Treating Cervical Cancer with Immunotherapy

Many women worldwide develop cervical cancer. It is not only something that happens to women in the United States. In fact, over 500,000 women worldwide receive a cervical cancer diagnosis yearly. In most cases, the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the primary cause of cervical cancer.

HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that is usually harmless to most women who contract it because their immune systems end up eradicating it within two years. However, a small percentage of HPV-infected women carry the virus beyond two years, causing abnormal cervical cell changes that often progress into cervical cancer.

How to Recognize Cervical Cancer?

Due to the slow growth of cervical cancer, women usually don’t experience any symptoms for several years. But eventually, the cancer will become invasive and start to cause symptoms like abnormal vaginal bleeding. Once the cancer reaches this point, treating and slowing down its progression is much more difficult. That is why women are encouraged to seek routine Pap testing from their doctors as early as possible.

A Pap test is a quick, non-invasive procedure where the doctor collects a cervical cell sample from the woman and sends the sample to a pathologist for further laboratory testing. The pathologist will examine the cervical cells under a microscope to check for signs of cancerous or precancerous cell changes. They will send the results to your doctor if they find any abnormalities in the cervical cells. From there, your doctor will consult you regarding the best ways to proceed with treatment and additional testing.

Common Cervical Cancer Treatment Methods

Early detection of cervical cancer will increase the chances of successfully treating it. Your doctor will likely recommend radiation therapy or surgery to slow down the progression of the cancerous cells or remove them completely. The ideal treatment option depends on your current health status, age, and the severity of the cancer growth.

Chemotherapy is another treatment option for recurrent or severe cervical cancer cases. However, there are some limitations in using chemotherapy to treat cervical cancer because many chemotherapy drugs target a particular cellular characteristic not always found in cancer cells. Sometimes the chemotherapy drugs target fast-growing, noncancerous cells, which doesn’t help the situation at all.

What is Immunotherapy? Can It Treat Cervical Cancer?

Immunotherapy is a newer treatment option to combat cervical cancer. The idea behind immunotherapies is to boost the immune system to make it strong enough to slow down and prevent the growth of cervical cancer.

A highly advanced form of immunotherapy treatment to combat cervical cancer is called “checkpoint blockades.” These immune cell (T cell) molecules distinguish foreign cells from healthy cells. An effective checkpoint blockade enables the immune system to fight against foreign cells and tumors without causing any damage to healthy cells.

Unfortunately, there are some cases where the cancer cells recognize the checkpoint blockades and move around them to avoid attacks from the immune system. If this happens, the cancer cells can spread throughout the body easier. An immunomodulator may be an appropriate treatment in this case.

What is an Immunomodulator?

An immunomodulator is a common checkpoint blockade immunotherapy administered to combat cervical cancer. It uses a checkpoint inhibitor drug called Pembrolizumab, which stops the PD-1 proteins in the T cells.

Remember that T cells are white blood cells that fight against foreign invaders, such as cancer and viruses. During this process, their PD-1 proteins stop the immune system from attacking healthy cells by attaching themselves to the PD-L1 proteins of these healthy normal cells. But since some cancerous cells also have these PD-L1 proteins, the T cells do not always attack them.

Blocking the PD-1 proteins using the checkpoint inhibitor drug will give the T-cells a better chance of recognizing and targeting the cancerous cells.

How to Prevent Cervical Cancer

The best way to prevent HPV-based cervical cancer is to get the HPV vaccination before contracting an HPV infection. Then you’ll likely avoid a high-risk HPV infection and its potential health effects like cervical cancer. Besides that, always practice safe sex by wearing protection and limiting your number of sexual partners.

Consult your doctor for further advice on the best preventative measures. They will probably recommend routine Pap screening and HPV testing to ensure you are infection-free and cancer-free.