New immune system treatment offering hope in fight against cancer

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Dr. Sapna Parikh reports on a new cancer therapy that has already proved succesful in removing cervical cancer from 2 women (WABC)

There is new hope in the battle against cancer.

Doctors are successfully treating cervical cancer by boosting the body's immune system to fight the disease.

Two women managed to beat the odds thanks to this treatment.

This latest study is small, but exciting. One of the patients is a young mother who was told she had a year to live.

But today, she's one of two women who now have no signs of cancer after this new type of treatment.

It's called immunotherapy - using your immune cells to fight your cancer and for the first time, it's working against cervical cancer.

In a small study just presented at a national medical conference, doctors took tumor samples from nine women with advanced cervical cancer.

Then they extracted one type of immune cell: the T-cells.

They multiplied those T-cells in the lab and injected them back into the patients. In one woman, the tumor shrunk significantly. Two of the women are cancer-free.

"We can't call it a cure yet. We need time, but complete remission means complete disappearance of the tumor," said Dr. Michael Sadelain.

As the director of cell engineering at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Dr. Sadelain has been researching immunotherapy for nearly 20 years. He says the fact that cervical cancer is often caused by a virus may help the treatment work.

"In cervical cancer there's a virus involved called HPV and this virus provides very good targets for the T cells to target and recognize," he said.

Immunotherapy has shown promise for other types of cancer, including leukemia and melanoma. But there are still questions. Not everyone has T-cells that recognize the cancer, and in this small study the treatment did not work at all for two thirds of the women.

But when it does work, researchers say it may be a long-term solution.

It's too soon to call it a cure, but for the two women in this study, it's been about a year and a half since they had the treatment, and both are still cancer-free.

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