For the past several months, reports have popped up on an experimental treatment being used in Cuba to treat lung cancer. Most recently, HealthNewsReview took on a Phoenix-area news outlet and a cancer clinic for touting the drug before it has undergone careful clinical study.
We asked Len Lichtenfeld, M.D., deputy chief medical officer for his thoughts on the drug, and the news coverage it has generated, and he had some important words of caution.
“The Cuban anti-cancer vaccine has been under development and investigation for over 20 years. There have been reports published suggesting that it may help patients with advanced lung cancer. A major cancer center in the United States (Roswell Park Cancer Institute) has indicated it is prepared to conduct clinical trials of the vaccine.
“This vaccine is intended to react with a protein in the blood called ‘epithelial growth factor’ or EGF. This protein helps some types of cancers grow. The theory behind the vaccine is that by blocking the protein with the vaccine the cancer cells will not be able to function.
“Currently we do not have the information we need to have to know whether or not this vaccine could be useful in treating lung cancer or possibly be used to prevent cancer in patients at high risk of developing lung cancer. The studies that have been reported from Cuba are small, and have limitations that prevent us from knowing how the treatment could be applied to the typical patient with lung cancer. And, unfortunately, the history of vaccines in treating cancer has shown many, many more failures than successes. That makes the need to undertake well-designed clinical trials all the more important.
“In the meantime, there are new targeted therapies and other immunotherapy drugs that have proven successful in treating lung cancer, the most common cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Whether this particular vaccine will be helpful is something that we do not know now and will take several years to determine.”