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Ovarian Cancer Vaccine Gives Patients Hope

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - Hope. That's what local doctors are giving to some women diagnosed with a deadly cancer. Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl is On Your Side with the life saving details.

Moments like these, with the family at the beach, are what 49-year-old Liz Thomasson cherishes most.

Especially since just a couple of years ago she was fighting for her life.

"I didn't think I'd be here today. I really truly didn't," said Liz. She was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer in October of 2007.
After surgery, chemotherapy and radiation the cancer came back.

"You're doing well for a few months, then you recur. It becomes somewhat chronic. In that it just it's never going to go away," said Liz.

It even came back a second time, and was treated again. Doctors say recurrent ovarian cancer is usually a death sentence.

But Liz wasn't about to give up. She came to Dr. George Coukos at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania to test a new ovarian cancer vaccine.

"We're seeing some very preliminary exciting results," said Dr. Coukos.

Doctors took Liz's blood cells and protein from her tumor and created a personalized vaccine, designed to prevent future cancer.

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"This is done several times so that we actually re-educate the immune system to recognize tumor. In addition we give drugs to help the immune system function better," said Dr. Coukos.

"It was relatively easy. The side effects just aren't there because it's all made from your own body, so you're not going to reject it," said Liz. She tested two different vaccines and got injections every few weeks for over a year and a half.

Doctors say her results have been amazing.

"She has had no recurrence," said Dr. Coukos.

"I've been in remission. So I'm grateful, I really am," said Liz.

Since her diagnosis, she was at her son's side at his wedding, and she enjoys watching her grandchildren grow up.

"I'm traveling a lot more. You start your bucket list so to speak and enjoy the little things too. The family, the marriages, the graduation, so it's all good," said Liz.

While Liz is doing well it's not clear yet if the vaccine will be as effective for everyone. The research is ongoing.

For more information on Penn's Ovarian Cancer Research Center, click here.

Reported by Stephanie Stahl, CBS3

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