Immunotherapy is a newer treatment option for lung cancer that works by enabling the immune system to identify cancer cells. It has improved outcomes for many people with the disease.

In the United States, around 240,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer each year. Most of these cases are advanced lung cancer, around stage 3 or 4.

Immunotherapy is a newer treatment that has improved outcomes for many people with lung cancer. It is helpful in 20–40% of those who are eligible to receive it.

Immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune cells to identify, attack, and destroy cancer cells.

The immune system typically successfully identifies problematic cells, such as bacteria and viruses. However, cancer cells can trick the immune system. They do this by mimicking healthy cells so “checkpoint” proteins are not activated. The cancer cells tell the immune system’s checkpoint proteins they are typical cells and do not require an immune response. In turn, cancer can keep growing.

Immunotherapy drugs, also called checkpoint inhibitors, block this response. When the cancer cells cannot mimic the proteins, they are exposed. The healthy immune cells can then attack cancer cells and tumors.

In this interactive experience, learn about the ways immunotherapy affects the body and how the immune system works to destroy cancer cells.