Immunotherapy: Breast cancer breakthrough?

14th June 2018

Written by trainee solicitor, Chloe Westwell

It’s estimated over 160,000 people die of cancer each year in the UK and someone is diagnosed every two minutes. Cancer is happening right now and with new research, cancer survival rates have doubled over the past 40 years.

This week, Judy Perkins, a woman from Florida who was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer just over two years ago, hit the headlines. A groundbreaking new therapy has helped to eradicate Judy’s cancer completely. The therapy involved pumping 90 billion cancer-killing immune cells into her body.

Judy was originally given just three months to live after her diagnosis back in 2016; however two years later there is no longer sign of cancer in her body. Her breast cancer was advanced and spreading so couldn’t be treated with traditional therapy. The cancer had unfortunately spread in Judy’s body and she had tumours in her liver.

The technology used for Judy’s therapy is a ‘living drug’ which is made from the patient’s own cells. Immunotherapy, also known as adoptive cell transfer, uses the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer, helping the immune system to recognise and attack cancer cells. Dr Rosenburg, chief of surgery at the National Cancer Institute, led the clinical trial Judy was involved in and explained more about the treatment, “This research is experimental right now. But because this new approach to immunotherapy is dependent on mutations, not on cancer type, it is in a sense a blueprint we can use for the treatment of many types of cancer.”

Consistent progress is being made in cancer treatment research and with improving technology; the therapy Judy received could potentially be a huge breakthrough for cancer patients. Judy’s results provide hope that cancer could be defeated in the future and increases hope for patients and their families, although it is still early days.

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