The efforts by scientists to develop a breast cancer vaccine has started to receive more press coverage since a group of Cleveland Clinic researchers at the facility's Lerner Institute developed a breast cancer vaccine for mice in 2010. The results were astonishing. Not only was the shot effective in keeping the mice 100% tumor free, but it also kept existing tumors from growing any larger. News like this leads women everywhere to hope for the day when breast cancer has been fully eradicated and the constant worrying about genetic predisposition, mammograms, and constant self-examinations may be a thing of the past.
Triggering the Hunt for a Vaccine
Cancer research continues at clinics all over the nation. Prostrate cancer and other breast cancer drugs are currently being tested on existing cancers with some success. The idea that sparked this new research that may lead to a more effective treatment is keeping with the concept of a traditional vaccine. Researchers looked backwards to childhood programs like measles and polio. Shots given early in life can prevent both of these diseases easily. Rather than try to develop a drug that acts retroactively, the Lerner Institute team chose to target a specific molecule that commonly appears on cancers of the breast. The vaccine works by letting the autoimmune system of the body target the cancer while leaving the health breast tissue unaffected. The cancer molecule they chose to target had to be one that is not present elsewhere or else the body would attack safe areas. By hitting a likely culprit they may succeed in preventing a large percentage of cancers from starting.
Trial and Success
The vaccine research was started over eight years ago and the wait for the first trial seemed endless. The first trial was to be performed on mice that were especially bred to develop breast cancer. One group was given the vaccine and another only a placebo. The results were absolutely astonishing. Not one mouse in the vaccinated group developed cancer, but the entire group receiving the placebo grew cancerous tumors. At least in mice, this was an absolute breakthrough. This brilliant success ensured that the research was on target. This positive result led the team to request clearance to begin human trials in 2011.
Who Is Served?
The development of a breast care vaccine that only saves one person is a success. The ideal vaccine would prevent this insidious disease in all women. The Cleveland Clinic vaccine (even if successful) has limitations. The first limiting factor is who can receive it. The shot is only going to be used on women that are beyond the generally accepted age range for lactation. This particular drug will only be given to those over the age of 40 and the researchers admit that post-menopausal women are the ideal candidates. Many women may feel left out by the restrictions, but a success is a success on any level. Future breast cancer vaccines that may work for a younger generation without complicating factors may rise out of this drug.
Timeline and What's at Stake
Even given the early successes of the trials this vaccine is still a decade away. It may never work. Different drugs that have worked well in mice do not always translate to human patients with the same results and rate of success. It is crucial that efforts continue to be made to develop a vaccine because there are too many women's lives on the line. There is over a 12% chance of a woman being diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime. For those born with the gene BRCA 1or BRCA 2, the chances of breast cancer skyrocket to 60%. Over 40,000 women die each year in the United States from this disease. These are numbers that no one wants to continue to live with.
Current State and Future Hope
The number of women affected by breast cancer is heart wrenching, but there is continuing hope and improvements every day. The breast cancer survival rate is trending in women's favor each year. Thanks to organizations like the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and Race for the Cure events held around the country the public's attention is fully aware of the ubiquitous pink ribbons and what they stand for. The push for early detection has led to women seeking exams sooner and more frequently. Along with this awareness comes advances in medicine, too. Radiation and chemotherapy are constantly evolving and they are targeting cancers more effectively than ever. Surgical techniques are truly state-of-the-art, but cancer is still winning. The hope for the future is a vaccine that not only saves lives, but also changes them forever. The day will come when daughters no longer lose mothers to breast cancer. Young women will no longer fear having children due to worries about passing down an inherited gene for breast cancer. Women will no longer fear the loss of their breasts. Mastectomy bras and prosthetic breasts will not be commonly used and largely a thing of the past. Researchers can move onto other cancers and diseases and all of society will benefit.
So, the truth for the present time concerning a breast cancer vaccine is sandwiched between myth and coming reality. There is a viable vaccine that prevents cancer and stops the growth of existing breast cancer in mice by targeting a key molecule found in common cancers of the breast. This vaccine will be tested with rigorous trials on human subjects and, hopefully, pushed through the system quickly to determine if it will be the one that finally helps millions of women. The technology and dedicated teams are assembled at labs all around the world and each is attacking this killer from many angles. There will be a viable vaccine found it is just a matter of when. Funding for medical research is always in danger of being cut so it is important to support national organizations like the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and others that provide financial support to those on the cutting edge of vaccine development.