(BETHESDA, Md.) WUSA-- A new vaccine being tested in our area for women with a certain type of breast cancer. As we learn more about this malignancy, doctors have learned that breast cancer tumors can be very different in their genetic makeup. And that knowledge has given oncologists, and their patients, new weapons in fighting the disease.
Susan Kuhar of Johnstown, Pennsylvania is determined to do everything she can to beat breast cancer.
Kuhar says, "I was diagnosed at age 45, eight years ago."
And Kuhar found her tumor in the oddest way, while playing with her St. Bernard.
"I felt when she laid on my chest, it was a really odd feeling," she says. "And I thought, 'this isn't right,' and I went and had my mammogram and sure enough it showed that I had breast cancer."
Susan's cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, women with that stage have to be more vigilant and aggressive after initial treatment.
Ralph Boccia, MD of the Center for Cancer & Blood Disorders says once the tumor has traveled to the lymph nodes, roughly 50% of women will have it come back, relapse at some distant site within 5 years if they do nothing.
Fortunately, there's more for these women to 'do' than ever. Doctors now test breast cancer tumors to see if they express a protein called HER-2; if they do, patients are given the drug Herceptin to fight a recurrence. And in women whose cancer expresses very low to intermediate levels of the protein, there's now a vaccine called NeuVax in clinical trials.
Kuhar says, "You get injections, you have 6 injections, one a month for 6 months. Its basically training your body to recognize the breast cancer cells if they were to start to grow again and try to recognize them and destroy those cells.
She has not had a recurrence since the clinical trial.
The study of NeuVax is now in phase 3, the last step before approval, and they're looking for local women who want to give it a try.
Dr. Boccia says, "We are hoping to take breast cancer to a new milestone. We really want to cure more ladies with breast cancer than we can right now."
In the earlier phases of the study, the rate of breast cancer coming back was reduced by 78% in the women who got the vaccine, and they're hoping that success plays out in this larger trial. If you want more information, go to www.ccbdmd.com or call (301)571-0019 to reach the Center for Cancer & Blood Disorders.