Types of Cancer Immunotherapy Can Treat

Several kinds of immunotherapy are approved to help your body fight a number of cancers. Some are used by themselves, while others you get along with other treatments.

Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors and Cytokines

Melanoma, a type of skin cancer, is one of the most common kinds of cancer that doctors treat with immunotherapy. In some cases, they use immune checkpoint inhibitors, which affect a kind of white blood cell called T cells that attack disease.

Your immune system makes proteins that are meant to help control your body’s immune response. But these proteins can keep T cells from fighting cancer cells. Immune checkpoint inhibitors are drugs that block these proteins and free up T cells for attack.

Doctors also use chemicals called cytokines to treat melanoma. These chemicals, called interferon and interleukin, act as messengers that give your immune system instructions. Interleukins boost the growth of immune cells and make them divide faster, while interferons tell immune cells to stop some cancer cells from reproducing.

Immune checkpoint inhibitors can also be used against:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
  • Non-small-cell lung cancer

Interleukins and interferons can be used against kidney cancer. Interferons have also been approved to treat:

  • Two types of leukemia (hairy cell leukemia and chronic myelogenous leukemia)
  • Two types of lymphoma (follicular non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and cutaneous T-cell lymphoma)
  • Kaposi's sarcoma 

Monoclonal Antibodies

These mark cancer cells for attack by the immune system. Doctors use them to target:

  • Brain cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
  • Lung cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Stomach cancer

CAR T-Cell Therapy

With this type of immunotherapy, doctors “reprogram” your white blood cells and use them to target the cancer. So far, it’s been approved to treat only two kinds: 

  • Large B-cell lymphomas
  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia


These can help protect you from two viruses that have been linked to certain kinds of cancer:

  • Human papilloma virus (HPV), which can cause cancers of the genitals, cervix, anus, and throat
  • Hepatitis B, which can lead to liver cancer
  • Another vaccine can help fight a kind of prostate cancer in men.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on February 20, 2019



National Cancer Institute.

American Cancer Society.

National Cancer Institute: “NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms: immune checkpoint inhibitor.”

Cancer Research Institute: “Immunotherapy by cancer type.”

The Mayo Clinic: “Monoclonal antibody drugs for cancer: How they work.”

Journal of Hematology and Oncology: “Cancer immunotherapy beyond immune checkpoint inhibitors.”

Cancer Immunity: “Monoclonal antibodies in cancer therapy.”

Cancer Research UK: “Interferon.”

CDC: “Human Papilloma Virus and Cancer,” “Hepatitis-B Vaccination.”

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