Immunotherapy cancer treatment

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that assists the body's immune system to fight cancer. St John of God Subiaco Hospital Clinical Nurse Consultant for cancer services Hazel Everett explains what immunotherapy is and the possible side effects.

21 Aug 2020

How does immunotherapy work?

The immune system is designed to protect the body from threats, it recognises when a foreign organism, such as a germ, enters the body and attacks it to stop if from harming the body.

Immunotherapy can boost the immune system to help it fight against cancer or remove barriers to the immune system that may be preventing it attacking the cancer.

Types of immunotherapy

There are different types of immunotherapy, checkpoint inhibitors and immune stimulants. 
Checkpoint inhibitors are cancer treatment drugs designed to allow the body to recognise and destroy cancer cells. These types of drugs are currently the most widely used form of immunotherapy. 

Immune stimulants aim to stimulate the immune system so it reactivates and attacks cancer cells.

Can immunotherapy work for all cancers?  

Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are still the most widely used cancer treatments but immunotherapy can benefit some people with certain types of cancer. Your oncologist will advise of the best treatment for you. 

What are the side effects of immunotherapy? 

Immunotherapy can cause side effects, many of which happen when the immune system that has been revved-up to act against the cancer also acts against healthy cells and tissues in your body.

Side effects can vary depending on the type of treatment you receive and how your body responds. 

Side effects can the impact the skin, lungs, gastrointestinal and digestive tract, muscles and joints, eyes, endocrine system, chest and lungs, liver, kidneys and can have neurological effects.

View the image for a comprehensive list of side effects by body area. 

Immunotherapy cancer treatment side effects

Hazel Everett
Hazel Everett Clinical Nurse Consultant

About the Author

Hazel Everett is a Clinical Nurse Consultant in cancer services at St John of God Subiaco Hospital

Her role involves patient and family advocacy,  which focus’ on treating the individual as a whole - physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and financially.

Hazel started as a graduate nursing at St John of God Subiaco Hospital in January 2008, and began working in Oncology/Haematology/Palliative Care in July 2008. She continued on in the area as a Registered Nurse, working her way up to Clinical Nurse and Acting Nurse Manager on Ward 35 before starting the Clinical Nurse Consultant role in April 2017.

Hazel is currently completing a Master of Cancer and Haematology Nursing at the University of Sydney, with aspirations of continuing to develop her knowledge and the Cancer Service here at St John of God Subiaco Hospital.

She is passionate about increasing patients’ health literacy regarding their cancer diagnosis and treatment and educating clinicians to become advanced cancer nurses.