'Remarkable' Treatment Arms T Cells Against Breast Cancer

Participant Adine Usher met last month with study leader Dr. Joseph Sparano at the Montefiore and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York

"With results of this groundbreaking study, we now can safely avoid chemotherapy in about 70 percent of patients who are diagnosed with the most common form of breast cancer", said co-author Kathy Albain, an oncologist at Loyola Medicine in a Chicago suburb. "We knew we were overtreating a lot of women with chemotherapy, in our gut. It helps direct patients to the right therapy, so that we're treating the right people with the right therapy at the right time".

They used her own immune cells against the disease, in a world first - never before has the treatment been used successfully in a woman with late stage breast cancer.

Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical and scientific officer for the American Cancer Society said that he was "delighted" by the study and anxious about unnecessary cancer treatment and the side effects that come from chemotherapy. It found that for patients in the middle, with scores between 11 and 25, there is a similar rate of cancer-free survival for those who had chemo combined with hormone therapy, and those who had hormone therapy alone, after nine years.

"Chemotherapy is no Shangri-La", Brawley said. No less daunting than the diagnosis itself was the prospect of chemotherapy and its associated side-effects - hair loss, nausea, etc.

This week, a trial showed that men given just months or weeks to live after being diagnosed with prostate cancer are surviving for more than a year thanks to a breakthrough in immunotherapy treatment.

Rosenberg says investigators have already tested the approach in liver and colorectal cancer, but the "big picture" is that it is not cancer type-specific.

Researchers say, the results allowed them to separate women who would benefit from chemotherapy due to a higher risk of recurrent breast cancer, and those who tested at a lower risk and do not need chemo for treatment. Those who score 26 or higher on the scale do benefit and now receive chemotherapy.

Patients with a recurrence score of up to 10 out of 100 have been shown not to benefit from chemotherapy and only hormone treatment is required.

Chemotherapy did provide some benefit to women in the study who scored between 16 and 25, and were younger than 50 and premenopausal.

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St Vincent's University Hospital in Dublin had the second highest number of participating patients from the 1,182 research units involved.

Cancer experts agree with her assessment. Newer care includes gene-targeting therapies, hormone blockers and immune system treatments. She remains free of cancer today, Rosenberg said - the first successful targeting of a deadly mutation called KRAS, which is implicated not only in some colon cancers but in pancreatic and lung cancers. It was achieved by using her own immune cells to wipe out the tumors.

As always, more research will clarify these findings, but for now, this new information will likely save thousands of women the pain and long-term health toll of chemo, while not at all affecting their chances of beating cancer.

"I don't ever think I'll ever have the feeling that I'm completely out of the woods, but this definitely is exciting and makes me feel good", Mall said.

Commenting on the results, Professor Bryan Hennessy, clinical lead, Cancer Trials Ireland, said: "This is a globally important breast cancer trial".

The study, led by the Albert Einstein Cancer Center in NY, is a rare cancer breakthrough as it can save money and instantly change practice.

Patients with these kind of tumors typically undergo surgery followed by treatment with drugs that target rapidly dividing cells (chemotherapy) and drugs that block the production or action of the hormone estrogen (endocrine therapy, such as the drug Tamoxifen).

Previously in clinical trials, checkpoint inhibitors have proved ineffective against most breast cancers.

"It's a fundamental change in the way we look after women with early breast cancer".

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