Healthier Together: Breast cancer vaccine trials

Within the next ten years, we could see a vaccine that can prevent and do away with cancer. This new treatment could help eradicate breast cancer and maybe other cancers pretty soon — a situation that was unimaginable decades ago.

KIRO 7 spoke to researchers at the University of Washington’s Cancer Vaccine Institute who have lead the way on this groundbreaking treatment.

“It is a reality. We’re studying cancer vaccines in three different areas,” said Dr. Mary Lenora Disis — also known as Nora.

She’s the director of UW Medicine’s Cancer Vaccine Institute and has studied the development of cancer vaccines. She says we do indeed have the potential to have a “shot” at eliminating cancer in patients, as well as preventing cancer from coming back, and preventing cancer from ever happening.

“If you had asked me 30 years ago, the biggest question in the field at that time was ‘could cancer even stimulate the immune system,’” said Dr. Disis.

She said a shot in the arm, a vaccine, could unleash the human immune system to destroy cancer. Those vaccines could be available within the next ten years.

“We’ve gone from 0-to-60 just in my career and I do believe that immune therapy using the immune system to fight cancer is here,” said Dr. Disis.

Disis has spent her career working to convince our bodies to fight cancer. She says a breast cancer vaccine may be on the horizon.

We’ve often thought of shots being used to prevent disease, and even with some cancers, vaccines already exist. Other cancer vaccines would have a pretty simple solution.

“Cancer is able to fool the immune system when you look at the proteins that are in cancer cells. They’re not like a virus, they don’t give a danger signal…What a vaccine does is it allows you at another site distant from the tumor to start a healthy robust immune response,” said Dr. Disis.

KIRO 7 toured the labs at UW Med which is currently running clinical trials for a breast cancer vaccine. Researchers are looking for vaccines for lung, breast, ovarian, colon and prostate cancer.

Dr. Disis says all those cancers constitute 50% of cancer diagnoses across the US.

“It’s not one cancer vaccine that’s going to solve the problem, it’s going to be the approval of many cancer vaccines,” said Dr. Disis.

Dr. Disis admits that the fast development of the COVID-19 vaccine and the discoveries that came with it helped move cancer vaccine development forward.

She knows that we’ve already used vaccines to eradicate diseases – now the scourge of breast cancer and maybe other cancers could be snuffed out with a just a shot.

“We did that with infectious disease and it changed our lives. It extended our lives. Let’s do that now with cancer vaccines,” said Dr. Disis.