The immune system of the human body is an incredibly elaborate system of organs, special cells and other substances that defend the body’s healthy cells from attack by all sorts of disease. Today, cancer physicians are learning to refine a method of using a patient’s own immune system to fight life-threatening, late-stage cancers by altering how the immune system recognizes, attacks and destroys cancer cells the same way it would any other invader.
Over the last 30 years, immunotherapy has become an important option in the treatment of some types of late-stage cancer. Sometimes called biologic or biotherapy, immunotherapy uses certain parts of a person’s immune system to fight cancer. Specially modified immunizing substances are created in labs, sometimes using the patient’s cancer to help build the attack force. From specifically modified antibodies to vaccinations, immunotherapy has become an important tool in the fight against many kinds of cancer.
Monoclonal antibody treatment, for example, involves the introduction of special antibodies that are produced in a lab. They work by recognizing specific proteins on cells, some on cancer cells and others on the cells of the immune system. The antibodies are designed to attack a specific area of the cancer cell and destroy it.
Another immunotherapy involves the administration of medications that reprogram the patient’s immune system in various ways. These come in the form of immune checkpoint inhibitors, which allow the body’s immune system essentially to open up, recognize, and attack cancer cells.
Cancer vaccines work like other types of inoculations and are used to help prevent or treat cancer. Several types of vaccines are being used in cancer treatment. Tumor cell vaccines, for example, are made from cancer cells removed from the patient. These cells are altered and killed and then reintroduced back into the patient, giving the immune system a specific target of both the reinjected cells and any others of the same makeup.
Another kind of vaccine uses antigens and works similarly but uses only one antigen instead of the entire tumor cell. They are used on explicit types of cancer but are not patient-specific. There are other general, nonspecific immunotherapies, as well, which still help boost the immune system and fight cancer cells.
Who can receive immunotherapy?
Candidates for immunotherapy are determined by the type and stage of the cancer being treated. It can be used to treat non-small cell lung cancer, for example. But essentially the tumor(s) must express certain proteins in order for the physicians to be confident they would respond to this treatment.
Kelly Miller, MS, MD, PhD, is a physician with the hematology and oncology division of Dayton Physicians Network. “When a patient has a good response to immunotherapy, he or she can live a number of years with certain types of stage four, incurable cancer,” she explained.
“With immunotherapy for a disease like metastatic or stage four lung cancer, patients have generally been treated only with chemotherapy, and given only a limited number of months to live” she continued. “For patients who respond to immunotherapy treatment, however, they’re living multiple years without ever receiving chemotherapy and all of the side effects associated with it.”
Not all patients or cancer types are suited for immunotherapy, but Dayton Physicians Network Hematology and Oncology physicians will help determine the best course of treatment. These therapies are approved by the Food and Drug Administration and are openly available here in the Dayton area. Patients do not have to go somewhere else in the country but have full access here at home through Dayton Physicians Network.
For more information, visit www.DaytonPhysicians.com or call the Hematology and Medical Oncology department at 937-293-1622.
Cancer patients in the Dayton area may have many choices for facilities where they could obtain treatment, but of all cancer treatment facilities in the entire state of Ohio, only one is APEx®-accredited for the highest safety and quality of care – Dayton Physicians Network.
The abbreviation APEx® stands for Accreditation Program for Excellence, which is administered by the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ASTRO). Founded in 1958, the organization provides members with continuing medical education, health policy analysis, patient resources and advocacy.
In order to receive the APEx® accreditation, cancer treatment facilities must meet 16 standards of care, ranging from patient evaluation, care coordination and follow-up, to performance measurement and outcomes reporting. Dayton Physicians Network chose to obtain the accreditation as a way to ensure not only that care standards are met but are exceeded in ways far beyond those required by regulation.
This is not a government-mandated or otherwise required certification program. DPN’s goal in maintaining APEx® accreditation is to express to patients what steps we have taken through this intense program to demonstrate our commitment to quality care.
Requirements for this level of accreditation go beyond most and cover those needed for certification by the American Board of Radiology, the Commission on Cancer (CoC) and the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC). It is a rigorous process that begins with a look in the mirror.
It all starts with a comprehensive self-assessment, giving the facility the opportunity to review their current status and begin to make changes to meet requirements before a site visit takes place.
“We sought this accreditation on our own,” said Katie Denton RN, BSN, MHA, Operations Manager at the Miami Valley South location. “We wanted to ensure for ourselves that we are doing what we say we are – giving the highest-quality, safest, most effective care possible. Not only was it for us, but we chose it to make sure we’re doing what we’re telling you we are doing.”
“It shows that we take ownership for what we do and proves, objectively, that not only do we follow all of the required guidelines, but that our practices and procedures have been verified by an outside party,” she continued.
The advantage here is that DPN is confident in what we do and that we follow the highest level of care. This leads to one of the most important factors of success: patient satisfaction. Patient-centered care is one of the pillars that drive the APEx®. One of the standards is making sure that patients are satisfied and leave feeling confident that they have been well cared-for.
You might think that the APEx® accreditation is just another acronym printed on a framed piece of paper, hanging in the office. But it’s much more. Patients care about this certification because it speaks to the level to which DPN goes in order to secure the best treatment possible and in the right environment. And it’s not just because of the accreditation, but how patients respond to such completely patient-focused care.
Denton said some of the most gratifying feedback her staff gets is when a patient says, “When I started this process, I was really scared and didn’t think I could go every day for radiation treatment. But your team, physicians, and everyone I’ve come in contact with are so wonderful – they talked me through it and made me feel at ease. If I had to go through this, I’m glad I came here.”
In addition to quality assurance, the equipment review of APEx® gives patients peace of mind that our technology meets or exceeds clinical standards. The accrediting body looks at everything involved in patent care, from the software used to plan the treatment to the equipment used to deliver it. Another major component of the program is peer review. The physicians come together to discuss cases and help each other to ensure the best possible treatment, as a team effort.
Every patient is different, and treatment is designed around them. Being the only APEx®-accredited facility in the state is reassuring to patients, and it ensures that we are creating and implementing the most effective treatment possible. The program also provides continuing education opportunities for staff, helping them stay on the cutting edge of treatments, procedures, and operational standards. All Dayton Physician Network treatment centers are APEx®-accredited, including Greenville, Troy, Englewood, Centerville, Kettering, and Middletown.
If you have questions about DPN’s accreditation or for guidance in any aspect of your cancer care, call (937-293-1622.