Lung Cancer Patients See Amazing Results In Clinical Study

Experimental Drug Could Help One In 20 Lung Cancer Patients

Lung cancer is the most fatal cancer in the U.S. However a local clinical study is providing new hope for patients.

"Once they tell you it's stage four, and it's lung cancer, you know you don't have a lot of time," said Ellen Pulhamus, a 60-year-old nonsmoker who was diagnosed with non small-cell lung cancer in April 2008.

Her left lung was removed, but after chemo and radiation therapy, the cancer spread to six other areas in her body. Feeling desperate and hopeless, she got involved with the clinical trial of a new drug called an ALK Inhibitor at the University of Colorado Cancer Center.

"I'd only been on the drug for six weeks and went in for the PET scan," said Pulhamus.

And when compared to her PET/CT scan from the beginning of the study, doctors saw dramatic shrinkage of a tumor on her kidney.

"There were four other tumors, and some of them we couldn't even see anymore," said Pulhamus.

"It's really a dramatic shrinkage of the tumor that we are seeing, and for an experimental drug it's quite exciting to see that," said Dr. Robert Doebele, assistant professor medical oncology at UC Denver.

The ALK Inhibitor works by blocking the activity of a specific abnormal gene found in about 5 percent of lung cancer patients.

"And because this gene is so important for the growth and spread of the lung cancer, and its dependence on that gene, it actually shrinks the tumor," said Doebele.

Technology developed at UC Denver allows doctors to genetically test a biopsy to identify those patients who are likely to benefit from the ALK Inhibitor. This leads to personalized medicine and therapies for patients.

For Pulhamus, the targeted therapy resulted in the 60 percent reduction of an egg-sized tumor, with just two pills a day.

"No chemo, no radiation. I've done that," Pulhamus said with a giggle.

"If we are able to tailor our therapy to the individual patient based on what we see on molecular tests, then it will be very beneficial to the patients because we won't spend time using very toxic drugs that may not work," said Doebele.

With fewer and less significant side effects, the ALK Inhibitor can be administered for months, if not years longer than chemotherapy. This means that right now, Pulhamus' wish for more time to spend with her children and grandchildren has come true.

"It changes everything, it gives me hope," said Pulhamus. "It makes me realize that maybe there is a future for me."

In fact, her third PET/CT scan revealed another 50 percent reduction in the size of her tumor.

Doctors at the University of Colorado Cancer Center recommend that everyone in Colorado with lung cancer be evaluated for eligibility in this clinical trial. For more information about free genetic tumor screenings and enrollment in the UCCC clinical trial, call Tiffany Caudill, 720-848-0392.

The free lung cancer tumor testing is also taking place at:

*The Brigham and Women’s Hospital *Dana Farber Cancer Institute *Emory University/Winship Cancer Center *Moffitt Cancer Center *Johns Hopkins/Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center *MD Anderson Cancer Center *Mass General Hospital Cancer Center *Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Institute *National Cancer Institute *UCLA/Jonssen Cancer Center *University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute *University of Texas-Southwestern Cancer Center *Vanderbilt-Ingraham Cancer Center.