Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment designed to boost the body's natural immune defenses to identify and fight the cancer. These treatments can activate functions within the body or on the cancer cell itself to switch on, improve or restore immune system function.

jonathantalkingpam patient and doctor in clinic _DSC5149
Immunotherapy is revolutionising the way we’re treating some cancers and as the proof of the benefits increases, it’ll move to the front of the cancer treatment line. Prof. Jonathan Cebon, ONJ Centre and ONJCRI Medical Director

How does immunotherapy work?

Normally the immune system is activated when it's under attack. The immune system will try to fight off pathogens, such as viruses or infection, until the body is healthy again. The healthy immune system will not attack the body's own cells unless there is a signal that the cell should be eliminated. Cancer cells often grow in the body in equilibrium with the immune system. They signal to the body that they are abnormal, but also signal that they are part of the body and should not be eliminated. This way cancer cells often attract the interest of the immune system, but the immune system does not eliminate the cancer cell. Therefore, cancer cells can stealthily evade the control of the immune system, allowing them to grow without being stopped.

However, some immunotherapy drugs contain antibodies that increase the ability of the immune system to be activated, allowing the immune system to identify and destroy cancer cells.

How is immunotherapy given?

Immunotherapy can be given in a number of ways, including:

  • Intravenously - medicine given as an injection or infusion into a vein
  • Injection into muscle/skin or tumour - medicine given as an injection into the muscle or skin, or directly into the tumour to stimulate the immune system
  • Intravesically -medicine given as an injection directly into the bladder.

Where you would receive immunotherapy

If you are a patient at the ONJ Centre, where and how often you receive treatment will depend on the types of immunotherapy prescribed and your cancer type. You may be given the treatment in the clinic or in Day Oncology, or on the ward if you are an inpatient. Like other treatments, immunotherapies are most often given in cycles.

Can you be prescribed immunotherapy?

A number of immunotherapies are now approved by the Australian government for prescription for certain cancer types. We recommend you speak with your oncologist about your treatment plan.

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