Can your own immune system kill cancer?

(CNN)There was another big win in the advancement of immunotherapy treatments for cancer this week.

The Food and Drug Administration approved an immunotherapy drug called Keytruda, which stimulates the body’s immune system, for the first-line treatment of patients with metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer.

In other words, the drug could be the very first treatment a patient receives for the disease, instead of chemotherapy. Keytruda is the only immunotherapy drug approved for first-line treatment for these patients.

So it seems, the future of cancer care may be in our own immune systems, but how exactly does it work, and what are its pros and cons?

“It’s certainly going to become an independent way of treating cancers,” said Dr. Philip Greenberg, head of immunology at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, during a Q&A session at the International Cancer Immunotherapy Conference in New York in September.

“We always talk about the three pillars of cancer therapy — radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery — and it’s become quite clear now that there’s going to be a fourth pillar, which is immunotherapy,” he said. “There are times where it will be used alone, and there will be times that it will be used in conjunction with the other therapies, but there’s very little to question that this is going to be a major part of the way cancers are treated from now on, going forward.”

Here’s a look at the past, present and future of cancer immunotherapy.

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