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Florida woman, 71, sees tumors in lung shrink 72% in six months

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A Florida woman who went to see her doctors to get an experimental cancer treatment that saw immune cells “gene edit” saw her lung tumors shrink to less than a third of their original size in six months.

Kathy Wilkes, 71, underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy and surgery after she was diagnosed with aggressive pancreatic cancer in 2018.

But despite the treatments, the disease had spread from the pancreas and into the lungs within a year of her diagnosis.

Desperate to beat the cancer, Wilkes began searching online for new treatments — and soon came across a case study in a prestigious online research journal about a treatment that had already made a 50-year-old woman with colon cancer “disease-free.”

She contacted the doctors behind the study at the Providence Cancer Institute in Portland, Oregon, and after tests showed her cancer had the same mutation — called KRAS G12D — she was offered the treatment.

Within a month, her tumors had halved, and in six months, they had fallen to 28 percent of their original size.

Wilkes isn’t cured yet, but the cancer hasn’t grown since she got the treatment. She said NBC News: “I knew that that was the ordeal that would save me, save my life. I just had that feeling.’

The story was revealed in a case report published in the New England Journal of Medicinethe same magazine in which the original case study she found was published.

Kathy Wilkes, 71, of Ormond Beach, Florida, underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy and surgery after she was found to have pancreatic cancer

But Wilkes (pictured with her husband) then came across an article in the New England Journal of Medicine about a treatment that could help with the cancer.

But Wilkes (pictured with her husband) then came across an article in the New England Journal of Medicine about a treatment that could help with the cancer.

What is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of the disease, and about 95 percent of people who get it die from it.

Joan Crawford, Patrick Swayze and Luciano Pavarotti all died of pancreatic cancer.

It is the sixth most common cause of cancer death in the UK – around 10,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK each year, in addition to around 55,000 in the US.

WHAT IS THE CAUSE?

It is caused by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the pancreas – a large gland in the digestive system.

WHO HAS THE HIGHEST RISK?

Most cases (90 percent) are in people over the age of 55.

About half of all new cases occur in people age 75 or older.

One in 10 cases is attributed to genetics.

Other possible causes include age, smoking and other health problems, including diabetes.

WHY IS IT SO Deadly?

There is no screening method for pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer usually shows no symptoms in the early stages, when it would be more manageable.

Sufferers tend to develop the tell-tale signs—jaundice and abdominal pain—around stage 3 or 4, when it has likely already spread to other organs.

WHAT ARE THE TREATMENT POSSIBILITIES?

The only effective treatment is to remove the pancreas.

This proves largely ineffective for those whose cancer has spread to other organs.

In those cases, palliative care is advised to relieve the pain at the end of their life.

About 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year, estimates the American Cancer Society

It is one of the deadliest cancers as symptoms are rarely triggered in the early stages, leaving patients undiagnosed until it reaches an advanced stage and spreads to other organs.

Only 11 percent of patients survive more than five years after their diagnosis, estimates suggest.

Patients are offered surgery to remove areas of cancer before the disease spreads, and chemotherapy.

But Wilkes said when her doctor suggested this treatment, it was “not my answer.”

After some searching on the internet she came across the New England Journal of Medicine study from 2016.

The paper told how a 50-year-old woman with colon cancer that had spread to her lungs became ‘disease-free’ after being treated with ‘gene-edited’ immune cells.

Believing this would help her, Wilkes emailed the study’s author, Dr. Eric Tran, who specializes in new ways to treat cancer.

After tests showed her cancer had the same mutation as the other patient’s — though they had different types — she was offered the treatment.

Cancers in different parts of the body often have the same mutations, which may be because specific changes are needed to cause the disease.

For the therapy, scientists first extracted some immune system T cells – which can destroy disease-ridden cells – from the patient.

They were then “genetically reprogrammed” in a lab to target cancer cells that have the specific KRAS G12D mutation.

Once this was completed, the cells multiplied billions of times before being injected back into the patient’s vein.

Wilkes had her IV in June 2021 and within a month her tumors had already started to shrink.

dr. Eric Rubin, the magazine’s editor-in-chief who was not involved in the study, said it was an “encouraging result.”

“For the first time, we have an approach that allows for the treatment of a wide variety of tumors, in addition to the small number of tumors that [immune therapy] can be used in,” he said during a briefing, reports NBC.

‘The specific mutation’ [in this case] is common in tumors that arise from epithelial cells, such as lung, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer.”

It’s not clear how well the treatment will work in other patients, but a Phase 1 clinical trial is now being started to investigate this.

Another pancreatic cancer patient who received the same treatment at the Providence Cancer Institute did not survive.

She contacted the doctors and was accepted into the study after it was found that her cancer had the same mutation as a previous patient being treated for colon cancer

She contacted the doctors and was accepted into the study after it was found that her cancer had the same mutation as a previous patient being treated for colon cancer

Her tumors have shrunk to less than a third of their original size in six months and have not grown since treatment

Her tumors have shrunk to less than a third of their original size in six months and have not grown since treatment

Scientists said it worked for Wilkes because of the KRAS mutation — which is only found in about four percent of patients with this type of cancer.

Wilkes had been diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the head of the pancreas, the most common form of the disease.

Research has been going on for years to use the immune system to fight cancer, rather than relying on drugs.

Currently, patients with blood cancers can receive a type of immunotherapy — called CAR-T — to address their disease.

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