Immuno-oncology is a field dedicated to unleashing the body’s immune system, with the use of immunotherapies, to attack cancer. Scientists first conceived the idea of manipulating the body’s immune system to fight cancer more than a century ago. However, decades of research were needed to develop a deeper understanding of cancer and cell biology before safe and effective immunotherapy treatments could be developed for patients. Research on cancer immunotherapy intensified over the past three decades, and successful clinical trials of effective treatments followed. The result has been one of the most transformative advances in cancer care in my lifetime.

As a lung cancer doctor, I have witnessed first-hand the dramatic results that immunotherapy brings to some patients. Immunotherapy’s use in lung cancer undoubtedly has altered the clinical course for some of my patients and helped lessen the global burden of lung cancer — the most common and deadly cancer worldwide.

Unlocking benefits

Even for some patients with advanced lung cancer, who previously had no treatment options, immunotherapy has been able to halt cancer growth. In addition, unlike traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, many patients who benefit from immunotherapy experience less severe side effects and can continue their lives as they were before diagnosis.

Why doesn’t immunotherapy work for every patient? How can more patients benefit from these powerful treatments?

The outcomes following immunotherapy are ones that we hope to bring to all our patients: longer survival and a better quality of life.

Next steps

While we have every reason to recognize immunotherapy as a remarkable cancer achievement of the past decade, urgent research questions remain. Why doesn’t immunotherapy work for every patient? How can more patients benefit from these powerful treatments? America’s cancer doctors are already exploring these and other questions to find ways in which immunotherapy can be used in more patients and more types of cancers.

Immuno-oncology research has unequivocally yielded transformative results, but this relatively new field is just beginning the process to identify patients who will benefit the most from these immune system modifiers.