The Immunology and Immunotherapy of Breast Cancer: An Update

Int J Immunopharmacol. 1999 Feb;21(2):79-101. doi: 10.1016/s0192-0561(98)00077-0.


Adenocarcinomas of the breast behave clinically and epidemiologically in ways that show host resistance factors are important for outcome in addition to grade and stage of malignancy. Immune reactivity to autologous tumors is indicated by the general presence of lymphoid infiltration (LI) and regional lymph node changes; however, these changes predict favorable outcome only in non-metastatic disease. LI is characterized by CD4+ and CD8+ tumor infiltrating lymphocytes reflecting latent cell-mediated immunity (CMI). CMI and humoral immune reactivity have been demonstrated to autologous tumor and a variety of tumor-associated antigens (TAA) have been implicated including CEA, HER-2/neu, MAGE-1, p53, T/Tn and MUC-1. Immune incompetence involving CMI is progressive with the stage of breast cancer and is prognostically significant. Immunotherapy of several types has been designed to address this immunodeficiency and the TAAs involved. Animal models have employed drug therapy, cytokine transfection, vaccines with autologous tumor, cytokines like interferon alpha (IFN-alpha) and interleukin-2 (IL-2), TAA tumor vaccines, and immunotoxins with evidence of tumor regression by immunologic means. Immunotherapy of human breast cancer is a rapidly growing experimental area. Positive results have been obtained with natural IFN and interleukins, particularly in combination strategies (but not with high dose recombinant IFN or IL-2), with autologous tumor vaccine (but not yet with transfected autologous tumor); with a mucin carbohydrate vaccine (Theratope) in a combination strategy (but not with mucin core antigen) and with several immunotoxins. Combination strategies involving immunorestoration, contrasuppression, adjuvant, and immunotoxins are suggested for the future.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Neoplasm / analysis
  • Breast Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy
  • Cytokines / therapeutic use
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunocompetence
  • Immunotherapy
  • Lymph Nodes / immunology


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Cytokines