In recent decades many advances have occurred in the understanding of the role of cytokines in breast cancer. New signalling pathways of interleukin (IL)-1 family, IL-6, IL-11, IL-18, interferons (IFNs) and interferon regulatory factors 1 (IRF-1) and 2 (IRF-2) have been found within tumour microenvironments and in metastatic sites. Some cytokines (IL-1, IL-6, IL-11, TGFbeta) stimulate while others (IL-12, IL-18, IFNs) inhibit breast cancer proliferation and/or invasion. Similarly, high circulating levels of some cytokines seem to be favourable (soluble IL-2R) while others are unfavourable (IL-1beta, IL-6, IL-8, IL-10, IL-18, gp130) prognostic indicators. So far IL-2, IFNalpha, IFNbeta and occasionally IFNgamma, IL-6, IL-12 have been the cytokines used for anti tumour treatment of advanced breast cancer either to induce or increase hormone sensitivity and/or to stimulate cellular immunity. Disappointing results occurred in most trials; however, two long-term pilot studies suggest that IL-2 and IFNbeta, when used appropriately can have a positive effect on clinical benefit and overall survival of patients with minimal residual disease after chemotherapy or with disseminated disease controlled by conventional endocrine therapy.
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