Beyond Our Borders

I recently returned from Brazil where I participated in a cancer symposium. During my visit I encountered many highly skilled physicians with expertise in breast, thoracic, gastrointestinal and orthopedic oncology. The degree of collegiality and enthusiasm was palpable. The most exciting aspect of my visit was the warm reception and extremely high level of interest in the clinical application of our laboratory platform. It was a refreshing reminder that the parochial thinking of the American oncology community is not the norm throughout the world.

Upon my return, I had the pleasure of meeting a charming 61-year-old woman from New Delhi, India. In review of her chart I recognized her name as a patient for whom we had conducted a study in February of 2012. Her husband, an accomplished businessman, had learned of our laboratory and worked diligently to obtain, process and transport a portion of his wife’s tumor from the surgical suite to our lab. Despite multiply recurrent disease and numerous prior treatments, this patient’s ovarian cancer cells revealed exquisite sensitivity to a drug combination in the laboratory. Her physicians at the Apollo Hospital of New Delhi delivered the treatment exactly as outlined by our lab, and here sitting across from me was the patient in complete remission six months later. The family had traveled from India to meet me and express their thanks.

Each of these experiences speaks volumes for the globalization of cancer care. Cancer patients, whether from Brazil, India or China are more alike than different. Each confronts a seemingly insurmountable adversary. Each in their own way seeks out the best information and advice. And each can be best managed with those treatments found uniquely effective for their tumor. Perhaps once we have conquered cancer in India and Brazil, the EVA-PCD® assay will be ultimately accepted in the United States of America.

There is More to Gastrointestinal Cancer Management Than FOLFOX

Several months ago, I was introduced to a 58-year-old gentleman with a very bad diagnosis — a bout of gastrointestinal bleeding that had lead to an upper GI endoscopy. It wasn’t an ulcer, or even gastric cancer, but a very rare form of cancer arising in the duodenum. Adenocarcinoma of the duodenum is very uncommon.

This patient was in trouble.

In addition to the bleeding, he had lost a substantial amount of weight, was in pain and had a very large tumor that was nearly obstructing his upper GI tract. After getting the patient stabilized in September 2010, he was referred to a surgeon who conducted an aggressive surgical resection. The recovery was difficult, prolonged and accompanied by additional GI bleeding. By the time the patient had recovered adequately enough to consider additional therapy, his PET scan revealed extensive re-growth.

If you were to ask medical oncologists in the United States what to give such a patient, 99 percent would recommend FOLFOX or some variation thereof. But, FOLFOX wasn’t the right treatment for this patient. Instead, he had a strong signal for Irinotecan, which was further enhanced by the addition of an EGFR inhibitor. Based on this, I elected to treat the patient with Erbitux + Irinotecan. Before starting therapy, his CA 19-9 was 354. Although his signal for the EGFr inhibitor was very favorable in our analysis, I screened him for K-ras mutation. It seemed evident from his dose response curves and clear synergy between Irinotecan and the EGFR inhibitors that he would be K-ras wild type, but in this era of evidenced-based medicine one must be politically correct.

Indeed, he was K-ras wild type and we started treatment with Erbitux + Irinotecan. Other than the rash associated with the Erbitux, the tolerance was good. The bleeding stopped immediately, the CA plummeted with the first dose to 71 and the patient then returned every other week for therapy.

On February 11, 2011, three cycles later, we repeated the PET/CT. The phrase “marked interval regression” of measurable disease caught my eye. I also noted the normalization of his CA 19-9. The patient had gained weight and returned to normal activities. With the exception of a small and diminishing rash, he looks quite normal. In fact, with the rather modest dose of Irinotecan used in his schedule, he hasn’t even suffered any hair loss. What I find most interesting about this patient is that FOLFOX, the most widely used regimen in this setting, wasn’t anywhere on the radar screen. It wasn’t active, it wasn’t recommended and I feel confident it wouldn’t have worked. However popular FOLFOX may have come to be in patients like this, it doesn’t fit everyone.