An Epstein-Barr Vaccine Could Prevent 200,000 Cancers

Patients with lymphoma, their loved ones, and advocates are always asking about ways to prevent lymphoma.

Generally speaking, the answers are disappointing because so few cases of cancer can be traced with any confidence to a particular source.

Fifty years ago, research funded by Cancer Research UK identified the Epstein-Barr Virus and discovered its association with cancer.

Today, it is known that 95 percent of the adult global population carries EBV. Most people are infected with the virus in childhood and are unaffected by it. In others, a glandular fever can develop. In others still, cancer.

Cancers that have been linked to EBV include:

How many could be prevented if an EBV vaccine were developed? Experts speaking at a week-long conference at Oxford University in March on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of EBV's discovery believe that a vaccine could prevent as many as 200,000 cancers worldwide each year.

How a Vaccine Can Help

A true 'cancer vaccine' does not exist. But science has proven capable of developing vaccines for diseases or viruses that can, by their ability to fight off the infection, indirectly prevent the development of cancer.

One recent example is the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV). Another, older example is the vaccine for the hepatitis B virus. The hepatitis B virus infects a third of the world's adult population, and, in those who can't recover from it, can cause cirrhosis or liver cancer. This virus is considered to be the third most common known cause of cancer. Sunlight is number one, and smoking is number two.

While HPV and the hepatitis B virus work differently than EBV, the fundamentals are no different. What is necessary now is the science. Currently there is no surefire way to know who among the infected will develop cancer, but that could come with more research into a vaccine against the virus. And even if it didn't – and despite what all the Jenny McCarthys of the world want people to believe – the human body can accept and process plenty more effective vaccines than those already given, according to prominent virologist and enemy of the new McCarthyism, Dr. Paul Offit.

Currently, in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend children receive 10 vaccines between birth and age 6:

  • HepB (against hepatitis B)
  • RV (against rotavirus)
  • DTaP (against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus)
  • HiB (against Haemophilus influenzae type b)
  • PCV (against pneumococcus)
  • IPV (against polio)
  • Influenza (against the flu)
  • MMR (against measles, mumps, rubella)
  • Varicella (against chicken pox)
  • HepA (against hepatitis A)

With so much of the adult population infected by EBV in childhood, another scheduled vaccine could fit into this age group and potentially save tens of thousands of lives every year in the United States, and globally, many more.

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