Calmer weather in store this week

Oklahoma cancer center tests brain tumor vaccine

OKLAHOMA CITY - Doctors at Stephenson Cancer Center are excited about a new development in the fight against brain cancer.

Terminal brain tumors are the most deadly form of cancer and one of the most underfunded diseases.

Often, when surgeons remove a cancerous tumor, deadly cancer cells remain.

Doctors at Stephenson Cancer Center are now testing a brain tumor vaccine designed to help a patient's body get the cancer that's left.

Trina Ramirez was 64 years old when doctors first discovered her cancer. They gave her three months to live.

"They found this golf ball-sized thing," Ramirez said. "They said it's a big cyst with a tumor inside."

Ramirez had Grade IV glioblastoma multiform.

After surgeons removed a portion of her aggressive, terminal brain cancer, the tumor grew back.

"Even if we leave one cell behind, it can regrow," said Stephenson Cancer Center neuro-oncologist Dr. James Battiste.

Battiste is the state's only neuro-oncologist and an expert on a new generation of cancer-fighters known as immunotherapy.

"If there's a choice between living and dying, I'm going to try," Ramirez said. "I want to live. If the rats lived, I'll live. I'm a good lab rat."

Battiste scored Ramirez a spot on a phase one trial for a brain tumor vaccine to activate her immune system to kill cancer cells.

"If we hadn't done anything, her tumor would have grown back and she would have only had a few months to live," Battiste said.

Trina is 67 years old, and it's been three years since her diagnosis and, six months ago, she started on this kind of immunotherapy.

She hopes it'll keep working for the rest of her life.

"I'd be dead. I would have been dead two years ago," Ramirez said.

Stephenson Cancer Center is the only cancer center in Oklahoma approved for FDA phase one trials, and they are making great progress with brain cancers.

In 2005, the survival rate for this type of cancer was just 14 months.

Today, it's 24 months.