The survival of patients with cancer has improved steadily but incrementally over the last century, with the advent of effective anticancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. However, the majority of patients with metastatic disease will not be cured by these measures and will eventually die of their disease. New and more effective methods of treating these patients are required urgently. The immune system is a potent force for rejecting transplanted organs or microbial pathogens, but effective spontaneous immunologically induced cancer remissions are very rare. In recent years, much has been discovered about the mechanisms by which the immune system recognizes and responds to cancers. The specific antigens involved have now been defined in many cases. Improved adjuvants are available. Means by which cancer cells overcome immunological attack can be exploited and overcome. Most importantly, the immunological control mechanisms responsible for initiating and maintaining an effective immune response are now much better understood. It is now possible to manipulate immunological effector cells or antigen-presenting cells ex vivo in order to induce an effective antitumour response. At the same time, it is possible to recruit other aspects of the immune system, both specific (e.g. antibody responses) and innate (natural killer cells and granulocytes).