Immuno-oncology is the study and development of certain treatments, called immunotherapies, for cancer. These treatments fight cancer by strengthening your immune system. This brochure explains how your immune system defends your body, and several ways immunotherapies help your immune system fight cancer.
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What Is Immuno-Oncology?
Immuno-oncology is the study and development of certain treatments, called immunotherapies, for cancer. These treatments fight cancer by strengthening your immune system.
How Your Immune System Defends Your Body
Normally, the white blood cells of your immune system help fight infections and disease. They recognize substances on the surface of cells, called antigens.
Healthy cells have different antigens than damaged body cells or foreign invaders. Your immune cells usually ignore the antigens on healthy cells. But, they do respond to antigens on damaged cells and foreign invaders.
Some immune cells mark these antigens for destruction with a substance called an antibody. Then, other immune cells attack the cells that have these antibodies.
Since cancer is made up of damaged cells, they may have antigens that your immune cells recognize and attack.
How Cancer Cells Evade the Immune System
Cancer cells may reduce the number of cancer antigens, allowing them to hide from your immune cells.
A second way cancer cells avoid destruction is through checkpoint proteins. Both cancer and immune cells may have these proteins. When they attach, other immune cells won't attack the cancer cell.
A third way cancer cells avoid destruction happens when the cancer cells are under attack from the immune system.
During the attack, the cancer cells release certain substances that call in other types of immune cells, which slow down or stop the immune response.
Immunotherapies have several ways they work to help your immune system fight cancer.
One way is through special antibodies made in the lab. Some of these antibodies attach to cancer cells. They can kill the cancer cell directly. Others mark the cancer cell so that your immune cells destroy it.
Another group of antibodies blocks the checkpoint proteins. This keeps them from attaching to each other. As a result, the immune cell can attack and kill the cancer cell.
Still other antibodies prevent the growth of cancer cells. Some of them block the signals that cause new blood vessels to grow and feed the cancer.
In another type of immunotherapy, some of the immune cells that best fight cancer are removed from the body. The cells are taken to a lab, where many more of them are grown. Then, they're returned to the body to attack the cancer.
To find out more about the ways immuno-oncology can help fight cancer, talk to your healthcare provider.
The information in this handout has been created and peer reviewed by graduate-level medical illustrators, followed by reviews from medical subject experts, either physicians or PhDs on the Nucleus Medical Review Board, to ensure medical accuracy and audience level appropriateness.
The handout is intended to supplement the information you receive from your healthcare provider and should never be considered personal medical advice. Always contact your healthcare provider with health questions and concerns.