What is Cancer Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is a new class of cancer treatment that works to harness the innate powers of the body’s immune system to fight cancer. Immunotherapy works by either stimulating the patient’s own immune system to attack cancer cells or by treating the patient with another person’s immune cells to fight cancer cells.

Why Immunotherapy?

Because of its unique properties, the immune system holds greater potential to fight cancer. First, it is powerful and attacks cancer systematically throughout the body. Second, it is more specific and can train the immune system to attack only specific targets like cancer cells, therefore lessening collateral damages to healthy cells. Third, in some cases, there is the capacity of the immune system to form memory, which provides functional durability. Lastly, it is universal and has the potential to be applied to all types of cancer.

What are the components of the Immune System?

B-cells, which act like munitions factories, can produce highly targeted antibodies against tumor markers in large quantities. T-cells, which acts like commanders and trained assassins, have the capacity to kill only the cancer cells without damaging nearby normal cells. Dendritic cells, which act as intelligence agents, coordinate and alert B cells and T cells to work efficiently together. Other types of immune cells are critically involved as well: the Natural Killer (NK) cells and regulatory T cells (Treg). Many of these cells work via cytokines, which are the communication codes that help all of those cells to talk to one another.

Courtesy of:
Dr. Hasan Hashem, M.D. Pediatric Heme/Onc Fellow, Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital
Dr. Alex Huang, M.D., Ph.D. Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine