Immunotherapy Safety

Much is known about the need to protect others from exposure to traditional or standard chemotherapy because it is hazardous. This is why there are safety rules and recommendations for people who handle chemo drugs. However, because immunotherapy drugs are newer, there is not as much information about long-term effects of exposure. To be safe, many experts recommend treating immunotherapy drugs as hazardous and taking the same precautions. This is especially true when immunotherapy drugs are given to treat cancer in combination with other drugs that are known to be hazardous, so your cancer care team will take precautions to protect themselves and others from exposure to them.

Precautions the cancer care team might take

You may notice special clothing and protective equipment being worn by the nurses and other members of your cancer care team. Pharmacists and nurses who prepare drugs to treat cancer use a special type of pharmacy that must meet certain regulations. If you are being cared for in a treatment center, the nurses and others who give treatment and help take care of patients afterwards wear protective clothing, such as 2 pairs of special gloves and a gown, and sometimes goggles or a face shield. If you're getting immunotherapy through an IV, there might be a disposable pad under the infusion tubing to protect the surface of the bed or chair.

Special precautions when taking oral or topical immunotherapy

Oral immunotherapy that you take by mouth and swallow, or topical immunotherapy that you rub on your skin, is usually taken at home. Some are considered hazardous. There might be special precautions for storing and handling an immunotherapy drug. You might be told to be careful not to let others come into contact with it or your body fluids while taking it and for a time after taking it. Sometimes you need to wear gloves when touching the pills or capsules. Some drugs have to be kept in the bottle or box they came in. And some drugs and the packages they come in need to be disposed of in a certain way. Some might have to be taken back to the drug store to be thrown away safely. If you are taking an oral drug, talk to your cancer care team about whether special precautions are needed at home.

Keeping family and friends safe

Unless your health care team tells you differently, you can usually be around family and friends during the weeks and months you're getting immunotherapy. If you're getting treatment at a center, family and friends can often come with you. However, some treatment centers only allow patients in the infusion area and visitors may need to stay in the waiting room.

You are the only person who should be exposed to the drug you are getting, but any spilled IV drug, and any powder or dust from a pill or capsule, or any liquid from oral or topical immunotherapy might be hazardous to others if they are around it.

It's important to talk to your cancer care team and be aware of any special precautions that might be needed while you are taking an immunotherapy drug.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Brown VT. Targeted therapy. In Olsen MM, LeFebvre KB, Brassil KJ, eds. Chemotherapy and Immunotherapy Guidelines and Recommendations for Practice. Pittsburgh, PA: Oncology Nursing Society; 2019:103-139.

References

Brown VT. Targeted therapy. In Olsen MM, LeFebvre KB, Brassil KJ, eds. Chemotherapy and Immunotherapy Guidelines and Recommendations for Practice. Pittsburgh, PA: Oncology Nursing Society; 2019:103-139.

Last Revised: December 27, 2019

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