These FAQs have been written to include some of the most frequently asked questions around being referred for immunotherapy and receiving immunotherapy treatment for cancer. If you have any queries that are not covered below or would like any further information, please do not hesitate to contact your support team or our enquiries team.

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Receiving Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses the body’s immune system to recognise and target cancer cells.

There are five main types of immunotherapy including:

  • Monoclonal antibodies
  • Checkpoint inhibitors
  • Cancer vaccines
  • Cytokines
  • CAR-T-cell therapy

Different types of immunotherapies may be used to describe similar treatments, as the drugs used in immunotherapy can belong to more than one group.

When cancer develops in the body, cancer cells can:

  • Overpower the immune system
  • Hide from the immune system
  • Produce signals that prevent the immune system from recognising it

Immunotherapy works by helping the immune system find and identify the cancer cells and boosts it to attack the cancer, preventing cancer cells from growing and spreading.

 

Different types of immunotherapy work in different ways. For example, monoclonal antibody treatments use natural antibodies that have been designed to recognise and attach to cancer cells. Checkpoint inhibitors stop cancer from preventing the immune system from attacking cancer cells and cytokines help to boost and strengthen the immune system. All types of immunotherapy aim to:

  • Help the body fight cancer by boosting natural defences
  • Identify cancer cells that have hidden from the immune system
  • Block signals from cancer that stop the immune system from working

 The immune system is the body’s natural defence system against illness, disease and infection. It comprises the white blood cells, spleen and lymph glands that get rid of faulty cells in the body.

Immunotherapy can be delivered in one of four ways:

  • Intravenously – a small needle inserted directly into a vein
  • Orally - prescribed as a course of tablets or pills to swallow
  • Topically - a cream that gets rubbed into the skin
  • Intravesical – a catheter that delivers treatment directly into the bladder (this method is not available at the Rutherford Cancer Centres)

No, although immunotherapy is one of the most recent forms of cancer treatment it has been used to treat cancer for over 10 years.

Chemotherapy uses drugs to attack cancer directly to prevent growth and spread of cancer cells, while immunotherapy boosts the body’s natural immune system to fight cancer cells.  

The effectiveness of immunotherapy varies between treatments, patients and cancer types. It may work where other treatments are less effective or are used to help the effectiveness of other cancer treatments like chemotherapy. An oncologist can provide more information on how immunotherapy is used in a patient’s individual treatment plan.

Yes, immunotherapy is a completely safe method of treatment for cancer. Side effects are a possibility but are usually fewer and less severe than other treatment types.

Yes, immunotherapy can be used as a standalone treatment or in combination with other treatments such as chemotherapy.

No, at Rutherford Cancer Centres immunotherapy is delivered as an outpatient procedure in our state-of-the-art infusion suites.

Yes, cancer in children can be treated using immunotherapy. Rutherford Cancer Centres are aiming to treat children in the future but, currently, immunotherapy is only offered to adult patients at our centres.

 Yes, depending on the treatment plan that has been tailored to you, immunotherapy can be used before or after surgery.

Immunotherapy can be used before, after or in place of surgery but this is dependent on the individual patient’s circumstances and the type and staging of cancer.

The treatments used in immunotherapy for cancer can work in more than one way, but many work around the proteins found on the surface of cancer cells. As cancer cells can produce high amounts of proteins to prevent the immune system from identifying cells, treatments used in immunotherapy help bypass the false signals. Similarly, treatments can be used to attach specially produced natural antibodies to the proteins on the cancer cells which then prevent growth and spread.

The main advantage of immunotherapy is the use of the body’s own defence to attack cancer rather than introducing radiation or chemotherapy drugs to the patient. This can help if there is a need to reduce side effects and the severity of side effects experienced during treatment.

Yes, patients seeking immunotherapy treatment at Rutherford Cancer Centres must receive a referral from their consultant or oncologist. More information on our referral process can be found here.

Immunotherapy helps to boost the immune system, but patients should still be careful in public spaces and avoid exposure to illness to help improve the effectiveness of treatment.

Immunotherapy treatment works differently and may have a delayed response in some patients. Check-ups, including scans and blood tests, will be regularly taken throughout immunotherapy to monitor the progress and effectiveness of treatment.

During my Treatment

Treatment sessions are dependent on the treatment plan but can take between 90 minutes and several hours.

Immunotherapy tends to be a longer-term treatment than chemotherapy and is often delivered over months, sometimes years. The length of an immunotherapy plan is dependent on the patient and how they react to the treatment.

Your oncology team will provide support, guidance and information for improving your lifestyle while receiving immunotherapy treatment. Recommendations include drinking plenty of fluids (water), eating healthily, exercising where possible and avoiding potential exposure to illness that can weaken the immune system.

Immunotherapy is delivered in cycles and appointments may be spaced daily, weekly or monthly depending on the treatment plan.

During the treatment planning phase, you will be introduced to your consultant and your supportive care team. If you require any additional support regarding side effects, additional therapies and coping with your treatment, your supportive care team are available to help at any time. Any questions regarding your treatment should be raised with your radiographers who will inform your consultant oncologist.

Eating healthily is recommended when undergoing any treatment to ensure the body has the best chance of recovery. The supportive care team can schedule appointments with a dietician to help patients with meal plans and meeting dietary needs.

A healthy lifestyle is important for ensuring the best chance of recovery when receiving any type of cancer treatment. A healthy lifestyle includes eating well, drinking plenty of water, exercising regularly and keeping a positive outlook.

Immunotherapy treatment is not painful, however, if treatment is administered intravenously (via an IV) patients may feel some discomfort around the area medication is delivered. As immunotherapy focuses on boosting the immune system, patients may also experience flu or cold-like symptoms during their treatment.

Some patients continue working while receiving cancer treatment or may choose to reduce their hours to part-time. If you feel unable to work or your job exposes you to certain risks that can affect your treatment, you should talk to management about taking time away.

Yes, it is completely safe for others to be near a patient receiving immunotherapy, although consideration should be taken to prevent exposure to illness.

It is safe for children to come into contact with a patient receiving immunotherapy, however, consideration should be taken to avoid exposure to illness.

Every diagnosis is different, from a patient’s medical history to their current condition to the cancer location, type and staging. Patients with the same diagnosis and the same treatment type can have completely different treatment plans that are tailored specifically to their individual needs.

No, patients will not need to quit their job to undergo immunotherapy, although may choose to reduce their hours to aid recovery or manage side effects. Workplaces are legally required to make accommodations where necessary for staff undergoing cancer treatment.

Macmillan Cancer Support has provided a detailed resource on Work and Cancer for patients receiving cancer treatments.

No, immunotherapy is delivered as an outpatient procedure at Rutherford Cancer Centres and there is no requirement to stay overnight.

After diagnosis, referral and the initial consultations with the cancer care team to determine if immunotherapy is the most effective form of treatment, you will meet with the clinical oncologist to discuss the benefits and risks of immunotherapy and ensure consent is given for treatment.

Tests will be carried out to determine your general health, including x-rays or scans to identify the size of the cancer and blood tests to check the health of your organs. You may receive specific cancer vaccines, cytokines or targeted antibodies via one of the four delivery methods.

Treatment is delivered over a series of months during individual sessions and the number of sessions required and how frequently they occur will be decided in your treatment plan. Regular tests will be carried out during your treatment to monitor your progress and general health.

After treatment is finished, regular health checks will continue to monitor the progress of your treatment and recovery. Some side effects can persist after treatment while the body recovers. Supportive care teams are still available to talk to or offer help with side effects, even after treatment has finished.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important as it helps the immune system defend against side effects and ensures your body has the best chance of recovery between and after treatments.

Getting plenty of rest is a key element of recovery, as fatigue is a commonly felt side effect for patients receiving cancer treatments. Get plenty of sleep and aim to stay active during the day as this can aid with restful sleep overnight. Rest frequently during the day where necessary, either napping or spending time sitting quietly in a relaxed environment.

The body requires a healthy diet of nutritious meals and plenty of fluids to ensure the best chance of recovery. Your supportive care team can provide advice and guidance for meal planning and meeting dietary needs during treatment.

No, immunotherapy delivered intravenously can lead to discomfort around the delivery site (including itchiness, sensitivity and redness), however, receiving the treatment shouldn’t cause any pain.

As the issues associated with coronavirus (COVID-19) continue, our number one priority at the Rutherford is the health and safety of our patients, colleagues and partners. We are committed to following all Department of Health guidance and ensuring the strict code of hygiene and other appropriate measures are in place in all Rutherford Cancer Centres. Relatives and friends are asked to wait in their cars unless it is identified that they need to accompany the patient, this is to reduce the number of people in our centres at any one time.

The effectiveness of immunotherapy is dependent on a regular treatment regime that takes place over a predetermined period of time. To ensure maximum effectiveness, you should avoid missing treatments wherever possible. If you are feeling particularly unwell, the clinical oncologist may amend your treatment plan and schedule additional treatments for the future.

The consultant oncologist takes overall responsibility for your treatment. The number of times you will see your consultant oncologist during treatment will depend on your individual treatment pathway and circumstances. They use their medical and clinical skills and experience to determine and plan the most appropriate treatment for you and ensure that you are supported during your treatment.

Your oncologist may request to see you during treatment if it’s needed, or they may recommend that your treatment team carry out regular assessments during treatment and keep them informed about your wellbeing throughout instead. If you have any concerns during your treatment, you can always ask to see your oncologist as and when you need to.

As with any diagnosis and cancer treatment plan, emotional and mental health is going to be affected. The supportive care team is available to provide physical, mental and emotional support to you whenever it is required, during or after your treatment and can provide access to additional therapies on request.

Yes, maintaining energy levels ensures the best chance of recovery between cancer treatments so it’s important to follow a healthy, balanced diet.

Fatigue and tiredness are commonly experienced side effects during cancer treatment. Patients may feel tired or sleepy during their treatment session, however, should avoid taking a nap or going to sleep as this can affect the restfulness of sleep in the evening.

The number of immunotherapy sessions is detailed in your individual treatment plan. Treatment sessions may vary between patients and are dependent on the different stages and types of cancer.

Cancer treatments can weaken the immune system, so practising good hygiene is important for avoiding infections. This includes:

  • Washing hands regularly with hot water and soap
  • Washing hands before preparing and before eating food
  • Washing hands after using the bathroom
  • Washing hands after contact with animals
  • Taking regular showers or baths
  • Avoid sharing towels, flannels, or washcloths with others
  • Avoiding crowded or public spaces (including transport)
  • Avoiding exposure to illnesses

Like most cancer treatments, the most common side effect of immunotherapy is fatigue or consistent tiredness, although it’s not often that patients experience severe side effects. Side effects tend to happen in the early stages of treatment and the supportive care team can provide guidance on how to manage immunotherapy side effects. Patients may also experience flu or cold-like symptoms including muscle ache, headaches and chills, as the immune system responds to the immunotherapy treatment.

Vaccinations come in two main types, live and inactive. While undergoing any cancer treatment, we advise you not to have any live vaccinations as they contain a weak version of the virus, which it is being used to inoculate against. Your oncology team can provide further information on which vaccines are safe to receive depending on your individual diagnosis and treatment pathway.

Macmillan Cancer Support provides the latest information for patients undergoing cancer treatment regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.

During the course of your immunotherapy treatment, your oncology team will carry out regular check-ups and tests to monitor the progress of how effective your treatment is.

Studies have shown that antibiotics reduce the effectiveness of immunotherapy. Always check with the oncology team before taking or starting a course of any medication.

Immunotherapy at Rutherford Cancer Centres

The names of the people who make up our immunotherapy teams change from centre to centre. Your cancer care team is comprised of the following job roles and responsibilities:

Clinical Oncologist

The clinical oncologist works closely with the immunotherapy treatment team to develop the best plan for each patient and will oversee the entirety of a treatment plan. This includes monitoring the progress of treatment and adjusting the treatment plan where necessary.

Oncology Nurse

The oncology nurse is the main point of support for patients and their families and will be on hand to provide information around side effects and how to manage them. They will explain what to expect during and after the treatment and will be available after treatment to provide follow-up advice and supportive care as needed.

Immunotherapy treatments are delivered by an oncology nurse and their team who are specialised in cancer care. The oncology team will ensure the needs of the patient are met before, during and after the delivery of immunotherapy treatment.

If you are going to be late for an appointment, please let your treatment or supportive care team know as soon as possible so adjustments to your treatment session can be arranged.

The immunotherapy team should be informed of any medications or natural remedies you are taking prior to the start of treatment. Always seek the advice of the supportive care team before taking any other medication or herbal remedies during treatment as some medicines may cause unpredictable side effects.

After your initial consultation, on your returning visit, you will be asked to bring your completed consent form and provide any relevant insurance documents (for patients using private health insurance coverage).

For your treatment sessions, you can bring personal entertainment devices such as a book, MP3, or tablet device. Free Wi-Fi is provided throughout the centres for use by patients and visitors.

 During treatment planning, you will be introduced to your consultant and supportive care team. If you require any support regarding side effects, additional therapies and coping with your treatment, the supportive care team is available to help. Any questions regarding your treatment should be raised with your consultant oncologist or treatment team.

There are no official waiting lists at Rutherford Cancer Centres, however, before we can bring you in for a consultation, we need to collect the following from your current health care provider or GP:

  • Clinic letters
  • Histology reports
  • Scans
  • Scan reports

This stage may sometimes cause a delay, but our team will endeavour to complete it as soon as possible. Once the required data and information has been collected, a consultation can usually be arranged for the following week or the week after, but this will depend on consultant availability. If a patient needs to be seen urgently, video consultation can be arranged with consultants from another centre.

The holistic cancer care package provides access to the supportive care team who are available for you or your family to talk to at any time during or after your treatment. Our supportive care team can arrange additional therapies during your treatment where required and offer guidance on the treatment progress and how to maintain a healthy lifestyle during treatment.

Rutherford Cancer Centres do not provide or have access to housing facilities. The centres are located in areas with suitable accommodation available, including hotels and guest houses that are situated nearby. If you need assistance, we can help you find somewhere suitable to stay during your treatment with us.

Immunotherapy is not currently offered to NHS patients through the Rutherford Cancer Centre network. The treatments available via the NHS may change over time and the most up to date information is available at your nearest Rutherford Cancer Centre.

If you need to change the time or date of your appointment, please contact our enquiries team on 0800 210 0402 and we will try to arrange a more suitable time and day. Alternatively, you call the number for the centre at which you are being treated.

Patients can self-pay for their treatment or payments can be made by insurance for privately insured patients. In some instances, the NHS may cover the costs for patients receiving treatment under the NHS.

Rutherford Cancer Centres is transforming cancer care by providing a truly unique and holistic approach to cancer treatment and supportive care. We utilise the latest advanced technology for treating cancer. Our treatments include immunotherapy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, MR-linac radiotherapy (North West only) and proton beam therapy (proton beam therapy currently available at three out of four centres). Rutherford Cancer Centres provide a personalised treatment pathway that has been carefully tailored to the individual patient and is aided by our supportive care team.

Our centres are designed to offer a comfortable and personalised experience. With comfortable consultation rooms, state-of-the-art infusion suites and the Philips Ambient Experience in our diagnostics and treatment rooms. The Philips Ambient Experience allows patients to choose the lighting and music during their appointment with additional options for visual distractions that can help relax and soothe the patient during their time in the centre.

Our modern and welcoming infusion suites are designed with patient comfort in mind, offering space for up to 10 treatment areas and plenty of natural lighting. Patients can choose to receive treatment in shared suite or in a private room.

Last updated: 1st July 2021

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