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Vall d’Hebron researchers publish a review on the influence of radiotherapy and cancer surgery on the immune system

Wednesday, 16 December, 2020

The work, published in Frontiers in Oncology, emphasizes the role of the tumor microenvironment in response to treatments.

Researchers in Vall d’Hebron have published a review on the influence that surgical or radiotherapy treatments for cancer have on the immune response of patients. The article, already available in Frontiers in Oncology, has been elaborated by the Radiation Oncology group at the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO), the Biomedical Research in Cancer Stem Cells group at the Vall d’Hebron Research Institute (VHIR), the Radiation Oncology and Otorhinolaryngology Services at the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital, the Autonomous University of Barcelona and the CIBER of Cancer (CIBERONC).

In recent years, great advances have been made in radiation therapy and precision surgery for cancer treatment, as well as in strategies to increase the antitumor immune response. In particular, immunotherapy, which consists of stimulating the immune system, has revolutionized the way tumors are treated. “Even so, the influence of surgery or radiotherapy on the patient’s immune response is still very poorly characterized”, says Dr. Sergi Benavente, from the Radiation Oncology Service at the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital, researcher at the Radiation Oncology group at the VHIO and first author of the article.

The work is developed in three parts. In the first one, the authors describe the difficulties when, in many cases, patients do not respond to immunotherapy treatments. Therefore, they explain the differences between patients with tumors that respond to immunotherapy and those that do not. They also consider the role that the tumor microenvironment plays in the efficacy of therapy. Tumor microenvironment is formed by healthy cells, the immune system, blood vessels and stroma around the tumor.

In the second part, the article focuses on the development of treatments based on the combination of immunotherapy and radiotherapy, since radiation is capable of promoting an immune response against tumor cells.

Finally, the researchers explain the clinical impact that the tumor microenvironment can have in the context of surgery and radiotherapy. In order to get better clinical results, it seems that is would be key to take into account the comprehensive immune response where the entire tumor microenvironment is involved. “These mechanisms of modulation of the tumor microenvironment in the surgical and radiotherapy context have great potential to establish new therapeutic possibilities to obtain a greater clinical benefit in the treatment of cancer”, explains Dr. Benavente.

In the future, understanding cancer metabolism and an in-depth understanding of the role of the tumor microenvironment in the immune response will be key to defining individual response to treatments and designing innovative strategies for cancer treatment.

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