Immuno-oncology — A Relatively New and Promising Treatment for Melanoma

Immuno-oncology — a relatively new and promising treatment for melanoma — is available at Columbus Regional Hospital. 

“Our biggest defense against cancer is the immune system, but sometimes the immune system can’t keep up with rapidly growing cancer cells,” said Kelsey Finch, Pharm.D., an oncology pharmacist at Columbus Regional Hospital. “Immuno-oncology uses medications that work in different ways to help the body’s immune system fight cancers like it does infections and other diseases.”

One common type of immuno-oncology medication, called a checkpoint inhibitor, prevents proteins from attaching to cancer cells and protecting them from the immune system. In contrast, chemotherapy medications target and destroy cancer cells, but they often damage healthy cells as well. 

“For the first time in a long time, we have an entirely new way of thinking about the treatment of cancer,” Finch said. “Instead of trying to kill cancer cells, we’re using a radically different approach and finding ways to help the body naturally fight cancer.”

Immuno-oncology was first used to treat patients with melanoma. Now it shows promise in treating a broader array of cancers, including lung, head and neck, bladder, gastric and certain lymphomas. 

Researchers are studying its effectiveness in treating other cancers. Oncology specialists at Columbus Regional Hospital expect that these new medications will be available to more patients in the near future.
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