AUSTIN (KXAN) — A potentially breakthrough lung cancer treatment has just begun clinical testing at the Shivers Cancer Center in Austin, thanks in part to the new medical school that will be built here. Austin and Dallas are the only two Texas locations running the trials and the first of some 300 that are expected to begin around the country.
Lung cancer is a dreaded disease that kills more Americans than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined. It is difficult to detect and difficult to treat.
Ron Durst took up cigarettes when he was just thirteen. He explains, “It was the thing to do. Everybody smoked, if you fit in you smoked.”
He did quit 10 years ago, motivated by tragedy. “My mom passed away from emphysema, which is smoking-related.”
In April, the 57 year old construction work was diagnosed with lung cancer. Stage 3. That meant it had spread to his lymph nodes and surgery was not an option.
“I thought I’m too young for this, too healthy.”
He has been driving into Austin every week since from his Buchanan Dam community for chemotherapy treatments. He says, “You feel lethargic, no appetite, you have to force yourself to eat. You just don’t want to do anything.
Ron adds, “I should know in two weeks if it’s done the trick.” He admits he is on pins and needles.
Ron is not a candidate for the new clinical trial of immunotherapy, a potential major breakthrough using your own immune system to fight cancer rather than radiation or chemo.
Dr. Boone Goodgame, medical oncologist at the Shivers Cancer Center, explains, “It is a very selective population for the test. It might only be four or five people. Not every patient with lung cancer is right for this specific immunotherapy drug.”
Early data suggests immunotherapy could add years to a patient’s life but more tests are needed and all cancer patients are encouraged to consider participating in clinical trials, although not all will fit the requirements. You should check with your doctor.
Dr. Goodgame says, “The only way any progress has been made in cancer, the only reason we have any treatment at all, is because people participate in clinical trials. There’s no other way to know if the new medicine works.”
The new immunotherapy has the medical industry buzzing and more than half a dozen pharmaceutical giants are racing to bring new drugs to the market.
While Ron Durst waits for his chemotherapy answers, he wonders what might have been.
“If it would have been available and I had that option when I started I would have been happy to try it.” As for other smokers out there he’s quick to offer advice. “Quit while you can.”