Star Wars pilot flies to Israel for pioneering cancer treatment

By Jessica Elgot, January 19, 2012
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Lynne Hazelden as she appeared in Star Wars

Lynne Hazelden as she appeared in Star Wars

A British actress, who played a fighter pilot in Star Wars, is undergoing pioneering cancer treatments in Israel this week, to treat aggressive breast cancer.

Lynne Hazelden, 52, from Brighton, who played Rebel Alliance pilot Karie Neth in Return of the Jedi, is being treated at the International Centre for Cell Therapy and Cancer Immunotherapy (CTCI) in Tel Aviv.

"I was 21 when I was in the film; I only found out recently I'm on a collector's card," she said.

Ms Hazelden, who has appeared in The Bill and Holby City, is now trying to raise £100,000 to pay for her cancer treatment in Israel. The technology is known as Dendritic Cell Vaccines, pioneered by Professor Shlomo Slavin, and is part of a long series of trials by doctors over the past decade to boost artificially the immune system to target cancer, via vaccinations.

Lynna Hazelden as she is today

Lynna Hazelden as she is today

"I want people to know about this treatment," Ms Hazelden said. "Israel is one of the best places in the world to be treated for cancer. I never knew that before."

Many new cancer vaccinations are being developed in Israel. A Israeli biotech company, Vaxil, is also undertaking clinical trials for therapeutic vaccines which could be applied to more than 90 per cent of cancers to prevent them recurring. But chemotherapy and surgery are still important treatments to remove tumours.

Ms Hazelden, who is not Jewish, said she had been reluctant to undergo conventional chemotherapy, after an extremely rare, misdiagnosed allergic reaction to mercury and amalgam in tooth fillings in 1995 left her bedridden for almost three years, unable to find effective treatment

"I lost my life, I could not work. I had sores all over my body and was losing my short-term memory. I had to have surgery on my bladder and tear ducts."

In July 2010, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and had a mastectomy, rather than risk being bedridden again by chemotherapy.

A year later, a second mass in the same area had to be removed. "I was told chemotherapy was now the best chance of survival. I was really frightened, I am not afraid of dying but I am afraid of living and being bedridden again."

She researched alternative chemotherapy and cancer vaccines online, and then a friend mentioned the Israeli clinic. As well as the Dendritic Cell Vaccines, Ms Hazelden is also having an advanced kind of chemotherapy, which specifically targets cancer cells with drugs, leaving healthy cells intact. This treatment is called "smartbombing."

Ms Hazelden said that her treatment so far had been "amazing. I have had practically no side effects."

She needs £100,000 for the treatment but had only raised £7,000 before flying out to Tel Aviv last week. Star Wars fans sent her fan mail during her illness and friends have donated items for her to sell to raise money.

Most CTCI patients in Tel Aviv come from abroad. Ms Hazelden said: "I have seen a lot of Brits at the centre when I go there. Even many Israelis don't know what treatment is available in their own country. I spoke to one woman who was amazed to hear about it; she wanted to look into it for her relative."

    Last updated: 12:34pm, January 19 2012