Are High Levels of Immune Cells in Breast Tumors A Good Thing?

Electron microscopic image of a single human l...
Electron microscopic image of a single human lymphocyte. Type: Black & White Print. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Women with HER2-positive breast cancer who had the highest levels of immune cells in their tumors gained the most benefit from presurgery treatment with chemotherapy and trastuzumab, according to results presented here at the 2013 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, held Dec. 10-14.

“We have previously shown that high levels of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes [immune cells in a tumor] are predictive of response to trastuzumab and chemotherapy administered after surgery for early-stage, HER2-positive breast cancer using samples from patients enrolled on the randomized, adjuvant phase III clinical trial called the FinHER study,” said Sherene Loi, M.D., Ph.D., medical oncologist and head of the Translational Breast Cancer Genomics Lab at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, Australia. “Our new data further support the positive relationship between tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes and better outcomes with trastuzumab therapy, this time in a cohort of patients with newly diagnosed HER2-positive breast cancer who received the therapy before surgery.

Loi and colleagues evaluated breast tumor samples from 156 patients with operable or locally advanced HER2-positive breast cancer enrolled in the GeparQuattro trial. All these participants received chemotherapy and trastuzumab prior to surgery as part of the trial, which showed that women who received the combination were more likely to have a pathologic complete response; that is, they were more likely to have no residual invasive cancer detectable in the breast tissue and lymph nodes removed during surgery. Loi and colleagues found that for every 10 percent increase in the levels of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes there was a 16 percent increase in the number of patients who had a pathologic complete response.

“These data indicate that a patient’s immune system influences outcome and trastuzumab response,” said Loi. “What we don’t know is why some patients have tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes in their breast tumor at diagnosis and others do not. Currently, we are actively investigating this and trying to understand why there is a positive relationship between tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes and better outcomes with trastuzumab therapy.”

I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad:  Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Reference: American Association for Cancer Research (2013, December 11). High levels of immune cells in breast tumors may help ID patients who benefit from trastuzumab. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 12, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2013/12/131211093822.htm

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