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What Are the Side Effects of Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that helps the immune system find and attack cancer cells. While the immune system does a great job of attacking most foreign cells that invade the body, it has a tougher time finding and destroying cancer cells. That’s because the immune system is not always strong enough to attack cancer cells and, sometimes, cancer cells can even give off substances to “hide” from the immune system. Immunotherapy strengthens the immune system’s response to help fight cancer.

Like any type of cancer treatment, immunotherapy can cause side effects. This typically occurs when the immune system begins attacking healthy cells and tissues, due to operating at a more stimulated pace. Some of the more common side effects include:

  • Pain, swelling, soreness or rash at the injection site
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, dizziness, fatigue and headache
  • Low or high blood pressure
  • Swelling or weight gain from fluid retention
  • Diarrhea
  • Sinus congestion
  • Heart palpitations
  • Muscle aches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hormone changes, such as hypothyroidism

Patients undergoing immunotherapy should always discuss the side effects they are experiencing with their care team. Severe reactions to immunotherapy or side effects that do not improve may require pausing treatment or stopping it altogether.

What’s more, side effects may occur up to two years after treatment. Inflammation of the liver, colon or lungs is common as well as memory problems, sleepiness and hallucinations. Patients may also experience blurry or double vision or kidney issues.

Immunotherapy at Moffitt Cancer Center

Moffitt Cancer Center is at the leading edge of novel immunotherapy  treatments for cancer patients. Our multispecialty team of clinicians provides outstanding, individualized care to each patient, carefully evaluating their responses to the treatment and adjusting their care plans when necessary. If you would like to request a consultation to discuss the immunotherapy options available to you, call us at 1-888-663-3488 or fill out a new patient registration form online.