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.
Common types of immunotherapy include:
- Monoclonal antibodies: These are man-made versions of immune system proteins. Antibodies can be very 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.
Immunotherapy may also be used to reduce the side effects caused by some cancer treatments.
Immunotherapy for breast cancer
One common type of breast cancer immunotherapy drug for breast cancer is Herceptin. This drug binds with specific proteins on breast cancer cells to slow or stop their growth. Your care team may recommend Herceptin to target breast tumors that produce too much of (or overexpress) a protein called HER2, which can also signal more aggressive cancers.
Immunotherapy is a promising treatment for breast cancer, including advanced and recurrent forms of the disease. Immunotherapy may be used alone or in conjunction with other breast cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Addressing side effects of breast cancer immunotherapy
Breast cancer immunotherapy may cause side effects, such as fever, chills, pain, weakness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches and rashes. These side effects generally become less severe after the first treatment.
Throughout your breast cancer 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 breast cancer immunotherapy.