Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation use medications or high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. Immunotherapy is different because it uses your own immune system to fight off the cancer.

Some immunotherapy treatments help your immune system find the cancer or work harder to attack it. Others give you man-made versions of proteins or other substances to help your body fight the disease. Some types are also called biologic therapy or biotherapy.

Immunotherapy is approved to treat certain kinds of cancer, including melanoma, lymphoma, and lung cancer. Immune-based treatments for many other types are being tested in clinical trials.

How Do Doctors Use Immunotherapy?

It’s a relatively new treatment compared with surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, but it’s commonly used to treat some cancers. It works better on certain forms of the disease than others.

Depending on the type of cancer you have, you might get immunotherapy:

  • With or after another treatment, like surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy
  • By itself as a first treatment
  • As part of a clinical trial if other treatments haven't worked and your cancer has spread

Should I Try Immunotherapy?

This type of treatment isn't right for everyone. It doesn't work on all types of cancer. And if surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy has stopped your cancer from growing, you might not need it.

Immunotherapy might be for you if it's approved for your cancer. Even if it isn't, you still might be able to get it in a clinical trial if your first treatments didn't work. Ask your doctor if any trials are testing out new immunotherapy treatments for your cancer type.

Here are questions to ask your doctor to decide if it’s right for you:

  • Are any immunotherapy treatments approved for my cancer?
  • If not, are any clinical trials testing these treatments for my cancer?
  • How might it help my cancer?
  • Will I get it alone or with other treatments?
  • How will I get it (by shot, pill, etc.)?
  • How often will I need it?
  • What kinds of side effects can it cause?
  • For how long will I need to take it?
  • What happens if it doesn't work?

Make sure you understand how it might help you and what side effects it can cause before you start treatment.

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