An Amazing Cancer Weapon

On the surface, Patty Ciccozzi looks like any busy mother of three pre-school children. What she is, though, is something of a medical miracle, reports CBS News Correspondent Jacqueline Adams.

"My girlfriend told me the other day that she thinks I'm invincible," Patty says. "And I just said, 'Yes. But I wish I didn't have to keep proving it.'"

Last August, doctors were forced to deliver her son, Jonathan, 3 months early because the breast cancer Patty had conquered twice came roaring back. Tests showed the cancer had spread to her liver and lungs. She grew so weak, her family gave orders not to resuscitate her.

Today, however, she seems to be cancer-free. "If it weren't for Herceptin, if it wasn't for this drug, I wouldn't be sitting here," she said, looking at an IV attached to her arm.

Patty is like almost a third of all breast cancer patients. Her cancer cells were genetically programmed to multiply wildly. In a last ditch effort to save her life, doctors combined chemotherapy with Herceptin, a relatively new, genetically engineered treatment.

The drug works by blocking gateways on the defective cancer cell's surface, thereby stopping their growth. It's something that excites leading researchers. "I've seen tumors shrink faster, frankly, than I've ever seen tumors shrink before and we have a very high percentage of patients who receive this benefit," says Dr. Larry Norton of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital.

Patty's doctor agrees. "I'm not sure she's cured because this is a short period of time -- just several months," says Dr. Peter Mencel. "But this kind of response is amazing."

Two years worth of previously reported data show that Herceptin has prolonged the life of patients who previously had no hope.

"I plan on having a lot more Mother's Days," Patty says. That's more than she could have expected before her treatment.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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