World’s first ‘anti-cancer jab’ given to woman, 49, who feared she’d never meet her grandkids

A CANCER-STRICKEN who feared she’d never get to meet her grandkids became the first person in the world to get an “anti-cancer injection”.

Claire McHugh, 49, from Newcastle, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2021 after feeling short of breath and noticing swelling in her neck.

Claire McHugh, 49, with her two grandchildren - she became the first person in the world to receive an "anti-cancer vaccine"


Claire McHugh, 49, with her two grandchildren – she became the first person in the world to receive an “anti-cancer vaccine”Credit: NHS
Prof Alastair Greystoke oversaw her care at Newcastle's Freeman Hospital


Prof Alastair Greystoke oversaw her care at Newcastle’s Freeman HospitalCredit: NHS

“I couldn’t believe it when I was told I had lung cancer,” she recalled.

“At the time, my daughter was expecting her first baby and all I could think of was that I wouldn’t be around for my grandchild.”

Claire underwent chemotherapy at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital and has been undergoing immunotherapy ever since.

She was offered an anti-cancer injection as an alternative, as she found the immunotherapy process uncomfortable.

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Administering the drug as a vaccine “considerably reduces the amount of time it takes administer treatment”, according to Freeman Hospital.

Claire’s symptoms

Claire first began feeling unwell in 2021, noticing that she was feeling tired and losing weight.

She put her symptoms down to coming off a medication she was taking at the time, but she also began to feel short of breath and noticed she couldn’t lie down flat in bed.

Claire decided to book a GP appointment when her daughter pointed out that her neck looked swollen.

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An x-ray identified that the mum’s lungs were full of fluid, so much so that her windpipe had moved to the left.

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She was referred to Freeman Hospital’s Northern Centre for Cancer Care, under the care of oncologist Professor Alastair Greystoke.

He confirmed that Claire had small cell lung cancer (SCLC), which accounts for one in seven lung cancers and usually spreads quicker than non-small cell lung cancer.

Shocked at her diagnosis, Claire said: “Although I wasn’t feeling great, I didn’t have a cough which is the main symptom I associate with lung cancer.”

World’s first vaccine

Anxious to be around to see her daughter’s baby, Claire underwent immunotherapy alongside chemotherapy in March 2021 for three months.

Since then, she’s been having immunotherapy – which works by helping the immune system to find and attack cancer cells – every four weeks.

The treatment is usually given through a cannula – a thin tube put into veins in the arm or hand – which takes around 30 minutes to insert.

If the vein is hard to find, the process can take up to an hour.

Finding the experience uncomfortable, Claire was happy to try being given immunotherapy via vaccine a go.

Claire is being treated with the immunotherapy drug atezolizumab, which now takes just seven minutes to administer by jab.

“The injection is much quicker and less uncomfortable than being cannulated, so I’m pleased to be receiving my treatment this way,” she said.

“I’m feeling well in myself and taking each day as it comes.

“My daughter has since had another baby and I absolutely love spending time with my grandkids.”

Prof Greystoke, who is also a lecturer in medical oncology at Newcastle University, added: “It can be quite a difficult experience for some patients to be cannulated, so it’s great news that Atezolizumab can now be offered by injection.


“SCLC often goes undiagnosed until it’s more advanced. Symptoms include a cough for three weeks or more, feeling breathless for no reason, chest or shoulder pain that doesn’t get better, and coughing up blood.

“As with most cancers, early detection increases the chances of survival, so it’s important to see your GP if you’re concerned about your symptoms.”

Eight early symptoms of lung cancer

LUNG cancer doesn’t always cause symptoms in its early stages.

Many of the signs and symptoms can also be caused by other medical conditions, but finding lung cancer early can mean that it’s easier to treat. 

The most common symptoms of lung cancer are:

  • Having a new cough or a cough most of the time
  • Getting out of breath doing the things you used to do without a problem
  • Coughing up phlegm with blood in it
  • Having an ache or pain in the chest or shoulder
  • Chest infections that keep coming back or a chest infection that doesn’t get better
  • Losing your appetite
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Losing weight

Source: Cancer Research UK

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