Biologic Therapies for Cancer Treatment
- How does the immune system work?
- How do biologic therapies work?
- What are the major types of biologic therapies?
- What are the side effects?
- Lymphocytes—concentrated in areas of the body that commonly encounter hostile invaders (stomach and intestines, lungs, and lymph system). Types of lymphocytes include:
- B cells—lead to the production of antibodies that help target tissue that should be destroyed
- 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—surround and digest invaders while stimulating other defense mechanisms
- Colony-stimulating factors
- 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 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 by chemo- or radiation therapy
- Prevent a cancer cell from spreading to other parts of the body
- Interferons (IFN)
- Interleukins (IL)
- Colony-stimulating factors (CSF)
- Monoclonal antibodies (mAb)
- G-CSF and GM-CSF—Increase the number of white blood cells, which reduces the risk of infection. They can also be used to stimulate the production of stem cells in preparation for stem cell or bone marrow transplants.
- Erythropoietin—Increase the number of red blood cells and reduce the need for red blood cell transfusion.
- Oprelvekin—Increase the number of platelets and reduce the need for platelet transfusions.
- React with certain types of cancer, to enhance the body's 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 to tag the cancer cells and alert the immune system to destroy them
- Possibly help destroy cancer cells in bone marrow (during the process of bone marrow transplant)
- Rituximab—used to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
- Trastuzumab—used to treat breast cancer when the tumor expresses excess amounts of a protein called HER-2
- Cetuximab—used to treat colon and rectal cancers, as well as head and neck cancer
- Panitumumab—used to treat colon and rectal cancers
- Bevacizumab—used to treat a certain type of brain tumor, and kidney, colon, rectal, lung, and breast cancers
- Alemtuzumab—used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia
- Ipilimumab—used to treat melanoma
- Flu-like symptoms—chills, fever, fatigue, headache, and muscle pain and joint pain
- Gastrointestinal effects, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and decreased appetite
- Red, dry, or itchy skin, with or without a rash
- Low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, heart arrhythmia, fluid retention, and weight gain
- Confusion, disorientation, drowsiness, lethargy, anxiety, depression, and irritability
- Changes in blood cell counts that can lead to anemia, thrombocytopenia, eosinophilia, lymphopenia
- Problems with kidney function
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
- Low blood pressure
- Joint pain
- Swollen glands
- Flu-like symptoms
Biological therapies for cancer. National Cancer Institute webite. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/immunotherapy/bio-therapies-fact-sheet. Updated June 12, 2013. Accessed May 26, 2015.
Biological therapy for lung cancer. Cancer Research UK website. Available at: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/type/lung-cancer/treatment/biological-therapy-for-lung-cancer. Accessed May 26, 2015.
Biologic therapy: The basics. OncoLink website. Available at: http://www.oncolink.org/treatment/article.cfm?aid=589&id=335&c=16. Updated March 30, 2015. Accessed May 26, 2015.
Modalities of cancer therapy. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/hematology-and-oncology/principles-of-cancer-therapy/modalities-of-cancer-therapy. Updated July 2013. Accessed May 26, 2015.
- Reviewer: Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
- Review Date: 03/2015 -
- Update Date: 05/26/2015 -