Biologic Therapies for Cancer Treatment
- How does the immune system work?
- How do biologic therapies work?
- What are biologic therapies used for?
- What are the major types of biologic therapies?
- What are the side effects?
Lymphocytes—This type of white blood cells are concentrated in areas of the body that commonly encounter hostile invaders (eg, gastrointestinal system, respiratory system, lyphatic system). Types of lymphocytes include:
- B cells—lead to the production of antibodies
- Cytotoxic T cells—directly attack infected or cancer cells
- Helper T cells—regulate the immune system's response by signaling other immune system cells
- Natural killer (NK) cells—produce powerful chemical substances that bind to and kill invaders
- Macrophages—a type of white blood
Cytokines—chemicals produced by both lymphocytes and monocytes; examples include:
- Colony-stimulating factors
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- Eliminate, regulate, or suppress conditions that allow uncontrolled cell growth
- Enhance the immune system to fight the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells
- Make cancer cells more vulnerable to destruction by the immune system
- Change the growth patterns of cancer cells so that they are more like normal cells, and are less likely to metastasize (spread)
- Block or reverse the process that changes a normal or precancerous cell into a cancerous cell
- Enhance the body's ability to repair normal cells that get damaged by other forms of treatment for cancer (eg, chemotherapy , radiation therapy )
- Prevent a cancer cell from spreading to other parts of the body
- Interferons (IFN)
- Interleukins (IL)
- Colony-stimulating factors (CSF)
- Monoclonal antibodies (MOAB)
- Interferon alpha 2a (Roferon A)—used to treat hairy cell leukemia , Kaposi's sarcoma , chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), and other conditions
- Interferon beta-1a ( Avonex , Rebif ) and interferon beta-1b (eg, Betaseron )—used to treat multiple sclerosis
- Interferon gamma-1b ( Actimmune )—used to treat chronic granulomatous disease and other conditions
- G-CSF (Neupogen) and GM-CSF (Leukine, Prokine)—increase the number of white blood cells, which reduces the risk of infection; also used to stimulate the production of stem cells in preparation for stem cell or bone marrow transplants
- Erythropoietin (Epogen, Procrit)—increase the number of red blood cells and reduce the need for red blood cell transfusion
- Oprelvekin (Neumega)—increase the number of platelets and reduce the need for platelet transfusions
- React with certain types of cancer, which may enhance the immune response
- Be programmed to act against specific cell growth factors to interfere with the growth of cancer cells
- Be linked to anticancer drugs, radioactive substances, other biologic therapies, or other toxins
- Possibly help destroy cancer cells in bone marrow (during the process of bone marrow transplant)
- Rituximab (Rituxan)—used to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
- Trastuzumab (Herceptin)—used to treat breast cancer when the tumor expresses excess amounts of a protein called HER-2
- Cetuximab (Erbitux)—used to treat cancers of the colon and rectum , as well as head and neck cancer
- Panitumumab (Vectibix)—used to treat colorectal cancer
- Bevacizumab (Avastin)—used to treat a certain type of brain tumor , kidney cancer , colon cancer, rectum cancer, lung cancer , and breast cancer
- Alemtuzumab (Campath)—used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia
- Ipilimumab (Yervoy)—used to treat melanoma
- Flu-like symptoms (eg, chills, fever, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, joint pain)
- Gastrointestinal effects (eg, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite)
- Skin—redness, rash, dry skin, itchiness
- Heart and lungs—low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, arrhythmia , edema (fluid retention), weight gain
- Nervous system—confusion, disorientation, drowsiness, lethargy, anxiety , depression, irritability
- Decreased blood counts—anemia, thrombocytopenia, eosinophilia , lymphopenia
- Problems with kidney function
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
- Low blood pressure
- Joint pain
- Swollen glands
- Flu-like symptoms
Biologic therapies: using the immune system to treat cancer. National Cancer Institute webite. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Therapy/biological . Accessed September 4, 2012.
Biological therapy for lung cancer. CancerHelp UK website. Available at: http://cancerhelp.cancerresearchuk.org/type/lung-cancer/treatment/biological-therapy-for-lung-cancer . Accessed September 4, 2012.
Vachani C. Biologic therapy: the basics. OncoLink website. Available at: http://www.oncolink.org/TREATMENT/article.cfm?c=16&s=117&id=335 . Updated November 22, 2010. Accessed September 4, 2012.
- Reviewer: Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
- Review Date: 03/2015 -
- Update Date: 03/15/2015 -