Chemotherapy and immunotherapy have proven to be powerful treatments for many types of cancer. Clinical developments and FDA approvals have made immunotherapeutic options increasingly available over the last decade, while chemotherapy has been used effectively and reliably since the 1940s.
In some cases, both chemotherapy (often called “chemo” for short) and immunotherapy are employed in tandem or in stages. They have the same goal — to eliminate or stop the growth cancer cells — but they do their job in different ways.
“Chemotherapy and immunotherapy are both effective ways to stop cancer cells in their tracks,” said Tanya Siddiqi, M.D., a hematologist-oncologist at City of Hope Newport Beach Fashion Island and the director of the Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Program at the Toni Stephenson Lymphoma Center. “A physician will determine the best options for the patient.”
Read about the promising treatment for B cell lymphoma being developed by Dr. Siddiqi and her colleagues.
Similarities And Differences
Both immunotherapy and chemotherapy may be administered at an outpatient infusion center, and both may be used alone or in combination with other types of cancer treatments. In other aspects, they differ, including:
How they work. Chemotherapy acts squarely on cancerous tumors, while immunotherapy acts on the immune system. “Chemotherapy works by preventing the cancer cell from dividing and growing, but sometimes cancer cells find new ways to keep doing so,” said Dr. Siddiqi. “Immunotherapy teaches healthy cells to recognize the cancer cells and stop their growth. That is, chemotherapy directly degrades cancerous cells and tumors, while immunotherapy jump-starts the immune system to work smarter and harder to fight the cancer on its own.”
Response Times. Immunotherapy may take longer to have an effect, since the elevated immune response needs time to ramp up, Chemotherapy may provide quicker results, because it directly attacks the cancer cells.
Length of treatment. Immunotherapy is capable of working for an extended period; the immune system “remembers” what kinds of cancer cell to look out for. In contrast, chemotherapy works for as long as the cancer drugs are in the patient’s body, and it is administered in cycles to continue the beneficial effects.
Cancer is a complex disease of which there are hundreds of types, and the choice of chemotherapy and/or immunotherapy can depend on the type of cancer the patient has. “Each case of cancer is as unique as the person experiencing it,” said Dr. Siddiqi. “Since the specifics of treatment are tailored to the individual, you want to be treated by an expert who specializes in your kind of cancer.”
Read how Orange County resident and City of Hope patient Todd Kennedy found hope in a personalized treatment plan for multiple myeloma that combined chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and other leading-edge approaches.
People with cancer have more treatment options today than ever before. At City of Hope Orange County, our highly-specialized physicians will work with you to discuss, design, and deliver a personalized treatment plan that best meets your goals.
Hope is growing at City of Hope Orange County. Our new locations in Huntington Beach, Newport Beach Lido and Irvine Sand Canyon join City of Hope Newport Beach Fashion Island to form a four-location network of highly specialized cancer care. To make an appointment at any of our four Orange County locations, click here or call: