When I was diagnosed with lung cancer back in 2013, The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre tested for two specific kinds of (non-small cell) lung cancer: EGFR and ALK. How thankful we are that they routinely tested for ALK because knowing my specific diagnosis has made a huge difference in terms of my treatment. Because we knew specifically what kind of lung cancer, we could choose the best treatments which have kept me going for over eight years! How thankful we are for testing and treatments.
During those eight years, advances in lung cancer research have been outstanding! Now we can treat so many more kinds of lung cancers. It can be challenging for hospitals to keep up with testing, to keep testing for all the treatable types of lung cancer. I’m happy to report that now The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre tests for eleven specific types of lung cancer: PD-L1, EGFR, ALK, ROS1, RET, KRAS, BRAF, HER2, MET, NTRK, and PIK3CA.
Clinical trials can be the best way for some people affected by lung cancer to get the newest treatments, so testing must be aligned with treatments available by clinical trials or compassionate release programs.
Lung cancer research will continue to offer increasing treatment options for people affected by lung cancer. As more advances in the testing and treating of cancer arise, it matters that hospitals ensure that testing aligns with available treatment options.
How many types of lung cancer does your cancer centre test for?
(Note: this testing can also called by other names, for example: biomarker testing, molecular testing, precision oncology, tumour testing, genomic testing, … )
On Monday March 14, The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre lab drew blood to be analyzed by Canexia in Vancouver, British Columbia, to test to see if there is a treatable kind of cancer attacking me. We’re still waiting for results and holding onto hope.
Biomarker testing matters.
If the testing comes back with information about a treatable cancer, then taking daily pills could potentially turn my health around. Many lung cancer patients go from extremely poor health to feeling quite well in only a matter of days, once they start taking the right treatment (targeted therapy pills). This is what we are hoping for me. New research, as you probably know, is a game-changer for many people affected by cancer. We are hopeful that there will be some effective new research that will make a difference for me.
It’s possible that I may have to travel to get access to the pills through a clinical trial. We won’t know until we get information from the test. As many of you know, there can be challenges for people affected by lung cancer to get access to the life-extending treatments they need. Advocates fight for drug approvals and funding, for better access to clinical trials and for clinical trials to be offered in more geographical locations. Access matters.
Research matters – it matters for testing, for treatment options and for access to those treatments. Research matters, to me and to so many others, for people with lung cancer and so many other kinds of cancer. Advocacy matters! Research matters!
I’m alive today because of biomarker testing, research, and access to new treatment options. Yes, and great care from my oncologist, Dr. Garth Nicholas, and healthcare team at The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre.
I was diagnosed with stage 4 ALK+ lung cancer in 2013 when my children were only 6, 10 and 12.
I started on chemo, then four different targeted therapies … Most treatment lines lasted only a year or two; each gift of time meant more life, more time with family and friends, more opportunities to serve as a lung cancer advocate
Every month, every year has meant memories and milestones, opportunities to celebrate life and be with my kids as they have grown.
My youngest was just about to start grade one when I had a cold with a cough that wouldn’t go away which was eventually diagnosed as lung cancer. Now she is in grade 9, just started high school. My middle child can play almost every musical instrument and will graduate high school this year. My oldest, who was in grade 7 when I was diagnosed, is now in third year university, studying Electrical Engineering and Physics.
I can’t tell you how thankful I am to still be with them. Very thankful for biomarker testing, research and access to new treatments… and my terrific healthcare team.
Targeted therapy is such a game changer. New targeted treatments are so much better than chemotherapy – it’s a night and day difference – and these new treatments keep getting better and better!
Targeted therapy means more energy, more good days, more ability, more time for the people we love, more time for what matters, more life.
My children are my top priority. I am also passionate about lung cancer advocacy. I started on Lorlatinib in 2018, and it has given me great quality of life, so I have been able to invest about 30-40 hours a week in lung cancer advocacy.
This is an excerpt from a presentation I’ve been making (as part of a team) to a number of groups this month. Next come many slides with pictures and quotes from people affected by lung cancer, people who I love, who are like family to me. They are living life more fully, because they have access to new life-extending treatments called targeted therapies. These are people who matter and are worth fighting for. I’m honoured to “bring them with me” as part of these presentations, and appreciate very much their willingness to share pictures and stories with the goal of increasing access to new drugs.
The presentation is about the importance of fighting for people to get access for new targeted therapies, because this is a matter of life and death and people matter. Research alone isn’t enough. We need to enlarge the boundaries of our concept of research to also include biomarker testing and access.
What are new drugs worth if we don’t do biomarker testing to find out which people will likely benefit from the new treatment? With 100% biomarker testing we will know specifically which type of cancer more people have, and be able to match more people with effective treatments. With 100% biomarker testing, we will also be able to more quickly accrue more patients to our clinical trials so the trials will show results more quickly, and effective new treatments can get approved and funded sooner.
What is the value of researchers working hard to develop effective new treatments, if people cannot get access to them? Access matters. It is often a matter of life and death. We must work to close the gaps and make sure people can benefit from research. Could you imagine how hard it would be to be a dying cancer patient who knows there is an effective treatment that would very likely extend their life, but they can’t get access to it? How hard would it be to be the patient’s loved one? The patient’s oncologist?
Biomarker Testing + Research + Access = Life
On this World Cancer Research Day, let’s celebrate research and researchers! Let’s celebrate fundraisers, administrators and patient partners! Let’s celebrate the entire research team! Let’s broaden our concept of research and fight together for more people to benefit from effective new research.
Early data indicates that Repotrectinib shows promise for treating people with ROS1 or NTRK lung cancer! Turning Point Therapeutics is working with the US-FDA to modify this clinical trial to potentially accelerate approval times.* We are very excited about this future potential for our friends with ROS1 or NTRK lung cancer!
John has been living with NTRK lung cancer for 6.5 years. Thanks to his oncologist, Bayer, and permission from Health Canada, he has been able to take Larotrectinib (which targets NTRK cancer) for the past 16 months. Data from the phase 1 clinical trial for Larotrectinib (LOXO-101) was presented in 2016, showing that it works well for people with NTRK. In 2019, Larotrectinib (“Vitrakvi”) was approved by Health Canada, and not just for lung cancer. Larotrectinib (“Vitrakvi”) works against NTRK cancer in multiple sites, including colon, melanoma and thyroid. Most importantly for John and those who care about him, Larotrectinib is working well for him. Research matters, and so does access to new treatments.
This may be the first time you’ve heard of NTRK lung cancer. It is one of the more newly talked about kinds of lung cancers. It is only in recent years that we’ve had treatment options for it, and many cancer centres in Canada don’t even test for it yet. I often wonder how many people there are who have NTRK like John, but are not receiving the appropriate treatment because they’ve never been tested for NTRK.
If people who are diagnosed with lung cancer don’t get biomarker testing, then no one knows what specific kind of lung cancer they have. Biomarker testing matters, because if we don’t know which specific kind of lung cancer, they can potentially miss out on years of good quality life. That is unacceptable. 100% biomarker testing matters.