Mum with 'incurable' breast cancer 'beats disease' after world-first therapy shrinks tumours in 2 weeks

Judy Perkins was "planning to die" after doctors warned her disease was "incurable" after seven types of chemo failed.

The 52-year-old had tumours the size of plums in her liver and was in so much pain she could barely move.

But she has now been free of cancer for two years after the "cutting edge" therapy destroyed her tumours in a world-first.

Her case gives millions of women with "incurable" breast cancer across the world, fresh hope of a potential new tumour-busting treatment.

Experts have described the breakthrough as "fascinating and exciting", adding it could be available within five years.

It means Judy, an engineer from Florida, in the US, can now complete 40-mile hikes and lengthy trips on a kayak.

The treatment involves extracting immune cells from the blood, identifying the best “warriors” and growing more in a lab.

An army of 82billion cells are then injected back into the body, so they can hunt down and attack the tumours wherever they are.

Scientists led by the National Cancer Institute in the US first genetically tested a tumour removed from Judy’s chest.

This allowed them to identify the T-cells that were most capable of defeating the disease if deployed in sufficient numbers.

Her tumours were notably smaller just two weeks after receiving the jab and had completely disappeared within a year.

Judy, who had the treatment in December 2015, said: “I went from being on morphine and a lot of painkillers to stopping taking them all in one go.

Within two weeks I could feel the tumours in my chest wall shrinking and I started to feel better

“It feels miraculous and I am beyond amazed that I have now been free of cancer for two years.

"Experts may call it extended remission but I call it a cure.”

Judy had a mastectomy after first being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003 but the disease returned a decade later.

She went through seven types of chemotherapy and another experimental drug trial before running out of options.

In December 2015, she found out the cancer had spread to her liver, as well as lymph nodes in her chest wall and abdomen.

Once breast cancer has spread, it becomes incurable, with chemotherapy and even immunotherapy drugs ineffective.

Judy said: “I was very sceptical about whether this treatment would work because I knew the odds were not really great.

I had resigned from my job and was planning on dying. I had a bucket list of things I needed to do before the end…Now I have gone back to normal everyday life

“But within two weeks I could feel the tumours in my chest wall shrinking and I started to feel better.

“The doctors were beaming at the results – they were practically tap dancing with happiness.

“I had resigned from my job and was planning on dying. I had a bucket list of things I needed to do before the end, like going to the Grand Canyon.

“Now I have gone back to normal everyday life.”

The mum of two sons, aged 18 and 20, said: “When you have metastatic cancer, you can be treated but not cured.

“Each treatment worked for less time than the treatment before, and it was exhausting.

“I couldn't do anything which I had enjoyed before and I didn't want it to continue. I wanted to get dying over with.

“My condition deteriorated a lot towards the end and I had a tumour pressing on a nerve.

“It meant I spent my time trying not to move at all to avoid pain shooting down my arm. I had given up fighting.

“But after the treatment dissolved most of my tumours, I was able to go for a 40-mile hike.”

Judy added: "I was hoping to see my sons graduate from high school and I thought about missing out on their weddings and grandchildren."

Dr Steven Rosenberg, who was involved in the treatment, said: “This patient came to us in a desperate situation, with every treatment having failed.

“The breakthrough here is in finding an approach able to identify the T-cells which target genetic mutations and in being able to grow them to this number.

“But the important point is that this is using a patient's own cells to attack their own cancer.”

Professor Alan Melcher, from the Institute of Cancer Research in London said the breakthrough is a major "proof-of-principle".

He added: "It shows how the power of the immune system can be harnessed to attack even the most difficult-to-treat cancers.


THE treatment Judy Perkins recieved is called adoptive cell transfer.

It's previously been used to tackle bowel, cervical and liver cancer and is expected to become more widely available in the next five years.

This was the first time scientists have tested it on breast cancer.

The procedure involved experts at the National Cancer Institute in the US extracting immune cells from Judy's tumour.

They then identified the best "warriors" and grew more in a lab.

An army of 82billion were then injected back into Judy's bloodstream, to hunt down the tumours.

Within two weeks the T-cells had helped to fight the disease, and her tumours were significantly smaller.

Within a year they had disappeared.

"This treatment represents a remarkable success in terms of translating our basic biological understanding of how the immune system responds to cancer, into a real treatment."

Dr Stephanie Goff, who also worked on the procedure, said: “For many years it was thought that widespread breast cancer could not be attacked by the immune system, but this opens the door to harnessing the body's own defences.

“This is the cutting edge of medicine. Judy could barely move she was in so much pain and now she’s kayaking.”

The treatment, named adoptive cell transfer, was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.

It has previously been used to treat bowel, cervical and liver cancer and is expected to become more widely available within five years.

ASCO expert Dr Michael Sabel said: “These results are very inspiring and very promising. This represents a paradigm shift.

“The fact this is breast cancer is very exciting for breast cancer patients but it actually goes beyond that now.

“This lays out a pathway and you could apply this to many different types of tumour.”

Dr Simon Vincent, from UK charity Breast Cancer Now, said: “This is a remarkable and extremely promising result but we need to see this effect repeated in other patients.

“We are thrilled by this early finding but we must remember that this type of immunotherapy remains an experimental approach.
“There is a long way to go before it might be routinely available to patients.”

The findings were also published in the journal Nature Medicine.


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