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Updated 19 May 2014

Cancer cured by measles vaccine

A clinical trial has shown that a deadly form of cancer can be cured with a huge dose of the measles vaccine.

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The trial, which took place in the US, involved injecting two sufferers with a dose of the measles vaccine 10 000 times stronger than that used for normal vaccination. One of the sufferers experienced a total remission with all of her tumours vanishing. The other experienced a remission but her cancer soon returned, indicating the treatment might not work for all sufferers.

The mechanism underlying the cure involves the injected virus latching on to the cancerous cells, particularly those found in tumours. The virus then destroys these cells, causing the tumours to disappear. Myeloma, however, is not restricted to tumours as it infects the bone marrow as well. The measles treatment completely cleared the bone marrow of any cancerous cells, meaning the patient was essentially cancer-free.

Read: Early warning signs of cancer

This came after the patient had exhausted every other treatment option available, including radiation and chemotherapy. Adding another kind of treatment to those currently available should increase the number of cases that can be successfully treated, boosting survival rates.

Multiple Myeloma kills over 70 000 people a year worldwide with a 5-year survival rate of only around 45%, making it one of the deadlier forms of cancer in the world today.

Treating cancer with other diseases has been trialled several times before, with mixed success. The problem lies in the fact that cancer is such a diverse illness. No single disease can be used to treat every cancer, meaning scientists have to spend time determining which disease is best suited to the targeted cancer. Because it led to complete remission, this is the most successful trial to date.

Obviously, results from two patients do not constitute significant evidence, but it is a cause for optimism. The Mayo Clinic plans to build on this discovery with a large-scale trial that will be launched by the end of the year.

Sources: Vox/The Mayo Clinic/The Lancet

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