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Combining Chemotherapy with Immunotherapy for Cancer Treatment

Posted Mar 25 2010 7:52am
Immunotherapy for breast cancer and other cancers, while showing promise, still faces a number of challenges before becoming standard cancer therapy practice.  Some of these challenges include promoting an adequate immune response in the face of chemotherapeutic agents that suppress the immune response and difficulty in penetrating the tumor to recognize tumor-associated markers.  A new research report recently examined the effect of combining chemotherapy with cancer immunotherapy (vaccines or transfer of immune cells). 

In this new study, investigators used several different cancer cell lines, including some breast cancer cell lines, to test the effectiveness of combining chemotherapy with a cancer vaccine.  The vaccine was tested with three forms of chemotherapy: paclitaxel, doxorubicin, and cisplatin.  These cancer investigators reported that
  • Mice implanted with breast cancer tumors and treated with a combination of the cancer vaccine and paclitaxel experienced an anti-tumor effect such that breast cancer tumor growth was slowed.
  • Chemotherapy appears to make the cancer cells more sensitive to treatment with the cancer vaccine since pre-treating the cancer cells with the chemotherapeutic agents increased the killing ability of the cancer vaccine compared to giving the vaccine alone.
  • This increased sensitization of cancer cells appears to be the result of increases in a specific cell receptor and a protein involved in programmed cell death.
This is fascinating research with potential implications on future breast (and other) cancer therapy.  This study not only showed that combining chemotherapy with immunotherapy can have complementary effects that increases cancer treatment effectiveness, but it also reported that the immunotherapy was specific to cancer cells recognized by the immunotherapy.  This suggests that the immunotherapy could be targeted to specific cancer cells while having minimal effect on non-cancer cells.  Previous research has also reported on the potential benefits of cancer vaccines.  The video below from 2008 discusses the use of an experimental HER2 breast cancer vaccine.



While more research will need to be done before combinations of chemotherapy and immunotheray will become standard of care, there are things we can do right now to reduce breast cancer risk.  To learn more read my book Fight Now: Eat & Live Proactively Against Breast Cancer at www.fightBCnow.com .
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