Breast cancer vaccine is 'game changer,' doctor says

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in American women, with more than 300,000 women expected to be diagnosed this year alone. Researchers are working on a vaccine that could one day lead to preventing the disease.

"Your general practitioner, who normally says everything is fine, goes pale," said Barbara Popoli as she described the moment she learned she had inflammatory breast cancer. She recently shared her story in front of lawmakers to push for more funding for research.

"Sixty to 80 percent chance I was going to die from this," Popoli said.

After chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, with her husband by her side, she enrolled in the breast cancer vaccine clinical trial. The vaccine is supposed to stop the cancer from ever coming back again.

"I think it's a potential game changer, because we've actually shown that people lose this specific immune response early in the process of breast cancer development," said Dr. Brian Czerniecki, the chair of the Department of Breast Oncology at the Moffitt Cancer.

Czerniecki has been working on this vaccine for more than a decade.

"It's meant to restore an immune response," Czerniecki said.

To make the vaccine, white blood cells are removed from the patient. Then, those T cells are activated to become immune responders that target cancer cells. The customized vaccine is injected back into the patient.

"It showed nice impact in that some people had their disease completely disappear before we operated on them," Czerniecki said.

The vaccine can be given six to nine times to mostly patients who have Her2 positive disease. Eighty percent of those in the trial had an immune response.

"It's revving up my T cells, so my own body can fight this from here on out and hopefully I never ever have to go through this again," Popoli said.

Possible side effects of the vaccine include fatigue, injection site reaction and chills. For now, the vaccine remains in clinical trials.
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