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Immunotherapy and cancer: what are the side effects?

Written by: Dr Mark Tuthill
Edited by: Laura Burgess

The really amazing thing about immunotherapy is that it's proven to be effective in treating a wide variety of different cancer types. It has been shown to transform the outcomes of patients with advanced kidney cancer, bladder cancer, cancers of the lung, some forms of skin cancer and some cancers of the immune system such as lymphoma. The list of cancers which can be treated effectively with immunotherapy keeps on growing on a year-by-year basis.

As with any treatment procedure, one of the first things that a patient will question is whether there are any side effects to the medication, and if so, what? Oxford medical oncologist Dr Mark Tuthill is an expert in immunotherapy in cancer treatment. Here he explains more.

Are there any side effects?

The side effects of immunotherapy very much depend on the type of treatment you're being given. The commonest side effects are:

  • Rash
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhoea
  • Joint aches
  • Pains

Even though there are a wide variety of other side effects that could affect you, one of the most important things to remember about immunotherapy is that it's a natural treatment.

It's your own immune system attacking the illness. What we've clearly seen in treatment is rather than patients becoming more unwell, often their quality of life and general well-being goes up, the longer the time they spend on immunotherapy. This has been one of the most rewarding things to see in my job.


How can the side effects be managed?

Many of the side effects are treated with straightforward medications and resolve within a quick duration. Although there are a lot of potential side effects, most are manageable and it's certainly a lot better for patients than having, say, chemotherapy treatment.


How can I have immunotherapy?

If you want to know whether your cancer could be treated with immunotherapy, speak to your medical team who will be able to advise you. We and others are conducting lots of research into immunotherapy treatments to try and keep expanding the numbers of patients that can benefit from the treatment. It's an exciting time. There's lots of new research coming out and lots of new treatments are becoming available.

If in doubt, speak to your doctor or healthcare team and they'll be able to advise you about whether immunotherapy treatment would be suitable for you.


Do not hesitate to book an appointment with Dr Tuthill if you would like to discuss your cancer treatment options. 

Read more on the medications used in immunotherapy

By Dr Mark Tuthill
Medical oncology

Dr Mark Tuthill is an experienced consultant medical oncologist and an expert in the use of immunotherapy in cancer treatment. Practicing at the Manor Hospital and GenesisCare in Oxford, Dr Tuthill specialises in the treatment of early and recurrent cancer including breast cancer, prostate cancer,kidney cancer, bladder cancer and testicular cancer. Treatment is personalised to each patient's needs and preferences and can include the use of chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy, or cancer growth inhibitors.

Dr Tuthill originally qualified from University College London, and trained in Medical Oncology in London at the Royal Marsden, Hammersmith, Charing Cross, and the Chelsea and Westminster Hospitals. In 2015 he was appointed Consultant Medical Oncologist at Churchill Hospital, Oxford, where he acts as principal investigator on a number of clinical trials.

Dr Tuthill’s research interests include tumour immunology, cancer-growth inhibitors, and novel therapeutic drug combinations for the treatment of cancer. He is a principal investigator or sub-investigator for early and late phase clinical trials in tumour types including breast cancer, urological cancers and other tumour types. Dr Tuthill holds a PhD in Tumour Immunology from Imperial College London and regularly presents his research at national and international conferences. He is a clinical ambassador for UCARE (Urology Cancer Research and Education), an independent charity raising funds for research into prostate and bladder cancer, and is a member of The Association of Cancer Physicians.

Dr Tuthill has a medico-legal practice supported by a dedicated a highly professional medico-legal administrative team and medico-legal analysts. He writes clear concise reports to time and client satisfaction.

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