Researchers identify racial differences in breast cancer immune microenvironment

Henrietta Brewer
June 6, 2018

Using a pioneering antibody technique, medical researchers have completely eliminated advanced breast cancer from a 49-year-old woman.

A group of metastatic breast cancer experts has urged policymakers to empower patients with greater choice and participation in their treatment and care, to improve the quality of life of patients, their carers and families.

"These are responses that are unlike anything we have seen in the past for non-small-cell lung cancer", said lead author Gilberto Lopes, a medical oncologist at the University of Miami Health Center. Perkins first got chemotherapy, followed by the infusion of immune cells. "Most women in this situation don't need treatment beyond surgery and hormone therapy", he said, and "the rest of them are receiving chemotherapy unnecessarily".

The hormone-blocking drug tamoxifen and related medicines, called endocrine therapy, have become an essential part of treatment for most women because they lower the risks of recurrence, new breast tumors and death from the disease.

"They told me they had treated 12 patients and were following up on one", she said. "In the current study, we found that the tumors of African-American women attract regulatory T-cells that calm down our killer lymphocytes and inhibit the body's ability to defend against cancer".

"The more in the bad risk category we'd say the chances of the cancer coming back are high so we'd give aggressive chemotherapy but still it wasn't an accurate science", explained Dr. Imran. The presence of hormone receptors in these tumours means that they respond to hormone therapy.

What will she tell women who under prior guidelines received chemo and all its side effects and didn't need it after all?

Previous trials involving cancer immunotherapy have found that it "tends to work spectacularly for some patients, but the majority do not benefit", the BBC reports.

This form of immunotherapy has frustratingly been inconsistent in early clinical trials, working well with some patients on certain cancers but proving less effective on others.

Treatment is a personal decision and that's why it's important for patients to discuss their options with their doctor, Figueredo said.

The team at the US National Cancer Institute says the therapy is still experimental, but could transform the treatment of all cancer.

"The study should have a huge impact on doctors and patients", Dr. Kathy Albain, a hematologist/oncologist at Loyola Medicine in IL and a study co-author, said in a press release.

It's the largest study ever done about breast cancer treatment, and its main finding is that at least 70% of early-stage breast cancer patients may be spared chemotherapy; welcome news to those who've experienced it.

"Oncologists have been getting much smarter about dialing back treatment so that it doesn't do more harm than good", Steven Katz, a University of MI researcher who examines medical decisionmaking, told The Washington Post. This characterizes about half of all new breast cancer patients.

Patients with a recurrence score of up to ten out of 100 have previously been shown not to benefit from chemotherapy and need only hormone treatment.

Breast cancer is also the most common cancer in the UK.

"You really want to be able to have an outcome that changes practice", Yost said.

After enrolling for new trial in 2015, doctors in the U.S. adopted an experimental approach combining two different forms of immunotherapy after conventional hormone treatments and chemotherapy failed.

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