Cancer Immunotherapy Explained

Cancer is the name given to a collection of related diseases in which some of the body’s cells begin to divide without stopping and may spread into surrounding tissues. Cancer can begin almost anywhere in the human body where normal cell division and growth occur.

Just as there are many types of cancer, so too are there many types of cancer treatments. The types of treatment that a patient receives will depend on the type, location, and stage of cancer. Often, patients will receive a combination or course of treatments to more effectively combat the disease. Other forms of cancer treatment include targeted therapy, hormone therapy, stem cell transplant, and immunotherapy. Carolina BioOncology Institute specializes in research, development, and clinical trials for cancer immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that helps your immune system fight cancer. The immune system helps your body heal injuries, fight infections, and detects & destroys abnormal cells like those found in cancer. Control of cancer cell growth occurs when the immune system can effectively identify and destroy harmful cancer cells as shown below in the Cancer Immunity Cycle (Chen & Mellman, Immunity, 2013). Our immune system is much like a car — it can be activated by pressing “gas pedals,” shown in green, or inhibited by engaging “break pedals,” shown in red. Cancer takes advantage of these built-in “immune checkpoints” to avoid destruction by the immune system. The goal of immunotherapy is to enhance the immune response by preventing cancer from “stepping on the break pedal” or by “pressing the gas pedal” for more robust anti-tumor activity.

For a visual representation of immunotherapy in action, please view the video below courtesy of the National Cancer Institute (NCI):