Immunosuppression in irradiated breast cancer patients: in vitro effect of cyclooxygenase inhibitors

Bull N Y Acad Med. 1989 Jan;65(1):36-44.


We have documented in previous studies that local irradiation therapy for breast cancer caused severe lymphopenia with reduction of both T and non-T lymphocytes. Non-T cells were relatively more depressed but recovered within six months. The recovery of T cells, on the other hand, remained incomplete 10-11 years after irradiation. Several lymphocyte functions were also severely impaired. An association was found between prognosis and postirradiation mitogen reactivity of lymphocytes from these patients. Mortality up to eight years after irradiation was significantly higher in patients with low postirradiation phytohemagglutinin and PPD reactivity. The radiation induced decrease in mitogenic response seemed mainly to be caused by immunosuppressive monocytes, which suggests that the underlying mechanism might be mediated by increased production of prostaglandins by monocytes. For this reason we examined the effect of some cyclooxygenase products on different lymphocyte functions and found that prostaglandins A2, D2, and E2 inhibited phytohemagglutinin response in vitro. Natural killer cell activity was also reduced by prostaglandins D2 and E2. The next step was to examine various inhibitors of cyclooxygenase in respect to their capacity to revert irradiation-induced suppression of in vitro mitogen response in lymphocytes from breast cancer patients. It was demonstrated that Diclofenac Na (Voltaren), Meclofenamic acid, Indomethacin, and lysin-mono-acetylsalicylate (Aspisol) could enhance mitogen responses both before and after radiation therapy. This effect was most pronounced at completion of irradiation. On a molar basis, Diclofenac Na was most effective followed by Indomethacin, Meclofenamic acid, and lysin-monoacetylsalicylate. The clinically beneficial effects of irradiation might be overshadowed by its effects on the immune system. If true, the value of treatment could be improved if radiation-induced suppression of lymphocyte response, which correlates inversely to survival, is reduced. Since such an effect can be achieved in these patients with cyclooxygenase inhibitors in vitro it is possible that it can be achieved also in vivo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Breast Neoplasms / immunology
  • Breast Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors*
  • Diclofenac / pharmacology
  • Diclofenac / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance / drug effects
  • Immune Tolerance / radiation effects*
  • Indomethacin / pharmacology
  • Indomethacin / therapeutic use
  • Monocytes / immunology
  • Monocytes / radiation effects
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Prostaglandins / biosynthesis
  • Prostaglandins / physiology
  • Random Allocation
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / radiation effects


  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors
  • Prostaglandins
  • Diclofenac
  • Indomethacin