Immunotherapy for Cancer: What You Need to Know

Immunotherapy groups together a series of treatments that aim to take advantage of different characteristics of the immune system in order to fight cancer cells. Learn more about immunotherapy for cancer in today's article.
Immunotherapy for Cancer: What You Need to Know
Jael Garrido Dominguez

Written and verified by the doctor Jael Garrido Dominguez.

Last update: 26 May, 2022

The proper functioning of the immune system is one of the most important factors for survival in the face of a disease like cancer. Overall, this system can detect when cells suffer alterations such as those that lead to cancer and has the ability to destroy them. However, have you heard about immunotherapy for cancer?

First of all, let’s remember that cancer arises from the modification of the behavior and structure of the cells that make up an organ. Once these changes occur, the body can find that cell and initiate a whole host of defense processes.

Thanks to these processes, it’s able to make that cell and other cells suffering from the same disorder disappear. However, the problem of cancer begins when cancer cells manage to circumvent the aforementioned defense systems. Then, this allows them to continue to grow excessively.

Fortunately, in recent years, our understanding of the immunology that permeates cancer disease has advanced dramatically. With this, new therapeutic modalities such as immunotherapy for cancer have emerged.

Below, we’ll tell you more about it.

What is immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is a therapeutic strategy used to optimize the immune system so that cells increase their capacity to fight cancer from within our body. Essentially, it works through two mechanisms to fight cancer:

  • By stimulating or boosting the immune system to be more intelligent and aggressive in finding and attacking cancer cells.
  • By making substances similar to molecules used by our immune system. Thus, this helps restore or improve its functioning.
The immune system fighting cancer cells.
Basically, immunotherapy is a therapeutic strategy used in the treatment of cancer.

Modalities of immunotherapy for cancer

Next, it’s important to understand that immunotherapy is a term used to refer to more than one treatment. However, each of these treatments work by taking advantage of different characteristics of the immune system.

Overall, among the immunotherapy modalities we can find:

Cancer vaccines

First of all, vaccines are substances that are introduced into the body. Basically, they initiate a response in our immune system against certain diseases.

We’re used to thinking that vaccines are given to healthy people to help prevent infections. However, some vaccines can help prevent or treat cancer.

Oncolytic viruses

Next, this is a new form of treatment that uses genetically modified viruses to infect and kill cancer cells.

In addition, read: What Are the Side Effects of Cancer Treatments?

Immune checkpoint blockade inhibitors

Cancer contains genetic mutations that allow our body to recognized it as a foreign entity. This, in turn, helps the body attack these cells. After all, in some cases, cancer has the ability to block the response of the cells responsible for defending us.
Immune checkpoint blockade inhibitors work by restructuring the response to cancer cells. Therefore, this allows the body to respond and eliminate cancer.

Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy

Next, in this modality, treatment involves exposing the cancer patient’s T cells to a genetically modified virus. Then, this exposure seeks to teach the T cells to detect and attack cancer cells.

Monoclonal antibodies

Basically, monoclonal antibodies are synthetic proteins. They emulate those of the immune system. Overall, these antibodies are designed to target proteins found on the surface of cancer cells. Essentially, this immunotherapy modality helps the immune system destroy cancer cells.

A doctor preparing to give a cancer patient an injection.
Overall, there are several modalities of immunotherapy for cancer. However, the choice between one option or another depends on the type of cancer. Also, it depends on its progression and the patient’s state of health, among other factors.

The side effects of immunotherapy

Every treatment brings with it side effects. Thus, in the case of immunotherapy, these side effects appear in large part due to the stimulation of the immune system to attack. Thus, in other words, the immune system attacks healthy cells and organs.

Overall, among the most common side effects we may find include:

  • Pain
  • Inflammation
  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Skin rashes
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Variations in blood pressure
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea

In addition, read: Do You Know about the Genetic Basis of Cancer?

What to remember about cancer immunotherapy

In conclusion, immunotherapy is an innovative cancer treatment strategy that seeks to utilize the human body’s ability to detect and attack cancer cells. There are different immunotherapy treatment modalities. However, they all work by promoting the restoration and enhancement of our body’s innate defense system.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

    • Dalotto-Moreno, T., Blidner, A. G., Girotti, M. R., Maller, S. M., & Rabinovich, G. A. (2018). INMUNOTERAPIA EN CÁNCER. PERSPECTIVAS ACTUALES, DESAFÍOS Y NUEVOS HORIZONTES. 13.
    • Farkona, S., Diamandis, E. P., & Blasutig, I. M. (2016). Cancer immunotherapy: The beginning of the end of cancer? BMC Medicine, 14(1), 73.
    • Malvicini, M., Puchulo, G., Matar, P., & Mazzolini, G. (2010). INMUNOTERAPIA DEL CANCER. IMPORTANCIA DE CONTROLAR LA INMUNOSUPRESION. 6.
    • American cancer society. (s. f.). Immunotherapy. Recuperado 27 de febrero de 2020, de

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.