Huge strides have been made in treating children with cancer. Standard cancer treatments—including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy—are often able to bring about a cure. But not always. Sometimes, these treatments can also cause health effects that stay with pediatric cancer patients throughout their lives. This is where immunotherapy comes in.
Immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune system to attack cancer cells. Researchers have been working for decades to develop this alternative method of cancer treatment. Immune therapy is now standard of care for treating several adult advanced cancers, and has become an important type of treatment for some childhood acute leukemias. Immunotherapy has the potential to enhance or even replace current options in many diseases.
“There is a great deal of promise in using immunotherapies to treat pediatric cancers as highlighted by successes in leukemia, lymphoma and, to some extent, neuroblastoma,” says Juan Vasquez, MD, a Yale Medicine pediatric hematologist and medical oncologist in the Pediatric Hematology & Oncology Program. “However, there is more research that needs to be done in both the development of novel immune treatments and the clinical testing of existing drugs.”