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What is Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is a drug treatment that uses the immune system to fight cancer. It may be administered to patients intravenously in the Chemotherapy Unit of the hospital, but it is not the same as chemotherapy.

A number of cancer immunotherapies have been developed using different strategies to help boost immune response. Some immunotherapies help your immune system attack the cancer directly and some help to enhance your body’s immune response to fight the cancer. For example, some cancers trick the immune system by switching off certain pathways so that cancer cells are no longer recognized, allowing them to continue to grow. One type of immunotherapy helps fight cancer by switching on the pathways that the cancer cells have switched off, so that the immune system begins to recognize and attack the cancer. This is only one approach to cancer immunotherapy.

There are different immunotherapies available in Canada to treat skin melanoma. In general, all treatment options can cause serious side effects, sometimes even fatal. That’s why it is always important to carefully weigh the benefits of any cancer treatment against the possible risks. You should discuss possible side effects with your doctor before starting treatment.

Video: What is Immunotherapy

Created by Massey Nematollahi, RN, CNS, OCN, CON,

Immuno-Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist, William Osler Health System and Dr. Parneet Cheema, HBSc, MD, MBiotech, FRCPC, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto, Medical Oncologist, William Osler Health System

This informational video is also available in FrenchCantonese, Punjabi, Spanish, Japanese, German, and Italian 

Video: Possible Side Effects of Immunotherapy

Created by Teresa Petrella, BSc, MD, MSc, FRCPC – Medical Oncologist, Associate Professor, University of Toronto; and the team at Odette Cancer Centre, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, as well as the members of the Canadian Melanoma Task Force.

This informational video is also available in French

An introduction to immuno-oncology therapy

This resource includes information about cancer immunotherapy, your healthcare team, side effects, what to expect, getting the most from your appointments, and contains a treatment planner.

NCCN Guidelines for Patients®: Immunotherapy Side Effects Series

NCCN Guidelines for Patients Explain How to Recognize and Manage Immunotherapy-Related Toxicities

Customized for the Canadian audience, this pamphlet is a document to provide/discuss with patients that helps guide their decision making regarding next steps for stage III melanoma. Reviewed by Save Your Skin Foundation, updated February 2021:


Want to learn how to use the Stage III Decision-Support Tool? Peruse frequently asked questions about Stage III melanoma and learn how to use the support tool to guide your decision making. Also developed in collaboration with Save Your Skin Foundation, updated February 2021:

An up-to-date list of available treatments can be found on the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH) website’s Provincial drug formulary database, which can be accessed here.

For more information about immunotherapy and BRAF inhibitor therapies and whether they might be an option for you, ask your Doctor.

 NOTE: The information on the Save Your Skin website is not intended to replace the medical advice of a doctor or healthcare provider. While we make every effort to ensure that the information on our site is as current as possible, please note that information and statistics are subject to change as new research and studies are published.

Together, we can make a difference. 

Making awareness and education available is crucial. Since 2006, the Foundation has worked to raise awareness of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers focusing on education, prevention and the need for improved patient care.

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