If you or your loved one is considering immunotherapy, or is currently on treatment, you may wonder how long its intended benefits may last. Doctors refer to this as “duration of response.” First off, it’s important to know how immunotherapy works. Immunotherapy works by stimulating the body’s immune system to fight cancer.
Treatments can increase the body’s production of cancer-fighting cells, or help healthy cells find and attack cancer cells. In other words, immunotherapy uses your body’s own cells to fight cancer. Other cancer therapies, like chemotherapy, work by killing cancer cells.
After you finish treatment, it’s natural to worry about your cancer coming back and to wonder “how long will remission last?” Whether or not it comes back, and when it comes back, depends on many different factors. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to predict exactly how each person will respond, or how long their remission might last.
A 2019 French study followed 65 patients for approximately 36 months, to see if their cancer came back after they stopped taking immunotherapy. The researchers found that many patients had a long-lasting response after stopping treatment, regardless of whether the patient stopped because their disease was under control or they chose to stop treatment because of a side effect.
In the study, 4 out of 5 patients had not experienced disease progression for over a year after stopping treatment, and 12 patients experienced a relapse after a median time of 9 months.
Initially, a tumour may get larger – but it doesn’t mean immunotherapy isn’t working
Unlike chemotherapy, immunotherapy may not always cause tumour shrinkage. Rarely, tumours temporarily get bigger as immune cells attack the cancer. This phenomenon is known as pseudoprogression. This means that a tumour only appears to be getting worse, even though patients may still be benefiting.
How do I know if it’s working?
You’ll need to see your healthcare provider often to track treatment response. You may have frequent physical exams, blood tests and imaging scans.
Immunotherapy is given over a specific length of time. When immunotherapy is given in a cycle, you take a break after each treatment. This allows your body time to produce healthy cells.
If you’re thinking about immunotherapy, ask your doctor if you or your loved one may be a good candidate, and how likely you are to respond. Your doctor can also let you know the options available for your or your loved one’s particular type of cancer.
Start the conversation about immunotherapy today.
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