Immunotherapy of childhood cancer: from biologic understanding to clinical application

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Abstract

Purpose of review

Most children with cancer can be cured with combination regimens of chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or all. However, standard therapies are toxic to normal tissues, cancer cells commonly develop resistance to chemotherapy, and relapsed malignancy is a leading cause of mortality in pediatrics. Elucidation of the principles of the normal immune response and tumor biology, coupled with technological developments, have led to important advances in the field of cancer immunotherapy. This review summarizes the biologic basis of cancer immunotherapy and highlights recent examples of progress in the application of novel humoral and cellular immunotherapies to children and adolescents with malignancy.

Recent findings

Clinical trials of immunotherapy for pediatric cancer have recently been initiated. To date, most immune-based therapies have been well tolerated and some have shown clinically significant activity against specific refractory high-risk malignancies.

Summary

Recent clinical trial results provide proof-of-principle that cancer immunotherapy has the capacity to overcome chemotherapy resistance without the usual toxicities associated with cytotoxic regimens. Immunotherapy holds promise in the treatment of children and adolescents with cancer and has the potential to improve both survival and quality of life.

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