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Cytotherapy. 2004;6(2):154-63.

The immune response to breast cancer, and the case for DC immunotherapy.

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Dendritic Cell Laboratory, Mater Medical Research Institute, Queensland, South Brisbane, Australia.


The long-held belief that breast cancer is a weakly immunogenic tumor and a poor candidate for immunotherapy should be reappraised. There is ample evidence for the existence of an immune response, which is, however, attenuated by multiple inhibitory factors. Many tumor-associated antigens (TAA) have been identified in breast cancer, some of which appear to play a critical role in tumorigenesis and may be attractive targets for immunotherapy. There is evidence for DC recruitment and activation within breast cancers, and the presence of intratumoral activated DCs impacts favorably upon survival. Furthermore, there is a striking paucity of activated DCs within the primary draining or sentinel lymph nodes of breast cancers. Tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) are often documented, however, their function is impaired by inhibitory cytokines, increased regulatory T lymphocyte activity, tumor cell MHC molecule alterations, and aberrant Fas ligand expression, amongst others. DCs are recognized as one of the critical interfaces between a cancer and the immune system, and have emerged as a promising platform for cancer vaccination via ex vivo immunomodulation. Clinical evaluation of DC vaccination in breast cancer is still relatively limited, although evolving. This article details evidence for the immune response in breast cancer and its many failings, and reviews the clinical trials and significant preclinical data which, taken together, validate the concept of DC vaccination in breast cancer.

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