Researchers at Mayo Clinic received a $3.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to test a vaccine designed to establish lifelong immunity against the development of breast cancer in women with ductal carcinoma in situ.
No methods exist to detect which of the 35% of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) cases will progress to cancer if left untreated. For this reason, the standard of care for all patients diagnosed with DCIS remains surgery, followed by hormonal therapy and radiation.
However, researchers are testing a vaccine that they hope will replace standard therapy.
“We still have hundreds of thousands of breast cancers diagnosed every day in the world, and we still have 40,000 deaths from the disease every year in this country,” Keith Knutson, PhD, director of the Discovery and Translation Labs Cancer Research Program at Mayo Clinic’s campus in Florida, told HemOnc Today. “Imagine if we had a vaccine that could prevent breast cancer.
“Breast cancer steals the life of people, even among those who do not die,” he added. “As we can all imagine, being diagnosed with cancer changes perspective on life and some of this may be positive, but it also introduces a negative feature in life that most would not like to endure.”
HemOnc Today spoke with Knutson about the study and its potential implications.
Question: Can you describe the need for a vaccine like this?
Answer: The vaccine we have developed has the potential to be beneficial in multiple stages of breast cancer. The most recent grant funding we received deals with the administration of this vaccine to individuals with DCIS. Although DCIS is not cancer, about 30% to 40% of individuals with DCIS will go on to develop cancer, but we typically do not know which patients with DCIS will develop cancer. These patients often are treated with surgery and endocrine therapy, and sometimes radiation therapy. Because the majority of individuals will not be diagnosed with cancer, there is a need to come up with a way to treat DCIS without the surgery, hormonal therapy and radiation therapy. Our thought — which has been observed with early cervical lesions — is that if we stimulate the immune system, the vaccine can potentially eliminate the early cancer-like lesion so that it goes away. The idea is this vaccine ultimately will protect against progression to cancer