How Does Immunotherapy Work?

The Roswell Park Center for Immunotherapy uses a fully integrated approach for translational medicine
A closer look at how immunotherapy works.

Immunotherapy essentially uses your own body to fight cancer. The immune system is designed to know the difference between your cells and cells that don’t belong in your body, like a virus or fungus. A healthy immune system does not attack cells that appear to be part of you. Cancer cells come from our cells so the immune system often has difficulty knowing which cells to fight and they can sometimes hide from the immune system. As cancer grows, it can change, or mutate, and can further evade our immune system, or can even slow our immune system down.

We study how your immune system interacts with the cancer and develop immunotherapy treatments to give your immune system some help in the fight against cancer.

Our researchers can take cells from your body or tumor and modify them to be more powerful for your fight against cancer. There are many different types of immunotherapy and often we use several immunotherapy strategies for one patient.

Types of Cancer Immunotherapy Can Treat

Through ongoing research, we’re learning more about how the immune system interacts with cancer and using that information to develop new ways of treating the disease. Immunotherapy is currently used to treat the following cancers:

  • Leukemia
  • Bladder cancer
  • Bone marrow disorders
  • Brain cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Multiple Myeloma
  • Neuroblastoma
  • Head and neck cancers
  • Kidney cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Lung cancer 
  • Melanoma
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Pancreatic
  • Synovial Cell Sarcoma
  • Stomach Cancer 
     

Understanding and Managing Side Effects

Most patients treated with immunotherapy do not experience adverse side effects. However, in some cases these treatments can cause very serious side effects that demand immediate attention, especially:

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Rash
  • Sudden onset of diabetes
  • Inflammation of organs, especially the lung, bowel, skin, eye or heart

These side effects can be controlled, but when they occur, the patient and family must be alert to the symptoms and notify the medical team immediately. At the same time, all medical professionals who come into contact with the patient should be notified about the treatment the patient is receiving and the side effects it can cause.

Learn more about the side effects of immunotherapy and the role Roswell Park plays nationally in creating guidelines for their management.