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Definition of immunotherapy


Our immune system has weapons capable of destroying cancer cells. Unfortunately, these weapons are not always strong enough to counteract the formation of a tumor. The anti-tumor immunotherapy is a therapeutic strategy that aims to improve the functioning of the immune system to enable it to regain the upper hand against cancer. This strategy is generally used as a complementary treatment, which reinforces the effectiveness of conventional chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Immunotherapy includes therapeutic approaches they use very different immunological reagents brought from outside (passive immunotherapy), or they mobilize resources and strengthen the immune system of the patient (non-specific immunotherapy and therapeutic vaccination).

Passive immunotherapy

Passive immunotherapy involves administering artificial antibodies (called "monoclonal") produced in the laboratory. These antibodies are designed to recognize molecules present in a more or less specific to only the surface of cancer cells. These are the cells that will attack and destroy, like would a homing missile. Also used antibodies against the factors necessary for proliferation of malignant cells which are blocked and proliferation.

This is an entirely new family of drugs from biological research which first appeared a few years ago. Their number and variety are increasing very rapidly and are increasingly used to complement conventional chemotherapy.

The non-specific immunotherapy

The non-specific immunotherapy is an approach that aims to stimulate the overall activity of the immune system, without specifically target tumor cells. It is based on the administration of such molecules called cytokines (eg interferon alpha) stimulate the proliferation of immune cells.

Therapeutic vaccination

Therapeutic vaccination is a strategy for immunotherapy "active" because it will seek the patient's immune system. This approach is still experimental, will build on the injection of tumor-derived molecules (the "tumor antigens"). In response to this treatment, as in the case of a conventional vaccination, the patient's body will begin to produce weapons targeting molecules injected, and therefore cancer cells.

And preventive vaccines?

It is important to distinguish the therapeutic vaccination vaccinations classics such as protecting against infectious diseases (tetanus, polio ...). Preventive vaccines are administered to healthy people to prevent them from contracting a disease. Therapeutic vaccines are in turn to stimulate the patient's immune system against a disease that has already contracted.

In terms of cancer, the only vaccinations are those that protect against hepatitis B and human papillomavirus. These infections agents are known to promote the emergence and development of cancers of the liver (hepatitis B) and cervical (HPV). Protect against these viruses through vaccination reduces the risk of both cancers.

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