Cancer Immunotherapy Awareness Month: What Do You Need to Know?

June 26, 2019

To recognize Cancer Immunotherapy Awareness Month this month, we answer some commonly asked questions and offer resources to learn more about this treatment.

What is immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses the body's natural defenses to identify, attack, and kill cancer cells. The main purpose of the treatment is to attack any cell that it sees as unhealthy or abnormal. New knowledge about immunotherapy and its interactions with cancer is leading to new forms of treatment. It does not work for every cancer type or every patient, but it has worked for many.

How does it work?

Immunotherapies are not chemical but are mostly biological based treatments, which means it’s made of or consisting of living organisms. They fight cancer cells by boosting your immune system, marking cancer cells so they can destroy them, and delivering treatment directly to the cancer cells. While there are many different types of immunotherapy, they mainly fall into two main categories: agents that boost the immune response, and agents that help the immune system target cancer cells. If you want to look at more resources explaining how it works, go to our website

What types of cancer can be treated by immunotherapy?

There are four main types of cancer that can be treated with immunotherapy: leukemia & lymphoma, lung cancer, melanoma, and prostate cancer. Some types of treatments can even be used for multiple forms of cancer. If you are living with one of these types of cancer, talk to your health care team and see if immunotherapy could be an option for you. As researchers learn more about our immune system and how it interacts with cancer, immunotherapy can be applied to treat more forms of cancer. 

Who is eligible for immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is eligible for people with advanced cancers, or for people whose cancers have returned and spread after initial treatment. Researchers are now conducting clinical trials for people with early-stage cancers who are at risk for their cancer spreading. Some people may not be able to receive immunotherapy due to some health problems and also for some there are financial concerns. Fortunately, many centers have resources to help patients get insurance coverage or access to financial programs that can help. To learn more about immunotherapy patients and their experiences, go here

What are some possible side effects?

Even though immunotherapy is considered to be a more natural form of cancer treatment, there are still some possible side effects. Most of the known side effects are minor and easy to manage. Common side effects flu-like symptoms, fatigue, pain or soreness, muscle or joint pain, and drop in blood pressure among others. Less common side effects are gastrointestinal problems, thyroid pain, or lung problems.

Where can I find more information about immunotherapy?

On our website! We have a free resource page with information and resources for you to learn more about immunotherapy here