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The ardent dream of untold millions is to find a cure for breast cancer. It is a worthy goal, one that should be pursued until the last knowledge rock is unearthed.
But what about preventing breast cancer in the first place? Like others, I dream of a world in which my daughters never have to hear those shocking words, “You’ve got breast cancer.”
That new world could become reality in the not-so-distant future. It is looking more probable that breast cancer prevention and therapy could become as easy as better screening and a shot in the arm.
Researchers at Cleveland Clinic say a breast cancer vaccine has shown promising results in animal studies by preventing cancer in a single shot.
If successful, the breast cancer vaccine will join two other cancer preventive vaccines approved by The Food and Drug Administration (FDA): one against cervical cancer and the other against liver cancer.
While these vaccines target and kill viruses — the human papillomavirus (HPV) and the Hepatitis B virus (HBV) respectively — the breast cancer vaccine will focus on preventing the formation of cancer in healthy people and stopping growth of existing tumors.
The key is to find a target within the tumor not typically found in a healthy person. For breast cancer, Vincent Tuochy, Ph.D., the vaccine's principal investigator and an immunologist at Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Institute and his research team zeroed in on α-lactalbumin — a protein found in the majority of breast cancers, but not found in healthy women, except during lactation.
If the vaccine works in women like it did in the lab, it will beef up a woman's immune system to target α-lactalbumin to stop tumor formation without damaging healthy breast tissue.
"This vaccine shows monumental promise in the lab. We could eliminate breast cancer in adults the same way that vaccines prevent polio and measles in children," Dr. Tuochy said in a written statement.
While still considered “experimental” the strategy for now would likely be to vaccinate women over 40 — when breast cancer risk begins to increase and pregnancy becomes less likely.