Researchers: Vaccine may prevent liver cancer
December 8, 1997
The hepatitis B vaccine may protect against liver cancer in humans
Web posted at: 8:17 p.m. EST (0117 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Medical researchers have long dreamed of
finding a way to prevent cancer.
Now, a study from Georgetown University indicates that
vaccinating an infant against the hepatitis B virus may
provide a lifetime of protection from liver cancer, most
cases of which are caused by the virus.
"Hepatitis B virus vaccine will be the first effective
vaccine against a cancer, a major cancer for man, liver
cancer," said John Gerin of Georgetown University Medical
Presented Monday at a Washington, D.C., meeting. the findings
were the result of research at Georgetown's Albert Sabin
Vaccine Institute, where scientists studied a hepatitis-like
disease in woodchucks for eight years and concluded that the
vaccine was effective in preventing liver cancer.
Woodchucks are well-suited to the study of hepatitis because
they develop the disease in only three years, compared to 60
years in humans.
"The implication is that the same strategy in man will be
successful," Gerin said.
Liver cancer is the No. 1 cancer worldwide.
"We don't see it that much in the United States ... but
around the world it is the single leading cause of cancer,"
said Dr. James Lewis of Georgetown University Medical Center.
Lewis said between 8,000 and 10,000 cases are reported in the
United States each year.
The researchers also found that anti-viral drugs can contain
the disease in those already infected with hepatitis B and
prevent it from becoming cancerous -- at least in animals.
That will be important when applied to humans, because the
tumor caused by hepatitis B, known as hepatocellular
carcinoma, is very difficult to treat. Even a liver
transplant is not effective against it.
Scientists believe that someday shots could protect people
from all the cancers caused by viruses, estimated at about 10
percent of all cancers.
As for the hepatitis B vaccine, Gerin said it will probably
take 30 to 40 years of study to find out conclusively if it
works in humans as it worked for the woodchucks in the study.
Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that
infants get the three-shot inoculation against hepatitis.
Medical Correspondent Jeff Levine contributed to this