Breakthrough treatment for lung cancer
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Researchers say 2020 has been a year with tremendous advances for this disease. In fact, in a highly unusual move earlier this year, a clinical trial for a new drug was stopped early after patients were having overwhelming success on it. More on the drug and what this may mean for doctors on the frontlines of the fight against lung cancer.
Seventy-four-year-old Linda Wernikoff never smoked, but after months of a chronic cough, her doctor had unexpected and unwelcome news.
“I told her I’m a straight shooter. Tell me what you think. And she said, I do think it’s cancer,” recalled Linda.
Linda was diagnosed with stage 3A lung cancer. She had surgery followed by chemo but wasn’t sure what else could beat back the disease. Dr. Timothy Burns is an oncologist and a lung cancer researcher at UPMC in Pittsburgh. His passion for fighting lung cancer started early. He was only seven when he lost his dad to lung cancer. His mother died from the same disease when Burns was 16.
“I think now of where we’ve come, and I can almost guarantee you that they would have lived longer today than they did then,” shared Dr. Burns, thoracic oncologist at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, University of Pittsburgh.
Dr. Burns was following the clinical trial for the drug osimertinib designed to prevent recurrence in lung cancer patients with the EGFR mutation. The drug was so effective, the trial was halted early to allow all patients access to the treatment.
“Overall, you saw, in all patients, about an 80 percent reduction in your chance of your cancer coming back,” detailed Dr. Burns.
Dr Burns called the drug practice-changing and prescribed osimertinib which also goes by the brand name Tagrisso to Linda.
“It just sounded wonderful. Especially for my particular stage,” shared Linda.
One more treatment to keep the cancer from coming back.
EGFR stands for epidermal growth factor receptor. An EGFR mutation is present in about 15 percent of all lung cancer cases in the United Sates. The mutations are higher in lung cancers with non-smokers. Also, Dr. Burns just found out the FDA is granting accelerated review for Tagrisso which means a decision can be expected in less than six months.
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