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Women Today

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Breast cancer vaccines in development

Breast cancer affects both men and women and the family and friends who support them as they navigate diagnosis and subsequent treatments. According to the most recent statistics from BreastCancer.org, an estimated 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the United States in 2020. That estimate includes 48,530 new cases of noninvasive, or in situ, breast cancer.

The average five-year survival rate for women with invasive breast cancer is 91 percent. While that's good news, what if there was a breast cancer vaccine that could eliminate the threat of breast cancer?

A vaccine may not be that far into the future. An experimental breast cancer vaccine already has been developed by Dr. Leishna Emens at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. Clinical trials are underway, but the concept behind the vaccine is to activate the immune system and cause immune cells that are typically unable to detect cancer cells to attack the cancer in the breast and throughout the body. Early studies point to modest, but real improvement in survival rates. Dr. Emens continues to work with her team to study the efficacy of the vaccine.

Other vaccines also have been in the works. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic, supported in part by the Artemis Project of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, also are trying to develop a vaccine that will prevent breast cancer. Dr. Keith Knudson, who is developing this vaccine, has seen some evidence of elimination of the breast cancer tumor, as well as some evidence of the immune system responding. Dr. Knudson's team is seeking more trial subjects to continue testing the vaccine.

Science and medicine are working tirelessly to develop a vaccine that can prevent or cure breast cancer. There is still more work to be done, but early trials offer some hope that this disease may soon be defeated.

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