Preliminary results from a study of 14 women with a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer have shown that an experimental cancer vaccine may be effective in marshalling an immune system attack on breast cancer cells in the body. Researchers say the vaccine, which uses genes from a key cancer tumor protein to elicit an antibody and cellular immune response to breast cancer cells, has been shown to be effective in preventing cancer recurrence in a majority of the study participants. The vaccine does not offer a cure for those who have developed cancer, said researcher George Peoples Jr. of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, but could be effective in preventing recurring cases and even preventing the disease in high-risk women.
The women studied at Walter Reed all had received conventional treatment for cancer that had spread to the lymph nodes. They had no symptoms when they were vaccinated but likely had lingering cancer cells and face a high risk of relapse. Cancer did recur in two of the 14 vaccinated women during the 18-month study, but they had the weakest immune response to the vaccine, Peoples said. The disease also returned in four women in a control group of 20 who were not vaccinated, and it recurred much more quickly than in the two women who developed cancer after receiving the vaccine. Peoples said if his study continues to show positive results, within a few years the vaccine might be tried in healthy women at high risk for breast cancer.