Ovarian Cancer and Immunotherapy

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on May 12, 2021

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment. It uses your body’s immune system to prevent, control, and get rid of cancer. It helps your body recognize and attack cancer cells, boosts immune cells that destroy cancer, and improves your body’s immune response.

How Does Immunotherapy Work?

Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) is a type of immunotherapy. Right now it’s only approved for some types of ovarian cancer. You get this treatment in an IV every 3 weeks. Pembrolizumab allows your immune cells to recognize proteins on cancer cells. If you have advanced ovarian cancer, ask your doctor if a clinical trial with this treatment could help.

Immunotherapy can offer long-term control over your ovarian cancer. This treatment trains your immune system to remember cancer cells. This “memory” can allow for longer lasting, or even permanent protection from cancer.

Who Gets Immunotherapy for Ovarian Cancer?

Surgery and chemotherapy are the first treatments you’ll receive if you have ovarian cancer. But sometimes, your cancer may come back years later.

Although immunotherapy doesn’t work for everyone, it’s quickly becoming an option for people with returning ovarian cancer.

Doctors can improve your overall health outcome by using immunotherapy with other ovarian cancer treatments like:

  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which kill cancer cells
  • Anti-angiogenesis drugs, which stop growth of blood vessels that feed tumors
  • Poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase inhibitors (PARP), which stop cancer cells from repairing damaged DNA

Possible Side Effects

Immunotherapy treatment might cause some side effects. Less serious ones can include:

Other serious side effects are much less common. They include:

Immunotherapy could cause an autoimmune reaction. This is rare, but it could lead to serious or even life-threatening issues in your lungs, liver, hormone-making glands, intestines, kidneys, or other organs.

If you notice any changes or reactions after you get immunotherapy, report them to the doctor right away. If a serious side effect happens, you might need to stop treatment.

Show Sources


Cancer Research Institute: “Monoclonal Antibodies, Antibody-Drug Conjugates, and Bispecific Antibodies,” “How is Immunotherapy for Ovarian Cancer Changing the Outlook for Patients,” “What Is Cancer Immunotherapy?”

American Cancer Society: “Immunotherapy for Ovarian Cancer,” “Targeted Therapy for Ovarian Cancer.”

Medscape: “bevacizumab (Rx).”

Genentech: “Ovarian Cancer: Avastin Dosing and Usage.”

Frontiers in Immunology: “Immunotherapy for Ovarian Cancer: Adjuvant, Combination, and Neoadjuvant.”

National Cancer Institute: “PARP inhibitor,” “Types of Cancer Treatment.”

MD Anderson Cancer Center: “Angiogenesis Inhibitors.”

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