A breakthrough treatment offers new hope for lung cancer patients like Ila Hegland, who was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer nine years ago. At that time Hegland was told she only had two years left to live. Radiation and chemotherapy treatments prolonged her life, but the prognosis was grim until she enrolled in a clinical trial for a promising new drug that “melts away” cancer.

“Now we have a subset of patients that didn’t have any hope with other medications and they are dramatically responding to this new drug,” said Marileila Varella Garcia, MD, Associate Director of Education at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, who developed the test for the lung cancer sub-type.

Hegland has a specific lung cancer that is caused by a genetic change in her cancer called an ALK gene rearrangement, which is present in about five percent of lung cancers. In the USA this subtype is expected to account for over 10,000 new lung cancer patients ever year. Ms Hegland is one of only 23 patients in the world who have both tested positive for the ALK gene and then received Pfizer’s new drug, an ALK inhibitor specific for this subtype of lung cancer, in a clinical trial.

Though the medication does not completely cure the cancer, results are often dramatic turning a potential death sentence into a manageable disease. “After only six weeks of treatment with the drug, this lung looks completely normal. There is no sign of the cancer,” said Ross Camidge, MD, Clinical Director of the University of Colorado Cancer Center’s Lung Cancer Program, and one of the researchers who has helped to develop the ALK inhibitor.

The University of Colorado Cancer Center is one of only five centers worldwide participating in the clinical trial. The center recommends all lung cancer patients in Colorado consider coming for a second opinion with one of their five expert lung cancer doctors to see if they should be screened and treated within this trial if their cancers test positive. Appointments can be made for the lung cancer team at 720-848-0300, or via http://www.uccc.info/conditions/cancer/lung/index.aspx.

With the majority of patients showing dramatic results, Phase III clinical trials of the drug are slated to begin this fall. If the success of the studies continues, the ALK inhibitor is expected to be on the market within three years.

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