Promising New Immune Treatment For Breast Cancer

How will a combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy help breast cancer patients?

Photo from ScienceDaily.

Photo from ScienceDaily.

Right in time for breast cancer awareness month, promising new immune treatments are being looked at as potential cures for breast cancer patients with triple-negative breast cancer.

The need for effective breast cancer treatment is urgent. Breast cancer is the one of the most common types of cancer for women globally, and it accounts for thousands of deaths each year. According to the Cancer Research Institute, “Approximately 1 in 8 women and 1 in 1,000 men will develop breast cancer during their lifetime.”

In many cases, breast cancer is a treatable disease (as long as it is caught early and treated with the right combination of drugs). However, triple-negative breast cancer is an exception because these cancer-cells lack the receptors for estrogen, progesterone, and human epidermal growth factor 2 (HER2), which are typically the type of drugs used to destroy these cancers. Up to 20% of breast cancer patients have triple-negative cancer; sadly, these patients often face multiple chemotherapy treatments and drugs without an effective cure.

In a presentation at the European Society for Medial Oncology in Munich, Germany, scientists revealed that when combined with an immunotherapy drug, chemotherapy helped lower the risk of triple-negative breast cancer progressing in women with triple-negative breast cancer. The study was done on a group of 900 women who were randomly assigned to be given the combined treatment or just chemotherapy.

An immune response in the body is normally triggered by foreign antigens, or proteins and other substances on a cell surface that the body doesn’t recognize. Cancer cells are problematic because they start off as normal, healthy cells. In other words, they don’t scream “intruder” the way bacteria, viruses, and other foreign cells do. As cancer develops in the cells, they do produce foreign antigens. However, the change in their genetic makeup can allow cancer cells to avoid detection from the immune system.

Photo from Clinical Cancer Research-AACR Journals.

Immunotherapy drugs help human immune systems work more efficiently to fight cancer cells. This treatment uses substances made in the human body or in the lab to stop cancer cells from growing or spreading to other parts of the body. Active immunotherapies, such as cancer vaccines and adoptive cell therapy, stimulate the immune system to respond to specific antigens on the cancer cells. Passive immunotherapies give the body man-made immune system components to fight cancer cells (the difference is that the immune system is not directly stimulated). Immune checkpoint inhibitors and cytokines are two examples of this method.

Using immunotherapy alone has not been very successful. When combined with chemotherapy; however, the immune system could be stimulated just enough to make the immunotherapy drugs more effective. The specific drug used in the trials was Atezolizumab and the chemotherapy agent Nab-paclitaxel.

According to Medical News Today, the successes of these trials are a massive step forward. Until the treatment becomes available, patients with triple-negative breast cancer are being offered the chance to receive it at Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital in London in an ongoing clinical trial. Hopefully these results will be proven successful once again to help more people in their fight against cancer.