Immunotherapy in the treatment of cancer is increasing, particularly with the recent FDA approval of sipuleucel-T and ipilimumab. The efficacy of anti-tumor immunotherapies has been modest compared to their theoretical and pre-clinical promise. This review evaluates the promise and pitfalls of immunotherapy and highlight some of the obstacles to improving anti-tumor immunotherapy: the need for technical refinement of therapies, the need for an increased understanding of how best to combine therapies with traditional cytotoxic therapies, the inability of patients to mount an effective immune response either due to disease burden or tumor induced immune suppression, the significant toxicities associated with many immunotherapies, and the lack of strongly immunogenic antigens required by many therapies. Further, antigen-non-specific immunotherapies, including cytokines such as interleukins and interferons, immuno-stimulatory agents such as CpG oligonucleotides, or BCG, antibodies targeted against receptors such as the agonistic CD40 or inhibitory CTLA-4 antibodies, and enzyme inhibitors such as those targeting cyclo-oxygenase or indolamine-2,3-dioxygenase are discussed. In addition, potential mechanisms of these therapies such as direct anti-tumor effects, reversal of immune suppression, activation of innate immunity, and antigen-non-specific T-cell activation are reviewed. We also appraise the potential of these antigen-non-specific therapies to overcome some of the previously described pitfalls of immunotherapy. Lastly, we discuss a recent series of studies from our laboratory demonstrating the importance of antigen-non-specific 'bystander activation' of memory T-lymphocytes by immunomodulatory therapies such as interleukin-2 and the antigen-non-specific anti-tumor effects of these cells.