Experts have developed an experimental vaccine which shows promising result in preventing breast cancer in mice.
The US-developed vaccine works on the theory of sensitising the body to a protein found in most breast tumours, priming the immune system to kill off any problematic cells before a cancer could develop.
Dr Helen Zorbas, chief executive of the Sydney-based National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre, said this was a new approach to tackling the most common cancer in women.
'This is a really impressive experiment looking at producing an immune response to a protein that is produced in breast cancers, but at this point in time it has only been tested on mice,' Dr Zorbas told AAP on Monday.
'The early results are extremely promising ... the next step will be to trial it with a small group of women with advanced breast cancer and they are anticipating that next year.
'We will be looking anxiously to see the results of that trial.'
The vaccine targets the protein alpha-lactalbumin which is present in most breast cancer tumours and, in a healthy breast, should only be present during periods of lactation.
Dr Zorbas said this carried one apparent drawback - as a vaccinated woman would also trigger an immune response by breast feeding.
This could be avoided by administering the jab only after a woman's child-bearing years which was also the period when most cases of the cancer occurred.
'The researchers have identified that it wouldn't interfere with child-bearing but purely breast feeding, but this is still far too much in the future for us to be contemplating the target age group,' Dr Zorbas said.
'We're looking at least five to ten years before we're able to extend results from trials into larger studies to identify that this is safe and effective in large numbers of women.'
Dr Zorbas said 13,000 Australian women would be diagnosed with the cancer this year and the 'impact of a vaccine that could prevent this would be really huge'.
She said the anti-cancer jab could also prove to be an effective treatment for women with existing cancers though, though medical science had many cases of 'very impressive results in the laboratory which haven't been able to make the leap to be effective in humans'.
The research was funded by the US government and was led by immunologist Dr Vincent Tuohy, of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
His research team tested the vaccine on mice that were genetically prone to developing breast cancer.
Those mice which did not have the vaccine all developed a cancer by ten months of age while those that were immunised all remained cancer free.
The research is being published in the June 10 issue of Nature Medicine magazine.