Questions to ask your Doctor
To get you started we have put together a list of example questions that you might like to ask. Simply download and print this document and take it with you to your next appointment.
Immunotherapy is a method of treatment which uses substances to encourage or to subdue your immune system to help your body fight cancer, infection, and other diseases.
For more information about the immune system and how it works, see our Immune system webpage.
Some types of immunotherapy target certain immune cells; others affect the whole immune system in a general way. The immune system has a tougher time targeting tumour cells than other foreign substances. This is because:
However, immunotherapy research has had some success in some tumours/cancers, by increasing survival by several months.
Unfortunately, there has, so far, been less success in brain tumours.
When it comes to the brain, immune-based treatments face a number of obstacles before they can even reach the tumour. One of the most significant challenges is the blood-brain barrier which protects the brain from harmful substances.
Also some brain tumours are very good masters of disguise and can use a 'cloak' of molecules to make them look like normal cells to the immune system. This prevents immune cells from attacking them.
As yet, immunotherapy isn't a proven treatment for brain tumours, but there are clinical trials that are helping us move closer to a treatment. For example:
The Brain Tumour Charity is also funding immunotherapy research.
If you are interested in taking part in a clinical trial and would like to know more about whether immunotherapy is suitable for you, talk to your medical team. Below are some questions to help you with this.
You might find it helpful to think about any questions you have and write them down before going to see your doctor. It can also be helpful to have someone with you to write down the answers.
Current immunotherapies for brain tumours fall into six main categories (some of which overlap). These are known as:
Checkpoint inhibitors are drugs which 'take the brakes off' the immune system, allowing tumour cells to be destroyed.
Monoclonal antibodies either work like checkpoint inhibitors or they prevent tumour cells from continuing to divide.
A person's own 'dendritic cells' are 'taught' to recognise tumour cells to help the immune system respond to the tumour.
Oncolytic viruses infect cancer cells, where they can either kill the cell directly or act as a flag to the immune system.
ACT involves the development of a “new drug" for each patient increasing the number of a person's own tumour-fighting T-cells
Adjuvant immunotherapies are substance used alone, or in combination, to boost the immune system.
The Cancer Research Institute has produced a number of short, animated videos on how these different types of immunotherapy work. Please note that comments about the success/approvals for use relate to other tumour/cancer types i.e. NOT brain tumours.