Last year, 234,000 Americans were expected to be diagnosed with lung cancer.
Of those, about 15 percent occurred in people with no risk factors.
But there’s a targeted therapy that’s helping some patients survive.
Many lung cancer patients who have never smoked and don’t work around toxic chemicals or carcinogens have been found instead to have a defective gene that drives their cancer.
Now, an FDA approved therapy is targeting what doctors call alk positive cancer, helping push patients toward remission.
Most mornings, you’ll find Bruce Dunbar powering through a workout with the Westchester, New York, Master’s Swim Club.
Bruce was a high school all American and captain of the Princeton swim team.
Now at 52, swimming is good for his body, and his mind.
Bruce Dunbar says, ” The truth is, it’s a chance to think about what the day has in store. What life has in store. ”
Two years ago, Bruce’s life was flipped upside down.
What doctors first thought was asthma or pneumonia was finally diagnosed as stage four lung cancer. It had spread to his spine and his brain.
” As it turns out, I had 26 lesions in my brain, “continues Dunbar.
Bruce never smoked. His doctors determined he had a gene mutation driving the cancer.
Brendon Stiles, Thoracic Surgeon at Weill Cornell Medicine & NY-Presbyterian says, ” Bruce wound up having something called an alk rearrangement, which is a mutation, different parts of the chromosome fused together, and fortunately, that has amazing drugs now. ”
In fact, just one month before Bruce was diagnosed, the FDA approved Alecensa and his oncologist prescribed it.Four pills twice a day.
Now more than 20 months later, Bruce has just three tumors in his brain. The tumor in his lung is only one-tenth of what it used to be.
Dunbar says, ” In November of 2017 when I was diagnosed I wasn’t sure I was going to live, let alone get back in a pool again.”
Doctors say eventually the drug will stop working and the cancer will regrow.
The hope is that the targeted therapy works long enough for researchers to refine the next generation of the drug, or add another treatment, like immunotherapy to keep bruce going.