A high concentration of circulating vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in cancer patients is associated with an aggressive tumor phenotype. Here, serum levels of 27 cytokines and blood cell counts were assessed in breast cancer patients receiving neoadjuvant chemotherapy with or without bevacizumab (Bev) in a randomized cohort of 132 patients with non-metastatic HER2-negative tumors. Cytokine levels were determined prior to treatment and at various time-points. The cytotoxic chemotherapy regimen of fluorouracil, epirubicin, and cyclophosphamide (FEC) had a profound impact on both circulating white blood cells and circulating cytokine levels. At the end of FEC treatment, the global decrease in cytokine levels correlated with the drop in white blood cell counts and was significantly greater in the patients of the Bev arm for cytokines, such as VEGF-A, IL-12, IP-10 and IL-10. Among patients who received Bev, those with pathological complete response (pCR) exhibited significantly lower levels of VEGF-A, IFN-γ, TNF-α and IL-4 than patients without pCR. This effect was not observed in the chemotherapy-only arm. Certain circulating cytokine profiles were found to correlate with different immune cell types at the tumor site. For the Bev arm patients, the serum cytokine levels correlated with higher levels of cytotoxic T cells at the end of the therapy regimen, which was indicative of treatment response. The higher response rate for Bev-treated patients and stronger correlations between serum cytokine levels and infiltrating CD8T cells merits further investigation.
Keywords: Bevacizumab; VEGF-A; cytokines; immunity; neoadjuvant.