Camille was convinced she wouldn’t see the next Christmas.
It was May when the 53-year-old mother of two teens got the diagnosis: Stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer. Her only thoughts were for her family.
“How am I going to get this house and this family all put together?” she remembers thinking. “When you first hear the words lung cancer, you think that’s the end of the world.”
Camille is not alone. One in 17 women in the US will develop lung cancer in their lifetime. For a man, the risk is about one in 15. Lung cancer remains the number one cause of cancer-related death, killing more Americans each year than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined.
But science is progressing rapidly, and many people with Stage 4 lung cancer, like Camille, are benefiting from cancer diagnostic testing, which helps determine a disease or condition. Biomarker testing, sometimes referred to as molecular testing or mutation testing, can mean patients receive a full diagnosis and can play a critical role in determining the treatment that is right for them. For patients diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, testing for cancer biomarkers is recommended by national cancer guideline organizations as a “standard-of-care practice,” meaning all qualified patients should receive it if diagnosed. And it may have given Camille a new outlook about what life with Stage 4 lung cancer could mean.
Waiting for Results and Taking Action: Camille’s Treatment Journey
Camille’s cancer was first discovered after she went to the doctor for severe back pain. But after a normal X-ray, a CT scan showed tumors on her back. To determine how best to treat her cancer, her physician needed to find where the cancer started and additional tests showed the cancer had started in her lungs. She then underwent staging for her cancer, where exams and tests were performed to learn how big and where the cancer has grown. The results showed that Camille had Stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer, which means the cancer had metastasized, or spread outside of the lungs to other parts of the body. In metastasis, cancer cells break away from the original tumor, travel through the blood or lymph system, and form a new tumor in other organs or tissues in the body. In Camille’s case, it had spread to both her back and brain.
“You go into denial,” said Camille. “I didn’t think my chances were very good.”
However, after denial came action. Camille began to learn more about her disease and consulted multiple doctors. One recommended she undergo more testing to determine if a specific “biomarker” was the underlying cause of her disease. A biomarker is a biological molecule found in blood, other body fluids, or tissues that is a sign of a normal or abnormal process, or of a condition or disease. The test results took about a month to come back.
“You get very impatient, because you want something done to get rid of your cancer as soon as possible,” said Camille. “But I’m very happy that I waited.”
Good News, Right on Time: How Testing Changed Her Course of Care
The biomarker tests showed that Camille’s tumor cells tested positive for an epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutation, which meant she was a candidate for an oral therapy that targets the mutation and that may help stop the cancer from growing and spreading. And, just in time, she received this news in her doctor’s office right before she was about to begin chemotherapy.
“We were hugging and jumping up and down after my doctor said, ‘I have good news: the test showed that you have an EGFR mutation.’ My mother and my husband looked at us and asked, ‘Why would a cancerous mutation be good?’ My doctor answered, ‘Because there is targeted therapy available that can help treat Camille’s specific type of lung cancer.’”
What Every Patient with Stage 4 Lung Cancer Should Ask Their Doctor
Initially, it was difficult for Camille to be proactive and take a larger role in her care decisions, she said, but there was a moment when she realized she needed to step up more.
“At one point I had a little breakdown in my doctor’s office, because I had my husband there. I had my mother there. Everybody’s talking about me and finally I said, ‘I’ve got to do this on my own terms,’” said Camille. “It’s your body. It’s your life. You have to take some control of it. And the more control you feel like you have, the more comforting it is.”
Camille’s experience is not necessarily the same as that of others with lung cancer. Because lung cancer is a diverse disease with a range of subtypes, every patient’s treatment path is different. That’s why it’s important for those who are newly diagnosed to learn as much as they can about their cancer, including through biomarker testing if Stage 4, so they can receive a full diagnosis from their doctor.
Biomarker or mutation testing in Stage 4 lung cancer is critical to opening the door to therapies that work best for each person’s particular type of lung cancer. Experts call it “precision medicine” – delivering customized medical care tailored to the individual patient – and it’s helping doctors fight some types of cancer better today than in the past. It can help to ensure that the right medicine reaches the right patient at the right time. These tests are becoming a standard part of practice and are changing the treatment approach to Stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer.
Living in Gratitude and Giving Back
Camille’s cancer is currently stable. She is living her life with EGFR-mutation positive Stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer. With proper treatment, medical care, and support, she is now able to keep her daily routine while treating her disease. She gets a CT scan every three months to monitor for any changes.
“I get anxious, but not as bad as I could because I think back to six months ago and now I’m swimming a quarter of a mile twice a week, I can help with my kids’ school and volunteer,” she said. “There are some things that I know I should take slowly, but otherwise, it’s mostly back to normal for us. I couldn’t even stand in church when I was first diagnosed. You become very grateful.”
As part of that gratitude, volunteering has become even more important to Camille since her diagnosis.
“I’ve always been the caretaker and the volunteer, but people have helped me, particularly in the last couple of months, so I really want to give that back,” she said. “I want to help people who are in the same situation as I am. I would tell them there’s a lot of options out there and that it’s not hopeless.”
Patients with Stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer should talk to their healthcare team about whether they should be tested and about all available therapy and care options, regardless of where they are in their treatment journey. If test results come back positive for EGFR or for another mutation, doctors may recommend a different treatment plan. For Camille and her family, a different treatment plan changed everything.
©2019 AstraZeneca. All rights reserved.
US-31914 Last Updated 10/19