A Bigger Role for Immunotherapy in Breast Cancer Treatment?

Mother and adult daughter.
Print icon

Although immunotherapy – the ability to use the body’s immune system to fight off cancer – has not been as helpful for breast cancer patients, new research shows “promise” for some women, according to Dr. Patricia DeFusco, director of the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute Breast Program.

“Harnessing the immune system as a therapeutic tool has been more helpful with other cancers such as melanoma and kidney but studies such as this offer promise for a more prominent role for immunotherapy,” she says, referring to research conducted in Boston and Australia and published recently in the journal Nature Cell Biology.

The research, conducted in mice and human tumors, demonstrated that primary tumors have the ability to stop so-called cancer spread, in which cancer cells traveling through the blood stream or lymphatic system metastasize to other sites in the body. The primary tumor does this by triggering an inflammatory response from the immune system, which then sends immune cells throughout the body to fight off the cancer.

“For the most part, when a breast cancer metastasizes, it is no longer curable,” Dr. DeFusco explains. “We do not know exactly what triggers the metastatic process, nor do we know why only some cells that spread have the capacity to invade other tissues and form a metastatic focus or deposit.”

The latest research, she says, builds on what breast experts call the “abscopal effect,” in which treatment of a cancer focus at one site in the body can potentially cause regression of a cancer deposit at a distant site.

“It is thought to be due to release of mediators from malignant cells that elicit an immune response that can affect both the primary site and distant site. There have been models of this with the use of radiation and researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering have looked at this experimentally by freezing primary breast cancers and then trying to simulate the immune system to amplify the immune response,” she says.

The research would apply to certain patients, specifically women with newly diagnosed lymph node positive breast cancer in which a finding of higher levels of the protein Interleukin 1-beta in tumor cells might suggest a better prognosis.

“The protein may inhibit metastatic cells from forming a cohesive unit, although the data is still in the experimental stages,” Dr. DeFusco says.

To learn more about research going on at The Cancer Center, including trials available to Hartford HealthCare patients as a result of the system’s membership in the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Alliance, click here.

 


What's New

Vasectomy Clinic

A March Madness Shocker: It’s the Tallwood Vasectomy Clinic!

FARMINGTON – While you’re laid up on the couch recovering from your vasectomy, you may as well have something fun to watch, right? That seems to be the thought behind a craze dubbed “Vas Madness” in which doctors and healthcare systems see an increase in the number of vasectomy procedures...

Non-Proprietary Medicine pill Bottles

How to Dispose of Prescription Meds, Properly, Without Leaving the House

Here’s a great way to warm up for spring-cleaning season. Retrieve all unused prescription drugs from medicine cabinets, bathroom drawers and your keep-it-away-from-the-kids hiding spot in the kitchen. Wait! Don’t just drop them in the household trashcan. And avoid the convenience of the nearest toilet. The Food and Drug Administration...


Newington WWII Veteran Awarded French Knight of the Legion of Honor

More than seven decades after he served in World War II, John Faenza of Newington has received the highest possible military honor an American can receive from the French people. With his wife, children, friends and former co-workers by his side, the 93-year-old Cedar Mountain Commons resident was awarded an honorary...


Tallwood Men’s Health: Heart Health

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States and worldwide. For the man who regularly consults with his doctor, however, heart disease and its potentially fatal consequences are usually avoidable. Dr. Waseem Chaudhry is a preventive cardiologist at the Hartford HealthCare Tallwood Men’s Health Center....


Tallwood Men’s Health: A Guy’s Medical Man Cave

The statistics say it all: Men are nearly one-and-a-half times as likely as women to die from almost every chronic medical condition. On average, men live five years less than women, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. But a new program at Hartford HealthCare has been designed to...