IOZK - Immunologisch Onkologisches Zentrum Köln

Active versus passive treatment methods 

Today, conventional treatments of cancer focus on the abolition of cancer cells through surgery, irradiation or chemotherapy. Unfortunately, these methods cannot differentiate between diseased and healthy cells. This means that with conventional treatment healthy tissue will always be destroyed, leading to side effects. The main problem is that in conventional medicine the patient remains passive and that merely something is being done to her or him.

Immunological cancer therapy has led to a paradigm shift: Cancer is now viewed as a disease of the whole body, not just a local phenomenon. Specific immunological cancer therapy is intended to activate the body’s immune system enabling it to actively battle the disease. In saying that, it is not necessary to destroy each and every tumour cell.

It has been proven that for overall survival as well as for an improved quality of life, an equilibrium between the tumour and the immune system is more important. This is in this context also called progression-free or metastasis-free survival.

Specifically trained immune system against cancer

If the immune system becomes active against the disease it requires specific information about the to be attacked cells. For this purpose we have special information cells (antigen-presenting cells) in our bodies that act like guardians. The most important of which are the dendritic cells. Their task is to take on components of the malignant or infected cells (so-called antigens) and present them with certain immune cells (lymphocytes). With this information the lymphocytes develop into killer cells (effector cells) which structure themselves throughout the body imposing as obstacles that hinder the growth or destroy the malignant or infected cells. A small portion of these lymphocytes develop into memory cells that allow in the long term for appropriate immune response.

The specific information is therefore a prerequisite for the immune systems fight against tumour cells. Only through ”antigen-presentation” can the lymphocytes recognise and destroy the tumour cells and also maintain a long-term defence against them.

Optimal time for treatment

It is best to start the so-called ”R0 resection” treatment immediately after the complete removal of the tumour. During the operation, a portion of the removed tumour tissue should be used for the specific immunotherapy and immediately sent directly to the appropriate specialist laboratory. Our immunotherapy is usually possible at any stage during the course of the disease. The earlier therapy begins, the better the chances of success. Especially with regard to the prevention of relapses (recurrences). 

In cases where the cancer is already in an advanced stage, the formation of a tumour-specific cytotoxic immune response should be stimulated through an autologous tumour vaccination prior to the use of checkpoint inhibitors. If a tumour-specific cytotoxic T-cell-response is present, the checkpoint inhibitors are more effective.