Thomas Gajewski, MD, PhD, in lab
Thomas Gajewski, MD, PhD, is an internationally recognized expert in cancer immunotherapy.

Harnessing the Immune System to Fight Cancer

Your immune system protects you from infection, illness and substances that can harm your body. Immunotherapy refers to a medical treatment that turns the power of the immune system against disease. Cancer immunotherapy acts on the cells of the immune system to seek out, recognize and attack cancer.

Types of Cancer Immunotherapy

Several types of immunotherapy are approved for use to treat cancer or are being studied through clinical trials. The different kinds of immunotherapies work in different ways to treat cancer. Some boost the immune system to work against cancer, while others train the immune system to seek out and attack cancer cells.

Cellular Therapies  
The transfer of human cells to replace diseased cells with healthy, functional ones. Stem cell transplant and CAR T-cell therapy are examples of cellular therapies. 

Immunomodulators 
Medications that regulate and boost parts of the immune system. Checkpoint inhibitors and cytokines are examples of immunomodulators.

Oncolytic Virus Therapy 
Lab-modified viruses that infect and kill cancer cells without harming normal cells.  Some of the viruses are found in nature while others are modified in a lab.

Monoclonal Antibodies
Man-made versions of immune system proteins, designed to attack a specific part of a cancer cell. Some monoclonal antibodies are described as targeted therapies.

Cancer Treatment Vaccines  
Medicines that train the Immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells. Unlike cancer prevention vaccines, these are designed for people who already have cancer.   

Five types of cancer immunotherapy infographic

Clinical Trials

UChicago Medicine physicians lead immunotherapy clinical trials for the following types of cancer:

  • Bladder
  • Blood
    • Leukemia (acute lymphoblastic leukemia)
    • Lymphoma
    • Multiple Myeloma
  • Breast
  • Gastrointestinal
  • Head and neck
  • Liver
  • Lung (non-small)
  • Melanoma
  • Mesothelioma
  • Ovarian
  • Solid tumors

Immunotherapy and Using the Body to Fight Cancer

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that helps the immune system to fight cancer. Oncologists Michael R. Bishop, MD, and Sonali Smith, MD, discuss  how it’s revolutionizing the way we treat certain blood cancers.

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