Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Vaccine May Help Fight Breast Cancer

Mice Experiments Show Vaccine Reduces Tumor Growth
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 18, 2007 (Los Angeles) -- Researchers have developed a new vaccine that stimulates the immune system to seek out and destroy breast cancer cells.

In early experiments, the vaccine curbed or stopped the growth of breast tumors in all of the mice studied.

Researcher Pilar Nava-Parada, MD, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., says some of the mice were essentially cured.

The research was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

How the Vaccine Works

Unlike flu and many other vaccines, most cancer vaccines under development are not intended to be given to healthy people to prevent disease. Rather, they help sick patients bolster their immune system to better fight the cancer.

In this case, the goal is to re-educate the immune system to recognize breast cancer cells as foreign invaders that need to be attacked and annihilated, Nava-Parada tells WebMD.

Usually, breast cancer cells fly under the radar of the immune system, evading the body's surveillance mechanisms, she explains.

To overcome that obstacle, the injectable vaccine uses a bacteria-type substance that is altered to contain the gene HER2/neu, which is associated with extremely aggressive breast tumors, as well as antibodies that jack up the immune system.

The body launches an immediate response to the bacteria, and revved-up immune cells go on the offensive, patrolling the body and attacking and wiping out cells that contain HER2/neu.

"Any cell that expressed HER2/neu in high amounts is killed," Nava-Parada says.

Immune-Boosting Vaccine a Promising Approach

Ronald A. DePinho, MD, professor of medicine and genetics at Harvard Medical School and chairman of the committee that chose which studies to highlight at the meeting, says that similar approaches show promise in people with pancreatic and skin cancers.

"As cancer develops, the immune system finds a way to sequester itself. The idea with all these studies is to jack up the immune system so it will recognize cancer cells as foreign," he tells WebMD. "It's a very promising approach."

Nava-Parada cautions that a lot more study is needed before the vaccine is ready for prime time. If it does pan out, she says, it would only work for women whose breast cancers overexpress HER2/neu -- about 15% to 25% of breast cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
Resolved To Quit Smoking
Woman getting mammogram
Screening Tests for Women
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
serious woman
what is your cancer risk
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow