Benefits of Cancer Immunotherapy

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Why Immunotherapy? A Targeted Answer to Cancer

Many cancer patients and caregivers may be familiar with traditional treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation. Several important features of immunotherapy, a form of cancer treatment that uses the power of the body's immune system to prevent, control and eliminate cancer, 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 may 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 may be more targeted than conventional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation.
  • Side effects vary according to each therapy and how it interacts with the body. Conventional cancer treatments have a direct effect of a chemical or radiological therapy on cancer and healthy tissues, which may result in common side effects such as hair loss and nausea.
  • Side effects of cancer immunotherapy may vary depending on which type of immunotherapy is used. Potential side effects relate to an overstimulation or misdirection of the immune system and may range from minor symptoms of inflammation (e.g., fever) to major conditions similar to autoimmune disorders.

There are pros and cons to every cancer treatment. Speak with your oncology care team about immunotherapy and what is the best treatment plan for you. 

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.

Learn about how the immune system can fight cancer

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.

Learn about the different types of cancer immunotherapy

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.

Visit the Cancer Immunotherapy Timeline of Progress

*Immunotherapy results may vary from patient to patient.