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Immunotherapy Making Progress on Breast Cancer

October 01, 2013 | Michelle Liew

With breast cancer as the number one cause of cancer death for women, it has long been a target of doctors and researchers. Fortunately, treatments have advanced to the point that survival rates are nearly 100 percent for localized tumors. However once the cancer has metastasized—spread beyond the primary tumor area to other organs, bone, or lymph nodes—overall survival rates can be as low as 30 percent.

Focusing on why and how cancers spread is key to lowering breast cancer mortality. With few innovations in traditional cancer treatment, immunotherapy is the future for addressing metastasized cancers that defy other treatments, as well as making treatment of localized tumors easier for the patient.

More than 1 million women and men die from breast cancer each year, and current immunotherapies are somewhat limited in who benefits from them. That’s why it’s critical to explore all options, and continue to fund research into new treatments for breast cancer.

Cancer Research Institute is contributing to research that is studying how breast and other cancers spread and ways to stop it progressing. In the last decade, CRI has given more than $5 million to fund more than 50 laboratory and clinical research projects.

One of the leading breast cancer antibody treatments, Herceptin, was a huge step forward, but still is only effective for 6 percent of breast cancer patients. The need to treat a wider variety of patients is driving innovation in breast cancer research.

Many researchers funded by Cancer Research Institute are part of finding novel treatments. CRI fellow Haihui Lu, Ph.D., at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research identified a surface marker for breast cancer cells that are more prone to metastasize to other parts of the body. She is working toward the development of new antibody therapies that target these cells to limit and potentially prevent their ability to spread.

Other CRI-funded research is looking into things like finding the breast cancer most likely to respond to a vaccine, enhancing the immune system’s ability to attack breast cancer cells through the use of “smart” molecules, creating vaccines for people who aren’t eligible to use Herceptin, and better identifying the different stages of breast cancer development.

As we go through October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’ll be talking about the front lines of cancer immunotherapy research, how immunotherapy can help patients, and the history and future of breast cancer immunotherapy.

For ways to help or give, visit Our partner, 1-800-FLOWERS is teaming up with CRI again in October, and will donate 10 percent of the proceeds from the Pink Ribbon Bouquet to Cancer Research Institute.

Stephen in Birmingham
The work being done with immunotherapy seems very promising! I'm glad that the Cancer Research Institute is going to be educating people about immunotherapy, since I agree with your assessment when it comes to this treatments future application for advanced stage cancers. Thank you for sharing.
10/13/2013 10:04:12 PM