Personalized treatment approaches can help patients with lung cancer breathe easier

Posted: November 15, 2017 | Word Count: 600
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Seventy-four year old Sandy Sargent of Seattle was an avid hiker who had always found it hard to sit still, so she never expected her nagging cough would turn out to be anything beyond a seasonal cold. When an X-ray confirmed a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis and her doctor estimated she had six-to-nine months to live, it took her breath away.

“I’m not the type of person to cry or feel defeated. I had so many reasons to keep breathing, like a great-grandson on the way and a husband who relies on me. So, I worked with my healthcare team to make a plan.”

To determine the best treatment approach for her stage 4 lung cancer, Sargent’s doctor ordered tests that look for certain “biomarkers,” or characteristics that can be used to help a doctor create a personalized care plan.1 She then began a treatment course based on those results and has had no new lung cancer progression since.

This Lung Cancer Awareness Month, she is using her breath in a new way: to spread the word that people with lung cancer need to understand their disease better so they know how to talk to their doctor and to find ways to stay positive.

“I hadn’t even heard of a ‘biomarker’ before I was diagnosed. People need to learn as much as they can about their cancer so they can be their own advocates.”

There are several different types of lung cancer,2 and how the disease looks and progresses can vary significantly among different people. As scientists have learned more about the disease’s complexities and the human body, they have been better able to tailor treatment approaches to individual needs.

“Biomarker testing and today’s lung cancer therapies have helped improve patient care, as a personalized medical approach helps us better devise our treatment plans,”3 said David M. Waterhouse, M.D., M.P.H., an oncologist at Oncology Hematology Care, Inc. in Cincinnati. “We also need to encourage patients to work with their doctor on lifestyle changes they can stick with and to find support from loved ones or in their communities.”4

Larry McFall, 76, of Daytona Beach, also diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, is no stranger to the positive impact support can have.

He recalls feeling down and isolated when he began his treatments. Until one day, when getting a treatment on his birthday, his doctor and several other care team members surprised him with a big birthday cake and a song.

“It was a real testament to how small, personal acts of compassion can really make a difference.

“Since that day, those of us in the center talk with one another about how we’re feeling and our families. When someone starts treating you as an individual instead of a number, it’s entirely different. You’re not just a cancer patient, you’re a human.”

McFall is now joining Bristol-Myers Squibb this Lung Cancer Awareness Month in asking the public to share their #ImBreathingBecause inspirations via social media and to visit www.ImBreathingBecause.com to learn more.

As for Sargent, she is not taking any breath for granted.

“Cancer doesn’t define me. I continue breathing for all the new adventures I want to have with family and friends.

“That’s my wish for others going through this — to find something that motivates you and hang onto that; to have hope.”

References

  1. National Cancer Institute. Tumor Markers. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/diagnosis-staging/diagnosis/tumor-markers-fact-sheet. Last accessed: October 12, 2017
  2. American Cancer Society. Lung Cancer. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer.html. Last accessed: October 12, 2017
  3. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Policy Issues for the Development of Biomarkers in Health. Available at: https://www.oecd.org/health/biotech/49023036.pdf. Last accessed: October 12, 2017
  4. Mayo Clinic. Coping and Support. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lung-cancer/basics/coping-support/con-20025531. Last accessed: October 12, 2017
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