Immunotherapy: An Important Advance in Cancer Care

What is immunotherapy? It’s an important new kind of cancer treatment that helps a person’s own immune system fight the disease. Immunotherapy includes drugs and vaccines. It’s sometimes called “biologic” therapy or “biotherapy.” This approach is becoming an increasingly valuable part of today’s cancer treatment.

Your immune system is designed to find and get rid of unhealthy substances like cancer cells. Sometimes your immune system doesn’t work as well as it should. If that happens, immunotherapy can give the immune system something it lacks, such as man-made proteins. This type of immunotherapy can make your body work better against cancer.

In other cases, cancer cells are able to hide from the immune system. They can grow and spread because the immune system can’t find them. Certain immunotherapies can mark cancer cells so the immune system can see and destroy them.

Types of immunotherapy

Some types of immunotherapy boost the body’s immune system in a very general way. Others help train the immune system to attack cancer cells specifically. The types of immunotherapy currently being used include:

  • Monoclonal antibodies. These are man-made versions of immune system proteins. They can be designed to attack a very specific part of a cancer cell. Some monoclonal antibodies are also called “targeted therapy.”
  • Immune checkpoint inhibitors. These are drugs that make the immune system more active so it can better find and attack cancer cells.
  • Cancer vaccines. Vaccines are substances that activate the immune system and are often given to healthy people to help prevent infections. Some such vaccines have been in use for many decades, but cancer vaccines are newer. While they are also able to help with prevention in some cases, certain cancer vaccines do more, helping to fight against cancer.

What does immunotherapy treat?

Immunotherapy is one of the fastest-growing areas of cancer research. New therapies are being developed and new cancers are being treated. Some of the cancers currently treated by immunotherapy include:

  • Leukemia
  • Kidney cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Lung cancer
  • Skin cancer
  • Prostate cancer

How is immunotherapy given?

Immunotherapy can be given in different ways, including:

  • By injection directly into a vein
  • In pills or capsules that are swallowed
  • As a cream that is rubbed onto the skin

Side effects of immunotherapy

Patients considering immunotherapy should be aware that they may experience side effects, including:

  • Skin reactions where the drug or vaccine is injected
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, weakness, dizziness, nausea, aches and pains
  • Swelling and weight gain from retaining fluid
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sinus congestion
  • Diarrhea
  • Infections

Regional Cancer Care Associates — Advanced cancer care close to home

Regional Cancer Care Associates (RCCA) delivers the latest and most advanced cancer care you can get. We also provide the support, education and individualized attention you need. Our highly trained and compassionate cancer doctors — along with our physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, pharmacists and other team members — are dedicated to your optimal health.

To schedule an appointment, contact the RCCA location nearest you. You can also get more information or schedule an appointment by calling (844) 346-7222.