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 leukemia
Unlike standard chemotherapy which affects all cells in the body, immunotherapy and/or targeted drug therapy directly targets leukemia cells, helping to reduce damage to healthy cells and minimize side effects.
These therapies are commonly used at CTCA for the treatment of CLL. Some examples are Campath® (alemtuzumab) and Rituxan® (rituximab).
Oftentimes, immunotherapy and/or targeted drug therapy are used in combination with other leukemia treatments, such as chemotherapy. Your care team will work together to develop a personalized treatment plan tailored to your unique diagnosis and needs.
Helping you maintain your quality of life
Sometimes, leukemia immunotherapy and/or targeted therapy can cause side effects that interfere with your ability to participate in activities you enjoy. For example, you may experience a reduction in blood counts, which can lead to fatigue and risk of infection. Other potential side effects of immunotherapy may include: fever, chills, headache, rash, nausea and shortness of breath.
Throughout your leukemia treatment, your care team works together to provide integrative oncology services, such as naturopathic medicine, nutrition therapy, pain management, mind-body medicine, oncology rehabilitation and spiritual support. These therapies can help reduce treatment-related side effects so you can better tolerate treatment while maintaining your quality of life.