Issue IntroductionsImmunotherapy

The Immunotherapy Surge

In this special issue focused on immunotherapy, we take a deep dive into this exciting type of treatment, highlighting the role of genetic testing and new developments in lung, skin, and bladder cancer in improving patient outcomes.
July 2021 – Immunotherapy
Lillie D. Shockney, RN, BS, MAS, HON-ONN-CG
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Oncology Navigation & Survivorship®; Co-Founder, Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators® (AONN+); University Distinguished Service Professor of Breast Cancer, Professor of Surgery, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; Co-Developer, Work Stride-Managing Cancer at Work, Johns Hopkins Healthcare Solutions
Breast cancer survivor

For decades, well, actually centuries, we have been using 3 methods to get rid of cancer and keep it at bay—cut it out (by surgery), burn it (with radiation), or poison it (with chemotherapy). Granted, there are now, and have been for several decades, additional methods, such as biologic drugs known as targeted therapies, and of course hormonal therapy, that we have also used for a very long time.

It has taken a great deal of scientific knowledge and research, which have been in progress for more than 2 decades, to develop a new category of cancer treatment—immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy uses your own body’s immune system to get rid of cancer cells in your body. This type of therapy may sound simple, but trust me, it is not. Immunotherapy is probably the most complex therapy that has ever been developed. And although you may think that it should be free of side effects, it is not. It does have side effects, some of which may be severe, but overall immunotherapy has fewer side effects than some other types of cancer therapies.

A lot happens within your body when this type of therapy is infused into your system to jumpstart your immune system and target it to do its job in eliminating cancer cells. Does it always work? No. But there is promise today and good evidence that it is extending lives, especially for those with advanced cancers, who otherwise would be looking at a short period of time to still be survivors.

This can be seen in this special issue in the 2 patient stories surrounding 2 different types of advanced cancer. These stories highlight the survival benefits that these patients received through the use of immunotherapy. Specifically, each of them has been using a type of immunotherapy known as a PD-1 or PD-L1 inhibitor, because they inhibit certain proteins, called PD-1 or PD-L1, on some cancer cells. By blocking these proteins, these immunotherapies enhance the immune response against cancer cells, thereby improving the patient’s chance of better outcomes and survival.

We hope you learn a great deal from this special issue. Share it with other people, too, so they could be enlightened about this new type of cancer treatment that holds huge promise today and in the future.

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Molecular Profiling Is Making Cancer Treatment Personal
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Tim Dorius, MD, explains the role of molecular profiling in relation to immunotherapy, and how oncologists can now look at the genetic makeup of a tumor to identify specific mutations or other biomarkers.
Last modified: July 23, 2021

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