Conventional chemotherapeutics and targeted antineoplastic agents have been developed based on the simplistic notion that cancer constitutes a cell-autonomous genetic or epigenetic disease. However, it is becoming clear that many of the available anticancer drugs that have collectively saved millions of life-years mediate therapeutic effects by eliciting de novo or reactivating pre-existing tumor-specific immune responses. Here, we discuss the capacity of both conventional and targeted anticancer therapies to enhance the immunogenic properties of malignant cells and to stimulate immune effector cells, either directly or by subverting the immunosuppressive circuitries that preclude antitumor immune responses in cancer patients. Accumulating evidence indicates that the therapeutic efficacy of several antineoplastic agents relies on their capacity to influence the tumor-host interaction, tipping the balance toward the activation of an immune response specific for malignant cells. We surmise that the development of successful anticancer therapies will be improved and accelerated by the immunological characterization of candidate agents.
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