Choosing the Road Untraveled, Lung Cancer Pioneer Finds a Turning Point
Sharon McCann never smoked. Neither did her parents or her husband. She did not have any of the risk factors for lung cancer. “It just happened,” she says.
By the time the disease was discovered, it had already spread to the lymph nodes in her chest, and surgery was not an option. Her Roswell Park medical team “let me know from the start that it was serious, but that there was hope,” she says.
After aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments twice failed to halt the disease, McCann was offered the chance to be among the first patients to try OmniSeq Target™, a test developed at Roswell Park that matches available “targeted” drugs to the specific gene mutations that enable a patient’s tumors to grow and thrive. McCann didn’t hesitate: “I knew that to continue to live, I would have to do things on the cutting edge.”
OmniSeq Target revealed that McCann is among the 1% of lung cancer patients whose tumors have a ROS1 gene mutation. Fortunately, there’s a targeted therapy available that’s designed to short-circuit the mutation — crizotinib (brand name Xalkori®).
McCann took her first dose of the drug on Christmas Eve of 2013. Eight weeks later, scans showed that her tumor had shrunk to half its original size. “It continued to get smaller, and my last CT scans showed no sign of cancer,” she says. “Because it had spread to the lymph nodes in my chest, some cancer cells are probably still there, but they can’t be seen on scans. There is no sign of metastatic cancer.”
While she still visits a Roswell Park satellite clinic once a month for blood work, she’s happy she can take her targeted therapy at home, in pill form, instead of going to the clinic for chemotherapy infusions. From here on in, she says, her lung cancer will be treated as a chronic disease, “so I will have to be on some type of treatment for the rest of my life.
“Cancer cells have a way of adjusting, mutating, so the drug will be effective only for a period of time. If it stops working, we can look for another targeted drug. New drugs are always being developed. I’m just praying that this lasts a very long time.”
McCann, now 60, credits her healthy lifestyle for helping her get through the initial tough weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. “Through my nutrition, exercise, everything, I work really hard at trying to stay healthy so I can continue to tolerate whatever might be in my future.”
She says she has experienced fewer side effects with the targeted therapy than she did with chemotherapy. “I feel great. I feel wonderful. I feel like I have all my energy back.”
She advises other cancer patients to “always have hope,” noting that things are moving ahead fast in the field of cancer treatment. “It’s a totally different picture now than it was when I was diagnosed almost seven years ago. People who were diagnosed in the last two or three years have so many more treatment options.”
Stay tuned for Part Two of this article, which will explain how OmniSeq Target™ works — and who’s eligible.
Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.