A Patient’s Perspective on Liquid Biopsies

img_67311702088814

Kim and her husband.

By Kim Jones

I would much prefer to have blood drawn, than a collapsed lung and eight days in the hospital.

I was 47 years old in April 2014 when I requested a chest x-ray due to my family history of lung cancer.  That x-ray led to a thoracic specialist and ultimately a CT guided needle biopsy of my lung tissue to determine if I did, in fact, have lung cancer. After about the 3rd pull of the needle from my lung, I felt a little funny and then… the lights went out.  Yep, I passed out from lack of oxygen resulting from one of my lungs collapsing.

img_1601568016327305

Kim doing what she loves most.

From the initial biopsy, my treatment team was able to determine I had stage IV non-small cell adenocarcinoma… but that’s it.  The tissue samples were sent away by my oncologist for further genetic testing to determine the best next steps for treatment.  Meanwhile, I spent the next eight days in the hospital trying to build up my lung strength which was made a lot more difficult by the lung cancer.

The test results came back to show I had the EGFR mutation which meant no chemotherapy!  Hallelujah!  The EGFR mutation enabled me to take a targeted therapy drug, Tarceva to try to combat these cells.  Everything my husband was reading said people had great success with Tarceva and were continuing to take it four, six, seven years with no new growth.  This was really good news!

After a successful 18 months on Tarceva my CT scan results revealed what I dreaded … the cancer growing in both lungs again.  So what now?  Another tissue biopsy?  Another stay in the hospital?  Another recovery period?

What I wouldn’t do to just start taking another drug without having a collapsed lung again. I was terrified at the thought of another needle biopsy and potential collapsed lung.  Well, it turns out there was a company that developed a liquid biopsy, from a simple blood test, to determine if a specific mutation my oncologist was hoping I had was present.  If I had this T790M mutation there were several trials available and another targeted therapy…and no tissue biopsy required!

The liquid biopsy was so easy, just a quick draw of blood from my arm. It was sent off to be evaluated and came back positive for T790M!  Hallelujah again!! I felt even luckier when my doctor told me that a drug that fought my particular mutation, Tagrisso, was just approved by the FDA.

What’s even more wonderful is that I had the opportunity to help other lung cancer patients by taking a trial drug specific for my mutation. After losing three close family members to lung cancer, I felt I needed to do something more for lung cancer patients, so I moved forward with a trial drug, which I’m still on today.

What will happen when this trial drug stops working?  I don’t know.  But, I’m sure hoping the FDA will approve the efficacy of liquid biopsies and save patients and insurance companies millions of dollars in hospital stays from collapsed lungs. If you are battling lung cancer, be sure to ask your treatment team about liquid biopsies and if it is right for you.

 

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the blood test for T790M. To learn about this and other liquid biopsies click here. For questions about liquid biopsies and anything lung cancer related, please call 1-800-298-2436 or email support@lungcanceralliance.org