7 Things You Need to Know About Cancer Immunotherapy

This could be the future of cancer treatment.

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If you or a loved one is living with cancer, choosing the right treatment path is an important decision. Knowing how different kinds of therapies work—and how they impact the body—will empower you to choose a care plan that’s tailored to you.

There are three main treatment options for cancer: radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. Also known as biological therapy, Cancer Immunotherapy can be taken alone, or as a supplementary cancer treatment to radiation or chemotherapy.

Here are some important things to understand about this treatment method and how it may impact your cancer journey.

1. Uses for Cancer Immunotherapy

Cancer affects how the immune system functions and can stop it from working properly, allowing the disease to go unchecked. Immunotherapy may be used to halt or slow the growth of cancer, or to prevent cancer from spreading throughout the body.

The treatment works by boosting the immune system to potentially attack cancerous cells. It can also work in combination with radiation or chemotherapy to deliver the toxins from those therapies directly to cancerous cells.

2. Differences between Cancer Immunotherapy, radiation and chemo

While more well-known cancer treatments, such as radiation or chemotherapy, work to directly kill cancer cells, Cancer Immunotherapy helps the immune system fight the cancerous cells itself. The treatment can be prescribed on its own, or as an adjuvant (in combination with a primary treatment) to other cancer-fighting therapies, such as radiation or chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy drugs travel through the whole body, working to stop the spread of cancer. As a result, healthy cells could be at risk of being damaged too, depending on which drug and how much is given.

Radiation therapy involves sending high-powered waves through the affected part of the body to kill cancerous cells in a tumor. Radiation can affect healthy cells, too, but they may be able to heal, unlike cancerous ones.

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3. Different kinds of Immunotherapy

The body already makes antibodies that are meant to initiate an immune system response; they just don’t always know to target cancerous cells. Immunotherapy can bolster the body’s defenses against cancer.

Five of the most common types of Cancer Immunotherapy are tumor-agnostic therapy, non-specific immunotherapies, oncolytic virus therapy, T-cell therapy, and cancer vaccines. Each has its own unique benefits and possible side effects, so be sure to consult with your doctor to understand which one may work best for you.

4. Developments in immuno-oncology

Advances in immuno-oncology have made Cancer Immunotherapy drugs a viable treatment option for patients. These drug acts as checkpoint inhibitors, helping to stop cancerous cells from disguising themselves as normal ones.

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5. Ways to receive Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy can be administered in a few different forms: intravenously, orally, or topically. Depending on which is prescribed, it could be administered at a hospital or taken at home. These therapies are generally set to a specific schedule and involve a treatment period as well as a recovery period.

6. Side effects of immunotherapy

Common side effects of many types of Cancer Immunotherapy include flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, aches and pains, or vomiting and nausea. Patients may experience fatigue or have a skin reaction. Cancer Immunotherapy may also cause birth defects in pregnant women.

Side effects may occur months or years after the treatment is over. Any side effects should be reported to healthcare professionals.

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7. Types of cancer Immunotherapy can treat

Different kinds of Cancer Immunotherapy can be applied to many types of cancer. Immunotherapy may even help treat advanced lung cancer, which has a survival rate of 17 percent within five years of treatment. Depending on the type of cancer and the stage at which treatment begins, the kind of immunotherapy that could apply will differ—as well as whether it should be combined with radiation or chemotherapy.

Cancer will affect nearly 1 in 2 Canadians in their lifetime, so it’s crucial to understand what therapies and treatments are available to help you or your loved one face this disease head-on. Immunotherapy can strengthen the immune system and may improve its ability to fight cancer. If you’re considering Cancer Immunotherapy, consult with a healthcare professional.

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