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About biological therapy

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This page has general information about biological therapy. There is information below about

 

A quick guide to what’s on this page

About biological therapy

Biological therapies are treatments that act on cell processes. They may

  • Stop cancer cells from dividing and growing
  • Seek out cancer cells and kill them
  • Encourage the immune system to attack cancer cells

Types of biological therapies 

There are a number of different types of biological therapies. They work in different ways. Some block particular chemical processes that cells use to divide and grow. Some stop cells from making blood vessels. Some drugs, such as monoclonal antibodies, target specific proteins on cancer cells. Some drugs belong to more than one group. For example, a drug that works by blocking cancer cell growth may also be a monoclonal antibody.

Biological therapies can help to keep some types of cancer under control for some months or years. Many types are still experimental and more drugs are being developed all the time.

 

 

What biological therapy is

Biological therapies are treatments that act on processes in cells. They may

  • Stop cancer cells from dividing and growing
  • Seek out cancer cells and kill them
  • Encourage the immune system to attack cancer cells

There are many different types of biological therapy and they may be called

  • Biological Response Modifiers (BRMs)
  • Biologic agents
  • Biologics
  • Targeted therapies
  • Immunotherapy
 

Why you might have biological therapy

Whether you have biological therapy depends on

  • The type of cancer you have
  • How far your cancer has spread (the stage)
  • Other cancer treatments you’ve had

Many types of biological therapies for cancer are still experimental. They are not suitable for treating all types of cancers. But biological therapy could be the best treatment for some cancers.

 

Types of biological therapies

The next page in this section tells you about the different types of biological therapy drugs.

Immunotherapy is one type of biological therapy. It uses substances produced by the body’s immune system. These substances help the body to fight infection and disease. Other types of biological therapies use substances that are still natural, but are not part of the immune system. There is information about the immune system in the about cancer section.

Biological therapies can be quite confusing. So far, there isn’t really a simple way of grouping them that is easy to follow. Some drugs are grouped according to the effect they have, for example, drugs that block cancer cell growth. But other groups include a particular type of drug, such as monoclonal antibodies (which target specific proteins on cancer cells). So some drugs belong to more than one group. For example, a drug that works by blocking cancer cell growth may also be a monoclonal antibody.

The best thing is not to worry about how doctors and researchers group the drugs. All you really need to know is what the aim of the treatment is and what the side effects are likely to be.

 

More about biological therapy and specific types of cancer

You can find more information about biological therapies by clicking on the headings in the types of biological therapy section. You can also find information in each specific cancer section.

Our cancer drug finder includes all the biological therapies that we cover on this website. Each of these pages tells you a bit about the drug, and its likely side effects. The list is arranged in alphabetical order and we've listed the drugs by their brand name and their generic name, to make them easier to find – for example, Avastin and bevacizumab.

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Updated: 12 April 2013