Your immune system is designed to fight infection and diseases, including cancer. But cancer cells can grow unchecked because they avoid your body’s defenses.
Immunotherapy drugs work by making cancer cells easier targets or by boosting the immune system to make it more effective against the disease.
There are now several immunotherapy drugs used to treat metastatic bladder cancer. These drugs are called checkpoint inhibitors. To keep your immune system from attacking normal cells, your body uses proteins called checkpoints. They help the immune system tell if other cells are a normal part of your body and should be left alone or invaders that should be attacked.
Cancer cells can trick your immune system by binding to the cells that are supposed to fight it. When that happens, the checkpoint signals your body not to attack. A checkpoint inhibitor stops these cells from binding. That way, your immune system recognizes and targets the cancer.
The FDA has approved several checkpoint inhibitor drugs for advanced bladder cancer that has gotten worse during of after chemotherapy. These include:
- Atezolizumab (Tecentriq)
- Avelumab (Bavencio)
- Durvalumab (Imfinzi)
- Nivolumab (Opdivo)
- Pembrolizumab (Keytruda)
These drugs are given every 2-3 weeks by infusion, which means through a tube (an IV) that goes into a vein.
One benefit of immunotherapy is it uses your body’s natural defenses. Once your immune system better recognizes cancer, it can continue to target those cells even if you’re treatment has ended.
Other Immunotherapies for Bladder Cancer
Researchers are now testing other potential immunotherapy drugs to see how well they work on their own and combined with other treatments.
Researchers are also testing combinations of immunotherapies. Early results showed that nivolumab combined with another drug, ipilimumab, worked in 26% to 38% of people who took them.
Researchers are also studying atezolizumab in combination with another check-point inhibitor called MTIG7192A.