What is cancer immunotherapy?
Cancer immunotherapy aims to create, redirect, or strengthen an immune response against cancer cells within the body. In essence, this enables the patient's immune system to help target their cancer cells.
Immunotherapy encompasses many different treatment modalities, including monoclonal antibodies, cancer vaccines, cell-based therapies (CAR-T cells, antigen presenting cell vaccines, others), and checkpoint inhibitors.
What are the merits of immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy is often highly specific - instead of affecting all rapidly-dividing cells, its effects can be targeted to a selective population of cells (cancer cells) that have a specific, shared characteristic. This allows cancer treatment to be more precisely applied to cancer cells, while sparing as many normal cells as possible.
Also, subsets of immune cells have the capacity for memory - if they are trained to recognize and kill cancer cells, the immune system as a whole can retain this knowledge over the course of years. Constant immune surveillance in the body combined with long-term memory of what cancer cells "look" like enables early immune recognition and targeting of cancer relapse.