Immunotherapy is different from chemotherapy.
Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment. It can boost or change how the immune system fights cancer cells. There are different types of immunotherapy. The most common type is checkpoint inhibitors.
Checkpoints are proteins that stop the immune system from killing cancer cells. Checkpoint inhibitor are drugs that block these proteins. This allows the immune system to attack and kill the cancer cells. *
How does immunotherapy work?
Immunotherapy drugs boost the body's T-cells, a type of white blood cell. T-cells fight diseases, infections, and viruses. They can kill cancer cells.
- improve your symptoms
- delay or prevent new symptoms
- help you live longer.
Immunotherapy does not harm healthy cells. Chemotherapy drugs will often damage or kill healthy cells.
It can take many treatments before your doctor can tell if immunotherapy is working. Your cancer may get worse before it gets better. The length of your treatment depends on your type of cancer and the side effects you may have. You continue treatment as long as it is helping and you can handle any side effects.
* Canadian Cancer Society, n.d. Glossary – Checkpoint Inhibitor: https://cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/resources/glossary/c/checkpoint-inhibitor-glossary
If you have any questions about preparing for your treatment, please talk to your health care team.
Preventing pregnancy during treatment
Immunotherapy may cause damage to a fetus (unborn baby) or sperm. If you or your partner can become pregnant, it is important to use effective birth control when having vaginal sex, during and sometimes after treatments end. Some hormonal birth control (such as the birth control pill, patch or injection) may not work during this treatment.
Talk to your health care team about which birth control is best for you and your partner.
The length of time you need to use birth control after treatment ends depends on the drug you get. Tell your doctor or health care team right away if you or your partner becomes pregnant.
For more about preventing pregnancy during cancer treatment: *link to Preventing Pregnancy during Cancer Treatment handout here.