Why Does Hard-to-Treat Breast Cancer Not Respond to Immunotherapy?

Currently, there are a number of available therapeutic options for those living with breast cancer: radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and surgical interventions. In fact, due to medical advances, many forms of breast cancer are easily treatable, particularly in early stages. However, there are a number of tumors which remain treatment-refractory. According to Medical XPress, researchers from Tulane University have recently sought to understand why immunotherapy, and in particular, immune checkpoint inhibitors, is ineffective for patients with these tumors.

In the study, published in Nature Cancer, the researchers evaluated therapeutic options for breast cancer in mice and human breast tumors. The researchers wanted to learn more about how the immune system reacts after chemotherapy. They found that:

  • Following chemotherapy, the body triggers various immune checkpoints. In fact, the research team identified 16 immune checkpoint genes that stop T-cells from killing cancer cells.
  • Immune checkpoint inhibitors typically work to kill tumor cells at one immune checkpoint. However, since these tumors affect multiple checkpoints, it is able to evade immune response. 
  • This allows tumors to enter cellular senescence instead of dying. 
  • Combinations of different therapies failed to eradicate most tumors. As a result, the research team believes that more personalized therapeutic options are needed to improve outcomes in these patients. 

About Breast Cancer

As the name suggests, breast cancer forms in the breast. It begins when breast cells grow abnormally and replicate rapidly, causing a lump. Doctors are not sure of the exact cause, but environmental, genetic, and hormonal factors are thought to play a role. In 10% of cases, breast cancer results from inherited BRCA genes. Other risk factors include older age, postmenopausal hormone therapy, alcohol consumption, young menstruation or older menopause, and obesity. While breast cancer can affect both males and females, it is the second most common cancer in females. 

Symptoms of breast cancer can include:

  • Newly inverted nipples
  • A lump in the breast tissue
  • Changes in breast size, shape, or appearance
  • Skin redness or pitting
  • Peeling, scaling, crusting, or flaking of the areola or breast skin
  • Bloody nipple discharge
Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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