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Breast Cancer: The Latest Target for Immunotherapy

On October 21, 2014, Leisha A. Emens, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, discussed the latest research on how immunotherapies, including cancer vaccines, standard cancer drugs, and immune checkpoint inhibitors, can be used as treatments for breast cancer and gynecologic malignancies.

Breast cancer is diagnosed in more women than any other cancer, and affects small numbers of men as well. Though long considered an immunologically silent cancer, more recent data demonstrate a key role for tumor-specific immune responses in the development of breast cancer, and in its response to therapy. Patients whose tumors contain certain types of immune cell infiltrates have better clinical outcomes, and some standard breast cancer therapies work in part through activating breast cancer-specific immunity. Trastuzumab, pertuzumab, and ado-trastuzumab emtansine are widely used immune-based therapies for certain types of breast cancer. Therapeutic vaccines and immune checkpoint blockade strategies are other immunotherapies under intense investigation for the treatment of established breast cancer. Finally, vaccine approaches for breast cancer prevention in high-risk patients are also in active testing.

Dr. Emens is a medical oncologist who specializes in breast cancer care, and is a member of both the cancer immunology and women’s cancer programs. Her research focus is developing innovative immune-based therapies that incorporate cancer vaccines, standard cancer drugs, and immune checkpoint inhibitors as treatments for breast cancer and gynecologic malignancies. She developed a cytokine-secreting breast cancer vaccine for testing in clinical trials, and incorporates the vaccine as a component of the most promising rational combinatorial strategies that overcome immune tolerance and suppression. She is on the editorial board of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Cancer Research, and the Journal for the Immunotherapy of Cancer. She is a member of the FDA Advisory Committee on Cellular, Tissue, and Gene Therapies.

This webinar is part of the Cancer Research Institute's webinar series, "Cancer Immunotherapy and You," which are offered free to the public and feature informative updates for patients and caregivers from leaders in cancer immunotherapy, followed by a Q&A. For more information on this webinar, or to register for upcoming webinars, please visit www.cancerresearch.org/webinars.

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