What To Expect When It Comes To Undergoing Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a relatively new form of precision medicine that enables the immune system to recognise and combat cancer cells. It is increasingly gaining prominence as an effective treatment for numerous types of cancer, such as breast cancer, cervical cancer, colorectal cancer, leukemia, and lung cancer.


Being a new form of cancer treatment, scientists continue to advance immunotherapy research to learn more about it and expand its uses. On the other hand, patients still have many questions about immunotherapy and how it works. Here are some of the most critical pieces of information everyone should know about immunotherapy.



How immunotherapy for cancer works


Immunotherapy serves as a wake-up call for the body’s immune system. The immune system is the natural defense mechanism that protects us and helps us stay healthy. One of the functions of our immune system is to detect and eliminate harmful substances like viruses and bacteria.


When our immune system recognises a foreign substance or an antigen, it produces antibodies to combat infection directly or call up other cells or proteins to destroy the antigen. However, our immune system sometimes malfunctions.


There are times when our immune system does not recognise cells related to cancer as being dangerous. As a result, these cells proliferate, develop into tumors, and spread throughout the body. When cancer evades our body, it is as if our immune system is asleep while on the job.


The primary purpose of immunotherapy is to wake up our immune system and alert the body that those cancer cells are harmful. Once our immune system finally recognises the threat, it activates and produces T lymphocytes (T-cells) to fight the cancer cells.


How immunotherapy is carried out


Immunotherapy is a form of biological therapy that uses substances made by the body or created in a laboratory. A patient can get immunotherapy in pills or capsules, a cream for the skin, or intravenously (IV).


Patients commonly receive immunotherapy at a cancer treatment centre in Singapore via an infusion through a port intravenously. The dosage and frequency of the treatment depends mainly on the specific medication used. The intervals of the therapy may range between every 3 to 4 weeks.


At present, there is still no specific standard to know when immunotherapy should end. For ICS, Dr Ooi will review and go through the progress and process with the patient consistently. As long as the patient responds to the treatment positively, they may continue undergoing immunotherapy under the doctor’s guidance.


Benefits of immunotherapy


Immunotherapy is gradually becoming a prominent form of cancer treatment because it has several significant benefits over conventional therapies, such as radiation and chemotherapy. Immunotherapy essentially also allows cancer patients to continue their treatment on a long-term basis while maintaining a good quality of life.


Immunotherapy also has fewer immediate and long-term side effects than radiation and chemotherapy.


Common side effect of immunotherapy


Although they tend to be fewer, immunotherapy also has side effects that vary according to the location and type of cancer, type of immunotherapy treatment, and overall health. Here are some of the most common side effects that patients experience after undergoing immunotherapy:


· Vomiting

· Nausea

· Constipation

· Diarrhea

· Decreased appetite

· Coughing

· Headache

· Fever and flu-like symptoms

· Fatigue

· Muscle pains

· Rash

· Itching

· Pain in the injection site

· Hypopituitarism

· Hypothyroidism


There are several ways for doctors to monitor and manage these side effects, so patients must report these side effects or any adverse changes in their overall health following immunotherapy to their doctors. This is so that doctors can recommend a personalised solution to alleviate the side effects. The earlier the side effects are reported and addressed, the better the chance of controlling them effectively.


Conclusion


Immunotherapy is emerging as one of the most effective cancer treatments out there. However, while the treatment currently works well for a specific subset of cancer patients, it is not a magical cure, and not everyone is suitable for it. In order to find out whether immunotherapy is a possible treatment option, patients should always consult their doctor and do their research.


At ICS, we provide our patients with all the vital information they need to fight their cancer in a more effective and informed way. As a leading centre for cancer diagnosis and treatment in Singapore, we offer care and management solutions for many types of cancer, including breast cancer, blood cancer, colorectal cancer, and lung cancer.


If you have questions about your cancer treatment options, do not hesitate to contact us anytime. We will gladly assist you with your enquiries.


References:


Immunotherapy side effects. Cancer Research Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2021, from https://www.cancerresearch.org/en-us/immunotherapy-side-effects


Immunotherapy for cancer: How it works, who's a candidate, and where to get it. Cancer Treatment Centers of America. (2021, November 12). Retrieved December 15, 2021, from https://www.cancercenter.com/community/blog/2021/01/immunotherapy-cancer


Immunotherapy by cancer type. Cancer Research Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2021, from https://www.cancerresearch.org/en-us/immunotherapy/cancer-types

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2021, November 5). Cancer immunotherapy. MedlinePlus. Retrieved December 15, 2021, from https://medlineplus.gov/cancerimmunotherapy.html