Immunotherapy is a type of cancer drug treatment that focuses on using the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.
Learn more about:
- What is immunotherapy?
- Is immunotherapy right for you?
- Who benefits from checkpoint immunotherapy?
- The immune system
- Types of immunotherapy
- How is immunotherapy different from other cancer treatments?
- The challenges of immunotherapy
- How immunotherapy is given
- Side effects of immunotherapy
- How will you know immunotherapy is working?
- How do you access immunotherapy?
- Questions for your doctor
Immunotherapy is a type of drug treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. It is different to chemotherapy, which works by killing cancer cells.
Different types of immunotherapy work in different ways. Some stimulate the immune system so it works better against cancer. Others remove barriers that stop the immune system attacking the cancer.
Checkpoint immunotherapy is currently available in Australia for some types of cancer. It has worked well for some people, but it does not help everyone.
Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are still the main treatments for many cancers. However, some people with particular types of cancer may benefit from checkpoint immunotherapy.
To work out if checkpoint immunotherapy is suitable for you, your cancer specialist will consider the type and stage of cancer, your treatment history, your future treatment options and your overall health. Even if immunotherapy is recommended as a treatment, it is difficult to predict whether it will work. The rate of success varies depending on the type of cancer.
So far, most people who have been treated with checkpoint immunotherapy have had advanced cancer. This means either the cancer has come back and spread after the initial treatment, or it was at an advanced stage when they were first diagnosed. For particular cancer types, such as melanoma, immunotherapy is starting to become available for earlier-stage cancers.
Podcast: Understanding Immunotherapy & Targeted Therapy
This information was reviewed by: A/Prof Brett Hughes, Senior Staff Specialist, Medical Oncology, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital and The Prince Charles Hospital, and Associate Professor, The University of Queensland, QLD; Dawn Bedwell, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; Tamara Dawson, Consumer; A/Prof Craig Gedye, Senior Staff Specialist, Medical Oncology, Calvary Mater Newcastle, and Conjoint Associate Professor, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle, NSW; A/Prof Alexander Menzies, Medical Oncologist, Associate Professor of Melanoma Medical Oncology, and Faculty Member, Melanoma Institute Australia, The University of Sydney, Royal North Shore Hospital and Mater Hospital, NSW; Dr Donna Milne, Nurse Consultant Melanoma and Skin Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Geoffrey Peters, Staff Specialist, Medical Oncology, Canberra Hospital and Health Services, and Clinical Lecturer, Australian National University, ACT.
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