Episode 8: New Cancer Treatments – Immunotherapy and Targeted Therapy

21 July 2017

Expert interviewed:
Dr Steven Kao, medical oncologist

Steven and JulieThe thing about cancer is that new treatments are emerging all the time.

You might have heard about immunotherapy and targeted therapy in the news or your doctors may have recommended them as part of your treatment. But what exactly are they? And how are they different from traditional chemotherapy?

In this episode of The Thing About Cancer podcast, Julie chats to medical oncologist Dr Steven Kao about the successes and limitations of these promising new cancer treatments.

Dr Steven Kao, medical oncologist

Listen to New Cancer Treatments now, or find more episodes here.


What are the main types of cancer treatment?

There are three main types of cancer treatment, Steven explains – surgery, radiotherapy, and systemic treatment. In this episode, we learn about the differences between these treatments, how they work, and when they are typically used.

Systemic treatment, which is Steven’s area, works by getting into the patient’s body and circulating everywhere. There are four types of systemic treatment: chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy.

Steven explains how each of these systemic treatments acts differently to stop cancer, and how the choice of treatments will depend on your cancer type, stage and other factors.

Traditional versus newer treatments

We find out how targeted therapy and immunotherapy differ from chemotherapy, and what advances have been made in these newer treatments in recent years. In particular, Steven discusses checkpoint inhibitors such as Keytruda and Opdivo and explains that they are the main form of immunotherapy being used today.

How common is it for people with cancer to get these newer treatments? And are new treatments always better at stopping the growth of cancer than the traditional ones? Steven covers these questions and more in this episode.

How is the treatment given?

Steven talks about the practical side of how these newer drugs are actually administered. Most are given by intravenous drip during a day visit to a treatment centre, while some are available as tablets that you take at home.

Dr Steven Kao, medical oncologist

We also explore some of the possible side effects. Although these newer treatments usually have fewer side effects, they can still have some side effects and some of these can be serious.

Costs and developments

But how much do these newer treatments cost? The expense can be a challenging issue for some patients. At present, some of the drugs are subsidised by the Australian Government through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), but only in particular situations. Steven explains that sometimes people get the treatments through clinical trials and compassionate access schemes. 

And finally, what are the next big developments and challenges in cancer treatment? 

Tune into this episode to find out the answer to this question, and much more.


Want more information or support? 

If you heard something mentioned in the podcast, you’ll find a link for it below. We’ve also added links to other sources of information and support. 

From Cancer Council NSW 

From other organisations 


Listen to New Cancer Treatments now, or find more episodes here.

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