Chemotherapy vs. Immunotherapy

best hospital chemotherapy

Chemotherapy and Immunotherapy are common cancer treatments. Both use drugs to slow down or stop the growth of cancer, but they achieve this in different ways. Immunotherapy boosts the immune system's ability to target cancer cells while Chemotherapy directly targets cancer cells, preventing them from replicating.

Your healthcare professional team may recommend both treatments at the same time or in combination with  other treatments such as radiation therapy or surgery.

What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy uses drugs to target and kill cancerous cells. These chemo drugs are toxic to cancer cells. Therefore, they can slow cancer growth or kill tumors, reducing cancer symptoms.

There are several different types of chemotherapy drugs available. Chemotherapy can be used separately or in combination with other treatment options, which is also known as multimodal treatment.

Chemotherapy is a standard treatment for pleural mesothelioma. Several clinical trials are still going on to test chemotherapy in combination with other cancer treatments, including immunotherapy.

Chemotherapy helps cure cancer by:

  • Shrinking tumors

  • Reducing your sign and symptoms

  • Reducing the number of abnormal or cancer cells in your body

  • Reducing the risk of the cancer spreading or returning

How chemotherapy is given

Chemotherapy drugs can be administered in different ways, such as:

  • Orally

  • Through an IV

  • Through injections

  • Into the fluid between the brain and spinal cord

  • Directly into an artery

  • Directly into your abdominal cavity

  • Topically

This therapy is used to treat a wide range of types of cancers. However, the chemicals in chemotherapy medicines can also damage healthy cells, which leads to common side effects such as nausea and hair loss.

Types of Chemo Drugs

There are several chemotherapy drugs, and they all work in different ways.

Following are the some most common chemotherapy drugs:

  • Alkylating Agents: These drugs destroy the DNA of cancerous cells, which prevents the cells from reproducing.

  • Nitrosoureas: This group of chemo drugs can cross the blood-brain barrier, which keeps most medicines out of the brain.

  • Antimetabolites: These drugs act as a replacement for the building blocks of cancer cells. As a result, the cells are unable to replicate themselves.

  • Anti-Tumor Antibiotics: Anti-tumor antibiotics alter the DNA of cancer cells, preventing them from growing and replicating.

  • Topoisomerase Inhibitors: Topoisomerases are enzymes that aid in the separation of DNA strands so that the enzymes can reproduce. Topoisomerase inhibitors interfere with these enzymes and stop them from replicating.

  • Mitotic Inhibitors: These medicines use compounds that come from natural products, like plants. They prevent cells from dividing and can also destroy cells in all phases of the cell cycle.

Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy can damage cancer cells as well as healthy cells. This can lead to many side effects, including:

  • Fatigue

  • Hair loss

  • Bruising and bleeding

  • Infections

  • Anemia

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Changes in appetite

  • Constipation and diarrhea

  • Mouth, tongue, and throat sores

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Nerve issues, such as tingling, numbness and pain

  • Dry skin and skin color changes

  • Urine and bladder changes

  • Fluctuation in weight

  • Difficulty focusing

  • Mood changes

  • Changes in libido

  • Fertility issues

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What is Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is a treatment that utilizes or triggers the body’s immune system to fight disease. Immunotherapy is becoming a more popular treatment for tum3ors that are aggressive, such as mesothelioma.

Previously, it was available through clinical trials only. However, in current years, forms of immunotherapy have become more widely available to cancer patients. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a few immunotherapy drugs after positive testing findings.

Immunotherapy has shown success in targeting tumor growth and symptoms with mesothelioma,  lung cancer, skin cancer,breast cancer and many other types of cancer.

Immunotherapy can be given alone, or in conjunction with other types of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery. Immunotherapy for cancer treatment has already proven to be an effective treatment for patients with various types of malignancies, making it the most promising new cancer treatment method since the first chemotherapies were developed in the 1940s.

Cancerous cells may be able to hide from your immune system by:

  • Having genetic mutation that reduce their visibility

  • Containing proteins that disable your immune cells

  • Changing cells around the tumor so that they interfere with the immune response

Immunotherapy helps your immune system identify and kill cancer cells. Immunotherapy’s ultimate goal is to create a group of T cells that particularly target cancer. T cells are a special type of white blood cell that target foreign invaders.

How immunotherapy drugs are delivered

Immunotherapy medications can be administered via IV, capsules, or creams. Immunotherapy is used to treat a variety of cancers, but it isn't as common as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery.

Types of  Immuno Drugs

There are numerous types of immunotherapy drugs that work in different ways, including:

  • Checkpoint Inhibitors: These block the immunological checkpoints that normally prevent the immune system from responding too strongly.

  • Chimeric Antigen Receptor T Cell Therapy: A medical specialist removes a few T cells, which are a sort of immune cells, from the person’s blood and mixes them with a virus. The virus helps the T cells in the attack against cancer cells.

  • Cytokines: This treatment stimulates immune cells to attack cancer by using cytokines, which are small proteins that transmit messages between cells.

  • Immunomodulators: These drugs enhance the immune system’s response to cancer.

  • Cancer Vaccines: These medicines help the immune system begin its response to certain conditions.

  • Monoclonal Antibodies: This treatment uses artificially produced proteins that bind to particular parts of cancer cells. This makes it easier for the immune system to detect the cells.

Side Effects of Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy can also cause many side effects. These are often caused when the body’s immune response is greatly increased to deal with cancer. Its common side effects include:

  • Fever and chills

  • Weakness

  • Dizziness

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Muscle aches

  • Joint pain

  • Fatigue

  • Headaches

  • Breathing issues

  • High or low blood pressure

Other slightly less common side effects include:

  • Fluid retention that results in swelling and weight gain

  • Heart palpitations

  • Sinus congestion

  • Diarrhea

  • Increased risk of infection

  • Organ inflammation

How long does each treatment take to work?

In the short term, there can be differences in how long it takes patients to respond to chemotherapy and immunotherapy. For instance, in chemotherapy (and radiation) treatments, targeted tumors may begin shrinking immediately. With immunotherapy, it may take longer to notice the results of treatment as the immune system is mobilized to attack tumors. Sometimes, tumors may even appear to grow or expand at first, but in reality, this swelling in size can be due to the infiltration of immune cells into tumors. This phenomenon is known as pseudoprogression, isn’t uncommon for immunotherapy, and it doesn’t mean that the treatment isn’t working.

Are they both effective?

Both chemotherapy and immunotherapy can be effective cancer treatments. One is not better than the other.

The effectiveness of each therapy depends on the stage and type of cancer a person has.

When deciding on a treatment, a person should talk with a cancer surgeon about possible treatment options and how these will influence their personal situation.

A surgeon will be able to explain the pros and cons of each treatment and determine which treatment is most suitable for a person’s specific needs.