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Answers to your questions about cancer immunotherapy

3 min read


Starting a new cancer treatment can be an overwhelming time in your life and often comes with many questions. To help you understand what cancer immunotherapy is and how it can help you or your loved one, here are answers to some of the questions you might have.


1

Is cancer immunotherapy right for me or my loved one?

Cancer immunotherapy is different from traditional cancer treatments, like chemotherapy or radiation. Cancer immunotherapy works by helping the body’s own immune system fight certain kinds of cancers.

 

Cancer immunotherapy has been proven to be effective at treating several cancers, including cancers of the kidney, bladder, melanoma, Hodgkin lymphoma and some lung cancers.

 

To learn more or to find out if cancer immunotherapy could be right for you or someone you love, speak with your doctor.


2

How does cancer immunotherapy work?

Cancer immunotherapy works by helping the body’s own immune system fight certain kinds of cancers. To understand how cancer immunotherapy works, let’s start by taking a glimpse at how your immune system works.

 

In the body, T cells (a type of immune system cell) are able to identify and destroy abnormal cells, like cancer cells. The molecules on cancer cells that trigger T cells to attack are called antigens. Some cancer cells, however, can hide from the immune system because they look a lot like normal cells. Cancer cells may also stop the immune system from working properly.

 

Immuno-oncology researchers have developed treatments to help make the cancer cells “visible” to the immune system. Cancer immunotherapy is also used to help strengthen or restore the immune system’s ability to fight cancer.


2

Is cancer immunotherapy a type of chemotherapy?

The simple answer to this question is NO.

 

Chemotherapy is a drug, or drug regimen, used to destroy, stop the spread or slow the growth of cancer cells.

 

Cancer immunotherapy is different from traditional cancer treatments, like chemotherapy or radiation. Cancer immunotherapy works by helping the body’s own immune system fight certain kinds of cancers.


3

What are the possible side effects of cancer immunotherapy?

As with any drug or medical treatment, cancer immunotherapy could result in side effects. Which side effects you experience, as well as their severity, depend on many factors, like your overall health, the type of cancer being treated, which medication is being used and how it is given to you.

 

Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, weakness, nausea, diarrhea, body aches or fatigue are common side effects of cancer immunotherapy.

 

Some immunotherapy drugs can give you a rash and make your skin itchy. This can happen during your treatment and may last after treatment. Speak with your healthcare professional if you experience these skin changes. They can suggest creams or prescribe medicines to help relieve the itchiness.

 

You should discuss the possible side effects with your doctor before starting treatment. If you experience any side effects during your treatment, let your doctor know right away. He or she will be able to find ways to help you reduce or manage your side effects to get you through your treatment as comfortably as possible.


4

How will cancer immunotherapy affect my quality of life?

As with any drug or medical treatment, cancer immunotherapy could result in side effects. If you experience any side effects during your treatment, let your doctor know right away. There are ways that you can help reduce or manage your side effects to get you through your treatment as comfortably as possible. 


5

How do I take cancer immunotherapy?

There are different ways that you or your loved one might be given cancer immunotherapy, such as:

  • Intravenous (IV): The cancer immunotherapy is injected into your vein by a healthcare professional
  • Oral: As pills or capsules that you swallow
  • Topical: As a cream that is applied to your skin
  • Intravesical: The cancer immunotherapy is inserted directly into your bladder

 

You may have to take your treatment every day, once a week or on a monthly basis. Sometimes cancer immunotherapy is cycled, which means that you will have periods of rest (without cancer immunotherapy) in between periods of treatment. This gives your body the time it needs to recover and heal.

 

You may receive cancer immunotherapy alone, or in combination with another type of treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation. Your doctor will decide which treatment plan is best for you.


5

How long will I need to take cancer immunotherapy?

Your doctor will determine the best length of treatment for you based on the type of cancer you have and how advanced it is, the type of cancer immunotherapy used, and how your body reacts to treatment.

 

Sometimes cancer immunotherapy is cycled, which means that you will have periods of rest (without cancer immunotherapy) in between periods of treatment. This gives your body the time it needs to recover and heal.


6

Will I need to do any tests before I can start cancer immunotherapy?

You will have many appointments with your doctor and healthcare team following your cancer diagnosis and throughout your cancer immunotherapy treatment. Your doctor will request different tests, such as blood tests and scans, to track your progress and look for any changes before, during and after your cancer immunotherapy treatment.

 

Speak with your doctor to learn more.


If you have a question about cancer immunotherapy that wasn’t answered here, speak with your doctor.


If you experience these or any other side effects during your treatment,

speak with your doctor right away.

There are ways that you can help reduce or manage your side effects to get you through your treatment as comfortably as possible.