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Insight into the Side Effects of Immunotherapy for Brain Tumors

March 21, 2022

Mary Baker

Novel immunotherapies are changing the game for cancer treatment and patients with brain metastases – but be aware there are side effects. While some patients do not experience any symptoms, others may develop conditions that require short- or long-term care. Atlantic Health System’s Mary P. Baker, APN, shares insight on what is important to know.

What are common side effects of immunotherapy?

Common side effects include:

  • Rash and/or itchy skin
  • Flu-like symptoms (e.g., fatigue, nausea, body aches)
  • Diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough

Many of these can be treated with over-the-counter medications or steroid therapy.

What are other side effects to be aware of?

In some cases, immunotherapy can cause long-term conditions such as type 1 diabetes, thyroid dysfunction or myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disease that causes double vision and speech difficulties. These and other conditions can surface at any time during, or after, the course of immunotherapy treatment. That’s why it’s critically important for immunotherapy patients to vigilantly monitor any and all symptoms – and report them to their oncology team – to ensure they receive the proper care.

Who is prone to these side effects?

The side effects of immunotherapy vary based on a number of factors including the:

  • Patient’s overall health
  • Type of cancer
  • Stage of cancer
  • Type of immunotherapy
  • Dosage

An oncologist can provide more specific details about the potential risks of immunotherapy on an individualized basis.

How do the side effects of immunotherapy compare to chemotherapy

While immunotherapy activates the immune system to target cancerous cells, chemotherapy attacks both cancerous and non-cancerous cells, affecting the body in different ways. Common chemotherapy side effects such as hair loss and anemia are not prevalent with immunotherapy – but both treatments cause side effects that need to be discussed and evaluated as part of a personalized treatment plan.