Is Body Temperature a Clue to Breast Cancer Prognosis?

Chills: to most people, they’re the symptom of a common ailment like the cold or flu. But for breast cancer patients, the significance of feeling cold is unknown, and a new donor-funded study is hoping to learn more. Chi-Chen Hong, PhD, Assistant Member of the Department of Cancer Prevention and Control at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, is leading donor-funded research to discover what doctors can learn from fluctuations in a breast cancer patient’s temperature and whether feeling inappropriately and persistently cold affects cancer prognosis.

Dr. Hong has found that breast cancer patients with more advanced cancers at the time of diagnosis have higher body temperature compared to those with less advanced disease. Approximately a year after their initial diagnosis, many breast cancer patients have noted that they experience chills and feel persistently cold, regardless of their body temperature.

Dr. Hong and her co-investigator, Dr. Elizabeth Repasky of RPCI’s Department of Immunology, speculate that patients who experience feeling chills and being persistently and inappropriately cold might have a specific immune pattern that is associated with a poorer prognosis. Drs. Hong and Repasky theorize that chills may indicate the patient does not have sufficient energy to spend on both maintaining body temperature and their immune system's efforts to fight the disease. Energy spent on regulating body temperature, and therefore not on immune function, might affect a patient's prognosis.

"Thanks to the support of donors, our long-term goal for this research is to better understand the relationship between body temperature and the immune system’s ability to fight breast cancer,” said Dr. Hong. “This study has the potential to lead to new therapies that strengthen a patient’s immune response and give them a better chance at survival.”