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Can Your Immune System Fight Cancer? Find Out Here

Can Your Immune System Fight Cancer? Find Out Here

Your immune system acts as your body’s defense against disease and illness. But can your immune system fight off cancer? Is it possible to have a strong enough immune system to do so? Learn more about how to prevent cancer and the role immunity plays.

How Does the Immune System Work?

As you might already know, your immune system protects you against all sorts of diseases and illnesses. But how exactly does your body do this? And does immunity have a role in how to prevent cancer?

When a foreign substance such as bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens invade your body, your immune system sends out specialized cells. These cells all have different roles, but they work in conjunction with one another to look for the invaders, and destroy them as quickly as possible.

There are also two main branches to the body’s immune system, which are the innate immunity and the adaptive immunity1.

So can your immune system fight off cancer? In a sense. Your innate immunity serves to protect your body against most common invaders. These include bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. It’s also known as the nonspecific immune system, since it doesn’t target any specific pathogen. You can think of it as the immune system’s first layer of defense.

On the other hand, the adaptive immune system is a more specialized form of protection. The adaptive immune system protects us against specific pathogens that we have already been in contact with.

One example of your adaptive immune system is when you get infected with chickenpox and recover, your body usually has immunity for life. This is because your adaptive immune system is already familiar with chickenpox, so it can easily fight off the disease. Vaccines also work in a similar way in that they teach your adaptive immune system how to fight off specific pathogens.

Vaccines are weakened strains of pathogens that serve as “training dummies” to train our immune system to combat pathogens when the real pathogens are encountered.

Can Your Immune System Fight Cancer?

Now that we know how the immune system works, we can now talk about how to prevent cancer or fight it. The short answer to this is that yes, our immune system can actually find and destroy cancer cells.

Some of the cells that our immune system sends out are able to locate cancer cells and deal with them accordingly2. It’s even possible that your immune system has already destroyed any pre-cancer or cancer cells without you even knowing it.

Now, you might be asking, “If the immune system can fight off cancer, why do people still get sick?” The answer to this question is that our immune system is not always enough when it comes to how to prevent cancer.

Our immune system typically looks for what’s known as neoantigens when fighting off cancer cells. These neoantigens are found on the surface of cancer cells, and are a type of protein fragment.

When the immune cells detect neoantigens, they start to attack the cell and destroy it since they recognize it as an invader. However, this only works if there are enough antigens on the cell’s surface.

If there are not enough neoantigens, then our immune system can’t detect the cancer cells at all. This means that they are unable to destroy it, and cancer can start to spread. By the time the immune system detects the cancer cells, it’s usually too late3.

So yes, the immune system can fight cancer, but it’s usually not enough.

How to Prevent Cancer: The Role of Immunity

While the answer to the question of “Can your immune system fight off cancer?” isn’t a resounding yes, there are still ways to take advantage of the immune system to destroy cancer cells.

One form of treatment, known as immunotherapy, uses different methods for the immune system to fight cancer. Some forms of immunotherapy block immune checkpoints, which are the body’s way of regulating the immune system. Without these checkpoints, immune cells can more readily find and destroy cancer cells4.

Other approaches use proteins that bind to and mark cancer cells. These essentially act as a target that immune cells can find and subsequently destroy. Immunotherapy can be used as a standalone treatment, or alongside other forms of treatment such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy5.

When it comes to how to prevent cancer or fight it, it’s not enough to rely on the immune system. It’s still important to undergo treatment, and weigh your options with your doctor to find out the best way to deal with the disease.

Learn more about Cancer here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

  1. How does the immune system work? – Cancer Research Institute (CRI),, Accessed June 7, 2021
  2. The immune system and cancer | Cancer Research UK,, Accessed June 7, 2021
  3. The Immune System Can Fight Cancer. So Why Doesn’t It? | Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center,, Accessed June 7, 2021
  4. Immunotherapy for Cancer – National Cancer Institute,, Accessed June 7, 2021
  5. Forcing the Immune System to Attack Cancer,, Accessed June 7, 2021
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Written by Jan Alwyn Batara Updated Nov 09, 2021
Medically reviewed by Alaga Health