UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Immune infiltrates in the breast cancer microenvironment : detection, characterization and clinical implication Burugu, Samantha; Asleh-Aburaya, Karama; Nielsen, Torsten

Abstract

Although unlike melanoma, breast cancer is not generally viewed as a highly immunogenic cancer, recent studies have described a rich tumor immune microenvironment in a subset of breast cancers. These immune infiltrates, comprised cells from the innate and adaptive immune response, can be detected and characterized in biopsy specimens and have prognostic value. Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) represent the majority of mononuclear immune infiltrates in the breast tumor microenvironment and can be easily identified in formalin-fixed paraffinembedded tissues after standard hematoxylin & eosin staining. High levels of TILs are most common in HER2+ and basal-like subtypes where they are associated with good prognosis and with response to certain therapies such as the anti-HER2 antibody trastuzumab. International collaborative efforts are underway to standardize the assessment of TILs so as to facilitate their implementation as a breast cancer biomarker. Using immunohistochemistry to further characterize TILs, recent reports describe the presence of important lymphocyte populations including CD8+ cytotoxic, FOXP3+ regulatory, and CD4+ helper and follicular T cells which have overlapping associations with prognosis and response to therapies. Moreover, recently identified immune checkpoint markers (PD-1, PD-L1) are present in some breast cancers, implying some cases might be especially amenable to immune checkpoint inhibitor treatment strategies which are being evaluated in a number of active clinical trials.

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