Your Immune System and Cancer

Important to Know:

  • Researchers have known for many years that our immune systems do recognize and attack cancer cells.
  • Cancer cells, however, often escape or shut down the immune system
  • The progress being made today in immunotherapy is the result of new understanding about the complex interaction between the immune system and cancer


The immune system is surveying the body: ‘that looks normal, that looks abnormal—let’s eliminate it.'
– Dr. Lynn Shuchter


Researchers have been interested in using the body’s natural defense system to fight cancer for over 100 years, but the progress in the last decade has been rapid and exciting, producing new approaches with promising results for an increasing number of cancer types.


In that sense, immunotherapy is a new and emerging area of cancer treatment. Common terms you will see as you read more:


The Immune System: Your body’s defense system against disease. Its job is to prevent or limit infections by recognizing and destroying foreign substances (like bacteria and viruses) and abnormal or unhealthy cells (like cancer cells).


Immuno-oncology: The field of cancer research that works to understand the immune system and how it interacts with cancers--and finds ways of using your body’s immune system to treat or prevent cancer.


Immunotherapy: A type of treatment that uses the immune system to treat cancer as well as other diseases.


Immune modulation: The adjustment of the immune system to respond to a specific situation. This can apply both to activating or suppressing the immune response.


Immune Surveillance: The body’s way of detecting and recognizing abnormal or unhealthy cells and responding to them.


Nicole, Social Worker: Cancer Can Feel
Like Whirlwind

  Matthew: After You Hear You Have You
Have Stage IV Cancer

Updated August 12, 2014