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Immunotherapy, also known as Biologic Therapy, is a type of cancer treatment that boosts the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer, i.e. it uses certain parts of the body’s immune system to fight. Immunotherapy works either by stimulating the patient’s own immune system to work harder or smarter to attack cancer cells; or by giving the patient immune system components, such as man-made immune system proteins.

Over the past few decades, Immunotherapy has evolved and has now become an important part of treating some types of cancer.


There are several types of Immunotherapy that are used to treat cancer that fall under one of the following two categories:

1. Treatments that help the body’s immune system act directly against the cancer
2. Treatments that enhance the body’s immune response to fight the cancer

Treatments that help the immune system act directly against the cancer

The different treatments that fall under the category are -

  • Checkpoint Inhibitors: This treatment uses drugs that help the immune system respond directly to a tumour by releasing “brakes” that keep T cells (type of white blood cells and a part of the immune system) from killing cancer cells. The drugs do not target the tumour directly – they interfere with the ability of cancer cells to avoid the immune system attack.
  • Adoptive Cell Transfer: This treatment attempts to boost the natural ability of the body’s T Cells to fight cancer. The T cells are taken from the tumour and the most active cells are grown in the lab. This process takes about two to eight weeks, and during this time, the patients undergo other treatments, such as chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Post these treatments, the T Cells that were grown in the lab are given back via a needle in the brain.
  • Monoclonal Antibodies:These are immune system proteins created in a lab and are also known as Therapeutic Antibodies. Some monoclonal antibodies mark cancer cells so that they are better seen and destroyed by the immune system. Other monoclonal antibodies directly stop cancer cells from growing or cause them to self-destruct.
  • Treatment Vaccines: These work against cancer by boosting the immune system’s response to cancer cells.

Treatments that enhance that body’s immune response to fight the cancer

The different treatments that fall under the category are:

  • Cytokines: These are proteins made by the body’s cells and they play an important role in the body’s normal immune responses and also in its ability to respond to cancer.
  • BCG (Bacillus Calamette-Guerin): This treatment is used to treat bladder cancer, and not blood cancer.

The reason that cancer cells thrive because they are able to hide from the body’s immune system. Certain immunotherapies mark cancer cells so that it becomes easier for the immune system to find and destroy them, while other immunotherapies boost the body’s immune system to work better against cancer.


Immunotherapies can cause some side-effects and they depend on the health of the patient before treatment; the type & stage of the cancer, the type of immunotherapy and its dosage.

The most common side-effects are skin reactions at the needle site, and they include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Soreness
  • Redness
  • Itchiness
  • Rash

Some patients may also feel flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, weakness, dizziness, muscle or joint aches, fatigue, headache and low or high blood pressure.

There could also some other side-effects, such as:

  • Swelling and weight gain from fluid retention
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sinus congestion
  • Diarrhea
  • Risk of infection