An Unanticipated Diagnosis and a Resilient Response: A Lung Cancer Patient Shares Her Story
Posted: June 10, 2021 | Word Count: 1,919
Sponsored by Takeda Oncology
Each year in the U.S., nearly a quarter million new cases of lung cancer are diagnosed 1-2, and each of these diagnoses represent a person and family whose lives are turned upside down. Barbara is one of these people, and this is her story of hope.
Following their marriage in 1970, Barbara and her husband lived a happy life, traveling the world, raising two children and becoming grandparents to three wonderful girls. Barbara cherished time with her granddaughters but never imagined it would lead to a realization that may have saved her life.
Several years back, Barbara developed a cold after visiting with her granddaughter who had been sick at the time. But while Barbara’s granddaughter got better, Barbara’s cough became worse. Following an initial diagnosis of bronchitis from her doctor, the cough persisted.
A friend urged her to get an X-ray to ensure it wasn’t pneumonia. The radiologist evaluated her scans, and after several reviews, saw something in her lung that shouldn’t be there — a small shadow. That shadow indicated something more serious than pneumonia. A tumor.
The news was shocking — how could what she thought was a simple cold be a tumor? One day, she was healthy, and now she was questioning whether she had cancer. Whether it was benign or malignant, Barbara’s physician advised the tumor had to come out.
Barbara went in for surgery and hoped that would be the end of it. Soon after, she received the news she was dreading — lung cancer. It felt impossible. Barbara was a non-smoker, as was her husband — but up to 20% of lung cancer patients have never smoked.3
Barbara was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), the most common form of lung cancer, representing approximately 85% of all cases in the U.S.1 Lung cancer symptoms are hard to detect and often don’t present until the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.4-6 The most common sites of metastasis are the liver, bone and brain.7 Had she not gotten sick when she did, she may have not presented cancer symptoms until it was too late.
After four rounds of chemotherapy, Barbara relied heavily on her husband, who had taken on the role as her caretaker throughout her treatment. She was exhausted from the chemotherapy and needed her husband for everyday tasks like driving to work. He was her “rock.” Under his care, she focused on getting back to her normal life — trying her best to forget what she had just been through.
But as life does, it handed Barbara another challenge when she went in for a regular check-in. The cancer was growing, and she was told she would need additional treatment.
The treatment plan following her relapse included chemotherapy and radiation to be followed by immunotherapy.
Before Barbara began immunotherapy, her doctors conducted diagnostic testing to determine her specific type of lung cancer and give her the most effective treatment plan. They learned she had anaplastic lymphoma kinase-positive (ALK+) NSCLC — a unique type of lung cancer often found in non-smokers. ALK+ NSCLC is caused by a gene alteration that produces a protein that tells cancer cells to grow and spread.8
Barbara learned immunotherapy was not appropriate for her type of lung cancer. But there was another option.
“My doctor said, ‘I’ve got some good news for you.’ He explained what ALK+ NSCLC was and that immunotherapy is not recommended for this type of cancer — I was so happy.” Barbara’s treatment came in the form of a targeted oral therapy called ALUNBRIG® (brigatinib). ALUNBRIG is approved to treat adult patients with ALK+ metastatic NSCLC (mNSCLC).
The presence of her cancer has been life-altering, but Barbara is living a relatively normal life today. While she has experienced some gastrointestinal side effects from taking ALUNBRIG, Barbara is doing well and appreciates that her treatment is manageable, at one pill a day. “There’s an ease of knowing there’s a medication out there that’s targeted to this cancer.” Every three months, she goes in for a PET scan, and the results so far have been encouraging, with no signs that the cancer has spread further.
When asked what advice she would give to other patients, Barbara acknowledges that she is just one of thousands who have stories of persevering after a lung cancer diagnosis. Sticking to her character and resolve, she encourages others “to not dwell on the diagnosis — stay positive and ask for help.”
Barbara is thankful she has found a way to manage her cancer, which helps her maintain hope and live a relatively normal lifestyle. You can learn more about ALK+ mNSCLC and ALUNBRIG as a potential treatment option by visiting ALUNBRIG.com.
Not every patient will have the same experience, and all treatment decisions should be discussed with a doctor.
Indication and Important Safety Information for ALUNBRIG™ (brigatinib)
Uses of ALUNBRIG
ALUNBRIG is a prescription medicine used to treat adults with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) that have a certain abnormal anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene that has spread to other parts of their body.
It is not known if ALUNBRIG is safe and effective in children.
ALUNBRIG can cause serious side effects, including:
- Lung problems. ALUNBRIG may cause severe or life-threatening swelling (inflammation) of the lungs any time during treatment, and can lead to death. These lung problems happen especially within the first week of treatment with ALUNBRIG. Symptoms may be similar to those symptoms from lung cancer. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have any new or worsening symptoms of trouble breathing or shortness of breath, chest pain, cough (with or without mucus) or fever.
- High blood pressure (hypertension). ALUNBRIG may cause high blood pressure. Your healthcare provider will check your blood pressure before starting and during treatment with ALUNBRIG. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you get headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, chest pain or shortness of breath.
- Slow heart rate (bradycardia). ALUNBRIG may cause very slow heartbeats that can be severe. Your healthcare provider will check your heart rate during treatment with ALUNBRIG. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you feel dizzy, lightheaded, or faint during treatment with ALUNBRIG. Tell your healthcare provider if you start to take or have any changes in heart rate or blood pressure medicines.
- Vision problems. ALUNBRIG may cause vision problems. Your healthcare provider may stop ALUNBRIG and refer you to an eye specialist if you develop severe vision problems during treatment with ALUNBRIG. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have any loss of vision or any change in vision, including double vision, seeing flashes of light, blurry vision, light hurting your eyes, or new or increased floaters.
- Muscle pain, tenderness, and weakness (myalgia). ALUNBRIG may increase the level of an enzyme in your blood called creatine phosphokinase (CPK), which may be a sign of muscle damage. Your healthcare provider will do blood tests to check your blood levels of CPK during treatment with ALUNBRIG. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you get new or worsening signs and symptoms of muscle problems, including unexplained muscle pain or muscle pain that does not go away, tenderness, or weakness.
- Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis). ALUNBRIG may increase enzymes in your blood called amylase and lipase, which may be a sign of pancreatitis. Your healthcare provider will do blood tests to check your pancreatic enzyme blood levels during treatment with ALUNBRIG. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you get new or worsening signs and symptoms of pancreatitis, including upper abdominal pain that may spread to the back and get worse with eating, weight loss, or nausea.
- High blood sugar (hyperglycemia). ALUNBRIG may increase your blood sugar levels. Your healthcare provider will do blood tests to check your blood sugar levels before starting and during treatment with ALUNBRIG. Your healthcare provider may need to start or change your blood sugar medicine to control your blood sugar levels. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you get new or worsening signs and symptoms of hyperglycemia, including needing to urinate more than usual, or feeling very thirsty, very hungry, sick to your stomach, weak, tired or confused:
The most common side effects of ALUNBRIG include diarrhea, fatigue, nausea, rash, cough, muscle pain, headache, high blood pressure, vomiting and difficulty breathing.
ALUNBRIG may cause fertility problems in males. This may affect your ability to father a child. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have concerns about fertility.
These are not all of the possible side effects of ALUNBRIG.
Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.
Before you take ALUNBRIG, tell your healthcare provider about all of your medical conditions, including if you have lung or breathing problems, high blood pressure, a slow heartbeat, or any vision problems, have or have had pancreatitis, have diabetes mellitus or glucose intolerance, have liver problems, have kidney problems or are on dialysis, are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, or are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed.
ALUNBRIG can harm your unborn baby. Your healthcare provider will determine whether or not you are pregnant before you start treatment with ALUNBRIG. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you become pregnant during treatment with ALUNBRIG or think you may be pregnant.
- Females who are able to become pregnant should use effective non-hormonal birth control during treatment with ALUNBRIG and for at least 4 months after the final dose of ALUNBRIG. Birth control pills (oral contraceptives) and other hormonal forms of birth control may not be effective if used during treatment with ALUNBRIG. Talk to your healthcare provider about birth control choices that are right for you during treatment with ALUNBRIG.
- Males who have female partners that are able to become pregnant should use effective birth control during treatment with ALUNBRIG and for at least 3 months after the final dose of ALUNBRIG.
It is not known if ALUNBRIG passes into your breast milk. Do not breastfeed during treatment with ALUNBRIG and for 1 week after the final dose of ALUNBRIG.
Tell your healthcare provider about all the medicines you take, including prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, or herbal supplements.
Avoid eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice during treatment with ALUNBRIG. Grapefruit may increase the amount of ALUNBRIG in your blood.
Please see the full U.S. Prescribing Information for ALUNBRIG at www.ALUNBRIG.com
1American Cancer Society. Key Statistics for Lung Cancer. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer/about/key-statistics.html. Accessed March 2021.
2 National Cancer Institute. Cancer Stat Facts: Lung and Bronchus Cancer. https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/lungb.html. Accessed March 2021.
3 American Cancer Society. Lung Cancer Risks for Non-smokers. https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/why-lung-cancer-strikes-nonsmokers.html. Accessed March 2021.
4 Kris MG, Johnson BE, Berry LD, et al. Using multiplexed assays of oncogenic drivers in lung cancers to select targeted drugs. JAMA. 2014; 311:1998-2006.
5 Aggarwal A, et al. The State of Lung Cancer Research: A Global Analysis. J Thorac Oncol. 2016; 11(7): 1040-1050
6 American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society’s guidelines for lung cancer screening. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/detection.html. Accessed March 2021.
7 Bates JE, Milano MT. Prognostic significance of sites of extrathoracic metastasis in patients with non-small cell lung cancer. J Thorac Dis. 2017;9(7):1903-1910.
8 Shaw AT, Solomon B. Targeting anaplastic lymphoma kinase in lung cancer. Clin Cancer Res. 2011;17(8):2081-2086.