Immunotherapy: A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Cancer Treatment


Immunotherapy is a new cancer treatment modality that helps the body’s immune system to fight and destroy cancer cells. The immune system detects harmful substances and eliminates them from the body.

The proper functioning of the immune system is one of the most important factors for cancer survival.

Immunotherapy works more effectively in combination with other drug therapies like chemotherapy.

How Does Immunotherapy Work?

Cancer cells find ways to protect themselves from your immune system.

Immunotherapy works by:

  • Mark or unhide cancer cells so the body knows they are harmful and should be attacked
  • Boost your immune system, making it stronger to fight against the cancer cells

Immunotherapy Treatment

Different ways of administering immunotherapy treatments are:

  • Intravenous (IV) – Directly into your vein
  • Oral – Pills or capsules (Immunotherapy drugs)
  • Topical – Cream that you rub onto your skin
  • Intravesical – Directly into the bladder

What Types of Cancers can Immunotherapy Treat?

Immunotherapy strengthens the immune system to fight cancer cells. It has the potential to treat certain cancers, like,

  • Bladder, kidney & prostate cancer
  • Brain tumor
  • Gynecologic cancers
  • Leukemia & Lymphoma
  • Skin Cancer

Who Is the Right Candidate for Immunotherapy Treatment?

Your doctor will decide whether you are ideal to receive immunotherapy based on the following:

  • Age – Usually not suggested in older people (more than 60 years)
  • Stage and Type of Cancer
  • Genomic Testing – Genomic testing help to analyze the ideal candidate to receive immunotherapy
  • Pre-existing Diseases – Immunotherapy is ineffective if the person is suffering or undergoing treatment for any pre-existing diseases.
  • Organ Transplantation – Immunotherapy is not carried out in people who have had organ transplantation.

How Long Will You Need Immunotherapy?

The duration of treatment depends on the following:

  • Type and stage of cancer
  • Type of immunotherapy drug used
  • Patient’s response to the treatment

Your doctor may administer the drugs monthly, weekly, or daily with periods of rest.

What To Expect After Immunotherapy?

Cancer immunotherapy is relatively new and effective, especially when other treatment options are unsuccessful. It usually involves the introduction of drugs into the body to trigger a certain reaction that will produce certain side effects.

Immunotherapy Side Effects are:

  • Pain at the site of injection
  • Itchy rash
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Low blood pressure
  • Weight gain
  • Chills
  • Joint Aches
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Symptoms Similar to a Flu

In rare cases, immunotherapy treatment can cause your immune system to attack your major organs. This would be a significant issue and could lead to life-threatening illnesses.

How To Manage the Side Effects of Immunotherapy?

To reduce your symptoms and avoid complications, your doctor may,

  • Stop treatment for some time to give your immune system a cooling period
  • Prescribe medicines to lessen your immune response
  • Suggest lifestyle changes to manage symptoms

What are the Advantages of Immunotherapy?

Potential benefits of immunotherapy are:

  • Improves survival rate of many types of cancer
  • Prevent recurrence of tumors in many cases
  • Prevent many types of cancer from spreading
  • Your immune system continues to fight cancer even after you stop the treatment
  • Fewer side effects compared to traditional cancer treatments like chemotherapy

5 Ways to Boost Your Immunity While on Immunotherapy

These five tips can help keep your immune system during cancer treatment:

  • Sleep Well
  • Eat Healthy
  • Exercise regularly
  • Manage Stress
  • Stay Away from Illness

Immunotherapy Vs Chemotherapy

Strengthens the immune system to fight cancerDirect attack on cancer cells
Does not harm the healthy cellsMight have impact on healthy cells
Takes a while to show its effectCan notice immediate affects
Effects persist for long durations even after you stop the treatmentEffects only last till you continue the treatment

Is It Safe to Get Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy has promising results in treating people with cancer. It is often considered a better approach than chemotherapy and radiation therapy for longer durations.

Are side effects common for immunotherapy?

NO! Even if there are side effects, they are mild and manageable. Talk to your oncologist about the changes you notice while on immunotherapy.

What are Check Point Inhibitors?

Checkpoint inhibitors are a type of immunotherapy that blocks certain proteins on cancer cells or immune cells that normally keep the immune system from attacking cancer cells. By blocking these proteins, checkpoint inhibitors help the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells more effectively.

This type of immunotherapy has been approved for the treatment of various types of cancer, including melanoma, lung cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer, and others.