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The development of delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) response to recall antigens has long been utilized as a measure of immune competence. It is assumed that because patients with advanced stage cancers exhibit multiple immune system defects they may not be responsive to immunization. We pre-selected patients with advanced HER2/neu (HER2) overexpressing breast and ovarian cancers for enrolment into a phase I trial designed to evaluate the immunogenicity of a HER2 peptide vaccine based on the patient's immune competence as assessed by DTH skin testing to common recall antigens (Multitest CMI, Institut Merieux, Lyon, France). At the time of a positive DTH response to tetanus toxoid (tt) peripheral blood was obtained to measure T cell responses to tt. Of 53 patients evaluated, 38 (72%) were not anergic. Among the 15 (28%) who were, seven patients with advanced stage breast cancer were re-tested a median of 26 days (range 12-150 days) after receiving a tt booster vaccination. Five of the seven had positive DTH responses when re-challenged with tt and six had peripheral blood tetanus specific T cell response with stimulation index >2.0. Thus, the majority of patients studied with advanced stage breast or ovarian cancer were able to mount a DTH response to common recall antigens. Moreover, a negative response by DTH testing to a battery of common recall antigens was not a reflection of the breast cancer patient's ability to mount a cell-mediated immune response to a vaccinated antigen, tt.