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How is immunotherapy administered?

Medically reviewed by Sally Chao, MD. Last updated on Aug 1, 2021.

Official answer

by Drugs.com

Immunotherapy medications can be administered in various ways. They can be given:

  • Directly into a vein
  • Under your skin
  • Orally
  • Rubbed into your skin

These various administration modes may require treatment at different medical settings, such as a doctor’s office, a clinic or an outpatient division in a hospital. Some immunotherapy drugs may be self-administered in the comfort of your home.

  • In cancer treatment, immunotherapy boosts your immune system to better locate and attack cancer cells. The immune system helps your body fight infections and diseases.
  • In allergy treatment, the allergen is injected into the skin. This changes your immune system to prevent new allergies and asthma from developing.

Here are the ways you may have immunotherapy:

Intravenous (IV) immunotherapy

Intravenous immunotherapy goes straight into your veins as an infusion. It may require a visit to an outpatient facility, clinic, doctor’s office or a hospital stay. Treatment may be daily, weekly or monthly. Some are given in cycles where there is a period of treatment followed by a period of rest.

Subcutaneous immunotherapy

Subcutaneous immunotherapy is injected under the skin. A popular example would be “allergy shots.” They prevent new allergies and asthma from developing. Treatment may require a visit to a clinic or doctor’s office. Injections may be given weekly to start and the frequency tapered down to once a month. Treatment may continue for 3 to 5 years.

Oral immunotherapy

Oral immunotherapy comes in the form of drops and powders given with food or under the tongue. They may cure allergies by giving small doses of what you are allergic to to increase the threshold that triggers your reaction. The first dose is usually administered in a doctor’s office. If tolerated, subsequent doses can safely be self-administered orally at home.

Topical immunotherapy

Topical immunotherapy medications are creams prescribed to be rubbed onto your skin. This type of immunotherapy can treat skin cancer or hair loss. It is usually only used in skin cancers that are in the early stages and have not spread to other parts of your body. Creams can be self-administered at home.

Intravesical immunotherapy

Intravesical immunotherapy is a liquid drug that goes directly into your bladder through a soft catheter. It is usually used in cancers that are localized to the lining of the bladder (early-stage). They have not spread to other parts of the body. Administration may require a visit to an outpatient facility or a hospital stay.

Although the administration routes of cancer immunotherapy vary greatly by condition, the majority of immunotherapy medications used in cancer are intravenously administered. Topical and intravesical routes are reserved for early-stage cancers. Allergies, on the other hand, are treated with subcutaneous or oral immunotherapy.

References
  1. National Cancer Institute (NCI). Immunotherapy to Treat Cancer. September 24, 2019. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/immunotherapy#how-is-immunotherapy-given. [Accessed July 14, 2021].
  2. American Cancer Society (ACS). Immunotherapy. February 3, 2021. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3ZTSSVLi6I. [Accessed July 14, 2021].
  3. Cancer Research Institute. Immunotherapy Treatment Types. Available at: https://www.cancerresearch.org/en-us/immunotherapy/treatment-types. [Accessed July 14, 2021].
  4. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI). Allergy Shots. December 28, 2017. Available at: https://acaai.org/allergies/allergy-treatment/allergy-immunotherapy/allergy-shots. [Accessed July 14, 2021].
  5. National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF). Treatments for Alopecia Areata. 2017. Available at: https://www.naaf.org/alopecia-areata/alopecia-areata-treatments. [Accessed July 14, 2021].
  6. Cancer Research Institute. Immunotherapy for Skin Cancer. August 2020. Available at: https://www.cancerresearch.org/en-us/immunotherapy/cancer-types/skin-cancer. [Accessed July 14, 2021].
  7. American Cancer Society (ACS). Intravesical Therapy for Bladder Cancer. January 30, 2019. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/bladder-cancer/treating/intravesical-therapy.html. [Accessed July 14, 2021].

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