Researchers hope that a protein found in the intestines could lead to the discovery of a vaccine for colon cancer, Reuters reported Tuesday.

A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute detailed how mice were immunized with the protein and subsequently infected with colon tumors.

These mice had fewer tumors spread to the lung and liver than usual. Unvaccinated animals had an average of 30 new tumors in the lungs and liver, compared to the vaccinated mice that had three new tumors, researchers said.

The vaccinated mice also lived longer, the researchers wrote.

Colon cancer affects 1.2 million people in the world each year and kills 130,000.

Adam Snook and Dr. Scott Waldman of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia wanted to look at colon cancer because the intestinal lining — a mucosal area — is protected from much of the immune system activity.

Some proteins from these immune-protected sites are active on tumor cells, they said.

Snook and Waldman looked specifically at guanylyl C protein, or GCC protein, which is normally only active in the intestinal lining and in spreading colorectal cancer cells.

Cancers of the head and neck, lung, breast, vagina and bladder also begin in the mucosa, so this approach could also work for them, they said.

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Click here to read the study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.