Stopping copper to stop cancer

Too many women and those who love them know all too well that aggressive breast cancer can be very hard to beat. Even if women do overcome it, there's a good chance it could come back.

Now, doctors believe depleting the body of a well-known metal could be the key to keeping it away.

These days Martha Bruehl always takes time to stop and smell the roses. She was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer nine years ago.

"I was not as scared until I found out it was in my liver," said Martha Bruehl a breast cancer patient.

She's had chemo, radiation, and surgery but Martha's cancer has come back twice.

Now, she's taking part in a study investigating if depleting the body of copper will keep aggressive breast cancer at bay. Researchers studied 40 women with tumors that were likely to recur. When given the copper-depleting drug, known as TM, patients had a reduction in cells that promote tumor growth.

"For the vast majority of them, their tumor did not come back,” explains Dr. Linda Vahdat the director of the Breast Cancer Research Program at Weill Cornell Medical College. “Even in those that we would really 100-percent expect their tumors to come back."

In fact, two patients with stage four triple-negative breast cancer are disease-free at four and five years. Most triple-negative patients with advanced cancer die within 10 months and 85-percent of patients with stage three or four breast cancers were disease-free at 10 months.

Martha is one of them. Her cancer is still in remission and she's hoping it will stay that way.

Doctors do not know exactly why copper levels go up in cancer patients. They tell us you really cannot control or deplete copper levels by monitoring your diet.

Patients in the study start by taking nine of the anti-copper pills a day. The only side effects are the risk of low white blood counts and sulfur burps.


TOPIC: Stopping copper to stop cancer
REPORT: MB #3605

BACKGROUND: Breast cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed in women, and while treatment of the cancer has drastically improved over the years, it is not uncommon for the cancer to recur. Recurrent breast cancer is breast cancer that comes back after initial treatment. This recurrence could be because the original treatment did not completely destroy or remove all of the cancer cells, or the breast cancer is so aggressive that it survived chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or radiation. Breast cancer can take months or even years after treatment to return. (Source:

TYPES: Recurrent breast cancer can take three different forms:

Local recurrence is when the cancer comes back in the same area as the initial tumor, which is often the breast, chest wall, or skin in the chest area of women who underwent a double mastectomy. Signs of local recurrence are a lump or thickening in the breast area, redness or inflammation of the skin, or any strange nipple changes.

Regional recurrence refers to breast cancer that comes back in the lymph nodes in the armpit or collarbone area. Swollen lymph nodes, pain in the arm or shoulder, or a loss of feeling in the arm or hand can all indicate a potential regional recurrence.

Distant recurrence can be the most severe form of recurrent breast cancer. A distant recurrence is when the breast cancer has spread and comes back in a different part of the body. The most common areas the cancer spreads to are the liver, bones, and lungs. (Source:

TREATMENT: Treatment for recurrent breast cancer depends on how aggressive the cancer is as well as where it reappeared. Sometimes surgery or targeted radiation is enough to rid the person of the cancer cells, but other times chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapies are needed. If the cancer is too aggressive to be cured, patients may want to treat the symptoms so they are comfortable. (Source:

NEW TECHNOLOGY: For high-risk triple-negative breast cancer, researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College discovered that an anti-copper drug compound disables the ability of bone marrow cells from setting up a "home" in organs to receive and nurture migrating cancer tumor cells. The average survival for this type of breast cancer is historically nine months, but results from the phase II clinical trial shows if patients at high-risk of relapse with no current visible breast cancer are copper depleted, it results in a prolonged period of time with no cancer recurrence. Only two of the 11 study participants with a history of advanced triple-negative breast cancer relapsed within ten months after using the anti-copper drug, tetrathiomolybdate. Four of the study participants with a history of metastatic triple-negative breast cancer have had long-term benefit remaining disease free for between three and five and a half years. Also, study participants with other forms of high-risk for relapse breast cancer, either in stage three or four, without evidence of disease after treatment have also done well in the study. The progression-free survival rate among the 29 patients has been 85 percent. (Source:


Lauren Woods
Senior Media Associate
Weill Cornell Medical College
(646) 317-7401

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