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 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.