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What is immunotherapy?

It has been recognized that for over a century, the immune system is involved in controlling cancers. Immunotherapy is a treatment for cancer that uses the body's own natural defenses to fight the disease. Specially designed drugs allow white blood cells (T cells) that make up the immune system to recognize and kill cancer cells. Immunotherapy is most commonly used as a treatment for lung, breast, kidney, liver, Hodgkin’s disease and some gastrointestinal cancers as well as for melanoma.

Why choose immunotherapy to treat cancer?

Oncologists at Valley are using immunotherapy with five FDA-approved drugs. These new therapies have proven so successful they are now regarded as a first-line treatment for some cancers alongside the traditional approaches of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

Immunotherapy also is being lauded by medical professionals because it can be less toxic and produces fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy cancer treatments, which often lead to hair loss, nausea and fatigue. In turn, patients are being steered toward immunotherapy earlier in the course of their diseases. Patients receive treatment every two to four weeks intravenously.

Are there side effects to immunotherapy?

Different types of immunotherapy can cause different side effects. Many side effects depend on the type of treatment, the type and location of the cancer, and a patient’s overall health. Before immunotherapy treatment begins, patients should discuss with their doctor possible side effects. If immunotherapy is chosen as a course of care, it will be important for the patient to share any new, continuing, or worsening medical problems with the care team. Side effects of immunotherapy can range in severity.

Immunotherapy clinical trials

The Valley Hospital has been at the forefront in the use of immunotherapy for cancer since 2014. Even with some immunotherapy treatments available, there are more that are currently being tested in a large number of clinical trials. For more information please call 201-634-5792.

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