Immune Function May Affect Development of Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

Date of publication: April 30, 2013

Circulating levels of proteins that affect immune function appear to differ between women with triple-negative breast cancer and women with other types of breast cancer. These results were published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.

The immune system is thought to play an important role in the control of cancer. Proteins known as cytokines influence immune function, and different cytokines can have opposing effects: some cytokines may contribute to the destruction of cancer cells and others may promote the growth of cancer.

Previous studies of immune-related genes found that gene expression in tumor tissue differed depending on the hormone receptor status of the tumor. The current study builds on these findings by assessing cytokine levels in the bloodstream of women with breast cancer. The study involved 523 women with newly diagnosed breast cancer; 22% of the women had triple-negative breast cancer.

  • Several cytokines differed between women with triple-negative breast cancer and women with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. A cytokine known as IL-5, for example, tended to be found at higher levels among women with triple-negative breast cancer. This was particularly true for premenopausal women. IL-5 plays a role in certain inflammatory and allergic conditions.

These results provide additional information about aspects of the immune system that may contribute to triple-negative breast cancer. Ongoing research in this area could shed light on how triple-negative breast cancer develops, and may also provide clues about new ways to treat the disease.

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Hong CC, Yao S, McCann SE, Dolnick RY et al. Pretreatment levels of circulating Th1 and Th2 cytokines, and their ratios, are associated with ER-negative and triple-negative breast cancers. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. Early online publication April 30, 2013.[ Full text available here ]

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