Background: Considering the high mortality rate of ovarian cancer due to the absence of curative treatment in advanced stage or at recurrence, new therapeutic strategies are urgently needed. Immunotherapy is one of these strategies that yielded promising results in fundamental and animal research in the past years. However, implementation in clinical practice remains poor. The aim of this review is to gain insight into the mechanisms of interaction between ovarian cancer and the immune system in order to develop better immunotherapeutic strategies.
Methods: We searched the published literature for studies focusing on interactions between ovarian cancer and the immune system, with emphasis on outcome data in order to create a knowledge base that is well grounded in clinical reality.
Results: The immunological response against cancer is a critical balance between immune-activating and immune-suppressing mechanisms. Besides the immune-activating tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), immune-suppressive regulatory T-cells (Tregs), tolerance-inducing plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs), B7-H4+ macrophages, immune-suppressive cytokines such as IL10 and TGF-beta are also found in the tumor environment. Myeloid-derived suppressive cells (MDSCs) are recently found to have a significant role in immune suppression in ovarian cancer in murine studies. Furthermore, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is also known to have an immune-suppressing role besides its angiogenic role. All those concerted mechanisms result in the creation of an environment where the cancer is invincible and can grow unhampered.
Conclusion: Further knowledge of the mechanisms involved is needed to develop better strategies and improve the clinical applicability of immunotherapy. Effective immunotherapy must combine immune-activating strategies with elimination of immune-suppressing mechanisms. We believe that tilting the balance from an immune-suppressive to an immune-active environment may have an enormous impact on the disease.
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