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Immunotherapy for brain cancer


What is immunotherapy?

Cancer may develop when the immune system breaks down or is not functioning adequately. Immunotherapy (also called biological therapy and biotherapy) uses the body's immune system to fight cancer. Immunotherapy works by either stimulating your immune system to attack cancer cells or providing your immune system with what it needs, such as antibodies, to fight cancer.

Common types of immunotherapy include:

  • Monoclonal antibodies: These are man-made versions of immune system proteins. Antibodies can be useful in treating cancer because they can be designed to attack a very specific part of a cancer cell.
  • Cancer vaccines: Vaccines are substances designed to trigger an immune response in the body against certain diseases.
  • Non-specific immunotherapies: These treatments stimulate the immune system in a general way to increase activity against cancer cells. Some examples include man-made versions of cytokines, a chemical in immune cells, such as interleukins and interferons.

New knowledge about how the immune system works is helping guide how we use immunotherapy to treat cancer.

Experienced care team

With our team approach to care, our doctors and clinicians work together to come up with treatment options that meet your needs. Immunotherapy may be an option for you if you have breast, prostate, brain, kidney or spinal cancer, along with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia or melanoma. The treatment may work better for some cancers, so your doctor would monitor your progress closely and may pair immunotherapy with other treatments.

Personalized treatment approach

Patients and their caregivers are the ones who ultimately decide which treatment they want to pursue. Our clinicians are sensitive to your concerns and work to design treatment options that are appropriate for your needs and goals. We will provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision about immunotherapy.

Managing side effects

Immunotherapy can cause a variety of side effects, including fatigue, nausea, mouth sores, diarrhea, high blood pressure and fluid buildup, usually in the legs. Breast cancer patients, in particular, may experience fever, chills, pain, weakness, vomiting, headaches and rashes. The side effects of immunotherapy generally become less severe after the first treatment.

Throughout your treatment, your care team will provide integrative oncology services, including nutrition therapy, naturopathic medicine, pain management, oncology rehabilitation, mind-body medicine and spiritual support. These therapies can help reduce side effects and improve your overall quality of life during immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy / targeted therapy for brain cancer

Immunotherapies and targeted therapies for brain cancer work to (1) stimulate the immune system to turn against a brain tumor, or (2) target specific pathways or abnormalities in brain tumor cells involved in tumor growth. We will likely combine immunotherapy / targeted therapy with other brain cancer treatments, like chemotherapy. This treatment is often an option for brain cancer patients who have a tumor recurrence after previous brain cancer treatments.

One targeted therapy used to treat brain tumors is AvastinTM (bevacizumab), which is given intravenously. A monoclonal antibody, this therapy works to stop the formation of new blood vessels that a brain tumor needs to grow (a process known as angiogenesis).

A common immunotherapy for brain cancer is a drug called Gleevac®. This drug works by helping the body produce larger amounts of substances called biological response modifiers, which help fight disease.

Another drug therapy, Everolimus (Afinitor®) is taken as a pill. It works to block a cell protein known as mTOR, which normally promotes cell growth and division.

Managing the side effects of brain cancer immunotherapy

Immunotherapy / targeted drug therapy can cause side effects, such as low blood counts, tiredness, mouth sores, nausea, diarrhea, high blood pressure and fluid buildup (usually in the legs).

Throughout your brain cancer treatment, your care team provides various integrative oncology services, like nutrition therapy, naturopathic medicine, mind-body medicine and oncology rehabilitation, to keep you strong, reduce side effects and improve your quality of your life.

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