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.Â And sometimes itâ€™s a bit bothâ€”which is why I want to talk to you about the breast cancer vaccine thatâ€™s been all over the news.
The idea that we can use vaccines in cancer isnâ€™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 bodyâ€™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, weâ€™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, Iâ€™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? Noâ€”and hereâ€™s why. This research is in a very preliminary stage.Â 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 They are not peer-reviewed research studies.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, letâ€™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, itâ€™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 donâ€™t do anything at all to prevent or treat breast cancer in women. So, itâ€™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 donâ€™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, weâ€™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.
Thatâ€™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.Â 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.Â 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, weâ€™ll be working as hard as we can to help anyone with the possibility to make that dream a reality.