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Colon cancer treatment via Shutterstock

Vaccine could prevent colon cancer in high risk patients

Clinical trials of a vaccine on patients at high risk of developing the disease has produced results which researchers say could spare patients the risk and inconvenience of invasive tests such as colonoscopies.

RESEARCHERS IN THE United States have developed a vaccine which could potentially prevent the development colon cancer, particularly in people who have a higher risk of contracting the disease.

The vaccine has undergone its first human clinical trials in recent months with experts from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UCPI) developing a treatment which boosts a patient’s natural immune surveillance.

This could potentially eliminate pre-malignant lesions before they progress to cancer.

“This might spare patients the risk and inconvenience of repeated invasive surveillance tests, such as colonoscopy, that currently are used to spot and remove precancerous polyps,” Professor Olivera Finn from Department of Immunology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine said.

Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in Ireland with over 2,200 cases each year, representing around 7 per cent of all cancers. The average survival rate is 54.3 per cent, lower than the European average of 56.2 per cent.

The cancer can often take years to develop and will typically start with a polyp – a benign but abnormal growth in the intestinal lining. Polyps that could become cancerous are called adenomas which typically are removed before cancer develops.

The study

In the study, the researchers involved people with a previous history of an advanced adenoma, which places them at higher risk for subsequent colon cancer.

The study demonstrated the ability of the vaccine to boost immunity to developing colon cancer and was tested on 39 patients between the ages of 40 and 70.

These patients received an initial dose of the vaccine and then additional shots two and 10 weeks later.

Blood samples were drawn to measure immune response at those time points, as well as 12 weeks, 28 weeks and one year later.  A booster injection was given at one year to confirm the durability of the immune response.

The results of the research produced a strong protective response in 17 of the patients (44 per cent).There was a lack of response in the other 22 patients which researchers said was likely due to already high levels of cells that suppress the immune system’s ability to fight cancer.

Dr Finn explained: “This suggests that it might be better to vaccinate people against colon cancer at an even earlier stage, or  vaccinate only people who do not already have suppressed immune systems.”

The University of Pittsburgh is affiliated with the Beacon Hospital, a private healthcare facility in Sandyford in Dublin. In a statement yesterday the hospital welcomed news of the research.

Read: Daily aspirin helps prevent colon cancer, says study

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