What Are Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors And How Can They Help Your Body Fight Cancer?

Posted on: 2 April 2023


Immunotherapy is a treatment that changes how your body's immune system works. Adjusting it in the right way can enable it to successfully fight off cancer. Some cancers can hide from your immune system or suppress it, allowing it to continue growing without your immune system interfering. Immune checkpoint inhibitors are a type of immunotherapy that can help your body successfully find cancerous cells and respond to them. To learn how they work and how they can help fight cancer, read on. 

What Is an Immune Checkpoint?

Your body contains T-cells that can detect and destroy harmful invaders like viruses. To prevent the T-cells in your body from attacking them, your body's cells contain proteins on the surface called immune checkpoints. When a T-cell sees an immune checkpoint protein, it will temporarily become inactive.

The presence of immune checkpoints on your body's healthy tissues helps prevent the T-cells in your body from accidentally destroying them. Unfortunately, some cancer cells also contain these immune checkpoint proteins. T-cells would ordinarily be capable of detecting and destroying cancer cells. When they see an immune checkpoint on the cancer cell, they'll deactivate instead of causing an immune response that would destroy the cancer.

How Can Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors Help Fight Cancer?

Immune checkpoint inhibitors turn off the proteins that deactivate the T-cells in your body. When these proteins are disrupted, your T-cells will become capable of detecting and destroying cancer. The immune checkpoint inhibitor chosen for therapy is based on the specific protein that's allowing the cancer cells to hide from your body's immune system.

This treatment is often used as an additional form of protection against cancer remission. If you have a cancerous tumor surgically removed, for example, it can return if a small amount of the cancerous tissue was left in your body. Immune checkpoint inhibitors allow your immune system to detect and destroy any remaining cancerous tissue, making sure that it's gone for good.

Immune checkpoint inhibitors do have the potential to cause side effects. They can't specifically target the immune checkpoints on cancerous tissue, so they'll turn off the immune checkpoints on your healthy cells as well. This can cause your immune system to attack your body along with the cancerous tissue, which can cause symptoms similar to autoimmune disease.

Despite the risk of side effects, immune checkpoint therapy is an effective tool to allow your immune system to destroy cancerous cells. If you have cancer, ask your oncologist if immunotherapy using immune checkpoint inhibitors would be a suitable form of treatment for you. If your cancer is a type that has an immune checkpoint that's able to be disrupted by an immune checkpoint inhibitor, you'll be able to use immunotherapy to allow your immune system to find and respond to it.