New Discovery in Lung Cancer Holds Added Promise for Patients

One novel idea. Sometimes that’s all it takes to change a life. And sometimes, it just might save one.

David Carbone, MD, PhD, who was recruited to Ohio State to establish a Thoracic Oncology Center at the university’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research institute (OSUCCC – James), knows this firsthand. It was his idea that saved a patient’s life and changed what the experts look for when analyzing a patient’s tumor.

While leading a study of an oral chemotherapy drug that turned out to have minimal results in most people, Carbone decided to try the drug on one particular lung cancer patient who was so ill that she was ready to accept hospice.

“She had a tremendous response that lasted for five years,” Carbone says. “With a near complete resolution of her tumor, she went from being on oxygen and in a wheelchair to completely normal, actually traveling and taking world cruises.”

What made the difference for this woman? That’s what Carbone wanted to know, so he and his team conducted a gene study (known as genomic sequencing) on her tumor. “We identified a gene that had never been known to mutate before, and that discovery led to being able to help others with the same mutation by giving them that particular drug,” he says.

Because of the discovery, OSUCCC – James experts are now testing lung cancer patients for this gene abnormality and can offer those who have it yet another treatment path with this drug.

Lung cancer remains the second-most diagnosed cancer in the United States and is often difficult to treat. “That’s because it’s not just one disease,” Carbone says, “but many different ones, and often with rare subsets. Some gene mutations are present in only one percent or less of patients, but those mutations make a huge difference in how we treat patients.

“Finding genes like we did just reinforces the fact that there truly is no routine lung cancer. That’s why we need to characterize each person’s tumor to find and design the most appropriate treatment for that patient,” he continues. “When we do, the results can be dramatic.”

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