Is cancer dangerous to the immune system?

Semin Immunol. 1996 Oct;8(5):271-80. doi: 10.1006/smim.1996.0035.


The hypothesis of immunologic surveillance of neoplasia is predicated on the theory that the immune system is capable of discriminating self from foreign antigens, and that tumor-specific antigens are regarded by the immune system as nonself. We propose here an alternate view, that the immune system has evolved to detect danger by employing 'professional' antigen-presenting cells as sentinels of tissue distress. In this model, cancers do not appear dangerous to the immune system, so that the default response of T cells to tumors is to be turned off. We discuss the implications for immunotherapy of malignancy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiology*
  • Immunologic Surveillance*
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / immunology*