How Monoclonal Antibodies (mAbs) are Used in Cancer Treatment

Some types of monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) play a very important role in immunotherapy. The meaning of monoclonal is “one type”, so essentially, each monoclonal antibody is just many copies of the same kind of antibody. mAbs, made in laboratories, are already available to doctors for the treatment of cancer. According to, some mAbs are already approved for treating certain types of cancers while many other new types are still undergoing clinical trials.

How do mAbs Work? 

A monoclonal antibody typically works by recognising a specific protein contained in cells. Depending on the protein type being targeted, mAbs work in many different ways. Some mAbs work directly on the cancer cells to kill them off while others target proteins in the immune system cells.

Activates the Immune System

Some mAbs act to trigger the immune system when cancer cells are detected so that it can attack and kill off the malignant cells. The immune system can have difficulty in spotting cancer cells because even though they are abnormal, they originate from perfectly normal cells. Thus, the immune system can more easily recognise cancer cells because some mAbs attach themselves to them – this process is termed as antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity or ADCC.

Assists the Immune System to Fight the Cancer 

Other types of mAbs work by acting on the immune system cells, for example, certain immunotherapies that are also called checkpoint inhibitors act to block proteins that inhibit the immune system from fighting the cancer cells. Some other types of monoclonal antibodies work in a more specific manner like blocking signals that tell cancer cells when to divide.

How is mAb Treatment Undertaken?

There are two common ways of administering mAb treatment: one is by subcutaneous injection or an injection given under the skin while the other is through an infusion into a vein through a drip. For certain treatments, you need to have the venous infusion first after which, further injections are given under the skin. The interval between the treatments and the number of treatments depends on the type of cancer and the mAb.


Testing Before Commencing mAb Treatment

In some cases, the doctor may advise some tests to be conducted before treatment. The testing may be done with some of your cancer cells or a blood sample, the intention being to look out for changes in certain genes or proteins to find out if the proposed treatment is likely to be effective. This is not a universal test and depends upon your specific case.


mAb treatment for cancer has proven to be quite effective for certain cancers. Your doctor is the best person to tell you whether this method of treatment is suitable for you. If indeed, you undergo mAb treatment, you should be prepared for several side effects ranging from allergic reactions to fever and chills, flushes and faintness, breathlessness, etc.


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