Immunotherapy medications help your immune system fight and eliminate cancer cells. Several immunotherapy drugs have been secured FDA approval, and hundreds of others are under clinical trials currently, which bodes for expanded availability in coming years. Compared to chemotherapy, immunotherapy use is still relatively limited and participation in clinical trials is low. Additional data are needed to confirm its effectiveness; nevertheless, 15 to 20% of cancer patients receiving immunotherapy experience enduring results (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2018). Notably, immunotherapy has been demonstrated to result in generally minor side effects, including in especially vulnerable cancer patients like children (Anagnostou, 2021).

  • Often works for treatment-resistant cancers (like skin cancer)
  • Mild to moderate side effects
  • Quicker recovery times, with positive patient response

Side Effects
Though immunotherapy was developed to aid your immune system in battling cancer cells, immune cells can also attack healthy cells and tissues. This condition is known as immune-related adverse effect, irAE. Consequently, immunotherapy can trigger inflammation in healthy tissue. About 20% of patients receiving immunotherapy suffer an irAE; however, irAE side effects are conventionally mild and quite manageable. Here are other possible side effects from an irAE:
  • fatigue
  • itchy rash
  • diarrhea
  • decreased thyroid hormone levels
  • diarrhea
It bears mentioning that an irAE may present as one or more of the above symptoms

  • adverse site reaction (at the application of treatment) manifesting as pain, swelling, soreness, and redness for lighter-skinned patients
  • weight gain (fluid retention)
  • heart palpitations
  • headaches
               *the above issues frequently ease after the first treatment

Please consult your medical provider before beginning any treatment regimen. 

Works Consulted

Anagnostou, A. (2021). Weighing the benefits and risks of oral immunotherapy in clinical practice. Allergy and Asthma Proceedings, 42(2), 118-123. doi: 10.2500/aap.2021.42.200107

Booth, S. (2023). Pros and cons of immunotherapy.

Cleveland Clinic. (2022). Immunotherapy side effects.

Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2018). Immunotherapy: Precision medicine in action.
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