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Healthier Future – Now

Source: Milwaukee Magazine

Author: Jeff Karzen

Published: July 18, 2014

Introducing the next wave of medicine’s next-level treatment.

The saddest cliché in America is that “everyone has been affected by cancer.” But that doesn’t make it any less impactful. The club no one wants to be a part of includes just about everyone.

Maybe one day in a future we can’t yet see, this won’t be the reality. For now, the only option is to fight cancer through research and medical advancements. Dr. Bruce Gershenhorn, an oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), is on the front lines of this fight. Gershenhorn, who treats mostly lung cancer patients, has seen up-close how recent breakthroughs are making a difference.

At CTCA, doctors are taking a new approach to cancer treatment. Instead of the old one-size-fits-all model, doctors are trying to understand the unique engines or drivers of the cancer. Based on the cancer mutation, a specific drug is being chosen to hopefully attack the cancer’s root.

“Ten years ago or less, lung cancer was addressed as small- or non-small-cell,” Gershenhorn says. “And 85 percent of patients were treated the same, which is small-cell. The non-small-cell cancer was basically all treated as one disease. From a medical oncology perspective, we now have unique ways to target cancers that are more effective and less toxic than the chemo we’ve been using for many years.”

Drugs have been created to shut down cancer mutations such as EGFR (epidural growth factor receptor) and ALK (anaplastic lymphoma kinase). Gershenhorn notes a lung cancer patient with the ALK mutation. She was so short of breath when she first came to CTCA that she needed a wheel-chair to get around. Soon after, she went on crizotinib, a drug that directly targets ALK.

“She was dying … and over a year later, she doesn’t even look like she has cancer,” Gershenhorn says. “In my mind, she’s been the poster child for the relevance of mutation and genomic testing. The smarter we can get in understanding the way these cancers grow, the more effective we can be in treating them.”

Obviously, the cancer battle is nowhere near the finish line. We still have a lengthy road to travel. But thankfully, the arrow is pointing upward.

“I wouldn’t say we’re quite yet at a paradigm shift in oncology,” Gershenhorn says, “but hopefully in the future, we will treat cancers based on molecular signatures rather than the organ that started it. Maybe we’ll treat breast cancer the same way we treat stomach cancer or lung cancer. Maybe in the future, we will target cancer cells the same way, not all of breast cancer the same way.”

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