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Cancer vaccine shows promise

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NEW YORK CITY — A new breast cancer vaccine has been shown to cut the risk of recurrence by nearly half.

The clinical trial involving about 200 breast cancer patients started back in 2007.

Anne Allen of Topeka, Kansas was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010.

A second opinion at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center confirmed it was worse than she thought.

"It turned out to be stage three that involved my lymph nodes," Allen said.

With no known history of breast cancer, Allen was vigilant about getting yearly mammograms.

With dense breasts, the two lumps were overlooked.

Hopefully, if this doesn't help me, it gives more information so that down the road, a vaccine would be tremendous for other cancer patients.

–- Anne Allen, cancer patient

"Calcifications are white. Dense breast tissue is white. It's like looking for a rabbit in a snowstorm sometimes," Allen explained.

After a total mastectomy, removal of her lymph nodes, 16 rounds of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation, Allen enrolled in a clinical trial at MD Anderson for a breast cancer vaccine.

"Hopefully, if this doesn't help me, it gives more information so that down the road, a vaccine would be tremendous for other cancer patients," she said.

Patients are inoculated under the skin once a month for six months. Then they receive a booster shot every six months for three years.

That time period is when the chance of recurrence is the highest.

Dr. Elizabeth Mittendorf, surgical oncologist at MD Anderson and the trial's national principal investigator, explained, "It'll teach the T cells to recognize that HER2 protein. So the thought would be that if the T cells were educated in this way, if the tumor cell were to come back, the immune system could identify it, attack it and destroy it before the patient would have, as we see, a measurable recurrence."

Mittendorf said the results of the study were extraordinary with a recurrence rate of 10 percent compared to 18 percent in the control group. That works out to be a 43 percent reduction in the risk of recurrence.

The next phase of the trial would include even more patients.

The results of the study will be presented in June at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Trial enrollment is expected to end this fall.

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Rachel McNeill, NBC News


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