Immunotherapy for Bladder Cancer

What is immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is a new class of cancer treatment that uses the power of your own immune system to fight cancer. One of the reasons that cancer is able to grow is because the cancer cells have fooled your immune system into thinking the malignant cells are normal and don’t need to be attacked. Immunotherapy approaches use substances made by the body or in a laboratory to unmask the cancer cells, triggering and magnifying the body’s immune response against them. Several immunotherapies are now FDA-approved for bladder cancer, and more are offered through clinical trials.

What are immune checkpoint inhibitors?

Many cancer cells are able to grow because they’ve switched off the body’s immune response. PD-1 and PD-L1 are proteins found in many of the body’s cells. PD-1 is also found on T cells (special white blood cells that are part of the immune system), and the protein serves as a check, or off-switch, to keep the T cells from attacking your normal cells. PD-1 attaches to PD-L1 and this interaction between them communicates to the T cells that all is well, there’s no need to attack, and the immune response is turned off.

Some cancer cells have large amounts of the PD-1 or PD-L1 proteins. Drugs that target or inhibit these proteins prevent them from attaching to each other and communicating. This makes cancer cells with large amounts of PD-1 or PD-L1 proteins no longer “safe” from your immune system’s T cells. Immunotherapy drugs approved for bladder cancer include:

  • Atezolizumab (Tecentriq)
  • Durvalumab (Imfinzi)
  • Avelumab (Bavencio)
  • Nivolumab (Opdivo®)
  • Pembrolizumab (Keytruda)

What are angiogenesis inhibitors?

Angiogenesis is the process by which new blood vessels are formed and it’s essential for solid tumors such as bladder cancers to grow. Angiogenesis inhibitors are drugs and substances that interfere with this process in various way and help to slow or stop tumors from growing by starving them of their blood supply. Some of these drugs are considered immunotherapies as they stimulate the immune system. Others are considered targeted therapies because they target certain genetic characteristics of the cancer cells.

The Roswell Park advantage

Our status as a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center allows us to offer our patients far more treatment options through clinical trials, and to provide these newest treatments years before they become available to other cancer care facilities. While these game-changing drugs are relatively new, Roswell Park has extensive experience with them, providing these to appropriate patients with genitourinary cancers since 2011.

In addition, our clinical trials program allows us to offer immunotherapy approaches to a greater number of bladder cancer patients, including those:

  • with early-stage, late-stage or recurrent disease
  • who seek a bladder-preservation treatment plan

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