Biological therapy is a treatment that uses your body's immune system to fight cancer cells rather than attacking those cells directly. For carefully selected people, biological therapy may target cancer cells to avoid damage to normal cells, prevent or slow tumor growth, and prevent the spread of cancer cells. Although it can have side effects, typically this type of therapy is less invasive and less toxic than conventional cancer treatments are. Biological therapy for cancer includes immunotherapy, targeted therapy and therapy that inhibits the growth of blood vessels (anti-angiogenesis).

Biological therapy is sometimes a treatment option for certain people who have lymphoma, brain cancer, pancreatic cancer, kidney cancer, melanoma, breast cancer, colon cancer or lung cancer. Some people receive this therapy alone, while others are also treated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. However, whether biological therapy is right for you depends on your type of cancer, how far it has spread, and other treatments you've tried.

  • Latest research. Mayo Clinic is a leader in translating knowledge gained from cancer research into effective care for people with cancer. Researchers at Mayo Clinic are investigating the function of biological therapy for cancer and developing ways to use it for treating more types of cancer.
  • Comprehensive cancer center. The Mayo Clinic Cancer Center receives funding from the National Cancer Institute and is designated as a comprehensive cancer center — a recognition for an institution's scientific excellence in research and multispecialty resources that are focused on cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., are ranked among the Best Hospitals for cancer by U.S. News & World Report. Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla, is ranked high performing for cancer by U.S. News & World Report. Mayo Clinic also ranks among the Best Children's Hospitals for cancer.

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There are three major types of biological therapies.

  • Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy helps repair, stimulate or enhance the body's natural ability to fight cancer, helping cancer cells. Cancer vaccines, interferon and interleukin-2 treatments are examples of immunotherapies. A newer form of immunotherapy, called ipilimumab (Yervoy), has shown effectiveness in treating advanced melanoma, and studies on its use in treating other forms of cancer are under way.
  • Targeted therapy. Targeted therapy uses nonchemotherapy drugs to target specific cancer cells. Unlike chemotherapy, targeted therapy spares normal cells and may reduce the side effects of other therapies. Many anti-cancer targeted therapies are in clinical trials and could be widely used in the future.
  • Anti-angiogenesis. Anti-angiogenesis (an-tie-an-je-oh-JEN-uh-sis) helps prevent the formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) in a tumor. Because tumors need to develop blood vessels to grow or spread, this therapy helps stop them from growing. Mayo researchers are conducting clinical trials involving anti-angiogenesis for several types of cancers.

Mayo Clinic works with hundreds of insurance companies and is an in-network provider for millions of people. In most cases, Mayo Clinic doesn't require a physician referral. Some insurers require referrals or may have additional requirements for certain medical care. All appointments are prioritized on the basis of medical need.

The Division of Hematology/Oncology at Mayo Clinic in Arizona has extensive experience treating all types of cancer. Mayo's expertise and significant research make it possible for people with cancer to receive the most advanced treatments and participate in cutting-edge clinical trials.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 800-446-2279 (toll-free) 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

The Division of Hematology/Oncology at Mayo Clinic in Florida has extensive experience treating all types of cancer. Mayo's expertise and significant research make it possible for people with cancer to receive the most advanced treatments and participate in cutting-edge clinical trials.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 904-953-0853 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

The Division of Medical Oncology at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota has one of the largest and most comprehensive cancer treatment programs in the world. Mayo's expertise and significant research make it possible for people with cancer to receive the most advanced treatments and participate in cutting-edge clinical trials.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 507-538-3270 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

See information on patient services at the three Mayo Clinic locations, including transportation options and lodging.

Investigators from the Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy Program are pursuing cutting-edge research to better understand the human immune system and use that knowledge to prevent or treat cancer. Researchers in the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center are developing targeted drugs that will help destroy cancer cells without damaging healthy cells.

Publications

See a list of publications by Mayo Clinic doctors on biological therapy for cancer on PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine.

Oct. 12, 2011