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Cancer immunotherapy: what it is and how to counteract side effects

Cancer immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that helps a person’s immune system fight cancer. The immune system helps the body fight infections and other diseases. It consists of white blood cells, organs and tissues of the lymphatic system.

In other words, then,cancer immunotherapy is a type of biological therapy, that is, a therapy that uses substances produced by living organisms to treat cancer.

As part of its normal function, the immune system detects and destroys abnormal cells and most likely prevents or curbs the growth of many cancers. For example, immune cells are sometimes found in and around tumors. These cells, called tumor infiltrating lymphocytes or TILs, are a sign that the immune system is responding to the tumor.


There are different types of immuno oncology therapies. In particular, immune therapy can be:

  • Administered intravenously: immunotherapy drugs go directly into the vein;
  • Oral: Cancer immunotherapy drugs are available in pill or capsule form for ingestion;
  • For very early skin cancers, immunotherapy drugs are available that come in the form of ointments that are massaged directly into the skin.

The physician may recommendimmune oncology therapy as the only treatment. Or it may decide to administer it after or at the same time as another treatment, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery.


Immunotherapy side effects: the most common.

Some types of immuno cancer therapies attack the cancer or slow its spread to other parts of the body. Others make it easier for the immune system to destroy cancer cells. However,cancer immunotherapy sometimes leads the immune system to attack healthy cells, which can cause side effects.

Many side effects of immunotherapy depend on the type of treatment, the site of the cancer, and a person’s overall health.

The side effects of immunotherapy can be mild, moderate or even life-threatening. Depending on their severity, the doctor may discontinue treatment or prescribe a type of medication called a corticosteroid. If side effects worsen or do not improve, the physician may discontinuecancer immunotherapy.

The most common side effects of immunotherapy include skin reactions–such as skin redness, blistering, and dryness–flu symptoms–such as fatigue, fever, chills, weakness, nausea, vomiting, and muscle aches–dyspnea (shortness of breath), weight gain caused by water retention, hormonal changes including hypothyroidism, and leg swelling (edema).

Many side effects of immunotherapy disappear at the end of treatment, but some may last beyond the treatment period. Other effects may appear months or years later. The health care team is able to help a person manage long-term side effects. To soothe and diminish skin inflammation caused by the side effects of immunotherapy, it is advisable to keep the skin soft and moisturized, using ointments and creams that are ph-neutral and do not contain substances that are aggressive to the skin.