Frequently Asked Questions
What forms of immunotherapy are there?
Immunotherapy refers to therapies that use the immune system to fight a disease. In cancer, the body's immune system is directed to the cancer cells, so that they can be detected and attacked.
At present, various therapeutic approaches to mobilise a persons’ immune system are available or are being further explored:
In nonspecific immunotherapy the administration of so-called cytokines should increase the body's defenses. Cytokines belong to the messenger substances of the immune system and can develop an immunostimulating effect. Since these substances have only a limited efficacy and at the same time a high toxicity (toxicity), further therapeutic approaches in this area were investigated. A deeper understanding of how the body's immune cells can be activated has led to the development of new, more specific immuno-oncological therapies.
Most tumour vaccines consist of either the cancer cells of patients who are modified in the laboratory and then re-administered to the patient, or laboratory-made components that have typical features of cancer cells. This should "train" the body's immune system to detect and attack the tumour.
Immuno-oncological therapies (re) activate the own immune reaction directed against cancer cells. One of the most important approaches of current immuno-oncology is influencing key points of the immune system, the so-called immune checkpoints. Immune checkpoint inhibitors try to influence the same signalling pathways that tumour cells use to escape their recognition and destruction by the immune system.
How are immuno-oncological therapies used?
Immuno-oncology active substances are administered via an infusion. Treatment can usually be done on an outpatient basis, but should only be done in specialized centres.
What are the possible side effects of an immuno-oncology treatment?
The special mode of action of immuno-oncology substances can lead to so-called "immune-mediated side effects". These may be different from the side effects of other cancer therapies. Each treating physician will inform you in advance of a therapy with immuno-oncology about the potential spectrum of side effects and point out that if a side effect occurs oncologist should be contacted immediately.
How long does the immuno-oncology treatment take?
The duration of the treatment depends on the particular immuno-oncology therapy. The individual infusions usually take place every two to three weeks. It is important to perform the immuno-oncology treatment according to the doctor's recommendation.
How long do positive effects of immuno-oncology treatment last?
Immuno-oncology therapies mobilise the immune system to detect and fight cancer cells. Some of the patients treated with immuno-oncology agents have a long-lasting response and long-term survival, depending on the cancer type, patients condition and various factors associated with the concerned cancer..
Do immuno-oncology therapies work for every patient?
There are only a few ways to know in advance which patient will benefit. In some cases, a so-called biomarker test can help to better assess the expected outcome of treatment. There is a lot of research going on to understand better which patient benefits from immuno-oncology therapy.
Can different immuno-oncology therapies be used together or combined with other medicines?
Clinical trials are currently investigating combinations of various immuno-oncology drugs as well as combinations of immuno-oncology drugs with other drugs, such as those given in chemotherapy. Further information on possible combination therapies may be given by the treating oncologist.
Which doctors can perform immuno-oncology treatment?
Although treatment immune-oncology medicines can usually be carried out on an outpatient basis, it should only be carried out by oncologists in specialized centres, as the assessment of therapeutic success (treatment response) and the management of side effects may deviate from other therapies.
Where can I find more information about clinical trials with immuno-oncology drugs?
In the search for a suitable study, the attending oncologist or the hospital can help. They often know which offers are available at hospitals and special centres in the respective region or can check the freely accessible study registers. One such registry and the largest database for clinical trials is Clinicaltrials.gov . The English-language website, which is provided by the US Department of Health, also contains many studies in India. In addition, many research-based pharmaceutical companies provide their own databases with their studies. This allows patients, relatives and other interested parties to find out about clinical trials.