What Is Immunotherapy In Cancer and it's Benefits

Cancer has long been one of the most challenging diseases to treat. Traditional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy have proven effective, but often come with serious side effects. In recent years, a pioneering approach called immunotherapy has emerged as a promising alternative.

Understanding Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a treatment strategy that uses the immune system's ability to recognize and attack cancer cells. The immune system is naturally endowed with the ability to recognize and destroy abnormal cells, including cancer cells. However, tumours often develop mechanisms to evade detection and attack by the immune system. The aim of immunotherapy is to restore and improve the immune system's ability to recognize and eliminate cancer cells.

Types of Immunotherapy

  • Checkpoint inhibitors: Checkpoint inhibitors are a type of immunotherapy drug that blocks specific proteins called checkpoints on immune cells or cancer cells. These checkpoints act as "brakes" of the immune response, preventing immune cells from attacking normal cells. Blocking these checkpoints releases the brakes, allowing the immune system to attack and destroy cancer cells more effectively. Checkpoint inhibitors have had remarkable success in treating various types of cancer, including melanoma, lung cancer, and bladder cancer. Examples: Pembrolizumab, Nivolumab etc.
  • CAR-T cell therapy: Chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy is also known as “Personalised Therapy”. The main backbone of this treatment is T cells which are essential key regulator to induce immune response and directly kill pathogens. In this therapy a patient's T cells are collected from patient then genetically modified to express receptors that recognize specific cancer antigens. These modified T cells are then injected into the patient's body, where they can recognize and kill cancer cells. CAR-T cell therapy has shown remarkable results in the treatment of certain hematological cancers such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia and certain types of lymphoma.
  • Tumor-Infiltrating Lymphocytes (TILs): TILs are immune cells that naturally infiltrate tumors. In TIL therapy, immune cells are harvested from a patient's tumor, selected, expanded in the lab, and then re-infused into the patient. These activated her T cells demonstrate the ability to target and attack cancer cells. TIL therapy has shown promise in the treatment of metastatic melanoma, with some patients achieving long-term remission.
  • Monoclonal Antibodies: Monoclonal antibodies are molecules made in a laboratory that target specific proteins on the surface of cancer cells. By binding to these proteins, monoclonal antibodies can either kill cancer cells directly or signal the immune system to attack the cancer cells. Examples of monoclonal antibody therapy include trastuzumab for HER2-positive breast cancer and rituximab for certain types of lymphoma.
  • Effectiveness of Immunotherapy

    Immunotherapy has revolutionized cancer treatment and has shown remarkable benefits in some patients. Note, however, that not all patients respond equally to immunotherapy, and its effectiveness depends on several factors, including the type and stage of the cancer, the patient's general health, and the expertimmunotherapy approach is important. In some patients, immunotherapy produced long-term remissions and was potentially curative. Immunotherapy is a lifeline of hope and improved quality of life when other treatments are ineffective.

    Another important advantage of immunotherapy is its potential for long-term effects. Unlike conventional treatments such as chemotherapy, which can become less effective over time, the immune system is able to retain memory of cancer cells. This memory response may provide lasting protection against cancer recurrence, resulting in sustained responses and the potential for longer survival.


    Immunotherapy has emerged as a breakthrough approach in the fight against cancer. Harnessing the power of the immune system has the potential to improve patient outcomes, prolong survival, and improve patient quality of life. Not all patients respond equally to immunotherapy, but the success of immunotherapy in treating certain types of cancer has changed the game. On-going research and advances in this area will further refine immunotherapeutic approaches, making them more effective and accessible to a wider range of cancer patients in the future.

    Dr. Pallavi Redhu
    Department of Medical Oncology
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