Breast cancer prevention, rather than breast cancer treatment, is the ultimate goal of breast cancer research. While breast cancer research through the years has identified many modifiable factors that increase breast cancer risk, getting people at risk to make the necessary lifestyle changes is difficult. Even if we each make appropriate lifestyle changes to reduce our risk of breast cancer, there is no guarantee that we won't still get breast cancer. That is why a prevention strategy like a vaccine remains invaluable.
A breast cancer vaccine has been extremely difficult to develop because unlike other diseases for which we have a vaccine, breast cancer is not associated with virus. Additionally, breast cancer cells and the many chemicals produced by them are still our own cells and chemicals, so vaccines developed to target theses cells or chemicals have the real potential to negatively effect the healthy tissues in our body.
Despite these difficulties, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute have developed a prototype breast cancer vaccine that they have shown prevents breast cancer in mice. The key to developing their breast cancer vaccine was to target a protein that was expressed in the vast majority of breast cancer tumors, but that was not present in normal, healthy tissues except during specific situations that could be avoided if necessary. The protein targeted by these researchers was alpha-lactalbumin. This protein is found in the majority of breast cancer tumors, but is only present in healthy women during lactation.
To test their breast cancer vaccine, the researchers treated mice known to naturally develop breast cancer at about 10 months of age with either the breast cancer vaccine or a placebo injection. All of the mice that did not get the vaccine developed breast cancer after 10 months, while NONE of the mice receiving the alpha-lactalbumin vaccine developed breast cancer. Additionally, vaccination of mice that already had cancer resulted in an inhibition of tumor growth. Treatment with the alpha-lactalbumin breast cancer vaccine did not cause any inflammation in the normal, healthy breast tissues, suggesting that the vaccine might also have a good safety profile.
These are amazing results that show real potential for a future human breast cancer vaccine. According to a press release about this research, the study investigators suggest that their vaccine would most likely be appropriate for women over 40 years of age. After age 40, breast cancer risk increases substantially and it is time when pregnancy is less likely. The researchers suggest that a vaccinated woman who gets pregnant would most likely experience breast tenderness and might not be able to breast feed.
Clearly, more work will need to be done. This current study was done in a small number of mice and human clinical trials will need to be conducted to determine safety and effectiveness. Nonetheless, this research appears to be a great step forward in the fight to prevent breast cancer.
As the scientific community continues to make amazing discoveries, we can do our part in the fight against breast cancer by making healthier lifestyle choices to reduce our breast cancer risk. To learn more, read my book Fight Now: Eat & Live Proactively Against Breast Cancer .