Breast Cancer – Quest for a Vaccine

Wonder drugs are making treatments much better for the women who get breast cancer. Less women are dying when they get it. Screening is picking it up earlier so treatments can be started earlier. More women are surviving surgery for breast surgery.

Yet the number of women getting breast cancer is increasing. So why is that?

Cancer is basically a disease of old age. And thus breast cancer is increasing as the age of the population increases. So the more old women that there are the more of them are likely to get breast cancer.

It is the biggest killer of nuns is breast cancer. Single women are more at risk. And married women with children get it less.

The best approach to any disease is to prevent it from happening in the first place. So how do you prevent breast cancer?

Nuns and single women don’t get married, but it is not that which is protective. Men can’t claim to exert any protective effect on their spouses or the many girlfriends they have despite how this might feed into the ego machismo.

Single women who have children are less at risk, so it is something do with having children?

In the developing world, the incidence of breast cancer is about 1%, whereas in Ireland and the rest of Europe it is about 6-7%.

So why is this and how can risk be reduced?

People who migrate from the developing world are at the increased level of risk. So it is not all down to genetics and indeed this seems to be only a very small component of the whole.

In the developing world, they tend to have children slightly earlier, more children per family and babies are more likely to be breastfed and for longer. Sometimes they are breastfed for up to two years.

So what then are the best strategies to advise women in the developed world to adopt so they can avoid getting breast cancer:

  • Don’t live like a nun.
  • Eat well and exercise frequently.
  • Don’t smoke or drink too much.
  • Don’t take HRT or the Pill for too long, but don’t worry if you have already stopped as when you come off them their negative effect disappears.
  • Start early having kids and have as many children as you possibly can, at least six or seven is recommended, and breastfeed each one for two years.

Do all of this and perhaps then you will reduce your risk of getting breast cancer down to 1%.

But is this an adequate payoff and would it be a realistic promotion strategy to try to get women to change their lifestyles. It would, of course, require the adoption of a far too austere and rigid lifestyle. It is far too bitter a pill for most women to swallow and for a health professional to begin to suggest such a regimental approach to life would be tantamount to hypocrisy. And it is an impossible sell from a breast cancer prevention perspective.

But there is no doubt that there are clues for cancer researchers in this data. It seems that there is something, perhaps hormonal, in the essence of late pregnancy and lactation, and it is not progesterone or oestrogen, that is protective against breast cancer.

Find this elusive key and perhaps a protective vaccine against breast cancer would not be too far from the horizon.


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