Ask the Doctor: Minh Nguyen, M.D.

Q. What is immunotherapy for cancer treatment?

A. Hoag has been on the forefront of innovative cancer treatment by providing access to leading clinical trials that evaluate the use of immunotherapy for treating cancer.

Immunotherapy is a type of biological therapy that helps your immune system fight cancer. Normally, your immune system works to detect and destroy abnormal cells, which can prevent or slow the growth of cancer cells. With immunotherapy, certain parts of your immune system are used to treat cancer. This can be done by stimulating your immune system to work harder to attack cancer cells or by giving your immune system components like man-made proteins.

Immunotherapy works better for some cancers than others and can be used by itself or with other types of treatments. The main types of immunotherapy are immune checkpoint inhibitors, immune system modulators, monoclonal antibodies, T-cell transfer therapy and treatment vaccines.

Immune checkpoint inhibitors are used to block immune checkpoints. These checkpoints are a normal part of the immune system that prevents immune responses from being too strong. By blocking these checkpoints, your immune cells can respond more strongly to cancer.

Immune system modulators enhance your immune system’s response against cancer. Some of these can be used to affect specific parts of the immune system while others affect the immune system in a more general way.

Monoclonal antibodies are man-made immune system proteins designed to bind to specific targets on cancer cells. Some monoclonal antibodies are used to mark cancer cells, so they are better seen and destroyed by your immune system, and others are a type of immunotherapy.

T-cell transfer therapy boosts the natural ability of your T cells. With this treatment, immune cells are taken from your tumor. The cells that are most active against the cancer are selected, grown in large batches and are put back into your body to fight cancer.

Treatment vaccines can also be used to work against cancer. These vaccines are different than the ones that prevent a disease, and work by boosting your immune system’s response to cancer cells.

Immunotherapy has been approved to treat many types of cancer. If you would like to learn more about whether immunotherapy can be used to treat your cancer, please consult with your physician.