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Benefits of Cancer Immunotherapy

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A Targeted Answer to Cancer

Like many patients and caregivers on a cancer treatment journey, you may be familiar with traditional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.

Several important features of immunotherapy make for a more specific answer to cancer.

Cancer immunotherapy can work on many different types of cancer

  • Immunotherapy enables the immune system to recognize and target cancer cells, making it a universal answer to cancer
  • The list of cancers that are currently treated using immunotherapy is extensive. See the full list of Immunotherapies by cancer type.
  • Immunotherapy has been an effective treatment for patients with certain types of cancer that have been resistant to chemotherapy and radiation treatment (e.g., melanoma)

Cancer immunotherapy offers the possibility for long-term cancer remission

  • Immunotherapy can “train” the immune system to remember cancer cells. This “immunomemory” may result in longer-lasting remissions
  • Clinical studies on long-term overall survival have shown that the beneficial responses to cancer immunotherapy treatment are durable—that is, they can be maintained even after treatment is completed

Cancer immunotherapy may not cause the same side effects as chemotherapy and radiation

  • Cancer immunotherapy is focused on the immune system and is often more targeted than conventional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation
  • Both chemotherapy and radiation damage healthy cells, leading to common side effects such as hair loss and nausea/vomiting. These side effects may be less likely with immunotherapy
  • Side effects of cancer immunotherapy will vary depending on which type of immunotherapy is used. They are usually related to stimulation of the immune system and can range from minor symptoms of inflammation (e.g., fever) to major conditions similar to autoimmune disorders

Frequently Asked Questions

What is cancer immunology?

Cancer immunology studies the relationship between cancer and the body’s immune system, including its innate ability to prevent or eliminate cancer cells, called immunosurveillance. Research shows that the body’s natural defense mechanisms can recognize and target cancer cells. Cancer immunologists focus on developing immunotherapies to boost those natural defenses.

What are immunotherapies?

Cancer immunotherapies also are known as biologic therapy, biotherapy, or biological response modifier therapy, and include checkpoint blockade, cancer vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, oncolytic virus therapy, T cell transfer, and other immune-modulating drugs such as cytokines and other adjuvant therapies. These effective ways for preventing, managing, or treating different cancers can be used in conjunction with surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. You can learn more about the different types of cancer immunotherapy on our website.

Is cancer immunology a new field of research?

The earliest forms of what would later be considered the start of cancer immunotherapy originated with research done by Dr. William B. Coley (1862-1936), a cancer surgeon and father of CRI founder Helen Coley Nauts. He discovered that “killed” bacteria stimulated the immune system to attack cancer cells. Modern cancer immunology is based on more recent advances in scientific understanding of the immune system’s various components, their function, and their role in cancer control. Cancer immunology is a relatively young field, but advances in treatment are aided by donor support.

What is a clinical trial?

Clinical trials are well-defined, well-monitored, and controlled tests of new or experimental medical treatments. They are used to assess the effectiveness, side effects, and potential applications of medications, procedures, and other treatment approaches. Clinical trials are essential for medical progress, and patients can enroll in them voluntarily under the supervision of their physicians. Before a treatment is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it must be studied in clinical trials. CRI offers a free Immunotherapy Clinical Trial Finder service to help patients and their caregivers locate and enroll in trials. 

*Immunotherapy results may vary from patient to patient.

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