Immunotherapy related side-effects
New research means that some cancer patients are able to benefit from immuno-oncology therapy treatments for an increasing number of cancer types. As unique as these treatments are, so are their side-effects. It is important to know what these side-effects are and how to manage them. The “ESMO Guide on Immunotherapy Side-effects” is an outstanding effort to help patients and their carers understand the most common side-effects associated with immunotherapies used in oncology.
Our immune system defends our body against external threats (such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites) as well internal threats (such as cancer). While standard cancer treatment usually directly targets the growth of the tumour cells, immuno-oncology therapies harness the body's natural anti-cancer immune response to attack and destroy the cancer cells.
Tumour cells can turn on the “breaks” of the body’s immune system by taking advantage of immune checkpoints, which are naturally present in the body to limit the activity of our immune defence. Checkpoint inhibitors are therefore some of the most promising treatments in immune-oncology, as they act by removing these immune system “brakes” switched on by tumour cells.
Although fewer side-effects are associated with immuno-oncology therapy compared with chemotherapy, immuno-oncology therapy may cause autoimmune responses in some patients. These unwanted reactions differ from patient to patient, mostly affecting the skin, with rash and itching, or colon, lungs, liver and endocrine organs.
Side-effects range from mild to moderate and are managed according to some basic principles and mostly – but not always – counteracting their immune-enhancing activity. The "ESMO Guide on Immunotherapy Side-effects" is a great resource to better understand the basics of immunotherapy specific side-effects, however information included in the guide should not be intended as a replacement for the advice of your healthcare team.