Joan Lunden's war on cancer features treatments available in Houston

By Haley Hernandez - Health Reporter

HOUSTON - Dr. Matthew Ellis from Baylor College of Medicine devotes his career to finding a cure for triple negative breast cancer, like the kind Joan Lunden battled.

"The specific project that we're focusing on is tracking minute quantities of cells that may reside in a patient's body that will be the seeds of the patient's relapse. If we can identify the cells, then we can treat them very early on with new approaches, perhaps immunological approaches to eradicate cells that will subsequently grow and cause a big problem for the patient," Ellis, director of Lester Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor College of Medicine, said.

Later this month he meets with Lunden to explain the work being done in Houston. Ellis is receiving a grant from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation in Lunden's name.

"I'm cancer-free and I'm happy to be out here doing my part as an advocate!" Lunden told KPRC.

Lunden is currently working with the NBC Today show searching the country for the latest and greatest treatments, trials and immunotherapy drugs available. She's sharing them with you this week on the program.

Tuesday morning, she's scheduled to feature a new surgery that she said condenses multiple mastectomy and reconstruction procedures into one operation.

"This new surgical technique that we're going to be highlighting tomorrow, does all of that! All of those surgeries in one surgery and we're going to follow a young woman who had just gotten engaged and then got this news," Lunden said.

Ellis said having someone with Lunden's notoriety bring attention to these stories helps get funding that's desperately needed to unlock the mystery that stands between researchers and curing this kind of cancer.

"There is already quite strong signals, at least in some patients, immune therapies might be an answer for at least some patients," Ellis said.

The problem is, immunotherapy which manipulates the body's immune system to fight off tumors, does not work in everyone or for every type of cancer.

Yet, there are still hundreds of clinical trials available in Houston, many which use immunotherapy.

Lunden said through her assignment she met a patient who started with a bad prognosis and survived because of this kind of treatment.

"The message here is, sometimes you really have to be persistent to the point of annoying if you think that you really are a candidate for a trial," she said.

Click link for details on Baylor College of Medicine studies.

Click link for more information on MD Anderson studies.

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