Immunotherapy is emerging as a promising treatment option for women with vaginal cancer. Already relied upon to address cancer in the lungs, breasts, brain and other organs, immunotherapy is increasingly being used to treat gynecological malignancies like vaginal cancer.
What is immunotherapy?
Many traditional vaginal cancer treatment plans involve a combination of surgery to remove tumors and radiation therapy to destroy cancer cells. Immunotherapy takes a different approach by utilizing the patient’s own immune system to identify and attack cancer or the processes that contribute to its growth.
The body’s immune system is responsible for fighting off foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria—all of which contain abnormal proteins that allow immune cells to recognize them as a threat. While cancer also contains abnormal proteins, its slowly developing effects on healthy cells may cause the immune system to adapt to cancerous changes and recognize them as normal.
Immunotherapy stimulates the immune system, helping it to work more effectively and better recognize abnormal cellular changes. There are multiple types of immunotherapy treatments, including:
- Vaccine therapy
- Cellular therapy
- Immune checkpoint inhibitor drugs
What are immune checkpoint inhibitors?
Immune checkpoint inhibitors play an important role in immunotherapy and its effectiveness against vaginal cancer. Essentially, immune checkpoints are molecules on certain immune cells that must be turned on in order for the immune system to initiate a response. Cancer cells are sometimes able to manipulate these checkpoints to avoid being targeted by the immune system.
There are various immune checkpoint inhibitor drugs that focus on different checkpoints and immune functions. Unlike some other types of immunotherapy, however, immune checkpoint inhibitor drugs do not treat the tumor directly. They instead focus on the mechanisms that feed cancer growth, helping to enhance the effectiveness of other treatments and prevent the worsening of cancer symptoms.
Progressive vaginal cancer treatment options at Moffitt
Moffitt Cancer Center stands at the forefront of vaginal cancer treatment and research. As a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Moffitt is actively exploring new and innovative ways to better treat gynecologic malignancies like vaginal cancer. Immunotherapies are currently a focus of our robust clinical trial program, which provides our patients with opportunities to try the latest breakthroughs in care before they are made widely available.
Moffitt’s vaginal cancer experts collaborate as a team to develop treatment plans that are tailored to the unique needs of each patient. In addition to immunotherapies, our progressive vaginal cancer treatment options include laser surgery, novel chemotherapy regimens, brachytherapy and more.
Medically reviewed by Hye Sook Chon, MD, gynecologic oncologist, Gynecologic Oncology Program
Moffitt welcomes women who are interested in learning about vaginal cancer immunotherapy or who are seeking a second opinion regarding a vaginal cancer diagnosis. To request an appointment at Moffitt, complete a new patient registration form online or call 1-888-663-3488.