Lung cancer: Killing tumors without chemo

Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in both men and women in the United States.

In fact, more people die from lung cancer than colon, breast and prostate cancers combine. The common course of action is surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

But now, a new drug is helping people with lung cancer live longer without the harmful side effects of chemo.

“I'm active, a non-smoker, healthy,” said lung cancer patient Justin Perry.

Despite all that, doctors diagnosed Perry with late stage lung cancer.

He thought he would be facing chemotherapy. But when doctors tested his lung cancer tissue, they realized that he was among three percent of patients with an abnormal alk gene.

"A genetic alteration happens because a piece of chromosome has switched over on to its side," said Dr. Pasi Janne, director of the Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology.

That alteration made Perry a candidate for a targeted drug therapy trial. Instead of chemotherapy at the hospital, Perry took the more targeted therapy – alk inhibitor pills at home.

"It doesn't make you lose your hair; it doesn't make you lose weight," said Janne.

Studies show that people with alk mutation may have response rate of over 50 percent compared to 10 percent with chemo. Perry says taking four to five pills a day outweighs daily or weekly chemo treatments.

"The first week I was already noticing a difference," said Perry.

In just two months, the alk inhibitor has shrunk most of the tumors in Perry’s lungs. This has allowed him to breathe easier knowing neither cancer nor chemo will get the best of him.

Doctors say they are continuously working on new and improved targeted therapies, called inhibitors, because eventually in most patients the cancer could figure out a way around the alk inhibitors and come back.


REPORT: MB # 3686

BACKGROUND: Lung cancer is explained as the growth of abnormal cells in one or both lungs. As the cells flourish, they have the ability to form tumors and cause issues in the lung(s). As the prominent cause of cancer deaths, it takes more lives than prostate, colon, ovarian, and breast cancer combined. A series of mutations is the general cause of lung cancer and it is found that cigarette smoking is the number one cause. This cancer interjects with the process of the lung's ability to carry oxygen to the blood. (Source:

* A constant cough
* Chest pain
* Coughing up blood
* Wheezing
* Reoccurring pneumonia or bronchitis
* Shortness of breath
* Weight loss

TREATMENT: There are a few treatment options when it comes to getting rid of lung cancer. These treatment options are radiation therapy, surgery, chemotherapy, and drug therapy. The most fitting form of treatment varies according to the stage of cancer that the patient is in. Treatment can range from surgery to chemotherapy. (Source:

NEW PROCEDURE: A new drug trial of ALK inhibitor pills is the next best thing in fighting lung cancer. The catch is that not all lung cancer patients are eligible for this treatment. Patients with the abnormal gene, ALK are the only three percent of patients who will receive a response from the treatment. This genetic alteration is very uncommon and may affect even the healthiest of individuals. The pill is taken about four to five times a day and patients have stated that they have noticed almost immediate response from the medication. The difference between ALK inhibitor pills and chemotherapy is that you do not lose your hair, you do not lose weight and you do not feel weak. Nausea may occur, but it is preferred over chemotherapy to those who suited for the treatment. (Source: Dr. Pasi Janne)


Ray Robbin
Public Relations
Dana Farber Cancer Institute

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