New breast cancer vaccine could halt recurrence of diagnosis


A year ago, 56-year-old Barbara Kilburn of Lancaster was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer.

Kilburn says she found the lump on her own and had both of her breasts removed because she's worried about recurrence. Barbara has HER2 positive breast cancer. So besides surgery, she's undergoing a specific treatment for her form of the disease.

About 25 percent of breast cancer cases are HER2 positive, meaning those women have an overactive amount of the HER2 protein. The protein feeds tumors, making the cancer more aggressive, more difficult to treat and more likely to come back.

"I think you always have it in the back of your mind no matter what," said Kilburn.

So researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center are testing a new vaccine that can give women like Kilburn more peace of mind. It's called AE37. It targets the HER2 Protein and has almost no side effects.

"And after a year it looks like there is a significant reduction in recurrences in the women who are getting the vaccine," said surgical oncologist Dr. Gregory Senofsky of St. John's Health Center.

Senofsky says one of the most exciting parts of the vaccine is it helps a large group of women, those with both high and low levels of HER2 protein. But he cautions that the study is still in its early stages.

"It needs to be watched longer and it needs to be watched on a larger scale, but the initial results are promising," he said.

But it's promising research that keeps Kilburn hopeful about the future.

"You can overcome it and you will," said Kilburn. "There's survivors out there that are 20 years out, it's not a death sentence anymore."

The AE37 vaccine study is ongoing. Researchers expect to finish it in later this year, and plans for a bigger study are underway. Women who've had breast cancer are at risk for recurrences many years after their first diagnosis.

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