Immune responses and risk of triple-negative breast cancer: Implications for higher rates among African American women

Joshua W. Ogony, Derek C. Radisky, Kathryn J. Ruddy, Steven Goodison, Daniel P. Wickland, Kathleen M. Egan, Keith L. Knutson, Yan W. Asmann, Mark E. Sherman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The etiology of triple-negative breast cancers (TNBC) is poorly understood. As many TNBCs develop prior to the initiation of breast cancer screening or at younger ages when the sensitivity of mammography is comparatively low, understanding the etiology of TNBCs is critical for discovering novel prevention approaches for these tumors. Furthermore, the higher incidence rate of estrogen receptor–negative breast cancers, and specifically, of TNBCs, among young African American women (AAW) versus white women is a source of racial disparities in breast cancer mortality. Whereas immune responses to TNBCs have received considerable attention in relation to prognosis and treatment, the concept that dysregulated immune responses may predispose to the development of TNBCs has received limited attention. We present evidence that dysregulated immune responses are critical in the pathogenesis of TNBCs, based on the molecular biology of the cancers and the mechanisms proposed to mediate TNBC risk factors. Furthermore, proposed risk factors for TNBC, especially childbearing without breastfeeding, high parity, and obesity, are more prevalent among AAW than white women. Limited data suggest genetic differences in immune responses by race, which favor a stronger Thr type 2 (Th2) immune response among AAW than white women. Th2 responses contribute to wound-healing processes, which are implicated in the pathogenesis of TNBCs. Accordingly, we review data on the link between immune responses and TNBC risk and consider whether the prevalence of risk factors that result in dysregulated immunity is higher among AAW than white women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)901-910
Number of pages10
JournalCancer Prevention Research
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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