News Headline: Lung Cancer Research Advancing
Outlet Full Name: Sherwood Park News
Author: Megan Voss
Two years ago last December, Sherwood Park resident Ruth Wasylenko had stage four lung cancer, but she is alive to tell the tale today.
“Lung cancer is one of the worst cancers to get — the survival rate is about 3 per cent,” she said.
“When the doctor says to you, ‘There’s no easy way to put this, but you have lung cancer,’ you know that’s pretty rough.”
Having struggled with pneumonia for about three months, Wasylenko was diagnosed with lung cancer at the end of 2011.
Wasylenko said she asked about what treatments were available, and the surgeon told her that she had “just months” to live.
“So I prepared to die,” she said. “I put myself in God’s hands, got rid of all my stuff, and moved in with a friend who said she would stay with me while I was sick.”
Wasylenko went on to talk about how shortly after she was diagnosed, her doctors told her about a new study coming out with a drug in its final stage.
They told her that it might not help her, but asked if she would be willing to try the drug for research sake.
“When I went over to the Cross (Cancer Institute), I wasn’t too hopeful,” she recalled.
“I didn’t expect it to help me… the primary tumour has shrunk 90 per cent, which is really quite remarkable.”
She said the new drug is called Giotrif, which cuts off communication of the growth factor of the genetic mutation, which is called the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptors.
“(Giotrif) was recently approved here in Alberta as a first-line treatment,” explained Dr. Randeep Sangha, a medical oncologist at the Cross Canada Cancer Institute in Edmonton.
“If you have advanced lung cancer, what we do is we test your tumour for the tissue. If you have this mutation, then you’ll be eligible for the pill,” he said.
Wasylenko said that she wants people to know that not every cause of lung cancer has to do with smoking.
“There are many other kinds of lung cancer,” she stated, noting that she had never been a smoker.
“What they’re beginning to discover is that… the main tumour in the cancer can be analyzed for mutations.”
She noted that the study began in Asia, and that there was a massive rate of recovery for many young Asian women before the drug moved over to North America.
Wasylenko said she takes the pill every morning. She makes regular visits to the Cross Cancer Institute for CT scans and bloodwork, and the doctor determines each month if it’s OK for her to continue on with the pill.
She said the side effects were mostly annoying ones, such as sores in her mouth and nose, rashes on her skin and the worst part — fatigue.
“But it’s not nearly as bad as people who have to take… chemotherapy… it’s much, much better.”
“It’s amazing that it has worked so quickly,” she added.
Wasylenko said they don’t use the word “remission” anymore.
“The diagnosis is… the cancer will take over the drug,” she explained, noting that she was not cured, but not in remission, either.
“It’s a matter of living each day the best that I can, and when the cancer takes over, I have to live with that in a different way.”
Wasylenko said that a new trial drug was in the works, which would be a second version of Giotrif.
“It’s a real message of hope, especially for lung cancer, that there are now some treatments for some people,” she added.
She encourages people that if they have the opportunity to do a trial drug, to do it, because it’s how research happens.
“I would probably say the big C is getting just a little bit smaller,” she said.
“This is a story of hope.”