Side Effects of Immunotherapy

Important to Know:


  • Immunotherapy drugs do have side effects
  • These side effects are different than those from chemotherapy or radiation therapy
  • While many of these side effects are not severe or are manageable, they can be serious
  • It is very important to let your treatment team know immediately if you experience any side effects

Most of the time the side effects of immunotherapy come from the revved up immune system. 
– Suzanne McGettigan, Nurse Practitioner 

When we think of immunotherapy, we think of a “natural” treatment as our body’s own defense system. Immunotherapy, regardless of the approach used, does have side effects. These side effects result from revving up the immune system. 

Susanne, Nurse Practitioner: Side Effects from
Immunotherapy



They range from relatively mild “flu-like” symptoms and fatigue to more serious problems involving the gastrointestinal system, thyroid or pituitary gland or lungs. The side effects of immunotherapy are usually different from those experienced by people receiving chemotherapy and will be different from person to person depending on the type of treatment used. 

The most common side effects of immunotherapy are:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Fatigue
  • Rashes
  • Fever
  • Drops in blood pressure

Less common side effects are:

  • Colitis or other gastrointestinal problems
  • Thyroid problems
  • Lung problems

It is critical that anyone taking any form of immunotherapy communicate with their doctors and treatment teams and let them know immediately if they are experiencing any side effects—or unusual symptoms. The side effects of immunotherapy can be managed effectively once they are identified. 


Talking with Your Doctor About Side Effects


Communication is the key.  – Dr. Corey Langer

Some people are hesitant to let their doctors know about their side effects because they worry that having a problem means their treatment will be discontinued. This is rarely the case.

Your doctor will work with you to assure that you get the maximum benefit from your treatment with the fewest side effects.

Serious symptoms require treatment and even relatively minor problems can be managed with interventions ranging from medicine to diet and exercise.


Dr. Langer: Communicating About
Side Effects




At this time, little is known about what, if any, long term effects immunotherapy might have. As more and more people with advanced disease survive for longer periods of time, this will become an important area to study and understand.


Updated August 12, 2014