It’s a vaccine that has been shown to cut the risk of breast cancer recurrence by nearly half.
Anne Allen of Topeka, Kansas was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010.
A second opinion at MD Anderson confirmed it was worse than she thought.
“It turned out to be stage three that involved my lymph nodes,” Allen said.
Allen was vigilant about getting yearly mammograms but with dense breasts, the two lumps were overlooked.
“Calcifications are white. Dense breast tissue is white, so it’s like looking for a rabbit in a snowstorm,” she said.
After a total mastectomy and removal of her lymph nodes, Anne enrolled in a clinical trial at MD Anderson for a breast cancer vaccine.
“Hopefully if this doesn’t help me, it gives more information so that down the road a vaccine would be tremendous for other cancer patients,” she said.
The AE 37 vaccine is derived from the HER2 protein found in one of the most aggressive breast cancers.
Patients are inoculated once a month for six months, with a booster every six months for three years; when the chance of recurrence is highest.
Surgical Oncologist Dr. Elizabeth Mittendorf said, “And it’ll teach the T-cells to recognize that HER2 protein and so the thought would be that if the T-cells were educated in this way, if the tumor cell were to come back, the immune system could identify it, attack it and destroy it.”
Dr. Mittendorf said the results were extraordinary with a recurrence rate of 10 percent compared to 18 percent in the control group.
“We’re not replacing chemotherapy, surgery or radiation, but this is something that women can do to be proactive with minimal toxicity and hopefully will help them to prevent disease,” Dr. Mittendorf said.
The vaccine isn’t limited to HER2-positive patients but rather any degree of HER2 expression, potentially helping 70 percent of breast cancer patients.