Immune responses in cancer

Pharmacol Ther. 2003 Jul;99(1):113-32. doi: 10.1016/s0163-7258(03)00056-1.


The complex of humoral factors and immune cells comprises two interleaved systems, innate and acquired. Immune cells scan the occurrence of any molecule that it considers to be nonself. Transformed cells acquire antigenicity that is recognized as nonself. A specific immune response is generated that results in the proliferation of antigen-specific lymphocytes. Immunity is acquired when antibodies and T-cell receptors are expressed and up-regulated through the formation and release of lymphokines, chemokines, and cytokines. Both innate and acquired immune systems interact to initiate antigenic responses against carcinomas. A new approach to the treatment of cancer has been immunotherapy, which aims to up-regulate the immune system in order that it may better control carcinogenesis. Currently, several forms of immunotherapy that use natural biological substances to activate the immune system are being explored therapeutically. The various forms of immunotherapy fall into three main categories: monoclonal antibodies, immune response modifiers, and vaccines. While these modalities have individually shown some promise, it is likely that the best strategy to combat cancer may require multiple immunotherapeutic strategies in order to demonstrate benefit in different patient populations. It may be that the best results are obtained with vaccines in combination with a variety of immunotherapy combinations. Another potent strategy may be in combining with more traditional cancer drugs as evidenced from the benefit derived from enhancing the efficacy of chemotherapy with cytokines. Through such concerted efforts, a durable, therapeutic antitumour immune response may be achieved and maintained over the course of a patient's lifespan.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Neoplasm / immunology
  • Apoptosis / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Tumor Escape / immunology


  • Antigens, Neoplasm