Monoclonal antibodies: When the body’s immune system detects antigens, it produces antibodies. Antigens are harmful substances, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. Antibodies are proteins that fight infection. Monoclonal antibodies are made in a laboratory. When they are given to patients, they act like the antibodies the body produces naturally. A monoclonal antibody is directed against a specific protein in the cancer cells, and it does not affect the cells that do not have that protein. When a monoclonal antibody attaches to a cancer cell, they may accomplish the following goals:
- Allow the immune system to destroy the cancer cell.
- Prevent cancer cells from growing rapidly.
- Deliver radiation directly to cancer cells.
- Diagnose cancer.
- Carry drugs directly to cancer cells.
Some monoclonal antibodies approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat cancer include: Alemtuzumab (Campath), Bevacizumab (Avastin), Cetuximab (Erbitux), Ipilimumab (Yervoy), Nivolumab (Opdivo), Ofatumumab (Arzerra), Panitumumab (Vectibix), Pembrolizumab (Keytruda), Rituximab (Rituxan), Trastuzumab (Herceptin)
Clinical trials of monoclonal antibodies are ongoing for several types of cancers. Learn more about clinical trials.
Non-specific immunotherapies: Like monoclonal antibodies, non-specific immunotherapies also help the immune system destroy cancer cells. Most non-specific immunotherapies are given after or at the same time as another cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. However, some non-specific immunotherapies are given as the main cancer treatment. Two common non-specific immunotherapies are:
Cancer vaccines: A vaccine is another method used to help the body fight disease. A vaccine exposes the immune system to an antigen. This triggers the immune system to recognize and destroy that protein or related materials. There are two types of cancer vaccines: prevention vaccines and treatment vaccines.
- Prevention vaccine.
- Treatment vaccine.