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Using Your Immune System to Treat Breast Cancer

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Cancer related image Arina Zaiachin/PhotoSpin

New personalized vaccines that amp up your own immune system could be a shot in the arm in the battle against breast and ovarian cancer.

Since the late 1800s, doctors have suspected that the human immune system plays a critical role in stamping out certain cancers, but back then the immune system was poorly understood.

In the last few decades, as researchers have learned more about how the human immune system works, immunotherapy has become an vitally important tool in treating tumors.

Immunotherapy, sometimes called biologic therapy or biotherapy, uses certain parts of the immune system to fight diseases. For some cancers, doctors are using vaccines that stimulate a person’s own immune system into working harder and smarter to attack invading malignant cells.

While this type of treatment seems ultra-futuristic, or even a bit like science fiction, researchers believe immunotherapy has great potential to become an effective tool in fighting cancer and other diseases, like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria — where current intervention strategies are lacking.

Several ongoing studies are examining to see whether or not metastatic breast cancer (MBC) responds positively to immunotherapy treatment. Here are just a few that could offer exciting news.

One pilot study recently used a recombinant poxvirus vaccine — genetically engineered immune system proteins used to target and destroy cancer cells — which showed a positive response in MBC and ovarian cancer patients, with far less toxicity than conventional treatments.

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) treated 26 patients monthly with the PANVAC vaccine. All these patients were heavily pretreated, and 21 of them had received at least three prior chemotherapy regimens.

Among 12 MBC patients treated with the vaccine, the median time to progression was 2.5 months and median overall survival was 13.7 months, according to the study.

When the study concluded, four patients had stable disease, and one patient was cancer free.

Patients with stable or responding disease had fewer prior therapies and lower tumor marker levels than patients with no evidence of response.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.