Each year, an estimated 268,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among U.S. women, according to the American Cancer Society. Mayo Clinic is focusing research on the presence of the immune system in breast tissue and its potential ability to eliminate cancer cells before they can grow.
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Could a vaccine one day be given to prevent breast cancer? That's what a group of Mayo Clinic doctors and researchers are working to find out.
"If we're able to have the immune system trained to recognize abnormal cells, or cancerous (or) precancerous cells, then maybe the immune system can eliminate them before they even develop," explains Dr. Amy Degnim, a Mayo Clinic surgeon.
Dr. Degnim is on the team that's evaluating a vaccine against the HER2 protein, which is found in the majority of women with a noninvasive breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS.
"DCIS is an abnormal growth of cells that occurs within the ducts of the breast, and these cells then can have the potential to grow into an invasive cancer, but may not," says Dr. Degnim.
Dr. Degnim says evaluating this vaccine in women with DCIS is an important step toward the ultimate goal.
"In the future, we would love to be able to give a vaccine to prevent breast cancer in healthy women, so that breast cancer is a thing of the past."