Active immunotherapy in HER2 overexpressing breast cancer: current status and future perspectives

Ann Oncol. 2013 Jul;24(7):1740-1748. doi: 10.1093/annonc/mdt133. Epub 2013 Apr 12.


Background: The use of anti-HER2 monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) has improved the clinical outcome of HER2-overexpressing breast cancers (BCs). Unfortunately, often these tumors tend to relapse and, when metastatic, the duration of clinical benefit is limited over time and almost invariably followed by tumor progression. Alternative approaches to this essentially passive immunotherapy are therefore needed in HER2-overexpressing BC patients. As HER2 is one of the most suitable targets for active immunotherapy in BC, manipulating the immune system is a highly attractive approach.

Material and methods: A computer-based literature search was carried out using PubMed (keywords: breast neoplasm, HER2 vaccine, immunology); data reported at international meetings were included.

Results: This review provides a focus on the following active vaccinal approaches under clinical investigation against HER2-overexpressing BC: (i) peptide and protein based; (ii) DNA based; (iii) whole tumor cell based; (iv) dendritic cell based. Moreover, the review discuss future challenges in the field, trying to define the best setting for the development of this innovative strategy, considering both immunological and clinical aspects of HER2 targeting.

Conclusions: Development of effective vaccines for BC remains a distinct challenge but is likely to become a substantial advance for patients with HER2-overexpressing BCs.

Keywords: HER2; active immunotherapy; breast cancer; vaccine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / therapeutic use
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / immunology
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / transplantation
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / mortality
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Cancer Vaccines
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy, Active*
  • Lapatinib
  • Quinazolines / therapeutic use
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / immunology
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / metabolism*
  • Trastuzumab
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Cancer Vaccines
  • Quinazolines
  • Lapatinib
  • ERBB2 protein, human
  • Receptor, ErbB-2
  • Trastuzumab