New lung cancer screening detects gene mutations
If mutations detected, cancer can be treated with pills rather than chemotherapy
Doctors at Halifax’s Capital District Health Authority are using a new approach to fight lung cancer by using a screening program that searches for specific gene mutations linked to the deadly disease.
Dr. Drew Bethune, a thoracic surgeon at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Halifax, launched to project early last fall.
"It assists with the most common kind of lung cancer and it enables us to find mutations that can affect how we treat patients in a major way," he said.
Lung cancer patients are biopsied. The samples are then sent to a lab where technicians look for mutations in seven genes. If found, a patient is often prescribed a pill instead of painful chemotherapy.
The treatment for people who have these mutations is more successful than using chemotherapy. The bonus is that using the pill treatment results in fewer side effects such as hair loss and nausea. The pill more specifically targets the cancer, unlike chemotherapy which is sometimes described as "carpet-bombing" the body.
"It just wipes out everything, any growing cell, whereas the targeted treatments only affects the cells that have this mutation and it turns them off and it stops the cancer in its tracks. It's absolutely amazing," said Bethune.
Marina Bondar started taking the pills last fall. Less than three months later, she received an update on her condition.
"I had a CT scan done and my doctor said, ‘You know what? Everything disappeared,’" she said.
Bondar, who had never smoked, received the shocking news after her symptoms worsened last summer. She said was constantly tired, finding it hard to swallow.
"I asked the doctor, how long do people with this lung cancer, stage 4, [live with] the last stage. She said it’s an average of six months," said Bondar.
She’ll likely have to take the pills and have regular CT scans performed for the rest of her life. She said she’s just happy to be alive.