What is Immunotherapy Anyway?

A dear friend of mine has a daughter currently fighting neuroblastoma which is a type of cancer mostly found in nerve tissues. Neuroblastoma most commonly affects children under the age of five and more than half of all cases are considered high-risk. This friend then told me that his daughter needs to undergo immunotherapy treatment. He added that it is a treatment that is very difficult to find. They are not american and found out that they would have to take their daughter to America or to Australia to receive this treatment.  

I have to confess that until that time I had never heard of neuroblastoma or of immunotherapy. Further, it seemed really strange to me that specialists in this field were so difficult to come by outside of the U.S.

According to cancer.org immunotherapy is ‘the use of medicines to help a patient’s own immune system recognize and destroy cancer cells more effectively’. The American Cancer Society explains that immunotherapy uses man-made versions of the immune system called Monoclonal antibodies. These are injected into the bloodstream to find cancer cells and attach to them.

“This helps the child’s immune system recognize and destroy neuroblastoma cells”- American Cancer Society.

The American Cancer Society lists the possible side effects as: “Nerve pain (which can sometimes be severe), leaking of fluid in the body (which can lead to low blood pressure, fast heart rate, shortness of breath, and swelling), allergic reactions (which can lead to airway swelling, trouble breathing, and low blood pressure), vomiting, diarrhea, and infections.”

According to the University of Wisconsin’s department of pediatrics immunotherapy extends survival in patients with neuroblastoma by 20%.

The University of Wisconsin’s department of pediatrics continues to explain that as a result of the increased survival rate (without relapse or progression) immunotherapy is fast becoming the standard approach for fighting neuroblastoma in the US and Canada. My friends heard about the treatment in the US and are currently in New York City with their daughter for this treatment. While the road is not an easy one there is comfort in knowing that there is treatment available here that will increase her chances and help her in her fight.

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