Immune cells predict bowel cancer outcomes

Thursday, 16 March, 2017

According to researchers from the University of Otago, people with colorectal cancer that have a certain type of immune cell in their tumour may have increased survival rates. Their study has been published in the journal Cancer Immunology, Immunotherapy.

Using a tool known as the Immunoscore, the study looked at which immune responses were associated with patient survival. It involved 32 individuals with early-stage (II) colorectal cancer, who were followed for around five years. During this time, 13 individuals experienced recurrence of their cancer while 19 individuals did not.

The researchers found that people with more effector T regulatory (Treg) immune cells present in their colorectal tumours were more likely to be disease-free for longer than those who had fewer of these cells. Although the Immunoscore was better than the current staging at estimating patient survival, adding effector Treg immune cells made it even better.

Co-author Kirsten Ward-Hartstonge said the study findings mean that it could be possible to measure immune responses in colorectal cancer patients to estimate which patients are likely to get their cancer back and should therefore be given additional treatment.

She explained that around a quarter of colorectal cancer patients who are currently considered ‘low risk’ by current staging methods will eventually develop the disease again. These patients usually do not receive chemotherapy or radiotherapy because the risks and costs were thought to outweigh the benefits.

“By measuring an individual patient’s Immunoscore and effector Treg immune cells, it may be possible to more accurately identify patients at high risk of getting their disease back and treating them more effectively,” she said.

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