Clinical opinions / 21 Aug, 2020

Immunotherapy for breast cancer

Dr Adam Stirling

There are many different types of treatments for breast cancer, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, and more recently, immunotherapy. Immunotherapy represents a completely new approach to breast cancer treatment and is now proving to be an effective treatment option for some types of breast cancer.

Immunotherapy, or biologic therapy, is a type of treatment that uses your own immune system to fight cancer. Usually, your immune system protects your body from threats such as infections, toxins and abnormal cell growth. Unlike these threats, cancer cells learn to survive and grow in a hostile environment due to their ability to hide from the immune system and avoid detection by the body’s own self defences.

There are many different kinds of immunotherapy which work by slowing the growth and spread of cancer cells, and by helping the immune system destroy existing cancer cells. Common types of immunotherapy for breast cancer include:

  • Monoclonal antibodies – also known as therapeutic antibodies. These are immune system proteins designed to attach to specific targets found on cancer cells so that they will be better seen and destroyed by the immune system. Herceptin is a common type of immunotherapy which targets HER2-positive breast cancer cells.
  • Checkpoint inhibitors – medicines that help the immune system respond more strongly to a tumour by releasing “brakes” that keep T cells (a type of white blood cell and part of the immune system) from killing breast cancer cells.

As immunotherapy is very new, research into immunotherapy focuses on the effectiveness of this treatment for certain types of breast cancer (such as triple negative breast cancer and metastatic breast cancer). At Icon, we are proud to provide breast cancer patients with the latest in cancer treatment including access to new and novel immunotherapies through our phase 1 clinical trials program. For more information on research at Icon, click here.

Dr Adam Stirling is a Medical Oncologist at Icon Cancer Centre Wesley, Chermside and North Lakes.

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