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New Lung Cancer Therapy

Some patients can avoid chemo.

Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in both men and women in the United States. More people die from lung cancer than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. The usual course of action is surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. However now, a new drug is helping some people with lung cancer live longer without the harmful side effects of chemo.

"I'm active, a non-smoker, and healthy," Justin Perry said. Despite all that, doctors diagnosed Justin Perry with late stage lung cancer.

Justin thought he would be facing chemotherapy, but when doctors tested his lung cancer tissue they realized he was among the three percent of patients with an abnormal ALK gene. 

"A genetic alteration happens because a piece of chromosome has switched over on to its side," Pasi Janne, MD, Director of the Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology and Medical Oncologist, Dana Farber Cancer Institute said.

That alteration made Justin a candidate for a targeted drug therapy trial. Instead of chemotherapy at the hospital, Justin took the more targeted therapy, ALK inhibitor pills at home.

"It doesn't make you lose your hair; it doesn't make you lose weight," Dr. Janne said. Studies show that people with the ALK mutation may have a response rate of over 50 percent, compared to ten percent with chemo.

Justin says taking four to five pills a day outweigh daily or weekly chemo treatments. "The first week I was already noticing a difference," Justin said.

In just two months the ALK inhibitor has shrunk most of the tumors in Justin's lungs, allowing him to breathe easier-knowing neither cancer nor chemo will get the best of him.

Doctors say they are continuously working on new and improved targeted therapies, called inhibitors, because eventually in most patients the cancer could figure out a way around the ALK inhibitors and come back.

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