A View From a Young Lung Cancer Survivor: Genomic Testing Provides Hope

Researchers have long been confounded by the incidence and causes of lung cancer in young individuals who never smoked. An estimated 4,500 people under the age of 45 were diagnosed with the disease last year.

In July 2014, the Addario Lung Cancer Medical Institute, a partner of the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, facilitated the launching of a first-of-its-kind study to answer this question.

To gain a patient’s perspective on the trial and the importance of genomic testing, CURE spoke with Corey Wood, a 23-year-old trial participant and lung cancer survivor from Yorba Linda, California.

CURE: Could you tell me a little bit about your life before your diagnosis and then about the diagnosis?

Wood: I was in school at the University of California, Berkeley, right before the diagnosis. I had always been an athlete and I come from an outdoorsy family. At the time, I was really into marathons and triathlons. It was my senior year and I had a job set up in Denver.

I had this slight flash in my right eye that I only mentioned to the doctor because I was having my contact prescription renewed. He said to come back in a month to see if the flash grew. When I thought the flash got a little bigger, I was transferred to a retina specialist and then to an eye tumor specialist. It was that eye tumor doctor who ordered a full-body scan. I had internships, I had races, I had school, I had work — I was very distracted and thought I was just going through the motions by doing the full-body scan. I never once thought it was cancer.

After I got the diagnosis, it probably took a week for me to actually accept and think, “Oh, I have stage 4 lung cancer.” It was just so, so unexpected.

I started to do some research and the Internet was devastating at first. Then, I started reading about targeted therapies and genomic tests that could be done. My initial needle biopsy had actually already been submitted for EGFR and ALK mutations.

After two weeks, they both came back negative and I thought I was just done there.  I wasn’t sure if chemotherapy was going to work.

Luckily, my doctor, Timothy E. Byun, had a feeling that I had to have a mutation [editor's note: Byun is an oncologist at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, California].

“You’re so young, you have to have a mutation,” he said. “Can I schedule you for surgery and remove one of your larger nodules to submit?”

It moved quickly then. I found out I was positive for ROS1, picked up my Xalkori (crizotinib) pills three days later and about three months later, the cancer was completely gone: clear lungs, clear lymph nodes and the bone metastases were healing. I was able to get back to running to keep me mentally sane — a normalcy I know a lot of other survivors don’t get to experience.

This past May, I had a typical PET/CT scan and brain MRI. My body came back clear but I had my first go-around with brain lesion so I switched targeted therapies to the investigational drug entrectinib (RXDX-101) in June.

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