Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that boosts/trains the body’s natural defences to fight cancer. The body’s immune system helps fight infections and other diseases. Immunotherapy helps the immune system fight cancer, as cancer cells have ways to avoid destruction by the immune system.  

Immunotherapy usually works by stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells, stopping the spread of cancer, or by helping the immune system better destroy cancer cells. 

There are several types of immunotherapy, including: 

  • Monoclonal antibodies and tumour-agnostic therapies 
  • Non-specific immunotherapies 
  • Oncolytic virus therapy 
  • T-cell therapy 
  • Cancer vaccines 

Immunotherapy can cause side effects. Often these are caused when immunotherapy activates the immune system against cancer, but it attacks healthy cells in the process. Side effects will vary from person to person and depend on how healthy the patient is at the time of treatment, the type of cancer, how advanced it is, the type of immunotherapy, and the dose. Side effects can occur at any point during and after treatment and include:  

  • Flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, weakness, dizziness, nausea, muscle aches, fatigue, and headaches  
  • Skin reactions such as redness and blistering  
  • Swelling and weight gain 
  • Heart palpitations 
  • Trouble breathing or sinus congestion  
  • High or low blood pressure  
  • Increased risk of infection  
  • Diarrhoea  
  • Organ inflammation 

Bevacizumab (Avastin) is a monoclonal antibody listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) for recurrent and refractory glioblastoma. Bevacizumab is a tumour-starving drug that prevents blood vessels from reaching tumours, potentially halting their growth.

Immunotherapy is not yet ‘standard of care’ for brain cancer and is still an experimental treatment being tested in clinical trials. If you or someone you know is interested in taking part in a clinical trial and would like to know whether immunotherapy may be suitable, please speak to your medical team. You can read more about clinical trials here.