The role of the immune system in non-small cell lung carcinoma and potential for therapeutic intervention
Over a hundred years after the first description of this disease, lung cancer represents one of the major challenges in oncology. Radical treatment cannot be introduced in more than 70% of cases and overall survival rate does not exceed 15%. The immunosurveillance of lung cancer may be effective in early oncogenesis but is inhibited in the course of developing a clinically detectable tumor. Very low and heterogonous antigenicity of lung cancer cells leads to passive escape from anti-cancer immune defense. The cytotoxic lymphocytes (CTLs) that play a main role in the anticancer response are actively suppressed in the tumor environment and following regulatory mechanisms inhibit the recognition of tumor antigens by antigen presenting cells. The population of regulatory T cells (Tregs) is augmented and the expression of transcription factor—Foxp3 is markedly increased on tumor cells and tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL). It is accomplished by M2 macrophage polarization, the activity of myeloid derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) and a significantly elevated concentration of cytokines: TGFβ and IL-10 in the tumor microenvironment. Very active suppression of immune protection is the predominant role of the programmed death 1 (PD-1)-PD-L1 pathway. The blockage of this pathway was found to be an effective treatment approach; therefore the monoclonal antibodies are being intensively investigated in lung cancer patients. Cytotoxic T lymphocyte antigen-4 (CTLA-4) is the molecule capable of inhibiting the activation signal. The antibody anti-CTLA-4 improves CTLs function in solid tumors and lung cancer patients may benefit from use of this agent. The second way in lung cancer immunotherapy is production of anti-cancer vaccines using recognized cancer antigens: MAGE-A3, MUC1, and EGF. It was recently shown in ongoing clinical trials that combined therapies: immune- and chemotherapy, radiotherapy or targeted therapy seem to be effective. Immunotherapy in lung cancer has an individual character—there is a need to assess the patient’s immune status prior to implementation of immunomodulating therapy.