Immunotherapy for Oral Cancer: Types, Side Effects & More

Oral cancers involve cancers affecting the lips and the inside of the mouth, including the tongue, gums, floor of the mouth, and palate. Globally, oral cancer ranks as the 13th most prevalent cancer, with 377,713 new cases and 177,757 deaths reported in 2020.

Oral cancer usually begins as a small, painless lump or sore in the mouth that doesn’t go away. As it progresses, it may cause symptoms such as difficulty chewing, swallowing, or speaking, persistent mouth pain, ear pain, or a change in voice. 

Timely detection and intervention are imperative in combating oral cancer effectively. Early recognition of symptoms and prompt medical attention can significantly improve treatment outcomes and patient survival rates. 

Among the evolving treatment modalities, immunotherapy has emerged as a promising approach in the management of oral cancer. By harnessing the body’s immune system to target cancer cells, immunotherapy offers a targeted and potentially less invasive option for patients, with the potential to enhance treatment efficacy and reduce side effects. Emphasizing the importance of timely diagnosis and exploring innovative treatment avenues like immunotherapy underscores the ongoing efforts to combat oral cancer and improve patient outcomes.

What is Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is a revolutionary approach to treating cancer and other diseases by harnessing the body’s own immune system to combat the illness. Unlike traditional treatments like chemotherapy or radiation, which directly target cancer cells, immunotherapy works by stimulating or enhancing the body’s natural immune response to recognize and destroy cancer cells more effectively.

There are several types of immunotherapy, including monoclonal antibodies, immune checkpoint inhibitors, cytokines, cancer vaccines, and adoptive cell transfer. These treatments can target specific components of the immune system, such as proteins that regulate immune responses or cancer-specific antigens, to enhance the body’s ability to recognize and attack cancer cells.

Immunotherapy has shown remarkable success in treating various types of cancer, often leading to durable responses and improved survival rates. Additionally, it tends to have fewer side effects compared to traditional treatments, as it selectively targets cancer cells while sparing healthy tissue. As research in immunotherapy continues to advance, it holds promise for revolutionizing cancer treatment and improving outcomes for patients worldwide.

Immunotherapy for Mouth Cancer

Immunotherapy for oral cancer helps the body’s immune system fight the disease better. It either boosts or slows down certain molecules in the immune system, making them better at finding and attacking cancer cells. Sometimes, it involves using lab-made substances that act like parts of the immune system to help strengthen it. This treatment aims to help the body fight cancer more effectively by using its natural defenses.

Types of Oral Cancer

The types of oral cancer include:

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

This type of oral cancer originates in the thin, flat cells lining the oral cavity, including the lips, tongue, gums, and inner cheeks. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common form of oral cancer, typically presenting as a painless ulcer or sore that fails to heal. Risk factors include tobacco use, heavy alcohol consumption, and prolonged sun exposure.

Verrucous Carcinoma

Verrucous carcinoma is a variant of squamous cell carcinoma, characterized by slow-growing, wart-like lesions in the oral cavity. While it tends to be less aggressive than other types of oral cancer, it can still invade surrounding tissues if left untreated. Verrucous carcinoma often develops in individuals with a history of tobacco use and chronic irritation of the oral mucosa.

Minor Salivary Gland Carcinomas

These cancers originate in the minor salivary glands located throughout the oral cavity, including the palate, floor of the mouth, and throat. Minor salivary gland carcinomas encompass various subtypes, each with distinct clinical features and prognoses. Symptoms may include swelling, pain, or numbness in the affected area, depending on the location and size of the tumor.


Oral lymphomas are rare malignancies that arise from lymphoid tissue in the oral cavity, including the tonsils, base of the tongue, and soft palate. These cancers typically present as painless masses or swelling, accompanied by other systemic symptoms such as fever, night sweats, and unexplained weight loss. Treatment usually involves a combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy.

Mucosal Melanoma

Mucosal melanoma is a rare but aggressive form of oral cancer that develops from melanocytes in the mucous membranes of the oral cavity, nasal passages, or throat. Unlike cutaneous melanoma, which arises from skin cells, mucosal melanoma often presents as a dark-colored lesion or pigmented patch inside the mouth. Due to its rarity and propensity for late diagnosis, mucosal melanoma carries a poor prognosis and requires prompt and aggressive treatment, including surgery, radiation therapy, and targeted therapy.

Checkpoint Breakthrough: Immunotherapy’s Role in Managing Oral Cancers and Potentially Malignant Disorders

Cancers of the oral cavity remain a significant cause of cancer-related mortality worldwide, despite advancements in treatment modalities. In recent years, there has been a growing interest in exploring novel therapeutic approaches to combat oral cavity squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) and oral potentially malignant disorders (OPMD). One such emerging treatment modality is immunotherapy, which targets immune checkpoint molecules to bolster the host immune response against tumors and restrain the growth and progression of cancer cells.

The key immune checkpoint molecules targeted in immunotherapy include programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) and its ligand PD-L1, cytotoxic T-lymphocyte-associated protein 4 (CTLA-4), lymphocyte activation gene-3 (LAG-3), and T-cell immunoglobulin and mucin domain-3 (TIM-3). By inhibiting these molecules, immunotherapy aims to unleash the immune system’s ability to recognize and destroy cancer cells.

To assess the current status and efficacy of immune checkpoint inhibitors in oral cancers and OPMDs, a systematic review was conducted. The review encompassed data from five databases, spanning the years 2004 to 2019, and identified 644 relevant articles. After careful evaluation, 76 articles were deemed suitable for inclusion, providing insights from a total of 8,826 samples.

The findings from the systematic review revealed a prevalent expression of PD-1 and PD-L1 in both OPMD and OSCC samples. Importantly, this expression was associated with increased disease progression and decreased survival rates, underscoring the potential significance of immune checkpoint molecules as prognostic indicators in oral cancers.

A prominent immunotherapy agent pembrolizumab which targets PD-1, has demonstrated promising results in prolonging survival rates and improving disease outcomes in OSCC patients. These agents have shown particular efficacy when used in combination with traditional treatment modalities such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Despite some inconsistencies in the existing evidence, there is growing support for the prognostic and predictive value of PD-L1 expression, indicating its potential utility as a biomarker for treatment response in OSCC.

While the evidence supporting the use of immune checkpoint inhibitors in OSCC is relatively robust, data on their efficacy in OPMDs are limited. Therefore, there is a pressing need for further research to elucidate the role of immunotherapy in managing OPMDs and to explore its potential as a preventive or early intervention strategy for oral cancer development.

In conclusion, immunotherapy holds promise as a novel and effective approach for the treatment of oral cancers, particularly OSCC. The identification of immune checkpoint molecules as potential biomarkers and the demonstrated efficacy of immune checkpoint inhibitors underscore the importance of integrating immunotherapy into the management of oral cancers. Continued research efforts are warranted to further elucidate the mechanisms of action and optimize the therapeutic potential of immunotherapy in the context of oral cancers and OPMDs.

Immunotherapy Drugs For Oral Cancer

Immunotherapy has revolutionized cancer treatment by offering promising options like pembrolizumab, known as checkpoint inhibitors. These drugs work by blocking proteins that inhibit the immune system’s natural ability to target and destroy cancer cells.

Pembrolizumab is typically prescribed for individuals with squamous cell cancer who meet certain criteria. It is considered for those who have not undergone prior treatment for advanced cancer or whose cancer has recurred and have not received treatment since. Additionally, it may be recommended for patients who are ineligible for surgical intervention and whose cancer expresses a protein called PD-L1. Treatment with pembrolizumab can extend for up to two years if the drug remains effective and side effects remain manageable.

Checkpoint inhibitors represent significant advancements in cancer therapy, offering renewed hope for patients with advanced squamous cell cancer. By targeting the immune system’s regulatory checkpoints, these drugs unleash their potential to recognize and eradicate cancer cells. 

These immunotherapy drugs not only provide alternative treatment options for patients who have exhausted conventional therapies but also demonstrate potential for prolonged disease control and improved outcomes. However, like all medications, they may be associated with adverse effects, necessitating close monitoring by healthcare providers.

Effectiveness Of Immunotherapy To Treat Oral Cancer?

Immunotherapy has emerged as a promising avenue for the treatment of various cancers, including oral cancer. A phase 3 clinical trial involving 882 individuals with incurable, recurrent, or metastatic head and neck cancer sought to evaluate the efficacy of immunotherapy in this context. The trial investigated three treatment regimens: pembrolizumab alone, pembrolizumab in combination with chemotherapy, and cetuximab with chemotherapy.

The findings of this trial shed light on the potential of immunotherapy, particularly pembrolizumab, in the management of advanced head and neck cancer. Notably, pembrolizumab in combination with chemotherapy emerged as a compelling first-line treatment option for individuals with recurrent or metastatic head and neck cancer. This combination therapy exhibited significant efficacy in terms of tumor response and overall survival rates, indicating its potential to improve outcomes for patients facing advanced stages of this disease.

Moreover, the trial highlighted the efficacy of pembrolizumab monotherapy specifically in patients with PD-L1-positive recurrent or metastatic head and neck cancer. Pembrolizumab demonstrated notable effectiveness as a standalone treatment in this subset of patients, underscoring the importance of personalized treatment approaches guided by biomarker status. This finding not only emphasizes the role of immunotherapy in the management of head and neck cancer but also underscores the significance of identifying predictive biomarkers to tailor treatment strategies for individual patients.

The success of pembrolizumab, both as monotherapy and in combination with chemotherapy, underscores the potential of immunotherapy to transform the treatment landscape for oral cancer. By harnessing the body’s immune system to target cancer cells, immunotherapy offers a novel and promising approach to combating this disease, particularly in advanced stages where traditional treatment options may have limited efficacy.

The results of this phase 3 trial provide valuable insights into the optimal use of immunotherapy in the management of head and neck cancer. They not only support the integration of pembrolizumab into standard treatment protocols but also underscore the importance of further research to elucidate the mechanisms of immune response and identify additional biomarkers that may guide treatment decisions.

In conclusion, immunotherapy, particularly pembrolizumab, has demonstrated significant efficacy in the treatment of recurrent or metastatic head and neck cancer. Whether used alone or in combination with chemotherapy, pembrolizumab represents a promising therapeutic option that has the potential to improve outcomes and quality of life for patients facing this challenging disease.

Denvax: Revolutionizing Oral Cancer Treatment

In the realm of oncology, a beacon of hope shines bright amidst the challenges posed by oral cancer. Denvax, a groundbreaking dendritic cell-based immunotherapy, heralds a new era where cancer is not an insurmountable foe but a treatable condition. With advanced medical technology at our disposal, oral cancer is no longer the ominous specter it once was; instead, it becomes a battleground where science and innovation converge to offer patients renewed hope and improved outcomes.

Denvax’s efficacy in oral cancer treatment is nothing short of remarkable. This immunotherapy marvelously delays cancer progression and enhances patient survival rates, providing a glimmer of optimism for those battling this formidable disease. Through harnessing the power of dendritic cells, Denvax orchestrates a targeted assault on cancer cells, bolstering the body’s immune response and thwarting the relentless advance of oral cancer.

One of Denvax’s most compelling attributes is its ability to prevent relapse, a critical concern in oral cancer management. Whether following surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy, Denvax stands as a stalwart guardian against cancer recurrence, fortifying the immune system to recognize and eliminate residual cancer cells lurking within the body.

Moreover, Denvax seamlessly integrates with other modalities of cancer treatment, offering a versatile approach tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Whether administered alone or in combination with conventional therapies, Denvax synergizes with existing treatment regimens, amplifying their effectiveness and bolstering the patient’s fight against oral cancer.

Unlike conventional chemotherapy, Denvax boasts minimal adverse effects and toxicity, ensuring a gentler treatment experience for patients. With its personalized approach, Denvax minimizes side effects, with only occasional instances of transient fever, offering respite from the debilitating effects often associated with traditional cancer treatments.

The manufacturing and administration of Denvax exemplify efficiency and simplicity. Utilizing the patient’s own peripheral blood mononuclear cells, Denvax is custom-crafted to target the specific characteristics of oral cancer. From collection to administration, the process is streamlined, with mature dendritic cells ready for infusion within a matter of days.

Denvax’s impact extends beyond mere treatment; it bestows a newfound sense of quality life upon patients grappling with oral cancer. By alleviating pain and suffering, Denvax offers palliative care to those in the terminal stages of the disease, enhancing their comfort and well-being.

Moreover, Denvax heralds a paradigm shift in oral cancer management, prolonging life and fostering better clinical outcomes for a multitude of patients. By targeting micrometastases and dormant cancer cells, Denvax strikes at the very heart of cancer relapse, thwarting its insidious advance and offering renewed hope for long-term remission.

In summary, Denvax stands as a beacon of hope in the fight against oral cancer, offering a potent combination of efficacy, safety, and quality of life improvement. With Denvax, the journey through oral cancer becomes not a daunting odyssey but a path paved with promise and possibility.

Immunotherapy For Oral Cancer: Understanding Treatment Methods and Expectations

Immunotherapy, a groundbreaking approach in cancer treatment, offers diverse administration methods tailored to individual needs. Patients may receive immunotherapy via intravenous injection directly into a vein, oral pills or capsules, or in some cases, a topical cream applied to the skin, particularly for lip cancer.

The method of administration often dictates the setting in which patients receive treatment. Some individuals may visit a clinic or outpatient unit within a hospital for intravenous injections, while others can conveniently take pills or capsules in the comfort of their homes.

Understanding the treatment schedule is crucial for patients embarking on immunotherapy. Depending on the specific regimen and cancer type, treatment frequency may vary from daily to weekly or monthly sessions. Typically, doctors administer immunotherapy in cycles, consisting of treatment periods followed by rest intervals. These cycles allow the body sufficient time to recuperate and mount a response between sessions.

Throughout the treatment journey, patients can expect close monitoring by their healthcare team to assess treatment efficacy and manage any potential side effects. Regular follow-up appointments enable healthcare providers to evaluate the patient’s response to immunotherapy and make necessary adjustments to optimize outcomes.

It’s important for patients to remain vigilant and communicate any symptoms or concerns with their healthcare team promptly. While immunotherapy offers promising results for many individuals, it can also elicit side effects ranging from mild to severe. By staying proactive and engaged in their care, patients can work collaboratively with their healthcare providers to navigate potential challenges and achieve the best possible outcomes.

Immunotherapy for Oral Cancer Side-Effects

Immunotherapy for oral cancer, particularly PD1 inhibitors, can offer significant benefits but may also present side effects. Here’s a breakdown of common and rare side effects:

Common side effects:

  • Fatigue: Feeling tired or lethargic is common during immunotherapy treatment.
  • Nausea and Diarrhea: Gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and diarrhea may occur but are usually manageable.
  • Skin Rashes and Itchiness: Some patients may experience skin reactions, such as rashes or itchiness.
  • Loss of Appetite and Constipation: Changes in appetite and bowel habits may occur but can often be addressed with proper management.
  • Less common but serious side effects:
  • Infusion Reactions: While rare, infusion reactions may include trouble breathing, facial flushing, chills, fever, itchiness, dizziness, or wheezing during treatment sessions.
  • Autoimmune Reactions: These rare but serious side effects can affect various organs, leading to potentially life-threatening issues with the liver, lungs, or other organs.

Patients undergoing immunotherapy should communicate any symptoms promptly to their healthcare providers for proper management and monitoring. Despite the potential for side effects, immunotherapy remains a valuable treatment option for oral cancer, offering the potential for improved outcomes and quality of life.

Other Treatments for Oral Cancer/Tongue Cancer

In addition to immunotherapy, several other treatment modalities are available for addressing oral cancer, each tailored to the individual’s specific condition and needs:

Surgery: Surgical intervention remains a cornerstone in the treatment of oral cancer. This approach involves the removal of the tumor and surrounding tissues to ensure complete eradication of cancerous cells. Depending on the extent and location of the tumor, surgical procedures may vary from minor excisions to more extensive resections. Often, surgeons may combine surgery with other modalities such as radiation therapy to achieve optimal outcomes.

Radiation Therapy: Utilizing high-energy waves, radiation therapy targets and destroys cancer cells within the oral cavity. This non-invasive treatment option is particularly effective for tumors that are difficult to access surgically or for patients who are not suitable candidates for surgery. Radiation therapy may be administered externally or internally, depending on the specific characteristics of the tumor and the patient’s overall health status.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy involves the administration of powerful medications that work to destroy rapidly dividing cancer cells throughout the body. While chemotherapy is commonly associated with systemic side effects due to its non-specific targeting of both cancerous and healthy cells, it remains a vital component in the comprehensive treatment of oral cancer, especially in cases where the disease has spread beyond the confines of the oral cavity.

Targeted Therapy: Targeted therapy represents a more precise and tailored approach to cancer treatment, focusing on specific molecular targets involved in tumor growth and progression. Unlike traditional chemotherapy, targeted medications selectively attack cancer cells while sparing healthy tissues, thereby minimizing side effects. These agents offer a promising avenue for patients with certain types of oral cancer, particularly those harboring specific genetic mutations or molecular abnormalities.

By integrating these various treatment modalities, healthcare providers can develop personalized treatment plans tailored to the unique needs and circumstances of each oral cancer patient. Such comprehensive approaches aim to maximize therapeutic efficacy, minimize treatment-related complications, and ultimately improve patient outcomes and quality of life.

Post-Immunotherapy Care

  • Regular Check-Ups: Attend scheduled appointments for monitoring your health status.
  • Diagnostic Tests: Undergo blood tests and scans as recommended by your healthcare provider to track progress and detect any potential issues early on.
  • Adhere to Aftercare Instructions: Follow all guidance provided by your healthcare team to ensure proper healing and recovery.
  • Recognize Side Effects: Be aware of potential side effects, including flu-like symptoms, pain, swelling, fatigue, and nausea.
  • Promptly Report Symptoms: If you experience any side effects, notify your doctor immediately for proper evaluation and management.
  • Stay Informed: Educate yourself about the possible side effects of immunotherapy and how to manage them effectively.
  • Seek Support: Reach out to your healthcare team or support groups for guidance, encouragement, and assistance throughout your recovery journey.
  • Prioritize Self-Care: Take care of yourself physically and emotionally, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and seeking help when needed to cope with any challenges that may arise.

Final Note:

In summary, immunotherapy, including innovative treatments like Denvax, offers new hope in the battle against oral cancer. By harnessing the body’s natural defenses, immunotherapy targets cancer cells while sparing healthy tissues, potentially improving outcomes and quality of life for patients. Alongside traditional treatments like surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, immunotherapy represents a crucial tool in the fight against oral cancer, offering personalized approaches tailored to each patient’s needs.

While side effects may occur, close monitoring and proactive communication with healthcare providers can help manage them effectively. With ongoing research and advancements, the future of oral cancer treatment looks promising, with immunotherapy playing a pivotal role in transforming the landscape of cancer care.


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