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Immunotherapy is a type of systemic anti-cancer therapy (SACT), which is the collective name given to a group of medicines that attack cancer cells. Immunotherapy does not directly affect the tumour but instead helps your body’s immune system recognise and fight cancer. Not all types of cancer can be treated with immunotherapy, however, cancer researchers are investigating immunotherapy in clinical trials for a variety of cancer types.
At GenesisCare, we use immunotherapy to manage and treat cancers, including breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, head and neck cancer, cervical or ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer and bladder cancer.
The types of immunotherapy we use include:
- Monoclonal antibodies – these are synthetic proteins that act like human antibodies in the immune system
- Immune checkpoint inhibitors – an immune checkpoint is used to naturally halt the immune system’s response and stop it from attacking healthy cells. Checkpoint inhibitors block immune checkpoint proteins from binding with partner proteins
- Cancer vaccines – these boost the body’s immune system to fight cancer
Some types of immunotherapy are also called targeted therapies or biological therapies.
Your oncologist may recommend immunotherapy as the main treatment or in combination with other treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
If you choose GenesisCare for your cancer treatment, we will work with you to develop a personalised care plan based on your specific diagnosis and preferences.
Throughout your immunotherapy, you’ll receive support from a team of highly trained nurses and oncology pharmacists who are experts in systemic anti-cancer therapies and managing side effects.
Top-rated cancer treatment
All our cancer treatment centres have received the prestigious Macmillan Quality Environment Mark for creating friendly and relaxing spaces for people living with cancer.
24/7 oncology nursing
Our compassionate nursing teams are available 24 hours a day on their dedicated emergency service line to answer your concerns, provide advice about side effects and medical care.
We give every patient access to therapies that are proven to improve outcomes for people diagnosed with cancer, including psychological support and exercise medicine.
How does immunotherapy work?
Your body’s immune system works to protect you against and fight infection, illness and disease. It can also protect you against the development of cancer.
This is because it normally spots and destroys faulty cells in the body, using immune cells, which stop cancer from developing. Immune cells can sometimes be found in or around tumours. These cells are called tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs). They are a sign that your immune system is responding to the tumour. However, cancer can sometimes find a way around the immune system’s natural defences, allowing cancer cells to grow and spread.
Different types of immunotherapy work in different ways to prevent this. Some treatments help the immune response stop or slow the growth of cancer cells. Others help the immune system destroy cancer cells or stop cancer from spreading to other parts of the body.
How will I have immunotherapy?
Your treatment may involve receiving one immunotherapy drug or a combination of drugs. It may also be combined with surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy to achieve the best outcomes.
How often you have immunotherapy, how it’s given and how long your course is will depend on your type of cancer and the drugs you’re having.
You may have treatment every day, week or month. Some types of immunotherapy are given in cycles. This involves several sessions of treatment with rest periods in between.
The main ways to have immunotherapy are:
- By injection or a drip directly into a vein (intravenous immunotherapy)
- By mouth as tablets or capsules (oral immunotherapy)
- By injection into a muscle (intramuscular) or under the skin (subcutaneous)
- Directly into a body cavity, for example, the bladder or chest cavity (intravesical)
Side effects of immunotherapy
Most side effects caused by immunotherapy are temporary, but you may be affected by them after your treatment ends. We’ll work closely with you to limit the impact of them as much as possible.
The most common side effects of immunotherapy include:
Some immunotherapy drugs can cause skin redness, blistering and dryness. Your skin may also become more itchy or sensitive to sunlight. You may also experience pain or swelling where you received an injection.
Some immunotherapy drugs may lead to fatigue (feeling very tired), fever, chills, weakness, nausea (feeling sick), vomiting, dizziness, body aches, and high or low blood pressure.
Other possible side effects include swelling and weight gain from retaining fluid, sinus congestion, headaches, a cough, changes in hormone levels, diarrhoea and occasionally inflammation of your colon (colitis).
People experience these side effects differently, and we have a range of interventions and therapies to help you through this time. Our nurses and pharmacists have many years of experience, so they understand what you’re going through and are here to give you expert advice and care. Thankfully, many side effects soon pass when treatment stops.
If you decide to have immunotherapy treatment at GenesisCare, your specialist or one of our expert nurses will explain the side effects your immunotherapy is likely to cause and be there with you every step of the way, with advice on how to manage these.