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Immunotherapy Side Effects

You should always report any concerns or side effects that bother you to your care team. Because immunotherapy uses the immune system, they can cause the immune system to attack some normal organs in the body. This is rare, but when it happens, more serious problems can occur. These types of side effects are often treated with steroids, such as prednisone. However, if your symptoms are mild, there are some things you can do to treat your symptoms with over-the-counter remedies.

Side effects that are common with immunotherapy drugs include:

Skin/Rash

If your skin is involved, you may notice itching, reddening of your skin, or possibly a flat, red area that has little bumps. Usually, the rash will be on your trunk, arms, or legs. A less common skin reaction might be areas with white patches.

If your skin is itchy, ask your doctor if you can take anti-itch medicines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl®) or use a steroid cream so that you are more comfortable. Tell your care team right away if you have swelling around the eyes, a severe rash, or a rash that looks like pimples or blisters on the skin, in the mouth, or on the genitals. This may be a sign of a more serious reaction.

Stomach/Intestines

If your intestines are affected, you might experience an increased number of bowel movements, diarrhea or constipation, blood or mucous in your stool, stomach pain, or cramping. If you have mild diarrhea, ask your doctor if you can take an anti-diarrhea medicine, such as loperamide (Imodium®). If you are having diarrhea, it is very important to increase your fluid intake so that you do not become dehydrated. Also make sure you are not taking a laxative or stool softener as these medicines make diarrhea worse. Eating a bland diet such as bananas, rice, applesauce, and dry toast (BRAT) may also help.

Tell your care team right away if you have severe diarrhea, stomach pain with nausea, vomiting, blood in your stool, constipation, or a fever.

Liver

In most cases, blood tests will indicate if your liver is affected.  however, you might experience pain on the right side of your stomach, fatigue/tiredness, yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes; you may bleed or bruise more easily; or your urine might turn the color of tea. You should tell your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

Hormone Glands

Immunotherapy can affect your hormone glands. If your thyroid is affected, your thyroid gland may become too active (hyperthyroid) or not active enough (hypothyroid). Tell your doctor if you have constipation, stomach pain, dizziness, constant headaches, vision changes, weight gain or loss, hair loss, a rapid heartbeat, or an increase in sweating. You should also tell your doctor if you feel irritable, more tired, or more cold than usual.

Lungs

Immunotherapy can cause cough or shortness of breath. Please call your doctor if you experience these symptoms. Please see additional helpful information about: