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Ann Thorac Surg. 1999 Sep;68(3 Suppl):S28-33.

Current perspectives in immunotherapy.

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Department of Surgery, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver 80262, USA.


Since the declaration of the war on cancer in 1971, our ability to effectively treat cancer has been less successful than anticipated. Surgery and radiation therapy remain our most effective treatment modalities, with chemotherapy proving beneficial in only a limited number of tumor types. The reality of this poor response to conventional therapy has prompted a search for other potentially beneficial therapies. The idea of using the immune system to eradicate tumor is not new. Over 100 years ago, William Coley (in 1893) first reported on the ability to induce tumor regressions by nonspecific activation of the immune system in response to bacterial toxins. Despite this early beginning, efforts to reliably manipulate the immune system to promote tumor regression has been universally disappointing. With recent advances in our understanding of the immune system, and the identification and availability of numerous growth promoting and growth-suppression cytokines, the concept of immunotherapy being a useful therapeutic intervention for the treatment of cancer is becoming a reality. Immunology in general, and tumor immunology specifically, are fields foreign to the practicing tumor surgeon. As progress in these fields are made, it will become important for the surgical oncologist to have a better understanding of tumor immunology as it relates to therapy. This paper reviews our current understanding of the immune system as it relates to cancer immunotherapy (using primary intracranial glioma as the tumor model), and then relates this knowledge to recent work in the development of tumor-specific vaccines.

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