BOSTON, Mass. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- About 1.6 million people will get
a cancer diagnosis this year. The majority of them will be subjected to
chemo and radiation -- a brutal approach that might or might not work.
Doctors are trying to take the guesswork out of cancer by tailoring
treatment to each patient. The new approach is giving two terminal cancer
patients the gift of time.
It's an unlikely place to find inspiration. This is where Beverly Sotir
fuels her fighting spirit.
"I have a CAT scan on my bathroom wall, and every morning,” Beverly Sotir
told Ivanhoe. “I go into the bathroom, take my shower, come out and I can't
tell you what I say to it, but I swear at it, and I tell it to get out of my
body and leave me alone."
The grandmother of 14 wasn't a smoker, but a scan revealed tumors throughout
her chest. Her diagnosis: stage-four lung cancer -- six months to live.
"Six months isn't long enough to do the things you want to do. Excuse me,"
Beverly went on a brutal chemo regiment that damaged her kidneys.
"You're just so sick,” Sotir said.
The tumors continued growing, until doctors targeted her treatment.
"This is not a one-size-fits-all disease. This is a disease where we need to
find out what makes each individual cancer tick,” Pasi A. Janne, M.D., Ph.D.
medical oncologist at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston explained.
Thousands of tumor samples go into a robot, which reveals each tumor's DNA
That fingerprint helps doctors determine if the tumor has a genetic mutation
-- an irregular gene.
"And these specific mutations would give us important clues about how to
treat the patients” Leif Ellisen, M.D., medical oncologist at Mass General
Hospital Cancer Center in Boston said. “That is the ‘ah ha’ moment.”
For Beverly, it meant taking a drug designed specifically to block her
tumor's mutation. The results…
"Probably about a 30 to 40 percent reduction in the tumor itself,” Janne
"It was just shrinking and shrinking. It's unbelievable. It really is that
it's just for you,” Sotir recalled.
Doctors say personalized medicine isn't a cure-all for cancer, but it has
been successful in fighting breast, lung, colon and skin cancers. Martin
Farkash is also fighting for his life. He has melanoma that spread to his
"I always believed that if I could live long enough, something would be
discovered," Farkash said.
Martin was right. Doctors pinpointed a genetic mutation in his tumor and
gave him a designer drug to kill the cancer. Within six weeks, his tumors
shrank by 40 percent.
"I was exhilarated. I can't describe the emotion,” Farkash recalled.
Doctor Keith Flaherty says 10 percent of melanoma patients respond to
traditional therapy. With the personalized approach, that goes up to 80
"Simply put, we want to be able to offer our patients therapies that work,"
Keith Flaherty, MD
Meanwhile, Beverly's lung tumor shrank a total of 50 percent, thanks to
medicine made with the patient in mind.
Right now, hospitals charge about $2,000 for genetic testing of cancer.
Insurance covers it if there is proven medical benefits. Doctors at Mass
General are hunting for 122 known mutations or genes that may predict
whether drugs already on the shelf or in development might kill a patient's
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Katie Marquedant, Senior Media Relations
Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center