Cancer immunotherapy is a class of treatments that work by stimulating the body’s immune system and strengthening its natural response to tumor cells. Although immunotherapy has become a promising standard of care for some types of cancer, including liver cancer, its effectiveness can vary widely among patients.
How does cancer immunotherapy work?
As the body’s first line of defense against harmful invaders, the immune system usually provides valuable protection from the effects of abnormal cells, such as viruses, bacteria and cancer. However, tumor cells are sometimes able to conceal themselves and avoid detection. For instance, some cancer cells produce large quantities of a protein known as PD-L1, which binds to the PD-1 “off switches” found on invader-fighting T cells, thereby switching the T cells off and rendering the immune system unable to target and destroy the tumor. Some immunotherapy drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors are able to counteract that process by preventing PD-L1 from binding to the PD-1 off-switches on T cells, allowing a normal defensive immune response against the cancer cells.
The unique challenges of treating liver cancer with immunotherapy
The liver filters large volumes of blood received directly from the digestive system and other parts of the body. While performing that vital function, the liver plays an important role in regulating the immune system. Specifically, the liver determines which of the proteins it encounters are harmful invaders and which should be ignored, then relays that information to the immune system so it can respond appropriately.
Scientists in the general medical community have found that some types of liver cancer have unique immune-suppressive capabilities. More precisely, certain liver cancer cells are able to capitalize on the power of the liver to influence the body’s immune response and effectively “convince” it to ignore the tumor. As such, liver cancer may be less responsive to immunotherapy than other types of cancer.
Groundbreaking advances in immunotherapy
As a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, Moffitt Cancer Center is nationally recognized as a cancer research pioneer. Our scientists and clinicians are continually working to improve liver cancer treatment and discover new options to help each patient achieve the best possible outcome and quality of life. Currently, our patients have access to select FDA-approved immunotherapies and other cutting-edge options available only through our robust clinical trials program, and we enhance our cancer-fighting arsenal every single day.
If you would like to learn more about immunotherapy and other treatment options for liver cancer, you can rapidly connect with a specialist in the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. To request an appointment, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online. As our patient, you will be a top priority of a cancer center that delivers nationally ranked care in new and transformative ways, and you can benefit from our extensive and highly refined expertise within one day.