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Immunotherapy: A Powerful New Weapon In The Fight Against Cancer

NewYork-Presbyterian is changing the way cancer treatment begins by looking towards the body's own immune system to fight the disease.
NewYork-Presbyterian is changing the way cancer treatment begins by looking towards the body's own immune system to fight the disease. Photo Credit: istock.com_CIPhotos

The future of cancer care, it turns out, may actually be within us. Immunotherapy, a treatment approach that harnesses the power of one’s immune system to attack disease, is being lauded as one of the newest cancer therapies, along with precision-targeted therapy, designed to improve the quality of life and survival of cancer patients. And, as a powerful new weapon in the fight against cancer, scientists continue to discover new ways to expand the use of immunotherapy to treat a wider range of cancers than ever before.

The idea behind immunotherapy is simple: our immune system is able to recognize foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses, but is sometimes unable to identify cancer cells. Immunotherapy helps the immune system by both detecting cancer cells and by kicking the immune system into gear to fight the cancer.

Types of immunotherapy:

Adoptive T cell therapy (ACT) is a high-tech approach in which a patient’s T cells are engineered to recognize and kill cancer cells. ACT has shown promise in treating leukemia, as well as some beneficial effects in early phase trials in prostate and lung cancers.

Another type of immunotherapy is ‘checkpoint inhibitors,’ which target specific proteins on cancer cells, reversing the cancer’s ability to turn off the immune cells. Checkpoint inhibitors are used to successfully treat patients with metastatic lung cancer whose disease has progressed, despite treatment with chemotherapy. Inhibitors have also been approved in first line treatment of lung cancer before chemotherapy in patients with high PD-L1 stain. These agents have been shown to be more effective and less toxic than standard chemotherapy, and have also been approved for use in patients with metastatic melanoma and head and neck cancers.

The arsenal of immunotherapy’s cancer-fighting weapons also includes therapeutic antibodies designed to target proteins on cancer cells and kill the cancer. Vaccines made from a patient's own tumor cells are also being developed to treat cancers and to reduce the risk of recurrence by strengthening the body's natural defenses. Immune system modulators such as interleukins and interferons are also used to enhance the immune response against cancer.

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and its academic partner, Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) are world leaders in cancer care and research in immunotherapy. NYP’s NCI-Designated Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at Columbia offers patients immunotherapies for many types of cancer, including melanoma, lung cancer, kidney cancer, breast cancer, Hodgkin lymphoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, bladder cancer and prostate cancer. Patients receive these treatments in modern and comfortable infusion suites from an experienced and compassionate staff. NYP and CUMC are also dedicated to advancing the understanding of immunotherapy through a robust clinical trials program that evaluates new immunotherapies and novel ways of combining immunotherapy with other cancer treatments.

NewYork-Presbyterian (NYP) Cancer Centers provide high-quality, comprehensive cancer care at convenient locations throughout the New York metropolitan area, Westchester and the Lower Hudson Valley in state-of- the-art, comfortable environments. Board certified medical oncologists collaborate with a multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists to provide each patient with an individualized plan of care. To find a location in your area, visit

NewYork-Presbyterian is one of the largest and most comprehensive hospitals in the nation, ranked New York’s No. 1 hospital for the 16th consecutive year, and No. 6 in the United States, according to U.S. News and World Report. Affiliated with two academic medical colleges – Weill Cornell Medicine and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, NewYork-Presbyterian brings together internationally recognized researchers and clinicians to develop and implement the latest approaches for prevention, diagnosis and treatment. The Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center is one of only three NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers in New York State. NewYork-Presbyterian provides comprehensive cancer care at all of our locations across the New York Metro area including Westchester County and the Hudson Valley. Learn more at