Radiotherapy has extensively been employed as a curative or palliative intervention against cancer throughout the last century, with a varying degree of success. For a long time, the antineoplastic activity of X- and ?-rays was entirely ascribed to their capacity of damaging macromolecules, in particular DNA, and hence triggering the (apoptotic) demise of malignant cells. However, accumulating evidence indicates that (at least part of) the clinical potential of radiotherapy stems from cancer cell-extrinsic mechanisms, including the normalization of tumor vasculature as well as short- and long-range bystander effects. Local bystander effects involve either the direct transmission of lethal signals between cells connected by gap junctions or the production of diffusible cytotoxic mediators, including reactive oxygen species, nitric oxide and cytokines. Conversely, long-range bystander effects, also known as out-of-field or abscopal effects, presumably reflect the elicitation of tumor-specific adaptive immune responses. Ionizing rays have indeed been shown to promote the immunogenic demise of malignant cells, a process that relies on the spatiotemporally defined emanation of specific damage-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs). Thus, irradiation reportedly improves the clinical efficacy of other treatment modalities such as surgery (both in neo-adjuvant and adjuvant settings) or chemotherapy. Moreover, at least under some circumstances, radiotherapy may potentiate anticancer immune responses as elicited by various immunotherapeutic agents, including (but presumably not limited to) immunomodulatory monoclonal antibodies, cancer-specific vaccines, dendritic cell-based interventions and Toll-like receptor agonists. Here, we review the rationale of using radiotherapy, alone or combined with immunomodulatory agents, as a means to elicit or boost anticancer immune responses, and present recent clinical trials investigating the therapeutic potential of this approach in cancer patients.
- Immunogenic cell death
- Intensity-modulated radiation therapy
- Stereotactic body radiation therapy
- Stereotactic radiosurgery
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Immunology and Allergy