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Immunotherapy medicines use the power of your body’s immune system to attack cancer cells.

Your immune system is the network of organs, tissues, and cells that work together to protect your body from attacks by foreign invaders such as bacteria, parasites, viruses, and fungi that can cause infection and disease. When these invaders find their way into your body -- whether through a break in the skin, for example, or through your mouth or nose -- your immune system’s response is the self-defense system that works to keep you from getting sick.

Immunotherapy medicines work by helping your immune system work harder or smarter to attack cancer cells. In cancer treatment, immunotherapy uses substances made by your body or in a lab to improve the function of the immune system by allowing the immune system to:

  • stop or slow the growth of cancer cells
  • stop cancer from spreading to other parts of the body
  • be better at destroying cancer cells

In this section, you can learn more about immunotherapy:

The medical expert for Immunotherapy is:

Leisha Emens, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine in hematology/oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Hillman Cancer Center. She is also co-leader of the Hillman Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy Program, and director of translational immunotherapy for the Women's Cancer Research Center. Dr. Emens specializes in cancer immunotherapy, and her research focuses on the development and implementation of breast cancer immunotherapies (including vaccines and immune checkpoint inhibitors) in combination with traditional cancer treatments and other drugs that activate the immune system. Dr. Emens discloses that she has received research support from Merck, EMD-Serono, AstraZeneca, Genentech-Roche, Corvus, and Aduro. She has received honoraria from Vaccinex, Amgen, Syndax, Peregrine, Bayer, and Gritstone.

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