Considerations and Approaches for Cancer Immunotherapy in the Aging Host

Cancer Immunol Res. 2023 Nov 1;11(11):1449-1461. doi: 10.1158/2326-6066.CIR-23-0121.


Advances in cancer immunotherapy are improving treatment successes in many distinct cancer types. Nonetheless, most tumors fail to respond. Age is the biggest risk for most cancers, and the median population age is rising worldwide. Advancing age is associated with manifold alterations in immune cell types, abundance, and functions, rather than simple declines in these metrics, the consequences of which remain incompletely defined. Our understanding of the effects of host age on immunotherapy mechanisms, efficacy, and adverse events remains incomplete. A deeper understanding of age effects in all these areas is required. Most cancer immunotherapy preclinical studies examine young subjects and fail to assess age contributions, a remarkable deficit given the known importance of age effects on immune cells and factors mediating cancer immune surveillance and immunotherapy efficacy. Notably, some cancer immunotherapies are more effective in aged versus young hosts, while others fail despite efficacy in the young. Here, we review our current understanding of age effects on immunity and associated nonimmune cells, the tumor microenvironment, cancer immunotherapy, and related adverse effects. We highlight important knowledge gaps and suggest areas for deeper enquiries, including in cancer immune surveillance, treatment response, adverse event outcomes, and their mitigation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging*
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Surveillance
  • Immunotherapy
  • Neoplasms*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Tumor Microenvironment