Every now and again a research study grabs my attention because the investigators have gone off on a new path and have published findings that make me think: Wow, they could be on to something! In other instances, a study grabs me not because of what the researchers found, but because the media made it sound so much better than it was.  And sometimes it’s a bit both—which is why I want to talk to you about the breast cancer vaccine that’s been all over the news.

The idea that we can use vaccines in cancer isn’t new. A number of researchers have been trying to develop vaccines that could be used to treat cancer. These vaccines are designed to try to get the body’s immune system to go after cancer cells, and there are a number of clinical trials now underway testing these vaccines right now.

On the prevention front, we’ve had more success. We now have two widely used vaccines, one against cervical cancer, which targets the human papillomavirus (HPV) and one against liver cancer, which targets the Hepatitis B virus (HBV).

Over the past few years, I’ve come to believe that it is very likely that there is a virus that is involved in the initiation of some forms of breast cancer. So, when Nature Medicine published a letter by a research group at the Cleveland Clinic that described the work they have done to develop a new type of cancer vaccine that could be used to prevent breast cancer from occurring, I was intrigued to learn more about their work.

I learned that their vaccine is not designed to target a virus. Instead, it targets a protein that is found in women with breast cancer, but not in healthy women (unless they are breastfeeding). They are hoping that one day this vaccine could be given to women over 40 who were no longer breastfeeding and at higher risk of developing cancer, so that if a tumor started to form and release this protein, the immune system would be prepared by the vaccine to fight it.

Is it an interesting idea? Yes. Should the media have gone nuts over it? No—and here’s why. This research is in a very preliminary stage.  Yes, the research was published. But it was published as a Letter, which is more like a notice that researchers publish to say: Look at what we just did! They are not peer-reviewed research studies.

Also, let’s not forget that this research is being done in mice. And while it may sound promising to hear that none of the mice that were vaccinated developed breast cancer, it’s equally important to remember that scientists stop breast cancer from developing in mice all the time.

The problem is that mice are not women, and time and time again, drugs and vaccines that do great things in mice don’t do anything at all to prevent or treat breast cancer in women. So, it’s foolish for the researchers or their press people or the media to be acting like we have suddenly found a way to prevent breast cancer when we don’t even yet know if this vaccine will be safe or effective in women!

This is, however, a great example of why we started and why researchers need the Army of Women! If researchers are able to develop a safe vaccine that they think can prevent breast cancer, it will need to be tested in tens of thousands of women before it can be approved and then widely used. And, if and when that happens, the Army of Women would love to be a part of it! Until then, though, we’d all be much better off if everyone could remember that women are not mice, and that we should save our accolades for real breakthroughs, not media-manufactured ones.

That’s another reason why I want to thank all of the amazing women and men who came out to support the Foundation on June 6 at the Third Annual Love Walk.  It was great to walk with you, talk with you, and hear your thoughts about moving breast cancer research forward. Your support for our work makes it possible for us to not only conduct research but to get people the information they need about all aspects of breast cancer prevention, detection and treatment.  Thank you!!!!

And believe me: When there truly is a way to prevent breast cancer, we will be the first ones to celebrate! Until then, we’ll be working as hard as we can to help anyone with the possibility to make that dream a reality.

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9 Responses to Moving Research Forward

  1. Sandi says:

    Let the powers that be see that a breast cancer vaccine clinical trial happen soon AND include metastatic women too. Is there a reason to not think that stage IV women could also benefit?

  2. annie adair says:

    Let us all try this globally it is needed . Including the UK !

  3. AMP says:

    Researchers stop cancer in mice all the time-true. But, is their approach the same as these scientist who are”thinking out of the box” studying the effect of chemicals on a protien present only in breast cancer. I am discouraged by your writing. Give them a chance to prove their study. I believe human studies are to begin this fall?

  4. Bianca Mead says:

    Just sign me up, I am will to be one of the first in this research. I am a Thriving survivor of 6 years!

  5. AMP says:

    I agree-I am only a one 1/2 year survivor with very early stage and grade-but I would sign up for this research.

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  7. Anne Smith says:

    Most research starts with mice then moves to women. This costs money for the clinical trials. Will any of the funds from your Army of Women be going to support this treatment? There isn’t a stage IV women anywhere who wouldn’t want to try this. Most talk/reasarch is about early stage breast caner but there is 40,000 currently with stage IV going to die this year. What about us, we were once stage I, II, III. Seems to me every avenue should be supported and funded. We are all after the same thing, the best health for all women & men. We don’t need awareness if one of every 8 women have breast cancer, who doesn’t know 8 women. We need funds to go for the cure.

  8. Let’s let the vaccine speak for itself. Let’s test it. Let’t fast-track it through the FDA. Lives depend on knowing if it is safe and effective. Dr. Kathleen Ruddy

  9. HotpepperHR says:

    I strongly echo the sentiments of Dr. Ruddy and other respondents above.

    Rather than move to dismiss the viability of the research efforts into the vaccine, why not instead take the approach of strong support for the investigation of the vaccine?

    As stated by Dr. Ruddy, let us let the vaccine speak for itself. Let us support its development, testing, and approval by the FDA.

    Women’s–and men’s–lives depend upon it.

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