It is the number one cancer killer in America.
We all know smoking causes it, but if you have never had a cigarette, a mutation in your genes could still lead to lung cancer.
Now, doctors are shrinking tumors and giving patients hope by attacking their genes.
Michael McDill, a lung cancer patient says, "I had a dry cough that I could never get rid of. You have a life, you have a family, and you don't expect that at all at that age."
McDill was just 36 years old when he got life-changing news.
"They said stage 4 lung cancer
The model airplane collector never smoked a day in his life, but a specific genetic mutation called 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 ten rounds of chemo and heavy radiation. The treatments did not work. But, a clinical trial gave Michael hope.
Doctors pinpoint specific gene mutations and select a drug designed specifically for carriers of that mutation.
Dr. Leora Horn says, "The goal is to be able to find an agent that can block it and prevent the growth of that cancer."
In Michael's case, Dr. 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, it's like you're cutting off a wire."
In an early clinical trial, more than 57% of patients saw their tumors shrink after two months on the drug.
"They will have more than 30% of shrinkage of their tumor."
In one patient's case, after six weeks on the drug, the stage four lung cancer can hardly be detected.
Dr. Horn 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 is helping him control his cancer and maintain his quality of life, and he's enjoying every minute of it.
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 US, costs almost $10,000 per month.
The most common side effects of the drug are nausea, diarrhea, and minor vision problems.
BACKGROUND: Lung cancer is the deadliest type of cancer for both men and women. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined. In the US, approximately 220,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer each year. Lung cancer deaths result in 27% of all cancer deaths in U.S. (Source: www.nationallungcancerpartnership.org)
CAUSES: Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, the more cigarettes a person smokes per day the greater the risk of lung cancer. Inhaling second hand smoke is also responsible for causing lung cancer, resulting in approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S each year. (Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
SURPRISING FACTS: Even though it's less common, some people who don't smoke get lung cancer too. Every year, 16,000 to 24,000 Americans die of lung cancer even though they have never smoked. If lung cancer in "never smokers" (defined by researchers as people who have smoked fewer than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime) had its own category separate from lung cancer in smokers, it would rank among the top 10 fatal cancers in the United States. ( Source: American Cancer Society)
IT'S IN YOUR GENES TOO! The EML4-ALK fusion gene is responsible for approximately 3-5% of non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The vast majority of cases are adenocarcinomas. On average, ALK lung cancers are found in people who are approximately 10-15 years younger than other lung cancer patients, and who are also significantly more likely to be non-smokers and somewhat more likely to be light former smokers.
NEW THERAPY: Traditional treatments for lung cancer can involve surgical removal of the cancer, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. The newly FDA approved drug Crizotinib is curing cancer and changing lives. Crizotinib is approved for the treatment of patients with locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer. Approximately 85% of lung cancers are non-small cell lung cancer so researchers are hopeful that Crizontinib may be the miracle pill for many patients. In a clinical trial with Crizotinib almost 60% of patients saw their tumors shrink after only two months while using the drug. Other studies show that Crozotinib may also be able to cure other forms of cancer as well. (Source: www.cancer.gov)
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