Biological therapy for cancer is a type of treatment that uses the body's immune system to kill cancer cells.
Biological therapy for cancer is used in the treatment of many types of cancer to prevent or slow tumor growth and to prevent the spread of cancer. Biological therapy for cancer often causes fewer toxic side effects than other cancer treatments.
How biological therapy works
The goal of biological therapy for cancer is to induce your immune system to recognize and kill cancer cells.
Your body's immune system fights invaders, such as germs, throughout your body. Your immune system should also recognize cancer cells as abnormal, but it doesn't always do that. Cancer cells can develop an ability to hide from immune system cells. Or cancer cells can disable or inhibit immune system cells from acting.
In general, biological therapies work in one of two ways:
- Inducing the immune system to attack cancer cells. There are several ways biological therapy treatments can achieve this goal. As an example, chemicals that stimulate your immune system cells could be injected into your body. Or a sample of your immune system cells could be trained in a lab to attack cancer cells before being reintroduced to your body.
- Making cancer cells easier for your immune system to recognize. Biological therapy can also target the cancer cells, turning on or off cell signals that help them elude the immune system cells.
Types of biological therapy
Several types of biological therapy exist, including:
- Adoptive cell transfer
- Angiogenesis inhibitors
- Bacillus Calmette-Guerin therapy
- Cancer vaccines
- Cytokine therapy
- Gene therapy
- Monoclonal antibodies
- Oncolytic virus therapy
- Targeted drug therapy
Many types of biological therapy are available only in clinical trials. Biological therapy for cancer is a very active area of cancer research.
Dec. 05, 2014
- De Vita VT Jr, et al. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg's Cancer: Principles & Practice of Oncology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Wolters Kluwer Health Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2011. http://ovidsp.ovid.com/ovidweb.cgi?T=JS&CSC=Y&NEWS=N&PAGE=booktext&D=books1&AN=01451469/9th_Edition/3&XPATH=/OVIDBOOK%5b1%5d/METADATA%5b1%5d/TBY%5b1%5d/EDITORS%5b1%5d. Accessed Oct. 29, 2014.
- Biological therapies for cancer. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Therapy/biological. Accessed Oct. 29, 2014.
- Niederhuber JE, et al., eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2014. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Oct. 29, 2014.
- Shah DJ, et al. Latest advances in chemotherapeutic, targeted and immune approaches in the treatment of metastatic melanoma. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2014;89:504.