Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. The immune system is the body’s natural defense against infection and disease. It is made up of a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body. The immune system recognizes cancer cells as abnormal and fights them. But sometimes cancer cells can avoid being recognized and destroyed by the immune system. Immunotherapy can help the immune system do a better job of finding and destroying cancer cells.
There are different types of immunotherapy. Some types work by boosting the body’s natural immune response. Other types use man-made immune system proteins (called monoclonal antibodies) to target specific cancer cells. Immunotherapy is often used in combination with other cancer treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
How immunotherapy works: Cancer cells grow and divide quickly. They can spread through the body and invade healthy tissue. The immune system works to find and destroy abnormal cells, like cancer cells. But sometimes cancer cells can avoid being recognized and destroyed by the immune system. Immunotherapy can help the immune system do a better job of finding and destroying cancer cells. The immune system is made up of a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body. The three main parts of the immune system are: The skin and mucous membranes, which act as a barrier to keep harmful viruses, bacteria, and other invaders out of the body The immune system cells, which destroy abnormal cells, like cancer cells. The lymphatic system, which helps to carry away waste and toxins Boosting the body’s natural immune response.
There are several ways to boost the body’s natural immune response. These include:
What to expect.
Immunotherapy is often used in combination with other cancer treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Immunotherapy can have side effects. The side effects depend on the type of immunotherapy and how it is given. They may be mild or severe. Some common side effects of immunotherapy include: Fever Chills Rash Fatigue Muscle aches Joint pain Nausea Vomiting Diarrhea Headache. These side effects usually go away after the immunotherapy treatment is over.
Some immunotherapy treatments can cause serious side effects. These side effects can be life-threatening. They include:
Infusion reactions: Infusion reactions can occur when the immunotherapy treatment is being given. They can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, trouble breathing, and a fast heart rate.
Autoimmune reactions: Autoimmune reactions can occur when the immune system attacks healthy cells in the body by mistake. They can cause a rash, joint pain, and organ damage.
Tumor lysis syndrome: Tumor lysis syndrome can occur when cancer cells are killed too quickly. It can cause kidney damage, low blood pressure, and an irregular heart rate. If you have side effects from immunotherapy, your doctor may give you medicine to help relieve them.
Before you start immunotherapy, your doctor will likely do the following:
Physical exam: This is done to look for signs of cancer and to check your general health. Medical history: Your doctor will ask about your medical history, including any allergies you may have.
Blood tests: Blood tests are done to check your blood cell counts. This helps to see how your immune system is working.
Imaging tests: Imaging tests, such as a CT scan, may be done to look for signs of cancer.
You may have other tests, depending on the type of immunotherapy you will receive. If you are going to have immunotherapy, you will likely be treated in a hospital or cancer center. This is because some types of immunotherapy can cause serious side effects. During immunotherapy, you will be given the immunotherapy drug through an IV. The IV will be placed in a vein in your arm. You will be closely monitored during the treatment and for a short time after. Most immunotherapy treatments are given in a series of sessions over a period of days or weeks. The number of sessions you have will depend on the type of immunotherapy you are receiving. After immunotherapy, you will likely have follow-up appointments. This is so your doctor can check your response to the treatment.