Major breakthrough made in the development of a breast cancer vaccine

Breast cancer, globally, is the most common form of cancer that afflicts women. It constitutes roughly 16% of all female cancers and accounts for more than five hundred thousand deaths every year worldwide. Although the common perception is that breast cancer is a cancer of the developed world, but in 2010 it was seen nearly 70% of breast cancer related deaths occurred in the developing and Third World nations, which is a clear indication of the pervasive nature of the disease.

Worldwide there is a major variation in the survival rates for breast cancer. It is as high as 80% in North America, but the rate drops alarmingly in third world countries where it is as low as 40% in some cases. Little awareness and lack of effective early detection techniques are the main reasons for such low survival rates. Also dearth of quality treatment facilities and late stage diagnosis lead to high mortality in poor and developing nations.

Risk Factors Associated With Breast Cancer

There are a number of associated risk factors documented, a family history of breast cancer being the most common. Other factors include genetic mutations, reproductive factors like early menarche, late menopause or late childbirth. Heavy users of oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapies are also more prone to breast cancer than non-users. The massive spike in incidence of breast cancer in developing world is largely attributed to an increasing adoption of western lifestyle and dietary pattern. Doctors believe both the factors are an important determinant in the increase of breast cancer incidence in these countries.

Why there is an urgent need for a Vaccine?

Breast cancer can be cured therapeutically only if it is diagnosed early. For early diagnosis, a robust screening programme needs to be in place. But most Third World countries suffer from lack of adequate medical infrastructure which renders the possibility of having an effective screening programme, nearly impossible. Also one must keep in mind that screening is only a secondary form of prevention. It alone cannot prevent cancer. So the best form of prevention that can substantially reduce the massive disease burden, is vaccination.

A New Vaccine On The Horizon?

A breast cancer vaccine was under works for a long time, but little was disclosed to the common public. Recently there have been some positive developments in that front, with researchers claiming to have developed a pioneering vaccine using patients' own cells. Results of clinical trials indicate that the vaccine has been able to confer protection to 85% of women who had DCIS, (Ductal Carcinoma in situ) the most common non-invasive form of breast cancer, even after 4 years.

The trials were conducted in the University of Pennsylvania where researchers enrolled 27 patients. Their white blood cells were isolated using techniques similar to blood donation. The isolated cells were manipulated in the laboratory to enable the immune system to identify and eliminate the cancerous cells.

All the patents were given four shots of the vaccine and had surgery a fortnight later to remove any remaining disease.

The study made a comparison of the pre and post vaccination samples and found that in 5 patients there was no visible disease, indicating that their bodies have wiped out the tumor.

Of the remaining 22, damaging proteins had been eliminated in 11 and reduced by 20 per cent or more in another two.

Researchers feel that the new results give ample evidence that cell based therapeutic vaccine is the most effective way of curing breast cancer.