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 do 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 by:
- 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. As an example, drugs called immune checkpoint inhibitors can target specific chemical receptors on cancer cells, blocking the signals the cancer cells send to suppress the immune system.
Types of biological therapy
Several types of biological therapy exist, including:
- Adoptive cell transfer
- Angiogenesis inhibitors
- Bacillus Calmette-Guerin therapy
- Cancer vaccines
- Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy
- Cytokine therapy
- Gene therapy
- Immune checkpoint modulators
- 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.
Mayo Clinic's approach