Experimental cancer treatment shows promise

December 29, 2010 10:00:00 PM PST
A new, experimental treatment may have made Glenn Mitchell's lung cancer disappear.

Mitchell had never even touched a cigarette, so he never expected he would be diagnosed with the deadliest kind of cancer.

"Lung cancer was really a shock," said Mitchell.

More people die from lung cancer than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined.

However, Mitchell was in for another, much happier surprise: after less than two months of a new experimental treatment involving just three pills twice a day, his cancer dwindled away to nothing.

"I expected the drug to work, but not in four weeks," said Mitchell.

Mitchell is helping test an experimental drug called Crizotinib. It targets a specific tumor cell abnormality, specifically the switch that turns on and off the cancer.

"So the cancer cells, for them to grow and multiply and spread to other parts of the body constantly require certain signals to be on, and this drug basically turns off the signal," said Emory University Winship Cancer Institute oncologist Dr. Suresh S. Ramalingam.

In recent studies, more than half the patients taking the experimental drug had tumor shrinkage or major change in their cancer.

The University of Chicago Medical Center was one of the first hospitals to start testing this drug.

Oncologist Ravi Salgia says targeted therapies are now showing great promise.

"We are seeing a lot of great responses with this medication, but we are also seeing a lot of other molecularly targeted therapeutics for lung cancer," said Salgia.

The University of Chicago is still looking for patients with this mutation to take part in trials.

With all the excitement, researchers warn that the treatment is still experimental and that there is a possibility that the response to Crizotinib may only last for a limited time.

"Not everyone will respond the same to the same drug, but if we could individualize the therapy we are going to see remarkable differences," said Salgia.

"This is a breakthrough," said Mitchell. "I just hope it will help others, too."

Mitchell says his treatment is going so well that he thinks less about his lung cancer and more about retirement and fishing.

Researchers say the best candidates for the drug are non-small cell lung cancer patients and it seems to work best in men who are non-smokers.

Once patients start taking the drug, they must use it for the rest of their lives.

University of Chicago Medical Center
For more information, please contact the lung cancer intake coordinators, Dale or Monica, at 773-834-7424.

University of Chicago page on Crizotinib

Dr. Ravi Salgia's page