Breast cancers may become more responsive to immunotherapy

December 6, 2019

Jami Fukui

Breast cancers may become more responsive to immunotherapy if the tumor microenvironment is altered according to studies reviewed by Jami Fukui, MD, University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center associate researcher, and collaborators.

“Historically, breast cancer tumors have been considered devoid of immune cell activity. However, there are immune cells in the breast cancer tumors and the tumor microenvironment, so there is a possibility that breast cancers can be more responsive to immunotherapy,” said Fukui.

The findings highlighted in the Nature Partner Journals Breast Cancer publication, “If we build it they will come: targeting the immune response to breast cancer” outlines how interventions can shift the balance of a breast cancer tumor microenvironment and therefore improve immune response in the tumors to fight the disease.

The review found that breast tumors with higher tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) are more responsive to treatments like immunotherapy than those with low TILS. Also, in tumors with few immune cells in the TME, various methods can be utilized to help shift the balance and attract immune cells.

Evaluating the tumor microenvironment at different time points along the patient’s treatment trajectory, may aide clinicians in understanding disease progression and resistance, and help develop tailored treatment plans.

Fukui also emphasized that she found that tumor microenvironments are different based on racial/ethnic backgrounds, so it is important to study the racial/ethnic differences in tumor biology within the unique population of Hawai‘i in order to treat breast cancer in a more targeted and personalized way.