Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Vaccinating against health.

According to an article by Judith Potts for Telegraph, there's some very promising strides being made toward a vaccine which could prevent breast cancer.


This is a topic near and dear to my heart.  In 2007, my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2009 she passed away.  Despite a mastectomy, hormonal therapy, and radiation, the tumors kept recurring and spreading.  Breast cancer terrifies me.  
YET, I'm not thrilled about this possible vaccine.Why?


According to the article,  an immunologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, Dr Vincent Tuohy, as well as other researchers such as Dr Leatham, at University College London, have found a specific protein, alpha-lactalbumin, which is present in the majority of breast cancer tumors.  So their brilliant thought?  Innoculate against the protien.  They figure that if they can trick the body into having an immunological response against the protien, then the chance of the cancer developing is reduced. 
That's all fine and dandy, except the part where alpha-lactalbumin is also a component of breast milk.  You know, that stuff that humans, as mammals, produce in order to nourish their offspring?  You know, that stuff which developed as part of the immune system in order to help the infant transition from a sterile environment into one full of thousands of bacteria and viruses.  You know, the stuff that helps the developing intestines transition to foods and reduces the likelihood of allergies?  You know, the stuff that has been associated with higher IQs, stronger immune system, and lowered risk of Type II diabetes in both the mother and child, lowered risk of obesity, lowered risk of asthma, and lower incidence of crib death SIDS.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot, breast feeding is also linked to lower risk of breast cancer in the mom. 


So the notion is, give females this vaccine so they maybe won't develop breast cancer, you know, the thing they're less likely to get if they have a healthy immune system (possibly in part to having been breast fed) are not obese (partially linked to having been breast fed) and if they breastfeed their own offspring.


The only foreseeable tradeoff?  Their offspring are less healthy and women are still being put at risk.  Not to mention the whole experimental nature of this type of treatment.
This part here possibly makes me the most nervous.  Potts writes " this [theorized] vaccine will be used on young women – particularly those who have a family history of breast cancer – and those over the age of 40, when the cancer is more likely to develop but when they are less likely to be breastfeeding."


That's right.  The idea is to give it to those with a history of breast cancer, you know, the ones who could possibly benefit most from the many health benefits of breast feeding.   


I hate to say it, but this is one case in which I feel like it's one big step for science, and two big steps backwards for women and children's health.


Disclosure: I'm not a doctor, a nurse, or any other sort of medical professional.  I am expressing my opinions based on research I have done as a mother, a lactivist, and a woman who has lost a family member to this horrific disease. 



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