Cervical cancer patient Vicky Phelan has said the drug treatment she has been undergoing appears to be working and her tumours have shrunk significantly.
Ms Phelan settled a High Court action against a US lab in April after her cancer was missed in a smear test three years before she was diagnosed with the disease. The test was taken as part of the CervicalCheck programme.
The missed smear test was discovered in 2014, after her cancer diagnosis, but she was not told about it until 2017.
A follow-up HSE investigation found that 209 women who were diagnosed with cervical cancer were not told about subsequent audits showing past smear tests through CervicalCheck had missed their cancers.
Following a CT scan earlier this week, Ms Phelan received a call from her oncologist David Fennelly to say her tumour has had significant shrinkage since she started the drug Pembrolizumab in April.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1’s Ray D’Arcy Show on Thursday, Ms Phelan recalled: “I said: ‘If this is bad news, I really don’t want to know.’ He nearly cut across me, he said: ‘Absolutely not, Vicky.’ He was bursting to tell me, to be honest. He said: ‘This is just absolutely fantastic news and you’re just absolutely not going to believe it.’ He said there is significant shrinkage in your tumours.”
Ms Phelan has had three doses of the drug since April. “My stomach has gone down, I’m not in pain anymore.” she said.
She said that, unlike chemotherapy, this drug does not flood the system with toxins. Instead, it helps the person’s own immune system to identify the cancer in the tumours and attack the disease itself.
Ms Phelan, who was told she is terminally ill, said she was realistic about her situation and does not see the drug as a cure for her cancer. However, she said she believes it may allow her to manage the disease long-term.
She said only about 100 people in the country are on the drug at the moment and all are on clinical trials.
“It took nine weeks of blood, sweat and tears fighting for it. I just wasn’t going to take no for an answer,” she said.
“When you’re put in a situation like mine, when you’re given a terminal diagnosis and nobody gives you any hope, you know, you’ll do whatever you have to do to get the drug if you think it’s going to work,” she said.