02/02/2023 11:23 AM

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 2 (Bernama) -- This year, World Cancer Day falls on Feb 4 and is celebrated to raise awareness surrounding cancer in its many forms, and effects, as well as treatments and recovery.

Sunway Medical Centre Velocity (SMCV) in a statement said cancer-fighting technology has improved in leaps and bounds in recent years, and one newer technology that has been known to be effective in treating cancer is Immunotherapy which has also reached Malaysian shores.

It said immunotherapy is unique in the way that it uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.

According to its consultant clinical oncologist, Dr Hafizah Zaharah Ahmad, the immune system is like the police force of our bodies.

She said it is designed to protect the body against infection, illness and disease.

“It can also protect us from the development of cancer. Normally, it can detect and destroy faulty or mutated cells in the body and eliminates them before they become a significant threat,” she said in the statement.

However, cancer can still develop when the immune system is not strong enough to kill cancer cells, or when the cancer cells hide from the immune system, she said, adding that cancer cells have the ability to camouflage and resemble normal cells.

Dr Hafizah said immunotherapy is more targeted as a cancer treatment.

“Immunotherapy uses the immune system to fight cancer. It can boost or change how the immune system works so it can recognise and kill cancer cells,” she said.

She said as cancer cells start in normal cells, the immune system does not always recognise them as a threat.

“These cancer cells can push a ‘brake’ button on the immune cells, so the immune system would not attack them. Checkpoint inhibitors (a type of immunotherapy) take the ‘brakes’ off the immune system which helps it recognise and attack the cancer cells,” she said.

Dr Hafizah said that various immunotherapy agents are given as an infusion into a vein (IV) typically once every two, three or four weeks and can be given by themselves, or in combination with targeted therapy or chemotherapy.

 She said for advanced-stage cancer, immunotherapy treatment generally is given for two years, alongside close monitoring.

Although immunotherapy may seem like the light at the end of the tunnel for cancer patients, Dr Hafizah warned that not all cancers will respond well to the treatment.

“Therefore, patients have to first undergo a specific biomarker test such as the PD-L1 test that will need to be carried out on a cancer specimen to ensure that the patient will respond to the treatment,” she said.

According to her, immunotherapy can be used as a treatment for various cancers, including non-small cell lung cancer, triple-negative breast cancer, head and neck cancer, cervical cancer, gastric cancer, oesophageal cancer, bladder cancer, melanoma, liver cancer, renal cell carcinoma, endometrial cancer and colon cancer.

As with any form of treatment, she said, immunotherapy also presents its own sets of side effects.

“Generally, the treatment is well tolerated, with possible side effects such as feeling tired, skin rash, or muscle or joint pain.

“Although rare, some patients could also exhibit allergic reactions including dizziness, fast heart rate, face swelling or breathing problems. Signs of autoimmune reactions that can cause serious problems may occur in the lungs, intestines, liver, hormone-making glands, kidneys, skin, or other.

“Examples of symptoms to look out for are diarrhoea, severe abdominal pain, worsening cough, shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing,” she said.

She said cancer research has pushed cancer treatment to new frontiers, leading to higher cancer control rates or cure rates, but recommends taking on medical insurance to manage the rising cost of treatment.

Every patient should consult their trusted doctors to find the best possible treatment option when faced with a cancer diagnosis. she said, adding that each patient will have their own cancer journey.

KKLIU Approval no: KKLIU 0292/202


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