A massive injection of the measles virus received by a 50-year-old woman in the United States shrank her tumours and eventually made them disappear.
The trial at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota was carried out on Stacy Erholtz, who was declared free of the disease.
She was one of two patients to participate in the trial which did not prove successful with the other volunteer.
The next step will be a similar trial involving a larger group of patients, which is expected to take place in September.
Ms Erholtz of Pequot Lakes, Minnesota has for years suffered from myeloma, a blood cancer that affects bone marrow.
Two stem cell transplants and chemotherapy had proved unsuccessful and her body was riddled with cancer with one tumour growing on her forehead.
Previous trials had shown that a virus can kill cancer in mice, but this was the first time the technique had been used on a human being.
The Mayo experiment was described as a “proof of concept” that a single massive overdose of a virus can overcome a cancer’s natural defences.
In this case it entailed injecting Ms Erholtz with 100 billion units of the measles virus – enough to provide inoculations for 10 million people.
However the virus had to be “engineered” before using the therapy.
Within five minutes she was suffering a splitting headache and then as her temperature soared to 105 degrees she started shaking and vomiting.
But 36 hours later the tumour on her forehead began to shrink, in the weeks that followed it disappeared along with others in her body.
Stephen Russell, professor of molecular medicine, who carried out the experiment, described the successful trial as a landmark.
“We have a virus that can do that selectively to a tumor without at the same time causing damage to normal tissues in the body,” he said.
“We’ve known for a long time that we can give a virus intravenously and destroy metastatic cancer in mice. Nobody’s shown that you can do that in people before.”
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