The past several years have witnessed a resurgence of interest in cancer immunotherapy. The development of blocking antibodies against the inhibitory programmed death-1 (PD-1) pathway represents a clinical breakthrough in the treatment of solid tumors such as melanoma, and these agents show great promise in renal cell carcinoma (RCC). The early data have been surprising in that they demonstrate that blockade of a single immune checkpoint can elicit objective responses in patients with RCC, despite the recognized complexity of the immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment. Reinvigorating the patient's own immune cells to reactivate and to target the tumor has the potential advantages of more selective killing and thus decreased toxicity. In addition, checkpoint blockade immunotherapy has the advantage of inducing a memory response that is unattainable with our current cytotoxic and targeted therapies. This Crossroads overview will highlight the emerging investigation of PD-1 blockade in RCC and how this T cell-targeted strategy may thwart the tumor's escape mechanisms and shift the immune system/tumor balance back to a state of equilibrium and even to tumor elimination.
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