Immunotherapy Used To Treat Advanced Breast Cancer

There has been much research into the use of immunotherapy as a method for treating cancer in recent years, but a team in the US has had a breakthrough in harnessing this experimental treatment.

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) have revealed that they had successfully treated a woman with metastatic breast cancer, who had received a range of other treatments that had failed to stop her cancer progressing.

The approach that the NCI has developed is a form of adoptive cell transfer (ACT) and in this instance the researchers have developed it to target tumour cell mutations. The results have been impressive, with the patient’s cancer disappearing and it has not returned 22 months later.

For this treatment, the NCI uses tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), which are designed to target tumour cell mutations. These TILs are developed after the team have sequenced the DNA and RNA of a patient’s tumour, as well as from normal cells, to identify the mutations unique to the cancer.

Once this process is completed, they can then grow the selected TILs in a laboratory before infusing them back into the patient to boost the immune response to the cancer.

Tom Misteli PhD, director of CCR at NCI, explained that this is a positive start but that a larger study is required to see if this therapy can be used across a range of cancers:

“All cancers have mutations, and that's what we're attacking with this immunotherapy… It is ironic that the very mutations that cause cancer may prove to be the best targets to treat cancer.”

Although this is certainly a positive step in cancer research, it is still an experimental therapy that’s in its early stages. With breast cancer specifically, early diagnosis is vital for improving the prognosis for those who are fighting the disease.

Regular breast cancer self exams are an important part of this. The sooner you start doing this the better, because it means you’re more likely to notice any changes in the shape, size or feel of your breasts and get them checked by a doctor more promptly.

There are also devices that can help you check your breasts at home without the need for expensive equipment.

In England, a study by Cancer Research UK recently revealed that older women who are diagnosed with breast cancer at stage two or three have a lower chance of survival than in four other European countries.

Women over 70 who are diagnosed with breast cancer have a better chance of survival in Belgium, Poland, Ireland and the Netherlands than in England, the researchers found.

One of the findings highlighted was that not having surgery for breast cancer reduces the survival rate. In England, 44 per cent of patients with stage three cancer don’t receive surgery, compared to 22 per cent in Belgium, for instance.

Author of the study Dr Marloes Derks commented:

“We were surprised to see England had lower levels of breast cancer surgery and further research is needed to establish whether these two factors are linked.”