Immunotherapy involves taking medications that stimulate your immune system to attack cancer cells.
It’s one of the
A class of immunotherapy drugs called immune checkpoint inhibitors is used to treat esophageal cancer. These medications bind to “checkpoint” proteins on your immune cells. This binding keeps cancer cells from turning off your immune cells.
Let’s examine the benefits, risks, and effectiveness of immunotherapy for treating esophageal cancer.
- either by itself or combined with chemotherapy to treat people with advanced cancer that can’t be treated surgically
- to treat people who relapse after a previous treatment hadn’t worked
- to treat people with cancer that comes back after previous remission
- higher effectiveness
- relatively low toxicity
- improved survival
- better quality of life
Other possible side effects that occur less commonly include:
Rarer but more serious side effects can include infusion reactions and autoimmune reactions.
An infusion reaction occurs in
An autoimmune reaction is when your body’s immune system overreacts and attacks healthy tissue in your body. It can cause serious to life-threatening complications involving your:
Complications, such as an autoimmune reaction, are all treated with steroids.
It’s important to alert your medical team right away if you develop symptoms of an autoimmune or infusion reaction.
There’s strong evidence that immunotherapy may improve survival for some people with esophageal cancer. But the current response rate is lower than
In a large phase 3
They reported the following median survival rates. A median survival rate is the amount of time half of people live.
|Treatment||Median overall survival|
|Nivolumab and chemotherapy||13.2 months|
|Nivolumab and ipilimumab||12.8 months|
You can prepare your body for immunotherapy by:
- eating a balanced overall diet
- avoiding or minimizing alcohol
- quitting smoking, if you smoke (this can be difficult, but a doctor can help build a cessation plan that works for you)
- exercising regularly, within your ability
You’ll receive your immunotherapy treatment in your doctor’s office, hospital, or cancer treatment center. The drugs are usually administered through an intravenous (IV) line in your arm. Each treatment can take up to roughly 90 minutes, and you may receive treatment every 2, 3, or 4 weeks depending on the type of medication.
After starting immunotherapy, you may develop some side effects. It’s important to alert your doctor of any changes you notice in your body. Many side effects are easier to resolve the earlier treatment is started.
Immunotherapy may be beneficial for people with advanced esophageal cancer or people with cancer that has returned.
The FDA has approved nivolumab for everybody with advanced esophageal cancer based on the results of the
Who should avoid it?
There are no specific conditions that make you ineligible for the drugs
It’s been reported that people with autoimmune or inflammatory conditions have
Immunotherapy can cost more than $100,000 per year. The cost of treatment may influence your decision about whether it’s right for you.
- radiation therapy
- chemotherapy and radiation therapy together
- laser therapy, to minimize symptoms
- electrocoagulation, to reduce symptoms
Combing a type of medication that specifically attacks cancer cells called targeted therapy to other treatments is being investigated in clinical trials, usually in people with advanced esophageal cancer where the tumor exhibits presence of a mutation.
Here are some frequently asked questions people have about immunotherapy for treating esophageal cancer.
Can immunotherapy cure esophagus cancer?
Advanced esophageal cancer is very difficult to treat, and the survival rate remains low even with immunotherapy. Treatment usually focuses on
How long does immunotherapy work for esophageal cancer?
What’s the best treatment for esophageal cancer?
The best treatment option for your cancer is highly dependent on how advanced your cancer is. Radiation therapy, surgery, and chemotherapy are often used to treat early stage esophageal cancer. Immunotherapy and targeted therapy may help treat late stage esophageal cancer.
Chemotherapy may also be able to temporarily control the growth of advanced-stage cancer and delay the progression of symptoms.
Immunotherapy is a promising new treatment to treat advanced esophageal cancer or cancer that returns after another treatment. Researchers are still investigating how to best use it. Currently, fewer than half of people respond to immunotherapy.
Immunotherapy may help prolong survival but is unlikely to cure advanced esophageal cancer. Your doctor can help you decide if it may be a beneficial part of your cancer treatment.