Frequently Asked Questions

Q. I’ve recently been diagnosed with cancer. What questions should I ask my oncologist about immunotherapy as a possible treatment approach?

A. Specific questions to discuss with your oncologist include:

  • Does immunotherapy have a role in treating my type of cancer, alone or in combination with other treatments?
  • Are there FDA-approved immunotherapies for my type of cancer?
  • Are there any immunotherapies currently being studied in clinical trials for my type of cancer?
  • What are the possible side effects of the immunotherapy approaches for my type of cancer?

Q. Will immunotherapy replace other types of cancer treatments?

A. There is much enthusiasm for immunotherapy as a treatment approach for many types of cancer. However, other forms of treatment are still considered to be effective, depending on the individual’s specific circumstances. This includes treatments that have been used for many years such as radiation and chemotherapy, and newer approaches such as targeted therapy. It’s also important to note that immunotherapy can often be most effective when used in combination with other forms of treatment. Additionally, not all cancers survive and grow by evading the immune system. For those types of cancer, immunotherapy is not the right treatment approach.

Q. I have prostate cancer, and am being treated with the vaccine sipuleucel-T. Will this interfere with the other vaccines I usually get?

A. In order to stay as healthy as possible during any type of cancer treatment, it is generally recommended that you continue to receive the vaccines recommended for your specific situation, which can include shots for influenza, pneumonia and herpes zoster (shingles). However, this is an important issue to discuss with your health care team, as there can be exceptions to this general guidance.

Q. How long do I have to stay on my immunotherapy treatment?

A. The duration of immunotherapy treatments depends on a number of factors, including the type of immunotherapy being received. For instance, a vaccine might be given just once, while other medications may be given at set intervals over a number of weeks. How long to continue certain immunotherapies is an area of ongoing research in clinical studies.

Q: Is immunotherapy safe for people with an underlying autoimmune disease?

A: Common autoimmune diseases include diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease and lupus. Studies have shown that people with an autoimmune disease can respond well to immunotherapy. However, the potential benefits must be measured against the potential risk, as the underlying condition may temporarily worsen during the course of immunotherapy. People with an autoimmune disease who are being treated with immunotherapy for cancer should be closely monitored by their health care team (including their oncologist and the specialist treating the underlying condition).