Chemotherapy could eventually be replaced by a relatively new treatment that boosts the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer, a profesor in Hong Kong said.
Thomas Yau Chung-cheung, clinical associate professor at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), is referring to immunotherapy, a treatment modality that took off only a few years ago. He expects medication to hit the market in a decade.
“The development of immunotherapy is now the new trend in cancer care. It is likely to replace chemo gradually and become the cornerstone of treating tumours,” Yau told the South China Morning Post.
Immunotherapy targets certain parts of the body’s immune system, a network composed of white blood cells and organs of the lymphatic system such as the thymus and spleen. It may mark cancer cells — which are able to hide from the immune system — for detection, attack a specific part of the cell or boost the immune system’s response to such cells in general, according to the American Cancer Society.
The most common side effects of immunotherapy include pain, swelling, soreness, redness, itchiness, rash and flu-like symptoms, according to the National Cancer Institute. It is generally considered to be safer than chemotherapy, which may damage surrounding healthy cells and bring more untoward complications.
Yau said that some 200 patients have already received the treatment and “most saw good results.” He added that it can even treat cancer in late stages.
Findings are expected to be published after treatment of 500 patients with cancer cells in the kidneys, lungs, skin, head and neck, and blood (leukemia).
In Hong Kong, immunotherapy costs between 20,000 Hong Kong dollars ($2,560) to 40,000 Hong Kong dollars ($5,120) per month. SCMP noted that patients have shown enthusiasm for the new therapy, finding its resemblance in traditional Chinese medicine. Some, however, confuse it with natural remedies.
Yau stressed that living a healthy lifestyle alone cannot beat cancer.
“While exercising is always healthy, it cannot achieve the same effect as immunology therapy as the latter targets certain cells to boost the immune system to fight cancer cells,” he told the outlet.
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