Overview

Immunotherapy for cancer describes a variety of treatments that utilize your body’s own immune system to combat the disease. These treatments work in several different ways – either by boosting your immune system in general or by stimulating your immune system to recognize and attack specific cancer cells. In recent years, immunotherapy has become an essential part of treating certain types of cancer and often works when other treatments fail.

A basic understanding of your immune system is helpful for understanding the effects of immunotherapy. Immune cells and the substances they produce travel through your body to protect it from any germs that could cause infection. When your immune system identifies a particular substance as foreign, it attacks and destroys it. However, cancer cells may transform themselves in order to “hide” from the immune system. In addition, the immune response is not always strong enough to destroy cancer cells. In order to overcome these challenges, scientific researchers have developed immunotherapy drugs that can help the immune system to better identify cancer cells, as well as to respond more powerfully against them.

Our team of oncologists at Sheba Medical Center is skilled and experienced in using immunotherapy strategies to detect and fight cancer. We collaborate with doctors from a wide range of hospital divisions to apply the latest clinical-based research towards treating cancer with advanced immunotherapy. At present, scientific studies worldwide are investigating new ways to maximize immunotherapy to treat even more types of cancer, and our world-leading physicians are involved in the most progressive research. We provide immunotherapy at Sheba with a holistic approach, paying attention to how your cancer and its treatment affect your entire body and overall quality of life.


Side effects of immunotherapy

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Immunotherapy generally causes fewer side effects than other cancer treatments because it only targets your immune system, and not all the cells in your body. The side effects that you experience depend largely upon the type of cancer you have, the specific immunotherapy drug, the dose you receive, and how healthy you are when you begin treatment. At Sheba, we aim to keep the side effects to a minimum, and we encourage our patients to inform us about any bothersome symptoms – so we can help to alleviate them.

The most common side effects include:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as muscle or joint aches, weakness, dizziness, chills, headache, nausea, diarrhea, and a runny nose
  • Skin problems, including itching, swelling, redness, blisters, and mouth sores
  • Autoimmune disorders, such as myocarditis (inflamed heart muscle), pneumonitis (inflamed lungs), colitis (inflamed bowel), endocrine disorders (problems with your hormones), hepatitis (inflamed liver), arthritis (pain in your joints), uveitis (inflamed eye); usually, these conditions present as mild, but sometimes they can be more severe.

Types of cancer immunotherapy

Experiments with many newer types of immunotherapy are ongoing, and Sheba Medical Center is committed to staying up-to-date with the newest treatments.


The types of immunotherapy that are used to help the immune system combat cancer directly include:

Monoclonal antibodies

These are man-made versions of antibodies (immune system proteins), which are custom-designed to attach to specific targets, called antigens, found on cancer cells. These monoclonal antibodies work to mark the cancer cells so the immune system can identify them better.

Checkpoint inhibitors

These drugs boost the power of the immune system so that it can respond more effectively to a tumor.

Monoclonal antibodies

These are man-made versions of antibodies (immune system proteins), which are custom-designed to attach to specific targets, called antigens, found on cancer cells. These monoclonal antibodies work to mark the cancer cells so the immune system can identify them better.

Checkpoint inhibitors

These drugs boost the power of the immune system so that it can respond more effectively to a tumor.


The types of immunotherapy that are used to help the immune system combat cancer directly include:

Monoclonal antibodies

These are man-made versions of antibodies (immune system proteins) that are custom-designed to attach to specific targets, called antigens, found on cancer cells. These monoclonal antibodies work to mark the cancer cells so the immune system can identify them better.

Checkpoint inhibitors

These drugs boost the power of the immune system so that it can respond more effectively to a tumor.

Adoptive cell transfer

These treatments strengthen the natural ability of your white blood cells to conquer cancer. To perform this type of immunotherapy, your active T-cells are withdrawn, modified and/or grown in a laboratory, and then injected back into your body. CAR T-cell therapy is a particular type of adoptive cell transfer.

Cancer vaccines

treat existing cancers by optimizing the body’s immune system against a specific cancer, or to prevent cancer from developing. When used as a treatment vaccine, these immunotherapy drugs are often combined with other types of therapies. Provenge is an example of a customized cancer treatment vaccine that triggers an immune response against metastatic prostate cancer. Tests are being conducted on a variety of experimental treatment vaccines for other types of cancers, such as brain tumors, melanoma, breast cancer, leukemia, kidney cancer, and others.


The types of immunotherapy that are used to improve the body’s general immune response to fighting cancer:

Cytokines

Your body produces cytokines, which are proteins that assist in the body’s normal immune responses to cancer. Two examples of cytokines that may be used to fight cancer are interleukins and interferons.

BCG

This type of immunotherapy involves the use of a weakened form of the bacteria that causes tuberculosis in order to treat bladder cancer. The injection of BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin) into the bladder leads to an immune response against the cancer cells.

Depending on the form of immunotherapy being administered, it can be given intravenously, as an oral medication, as a topical cream, or intravesically (directly into the bladder).


Patient testimonial – After Immunotherapy

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