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Mayo Clinic to test vaccine to prevent, treat precancerous breast lesions

by: Jenna Bourne, Action News Jax Updated:

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Mayo Clinic doctors will test a vaccine to prevent women from developing precancerous breast lesions.

It could someday become part of routine vaccinations for women, but the Mayo Clinic has to first put it through extensive clinical trials. The hospital is able to do that because of a $3.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense.

Andrea Sharp, 43, has no family history of breast cancer but she found a lump last year. “It’s overwhelming. It’s scary. Because you have a million questions,” Sharp said.

Only about a third of breast lesions, known as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), develop into cancer. But doctors have no way of knowing which lesions will become dangerous.

All women who develop DCIS are treated with painful surgeries and therapies. “I had two surgeries and radiation for six weeks,” Sharp said.

Mayo Clinic immunology professor Dr. Keith Knutson has been working on a vaccine for nearly a decade. Knutson hoped it will help hundreds of thousands of women avoid surgeries and radiation treatments.

“That’s been a big problem, because treatments have side effects. And that’s something that we may be able to eliminate by boosting the body’s own natural drug making machinery, which is the immune system,” said Knutson.

The clinical trial will start in about four months.


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About 40 patients diagnosed with having a breast lesion will get the vaccine. Doctors will monitor whether the lesions react or disappear altogether over six weeks. It’s a vaccine that could someday eliminate Sharp’s risk for reoccurrence.

“It’s exciting. It’s overwhelming. I mean, it’s fantastic,” said Sharp.

Even though $3.7 million might sound like a lot, Knutson said he will likely need millions more to get the vaccine through the whole vetting process. His team is already looking for more funding.