Biotherapy (biological therapy or targeted therapy) is a cancer treatment that restores or boosts the body’s own immune system to stop or slow the growth of cancer cells and keep cancer from spreading. Some biotherapies interfere with the tumor’s ability to grow its own blood supply; others interrupt the signaling system within the cancer cell to prevent it from growing and dividing.
Monoclonal antibodies, cancer vaccines, and growth factors are all types of biotherapy. Monoclonal antibodies target and destroy a specific characteristic or process of the cancer cell.
Unlike chemotherapy, monoclonal antibodies target only cancer cells, so healthy cells are not damaged and patients may experience fewer side effects. Vaccines help the body fight to keep cancer from coming back. Growth factors control side effects by helping the body manufacture blood cells.
Biotherapy is given in the same way that chemotherapy is given: by mouth, through a vein or as an injection. Biotherapy is often given in combination with chemotherapy; you will want to ask specifically what side effects to expect if you receive a combination of these two treatments.
Although biotherapy does not attack healthy cells, it still may have side effects. Some of the more common side effects are skin rashes and a reaction that feels like the flu – fever, chills and body aches.
Biotherapy is currently the most active area of cancer treatment research. You may want to ask your oncologist if a new biotherapy treatment is available for your type of cancer or if a clinical trial with a biotherapy agent is appropriate for your care.
Questions for your Oncologist about Biotherapy:
- What are the name(s) of the biotherapy drugs that I could or will receive?
- Where and how will I receive my treatment?
- How often will I get treatment?
- What side effects should I expect and how will we manage them?
Always be sure to get a second opinion if you are unsure about recommended treatment.