BackgroundBreast cancer is the most common invasive tumor in women worldwide and the second cause of cancer-related deaths. After breast conserving surgery the tumor bed gets irradiated. Radiation-induced tumor cell death has been found to be associated with the release of damage-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs) including free Hsp70 that can stimulate inflammatory immune responses. Therefore, Hsp70 serum levels as well as the composition of lymphocyte subpopulations have been measured in breast cancer patients during therapy and in the follow-up period as potential predictors for clinical outcome.MethodsThe serum of 40 breast cancer patients, who received a breast-conserving surgery and adjuvant radiotherapy (RT) was examined for soluble, free Hsp70 using the R&D Human HSP70 DuoSet and lipHsp70 ELISA. Lymphocyte subpopulations and total lymphocyte counts were analysed by multiparameter flow cytometry in the peripheral blood. Blood samples were collected before (t1), after 30Gy (t2) and 60Gy (t3), 6weeks (t4), 6months (t5) and 1year (t6) after RT. Clinical responses were assessed regularly up to 5years after RT.ResultsPatients who developed a contralateral recurrence or metastases within the first 2years after RT had significantly higher serum Hsp70 values at the end of RT (t3; p=0.03) up to 6weeks after RT (t4; p=0.007) compared to patients who either remained disease-free or developed a secondary endometrial carcinoma. Clinicopathological parameters such as age, tumor size, grading and TNM-stage of the resected tumors, adjuvant chemotherapy and irradiation dose did not affect serum Hsp70 levels. Elevated free Hsp70 levels might be indicative for a chronic inflammatory response which could support tumor recurrence. Lymphocyte subpopulation analysis revealed lower NK cell counts after RT in recurrence/metastases patients as compared to disease-free patients. In contrast, no significant changes were observed in the proportion of T and B cells.ConclusionLongitudinal elevated serum levels of free Hsp70 up to 6weeks after RT and dropping NK cell counts might be predictive for an unfavourable prognosis in patients with breast cancer.