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Doctors use designer drug to kill cancer

May 31, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
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, but it is where Beverly Sotir fuels her fighting spirit.

"I have a CAT scan on my bathroom wall, and every morning," said Beverly Sotir. "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 with six months to live.

"Six months isn't long enough to do the things you want to do. Excuse me," said Sotir.

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," said Pasi A. Janne, M.D., Ph.D. medical oncologist at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Thousands of tumor samples go into a robot, which reveals each tumor's DNA fingerprint.

That fingerprint helps doctors determine if the tumor has a genetic mutation -- an irregular gene.

For Beverly, it meant taking a drug designed specifically to block her tumor's mutation. She saw results.

"It was just shrinking and shrinking. It's unbelievable. It really is that it's just for you," said Sotir.

Martin Farkash is also fighting for his life. He has melanoma that spread to his lymph nodes.

"I always believed that if I could live long enough, something would be discovered," said Farkash.

Farkash 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.

Dr. Keith Flaherty says 10 percent of melanoma patients respond to traditional therapy. With the personalized approach, that goes up to 80 percent.

"Simply put, we want to be able to offer our patients therapies that work," said Dr. Flaherty.

Meanwhile, Beverly's lung tumor shrank a total of 50 percent, thanks to medicine made with the patient in mind.


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