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Does Immunotherapy Work For Breast Cancer

What Is The Immune System

How immunotherapy might be effective for triple-negative breast cancer

The immune system is made up of a network of cells and organs and is designed to protect the body from threats such as infections, toxins and abnormal cell development. The immune system recognises when a foreign organism, such as a germ, enters the body and attacks it to stop if from harming the body.

Lymphocytes are a key part of the immune system. There are two main types:

  • B-cells which fight bacteria and viruses.
  • T-cells which help control the immune system and help B-cells make antibodies.

The immune system usually prevents cancers from developing because of its ability to detect and eliminate abnormal cell growth. Sometimes the body’s natural immune system may not be strong enough to fight the cell growth that causes cancer. Cancer cells may also change over time, which can allow them to escape the immune system.

What Are The Challenges Of Immunotherapy

One challenge of immunotherapy is not knowing who is likely to benefit from the treatment, as mentioned above. Second, immunotherapy can cause substantial side effects, including life-threatening ones. The most common immunotherapy side effects are skin reactions, such as redness and blistering, and flu-like symptoms, such as fever, nausea, weakness, and body aches. Different types of immunotherapy can cause different side effects. An important third challenge is the high cost of this treatment, which insurance companies may not cover.

What Should You Do If Youre Interested In Immunotherapy Treatment

If youre wondering whether immunotherapy may be an option for you, researching treatments on your own may be a good place to start. Read about treatment options for your specific type of cancer.

Have an honest conversation with your doctor and your care team to get better insight into your disease. Some questions to consider asking are:

  • What’s my overall outlook? Is my cancer curable?
  • What are our goals? What’s the realistic outcome?
  • Am I a candidate for genomic testing?
  • Am I a candidate for immunotherapy? If so, when would we use that in my treatment, and what are the common side effects?
  • Do you have any clinical trials I may qualify for?

Try to get access to genomic testing as early as possible in your cancer journey. Some rare genetic mutations have a high response rate to targeted therapy. If you wait until youre out of other options, you may be too sick to qualify or to travel for treatment if its not available locally.

Consider getting a second opinion. A second opinion may give you a better understanding of your cancer type and stage, but it may also reveal innovative treatment options your current doctor may not have access to.

Immunotherapy is not an appropriate solution for all cancer patients, but some are thriving on the treatment. Those patients are potentially living longer with fewer side effects and a higher quality of life.

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Researchers Look To Validate Promising Immunotherapy Response Biomarker In Early

NEW YORK In the wake of a recent study, researchers are hoping to validate the ability of a relatively straightforward and easy-to-measure protein, called Major Histocompatibility Complex Class II, or MHC-II, to predict immunotherapy response when expressed on the surface of breast cancer cells.

The study, published Tuesday in Clinical Cancer Research, comes at a time when improving patient selection for immunotherapy treatment particularly immunotherapy in the neoadjuvant and adjuvant settings for early-stage triple-negative breast cancer has been top of mind for many in the field. Several weeks ago, Merck presented updated results from its Keynote-522 trial showing that adding pembrolizumab to chemotherapy in a pre-surgery setting, then continuing on with post-surgery pembrolizumab monotherapy improved event-free survival for patients with high-risk, early-stage triple-negative breast cancer versus neoadjuvant chemo alone followed by adjuvant placebo. The US Food and Drug Administrationgranted full regulatory approval to the immunotherapy regimen shortly thereafter.

Further validation

How Is Immunotherapy Administered

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Patients usually receive immunotherapy treatment at an outpatient oncology center via infusion through a port or intravenous therapy . The dosage and frequency depend on the specific medicine. Therapy intervals may range between every two weeks to every four weeks. In April, however, the FDA approved a six-week dosing regimen for the immunotherapy drug, pembrolizumab , a monoclonal antibody.

Currently, theres no designated end to immunotherapy treatment. You may continue on the regimen as long as you continue to have a good response.

Patients sometimes ask to take a break from treatment. They may be experiencing side effects or want a break for a personal reason. When that happens, we monitor the patient with scans and tests every three months or so. We dont fully understand why yet, but somenot allcontinue to have a good response after stopping therapy. One possibility is that for those patients, immunotherapy may work like a light switch: Once its been turned on, it stays on.

For example, one recent study showed patients with PD-L1expressing advanced nonsmall-cell lung cancer who were treated for at least two years with pembrolizumab continued to experience long-term benefits of treatment, even after taking a break from treatment. Researchers and oncologists are trying to figure out who may be able to stop immunotherapy indefinitely and still maintain the benefits.

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Trigger The Immune System

Some MABs trigger the immune system to attack and kill cancer cells.

Although cancer cells are abnormal, they develop from normal cells so they can be difficult for the immune system to spot.

Some MABs attach themselves to cancer cells, making it easier for the cells of the immune system to find them. This process is called antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity or ADCC.

Below is a short video showing how MABs work when they trigger the immune system.

Monoclonal antibodies which trigger the immune system to treat cancer

An injected monoclonal antibody seeks out cancer cell proteins.

The monoclonal antibody bind to the proteins.

The antibodies signal to immune cells.

The immune cells arrive and punch holes in the cancer cell. The cancer cell dies.

Examples of MABS that work in this way include:

  • rituximab a treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and some types of non Hodgkin lymphoma
  • cetuximab a treatment for advanced bowel cancer and head and neck cancer
  • trastuzumab used to treat breast cancer and stomach cancer

You can find more information about these in our list of cancer drugs.

Treating Brain Tumours With Immunotherapy

Unfortunately, there has, so far, been less success in brain tumours.

When it comes to the brain, immune-based treatments face a number of obstacles before they can even reach the tumour. One of the most significant challenges is the blood-brain barrier which protects the brain from harmful substances.

Also some brain tumours are very good masters of disguise and can use a ‘cloak’ of molecules to make them look like normal cells to the immune system. This prevents immune cells from attacking them.

For this reason, research is continuing within clinical trials, including looking at combining immunotherapy with other treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, to improve results.

The Cancer Research Institute has produced short videos on how these different types of immunotherapy work.

Please note that comments about the success/approvals for use in the above video relate to other tumour/cancer types NOT brain tumours.

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Clinical Trials For Immunotherapy Drugs

While few immunotherapies have been approved for breast cancer to date, studies of other potential immunotherapy treatments are underway. Some breast cancer patients who arent eligible for the currently available immunotherapies may qualify for clinical trials researching others.

Trials may allow doctors to prescribe drugs as off-label treatments, testing the drugs for their effectiveness in treating cancer types for which they have not received FDA approval. Patients participating in the Targeted Agent and Profiling Utilization Registry study, for instance, may be prescribed anti-cancer drugs by matching them to specific genomic mutations found in their individual tumors.

There are a number of immunotherapy trials, including trials for early-stage breast cancer, at CTCA, Dr. Farrington says. Those trials include potential treatments for hormone receptor-positive and HER2+ breast cancers, she says.

What To Expect When Taking Tecentriq

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Tecentriq is given intravenously, which means the medicine is delivered directly into your bloodstream through an IV or a port.

You get Tecentriq on a 28-day cycle. On days 1 and 15, you get Tecentriq followed by Abraxane, which is also given intravenously. On day 8, you get Abraxane alone.

Women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant should not be given Tecentriq. Tecentriq can cause embryo death and birth defects. Its important that you dont get pregnant while youre getting Tecentriq you must use effective birth control.

Tecentriq also can cause other serious side effects, including:

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Enhancing The Effects Of Immunotherapy

The research team then checked whether plerixafor could improve the response to immune checkpoint inhibitors in three mouse models of metastatic breast cancer.

Earlier studies from Dr. Jains team and others have shown that plerixafor enhances responses to immunotherapy in mouse models of pancreatic cancer and liver cancer.

After the scientists surgically removed the primary tumors and the mice developed metastases, they were given one of four treatments: a control, plerixafor, a combination of immune checkpoint inhibitors, or plerixafor plus the immune checkpoint inhibitors.

Compared with the other treatments, plerixafor plus the checkpoint inhibitors led to fewer cancer-associated fibroblasts, less desmoplasia, and more cancer-killing immune cells in the metastatic tumors. The combination of plerixafor and checkpoint inhibitors also decreased lung metastases and extended how long the mice lived.

In all three models, the researchers noted, several mice treated with plerixafor and checkpoint inhibitors had long-term remissions, doubling the rate of long-term remissions observed for immune checkpoint inhibitors alone.

Several different CXCR4 inhibitors are currently available and they are relatively nontoxic, Dr. Sledge noted.

Down the road, the basic biology findings from this study may help guide clinical studies of CXCR4 inhibitors in combination with other therapies, said Dr. Hildesheim.

Allergic Reaction During Treatment

A common side effect of some MABs is an allergic reaction to the drug. This reaction is most likely to happen during treatment and when you first have the treatment.

If this is possible with your drug, you might have paracetamol, a steroid and an antihistamine drug before treatment to prevent a reaction.

An allergic reaction can include these symptoms, though you may not have all of them:

  • breathlessness

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Targeted And Immunotherapy Drugs For Secondary Breast Cancer

Targeted cancer drugs work by targeting the differences in cancer cells that help them to grow and survive.

Immunotherapy uses our immune system to attack the cancer.

There are different types of targeted and immunotherapy drugs for secondary breast cancer. They are usually grouped depending on the way they work, although some of these drugs work in more than one way.

Immunotherapy As Adjuvant Or Neoadjuvant Therapy

Immunotherapy effective against

While immunotherapy has been looked at most often as a treatment for metastatic breast cancer, researchers believe it may have a role in the earlier stages of breast cancer as well.

Studies are in place looking at the use of immunotherapy before breast cancer surgery for people with triple negative breast cancer or HER2 positive breast cancer. There are also studies examining immunotherapy after surgery using the checkpoint inhibitors duralumab and tremelimumab for people with estrogen receptor positive stage 2 or stage 3 breast cancer.

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Establishing Routine Immune Profiling

Another opportunity is the development of methods for deep and routine immune profiling of patients and tumors. This approach can be built upon and merged with existing infrastructure established over the past years for next generation sequencing and mutation panel test of patient tumors. For example, tumor and normal whole exome sequencing and tumor RNA sequencing can establish a patients HLA type, mutational and neo-epitope burden, the tumor genome, and transcriptome from which the composition of the cellular infiltration as well as the constellation of primary suppressive pathways can be bioinformatically determined . If successful, based on the immune profile, patients could be matched to effective therapies . We suggest immune precision medicine will become an important element of cancer therapeutics over time.

How Effective Is Immunotherapy

Success rates for any cancer treatment, including immunotherapy, depend on individual factors, including the cancer type and stage. In general, immunotherapy is effective against many cancers. While some cancers are more immunogenic than others, in general, immunotherapy is effective across a wide variety of cancers. Immunotherapy can produce durable responses unlike chemotherapy or radiation, however, these occur only in around 25% patients.

Some research suggests that the immune system may remember cancer cells after immunotherapy ends.

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What To Expect When Taking Keytruda

Keytruda is given as a 30-minute infusion, every 3 or 6 weeks, depending on the dose given at each infusion. The Keytruda infusion is given before the chemotherapy infusion. If you are receiving Keytruda for metastatic or unresectable locally advanced triple-negative breast cancer, you may continue treatment with Keytruda and chemotherapy for up to 2 years, unless the cancer grows or you develop unacceptable side effects.

Women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant should not be given Keytruda. Keytruda can cause embryo death and birth defects. Its important that you dont get pregnant while youre getting Keytruda you must use effective birth control.

Conflict Of Interest Statement


The authors declare the following conflicts of interests. JCR has received travel grants from Medac GmbH , Gedeon Richter , Celgene , Daiichi Sankyo , and Pfizer and has been an honorary speaker for Pfizer. L.S. has received travel grants from Medac GmbH and Celgene outside the scope of this work. E.-F.S. is receiving: grants from the University of Saarland, Storz, and Erbe personal fees and other compensation from Roche , Pfizer , Celgene , Amgen , and Astra Zeneca and other fees from Esai , Ethicon , Johnson & Johnson , Novartis , Tesaro , Teva , Medac GmbH , MSD , Vifor , Gedeon Richter , Takeda , and AGE .

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When You Might Have These Drugs

You might have these drugs with other types of treatment, for example chemotherapy.

Not all the targeted and immunotherapy drugs will be suitable for you. You may only be able to have a particular drug if other drugs havent worked, or your breast cancer cells have certain receptors.

For secondary breast cancer you might have these drugs to:

relieve symptoms reduce the size of the cancer improve your daily quality of life

There is a lot of research looking at targeted drugs for secondary breast cancer and you may hear about new drugs as they become available. Do ask your doctor or nurse if you have any questions, they will explain which treatment is best for you.

Not A Cure But An Extension: How Immunotherapy Works For Advanced Lung Cancer

May 3, 2018

For nearly five decades, doctors have usedvarious forms of immunotherapy to treat certain cancers. These treatmentsstimulate the patients own immune system to attack a disease, much like itwould a virus or another foreign invader. Promising data have emerged toindicate its effectiveness against many cancers, including lung, kidney,melanoma, and some colon cancers.

Most recently, lung cancer has receivedattention for data released from a studypublished in The New England Journal ofMedicine and featured in The New York Times. In the study,the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab was combined with chemotherapyto determine whether the dual approach was more effective than chemotherapyalone for metastatic nonsquamous non-small cell lung cancer.

The results are encouraging: Patients whoreceived the dual therapy lived longer than those who received onlychemotherapy. In fact, the findings suggest that earlier introduction ofimmunotherapy for certain patients might one day become the standard treatment.

But while the data are promising, we must notbe too eager to declare victory. Todays immunotherapy is not a cure forlate-stage lung cancer. However, it can give certain patients more precioustime with family and friends. To provide that, we must carefully selectpatients who will benefit most and determine the most appropriate availabletreatment. Recent developments havefocused on immune checkpoint inhibitors and on CAR-T cell therapy.

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New Immunotherapy Insights For Kidney Cancer

by The Francis Crick Institute

Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute, The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and UCL have found immune cell patterns within tumors that can help predict if patients with kidney cancer will respond to immunotherapy.

Clear cell renal cell carcinoma is the most common type of kidney cancer, accounting for around 75% of cases. Treatment often includes immunotherapy, drugs which help immune cells recognize and attack cancer cells. However, this does not always work and, for kidney cancers, there is no way to currently predict if it will be effective in an individual patient.

In their study, published in Cancer Cell today , the scientists analyzed 115 tumor samples from 15 people with metastatic clear cell renal cell carcinoma who received the immunotherapy drug nivolumab through the ADAPTeR clinical trial.

“Analyzing multiple samples from each patient, both from different parts of the kidney tumor and from tumors that have spread to other organs, is critically important. It’s known that molecular information in kidney cancer is distributed like a mosaic within the tumorsuch that taking a single sample may not capture all the information needed for a comprehensive analysis,” says Lewis Au, co-lead author, oncologist, and research fellow in the Cancer Dynamics Laboratory at the Crick.

“Our study also shows how in-depth studies of cancer biology within clinical trials can be incredibly powerful.”

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