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New Breast Cancer "Vaccine" Treatment Announced

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Your body's immune system is the most powerful defense against illness and disease—that means anything from a mild cold to something scary such as cancer. And when everything is working properly, it goes quietly about its work, like a germ-fighting ninja. Unfortunately, some diseases, like cancer, have the ability to mess with your immune system, sneaking past your defenses before you even know they're there. But now scientists have announced a new treatment for breast cancer in the form of an "immunology vaccine" that enhances your immune system, allowing your body to use its best weapon to kill those cancer cells. (A diet high in these fruits and veggies can also slash your risk of breast cancer.)

The new treatment doesn't work like other vaccines you're familiar with (think: mumps or hepatitis). It won't prevent you from getting breast cancer, but it can help treat the disease if used during the early stages, according to a new report published in Clinical Cancer Research.

Called immunotherapy, the drug works by using your own immune system to attack a specific protein attached to cancer cells. This allows your body to kill the cancer cells without killing your healthy cells along with them, which is a common occurrence in traditional chemotherapy. Plus, you get all the cancer-fighting benefits but without the nasty side effects like hair loss, mental fog, and extreme nausea. (Related: What Your Gut Has to Do with Your Breast Cancer Risk)

Researchers injected the vaccine into either a lymph node, breast cancer tumor, or both places in 54 women who were in the early stages of breast cancer. The women received treatments, which had been personalized based on their own immune system, once a week for six weeks. At the end of the trial, 80 percent of all participants showed an immune response to the vaccine, while 13 of the women had no detectable cancer in their pathology at all. It was particularly effective for those women who had noninvasive forms of the disease called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a cancer that starts in the milk ducts and is the most common type of noninvasive breast cancer.

More research needs to be done before the vaccine is widely available, the scientists cautioned, but hopefully this is yet another step toward eliminating this disease.

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