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Can our own immune system actually work to encourage the spread of breast cancer?

  • Researcher: Dr Karin de Visser
  • Institution: The Netherlands Cancer Institute
  • Award Amount: £205,680 for 3 years from June 2011
  • Cancer Type: Breast Cancer
Can our own immune system actually work to encourage the spread of breast cancer?
As with all cancers, the earlier breast cancer is diagnosed the better chance of successful treatment. One of the things that make cancer so dangerous is its ability to grow and spread away from the original tumour and into surrounding tissues and organs. It is now known that the cancer microenvironment plays a large role in how the tumour develops and becomes able to spread. The cancer microenvironment consists of the space in between the cancer cells within the tumour mass. Among other things, it contains cells of the immune system which, instead of attacking the tumour and trying to destroy it, can instead be manipulated by the tumour to help the cancer cells spread. Indeed, high levels of immune system cells in the tumour microenvironment indicate a lower chance of successful treatment for the patient. The main focus of Dr de Visser's Worldwide Cancer Research grant is to better understand how these immune system cells are involved in causing breast cancers to spread and if they affect how a patient responds to chemotherapy.
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