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How Does Immunotherapy Work?

Your immune system is a network of cells, tissues and organs that works together to recognize and destroy foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses or abnormal or unhealthy cells in your body.

The most important function of the immune system is to know the difference between self and non-self. Self means your own body tissues. Non-self means any abnormal cell or foreign invader, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungus. Normally, your immune system will not attack anything that it identifies as a healthy part of self. The problem with cancer cells is that they arise from our cells, but there are differences. As they grow and spread, cancer cells undergo a series of changes, or mutations, becoming increasingly less like normal cells. Sometimes our immune system can detect these differences and respond. Other times, the cancer cells slip through the defenses or are actually able to inhibit the immune system. Researchers have known for many years that our immune systems do recognize and attack cancer cells. But, the progress being made today in immunotherapy is the result of new understanding about the complex interaction between the immune system and cancer.

The goal of the field of immuno-oncology, also known as tumor immunology, is to understand exactly how the immune system interacts with the cancer, and then use that information to develop new immunotherapy treatments.

There is widespread interest and excitement throughout the cancer community about the potential for using immunotherapy to treat many different kinds of cancer. As researchers learn more about the interaction between our immune system and cancer, they will be able to apply that knowledge to different cancers.

Current Immunotherapies by Cancer Type

Eligibility & Side Effects

Dr. G: Immunotherapy Side Effects

Dr. G: Immunotherapy Side Effects

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There is widespread interest and excitement throughout the cancer community about the potential for using immunotherapy for cancer. As researchers learn more about the interaction between our immune system and cancer, they will be able to apply that knowledge to more and more treatment options.

Who Is Eligible for Immunotherapy?

  • Most people who receive immunotherapy today have cancers that are advanced.
  • Their cancers have either recurred and spread after primary treatment, or were diagnosed with advanced stage cancers.
  • At this time, most immunotherapy is still given in specialized cancer centers and mostly as part of a clinical trial.
  • There are some people who cannot receive immunotherapy. These individuals often have health problems that make it impossible to take these drugs safely.

As the field of immunotherapy moves forward, researchers will begin new clinical trials with people who are at high risk for having their cancers recur or spread. If you are interested in immunotherapy, talk about your options with your doctor and treatment team.

Immunotherapy Webinars

Most people who receive immunotherapy today have cancers that are advanced. Their cancers have either recurred and spread after primary treatment, or were diagnosed with advanced stage cancers. At this time, most immunotherapy is still given in specialized cancer centers and mostly as part of a clinical trial. The Cancer Support Community recently hosted three webinars on the topic of immunotherapy:

Clinical Trials & Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy Advances in Cancer

Immunotherapy & Side Effects

Blog

Understanding Immunotherapy

Are you on an immunotherapy? It seems like a simple question, but there is actually a lot of confusion about what immunotherapy is and how it works.

New Video Explains Immunotherapy Treatment Options for Non-small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)

What is cancer immunotherapy? How does immunotherapy work to control cancer? Should I consider participating in a cancer immunotherapy clinical trial?

What President Carter’s Announcement Teaches Us about Immunotherapy

This week, President Jimmy Carter announced he has been declared N.E.D (No Evidence of Disease) after undergoing treatment for metastatic melanoma, which was diagnosed in August of this year. President Carter credits this happy announcement to an immunotherapy treatment he received. Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to control cancer.  Here’s what we know about this exciting new treatment option and how it works.