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New cancer treatments may be on the horizon—thanks to mRNA vaccines

Malignant melanoma (pink) is one of the most feared human cancers. Its spread is rapid and it can invade almost any organ from its origin including, in this picture, the lung. In these images the colors are not the true pigmentation of the cells. Photo: Dr. Cecil H. Fox, Science Source

(Stacey Colino/ National Geographic) — Molly Cassidy was studying for the Arizona bar exam in February 2019 when she felt an excruciating pain in her ear. The pain eventually radiated down through her jaw, leading her to discover a bump under her tongue. “I had several doctors tell me it was stress-related because I was studying for the bar and I had a 10-month-old son,” recalls Cassidy, who also has a Ph.D. in education. After continuing to seek medical care, she found out that she had an aggressive form of head and neck cancer that required intensive treatment.

After doctors removed part of her tongue along with 35 lymph nodes, Cassidy went through 35 sessions of radiation concurrent with three cycles of chemotherapy. Ten days after she completed treatment, Cassidy noticed a marble-like lump on her collarbone. The cancer had returned—and with a vengeance: It had spread throughout her neck and to her lungs. “By that point, I was really out of options because the other treatments hadn’t worked,” says Cassidy, now 38, who lives in Tucson. “In the summer of 2019, I was told my cancer was very severe and to get my affairs in order. I even planned my funeral.” (…)

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