For many years, the treatment of cancer was primarily focused on surgery, chemotherapy
and radiation. But as researchers learn more about how the body fights cancer on its own,
antitumour immunotherapies are being developed. In contrast to the antitumour
chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which kill tumour cells as well as hurt healthy cells,
tumour immunotherapy is an anticancer approach to harness the exquisite power and
specificity of the patient’s immune system to specifically mediate tumour regression.
Generation of immune response is governed by the capability of immune cells to
discriminate between self and nonself. To the immune system, however, a cancer cell is
different in very small ways from a normal cell. As a result, the immune system largely
tolerates cancer cells rather than attacking them. Therefore, antitumour
immunotherapeutic regimens must not only provoke an immune response, but stimulate
the immune system strongly enough to overcome this tolerance. A vast array of potential
novel strategies of tumour immunotherapy has been introduced over the last decades,
many of them building on a recent explosion of insights into bridging different
components of the immune system to augment the antitumour effects of T cells. Although
some therapeutic approaches in use today are nonspecific, most protocols are designed to
be antigen specific; the latter can be accomplished by either adoptive transfer or
vaccination. Recent preclinical and clinical studies reflects the effectiveness of
immunotherapy in particular in combination with chemotherapy as a potential approach
to specifically target to cure cancer leaving normal cells safe.

Mohamed L Salem, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina, USA
Mark P Rubinstein, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California, USA
David J Cole, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina, USA
Based in part on the previous version of this Encyclopedia of Life Sciences (ELS) article, Tumours:
Immunotherapy by Mark P Rubinstein and David J Cole.


There are an increasing number of novel and promising
approaches in tumour immunotherapy. These have yet to
be of clinical benefit to the majority of patients with cancer;
however, given the complexity of the immune system and
its interaction with tumours, significant progress has been
made. In metastatic melanoma, a disease usually fatal
within 6 months of diagnosis, objective regression can now
be obtained in over one-third of patients by either adoptive

T-cell transfer or vaccination. In many other cancers, in-
cluding renal cell carcinoma, colonic cancer, bladder can-
cer and many leukaemias, there are important new

therapies that have been developed only in the past dec-
ade. These advances have correlated with improvements in

recombinant technology as well as advanced tumour im-
munology. There are also many promising approaches for

the future, such as combined therapies, in particular
lymphoablation, adoptive T-cell transfer, and cytokine
regimens. It will also probably be of increasing benefit to
combine more conventional treatment options with
immunotherapy, in particular nonspecific approaches in
concomitant with vaccination or adoptive T-cell therapy.

Ultimately, though, perhaps the biggest gains in immuno-
therapy may be in prophylactic therapy, where with a

healthy individual it may be easier to generate a fully pro-
tective immune response.

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2 comments on “Tumours: Immunotherapy

  1. Take a break from your Jim Rohn collection to read some romance novels without feeling guilty. Write a short story without worrying about whether it’s good.

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