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Other types of immunotherapy

While checkpoint inhibitors are the main type of immunotherapy, there are some other types of immunotherapy that work in different ways. A few have been  approved to treat particular cancers, but most are still being tested in clinical trials. Your cancer specialist can give you the latest information.

Immune stimulants – These treatments stimulate the immune system to attack cancer.

Examples

  • Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) – a vaccine put directly into the bladder to prevent bladder cancer coming back or spreading
  • imiquimod – a cream applied directly to some skin cancers

CAR T-cell therapy Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) – T-cell therapy boosts the ability of T-cells to fight cancer. T-cells are removed from the blood and altered
so they can better recognise cancer cells. The altered T-cells are then returned to the blood through an intravenous drip (infusion).

Examples

  • used for some types of leukaemia and lymphoma that have come back or not responded to treatment
  • clinical trials are testing whether CAR T-cell therapy works well for other types of cancer
  • available only in a few public hospitals at this stage

Oncolytic virus therapy – This therapy uses viruses that infect cancer cells, causing the cells to die and stimulating the immune system to attack the cancer.

Examples

  • melanoma is sometimes treated with an oncolytic virus therapy known as talimogene laherparepvec or T-VEC, which is injected directly into the melanoma
  • clinical trials are testing oncolytic virus therapies for brain cancer and some other cancer types, but research is still in its early stages

Vaccines to prevent cancer

Some vaccines are not used to treat cancer, but can help prevent it. They do this by training the immune system to attack viruses that have been linked to certain cancers. The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine helps prevent cervical cancer and also offers some protection against anal and penile cancers and some head and neck cancers. You can read more about the HPV vaccine at hpvvaccine.org.au.

Vaccines against the hepatitis B virus help prevent liver cancer. Visit health.gov.au for more information.

Featured resource

Understanding Immunotherapy

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed July 2021 by the following expert content reviewers: Dr Jenny Lee, Medical Oncologist, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Prof Michael Boyer, Medical Oncologist and Chief Clinical Officer, Lung and Thoracic Cancer, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, and Central Clinical School, The University of Sydney, NSW; A/Prof Christine Carrington, Senior Consultant Pharmacist Cancer Services, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Dr Inês Pires da Silva, Medical Oncology Fellow, Melanoma Institute Australia and Westmead and Blacktown hospitals, NSW; Sandra Donaldson, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Sherry Gilbert, Consumer; Marilyn Nelson, Consumer; Julie Teraci, Skin and Melanoma Cancer Nurse Coordinator, WA Cancer and Palliative Care Network, North Metropolitan Health Service, WA; Helen Westman, Lung Cancer Nurse Coordinator, Cancer and Palliative Care Network, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW.