Summary: Cancer vaccines could prevent around 1,000,000 cancer deaths each year, according to a report by the World Health Organization this month. [This article first appeared on LongevityFacts. Author: Brady Hartman. ]
In a Feb 2018 report, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that infectious diseases cause 15% of all cancer deaths, and universal vaccination could prevent around one million cancers annually, saying
“Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, and was responsible for 8.8 million deaths in 2015.” Adding “Globally, nearly 1 in 6 deaths is due to cancer.”
According to the WHO, preventative cancer vaccines show significant potential in reducing the death and disability that comes with the disease, stating
“Approximately 15% of cancers diagnosed in 2012 were attributed to carcinogenic infections, including Helicobacter pylori, Human papillomavirus (HPV), Hepatitis B virus, Hepatitis C virus, and Epstein-Barr virus.”
Scientists are developing promising cancer treatments, including targeted cancer therapy, cancer-seeking nanorobots, and cancer immunotherapy, such as CAR T-cell therapy. However, vaccines which are already available, have tremendous potential, says the WHO, adding
“Vaccination against these HPV and hepatitis B viruses could prevent 1 million cancer cases each year.”
Cancer Vaccines for Prevention
There are two broad types of cancer vaccines: preventative and treatment vaccines. Preventative cancer vaccines are designed to prevent cancer in people that don’t have it and show the most significant promise in reducing the death and disability that comes with the disease.
HPV Vaccine to Prevent Cancer of the Cervix
The National Cancer Institute reports that a simple HPV vaccination can prevent as many as 180,000 cancer deaths each year.
Over 500,000 women around the world are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and over half of them will die of the disease reports the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The NCI adds that “Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by HPV,” and that human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines can substantially reduce the incidence of this cancer, saying
“It has been estimated that widespread vaccination using currently available HPV vaccines could prevent more than two-thirds of cervical cancers.”
And the vaccine can help men as well, says the NCI, who adds that
“The ability of Gardasil to prevent genital warts, anal dysplasia, and anal cancer in males led to its approval by the FDA for men as well as women.”
Hepatitis B Vaccine to Prevent Cancer of the Liver
Several hepatitis B virus vaccines are available that are highly effective in preventing this devastating viral infection of the liver. The idea behind the vaccine is that chronic infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV) can lead to liver cancer. The WHO estimates that 257 million people are living with hepatitis B virus infection worldwide and the disease resulted in 887,000 deaths in 2015, mostly from complications that include cirrhosis and a form of cancer called hepatocellular carcinoma.
Universal Cancer Vaccine
A universal cancer vaccine is still a pipe dream, says the authors of a report published in February of 2017 in the journal Genome Medicine. Such a vaccine is considered the “holy grail of cancer therapy,” but is nigh next to impossible thanks to the limitless genetic diversity in cancer. Ryan J. Hartmaier, Ph.D., a senior scientist at Foundation Medicine who co-authored the study indicated that genetic variations yield more than 60,000 unique tumors from many different types of cancer. Hartmaier points to the low utility of a such a vaccine, saying
“Even if a semiuniversal HLA-specific cancer vaccine strategy could be developed, it would only be relevant to a subset of people representing about 0.3% of the general population.”
Cancer Vaccines for Treatment
Treatment vaccines are a form of cancer immunotherapy and are intended to treat an existing tumor by strengthening the body’s natural immune response against cancer. Most of these treatment vaccines are still in the early stage of development.
However, scientists are making progress in related areas. For example, late last month, researchers at Stanford University announced a cancer ‘vaccine’ that was effective in eradicating all traces of metastatic cancer in mice. The treatment is not an actual vaccine, but rather a highly targeted form of cancer immunotherapy which works along the same lines as a vaccine. The Stanford researchers found that injecting tiny amounts of two immune-stimulating agents directly into solid tumors in mice eliminated all traces of cancer in the rodents, including distant metastases. The novel technique works for many different types of cancers, including tumors that arise spontaneously. While the treatment has only been tested in mice so far, the team hopes to apply this approach to treat humans.
Bottom Line on Cancer Vaccines
Universal vaccination against several viral diseases can prevent upwards of a million cancer deaths, and while doctors are vaccinating many people, mostly newborns, far too many people still go unprotected.
However, one of the simplest ways to beat the disease is the dual strategy of a healthy lifestyle that helps prevent cancer combined with detecting it early, should it occur. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that about 60% of cancer deaths can be avoided, mainly by refraining from smoking and maintaining a healthy diet. These are, by far, the top two ways of preventing cancer.
Detecting and treating cancer early is also a powerful way to avoid the death and disability of cancer, say leading health organizations, such as the American Cancer Society and the WHO. Most cancers are highly survivable if caught early enough, and these organizations recommend that people have themselves checked regularly.
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Cover Photo: Getty Images.
World Health Organization. “Cancer Fact Sheet.” WHO Media centre. Web. February 2018.
National Cancer Institute. “Preventing Cervical Cancer: The Development of HPV Vaccines.” National Cancer Institute (NCI). Web. Updated: December 2, 2016
Ryan J. Hartmaier et al. “Genomic analysis of 63,220 tumors reveals insights into tumor uniqueness and targeted cancer immunotherapy strategies.” Genome Medicine 9:16. February 24, 2017.
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