Medics baffled as woman's killer cancer disappears

Lisa Smyth
Wednesday 22 April 2009 10:41 BST

A Northern Ireland woman who was diagnosed with terminal cancer before the tumour miraculously disappeared may have been saved by her own immune system.

Sharyn Mackay, from Newcastle, Co Down, was diagnosed with a cancerous tumour on her kidney which was so rare that doctors at Craigavon Area Hospital sent samples of it for examination by specialists in London, Glasgow and Harvard.

The mother-of-four was then dealt a further devastating blow by doctors — the cancer was inoperable and chemotherapy, even if it worked, would only add a few weeks to her life.

“They said it was spindle cell sarcoma which is normally a bone cancer,” she explained.

“I was one of only 10 known cases where it had become a kidney tumour. The surgeon kept a watch on my kidney but in April 2004 he told me the cancer had rattled through my kidneys and lungs and I was a terminal case.

“The hospital said treatment was an option, but not a cure, and that I had a year to live at best.”

The mother was left stunned, however, when further scans to see how the cancer was progressing showed that it had inexplicably disappeared.

“The doctors were astonished and said it could not have been due to anything they’d done,” she added.

“Four radiographers studied the scans and none of them could quite believe it. The tumours had gone and I was told to leave the hospital and live a full life. The cancer has never come back and I have never felt better.”

While Mrs Mackay attributed her recovery to the power of prayer, medical experts are now considering the possibility that her immune system played a vital role in destroying the tumour.

A study of Norwegian women concluded that spontaneous remission of breast cancer may have occurred in 20 per cent of cases.

Peter Johnson, the professor of medical oncology at the Cancer Research UK Centre in Southampton, told the Daily Mail: “The immune system’s role is tantalising because we know something is at work in spontaneous remission but we don’t know what makes the system do it.

“The question is, how do you turn the immune system from an occasional assistant into a more constant helper?

“Cancer Research is funding research into this area and pharmaceutical companies are working in this area too.”

Mrs Mackay’s amazing recovery first came to light in 2005 when she told the Belfast Telegraph how she prayed to God and pleaded to survive her illness.

She said: “The night before that scan I wrote in my journal: ‘Thank you God for healing me. I know I will get clear results tomorrow.’

“The following day my consultant at Craigavon smiled at me for the first time in ages. He explained that he had been dreading that day, as four world authorities had examined my scans and all confirmed the worst.

“But the most recent scan revealed the tumours and lesions were gone. He had called in radiographers and doctors to look over all the scans and no-one could explain it.”

This article is from The Belfast Telegraph

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