Dealing with a cancer diagnosis and starting any cancer treatment can be an overwhelming time for you and your loved ones. You may have many questions and concerns about your treatment plan. Here is some useful information to help you understand what to expect as you get started on cancer immunotherapy treatment.
If you are reading this, your doctor might have recommended cancer immunotherapy to help treat cancer for you or a loved one. Cancer immunotherapy is used to treat several types of cancer, such as cancers of the kidney, bladder, melanoma, Hodgkin lymphoma and some lung cancers.
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.
Depending on the treatment plan that your doctor decides is best for you, you may receive cancer immunotherapy alone, or in combination with another type of treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation.
How is it given?
There are many different ways that cancer immunotherapy can be taken. How it is given to you will depend on the treatment plan that has been recommended by your doctor.
Some cancer immunotherapies will be taken at home, while others need to be given to you in a clinic or hospital. There are different ways that you 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
Your cancer immunotherapy might have to be given to you 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.
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.
How will you feel?
Each person’s experience while taking cancer immunotherapy is unique. As with any drug or medical treatment, you could expect there to be some side effects with cancer immunotherapy. 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.
Will there be side effects?
As with any drug or medical treatment, cancer immunotherapy could result in side effects. You should discuss the possible side effects with your doctor before starting treatment.
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.
If you experience any side effects during your treatment, make sure to 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.
How will you know if it’s working?
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.
To learn more or to find out if cancer immunotherapy could be right for you or someone you love, speak with your doctor.