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Frequently Asked Questions

What is immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is a treatment option that uses the body’s natural defense mechanism, the immune system, to fight diseases, including cancer.

Why is it important?

Immunotherapy treatments have been shown to help treat certain cancers resulting in better patient outcomes when used with standard cancer therapies.

Are there different types of immunotherapy?

There are many types of immunotherapy. Immunotherapy can be divided into four broad categories:

  • Vaccines
    • Vaccination involves injections of proteins or processed tumor cells in combination with immune stimulating proteins and laboratory prepared cells to induce an immunization to the cancer cells.
  • Cell-based
    • Cell-based therapies usually involve growth and modification of immune cells outside of the body.
  • Antibody-based
    • Antibody-based therapies involve the infusion of monoclonal antibodies® or related proteins.
  • Combination treatments
    • More recently, there are combinations of cell and antibody-based therapies that involve all of the components.

Will immunotherapy be my only treatment?

Some people need only immunotherapy, others benefit from immunotherapy combined with chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.

What treatment options do I have?

The treatment options depend upon the type of cancer and the stage of cancer the patient has.

  • Monoclonal Antibodies® – There are many FDA-approved monoclonal antibodies® to treat a variety of cancers.
    • Rituxan® or Rituximab, to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Rituxan® works by targeting CD20, which is a protein found on the surface of B cells. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is characterized by B cell tumors.
    • Herceptin® or Trastuzumab, to treat breast cancer patients who are HER2 positive.
    • Avastin® or Bevacizumab, to treat breast cancer by limiting tumor blood vessel formation.
    • Erbitux® or Cetuximab, to treat colon cancer patients with EGFR expressing, KRAS wild-type metastatic colorectal cancer.
  • Cytokines – Cytokines are specialized proteins used to stimulate and grow immune cells.
    • IL-2 or Interleukin-2 proleukin, to treat skin melanomas and kidney cancer by activating certain types of white blood cells, called T cells and Natural Killer cells (NK cells), which are capable of destroying tumor cells.
  • Antibody-targeted cellular immunotherapy - Antibody-targeted cellular immunotherapy combines cell-based and antibody-based therapy to help “clean up” remaining cancerous cells after the patient has gone through chemotherapy.

    T cells, or a type of white blood cell are expanded for 14 days and “armed” with a bispecific antibody, which is a monoclonal that has been created from two protein antibodies to bind to two targets at the same time. The first target is the T cell (a type of white blood cell) and the second is a tumor on the surface of the tumor cell. After the T cells are armed, the T cells are put back into the patient through an IV. Armed T cells are targeted to the tumor cells and will kill them when they come in contact with them leading to the secretion of immune proteins that help vaccinate the patient against their own tumor. Thus, the patient is using their own immune system to fight cancer and possibly lessen the chances of cancer relapse. This type of therapy is currently under investigation for the treatment of breast cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. Karmanos Cancer Institute is the only institution that currently offers this state-of-the-art immune boosting therapy. More information can be found in the Clinical Trials section.

Where do I go for my treatment?

Some immunotherapy treatments can be taken at home while others must be given through IV at Karmanos Cancer Institute.

Will I get all of my cancer therapy at Karmanos?

That is up to you and your physician. You can get all of your treatment at Karmanos Cancer Institute. However, if it is more convenient for you, you may receive some treatment at another hospital and your immunotherapy treatment at Karmanos. Talk to your doctor about your options.

How often do I get my treatment?

This can vary from patient to patient and depends on the type of cancer and treatment plan. The frequency of treatments can range from once or twice a month to several times a day. Ask your doctor about the frequency of your immunotherapy treatment.

Who pays for the patient care costs on clinical trials?

Health care plans and managed care providers do not always cover all patient care costs in a study. What they cover varies by plan and by study. Some research costs are covered by the study sponsor while others may not be. Ask a doctor, nurse, or a financial counselor from Karmanos Cancer Institute to help you determine, in advance, which costs are covered.

What are the side effects of immunotherapy?

Just like any other treatment, immunotherapy can sometimes cause side effects. These include but are not limited to:
  • Flu-like symptoms such as fever, nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, headaches, and chills.
  • Low blood pressure.

For questions, please call 313-576-8384 or e-mail: immunotherapyinfo@karmanos.org.

© 2014 Karmanos Cancer Institute Pencil
The Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center is accredited by The Joint Commission.
If members of the public have any quality-of-care or safety concerns, they may notify The Joint Commission at 630-792-5800.