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Cancer Immunol Immunother. 2011 Aug;60(8):1181-93. doi: 10.1007/s00262-011-1065-8. Epub 2011 Jun 19.

Immunotherapy of prostate cancer: should we be targeting stem cells and EMT?

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  • 1The John van Geest Cancer Research Centre, Nottingham Trent University, School of Science and Technology, Clifton Campus, Nottingham NG11 8NS, UK.


Cancer stem cells have been implicated in a number of solid malignancies including prostate cancer. In the case of localised prostate cancer, patients are often treated with surgery (radical prostatectomy) and/or radiotherapy. However, disease recurrence is an issue in about 30% of patients, who will then go on to receive hormone ablation therapy. Hormone ablation therapy is often palliative in a vast proportion of individuals, and for hormone-refractory patients, there are several immunotherapies targeting a number of prostate tumour antigens which are currently in development. However, clinical responses in this setting are inconsistent, and it is believed that the failure to achieve full and permanent tumour eradication is due to a small, resistant population of cells known as 'cancer stem cells' (CSCs). The stochastic and clonal evolution models are among several models used to describe cancer development. The general consensus is that cancer may arise in any cell as a result of genetic mutations in oncogenes and tumour suppressor genes, which consequently result in uncontrolled cell growth. The cancer stem cell theory, however, challenges previous opinion and proposes that like normal tissues, tumours are hierarchical and only the rare subpopulation of cells at the top of the hierarchy possess the biological properties required to initiate tumourigenesis. Furthermore, where most cancer models infer that every cell within a tumour is equally malignant, i.e. equally capable of reconstituting new tumours, the cancer stem cell theory suggests that only the rare cancer stem cell component possess tumour-initiating capabilities. Hence, according to this model, cancer stem cells are implicated in both tumour initiation and progression. In recent years, the role of epithelial--mesenchymal transition (EMT) in the advancement of prostate cancer has become apparent. Therefore, CSCs and EMT are both likely to play critical roles in prostate cancer tumourigenesis. This review summarises the current immunotherapeutic strategies targeting prostate tumour antigens taking into account the need to consider treatments that target cancer stem cells and cells involved in epithelial--mesenchymal transition.

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