Immunotherapy is treatment with medicine that helps our immune system attack cancer cells. Our immune system is the part of our body that fights infections, and it can be used to attack the cancer.

Immunotherapy is given in a few ways. These include intravenous (IV) where it goes into a vein in your body, with a needle. It can also be delivered directly into the bladder. This way is called intravesical.

Immunotherapy can also be given as a cream to rub into the skin or as pills or liquid.

Most often, immunotherapy is given with a needle into the veins. There are breaks in between treatments of 2 to 6 weeks. Examples of common immunotherapy names are pembrolizumab and nivolumab.

The length of treatment will depend upon the type of cancer, the type of immunotherapy you have and how you react to it.

Immunotherapy works in some people, but not everyone. It is said to be promising and is becoming a treatment option for many different types of cancer.

To help decide what is best for you, yarn with your doctor, nurse, or Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health worker, and with other mob who have had the treatment.

Most people who have immunotherapy feel very tired. Some people find their skin gets red and itchy. Others get aches and pains, especially in their belly, as well as diarrhoea, fever, and nausea, and some people get no side effects at all.

It is important to have regular check-ups with your doctor while you are receiving treatment.

Most side-effects are from immunotherapy attacking healthy cells. Your health care team can help or treat many of the side effects. Mob who have had immunotherapy say that rest is important to recover from immunotherapy as well as spending time on Country, traditional healing, bush medicine and cultural practices.

What questions should I ask?

There are lots of questions you can ask:

  • Will it work?
  • How long will it take to work, if it does?
  • What happens if it doesn’t work?
  • How much will it cost?
  • Where would I be treated?
  • What side-effects might I get?
  • Who do I contact if I get side-effects?
  • What can I do about them?

Understanding treatment options

Immunotherapy (sometimes called biologic therapy) is a treament that uses certain parts of a person's immune system to fight cancer.

Life with and after cancer


Where can I get help and support?