The understanding of tumor-host interactions remains elusive despite significant progress in the identification of tumor antigens (TAs) recognized by autologous T cells. In particular, most human tumors do not regress and continue to grow in spite of spontaneous or immunization-induced immune responses demonstrated in circulating lymphocytes. Indeed, systemic immune responses might insufficiently address the complexity of tumor-host interactions because of factors, such as (1) the lack of productive T-cell receptor (TCR) engagement with epitope owing to qualitative and/or quantitative defects in the generation and maintenance of the immune response, (2) insufficient costimulation provided by the host, (3) the lack of localization of the immune response in target tissues and (4) the complexity of tumor-host interactions within the tumor microenvironment caused by temporal changes in tumor phenotypes and an array of immune mediators expressed in the tumor microenvironment. Here, we will review current knowledge of the different 'levels' of immune response that might be necessary for immunotherapy to be effective in the treatment of cancer. Furthermore, we will discuss the information still required in order to understand the mechanism(s) governing tumor rejection by the immune system in response to TA-specific immunization.