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How will I know whether the immunotherapy is working?

You will have regular check-ups with your cancer specialist, blood tests and different types of scans to check whether the cancer has responded to treatment.

It may take some time to know if immunotherapy has worked because some people have a delayed response. Rarely, the cancer may appear to get worse before improving.

You may wonder whether having side effects means the treatment is working. Immunotherapy side effects do indicate that the treatment is affecting your immune system in some way, but the link with treatment success is unclear. Many people who have had no side effects have still seen improvements in the cancer.

Sometimes it can be tricky to know which of your symptoms may be related to the cancer and which may be side effects of the immunotherapy. Make sure to discuss this with your cancer care team.

A good response from immunotherapy will make the cancer shrink. In some cases, the cancer remains stable, which means it doesn’t increase in size on scans but also does not shrink or disappear. People with stable disease can continue to have a good quality of life.

What if it doesn’t work? – Unfortunately, immunotherapy does not work for everyone, and some people who have immunotherapy will not respond to the treatment. This can be very disappointing, but your cancer specialist will help you explore other treatment options if this happens.

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Understanding Immunotherapy

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed July 2019 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Brett Hughes, Senior Staff Specialist, Medical Oncology, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital and The Prince Charles Hospital, and Associate Professor, The University of Queensland, QLD; Dawn Bedwell, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; Tamara Dawson, Consumer; A/Prof Craig Gedye, Senior Staff Specialist, Medical Oncology, Calvary Mater Newcastle, and Conjoint Associate Professor, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle, NSW; A/Prof Alexander Menzies, Medical Oncologist, Associate Professor of Melanoma Medical Oncology, and Faculty Member, Melanoma Institute Australia, The University of Sydney, Royal North Shore Hospital and Mater Hospital, NSW; Dr Donna Milne, Nurse Consultant Melanoma and Skin Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Geoffrey Peters, Staff Specialist, Medical Oncology, Canberra Hospital and Health Services, and Clinical Lecturer, Australian National University, ACT.