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 prostate cancer
Immunotherapy is a promising treatment for prostate cancer, including advanced or recurrent forms of the disease. Your care team at CTCA uses a variety of immune-based strategies to eliminate a prostate cancer tumor and prevent its recurrence.
This treatment method may be used alone or in conjunction with other treatments, such as radiation therapy and hormone therapy.
Provenge® is an FDA-approved immunotherapy treatment for prostate cancer that harnesses the power of the patient’s own immune system to identify and target prostate cancer cells. This is also known as autologous cellular immunotherapy. The immune system is made up of immune cells that are found in your own blood. These cells work as the body's natural defense against all types of illness, including prostate cancer.
Since Provenge is an immunotherapy treatment that helps the immune system fight disease, each dose is made specifically for each patient. The personalized dose of Provenge consists of the patient’s own immune cells that have been trained to seek and attack prostate cancer cells. By stimulating the natural ability of immune cells already in the blood, Provenge may improve a patient's prognosis.
What types of prostate cancer does Provenge immunotherapy treat?
- Asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic metastatic castrate resistant (hormone refractory) prostate cancer
- Patients cannot have moderate to severe prostate cancer pain (or be on narcotics for cancer-related pain)
- Metastases must be limited to bone or soft tissue only (no lung, liver or brain metastases)
- Patients cannot have had chemotherapy in the previous three months
- The patient must be able to perform tasks necessary for daily living
Provenge immunotherapy treatment typically takes six weeks, and is administered in three infusions every two weeks.