Aside from use of chemicals and radiation to treat cancer, there are also natural ways that can be harnessed in treatment of cancer patients. This involves the biological improvement of their immune system to enable your body’s natural defense mechanisms to attack and destroy tumors in the body. These types of treatments or therapies are the ones that are referred to as immunotherapy.
There are quite a number of side effects of immunotherapy. These side effects vary based on the type of immunotherapy treatment that you may be undertaking. We are going to look at the general side effects of the treatment and also at the side effects of every specific type of immunotherapy that are done.
It is also important to understand that side effects can also be different because people react differently to treatments. Hence the side effects that one patient may show for a certain type of treatment may not be the same as those observed in another different patient taking the same kind of treatment.
The General Side Effects of Immunotherapy
There are many side effects of immunotherapy. Examples of such side effects include:
There are many other side effects that patients may experience based on the type of immunotherapy treatment that they receive.
Types of Immunotherapy and Their Side Effects
There are at least four main types of immunotherapy. They include:
- Oncolytic Virus Therapy
- The T-Cell Therapy
- Monoclonal Antibodies
- Non-specific Immunotherapy
1. Side Effects of Oncolytic Virus Therapy
This is one of the recent types of immunotherapy treatments that have been developed. It involves injection of viruses (whose genetic material has been modified) into the tumor. Once inside the viruses multiply and increase until the cancer cell bursts open and die.
During the process, antigens are released, and this gets the attention of the body’s defense system. The immune system then proceeds to target the cancer cells producing those antigens and destroys them.
This treatment however poses quite a number of side effects, such as:
- Development of symptoms that resemble those of a flu infection
- Feeling pain at the point of injection
- And chills
2. T-Cell Therapy
This treatment involves the changing of the T-cells in the body to give them certain types of proteins that help them detect cancer cells. However the T-cells are usually removed first from the body, then the changes are made in a laboratory and finally injected back into the body.
This type of treatment has not yet been authorized to be tried on patients and is available on clinical trials only. Some of the side effects it seems to pose include pain at the site of injection.
3. Monoclonal Antibodies
The body produces antibodies to fight off any infections that it locates. Monoclonal antibodies work by attaching themselves to certain types of cancer cell proteins. This enables the body to be able to detect them and get on to killing the cancer cells.
The side effects of this kind of treatment are yet to be ascertained by experts, but research and trials are still on going. However, their side effects usually differ based on the kind of drugs used in the treatment.
4. Non-specific Immunotherapy
The non-specific immunotherapy treatment is mostly administered together with other forms of cancer treatment such as chemotherapy. There are also other fewer cases where it can be done as the main treatment. The two main treatments include:
This treatment works by helping the body produce cells that are capable of destroying cancer cells. The side effects of this treatment include:
- Increase in weight
- Reduced blood pressure
- Development of symptoms that resemble those of a flu
Here the treatment aims at slowing down the growth and progression of the tumor. Its side effects may include:
- Thinning of the hair
- Experiencing flu-like symptoms
- Having an increased chance of infection
How to Manage the Side Effects of Immunotherapy
- A side effect such as pain can be managed using pain killers.
- Rashes can be dealt with using creams that help get rid of rashes
- Increase in weight can be overcome by change in dietary constitution and exercising more frequently
You should also talk with your doctor as he/she will be able to provide advice and the means on how you can best deal with the side effects that you may be experiencing.
Advantages of Immunotherapy Compared to Other Cancer Treatments
Immunotherapy is way ahead when its side effects are compared to those of other methods of treating cancer such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy. This is because of the following reasons:
- The side effects are easier to control. Most side effects of immunotherapy can be easily controlled and managed using drugs unlike those of chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
- Unlike chemotherapy and radiotherapy, in immunotherapy there is no loss of hair or other health problems that arise due to radiation or chemo drugs. This is because immunotherapy makes use of your body’s natural immune system and therefore no chemical with adverse effects gets introduced into the body.
The Bottom Line
Immunotherapy is one of the great advancements that man is making in defeating cancer. Because it is one of the very latest treatment methods, research is still being done to find ways on how best to improve it and make it the most efficient cancer treatment method that it can be. Most of the immunotherapy treatments involve clinical trials as the doctors also try to learn more about it.
Should you experience any side effects as you undertake immunotherapy, immediately inform your doctor. This will make him/her know what you are feeling and therefore they will be able to help you. They may give you tips or medications to enable you to deal with the side effects. Always contact your doctor when you experience side effects, and never try to self medicate or self diagnose your condition. It is extremely important that you talk with your doctor about what you can do about your condition without interfering with the balance of medications you are already taking.