What Is Cancer Immunology?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Nurse
Nurse

Cancer immunology involves research into the connection between the immune system and cancer. Scientists in this field study how cancer develops, what happens when the immune system encounters it, and why some cancers grow while others are beaten back by the body. They are also interested in the potential applications of immunotherapy, where patients receive treatments tailored to specific cancers that help their own immune systems fight the malignancy. Studies look at ways cancer can be prevented, detected early, and treated effectively.

The immune system plays an important role in the development of malignant growths. As the body’s first line of defense, one of the things it does is recognize rogue cells that are reproducing out of control and tag them for destruction. In some cases, it misses these cells, and they develop into metastatic tumors. Researchers look at why the immune system misses some cancers, studying the specific tumor markers presented on the surface of cells and secreted into the body as part of cancer immunology.

Identifying tumor markers can help with diagnosis, because patients can receive tests to look for specific markers and narrow down the type of cancer. It also helps with immunotherapy, where medications can be designed to specifically tag cells expressing those markers, and only those cells. These therapies are customized to the cancer, rather than indiscriminately attacking rapidly dividing cells, which reduces the risk of side effects. Cancer immunology researchers develop and test therapies to determine if they could be effective with patients.

Labs and research facilities offer a number of opportunities for scientists to grow cells in culture, work with animal subjects, and perform genetic sequencing and other activities to support research in cancer immunology. Some researchers are also involved in clinical trials with patients to test new therapies, learn more about specific cancers, and develop a deeper understanding of cancer. They may work for private institutions, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations with an interest in addressing a variety of conditions, from childhood leukemias to prostate cancer.

Researchers in cancer immunology are also interested in immune suppression caused by cancer treatment. This may be induced deliberately in some cases, like in patients with bone marrow cancer who need transplants, or it can be an unwanted side effect. Studies in this area involve determining safe margins of immune suppression, protecting patients, and making recommendations for handling patients with compromised immune systems. Their work leads to guidelines for hospitalized patients as well as people getting care on an outpatient basis to help them survive cancer treatment.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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