Your doctor may recommend different options to treat and manage cancer. You’ve probably heard of chemotherapy or surgery. Another type of cancer treatment you may not be aware of is immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy can be an effective treatment for some cancers. Whether your doctor recommends immunotherapy depends on your cancer type and the stage at which it’s at.

Below, we cover frequently asked questions about immunotherapy for cancer.

Immunotherapy involves using your immune system to fight infections and conditions like cancer. Cancer immunotherapy trains your immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells.

Immunotherapy treatment is available in many ways, which include:

  • Intravenous (IV): administered into your veins.
  • Oral: delivered in pills or capsules you can swallow.
  • Topical: a cream applied to your skin (typically for early skin cancer treatment).
  • Intravesical: administered directly into your bladder.

If you decide on immunotherapy, you’ll receive treatment at your doctor’s office, a clinic, or an outpatient hospital department. The duration of immunotherapy treatment depends on the stage, the type of immunotherapy, and your body’s reaction to the medication.

If you’re curious whether immunotherapy is an option, consider talking with your oncologist.

There are multiple types of cancer immunotherapy:

  • immune checkpoint blockade (ICB)
  • adoptive cell therapy (ACT)
  • monoclonal antibodies

ICB helps to increase the amount of anti-tumor T cells by limiting the activation and maintenance of overactive T cells that can cause or enhance cancer symptoms. ACT provides T cells with the strength needed to find and attack cancer cells in your body. And MABs work by prompting the immune system to fight cancer.

Some of the advantages of cancer immunotherapy are:

  • Treatment can reach areas of your body that surgery cannot.
  • It can fight cancer cells that aren’t dividing but may spread through your body.
  • It can target tumors and metastases (the spread of cancer) not visible in medical imaging.
  • It can help your immune system’s cells protect long-term against cancer.

While immunotherapy doesn’t cure stage 4 cancer, it can improve the quality and longevity of your life.

Because immunotherapy is a relatively new cancer treatment, receiving Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in 1986, more research is needed to learn about its ability to reduce or eliminate cancer symptoms across all stages.

There’s not enough research to say that immunotherapy can help with all types of cancer.

But evidence suggests that immunotherapy is an effective treatment for lung, kidney, skin, and bladder cancers.

With most medical treatments, you can expect to experience side effects. Immunotherapy is no different. Many people report various side effects after receiving treatment. The potential side effects you may experience can vary based on your cancer stage, overall health, the type of immunotherapy you receive, and other factors.

Doctors sometimes recommend treatments like immunotherapy as a palliative care measure to control cancer symptoms. Immunotherapy, like other treatments, may help with cancer pain management in people with advanced-stage cancers.

One 2022 study involving 356 people with hepato-pancreatic biliary cancer found that immunotherapy reduced the need for opioids and helped with pain management.

Immunotherapy is a promising treatment option for people with cancer. The treatment method, administered orally, intravenously, topically, or through your bladder, helps T cells detect and attack cancer cells, which may help reduce or stop cancer progression.

In some people, immunotherapy may improve overall survival rate and quality of life.

As with any cancer treatment, you may experience unpleasant side effects after receiving immunotherapy. Talking with your doctor about what to expect from the treatment, including possible side effects, is important.