There's new momentum, backed by federal money, to find cures for cancer and a lot of that research is taking place right here in the city. Health reporter Erin Billups has the details of a promising new approach against breast cancer.
Rachael Rothman was given months to live after her stage four metastatic breast cancer returned the second time.
Her doctor told her he'd done everything he could but the mother of two refused to accept the diagnosis.
"I didn't know what the answer was, how to cure this and so I had to tell everybody that I could find that I had it and talk to as many people as possible to find out what the best course of action was," Rothman recalls.
She heard about a clinical trial at Weill Cornell Medicine, and enrolled in it. She now takes a daily pill that removes excess copper from her body.
"This is very different from the typical way that we treat cancer, where it's really been a scorched earth policy, with chemotherapy and things like that," explains Dr. Linda Vahdat, Director of the Breast Cancer Research Program at NY Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medicine.
Specifically, tumors need a kind of scaffolding made of collagen to take hold in the body and grow. But building that scaffolding requires copper and Dr. Linda Vahdat and her team have discovered that if there's not enough copper the tumor can't spread.
"It's almost like a car that has no gas, all dressed up with no place to go. Which is ok, because if tumors can't metastasize and they're just sort of in a state of, I don't want to say, suspended animation, As far as we can tell as clinicians they're cured," Vahdat adds.
In Vahdat's phase two trial of 75 women taking the copper depletion drug, half have not had a recurrence of cancer in seven years.
The results were even better for patients like Rothman with triple negative breast cancer, a form of the disease resistant to chemotherapy.
"Our expectation is that 60 percent of them would have their tumors come back. In our trial only 10 percent of patients have had their tumors come back. So we're very excited that we actually may be seeing a real phenomenon," says Vahdat.
Rothman has been cancer free for more than three years and is still on the medication.
For her it means more Halloweens, more karate and more hugs.
"I have been given the gift of time and some people don't get this opportunity and we really should be grateful for everyday," she says.
Vahdat hopes to get federal funding for a much larger clinical trial and is crowd funding in the meantime.
For more information, visit crowdfunding.cornell.edu/breakingthroughcancer.