How Can Immunotherapy Help Cancer Patients?

Immunotherapy cancer treatment or cancer immunotherapy refers to using the patient’s immune system to fight the disease. It is now considered a great alternative to traditional cancer treatment approaches. Most types of immunotherapies are already approved for use by the FDA. Others are in the clinical trial stage.

Immunotherapy – How it Works?

Immunotherapy helps the body recognize cancer cells and attack them. It can help to control or eliminate cancer.

Oftentimes; the body can identify cancer cells as other normal cells. Cancer cells often easily bypass the scrutiny of the immune system. Immunotherapy can help to change it. It strengthens or stimulates the immune system in some way, which helps to eliminate cancer. It can also prolong remission cycles in cancer patients.

The immune system works in a precise manner. It can target cancer cells while preserving healthy cells. The immune system can also adapt as cancer transforms itself. It will continue to identify the cancer cells once it has learned to do so. The immune system also remembers how specific cancerous cells look; making it possible to target them if cancer reappears.

Immunotherapy works more efficiently on certain types of cancers than others. It is, however, considered to have the potential to treat all types of cancers.

It is known to work very well for cancers of the kidneys, esophagus, head, neck, brain, bladder, stomach, ovaries, uterus, pancreas, breast, liver, and the lung. It has also shown great promise for treating colorectal cancer, lymphoma, melanoma, multiple myeloma, sarcoma, and leukemia.

Immunotherapy can be useful by itself. It is also often combined with other cancer treatments.


There are different forms of immunotherapy.

  • Checkpoint inhibitors – These help the immune system to recognize cancer cells.
  • Cancer vaccines – These start an immune response against a disease. Some types include tumor cell vaccines, vector-based vaccines, antigen vaccines, or dendritic vaccines.
  • CAR T-cell therapy – It involves taking T-cells from the patient and enhancing them with chimeric antigen receptors (CAR-T). The receptors teach the cells to attach to tumor cells and destroy them.
  • Oncolytic viruses – The therapy utilizes lab-made viruses to infect and destroy certain types of tumor cells. The body actually starts an immune response against the new virus. In the process, it also responds to cancer cells infected by the same virus.
  • Cytokines – The therapy uses proteins that act as message carriers and help the immune system to attack cancer cells.
  • Immunomodulators – The therapy boosts the immune system with drugs to treat cancer cells.
  • Monoclonal antibodies – The therapy uses lab-made immune system proteins to attack cancer cells. Different types of monoclonal antibodies exist for cancer patients.

The Treatment Plan

The form of immunotherapy a patient will receive will depend on the type of cancer, its stage, and responses to previous treatments if any. Your doctor will accordingly determine a treatment plan for you. You may receive the treatment in the outpatient unit of a clinic or hospital.

The type of immunotherapy given and your body’s response to it will also impact the treatment plan.

Immunotherapy is given in cycles. It follows periods of rest for the body to recover and make new cells. The treatment cycle can be daily, weekly, or monthly. It can be administered orally, using IV, or injections (subcutaneous or intramuscular). Some therapies may be directly given on a specific site such as the bladder.

Results and Side Effects

Immunotherapy has shown promising results for treating various cancers. It offers cancer patients another alternative to radiations or chemotherapy. More and more doctors have begun to use immunotherapy to treat their cancer patients.

The doctors check if immunotherapy is working by conducting several tests. The physical examination of the patient along with blood tests, scans, and other tests helps the doctors learn about the treatment’s efficacy.

Common side effects from immunotherapy are chills, body ache, loss of appetite, fever, nausea, and fatigue. But research into reducing the side effects is ongoing. Your medical team will help you effectively manage these side effects.

The results from immuno therapy cancer treatment may be delayed as it can sometimes take time to stimulate the immune system. But the results, so far, have been promising for treating various cancers.

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