Immune prevention of cancer may be best way to beat it

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

By: Stephen Feller


Methods of preventing cancer are showing promise, though limited, causing researchers to call for greater investment in stopping cancer before it starts.

Researchers at the University of California San Diego write in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that work to boost the immune, and other, systems to prevent ovarian, digestive, blood and gynecologic cancers should receive more focus as a method for preventing death from the diseases.

The researchers suggest further investment in overall efforts such as the federal governments’ Cancer Moonshot pursued by Vice President Joe Biden, which have helped to draw more attention to projects developing methods for avoiding cancer.

“Prevention research has made strides, but progress has been anecdotal and isolated,” Dr. Elizabeth Jaffee, co-chair of the Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel and deputy director of the KImmel Center at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine, said in a press release. “If the goal is eradication of cancer, we need a radically new focus, investment and approach to premalignant diseases and cancer prevention, one that is supported and sustained by broad, deep efforts like the Cancer Moonshot and Human Vaccines Project.”

The projects are often focused on precision medicine efforts, which use genomic research to determine whether a person is at risk for disease, and then treating them with those risk factors in mind.

Several forms of cancer already ripe for this research include Lynch syndrome, a hereditary condition that increases risk for several cancers, including digestive and gynecologic, clona hematopoiesis, an age-related precursor to leukemia, and cervical intrapeithelial neoplasia, abnormal growth of cervix tissue caused by HPV that can lead to cervical cancer.

In the case of cervical cancer, the HPV vaccine is one form of early treatment that seeks to prevent conditions that may lead to cancer.

The researchers say additional research into vaccines and immunotherapies that train the body to fight the causes of cancer could help to continue the sharp drop in the cancer death rate in recent decades.

“Oncogenic transformation is a series of steps,” Jaffee said. “The body’s immune system is capable of intercepting pre-malignancies and preventing cancer. It does so countless times every day in all of us. That natural ability is what we want to leverage. Building upon our innate defenses against cancer is the foundation of new immunotherapies, which have shown great promise in a very short time.”