Integrative Cancer Treatments at their best go beyond just treating the symptoms. They also focus on a holistic health approach which combines conventional oncology treatments, while minimising the side effects associated with these treatments. For far too long conventional medicine has taken the view that more is better when treating cancer. Integrative Cancer Treatments turn this paradigm on its head and while making use of all the up-to-date conventional methods available it uses them as per patient requirements, rather than have a one-size-fits-all approach that has been the mainstay of oncology for far too long. These traditional methods (tempered by scientific advances to make them gentler physiologically) are used side by side with personalised, scientifically proven and effective alternative therapies. Dendritic Cells form an important part in this holistic approach in treating cancer.
Dendritic Cells (DC) are antigen-presenting cells which act as messengers between the innate and adaptive immune systems. They play a critical role in the regulation of the immune system by initiating the immune response. Located in the mucosa, lymphoid tissues and in the skin, the primary function of DCs is to process antigens, presenting them to T cells thereby promoting immunity to foreign antigens and tolerance to self antigens. Antigens may be toxins or other foreign substances that induce an immune response in the body, especially the production of antibodies. DCs also secrete cytokines to regulate immune responses.
TREATING GLIOBLASTOMA WITH DENDRITIC CELL THERAPY
Dendritic Cell Therapy is a type of immunotherapy that has successfully been used in treating various forms of cancer including malignant brain tumours. These are characterised by their ability to grow, spreading very fast and aggressively and in the process overpowering healthy cells, crowding them out and taking over their blood and nutrients. Glioblastoma is one such aggressive brain tumour that occurs very frequently in adults suffering from brain cancer. Glioblastoma has very harrowing symptoms which may include change in mood and personality, a diminished ability to think and learn, seizures, memory loss, speech difficulties and nausea. Persistent headaches, double or blurred vision, muscle weakness and loss of appetite may also be apparent.
Little headway has hitherto been made in terms of new medical advances in treating Glioblastoma. Immunotherapy, already firmly established as a proven therapy in treating various types of cancers, looks set to fill this gap. Early-stage clinical trials using DC therapy on humans with Glioblastoma have produced promising results. The life expectancy of adults diagnosed with Glioblastoma is typically under 15 months.
Hitherto all new therapies developed and tested to treat this aggressive cancer that is the most common malignant brain tumour in adults have proved ineffective with no appreciable change in the survival rate. Several different immunotherapies have produced encouraging results against Glioblastoma, with some even recording enduring positive responses in patients with advanced disease. Dendritic Cells, with their ability to orchestrate immune responses are often referred to as generals of the immune system so they are the natural choice of immunotherapy to tackle Glioblastoma. The vaccines being produced using DCs are patient-specific and their production involves the collection of immature immune cells from each patient, prompting them to develop into dendritic cells which are then engineered to produce a tumour-specific immune response. They are then administered back to the patient to fight the cancer.
12 patients who underwent a phase 1 trial were treated with various amounts of DCs, with special focus on the safety and effectiveness of this treatment against brain cancer. They were given 3 intradermal injections every 2 weeks with no toxicity reported. The patients were monitored for five years and it was found that regardless of the dose administered the therapy was completely toxic-free.
FIGHTING BREAST CANCER WITH DENDRITIC CELL THERAPY
Breast Cancer afflicts 1 in every 8 women and in spite of all the publicity and awareness campaigns that are associated with it the incidence and mortality rates remain alarmingly high. Figures from 2012 show that 1.7 million new cases of Breast Cancer were reported with an estimated half a million deaths recorded in the previous year (2011). Although the survival rate in the developed world is generally high (80% in North America, Sweden and Japan) it is depressingly low in low-income countries (40%) a factor which may be attributed to the lack of early detection programmemes (resulting in high numbers of women with late-stage disease), inadequate diagnosis and poor medical facilities.
Breast Cancer presents women with challenging health problems including the appearance of a lump in the breast (which is sometimes painful) or a general swelling of the whole breast. Other inconveniences that Breast Cancer presents women with include breast pain, skin irritation, nipples turning inward (retraction), nipple discharge that is not milk and a scaliness and thickening of the nipple and breast skin. Not to mention the internal ravages occasioned internally by the cancer.
Caught early, Breast Cancer does promise a better than average outlook. Although the current options are rather limited, with surgery still taking precedence over other methods, and with an occasional follow-up of some chemotherapy and radiation therapy, Breast Cancer has responded very well to treatment using immune system boosters, specifically such as are found in Dendritic Cell Therapy. Preclinical and clinical studies on Breast Cancer treatments suggest that immunotherapy can now be successfully deployed to treat this cancer. The new development of Dendritic Cell Therapy will go a step further and produce vaccines that will not just be used to treat Breast Cancer but also to actively prevent it. Several types of immune-based vaccines are being tested and Dendritic Cell vaccine is one of them.
Benefits of Dendritic Cell Therapy
The primary advantage of Dendritic Cell Therapy (and other immunotherapies) over conventional chemo is that it generates far fewer side effects and can therefore be administered for longer periods and even possibly with other agents without the added risk of increased toxicity. Patients are also much less likely to develop resistance to Dendritic Cell Therapy as the immune system has the capability to target multiple cancer antigens simultaneously, adapting meanwhile to mutating cancer cells.