Naturally occurring B-cell responses to breast cancer

Cancer Immunol Immunother. 2003 Dec;52(12):715-38. doi: 10.1007/s00262-003-0409-4. Epub 2003 Aug 15.


As demonstrated by the effectiveness of trastuzumab, antibodies against breast cancer antigens are a potentially potent mechanism of tumor control. While trastuzumab is administered exogenously, its efficacy suggests that induction of very high titer antibody responses in vivo might also be therapeutic. Both naturally occurring and vaccine-induced antibody responses to some breast cancer antigens are associated with improved survival in some cases. However, the improvement in survival associated with antibody responses to breast cancer is modest, and tumor regression is not known to be associated with the natural antitumor antibody response, indicating a need for improved understanding of the natural antitumor antibody response. Naturally occurring B-cell responses in the form of serum antibody, tumor reactive lymph node B cells, and tumor-infiltrating B cells have been described, and a variety of breast tumor-associated antigens have been identified based on reactivity of patient antibodies. This review discusses current knowledge of humoral immunity to breast cancer with regard to specific antigens and the basis for their immunogenicity, and the contexts (tumor, lymph node, serum) in which responses are observed. With few exceptions, "tumor-associated antigens" identified with naturally occurring antibodies may be overexpressed on tumor but are in fact nonspecific autoantigens. This suggests that while overexpression or aberrant processing can increase immunogenicity in some cases, the immunogenicity of many or even most tumor-associated antigens is a function of expression in tumor or the result of ancillary tumor factors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Female
  • Humans