What Is Immunotherapy?

Our body’s immune system comprises white blood cells, lymph nodes, and the lymphatic system, which help fight infections and diseases. Immunotherapy is an advanced treatment that uses this immune system to fight cancer. It is a type of biological therapy and can be of different types– monoclonal antibodies (targeted therapy), immune checkpoint inhibitors, oncolytic virus therapy, T-cell therapy and cancer vaccines. Immunotherapy works in one or more of the following ways:

  • Trains the immune system to identify or recognise cancer cells and attack them
  • Boosts cells of the immune system to kill cancer cells
  • Provides additional components to boost immune response

 

Immunotherapy does not work for everyone. After evaluating your cancer type, overall health and other factors, your doctor and healthcare team will determine if you are a candidate for immunotherapy.

Types of Cancers Treated With Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy has the potential to treat all types of cancer. However, existing research and clinical trials make it an excellent treatment option for just a few cancer types. Since each cancer and its behaviour in an individual is different, immunotherapy is a part of the personalised treatment care of every patient. Some cancers that have been treated with immunotherapy include cancers of the:

  • Stomach
  • Liver
  • Cervix
  • Bladder
  • Few types of breast cancer
  • Lymphomas

Who Is A Candidate For Immunotherapy?

Many factors determine if you are a candidate for immunotherapy, such as:

  • Type and stage of your cancer
  • Tumour markers produced by your cancer (if any)
  • Current cancer treatment guidelines

You may be a candidate for immunotherapy if:

  • Genomic testing or biopsy reveal specific biomarkers that are produced by your cancer.
  • Advanced cancer cases when conventional treatment has not been effective
  • Advanced stages or metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer
  • To prevent recurrence or relapse of cancer in people who had been cured of non-metastatic cancer

 

Your doctor may recommend immunotherapy along with other traditional cancer treatments like chemotherapy.

 

Immunotherapy Procedure

If you are a candidate for immunotherapy, here are some ways of its administration:

  • Directly into the vein (intravenous)
  • As pills or capsules (oral)
  • As a cream that can be rubbed directly into the skin (Topical)
  • It may be given directly into the bladder (intravesical)

 

Immunotherapy is an outpatient procedure, and its frequency depends upon your cancer, its stage, the type of immunotherapy you are receiving, and how your body reacts to it.

Benefits of Using Immunotherapy In Cancer Treatment

Immunotherapy has multiple benefits over traditional cancer treatment options like radiation and chemotherapy. These include:

  • Fewer long-term side effects
  • Long-term treatment does not compromise the quality of life

 

Immunotherapy is a precision treatment used for cancer and only results in mild side effects that resolve by themselves. While standard treatment options kill cancer cells, many of them also suppress the body’s immune system. Immunotherapy, on the other hand, strengthens the body’s immune response.

Side Effects of Immunotherapy

The side effects caused by immunotherapy depend upon its type and the area being treated. A few common side effects that may be seen with this treatment include:

  • Skin conditions like rash or itching
  • Headaches
  • Increased risk of developing infections
  • Dark urine
  • Enlarged spleen or liver
  • Excessive sweating
  • Stiff neck
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sudden changes in weight
  • Gastrointestinal issues like colitis, diarrhoea, constipation, swallowing problems, nausea, vomiting and pain in the upper abdomen
  • Muscle and tendon pain, arthritic pain, swelling in the joints or cramping of muscles.
  • Trouble in breathing or cough when there is an inflammation in the lungs.
  • Damage to the kidneys, including kidney failure.
  • Nervous system side effects may be rare but can include neuropathic pain, changes in sensations.

 

Inform your doctor if you are experiencing any of the mentioned side effects or if they worsen over time.

Contact Us

Immunotherapy is a new-age cancer treatment with immense potential. If you have been advised to undergo immunotherapy, speak to your doctor about any concerns you may have. You must seek a second opinion to learn more about your cancer treatment options. Contact us today for a second opinion with a specialist.

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