If you’ve watched any kind of television over the last couple years, you’ve probably seen an ad for immunotherapy.  

What is immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is immune therapy.

Immunotherapy harnesses the body’s natural immune system to respond more effectively to fight disease.  Immunotherapy is being used for increasingly more diseases, including cancer.  

To appreciate how immunotherapy fights cancer cells, we need to revisit what cancer is.  Cancer cells are not normal cells for a variety of reasons: they don’t perform their normal cell functions, they replicate abnormally fast, & they can even suppress the immune system.  This means that the immune system may not even be able to recognize & then fight against the cancer cells.

This is why cancer can be so hard to treat.  But immunotherapy is changing the game:

Cancer cells have different proteins on their cell surface than normal cells.  Immunotherapy can target cells with these specific proteins on their cell surfaces.  It’s because of these surface proteins that immunotherapy can find these cells & then fight against them.

How each immunotherapy works differs slightly, but this is a general overview of how immunotherapy works.  

Common types of immunotherapy

There are many forms of immunotherapy hitting the market.  Here’s some common types you’ll encounter in your practice:

Checkpoint inhibitors: Cancer cells are sneaky & can turn T-cells off.  Checkpoint inhibitors turn T-cells back on so they can fight cancer cells.

CAR T-Cell Therapy: in short, a person’s own T-cells are genetically modified & reintroduced back into their body.  These enhanced T-cells can then hunt down cancer cells.  A special guest is coming on the podcast next week to talk all about CAR T, so stay tuned!

Cytokines: cytokines are circulating cells that help stimulate the immune system.  These can also be made in the lab & used in cancer treatment to ramp up a person’s immune response to cancer.

Immunotherapy is used to treat more & more cancer every year

The field of immunotherapy has exploded over the last couple decades.  It’s anticipated that every cancer can be treated & will be treated with immunotherapy at some point.  

You will treat a person on immunotherapy at some point in your career.  It’s inevitable at this point.  So it’s up to you to have a basic understanding of immunotherapy & how it may affect your patient.

For more on immunotherapy

My brand new courses with MedBridge are set to be released this winter, including my Immunotherapy course!  To be the first to know when they drop & save up to $150 on your subscription, go to & use affiliate code ONCOPT when you sign up or renew your membership!

Until next time, this is Elise with TheOncoPT.  And remember you are exactly the physical therapist your cancer patients need. So let’s get to work.