Immunotherapy vs. Chemotherapy:
What is Immunotherapy?
Cancer immunotherapy is a treatment that empowers one’s own immune system to fight off cancer. Immunotherapy works to harness and enhance the natural powers of the immune system to work against the disease—by enabling it to recognize, target, and eliminate cancer cells throughout the body.
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy, often called "chemo," is a treatment with drugs that kill cancer cells directly. Chemotherapy attacks all rapidly-dividing cells that it can locate within the body, effectively targeting fast-growing tumors. Chemotherapy can be used alone or in combination with surgery, radiation, or immunotherapy.
What is the difference?
Unlike chemotherapy, which acts directly on cancerous tumors, immunotherapy treats you by acting on your immune system. Immunotherapy can both activate a stronger than normal immune response in your body as well as teach your immune system how to identify and destroy cancer cells.
Side effects: Immunotherapy vs. Chemotherapy
In order to destroy cancerous tumors, chemotherapy attacks all rapidly dividing cells
that it locates within the body, which can include both cancerous and non-cancerous
cells, such as hair follicles and the lining of the gut. These attacks on healthy cells are
what causes some of chemotherapy’s more well-known side effects, such as hair loss
and nausea. In contrast, immunotherapy’s side effects usually stem from an overactive
immune system and can range from minor inflammation to major conditions that are
more similar to autoimmune disorders. Other potential side effects of chemotherapy
can include rashes and diarrhea, which can also occur with immunotherapy.
How effective is each treatment?
While chemotherapy treatment effects only last as long as the drugs remain in the body, one of the most exciting and groundbreaking aspects of immunotherapy is that it can provide long-term protection against cancer, due to the immune system’s ability to recognize and remember what cancer cells look like. This immune ”memory” is what makes these longer-lasting and more permanent remissions possible, and what makes immunotherapy a potentially universal answer to cancer. Clinical studies have shown that beneficial responses to cancer immunotherapy treatment can be durable and can be maintained even after treatment is completed. Additionally, some evidence has revealed that certain types and doses of chemotherapy can enhance immune responses against tumors, thus providing another rationale for combining these treatments in certain settings.
The promise of immunotherapy
Every patient should determine, in consultation with their oncologist and care team, the, cancer treatment path that’s right for them, whether that be chemotherapy,, immunotherapy, or a combination of these or other types of cancer treatments. Understanding the difference between immunotherapy and chemotherapy is the first step towards making the right decision and finding the best treatment options available. Whether or not it’s the proper treatment for you, spreading awareness of the cutting edge
science is an essential part of supporting continued research toward a cure.
McCluskey, K. (n.d.). Immunotherapy vs. Chemotherapy: What’s the Difference? , from