Straight, No Chaser: Does Cuba Hold the Key to Lung Cancer Treatment and Prevention?

For many, some of the first things that come to mind when you think of Cuba are smoking and cigars. For many others, the one of first things that come to mind when you think of cigars is cancer. As such, lung cancer is the fourth-leading cause of death in Cuba. Given that necessity is often the mother of invention (and given Cuba’s outstanding public health system), it stands to reason that Cuba might be at the forefront when it comes to advancing the search for a cure for cancer.
In the medical news (and in the category of important stuff that’s actually going on but you aren’t paying attention to), is a Cuban-developed lung cancer vaccine called CimaVax. Imagine if you will: a potential powerful deterrent to the most common form of lung cancer may have existed 90 miles off the shores of the US for 25 years but has been unavailable to citizens due to the US-Cuban trade embargo. Sounds like a good enough reason to normalize relations all by itself, you think?

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Here’s what we know about CimaVax at this point:

  • It’s been researched for 25 years in Cuba and Europe.
  • It’s been available to Cubans since 2011.
  • It’s been used to treat 5,000 worldwide.
  • Research, including that published in the US (Journal of Clinical Oncology), has shown CimaVax to be safe, with no significant side effects.
  • Research has shown it to especially increase survival in study participants younger than 60 years old.

To be clear, CimaVax is not a cure for cancer; what it’s doing is blocking a hormone that causes lung cancer growth. It is thought that this strategy will also prove beneficial in the fight against breast, colorectal, head/neck, ovarian and prostate cancers, so in the field of oncology (study of cancer), this is a really big deal.

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What’s next is applying the full scrutiny of the scientific method here in the U.S. What’s possible is within a few years, we may have access to what would unquestionably be one of the biggest tools in the fight against cancer this side of prevention. Here hoping. Sometimes good politics actually do make for great public health.
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