New lung cancer therapy
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- It's the number one cancer killer in America. We all know smoking causes it, but if you've never had a cigarette, a mutation in your genes could lead to lung cancer.
Now, doctors are attacking genes, shrinking tumors and giving patients hope.
"I had a dry cough that I could never get rid of," Michael McDill told Action News. "You have a life, you have a family and you don't expect that at all at that age."
Michael McDill was just 36-years-old when he got life-changing news.
"They said stage 4 lung cancer," Michael said.
The model airplane collector never smoked a day in his life, but, a specific genetic mutation called Anaplastic lymphoma kinase or ALK, caused a cancerous tumor to grow. The gene is found in forms of lung cancer affecting thousands of non-smokers. Doctors attacked it with 10 rounds of chemo and heavy radiation. The treatments didn't work, but a clinical trial gave Michael hope.
"We are testing 10 different genes with 38 different mutations," Leora Horn, M.D., MSc, FRCPC, an assistant professor of medicine and clinical director of the thoracic oncology program at Vanderbilt University, said.
Doctors pinpoint specific gene mutations and select a drug designed specifically for carriers of that mutation.
"The goal is to be able to find an agent that can block it and prevent the growth of that cancer," Dr. Horn said.
In Michael's case, Doctor Horn believes the answer is in the newly FDA approved drug Crizotinib.
"It's targeting the tumor and blocking signaling in the tumor and when you block the signaling in the tumor is like you're cutting off a wire," Dr. Horn explained.
In an early clinical trial, more than 57% of patients saw their tumors shrink after two months on the drug.
"In 60% of patients, they will have more than 30% of shrinkage of their tumor," Dr. Horn said.
She also says the therapy is still fairly new and larger trials are underway to test the drug's efficacy. As for Michael, after a year on the drug his scans show no traces of the disease. While the drug won't cure him, it's helping him control his cancer and maintain his quality of life and he's enjoying every minute of it.
"Live, laugh, love," Michael said.
Lung cancer is just the beginning. Doctors are now using the same approach to test genes in melanoma, breast cancer and colon cancer.
Like many targeted therapies, Crizotinib is not cheap. The drug, which has only been approved for use in the U.S., costs almost $10,000 dollars per month.
The most common side effects of the drug are nausea, diarrhea, and minor vision problems.
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