Executive Director, Kidney Cancer Canada
Navigating Your Cancer Journey with Support from Kidney Cancer Canada.
As a biological therapy, immunotherapy is unique as it uses your own immune system to fight cancer cells. The addition of immunotherapy in the treatment of advanced and metastatic renal cancer has led to improved outcome for patients. While the treatment may not work for every patient, the results can be significant for many. In addition, it may work when other treatments have been ineffective or can help other treatments by working together. Immunotherapy may also help a patient stay cancer-free longer by helping the immune system learn to go after recurring cancer cells. This is known as immunomemory.
Kidney Cancer Canada is a patient-centred support organization that advocates for establishing a national guideline for monitoring patients while on immunotherapy. Without guidelines, one challenge is consistent monitoring to detect early progression of the disease. Patients should undergo baseline imaging (CT, MRI, or other) for a clear picture before starting treatment. Once treatment has begun, imaging may be done every six to eight weeks to monitor the response. The objective is to detect early if the patient is not responding while allowing enough time for the therapy to begin working. Once a positive response is observed, imaging will be extended to every three months or more.
Immunotherapy is not without side effects. It can have fewer side effects than some traditional cancer therapies, but if they do occur, they can be quite serious, resulting in the need for medications like steroids to modify the immune response. Side effects should be monitored regularly to ensure the patient can tolerate the treatment and maintain an optimal quality of life. When starting treatment, monitoring may be as often as every three to four weeks.
We encourage patients to keep a simple journal or calendar book to track how they’re feeling and any difficulties they’re experiencing while on treatment, and to report any unusual physical symptoms to their oncologist or their health care team immediately. It’s important to address any required changes in therapy at scheduled intervals, such as moving from one line of treatment to another or helping manage toxicities early, so staying on treatment is possible. This will hopefully lead to successful outcomes. Immunotherapy is unique to each patient — it doesn’t work for everyone, and not everyone may be able to tolerate the treatment. If immunotherapy isn’t successful for some patients, there are other types of treatments oncologists can offer, including clinical trials of promising new drugs.
Kidney Cancer Canada is a national community of patients, caregivers, and health professionals who work together to provide every Canadian touched by kidney cancer with support, information, education, and advocacy for treatment options. Programs and services are bilingual. An annual national forum and webinars feature medical and treatment information by Canada’s top kidney cancer doctors, as well as resources on cooking, nutrition, exercise, and stress management. Kidney Cancer Canada’s website, kidneycancercanada.ca, has a wealth of information, like the Video Knowledge Library, which provides informative answers to questions by leading doctors. In addition, Peer Support and Coffee-Chats offer a safe environment for patients and caregivers to meet virtually and discuss all topics. Kidney Cancer Canada also funds innovative research through support from generous donors touched by kidney cancer, including the Warren Y. Soper Charitable Trust, and by teaming up with the Kidney Cancer Research Network of Canada, a nationwide collaboration of doctors and researchers committed to finding a better diagnosis, treatment, and hopefully a cure.
This article was sponsored by one of Canada’s leading research-based pharmaceutical companies.