The main treatment I will get at the clinic in Germany is called Dendritic Cell Therapy. This involves the use of a personalised vaccine to retrain the immune system to recognise cancer cells as a threat to the body.
More about Dendritic Cell Therapy?
Dendritic cells are found in all blood vessels. These cells identify foreign substances, such as cancer cells in the body, process them and then help jump start the immune response to destroy them by bringing them to the attention of the T cells. Often the dendritic cells are not very effective with this process.
With Dendritic Cell Therapy, the patient's own dendritic cells are treated and modified to be able to specifically train the T cells to attack and kill all cancer cells that have the same foreign substance on their surface.
Why do I need to act now?
I am not heavily pre-treated yet and responses to dendritic cell therapy are better if your cancer load is low and the tumours are micro (which is the intention of my current chemotherapy). For this reason I need to go as soon after my chemo as I can.
Will you be doing this instead of conventional treatments?
No! I will be doing these therapies in parallel with hormone therapy and after having had chemotherapy. They are not alternatives, they are treatments which work in parallel. This will give me the very best chance.
Why don’t I just stick with the treatments my oncologist can offer?
In the UK at present there is a ‘ladder’ of treatments for people with advanced breast cancer. For my type of cancer these are mainly chemotherapies or hormone therapies. In practice oncologists will work their way through these treatments until they start running out of options. Once I have a treatment I cannot have it again and while a treatment may work for a while the expectation is that it will, at some point, become resistant and I will have to change treatments (assuming I have options left). I can just sit and work my way through the standard treatments currently available to advanced breast cancer patients in the UK until I am eligible for a trial but but my cancer may be too advanced by then to make much difference. There are currently alternative treatments with very positive outcomes and I need to take advantage of them now.
Tell me a bit more about immunotherapy...
Every person is different, and so is every type of cancer. Indeed, even among patients with “the same” cancer, there is tremendous variation. Accordingly, there isn’t just one effective therapy for everyone. Also, in most cases the tumor comes back after surgical removal. There is a growing body of researchers working to develop a personalized immunotherapy, to prevent a recurrence of the tumor for as long as possible and to do so without toxic side effects for the patient. The idea: target the master cells of the immune system (Dendritic cells), and help such cells become mature and activated, so that they in turn can activate the overall immune system to precisely combat the tumor.
Some biotechnology companies are concentrating on the power of the human immune system. To strengthen this natural defense of the body, the companies are using immune cells obtained from the patient’s blood and (outside the body, in a lab facility) exposing these immune cells to biomarker fragments of the cancer cells, to “educate” the immune cells to recognize the tumor and attack it, similar to the way that immune cells are “educated” to recognize regular germs after an immunization. If you want to learn more about this approach you can find out more here.