Thursday, November 5, 2015

Cancer Treatment Options Are Changing. . .

Why are there fewer cancer patients receiving IV chemotherapy at the Polson Oncology Clinic? Today cancer treatment looks different everywhere than it did just two years ago. In the early 20th century cancer was treated by surgically removing a small localized tumor. Radiation was added to control small tumors that could not be surgically removed. Then during World War II chemical warfare research found chemical agents that killed rapidly growing cancer cells by damaging their DNA. Chemotherapy (chemo) was born. The first metastatic cancer was cured in 1956 when methotrexate was used to treat a rare tumor. Research through the past 70 years has refined and greatly improved drug therapy.

Chemo is given in a pill, liquid, shots and most often put into the blood intervenously (IV). Researchers found that combinations of drugs is often times more effective.

Currently doctors are prescribing more oral chemo drugs, drugs taken by mouth, to treat some cancers. The positives: patients can control their treatment from home without needing to travel to a treatment center except for diagnostic work and doctor exams.  Chemo taken by mouth is as strong as other forms of chemo and works just as well. Some drugs are never taken by mouth because the stomach cannot absorb them Others may cause harm when swallowed.

The major positive of oral chemo can be the major negative when the patient/caregiver are in control of treatment and do not follow protocols.  Another negative is the high cost of oral chemo drugs. Many times patients pay more out-of-pocket for oral than IV drugs.

Patients with cancers that are treated more effectively with oral drugs, and have little or no insurance coverage for the expensive oral chemo drug, can get assistance from the drug manufacturers. Patients can talk with their doctor for help in contacting the drug manufacturers.

Genetic research and immunology, the study of the immune system and how it can be used to control cancer,  will add and improve future treatment options. The oncology clinic landscape will mirror those changes.

by Valerie Lindstrom

Mutated Cancer Gene Forces Renee to be Proactive

2014 was a rough year for Renee Bassett. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, and was treated with radiation and chemotherapy. At her check up five years out, at the end of 2013, her blood work revealed an elevated breast cancer marker.

In January 2014 Dr. Linda Reis, her Montana Cancer Specialist doctor, ordered a bone scan and a test for the BRCA genes. The good news was that no cancer was found in her bones, but she did have the BRCA1 gene.

Back in 2008 she was not tested for the BRCA genes. Research information on the genes was new and the test was very expensive -- $4,000. 

Upon finding that she tested positive for the BRCA gene mutation she was concerned about who else in her family had the cancer gene. Renee has two sisters. One sister tested positive for the gene and one of her sister’s two daughters also tested positive. Renee’s other sister tested negative. Renee and husband Todd have two sons. The oldest son and his girlfriend both have mothers who have tested positive for the gene. The chance is 50/50 that a child of a parent with the gene will be positive. The young couple may not have the gene but Renee says that the odds are not in their favor. They have discussed not having children. Her sister who tested positive also had a bilateral mastectomy and her healthy tissue allowed her to heal quickly.

Renee had seven surgeries last year, the first two were  to prevent the possibility of cancer. Her first in mid February was an oophorectomy, a removal of both ovaries. The second was a two-part bilateral mastectomy taking both breasts.

Renee struggled with the decision to have breast reconstruction. One son helped her make a decision to proceed with reconstruction. The breast tissue of the radiated breast did not heal as well as the normal tissue. Not only was the tissue radiated but because she was a young breast cancer patient, age 47, she was given a stronger dose of radiation which caused the breast tissue to atrophy and reduce circulation.

As a former ER Tech, Renee realized when her re-constructed radiated breast was infected. She had several surgeries on the reconstructed breast. She praises her Missoula surgeon who followed her closely, often making special trips to Polson. She spent three months in a recliner. Renee works at Salon Envy and did make an appearance at work periodically last year. She started back full-time in January 2015.

Today Renee has healed, is almost back to full arm movement, and loves being back at work. She especially feels good  that her sister is safe and that her relatives are aware and in control of their possible risk of cancer. She notes that the genetic test for the BRCA genes  is expensive but if the same company screens other family members, and as long as the defective gene is identified, the cost is around $500 for each person and most insurance companies will at least pay a portion.

“We hope technology gets less expensive and research may come up with a fix for the gene,” she says. “My grandchildren are not at an age that we need to rush this. We feel empowered by the information.”

Renee Bassett created Cheerful Touch for cancer patients. She helps patients with hair loss and skin problems.

To make an appointment with Rene call Cheerful Heart at 883-3070.