IMMUNOTHERAPY

Boosting the body's immune system to fight cancer.

Legacy doctor asking male patient questions

How immunotherapy works

Immunotherapy (also called biologic therapy) is a type of cancer treatment that works by triggering your own immune system. That system is made up of cells, organs and substances that protect you from infection, but have a harder time “seeing” and killing cancer cells. Some treatments boost the immune system in a general way. Others work to directly target cancer cells.


Immunotherapy can work in two ways:

  • Making your own immune system work harder or smarter
  • Using man-made immune system parts designed to attack specific cancer cells

In the last few decades, this treatment has become an important tool in fighting cancer. Researchers continue to work on ways to help the body better recognize and attack cancer cells.


Meet our providers

Our cancer specialists work closely together to deliver the latest treatments based on your needs. Learn more about the medical oncology team.
 
Female reproductive cancers are treated by the gynecologic oncology team. Learn more about the gynecologic oncology team.

Types of immunotherapy

  • Adoptive cell transfer: This treatment is used to boost the ability of the body’s T cells to fight cancer. T cells are a type of white blood cell that is part of the immune system. 

  • Cytokines: These proteins are an important part of your immune system and its response to cancer. The include interferons and interleukins.

  • Monoclonal antibodies: Designed to bind to specific targets to cause an immune response to fight cancer, they can also be used to “mark” cancer cells so that it’s easier for the immune system to find cancer cells and destroy them. This type of treatment is also considered “targeted therapy.”

  • Treatment vaccines: These can boost your immune system and are different than preventive vaccines.
     

When immunotherapy is used

Immunotherapies have been approved by the FDA to treat lung cancer, melanoma, cervical cancer and some types of “microsatellite unstable” cancers, mostly colon and uterine. Other immunotherapies are being studied in clinical trials. Your cancer doctor can tell you if immunotherapy is an appropriate treatment.

What to expect during treatment

If your doctor recommends immunotherapy, you will receive treatment at one of Legacy’s six infusion locations. 
 
How often you receive treatment and the cycles in which it is given depend on the type of cancer you have, how the treatment is working and what kind of immunotherapy it is. There are several ways you might receive treatment, including intravenous, oral or topical medications.

What happens next

You may experience side effects from immunotherapy. The most common are pain or swelling from the IV site. Side effects vary from person to person and depend on what drug is used. Some common side effects are diarrhea, rash and fatigue.Talk to your doctor about what side effects to expect and how you can manage them.


During your immunotherapy treatment, you see your Legacy Cancer Institute doctor regularly. You also have blood tests and imaging tests to see how the treatment is working. It’s important that you follow the treatment plan, because missed treatments may affect your success.

Working together for you

Our cancer experts work together with a common goal: delivering the right care for you.

A range of specialists collaborate regularly in meetings called tumor boards to discuss the best plan for your care. Your treatment plan is made just for you, depending on your general health, your age, your particular cancer and its growth.

More support

You are not alone. Legacy offers support throughout your cancer journey, as well as care for your emotional, social and spiritual needs. 

Meet our providers

Our cancer specialists work closely together to deliver the latest treatments based on your needs. Learn more about the medical oncology team.
 
Female reproductive cancers are treated by the gynecologic oncology team. Learn more about the gynecologic oncology team.

Find a location

Legacy's services are part of the OHSU Knight-Legacy Health Cancer Collaborative. This collaboration with OHSU has many treatment locations across the Portland-Vancouver metro area. Find one near you.