Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses the body's own natural defenses to fight cancer. White blood cells (T cells) that make up the immune system can be stimulated in several ways by specially designed drugs that allow them to recognize and kill cancer cells.
Early immunotherapy drugs worked in a general way by boosting the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells. However, recent research has discovered several proteins on the surface of T cells that act like a brake, or checkpoint, preventing them from attacking cancer cells.
Another checkpoint is PD-1, discovered in 2000. Several drugs have been developed to turn off PD-1 in many types of cancer, allowing existing T cells near the tumor to attack.
Other immunotherapies fall into two general categories.
Targeted immunotherapies attack specific proteins on the surface of cells that help identify cancer and stimulate an immune response. Common types include:
General immunotherapies are non-specific treatments that do not affect the cancer itself. They work on proteins called cytokines that send signals to stimulate the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells. Common types include:
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