Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment that enables the immune system to fight cancer cells. There are many types of immunotherapy, but they all work by changing or boosting this vital system. Immunotherapy agents work in one of three ways. Active agents direct the immune system by targeting tumor antigens, passive immunotherapies enhance the body’s anti-tumor response, and hybrid treatments combine these approaches.

Immunotherapies designed to elicit or amplify an immune response are classified as activation immunotherapies, while immunotherapies that reduce or suppress are classified as suppression immunotherapies.

Immunotherapy has become a key part of cancer treatment in the last few decades. Scientists are discovering new ways to work with the immune system and are regularly developing and testing new treatments. For some cancers, immunotherapy works well and is the only treatment; in other cases, doctors combine it with other interventions.

How Immunotherapy is Administered

Immunotherapy medications may be given into a vein (intravenously, IV), by mouth (oral, PO), or by injection, either under the skin (subcutaneous, SubQ) or into a muscle (intramuscular, IM). Therapies may also be given directly into a body cavity to treat a specific site

Immunotherapy boosts the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer. It uses substances made by the body or in a laboratory to improve how your immune system works to find and destroy cancer cells.

Your Immune System

Your immune system consists of a complex process your body uses to fight illness. This process involves your cells, organs, and proteins. Cancer can commonly get around many of the immune system’s natural defenses, allowing cancer cells to continue to grow.

Types of Immunotherapy

Different types of immunotherapy work in different ways. Some immunotherapy treatments help the immune system stop or slow the growth of cancer cells. Others help the immune system destroy cancer cells or stop cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. 

There are many types of immunotherapy. They include:

  • Monoclonal antibodies and tumor-agnostic treatments, such as checkpoint inhibitors
  • Oncolytic virus therapy
  • T-cell therapy
  • Cancer vaccines

When your immune system detects something harmful, it makes antibodies. Antibodies are proteins that fight infection by attaching to antigens, which are molecules that start the immune response in your body.


Monoclonal antibodies are made in a laboratory to boost your body’s natural antibodies or act as antibodies themselves. Monoclonal antibodies can help fight cancer in different ways. 

Other types of monoclonal antibodies boost your immune system by inhibiting or stopping immune checkpoints. An immune checkpoint is normally used by the body to naturally stop the immune system’s response and prevent it from attacking healthy cells. Cancer cells can find ways to hide from the immune system by activating these checkpoints. Checkpoint inhibitors stop the ability of cancer cells to stop the immune system from activating, and in turn, amplify your body’s immune system to help destroy cancer cells

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