SEER Logo

SEER Training Modules

Side Effects of Biological Therapy

Biological therapies may also cause side effects as the other cancer therapies discussed in the previous learning units. What side effects and how severe these side effects are depend on each individual patient and their treatment plan. The following are some common side effects caused by biological therapy drugs.

When a biological therapy drug is given intravenously, the injection site can become red and sore. Serious phlebitis (vein inflammation) occasionally results. For most patients taking interferon, flu-like symptoms may develop: fever, chills, gastrointestinal upset, and body aches. The chills usually begin between two and six hours after drug administration and are marked by teeth chattering, shivers, and a pale complexion. The shivers cause the body temperature to rise, along with the pulse rate and the blood pressure.

Fatigue is a very common side effect of biological therapy. For some patients, the feeling of tiredness may go away after the treatment has stopped; for some patients, however, the fatigue can become chronic.

Some people may show allergic reactions to some drugs, including cough, wheezing, and skin rash. In extreme cases, fatal allergic reaction may occur.

Due to the side effects of some drugs, many patients may experience confusion, disorientation, and depression. They may have trouble concentrating, performing simple calculations, or remembering things. These difficulties may interfere with their normal daily activities and ability to work. These side effects can be so severe that drug administration may be interrupted or the drug dose may have to be reduced.

Successful management of the side effects caused by biological therapies can be achieved by experienced oncologist with the cooperation of a well-informed patient. Close monitoring and prompt treatment are important components of coping with the side effects.