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Breast cancer has been in the news for a while now. From famous personalities to the average Indian girl, the incidence of breast cancer cases has reportedly increased in the last few years. The discussion on breast cancer and events to raise funds for research have also been a common occurence recently.

Unfortunately, breast cancer has a high mortality rate, and not much can be done when detected lete. Yet, a woman with late stage breast cancer has survived the disease that almost killed her, giving us hope, that a real, stable cure may soon present itself.

A woman who previously suffered a very aggressive form of breast cancer, has been given a new lease of life, as she has now been cancer-free for two years after doctors tried an experimental kind of treatment to cure her cancer. The method they used is called immunotherapy. Prior to this method, her cancer had spread to other organs, including her liver.

Expert Laszlo Radvanyi from Canada’s Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, claimed that the woman responded surprisingly well to the treatment, especially because of the extent to which her cancer had advanced.

What happens with cancer is that the body’s immune system is unable to fight the cancer, as it cannot identify the cancerous cells which contain the person’s own DNA. Immunotherapy, used by the team on this woman, trains the immune system to identify such cells and fight cancer.

This was achieved by taking the lymphocytes from the woman’s tumour and reinjecting them after reactivating the ones that could react to cancerous cells. The cells were re-injected along with an ‘immune checkpoint inhibitor’ - which has shown success with various types of cancer. While immunotherapy of this kind has worked with cancers of the lung, cervix, blood cells, skin and bladder, it had never previously worked on breast cancer.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer. It relies on strengthening the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer. So in this case, the lymphocytes and cancerous cells were used to train the immune system - to find and fight cancer in the body.

The cure found in this study is a highly personalized cure for cancer, and is a big milestone in cancer research, that could instil hope for many women in India as well as around the world.

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