Preparing for Immunotherapy Treatment

What is Immunotherapy?

The immune system is your body’s natural defense system. It searches the body for potential threats like infections. But, cancer cells have found ways to hide from immune cells. This allows cancer cells to grow without being detected and spread throughout the body. Immunotherapy is different from chemotherapy. Chemotherapy attacks cancer cells directly, while immunotherapy re-programs your immune system to do the work of finding and killing cancer cells.

Find more information about how immunotherapy works.

Before Starting Immunotherapy

Before you begin immunotherapy, it’s important you tell your doctor if you:

  • Have an autoimmune disease
  • Have had an organ or stem cell transplant 
  • Have breathing problems 
  • Have liver disease 
  • Are pregnant or plan to become pregnant 
  • Are breastfeeding or plan to start breastfeeding 

Be sure to also tell your doctor your complete medical history, including any changes in medications. Once you begin immunotherapy, it’s very important that you keep all your scheduled appointments. Taking regular and consistent doses is critical.  

Because of how immunotherapy might affect your system, it’s important to tell every doctor taking care of you that you’re on immunotherapy. This includes:

  • Your primary care provider (PCP)
  • Hospital staff
  • Emergency Room and Urgent Care staff
  • Any other doctors or specialists

Fox Chase Cancer Center will give you an Immunotherapy Identification card with our contact information on it. Be sure to show this card to anyone who will be treating you for any reason. We encourage providers to contact us for more information or if they have any questions about your care.  

Side Effects of Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy can come with different side effects than chemotherapy or other infusion treatments. You may experience any of the following side effects:

  • Feeling extremely tired or weak
  • Cough or shortness of breath 
  • Flu-like symptoms like fever, chills, or cough
  • Loss of appetite
  • Skin rashes, or itching
  • Muscle, bone, or joint pain 
  • Chest or abdominal pain  
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Yellowing of your skin or eyes
  • Confusion

Because immunotherapy medications change the way the immune system works, it’s very important to report all side effects to your treatment team, especially symptoms that are new or affecting your daily life. Side effects can turn more serious if not prevented correctly, or stopped early. Having side effects does not necessarily mean you will have to stop your treatment. It’s possible to reverse some symptoms if they are caught early, and many times, they be treated with other medicines. 

These problems can begin anytime during immunotherapy treatment or even after your treatment has ended, which is why you’ll be closely monitored during and after treatment.

When to Call Fox Chase

Call Fox Chase right away if you're experiencing:

  • A temperature reading of 100.5 or higher
  • Flu-like symptoms like a fever, chills, cough, or a sore throat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain when you urinate
  • Blood in your urine or stool

It's very important that you talk to your team about your side effects. You must call your team as soon as the side effects start. Do not wait for the symptoms to get worse. In many cases, it’s possible to reverse some symptoms if they’re reported early.

When to Call 9-1-1

If you have trouble breathing or shortness of breath, or chest pain, call 9-1-1 immediately.

When to go to the Emergency Room

If you're unable to eat or drink, or have other uncontrolled, or unexpected side effects, go to the Emergency Room. If you have any of these symptoms during your infusion appointment, get the attention of a nurse immediately. Temple University Hospital – Jeanes Campus functions as the Emergency Room for Fox Chase Cancer Center. Please go to Jeanes Campus or to your nearest hospital with an Emergency Room.

Contacting Fox Chase

During weekday daytime hours (Monday–Friday, 8:30am–5pm), call 215-728-4300. You may talk to someone live, or your call will go to voicemail. Please leave a message with your name, medical record number, date of birth and the reason for your call. A nurse will call you back on the same day. Be sure to tell us the best phone number to reach you.

If you have a medical emergency on an evening or weekend, call Fox Chase Cancer Center’s on-call system at 215-728-6900.