Results from several clinical trials combining chemo and immunotherapy changed the standard of care for many lung cancer patients last year. The chemo kills the cancer cells, and the drug prompts the immune system to do its job.
Rider, snowboarder and climber Jim Brown still tears it up on his electronic mountain bike -- sometimes with daughter, Isabella.
"I'm the last person in the world that people would think would get lung cancer," Brown said. "And it was pretty shocking."
Carcinogen exposure from Brown's 25-year firefighting career was blamed for his stage 4 adenocarcinoma lung cancer, diagnosed in 2015. He enrolled in Keynote 21, a trial that added Keytruda to standard chemo for some participants. He didn't get the Keytruda, but the chemo kept his disease stable for 22 months.
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Christina S. Baik MD, MPH, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance at University of Washington School of Medicine helped with the combination drug trial, which became the standard of care for many lung cancer patients last year.
"All patients who don't have a specific genetic mutation are receiving this drug combination of chemo and pembrolizumab as first treatment," Baik said.
Brown has a genetic mutation. He entered a trial for lorlatinib, a targeted drug that got FDA approval soon after.
"It's progression of medicine, and unless people are willing to do clinical trials, we can't move forward," Brown said.
"This is a mechanism by which patients are getting treatment of tomorrow. I think that's one thing that we like to say here, that you're getting a treatment of tomorrow," Baik said.
Brown is already in another trial comparing blood markers to CT scans to track disease progression.
Brown is still working in the firehouse. He is passionate about educating other firefighters on how to minimize exposure to carcinogens. Baik said many patients don't benefit from these drug combinations, so there's lots of room for research there.
Contributors to this news report include: Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Rusty Reed, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.