Overview and Indications

Immunotherapy is a treatment that utilizes a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer. Immunotherapy may be used to boost the immune system overall or train the system to attack specific cancer cells.

The main types of immunotherapy now being used to treat cancer include:

Monoclonal antibodies: These are man-made antibodies, which may be useful in treating cancer because they can be designed to attack a very specific part of a cancer cell. These antibodies are engineered to attach to specific defects in cancer cells and can make the cancer cells visible to the immune system, block growth signals, stop new blood vessels from forming and deliver chemotherapy to cancer cells.

Cancer vaccines: Vaccines are substances put into the body to boost an immune response against certain diseases. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two types of vaccines to prevent cancer: vaccines against the hepatitis B virus, which can cause liver cancer, and vaccines against human papillomavirus types 16 and 18, which are responsible for about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases.

Non-specific immunotherapies: These treatments boost the immune system in a general way, but this can still help the immune system attack cancer cells.