Williams Cancer Institute

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Immunotherapy

Cancer Cell

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Immunotherapy

Cancer can cause a fight-or-flight response. Fear is normal. After all, who isn’t afraid when they hear the diagnosis?

Even so you can still bring the fight to it.

Your Body’s Unique Ability to Fight Cancer

Immunotherapy is in your corner. Basically, the treatment stands alongside your immune system to help your body fight cancer.

It functions the same way as your immunity does helping your body fight infections and other diseases. Its special forces include your white blood cells, your organs, and the tissues that make up your lymph system.

Biological therapy is another way to describe immunotherapy. Think of it as treating and defeating cancer with living organisms.

Attack Strategy

Cancer’s strategy is to hide from your immune system. Specific immune strategies call-out cancer cells and mark them as a target for destruction.

Immunotherapy is a counter-attack that can be used in a variety of ways. Each have a specific impact on cancer.

Checkpoint inhibitors These drugs join your immune system for the strong assault on a tumor. They release the brakes that hold white blood cells back from killing cancer cells. The drugs run interference on cancer cells to prevent them from avoiding the attack of your immune system.

Cell transfer This treatment strategy brings-out-the-fight in your T-cells natural ability to battle cancer. Cells are directly removed from your tumor. The active ones are ultimately used in the fight against the cancer.

Treatment vaccines These battle cancer as they energize your immune system’s response to cancer cells. Its a different brand of vaccine than is used to help prevent disease.

Collateral Impact

Immunotherapy is effective. But side-effects are also common.

  • Skin reactions at injection site can include some pain, swelling, soreness, or a rash that’s red or itches.
  • Flu-like symptoms might occur such as fever, chills, weakness, dizziness, nausea/vomiting, muscle aches, fatigue, and headache.
  • Other side-effects are low or high blood pressure, weight gain from fluid retention, sinus congestion, some allergic reactions (though rare), and heart palpitations.

Your initial health, the stage of cancer, and type of therapy are factors in the side-effects you experience.

Keep in mind that routine doctor visits will monitor your progress with immunotherapy. Medical tests (including blood tests) and a variety of scans will measure the tumor’s size and any changes in blood work.

Contact us about immunotherapy and get answers to your questions about cancer treatment.

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