Difference Between Chemotherapy and Immunotherapy

What is the Difference Between Chemotherapy and Immunotherapy?

Out of the multiple approaches for cancer treatment, the two most known and preferred ones stand out for their efficiency and effectiveness: chemotherapy and Immunotherapy. While both of these aim to fight cancer, they operate through different mechanisms, each having its unique outcomes and challenges.

Chemotherapy, a basic ground in oncology for decades, works on using or applying cytotoxic drugs to directly target and stop the rapid growth of cancer cells. On the other hand, Immunotherapy works more into the body’s immune system, increasing its capabilities to recognize and destroy cancer cells.

Understanding the differences between these two primary treatment approaches is essential for experts and patients, as it helps provide a deeper understanding and more informed decisions.

If you wish to get deeper into the concept, you can plan on booking a professional consultation for the right and detailed consultation. And for your prescription medicines, carry your free Rx discount card to save on costs.

What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is more of a traditional form of cancer treatment that involves the use of cytotoxic drugs to prevent the growth of cancer cells rapidly. These drugs aim at various cell cycle stages, preventing the cancer cells from growing quickly and leading to death.

Chemotherapy stops cellular processes, such as DNA replication and cell division. By restricting these processes, chemotherapy drugs result in those targeted cells dying.

However, a significant disadvantage of chemotherapy can be that the treatment does not differ between cancer cells and healthy ones. The targeted area during the treatment, the targeted area destroys healthy cells, directly affecting one’s cell growth, cellular processes, and immune system. Because they also affect healthy cells, such as bone marrow, gastrointestinal tract, and hair follicles, chemotherapy often leads to many side effects, such as bone marrow suppression, nausea, vomiting, hair loss, lack of energy, and fatigue.

Despite its side effects, chemotherapy remains an important consideration in cancer treatments due to its ability to shrink tumors and improve survival rates in many cancer types. It is mainly preferred and used as the first step towards treatment, along with surgery, radiation therapy, or other treatments to increase its efficacy.

What is Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy, on the other hand, aims at using the power of the body’s immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells. Unlike the earlier methods and a step ahead, Immunotherapy focuses on using the strength one already contains in one’s body to fight cancer.

Unlike chemotherapy, which directly targets cancer cells, Immunotherapy increases an individual’s immune response against cancer. The immune system has different processes that help identify and destroy abnormal cell growth in the body, including cancer cells.

One drawback of Immunotherapy is that the cancer cells may not be detected during the immune recognition search because they may contain certain proteins that are not expressed during the search or even hide themselves as normal cells.

Immunotherapy contains many methods to overcome these immune evasion mechanisms and activate the immune system’s ability to recognize and attack cancer cells. Some standard techniques to avoid this are checkpoint blockade therapy, adoptive cell transfer, etc.

One of the main benefits of Immunotherapy is the longevity of its treatment and the retrieval of durable responses, even in advanced forms of cancer. Unlike chemotherapy, which goes on during continuous periods and needs to maintain a regularity, which can lead to drug resistance over time, Immunotherapy can slowly train the immune system to recognize and remember cancer cells and fight them on their own.

Moreover, Immunotherapy also shows a different toxicity profile compared to chemotherapy. This means that even though it can cause immune-related adverse effects, such as skin inflammation, gastrointestinal tract, or endocrine glands, these side effects are much less severe than the adverse effects and toxicity caused by chemotherapy.

Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that targets fast-growing cancer cells. However, it can cause various side effects that significantly affect people’s lives.

Following are some of the side effects of chemotherapy :

  • One common side effect is “bone marrow suppression,” which decreases the production of red and white blood cells (RBCs and WBCs) and platelets. This can result in causing anemia, infections, and easy bruising or bleeding.
  • Another common side effect is harmful effects on the digestive system, which can cause symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite.
  • Hair loss, or alopecia, is another side effect that can be emotionally challenging for many patients to deal with.
  • Fatigue, another common side effect and weakness, is also caused by the weakening of the immune system.
  • Specific chemotherapy agents can also cause peripheral neuropathy, characterized by numbness, tingling, or pain in the hands and feet.
  • Chemotherapy can also cause cognitive impairment, known as “chemo brain,” which can affect memory, concentration, and cognitive function, impairing daily activities and quality of life.
  • Skin-related side effects such as skin rash, dryness, and increased sensitivity to sunlight are also common.
  • Chemotherapy can also have long-term effects on fertility, particularly for younger patients, leading to reduced reproductive function or infertility.

Side Effects of Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment that can cause side effects known as “immune-related adverse effects.” These happen because the treatment boosts the immune system to fight cancer, but it can also mistakenly attack healthy body parts. These side effects occur when the immune system attacks healthy tissues and organs while fighting cancer cells.

Some of the side effects of Immunotherapy are as follows:

  • Dermatitis is a common immune-related adverse effect that causes skin rashes, itching, and inflammation.
  • Another side effect of Immunotherapy can be gastrointestinal problems, like colitis and diarrhea, along with abdominal pain, bloody stools, and nausea.
  • Immunotherapy can also result in the liver becoming inflamed, leading to symptoms like jaundice and changes in liver function tests.
  • Hormonal side effects affecting hormone glands, like the thyroid and adrenal glands, might also cause problems with hormone levels and how the body functions.
  • Breathing difficulties, such as coughing or trouble breathing, may occur when the lungs become inflamed due to Immunotherapy.
  • Another side effect of Immunotherapy may be Arthritis pain, joint pain, and muscle aches that affect the skeletal and muscular function in the body.
  • In rare cases, there may be severe effects on the nervous system, heart, or other organs. The severity of these side effects can vary from person to person and depend on the specific type of Immunotherapy used.


Chemotherapy and Immunotherapy are two different ways of treating cancer. While chemotherapy uses strong drugs to kill cancer cells and can make tumors smaller, it can also cause side effects due to its ability to harm healthy cells.

Conversely, immunotherapy works by helping the body’s immune system recognize and attack cancer cells. It can also have side effects, but they are usually different and less severe than those of chemotherapy.

Both treatments have their benefits and drawbacks, and the choice between them depends on the individual and their specific needs, the oncologist’s advice, and the most preferred treatment according to the type and stage of cancer.

The goal is always to find the most effective treatment while minimizing side effects and improving quality of life. With ongoing research and advancements in cancer treatment, there’s hope for even more effective and targeted therapies. To save on your medicine costs, use your free RX card.


1. Are there specific types of cancer that respond better to chemotherapy or Immunotherapy?

Chemotherapy, as well as Immunotherapy, can be effective against various types of cancer. Still, their effectiveness does vary depending on the specific type of cancer, along with factors like the individual’s medical history, coexisting problems, and vulnerability. Chemotherapy is often used in a wide range of cancers, including breast, lung, and cervical cancer. At the same time, Immunotherapy has been successful in treating melanoma, lung cancer, and certain types of lymphoma and bladder cancer.

2. Can chemotherapy and Immunotherapy be used together?

Yes, chemotherapy and Immunotherapy, through recent technological advancement, are used together for better effectiveness. They can be used together in special cases to increase treatment outcomes. This approach is known as combination therapy. It aims to combine both therapies’ strengths and work on each weakness. For example, combining chemotherapy with Immunotherapy may improve response rates in certain cancers and help overcome resistance to treatment.

3. How do doctors decide between chemotherapy and Immunotherapy for a patient’s cancer treatment?

The decision between chemotherapy and Immunotherapy depends on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer and the patient’s overall health and medical history. It also includes unique individual needs, which may also include genetic factors. Factors such as treatment goals, potential side effects, and patient preferences are also considered when choosing the most suitable treatment plan.


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