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New advances may have created a vaccine that could help reduce the rates of breast cancer recurrences, which are often deadly for women diagnosed with the disease. According to lab tests, the vaccine has been successful, so testing in human patients can now begin.
Breast cancer vaccine developments
Doctors and researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have begun creating personalized vaccines for women who have had surgeries to remove breast cancer tumors. These vaccines are tailored to each woman's immune system by using blood tests and other markers, and the doctors have begun administering them. However, it will likely be years before the women see if the vaccine works, as relapses often take place several years after the initial surgery.
Doctors have also found evidence that certain viruses may be related to breast cancer in the same way that the human papillomavirus can cause cervical cancer. Human mammary tumor virus has been found in nearly half of all breast tumors, according to a study published in the journal Cancer. These discoveries may help lay the groundwork for creating a vaccine that specifically targets the viruses and can prevent cancer.
Reducing toxicity in breast cancer treatments
Using vaccines can help reduce the amount of toxicity that women undergoing chemotherapy may be exposed to during treatment. If the disease can be prevented early, these treatments, which can have severe side effects, may be avoided altogether. So far, the vaccine is only being used in women who have already undergone surgery, but clinical trials are underway.
"This is a novel approach specifically for people who want another form of therapy to decrease the chance of the cancer coming back. People are looking for something extra that may improve their outcome but doesn't expose them to a lot of extra toxicity," said Jennifer Litton, M.D., of the Department of Breast Medical Oncology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
The vaccines work by stimulating patients' immune systems, causing them to target cancer cells specifically. New vaccines are being developed using peptides, which are groups of amino acids. These vaccines help encourage the body to target specific cells, and they can be tailored to focus the body on proteins associated with cancer, noted the MD Anderson Cancer Center.
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