The challenges of immunotherapy

You may have several questions and concerns about having immunotherapy. There have been media reports of how immunotherapy is a “miracle drug” and how it can cure cancer. This means that people’s expectations can be very high when starting treatment, or they may be confused and upset if they aren’t offered immunotherapy as part of their treatment.

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Listen to our podcast on New Cancer Treatments – Immunotherapy and Targeted Therapy

Will it work?

The most challenging issue is that checkpoint immunotherapy doesn’t work for everyone. If you are thinking about trying immunotherapy, ask your cancer specialist how likely you are to respond to the treatment and what other treatments are available. To make immunotherapy available to more people in the future, researchers are trying to understand why some people respond better than others.

If immunotherapy doesn’t work or stops working, ask your cancer specialist about your other treatment options. You may be able to try another type of immunotherapy drug or join a clinical trial.

How long will it take to work?

Like most other cancer treatments, checkpoint immunotherapy usually takes a while to work, so you and your family may experience anxiety waiting to see whether you’ll respond to the treatment. If it does work, you may worry about how long immunotherapy will control the cancer or whether the cancer will come back.

These uncertainties can make it challenging to make plans about work, relationships and travel. Many people find comfort in everyday activities; others focus on doing things they’ve always wanted to do. Let your cancer nurse or specialist know how you’re feeling. They may recommend seeing a psychologist to help you work through your thoughts.

See Emotions and cancer for more information on coping with uncertainty.

How much will it cost?

The cost of checkpoint immunotherapy drugs is high (often several thousand dollars per dose).

As at June 2019, the Australian Government covers most of this cost for some types of advanced cancer through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). Reimbursement for some other types of cancer may be added in the future. Your specialist can give you the latest information.

Advanced cancer type

Checkpoint inhibitors available on the PBS
(as at June 2019)


pembrolizumab   (brand name Keytruda), nivolumab (Opdivo), ipilimumab (Yervoy)

lung cancer

pembrolizumab, nivolumab, atezolizumab (Tecentriq)

kidney cancer

nivolumab, ipilimumab

bladder cancer


head and neck cancer


Hodgkin lymphoma


Merkel cell carcinoma

avelumab (Bavencio)

What if it’s not on the PBS?

You may be able to access checkpoint immunotherapy through clinical trials or, sometimes, through a compassionate access program or cost-share program offered by the pharmaceutical company.

Some people choose to make significant financial decisions to cover the costs of immunotherapy for cancers that are not on the PBS. Before deciding to pay for these drugs, it is important to fully understand the financial costs, as well as the possible risks and benefits for your type of cancer. Take the time to discuss these questions with your cancer specialist and your family.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on Immunotherapy.

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Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

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To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

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  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
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Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

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  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

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Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
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Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in July 2019
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