Using immunotherapy to boost the abscopal effect

Nat Rev Cancer. 2018 May;18(5):313-322. doi: 10.1038/nrc.2018.6. Epub 2018 Feb 16.


More than 60 years ago, the effect whereby radiotherapy at one site may lead to regression of metastatic cancer at distant sites that are not irradiated was described and called the abscopal effect (from 'ab scopus', that is, away from the target). The abscopal effect has been connected to mechanisms involving the immune system. However, the effect is rare because at the time of treatment, established immune-tolerance mechanisms may hamper the development of sufficiently robust abscopal responses. Today, the growing consensus is that combining radiotherapy with immunotherapy provides an opportunity to boost abscopal response rates, extending the use of radiotherapy to treatment of both local and metastatic disease. In this Opinion article, we review evidence for this growing consensus and highlight emerging limitations to boosting the abscopal effect using immunotherapy. This is followed by a perspective on current and potential cross-disciplinary approaches, including the use of smart materials to address these limitations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Immunologic
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Drug Carriers / administration & dosage*
  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppression Therapy
  • Immunotherapy / adverse effects
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Nanoparticles / administration & dosage
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Radiotherapy / adverse effects
  • Radiotherapy / methods*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Drug Carriers