What Are the Pros and Cons of Biological Therapy for Cancer?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Biological therapy for cancer can be less invasive than other cancer treatment options and may offer some benefits to patients, but it is not always the most effective or suitable treatment. Patients with a cancer diagnosis may want to discuss their options carefully with a doctor and can consider requesting a second opinion from another care provider to get a complete picture. If biological therapy for cancer would be appropriate, a doctor can provide more information and help the patient make an informed decision about treatment.


In biological therapy for cancer, the patient receives compounds to help her body fight the cancer. They may boost the immune system, make cancer cells easier to spot, or change the way the cancer cells behave in the body. Some examples of treatments can include monoclonal antibodies, interleukins, and interferons. Gene therapy and other more advanced therapy options may be available for some patients. Also known as biotherapy or immunotherapy, this therapy can take place in a hospitalized setting or at home.

Some clear advantages to biological therapy for cancer include reduced toxicity and less invasiveness. The patient does not need to take extremely dangerous compounds to kill cancer cells because his body will fight the cancer with help from the therapy. This can limit side effects and make patients feel more comfortable during therapy. It can also reduce the risk of complications so severe that the patient needs to stop and pursue a different treatment.

These treatments are not without risks. Biological therapy for cancer may not be an option if a patient has a form of cancer that does not respond well to this treatment. Patients can also experience fatigue, nausea, dizziness, appetite suppression, and other side effects. These can become severe enough to cause a decline in quality of life, and may make it difficult to continue with treatment. Patients may also develop severe allergic reactions and other adverse responses to the medication, and it may be necessary to discontinue treatment before the end of the program.

The benefits may outweigh the advantages in some cases. In others, this treatment would not be sufficient, or the risks of more invasive therapies would be lower in the long term. Biological therapy with cancer cannot combat all cancers, and thus may not always be offered as a treatment option. Patients with an interest in this approach may want to consider asking about clinical trials. It could be possible to access treatments still in development through trial participation.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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