Immunotherapy Cancer Treatments

Immunotherapy, also called biological therapy, is a type of cancer treatment that helps the immune system fight cancer. Substances made by the body, or made in a laboratory, are used to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer.

Immunotherapies have been developed to treat several types of cancer with many more under investigation through clinical trials. Immunotherapy can be used alone or in combination with chemotherapy and/or other cancer treatments.

How Immunotherapy Works 

As part of its normal function, the immune system detects and destroys abnormal cells and most likely prevents or curbs the growth of many cancers. Even though the immune system can prevent or slow cancer growth, cancer cells have ways to avoid being destroyed. Immunotherapy helps the immune system better act against cancer.

This can be done in different ways, including: 

  • Stimulating the immune system to work harder or smarter so that it attacks cancer cells
  • Giving the immune system additional components, such as immune system proteins

Different types of immunotherapy work in different ways. Some work by boosting the immune system in a very general way, while others help train the immune system to solely focus on attacking cancer cells. 

Types of Immunotherapy

Oncolytic virus therapy uses viruses that have been changed in a laboratory to destroy cancer cells. Certain oncolytic viruses are being studied in the treatment of cancer. They may make it easier to kill tumor cells with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The first FDA-approved oncolytic virus therapy is talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC, or Imlygic®). 

How Immunotherapy is Given

Intravenously (IV)

In this process, the drug is introduced directly to your bloodstream through an IV, similar to how chemotherapy is given in an infusion room at an outpatient cancer center. Monoclonal antibodies are usually given through a needle in a blood vein. Some patients may require a “port” to be inserted in the upper chest area during a short procedure for their treatment. A port may help to decrease your anxiety about finding a vein each time for your treatment.

Subcutaneously (SQ)

In this process, the drug is introduced through the subcutaneous tissue with an injection, usually in your belly or thigh. The medication is injected slowly over several minutes. Following the injection, you will be monitored for 15-30 minutes depending on the medication for any reaction.

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. At your first treatment, an experienced oncology nurse will review your therapy and the most common side effects and how to manage them. Our telephone triage system is available around the clock to address any symptoms or issues that arise. We  encourage patients to call early to address any issues quickly. 

Some common side effects of immunotherapy include:

  • Skin reactions at the needle site, including pain, swelling, redness, soreness, itchiness, and rash
  • Bacterial, viral, or yeast infection
  • Low or high blood pressure 
  • Swelling and fluid retention-related weight gain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Trouble breathing 
  • Endocrinopathies
  • Hepatitis
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, aches, weakness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, fatigue, and headache

You should speak with your CMOH oncologist or cancer care team if any of these side effects are experienced so they can help you better manage them. 


How to Access Immunotherapy

Some immunotherapies are FDA approved and used regularly for various types of cancer. Other immunotherapies, such as T-cell transfer therapy and cancer treatment vaccines, are accessed through clinical trials. This is how new cancer therapies are developed and proven in a safe way for patients to have access to the newest, most promising treatments. 

CMOH, in coordination with The US Oncology Network, offers numerous clinical trials for various immunotherapies and various types of cancer. These clinical trials explore new immunotherapies as well as uses of existing immunotherapies for other types of cancer.

Our oncologists are dedicated to providing the latest in cancer treatment options to each patient. If you live in or around Broomall, Glen Mills, and Exton, Pennsylvania and would like more information, you may speak to your oncologist about available immunotherapies and cancer clinical research trials.


Schedule an appointment with our cancer treatment experts in Broomall or Glen Mills, PA.