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Colorectal cancer - a genuine breakthrough

Published: Friday, May 10, 2019

Wknd_Vaccine

Words by Dr Ross Walker

The best treatment of any modern disease is no doubt, prevention. This is why I am a very strong supporter of the National Bowel Cancer screening program, not to mention the fact that I believe all adults over 50 should have at least one colonoscopy in their life.

For someone like myself, having watched my beautiful father die at age 73 from colorectal cancer, I recently had my fourth colonoscopy & am delighted to say I remain polyp free. As you can see, this topic is very personal for me.

If these screening programs were followed, we would see a marked reduction in bowel cancer death. It Is estimated that one in 13 people by age 85 will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. It remains the third most common cancer diagnosis after breast and prostate cancer. Melanoma comes in at number four, with lung cancer at number five. Interestingly, lung cancer remains the commonest cause of cancer death as it is not as responsive to treatment as the other cancers on this list.

It is my opinion that vaccination was the most important health innovation of the last century. It is a pity that there are still some ill-informed people remaining, despite overwhelming scientific evidence, against vaccination.

Now it appears that in the not-too-distant future, we may have a safe and effective vaccine against colorectal cancer. This new study published in the Journal, Immunotherapy of Cancer was a small pilot study to establish the safety of the colorectal cancer vaccine. This vaccine has already been proven to be safe and effective in laboratory animals.

In this particular study, 10 individuals with either stage 1 or stage 2 colorectal cancer (earlier stages, better prognosis) were given the vaccine and then their blood was examined at 30 days, 90 days and then 180 days.

The blood tests showed clear evidence of activation of Killer T cells ,which are the immune cells that are activated against cancers and a number of other conditions, such as viral diseases. Interestingly, there were no serious side-effects from the vaccine. The vaccine works against a specific molecule known as GUCY2C. This molecule is present on the surface of tumours but not on healthy cells. The vaccine combines this specific molecule with another substance that augmented the reaction against these cancer cells. Thus, the Killer T cells reaction against colorectal cells is augmented.

There is strong evidence that this vaccine may also work against other gastrointestinal cancers such as gastric, oesophageal and pancreatic cancer. Combined, all these gastrointestinal cancers account for 20% of all cancer related deaths.

Over the past decade, there has been a welcome explosion of a variety of new, more targeted treatments towards many different forms of cancer. Some advanced cancers that were universally lethal are now being managed, and in many cases cured. This new vaccine is yet another example of the vital importance of sophisticated, high-level medical research, which has changed the outlook of what was once a death sentence for many people.

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