The Role of Immune Cells in Breast Tissue and Immunotherapy for the Treatment of Breast Cancer

Clin Breast Cancer. 2021 Feb;21(1):e63-e73. doi: 10.1016/j.clbc.2020.06.011. Epub 2020 Jul 2.


Immune cells are present in normal breast tissue and in breast carcinoma. The nature and distribution of the immune cell subtypes in these tissues are reviewed to promote a better understanding of their important role in breast cancer prevention and treatment. We conducted a review of the literature to define the type, location, distribution, and role of immune cells in normal breast tissue and in in situ and invasive breast cancer. Immune cells in normal breast tissue are located predominantly within the epithelial component in breast ductal lobules. Immune cell subtypes representing innate immunity (NK, CD68+, and CD11c+ cells) and adaptive immunity (most commonly CD8+, but CD4+ and CD20+ as well) are present; CD8+ cells are the most common subtype and are primarily effector memory cells. Immune cells may recognize neoantigens and endogenous and exogenous ligands and may serve in chronic inflammation and immunosurveillance. Progression to breast cancer is characterized by increased immune cell infiltrates in tumor parenchyma and stroma, including CD4+ and CD8+ granzyme B+ cytotoxic T cells, B cells, macrophages and dendritic cells. Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes in breast cancer may serve as prognostic indicators for response to chemotherapy and for survival. Experimental strategies of adoptive transfer of breast tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte may allow regression of metastatic breast cancer and encourage development of innovative T-cell strategies for the immunotherapy of breast cancer. In conclusion, immune cells in breast tissues play an important role throughout breast carcinogenesis. An understanding of these roles has important implications for the prevention and the treatment of breast cancer.

Keywords: Breast ductal cells; Immunology; Intraepithelial lymphocytes; Tumor immunology; Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast / immunology*
  • Breast / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast / immunology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / immunology*
  • Tumor Microenvironment / immunology*