Vaccine that could prevent breast cancer is in the works

Published: Mar. 17, 2017 at 4:06 PM EDT
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Researchers are testing a therapy that could someday wipe out a deadly cancer in women.

This is what happened when Barbara Popoli found out she had inflammatory breast cancer. She’s speaking in front of lawmakers to push for more funding for research.

“60 to 80 percent chance I was going to die from this," says Popoli about the matter.

After chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, with her husband by her side, she enrolled in the breast cancer vaccine clinical trial. The vaccine is supposed to stop the cancer from ever coming back again.

“I think it’s a potential game changer because we’ve actually shown that people lose this specific immune response early in the process of breast cancer development," says Brian Czerniecki, M.D., Chair of the Department of Breast Onology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL.

Moffitt Cancer Center doctor Brian Czerniecki has been working on this vaccine for more than a decade.

“It’s meant to restore an immune response," explains Czerniecki.

To make the vaccine, white blood cells are removed from the patient.

Then those T cells are activated to become immune responders that target cancer cells. The customized vaccine is injected back into the patient.

“It showed nice impact in that some people had their disease completely disappear before we operated on them," says Czerniecki.

The vaccine can be given six to nine times to mostly patients who have HER2 positive disease. 80% of those in the trial had an immune response.

The vaccine side effects could be fatigue, injection site reaction, and chills. The vaccine is still in clinical trials.


TOPIC: Breast Cancer Vaccine Personalized

REPORT: MB #4233

BACKGROUND: An estimated one in every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. Cancer occurs when cells grow out of control. In breast cancer, the cells form a malignant tumor that can spread, or metastasize, to distant parts of the body. Recent research on breast cancer shows that genetics play a role. Inheriting certain genes could mean you have a higher risk of developing the disease. This genetic link has caused some women who know they inherited a certain gene to get mastectomies as preventative measures. A mass or lump in the breast is the most common sign of breast cancer. Swelling or pain in the breast can also be signs of breast cancer.


DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT: Many gynecologists recommend regular screenings for breast cancer because some early stages of breast cancer do not display signs or symptoms. Mammograms, or X-rays of the breast, involve compressing the breast between two plates to scan tissue. If the mammogram yields an abnormal result, the doctor will recommend a diagnostic mammogram, which consists of more images, of the suspicious area. Then if there is still cause for concern, a biopsy may be taken. The biopsy can be taken by inserting a needle to obtain a small sample of the area or removing a mass through surgery. Researchers have found that cancer treatments have become less effective when targeting or even recognizing the HER2 protein in advance stages of breast cancer, leading to a poor prognosis for some women.


NEW TECHNOLOGY: Researchers at Moffitt Cancer center have developed a vaccine that can help the immune system recognize the HER2 protein in breast cancer cells. The vaccine from immune cells, called dendritic cells, are harvested from each patient and then used to create a personalized vaccine. The researchers conducted a clinical trial on 54 women with HER2 early stage breast cancer. The patients in the trial were injected their own personalized vaccine once a week for six weeks. About 80 percent of the patients had a detectable immune response.