Teaching the immune system to fight cancer
Under normal circumstances, our immune system naturally helps our bodies fight off germs and disease, keeping us healthy. However, cancer cells are often invisible to our immune system which means our bodies can’t detect the disease in order to fight it. This is one reason cancer can be difficult to treat.
Through ongoing research at cancer centers across the nation, including at the Rogel Cancer Center, we’ve learned how to teach the immune system to fight the disease. Using a variety of methods, immunotherapy can:
- Stop or slow the growth of cancer cells
- Stop cancer from spreading to new parts of the body, also called metastasis
- Help the immune system better destroy cancer cells
As we continue to test ways to help the immune system recognize cancer cells and destroy them, more and more therapies are becoming available to cancer patients. Immunotherapy gives our bodies the needed boost to fight the cancer by:
- Improving our overall immune system functions
- Giving our bodies what it needs to better target specific cancers
- Restoring our immune system functions if they are compromised
Types of Immunotherapy Treatment
- Monoclonal antibodies are immune system proteins created in a lab to bind to specific targets on a cancer cell. When they do this, the immune system can now “see” these cells as something to destroy. Learn more about monoclonal antibodies on the National Cancer Institute’s website.
- Immune checkpoint inhibitors are drugs that block immune checkpoints. These checkpoints are a normal part of the immune system. They keep immune responses from being too strong. By blocking them, these drugs allow immune cells to respond more strongly to cancer. Learn more about immune checkpoint inhibitors on the National Cancer Institute’s website.
- Cancer vaccines do not prevent cancer. Instead, they are given to people who already have cancer. Cancer cells are very different from normal cells. One thing they have that’s different are “tumor-associated antigens”. Cancer vaccines often are made from the patient’s own cancer cells which help the patient’s immune system to react against their cancer. Learn more about cancer vaccines on the National Cancer Institute’s website.
- T-cell transfer therapy boosts the natural ability of T cells to fight cancer. Immune cells are taken from the patient’s blood or tumor and studied in a laboratory. The cells that react the strongest are multiplied and put back into the patient. Learn more about T-cell transfer therapy on the National Cancer Institute's website.
Cancers Treated with Immunotherapy
- Cervical and Ovarian
- Colorectal (colon) and Gastric (stomach)
- Head and neck
- Kidney and Liver
- Leukemia and Lymphoma
Watch this video and learn more about immunotherapy
Ongoing Research Efforts in Immunotherapy
Researchers at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center and other biomedical scientists continue studying how to improve the immune system's response to cancer. Read the latest on our research: