Oropharyngeal cancer

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Immunotherapy for oropharyngeal cancer

Immunotherapy is sometimes used to treat oropharyngeal cancer. Immunotherapy helps to strengthen or restore the immune system’s ability to fight cancer. Immunotherapy is sometimes called biological therapy.

You may have immunotherapy to treat recurrent or metastatic oropharyngeal cancer.

Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) may be used as a first-line therapy to treat metastatic or unresectable recurrent oropharyngeal cancer, with or without chemotherapy.

Nivolumab (Opdivo) is used to treat metastatic or recurrent oropharyngeal cancer that has stopped responding to chemotherapy with platinum drugs such as cisplatin or carboplatin.

Your healthcare team will consider your personal needs to plan the drugs, doses and schedules of immunotherapy. You may also receive other treatments.

Side effects

Side effects can happen with any type of treatment for oropharyngeal cancer, but everyone’s experience is different. Some people have many side effects. Other people have few or none at all.

Side effects of immunotherapy will depend mainly on the type of drug or drug combination, the dose, how it’s given and your overall health. Nivolumab may cause these side effects:

Report side effects

Be sure to report side effects to the healthcare team. Side effects can happen any time during, immediately after or a few days or weeks after immunotherapy. Sometimes late side effects develop months or years later. Most side effects go away on their own or can be treated, but some side effects may last a long time or become permanent.

Your healthcare team is there to help. The sooner you tell them of any problems, the sooner they can suggest ways to help you deal with them.

Information about specific cancer drugs

Details on specific drugs change regularly. Find out more about sources of drug information and where to get details on specific drugs.

Questions to ask about immunotherapy

Find out more about immunotherapy. To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about immunotherapy.

metastatic cancer

Cancer that has spread from the original (primary) site where it started to another part of the body. Metastatic cancer has the same type of cancer cells as the original cancer. For example, when colon cancer spreads to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are colon cancer cells. It is metastatic colon cancer, not liver cancer.

Also called secondary cancer or a secondary tumour.

first-line therapy

The first, most common or preferred (standard) treatment given for a condition or disease (such as cancer).

Also called primary therapy or primary treatment. If a first-line therapy is the first in a series of treatments, it is sometimes called induction therapy.

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