Immunotherapy Offers a New Weapon in the Fight Against Breast Cancer

By: Winship Cancer Institute
Date: Sep 29, 2021

In fact, the American Cancer Society estimates more than 281,000 cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2021 alone.

Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in American women. In fact, the American Cancer Society estimates more than 281,000 cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2021 alone.

But here’s the good news: Today, there are nearly 4 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. — and with increased awareness, more screenings and improved treatments, those who have the disease have more reasons for hope than ever before.

Emory Healthcare’s Glenn Family Breast Center at Winship Cancer Institute helps bring this hope to people diagnosed with all stages of breast cancer. Under the leadership of Director Kevin M. Kalinsky, MD, MS, a researcher who works to develop and test new therapeutic approaches to breast cancer, the center offers patients the newest and most promising therapies, including immunotherapy.

Attacking Cancer with Your Natural Defense System

Your immune system is made of specific cells, organs and tissues — all working together to protect your body from invaders such as bacteria and abnormal cells that can be cancerous. This protection helps you fight infections and other conditions, including cancer.

Unfortunately, cancer cells have ways of evading the immune system. Sometimes, for example, there are proteins on the surface of the cells that essentially turn off your immune response. These proteins may also cause genetic changes in cancer cells that make it harder for your immune system to recognize the cancerous cells as threats.

Immunotherapy helps your body find and attack cancer cells more effectively and can be used to treat breast cancer and several other types of cancer.

How Immunotherapy Helps

There are different types of immunotherapy. Immune checkpoint inhibitors are the type we use with breast cancer. They increase your body’s natural immune response.

Two of these inhibitors are the drugs atezolizumab and pembrolizumab. They target a protein known as PD-L1 on the surface of certain cancer cells, making it possible for your immune cells to go after cancer more robustly. These treatments, when used in combination with chemotherapy, may be helpful for women with PD-L1-expressing triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC).

TNBC doesn’t contain receptors for the hormones estrogen or progesterone, or for a protein called human epidermal growth factor (HER2). These receptors are common in breast cancer and provide several potential treatment pathways, such as hormone therapy or HER2-directed treatments. However, because these treatments don’t benefit women with TNBC, finding new TNBC therapies remains extremely important.

At Winship, we have a number of immunotherapies for patients with newly diagnosed TNBC as well as those with metastatic TNBC. We also have exciting new immunotherapy trials for patients with other types of breast cancer, including breast cancers that express the hormone receptors.

Treatment is Personalized for You

Treatments like immunotherapy are changing the way we fight cancer and we’re pleased to offer them at Winship Cancer Institute. We combine the latest science-based care with compassion and sensitivity.

When you come to us, you can count on our team to provide a personalized treatment plan. Each person and each person’s cancer is unique, so, to be most effective, each person’s treatment must also be unique. We look at your needs, your type of cancer and the cancer’s extent. But we also study the biological makeup of your tumor to determine the treatment or treatments most likely to work best for you.

These may include surgery, radiation and therapies that travel throughout your body to reach any cancer cells that remain after other treatments or that may have escaped from your original tumor. We’ll carefully go over your treatment options and answer all your questions.

Based on what we learn about your cancer, your oncologist may recommend immunotherapy as part of your standard cancer care or as part of a clinical trial that helps us evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment in different situations. In all cases, we work to provide the treatment that will be the safest and most effective for you.
Hearing you have cancer is never easy, but we’ll be with you every step of the way, providing support, helping you fight and giving you hope. Learn more about our approach and cancer care innovations.

About Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University

Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University is Georgia’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, a prestigious distinction given to the top 3% of cancer centers nationwide for conducting cancer research and providing training that is transforming cancer care, prevention, detection and survivorship. Winship discovers, develops, delivers and teaches some of the world’s most effective ways to prevent, detect, diagnose and treat each patient’s unique cancer. Cancer care at Winship includes specialists with deep expertise and experience in cancer; multidisciplinary evaluation, treatment planning and care coordination that caters to each patient’s individual needs; therapies supported by the latest advances in cancer research; and comprehensive clinical trials and support services.

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