Background: Harnessing the immune response in treating breast cancer would potentially offer a less toxic, more targeted approach to eradicating residual disease. Breast cancer vaccines are being developed to effectively train cytotoxic T cells to recognize and kill transformed cells while sparing normal ones. However, achieving this goal has been problematic due to the ability of established cancers to suppress and evade the immune response.
Methods: A review of the literature on vaccines and breast cancer treatment was conducted, specifically addressing strategies currently available, as well as appropriate settings, paradigms for vaccine development and response monitoring, and challenges with immunosuppression.
Results: Multiple issues need to be addressed in order to optimize the benefits offered by breast cancer vaccines. Primary issues include the following: (1) cancer vaccines will likely work better in a minimal residual disease state, (2) clinical trial design for immunotherapy should incorporate recommendations from expert groups such as the Cancer Vaccine Working Group and use standardized immune response measurements, (3) the presently available cancer vaccine approaches, including dendritic cell-based, tumor-associated antigen peptide-based, and whole cell-based, have various pros and cons, (4) to date, no one approach has been shown to be superior to another, and (5) vaccines will need to be combined with immunoregulatory agents to overcome tumor-related immunosuppression.
Conclusions: Combining a properly optimized cancer vaccine with novel immunomodulating agents that overcome tumor-related immunosuppression in a well-designed clinical trial offers the best hope for developing an effective breast cancer vaccine strategy.