Cancer Treatment and Immune Safety
Cancer treatments are designed to help the body fight cancer by identifying antigens on cancer cells. Some treatments utilize the body’s own immune system to help fight cancer cells. The term immunotherapy refers to treatments that help boost the body’s own immune response. Immunotherapies help the immune system recognize lymphoma cells and eliminate them from the body.
Other treatments introduce antibodies to help the body recognize and fight cancer cells. Treatments can also include monoclonal antibodies, molecules that have been engineered in a laboratory to behave differently than antibodies found naturally in our bodies. Monoclonal antibodies are specifically designed to recognize and stick to a particular antigen on the surface of certain cancer cells. Rituximab (Rituxan) became the first monoclonal antibody approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of patients with lymphoma.
There are several classes of immunotherapy that are either approved or under investigation to lymphoma patients, including antibody drug conjugates, bispecific antibodies, checkpoint inhibitors, cytokines, and immunomodulatory drugs. For specific drug names and information, see LRF’s fact sheet on Immunotherapy and Lymphoma.
Treatment and maintenance therapies can affect your immune system therefore health care providers conduct a complete blood count (CBC). CBC is conducted by taking a small blood sample. This sample is an important method to monitor red cells, white cells and platelets during and beyond treatment. Consider talking to your health care provider about your immune system and immunoglobulin levels before beginning treatment or maintenance therapy. LRF’s publications have more information on specific treatments and lymphoma subtypes. To access these free publications, visit lymphoma.org/publications.
Protecting Yourself and Your Immune System
Striving to maintain a healthy lifestyle or habits when possible can help the immune system. Sleep, moderate exercise and a healthy diet can help an immune system during or after treatment. Talk to your doctor about what diet and exercise is best for you.
It’s also important to take steps to protect yourself from infections. A simple way to protect yourself from infections recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is washing your hands. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
Ask your health care provider how else you can incorporate preventative measures into your daily routine. This is especially important during times when the number of viral infection cases increases, like during the flu season. Viral infections, like the flu or COVID-19, can spread easily and people who have chronic medical conditions may be at higher risk of infections.
Download the Understanding the Immune System and Lymphoma Fact Sheet
Learn more about the body’s immune system, lymphoma and treatment impacts.