer technology that has been known to be effective in treating cancer is Immunotherapy that has also reached Malaysian shores.

Immunotherapy is unique in the way that it uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. Consultant Clinical Oncologist from Sunway Medical Centre Velocity (SMCV), Dr Hafizah Zaharah Ahmad explains that the immune system is like the police force of our bodies - it is designed to protect the body against infection, illness and disease. It can also protect us from the development of cancer. Normally, it can detect and destroy faulty or mutated cells in the body and eliminates them before they become a significant threat.

However, cancer can still develop when the immune system is not strong enough to kill cancer cells, or when the cancer cells hide from the immune system (cancer cells have the ability to camouflage and resemble normal cells).


What makes immunotherapy different?

Immunotherapy as a cancer treatment is more targeted. Immunotherapy treats patients by acting on their immune system.

“Immunotherapy uses the immune system to fight cancer. Immunotherapy can boost or change how the immune system works so it can recognise and kill cancer cells,” Dr Hafizah explains.

As cancer cells start in normal cells, the immune system does not always recognise them as a threat. These cancer cells can push a ‘brake’ button on the immune cells, so the immune system would not attack them. Checkpoint inhibitors (a type of immunotherapy) take the ‘brakes’ off the immune system which helps it recognise and attack the cancer cells.

She adds that various immunotherapy agents are given as an infusion into a vein (IV) typically once every two, three or four weeks and can be given by itself, or in combination with targeted therapy or chemotherapy. For advanced stage cancer, immunotherapy treatment generally is given for 2 years, alongside close monitoring.