Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment. Some forms of this treatment may help treat bone cancer. However, experts need to conduct more research into immunotherapy for primary bone cancer.

Primary bone cancer is a rare type of cancer that can occur in multiple forms, such as chondrosarcoma and osteosarcoma. Primary bone cancers begin in a person’s bones, whereas secondary bone cancers have spread to the bones after developing in another part of a person’s body.

This article discusses immunotherapy as a treatment for bone cancer, other treatment options for the condition, and when a person should consider contacting a doctor.

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The immune system helps protect the body from substances, germs, and cell changes that could potentially cause a person harm. The immune system should naturally fight off cells that can lead to cancer. However, some cancer cells can avoid detection by the immune system.

Immunotherapy can help the immune system fight off cancer cells more effectively by teaching it to recognize and attack these cells.

There are several types of immunotherapy that a person can receive orally, through an intravenous (IV) drip, directly into the bladder, or by applying directly onto the skin.

The types of immunotherapy available include:

  • Immune checkpoint inhibitors: These block certain responses in the immune system, allowing it to fight off cancer cells more effectively. They are currently the most common type of immunotherapy medication.
  • Immune system modulators: These enhance the immune system and help it fight off cancer cells more effectively.
  • Monoclonal antibodies: These are immune system proteins that scientists create in a laboratory. The proteins bind to and attack cancer cells.
  • Treatment vaccines: Scientists designed these to boost the immune system to help it fight off cancer cells.
  • Immune cell therapy: A healthcare professional extracts T lymphocytes (a type of immune cell) from a person’s tumor and sends them to a laboratory. Scientists strengthen the cells and return them to the healthcare professional, who then injects them back into the person’s body to help fight off cancer cells.

Primary bone cancer is a rare form of cancer, so there is a limit to the amount of research scientists have conducted into the effectiveness of immunotherapy for treating bone cancer.

Research suggests that certain types of cancer cells with high amounts of protein and gene changes respond well to immunotherapy. However, there are only a few types of bone cancers with these types of changes.

A 2021 systematic review found that immune checkpoint inhibitors may be effective at treating osteosarcoma in children, particularly when they are also receiving other treatments. However, the authors of the review highlighted that experts need to conduct further studies.

Other research suggests that doctors may use immune checkpoint inhibitors to treat bone metastases (cancers that have spread to the bones from other areas).

Clinical trials into other types of immunotherapy to treat bone cancer happen regularly.

There are several other treatment options available for bone cancer. Some of these include:

  • Surgery: This is typically the most common treatment for primary bone cancer. A surgeon will first take a biopsy to diagnose the bone cancer tumor. The surgeon will then remove the tumor and some of the surrounding tissue to try and prevent the bone cancer from coming back.
  • Radiation therapy: During this therapy, a healthcare professional will take high energy X-rays that can kill cancer cells. Typically, a person with bone cancer will need high doses of radiation, as bone cancer tumors can have resistance to this type of treatment. High doses of radiation can harm nearby healthy tissues, so radiation therapy is typically a secondary treatment for bone cancer.
  • Chemotherapy: This refers to a group of medications that healthcare professionals typically administer directly into the vein through an IV drip. The medications destroy cancer cells. Some types of bone cancers, such as Ewing sarcoma and osteosarcoma, may respond well to chemotherapy. However, most types do not respond to chemotherapy, so a person may need other treatments.
  • Targeted medications: Doctors may recommend kinase inhibitors, which is a type of targeted medication that can treat bone cancer by stopping or slowing the growth of the tumor.
  • Cryosurgery: This treatment involves healthcare professionals using liquid nitrogen to freeze and kill cancer cells.

If a person with bone cancer has been receiving treatment for a significant period of time and is not experiencing improvements in their condition, they may wish to speak with a healthcare professional about immunotherapy.

There may be clinical trials of new immunotherapy drugs and their effects on bone cancer the person could join. A doctor may be able to refer them for participation in a clinical trial.

Bone cancers can be complex to treat and require prompt treatment for the best outcome. If a person thinks they may be experiencing symptoms of bone cancer, they should contact a doctor as soon as possible.

Bone cancer can be difficult to treat and requires early diagnosis and treatment for the best outcome.

Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that enhances the effects of the immune system to help it fight off cancer cells. There are several types of immunotherapy medications, including immune checkpoint inhibitors. Some research suggests that they may be an effective form of immunotherapy for treating certain bone cancers.

However, researchers argue that experts need to conduct further studies into immunotherapy for bone cancer.

Other types of treatment for bone cancer can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and targeted medications. Additionally, a person may be able to participate in a clinical trial for bone cancer.