Primer on tumor immunology and cancer immunotherapy

Timothy J. Harris, Charles G. Drake

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Individualized cancer therapy is a central goal of cancer biologists. Immunotherapy is a rational means to this end-because the immune system can recognize a virtually limitless number of antigens secondary to the biology of genetic recombination in B and T lymphocytes. The immune system is exquisitely structured to distinguish self from non-self, as demonstrated by anti-microbial immune responses. Moreover the immune system has the potential to recognize self from "altered-self", which is the case for cancer. However, the immune system has mechanisms in place to inhibit self-reactive responses, many of which are usurped by evolving tumors. Understanding the interaction of cancer with the immune system provides insights into mechanisms that can be exploited to disinhibit anti-tumor immune responses. Here, we summarize the 2012 SITC Primer, reviewing past, present, and emerging immunotherapeutic approaches for the treatment of cancer-including targeting innate versus adaptive immune components; targeting and/or utilizing dendritic cells and T cells; the role of the tumor microenvironment; and immune checkpoint blockade.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number12
JournalJournal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer
StatePublished - 2013


  • Adoptive T cell therapy
  • Cancer vaccine
  • Immune checkpoint
  • Immunotherapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Cancer Research
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology
  • Immunology


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