The Parents of LCA

Richard Heimler (top left) with his husband and children.

Richard Heimler (top left) with his husband and children.

Being a parent is not easy work, but it comes with some wonderful rewards. Sunday, July 24th is National Parent’s Day, so we asked the LCA moms and dads to tell us what it means to them to be a parent. Check it out! 

“Being a parent opens up an entire dimension of the meaning of love. It’s one thing to love your life partner, but quite another to love your children. My three girls bring  me profound joy and are the light of my life!”
-Emily Eyres, LCA Chief Operating Officer

“Living with cancer and raising children over the last twelve years is challenging. But my children are my faces of hope. They make me smile at times when I do not feel like smiling. I am thankful to be a parent everyday but especially on National Parent Day.”
-Richard Heimler, LCA Board Member

“When you have a baby you get past the tough no-sleep crying stage and into six or nine

Kristin Bramell and her kids.

Kristin Bramell and her kids.

months and you think ‘I wish I could stop time’ and live right in this moment forever. But then you realize as your child grows to a year or two years, and on and on, that each stage is better than the last, and there are just different and new wonderful things that you can love about this amazing person you call your son or daughter.”

-Kristin Bramell, LCA Director of Philanthropy

“It’s amazing how different my two kids are — they couldn’t be more opposite either in personality or interests.  My husband and I often marvel at how we could produce two such distinct individuals but love them both so much for who they are.”
-Jennifer King, PhD, LCA Director of Science and Research

“Being a dad has been a wonderful experience…interacting with them growing from babies to ornery or sweet grade schoolers to high schoolers to college students to adults to being

Edy (top right) with her daughters, son-in-laws and granddaughter.

Edy (top right) with her daughters, son-in-laws and granddaughter.

parents themselves has been an incomparable thrill!  Every one of them makes me beam with pride! Now we have grandchildren…the thrill continues!”
-Gregg Gibson, Acting Chair of LCA’s Board of Directors

“I am blessed with two daughters. I am so proud of the women they have become and enjoy our conversations, visits and bond more than I ever expected. We keep learning so much from each other.”
-Edy Whidden, LCA Chief Administrative Officer

I Am Hopeful – You Can Be Too

By Laurie Fenton Ambrose, President & CEO, Lung Cancer Alliance

You have probably heard the hopeful and aspiring words, “Cancer Moonshot” over these past few months.  And for good reason.

It is the first time since 1971, when President Richard Nixon declared  “War on Cancer”, that a national call to action has been launched to catalyze new scientific breakthroughs and galvanize innovative public – private partnerships to bring better treatments, access to care and ultimately cures to the cancer community.  President Barack Obama, in his final State of the Union Address, put Vice President Joe Biden, who lost his son Beau to brain cancer in 2015, in charge of this new national effort to “end cancer as we know it”.  President Obama made it clear that the goal of the Cancer Moonshot was to double the rate of progress toward a cure – in other words – cut in half the time it would take to make advances in cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care.

Under the auspices of the first-of-its-kind “Cancer Moonshot Task Force”, Vice President Biden has not wasted a moment in championing this endeavor.  He has traveled the country – and overseas – to engage our global community in this life-saving effort. He has brought together every federal agency that has a part to play in the fight against cancer, along with hundreds of private, philanthropic, industry, and academic sectors, including the patient advocacy community, to talk about how we can make the most of our federal funding, research and data, technology capabilities, targeted incentives, private sector efforts, and patient engagement initiatives to break down barriers and accelerate progress.

The collective determination by so many people – at so many levels – at this very moment – focused on defeating cancer — is clearly unprecedented and extraordinary.  But so is the fact that  nearly everyone has been touched by cancer in some way – which is why we cannot slow what has been unleashed.

I had the great privilege of participating in the Cancer Moonshot Summit, held at Howard University in Washington, DC, as part of a national day of action that included more than 260 events in communities across the US.  Over 350 researchers, oncologist and other care providers, data and technology experts, patients, families, and patient advocates participated in the dialogue.

The day began with a series of Cancer Moonshot Task Force announcements that featured initiatives highlighting new collaborations to advance the goals of the Task Force.  LCA is an advocacy partner on one and many others announced that day which have relevance for our community.

During the Summit I received a special invitation.  Lung Cancer Alliance was 1 of 20 organizations to meet specifically with Vice President Biden. This 1 ½ hour session allowed for a direct, robust and interactive discussion highlighting experiences, challenges, opportunities, and recommendations  for the Vice President and his team to consider in advancing new cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care strategies.  I spoke about the opportunity to link patient information, images and biomedical samples together among people being screened for lung cancer at early or pre-cancerous stages and how this could accelerate research.

It was a good day.  It was an important day.  Why?  Because this day gave fuel to the Cancer Moonshot engine – further strengthening the momentum to “end cancer as we know it”.

We have reached for the moon before and succeeded in landing on its surface. I believe we can again reach for the stars and succeed in unlocking the mystery of cancer – and improve health outcomes for us all.

 

Cancer Changed Me…For the Better

Oregon constituents, Ginny and Dann Wonser (you may remember from the recent blog "A Letter to Those Newly Diagnosed") visiting  Senator Wyden (OR) during the 2016 Lung Cancer Summit.

Oregon constituents, Ginny and Dann Wonser (you may remember from the recent blog “A Letter to Those Newly Diagnosed“) visiting Senator Wyden (OR) during the 2016 Lung Cancer Summit.

By Ginny Hicks

I’m not very good at remembering dates but September 30, 2014 is a date I will always remember. It’s the date I was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer. A surprising diagnosis considering that cancer does not run in my family, I’m not a smoker and I did not grow up in a home with second hand smoke. My husband and daughter were with me in the hospital when the oncologist, whom I had just met, gave me the news. I think we laughed and said, “You must be in the wrong room, have the wrong patient or the wrong file.” After all, I’m the one who enjoys exercise and eating healthy.

My oncologist did not have the wrong patient and I do have lung cancer. At first I felt like I was in a bad dream and I kept hoping I would wake up soon; that my life would be “normal” again. I went through all the stages of grief, mourning the loss of my life as I had known it. My greatest fear was becoming a burden to my family.

Fortunately, the stage of feeling sorry for myself did not last long. As an elementary teacher and principal for 34 years I thought of children I had known. Children who faced enormous challenges, like abuse, neglect and abandonment. These children were between the ages of 5-12. I had been living a good life and I had no room to feel sorry for myself.

I started chemo one month later, the day before my 59th birthday. For six months I went in for treatment every three weeks. My first scans showed the spot on my right middle lobe was smaller, the cancer was gone from my sternum lymph nodes and the lymph nodes under my left arm were still enlarged. I continued on maintenance chemo every three weeks, with scans showing the ebb and flow of cancer. It’s difficult to understand how I can be so sick when I feel so good (excluding a few days after chemo).

Ginny with her grandson, Hudson.

I joined the Lung Cancer Alliance to learn as much as I could about cancer. I became a Phone Buddy which brought me great joy and satisfaction. My Buddy helped me as much as I helped her. It was heartbreaking when my Phone Buddy friend died this spring. I think of her often and miss talking with her.

I see a counselor who helps me navigate the ups and downs of the cancer journey. I attend a support group, eat healthy foods, take supplements, state positive affirmations and exercise. I walk and jog and go to the gym when time permits. I have always felt better when I exercise.

Earlier this year I arrived at the conclusion that I would no longer fight cancer. I have cancer. It is part of who I am. I will most likely always have cancer but it does not define me. Fighting cancer gave cancer too much power and influence over my life. Instead, I decided to focus on living the best possible life I could imagine.  A life full of joy and happiness with anticipation of good things to come. Sure, some days are easier than others.

I am a new grandmother and my grandson is the best medicine ever. I work at staying positive, making mental lists of all I have to be thankful for and wake up each day glad to be alive. Cancer changed me…for the better.

I recently returned from the National Lung Cancer Summit in Washington, DC. It was an amazing experience, one I enjoyed very much. I met strong, positive, capable people with stage 4 lung cancer. I gained strength and momentum from them and only hope I can be as brave and courageous as they are.

I wish us all well on our journey.

For more inspiring survivor stories check out our Facebook page.

What July 4th Means to a US Major General

Fireworks of various colors bursting against a black background

By Rick Sherlock, Lung Cancer Alliance Board Member and retired Major General, US Army

As a retired Soldier, I like to pause as we approach each July 4th holiday, think about what it means, and remember it as more than another wonderful day to spend with family and friends at a barbecue or watching fireworks.

General Rick Sherlock

General Rick Sherlock

We became a nation because of the strength of our founding fathers and the citizen soldiers that dreamed of and fought for our independence.  This year, on the 240th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence, we have the greatest military forces in the world.  They are an all-volunteer force who, along with our nation’s police, fire, and emergency medical services personnel, protects our nation, our Constitution, and our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Those Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and dedicated public servants continue to dedicate themselves to protecting the freedoms we may sometimes take for granted.

If you have an opportunity, please thank them for their continued service and for the blessings of Liberty we all enjoy.

Super Vic, Man of Steel

VIctor_fam

Sara, Victor and their son, Gabriel

By Sara Elias

There are dates that hold in your memory for a lifetime; June 28th, 2008 … the day he proposed; September 26th, 2009 … the day we married; November 10th, 2012… the day our son was born. The years go by and while I can barely remember what I had for lunch yesterday, I can tell you minute for minute how things happened on those days. Where we were, what we said, how we felt; they were days of joy and memories I cherish. There are other dates in my life that have also had the same effect, I can give you a play by play of how things happened, not because of the joy that they brought but simply for the mark that they left that has forever changed my life. June 11th, 2013 … the day my husband was diagnosed with cancer.

victor and g 2

Gabriel and Victor

It was stage IV lung cancer. We got the news at 9:00am and by around noon we were in with an oncologist. We asked typical questions as we tried to wrap our brains around what was happening. It seemed unreal. We had just bought a new house three months before and our son was only seven months old. My husband, Victor, who was 40 years old at the time, was a scuba diver, he rode motorcycles and was active. Besides the cough he seemed healthy.

It was the summer that the new Superman movie was coming out… Man of Steel. Victor had been looking forward to it, and it quickly became our slogan for his fight, “Super Vic, the Man of Steel.” This was a man who swam in oceans with sharks and drove race cars. He was no ordinary man and it would be no ordinary fight.

Victor was diagnosed on a Tuesday and that Sunday was going to be his first Father’s Day. We had planned to have both of our families at our house to celebrate.  Everyone suggested that we cancel or have someone else host, that there was just too much going on for us to have so many people for a “celebration”. It was at that time that we made the decision to live our lives. To cherish every moment we have with our family and friends and not allow cancer to push us into a corner of isolation.

Team SuperVic at Lung Love Run/Walk Houston 2014

Team SuperVic at Lung Love Run/Walk Houston 2014

We continued this mind set throughout his journey and I encourage others to do the same. Slow down a bit, have lunch with your spouse, stay up late with your kids, call your best friend and smile at a stranger. Don’t wait for something to rock your reality to remind you how precious our lives are.

On May 27th, 2016 a new date was forever marked on my mental calendar. The day my husband’s battle ended; just two weeks shy of his three year diagnosis and three weeks before Father’s Day. And while this Father’s Day he will not be here with us physically, his spirit will be strong. Our family and friends will gather at our house to celebrate fatherhood. For all of the men who have played a role in our lives and for the ones that will be like a father to our son. Nothing can break the bond and love we have for our family and nothing shows more love than continuing to honor his spirit by living our lives to the fullest.

Lung Cancer Highlights from ASCO

This past weekend Chicago hosted the annual “Super Bowl” of cancer meetings, the ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology) Annual Meeting. Over 35,000 attendees learned about cutting-edge clinical cancer research for many different types of cancers. Here are the key lung cancer highlights you need to know.

Small Cell Lung Cancer

Some of the most exciting news came from possible new treatment options on the horizon for small cell lung cancer (SCLC)! No major treatment advances have been seen in SCLC for the past 30 years, but we are hopeful that this will soon change.

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Rova-T study results showing that the drug is most effective for patients whose tumors have DLL3.

Rova – T: One of the highlighted presentations was the results of Phase I clinical trial on a new drug named rovalpituzumab tesirine (aka “Rova-T”).  This drug is an antibody-drug-conjugate which means that a targeted antibody takes a “warhead” or toxic compound right to the tumor cells.

The antibody in this case targets the DLL3 protein and the data clearly showed that the drug is most effective for patients whose tumors have DLL3 (see photo).  This is about 70% of people with SCLC.  Based on the promising data from this study, a nationwide Phase II clinical trial called TRINITY is now accepting patients whose cancer has grown after two rounds of prior therapy (click here for more information). All patients will have a test to confirm their cancer has DLL3 protein.  If it gets approved, this could be the first targeted therapy for small cell lung cancer.

Immunotherapy: We have been asked frequently on our Opdivo blog if immunotherapies are being used in SCLC.  There are a number of ongoing clinical trials and now there is some early data. A trial was presented that compared Opdivo (nivolumab) with two combinations of Opdivo and Yervoy (ipilimumab) together at different doses.  There is a reason to think a combination could work as Opdivo and Yervoy are currently approved together in metastatic melanoma.

Opdivo alone resulted in a 10% response and the combinations resulted in a 20% response, although there was more toxicity (side effects) when using both treatments at the same time. Similar to non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), the patients who responded well showed long-term responses. One of the dose combinations is being moved into larger, randomized trials. So consider this early days for immunotherapy in SCLC, but the speaker referred to it as “quite hopeful” for the future.

 

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

A lot of the work presented in NSCLC focused on new Targeted Therapies.

Over 35,000 attended the annual ASCO conference.

Over 35,000 attended the annual ASCO conference.

ALK: One of the most notable studies we saw compared the ALK inhibitor, Alecensa (alectinib) to Xalkori (crizitonib) for first-line treatment of cancers with an ALK mutation.  This trial was done in Japan and it has worldwide data that has not yet been presented.  However, in this trial of about 200, patients on Alecensa both survived longer and had fewer side effects than those on Xalkori.  So this drug may become the new standard of care for ALK+ patients.

It is important to note that Alecensa and a new drug called brigatinib can enter the brain to fight brain metastases.  Brigatinib is not as far along in development, but data presented in the same session showed it may also be an effective therapy for cancers with ALK mutations.

EGFR: Companies are developing new generations of therapies that inhibit EGFR better and/or can work after cancer comes back on EGFR therapy.  Early data was shown for two drugs that demonstrated some activity and success in different types of hard-to-treat metastases (leptomeningeal and brain).

Other mutations – BRAF and MET: There are also new drugs and drug combinations being studied for other mutations in lung cancer.  For patients whose cancer has a mutation in the BRAF gene (at a specific site called V600E that happens in 1-2% of NSCLC and is very common in melanoma), a combination of two drugs called Taflinar (dabrafinib) and Mekinist (trametinib) was studied. This combination is already used in metastatic melanoma. This is an early time point and a small study, but there was a 63% overall response rate showing that this is a promising combination in NSCLC too, although there was a high rate of side effects.

For patients with MET mutations (in a spot called exon 14, found in 3-4% of nonsquamous NSCLC and also in 20-30% of sarcomatoid carcinomas), early data (only 18 patients) showed that Xalkori (crizotinib; a known ALK inhibitor but it can also inhibit MET and ROS) may be a good option for these patients. For all of these drugs, studies are continuing to understand how to best treat patients with different types of genetic changes.

Interestingly, there were a few studies showing that molecular testing with liquid biopsies had a similar outcome to using tissue biopsy. This was shown both specifically for understanding resistance to EGFR-targeted therapies as well as more broadly for finding cancer mutations across tumor types.

Immunotherapy:  In general, due to the long-term benefits of Opdivo (nivolumab) and Keytruda (pembrolizumab) seen in a small percentage of NSCLC (15-20%), researchers are trying to figure out if combining these with other drugs can improve the number of people who respond.  These drugs are being combined with everything – other immunotherapies, targeted therapies, radiation, and chemo.  There were many studies but it is still early days for these combinations and it remains to be seen how to best combine these drugs to improve patient care.

From a patient perspective, there was also an interesting talk on how patient reports of the side effects they were experiencing on a mobile app allowed clinicians to identify recurrences sooner and at lower cost. This actually led to improved survival.  This study was done in France but the presenter said the software will be more widely available in 2017. Importantly for our community, this shows how significant your voice is in your treatment journey. Speaking up honestly about side-effects, how you are feeling and your concerns can make a major difference in your care.

If you have questions, please leave a comment below. You can also call our HelpLine at 1-800-298-2436 or email support@lungcanceralliance.org to discuss anything related to lung cancer. We are here to help!

Finding Hope Everyday

just engaged

Erik and Aloe at their engagement.

By Erik Hale

When you are 30 years old the last thing you imagine hearing is that you have lung cancer but, for me, that’s exactly what happened.

I was a preschool teacher at the time I was diagnosed. I remember getting the call from my doctor during lunch hour. I heard her say, “The tests came back positive for lung cancer,” and my brain basically shut off; I felt numb. At that moment, I wasn’t upset or angry, just shell-shocked. My reply was “Alright, so what should I do now?”

During Erik's treatment.

During Erik’s treatment.

Within a week I began treatment, which included a month of radiation, a couple of months of chemotherapy and finally a lobectomy to remove the lower half of my left lung. I started to learn what this disease meant for me; that my cancer was most likely terminal and I had approximately a 4% chance to live another five years. At 30 years old, what do you say when given that information? I wasn’t married, didn’t have kids and had never owned a home. Are these all milestones I would have to give up since I was diagnosed with a disease that came out of nowhere? I wanted answers and I wanted solutions, but I didn’t get much of either.

It’s a very odd and debilitating experience to have no control over your own destiny. All I could do was trust in my doctors, trust in the treatments, and, above all else, hope for the best. Hope was really what I needed. The statistics I was reading online, and hearing from my doctors, weighed heavily on my mind. When you see the likelihood of your own demise staring you in the face it can be maddening at times. My Uncle Marty, who is a physician, gave me wise advice that helped shift my perspective, “Don’t worry about the statistics because your chances are either 0 or 100 and that’s it.” It was exactly what I needed to hear at the time. What could I really do except grit my teeth and persevere? Everything else was in fate’s hands.

At their wedding!

At their wedding!

Hope is a strange thing. It comes in many forms. For me it came in the form of a wonderful surgeon who made sure I knew that, while my situation was dire, he was going to do everything in his power to make sure I survived. It came in the form of my co-workers, parents of my students, family and friends who raised money to help me pay medical bills and dropped meals off at my house every day of treatment. It came in the form of the Lung Cancer Alliance, advocating, and finding other survivors who understood how hard the struggle is. Most of all, it came in the form of Aloé, my girlfriend at the time who, when I came home to tell her the news of my diagnosis simply replied, “We’re getting married.” Rather than run, rather than breakdown, rather than give up, she was my rock, my support, my advocate, my dietician (to my dismay sometimes), and I truly don’t know if I would have been able to make it through without her.

As I write this, I’m now married, turning 34 next month, and my scans have been coming back clear with no detection of disease. My diagnosis and recovery changed me in many ways, specifically my perspective on life.

Let the small things roll off your back. Remind yourself that each day and every breath is truly a blessing. Surround yourself with your people, your community. Live passionately and fiercely go after your joie de vivre. And if you yourself have recently been diagnosed, or if you are experiencing any of life’s great challenges, seek hope in whatever form you can find it. It can show itself in many ways but you must leave your heart open to it and help it to find it’s way to you.

A Note For Those Newly Diagnosed

By Dann Wonser

Sunday is National Cancer Survivors Day and I am proud to be a 10 year lung cancer survivor! The past 10 year have not been easy, but I have learned a lot. If you have been diagnosed recently, here are a few things that you might want to hear from someone who has been in your shoes.

  • Have hope. Cancer treatment is exploding right now. It’s just incredible how fast things are changing – for the better.
  • Finding out is the hardest part. The first days, or weeks, are overwhelming for everyone. You will get past this – we all do. Just remember that what you are going through right now is harder than everything else you will go through. Everything else combined. The reason? You don’t have any tools to deal with it yet. That will change.
Dann and his wife Genevieve.

Dann and his wife Genevieve.

  • Let people in. My life is much richer and more full of love now than it ever was. That only came from sharing my trials and vulnerabilities. I have no doubt that I am alive today because of the love of, and for, family and friends. People surprised me with their outpouring of caring and love.
  • Plan how you are going to share your diagnosis with others. I found that by emailing people I cared about before talking with them about it, it saved me from endlessly re-living those first moments after being diagnosed, after the cancer had grown, or spread, or didn’t shrink when I had high hopes. This gave friends and family time to compose themselves before they talked with me, and because of that, the conversations went much better. This way I could also set the tone that I hoped that they would reflect back to me. It works.
  • Throw the statistics out the window. If you’ve been diagnosed for longer than 12 hours, you have probably already done an internet search and tried to calculate your survival odds and/or your new life expectancy. Finding statistics that match your specific situation is nearly impossible. For example, the average age of diagnosis for lung cancer is 71. I was 49. Do you think treatment outcomes will be the same? General health, environmental factors, location/size/number of tumors etc. – there are too many variables to make the stats make any sense for an individual. Beyond that, your attitude and actions make a difference.  More importantly, whatever statistics you find are probably hopelessly out of date. New treatments are coming online too fast for the statistics to keep up.
  • A diagnosis is not a prognosis. I was at the Lung Cancer Alliance National Summit a few weeks ago with 65 lung cancer survivors and loved ones. Most of us attending have, or had, Stage IV lung cancer, and a dozen have been alive for at least five years. If that’s not enough, I am your living example. I was first diagnosed ten years ago. One woman I know has had five different cancers, and is still alive 23 years later. The same diagnosis yields different results for different people.
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At the National Lung Cancer Summit, Dann visited Senator Ron Wyden’s office, of his home state of Oregon, to discuss the importance of lung cancer.

  • Do your homework. Your survival chances are directly related to the quality of the treatment providers you work with. Is your oncologist a specialist in your specific type of cancer? As a general rule, the more people that your doctor and your treatment center have treated that have the same type of cancer as yours, the higher their success rate. Experience makes a difference. Who are the recognized experts in your type of cancer that are within a radius that you are willing to travel?
  • Get molecular testing. The most promising breakthroughs in cancer treatment are at the molecular level. This includes both targeted genetic treatments and immunotherapy. If your oncologist doesn’t think you need it, consider the possibility that your oncologist is out of step with the latest research. You may want a second opinion.
  • Re-think clinical trials. “Clinical trials” used to be considered the last gasp desperation approach to treatment. The reality is that, for lung cancer and many other types of cancer, this is where you will find the most promising, cutting-edge medicine, with the best results, and with the least side effects.
  • Exercise, sleep, and diet all make a difference. They impact your mood and your ability to cope. More importantly, you will recover from medication, radiation, and surgery better and faster if you are in the best shape you can be. Take care of yourself. Exercise, sleep, and diet. In that order. One man’s opinion.
  • Attitude matters. Treasure the moment. Live in gratitude for what you have right now. Choose hope. These things not only improve your quality of life, they also improve your chances of living a longer life.
  • Love yourself. Treat yourself like you matter. Because you do. This may be your last chance to act like it.

If you have questions about lung cancer or just need someone to talk to, we can help! Call us at 1-800-298-2436 or email support@lungcanceralliance.org.

Another Reason to Give Blood: Liquid Biopsies

purple top tubeBy Jennifer King, PhD, Director of Science and Research for Lung Cancer Alliance

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just approved the first blood-based test to detect lung cancer mutations (gene changes).  This is the first approval in what has been an exploding field of research that many are calling “liquid biopsies”.  The reason for studying liquid biopsies is pretty obvious to most lung cancer patients.  Getting a normal biopsy (where tissue is taken from the tumor to see if there is cancer) can be an invasive procedure.  Many people don’t want more than one biopsy but doctors and scientists need more information to understand how to best treat the cancer at different times during therapy.

In addition, sometimes not enough tissue is able to be collected to do all the appropriate tests.  If the tests could be done by simply taking blood, urine, sputum or even breath samples, it would make testing much easier for patients.

This technology will not replace a tissue biopsy to diagnose a cancer and determine what type (non-small cell or small cell) or stage your cancer is.  However, it may help with treatment decisions, particularly when deciding whether to take Targeted Therapies for your lung cancer.  For example, the newly approved test detects certain changes in a gene called EGFR (Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor) and can determine whether the patient is a good candidate for the drug Tarceva (erlotinib).

There are many different companies developing liquid biopsy tests in many different ways. The most common type of test uses blood from a patient and looks at pieces of DNA that have been released into the blood by the cancer cells.  (This is similar to blood-based prenatal testing where they can look at both the baby’s DNA and the mother’s DNA in the mother’s blood.)

The technology tends to work best in advanced disease (where there is more cancer) and metastatic disease (when it is already spreading through the body) because there is more cancer DNA in the blood.   Because of this, right now liquid biopsies are mostly being used for treating and “monitoring” advanced disease and re-testing after cancers recur.  For example, tests are also being developed for patients who have already been taking EGFR targeted therapies but then have a recurrence. In this case, the liquid biopsy would detect new gene changes that may make the patient a good candidate for a different EGFR targeted therapy.

It is important to note that laboratory tests such as these are not required to be FDA approved to be used in a clinic or physician’s office.  However, FDA approval indicates that the test has been thoroughly reviewed to be safe and provide useful treatment information.

In the future, as the technology improves and more clinical trials are done to prove that the tests work, we expect to see more liquid biopsies being used for drug selection at the time of diagnosis. For example, a doctor could give a blood test that would test for mutations in EGFR, ALK and other genes when not enough biopsy tissue is available.

With Lung Cancer Alliance’s focus on early detection of lung cancer, we are also encouraging and participating in research to develop and test these technologies as a way to detect cancer earlier, when it is more treatable.

For now, this EGFR blood-based test has been FDA approved and can be used to recommend Tarceva as a first-line therapy.  In addition, many research institutions are offering additional liquid biopsy tests to patients with late-stage disease to help guide their treatment. Here are some important things to discuss with your treatment team:

  • Is one of these tests a good option for me?
  • What test is being used and why?
  • What gene changes will the test detect?
  • What do the test results mean for my treatment?

 

(Disclosure: Jennifer is on a clinical trial advisory panel for a company in this space and receives travel reimbursement to attend meetings.  She has no role, scientific or financial, in the test referenced above.)

New Lung Cancer Legislation!

2016-banner-xs

I am so proud and excited to share with you incredible news for our community. Last week, during our 8th National Summit, we were able to support the introduction of the Women and Lung Cancer Research and Preventive Services Act of 2016 in both the Senate and House!

Help get more support for this legislation by asking your Members of Congress to sign on today!

We know that lung cancer impacts women differently than men from age at diagnosis to smoking history to survival rates. With your help, we have been able to educate Members of Congress to the need for a new, coordinated research strategy to address this difference, with a focus on the increasing numbers of never smoking women being diagnosed.

This new legislation calls for the Secretaries of Health and Human Services, Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration to develop a comprehensive and innovative strategy and report back to Congress within six months.

Consistent with all other legislation related to lung cancer that Lung Cancer Alliance has secured, this bill will also be bicameral and bipartisan. That is, the bill will be introduced in both the House and the Senate with the support of members of both parties.

Find a list of co-sponsors here.

A big thank you to all of you for taking action on this important issue. Please send your emails to Congress today!

Best,

Laurie Fenton Ambrose
President & CEO, Lung Cancer Alliance