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Stem cell treatment increases breast cancer survival

Every year, 600 women die of breast cancer in New Zealand, and 11% of all women are expected to be diagnosed during their lifetime. However a study undertaken by doctors at the Stanford School of Medicine is hoping to one day make this a thing of the past.

The study found that women with advanced breast cancer have a greater chance of survival when treated with a combination of aggressive chemotherapy and their own adult stem cells.

The study looked at long-term survival rates for women with advanced, stage-4 breast cancer, who were treated 12-14 years ago with high-dose chemotherapy followed by a reinfusion of their own, specially purified adult stem cells. Their results were compared to those of women who received chemotherapy and their own unpurified stem cells. (The purification of cells prevents any ‘rogue’ cancer cells surviving the transfusion and possibly causing a relapse at a later date.)

While the numbers of patients involved in the study is relatively small, the results are striking. Of the 22 women who received the purified stem cells, 5 (or 23%) are still alive, with 4 showing no sign of disease. They also had a median survival of 60 months.

Of the 74 women who received the unpurified cells, only 7 (or 9%) are still alive, with 5 having no sign of disease. They experienced a median overall survival of 28 months.

Families who bank their baby’s cord blood today, do so in the knowledge that their child has their perfect match available should they need treatment in the future. For the past 30 years cord blood stem cells have been used to rebuild children’s immune systems after cancer treatment – as an alternative to invasive bone marrow transplants.

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