- Cancer Information
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- Treatment for advanced cancer
This is a type of drug treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer cells. Different types of immunotherapy work in different ways. The most commonly used drugs are called checkpoint inhibitors. These drugs help the immune system to bypass “checkpoints” set up by the cancer that block the immune system. They often need to be taken for a long period of time.
Checkpoint inhibitors are currently available in Australia for some types of cancer. They have worked well for some people, but they don’t help everyone and it can be difficult to predict whether they will work in certain situations. However, new immunotherapy drugs are being developed all the time – talk to your doctor about whether any are suitable for you.
Immunotherapy can cause inflammation in different parts of the body, for example, in the lungs (causing shortness of breath), bowel (causing diarrhoea) or thyroid gland (leading to abnormal thyroid hormone levels). Skin inflammation or rashes are more common. Unlike chemotherapy, side effects of immunotherapy need to be reported to your doctor as they may become serious.
I was told that this new immunotherapy treatment was having great success with metastatic melanoma. The oncologist explained that there could be side effects. After the third infusion, I woke up with my heart going all over the place. The drug had drained my thyroid completely and I had to be cardio-averted to get the heart back to sinus rhythm.
Podcast: Treatment Options for Advanced Cancer
Prof Nicholas Glasgow, Head, Calvary Palliative and End of Life Care Research Institute, ACT; Kathryn Bennett, Nurse Practitioner, Eastern Palliative Care Association Inc., VIC; Dr Maria Ftanou, Head, Clinical Psychology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and Research Fellow, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne, VIC; Erin Ireland, Legal Counsel, Cancer Council NSW; Nikki Johnston, Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner, Clare Holland House, Calvary Public Hospital Bruce, ACT; Judy Margolis, Consumer; Linda Nolte, Program Director, Advance Care Planning Australia; Kate Reed- Cox, Nurse Practitioner, National Clinical Advisor, Palliative Care Australia; Helena Rodi, Project Manager, Advance Care Planning Australia; Kaitlyn Thorne, Coordinator Cancer Support, 13 11 20, Cancer Council Queensland.
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