Dr. Michele Zembo is getting an experimental vaccine that she hopes will prevent her breast cancer from coming back. The orthopedic surgeon is getting the last of six shots.
"This is exciting because it is easy to do, low risk, less side effects," Dr. Zembo said.
Some women in the vaccine in the MD Anderson vaccine study got flu-like symptoms. Not Dr. Zembo.
"The biggest thing is I got redness and swelling at the injection site and itching, which I control by putting a bag of peas on it," she said.
The vaccine was given to women after they had received cancer treatment and were cancer free.
"The vaccine teaches the T-cells to recognize the tumor cells and if one was ever to come back the thought is that the immune system would destroy it before it could actually set up shop and become an area of metastasis," said MD Anderson Dr. Elizabeth Mittendorf.
In the study, the six vaccination shots reduced the risk of breast cancer recurrence by 43 percent.
MD Anderson researchers followed the study patients who've remained cancer free for almost two years.
"To prevent recurrence, which I think actually for a patient who have had breast cancer, that means a lot," Dr. Mittendorf said.
The potential for the vaccine is staggering: they estimate it might protect three out of four women who have had breast cancer.
"Potentially helped three-quarters of the women with breast cancer," Dr. Mittendorf said.
Dr. Mittendorf says if this is successful, there's a potential for making a similar vaccine that could someday immunize women at high risk for breast cancer and prevent it in the first place.
Dr. Mittendorf's team has developed another vaccine to prevent breast cancer recurring. She says some women may benefit from receiving both vaccines.