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CU Cancer Center News and Stories

Lung Cancer

Community    Lung Cancer

CU Cancer Center Offers Free Radon Testing Kits to the Colorado Community          

The statistics about radon exposure and lung cancer in Colorado are sobering: Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the state, and radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer, after tobacco smoke. 

Author Greg Glasgow | Publish Date August 01, 2023
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Research    Lung Cancer   

Studying the Role of Sox9 in Lung Cancer

New research led by Sharon R. Pine, PhD, director of the University of Colorado Cancer Center’s Thoracic Oncology Research Initiative, may help doctors understand why some lung cancer patients don’t respond to immunotherapy.

Author Greg Glasgow | Publish Date July 24, 2023
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Patient Care    Lung Cancer

New Treatment Paradigm Helps Lung Cancer Patient Thrive at CU Cancer Center 

There’s no such thing as perfect timing when it comes to lung cancer, but Kathy Ballard got pretty close. 

Author Greg Glasgow | Publish Date July 20, 2023
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Research    Lung Cancer   

CU Cancer Center Researcher Receives Gilead Grant to Study Persister Cells in Lung Cancer 

Cancer researchers have long been interested in the resistance that lung cancer patients develop to targeted therapies aimed at specific mutations. Though the therapies provide significant remission at first, the cancer eventually finds a way to return. 

Author Greg Glasgow | Publish Date June 19, 2023
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Community    Lung Cancer    Hope

Lung Cancer Survivorship Celebration Emphasizes Living with Hope and Optimism

Paul Herzegh’s lung cancer story began six years ago on a beautiful April morning, roadtripping back home to Boulder from visiting friends in Virginia. He was 68, in otherwise good health, and felt some small kinks in his chest.

Hardly any time later, he had a diagnosis: stage 4 adenocarcinoma, a type of cancer that originated in the cells lining the outside of his lungs. At that point, he didn’t know much beyond “the conventional wisdom that 'lung cancer is a killer,’” he explained Saturday evening, emphasizing the air quotes because, well, the conventional wisdom was wrong.

Author Rachel Sauer | Publish Date May 05, 2023
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Research    Lung Cancer    Radiation   

Research Shows Targeted Therapy Allows Certain Lung Cancer Patients to Avoid Whole-Brain Radiation

Whole-brain radiation therapy used to treat brain metastases is a significant cancer treatment that, while generally well-tolerated, can have serious long-term side effects, including dementia. Neither clinicians nor patients undertake it lightly.

Author Rachel Sauer | Publish Date March 29, 2023
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Research    Lung Cancer   

Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation Funds Efforts to Increase Lung Cancer Screening 

A project co-created by University of Colorado Cancer Center leader Jamie Studts, PhD, to boost lung cancer screening rates in Kentucky has proven so successful that Studts has received a grant from the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation (BMSF) to create an enhanced version of the program that will roll out in two more states in the coming years.

Author Greg Glasgow | Publish Date January 23, 2023
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Research    Faculty    Lung Cancer   

Balancing Science and Medicine to Benefit Lung Cancer Patient Care

When his mom fell off a ladder on New Year’s Eve a number of years ago, after deciding that was as good a night as any to clean the leaves from her gutters, one of the first things Ross Camidge, MD, PhD, did after she got home from the hospital was take her pulse.

Author Rachel Sauer | Publish Date January 12, 2023
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Community    Lung Cancer   

What Are Pack-Years?

For many people, receiving a cancer diagnosis may require learning a new vocabulary ­– terms that can be useful guideposts for defining the disease and its treatment.

Author Rachel Sauer | Publish Date January 03, 2023
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Research    Lung Cancer    Women's Health   

New Research from the University of Colorado Cancer Center Explores Options for Motherhood in Lung Cancer Patients

New research from the University of Colorado (CU) Cancer Center highlights the need for additional data collection for women hoping to have successful pregnancies while undergoing treatment for lung cancer. Specifically, they focus on the diagnosis of advanced oncogene-driven non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) that disproportionately affects women of reproductive age.

Author Laura Kelley | Publish Date December 02, 2022
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Research    Lung Cancer    Funding   

Translational Research Scholar Grant Supports Further Study of Immune Cell Changes During Lung Cancer Treatment

University of Colorado Cancer Center member Erin Schenk, MD, PhD, has been named one of the CU School of Medicine 2022 Translational Research Scholars and received four-year grant support to facilitate exploration and new lines of research.

Author Rachel Sauer | Publish Date November 07, 2022
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Research    Lung Cancer    Funding

CU ASPIRE Grant Supports Multi-Investigator Research Focusing on Lung Cancer Pre-Malignancy

A team of scientists and University of Colorado Cancer Center members are collaborating to understand pre-malignancy in lung cancer and decrease the risk of developing the disease, supported by a grant to promote such multi-investigator research.

Author Rachel Sauer | Publish Date October 14, 2022
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Research    Lung Cancer   

American Lung Association Award Funds CU Research on Epithelial Progenitor Cells 

University of Colorado Cancer Center members Moumita Ghosh, PhD, and Eric Clambey, PhD, have received a grant from the American Lung Association (ALA) to study how epithelial progenitor cells and immune cells may impact each other to shape the outcome of lung cancer

Author Greg Glasgow | Publish Date October 03, 2022
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Research    Lung Cancer   

CU Anschutz Researchers Create New Method to More Accurately Measure Cancer Lesions’ Response to Treatment

Researchers from the University of Colorado Cancer Center on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have created a new way of measuring cancer lesions’ response to treatment that could better inform the development of new cancer drugs.

Author Kelsea Pieters | Publish Date September 29, 2022
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Community    Breast Cancer    Lung Cancer

Cancer is A Leading Cause of Death in Colorado 

Deaths from COVID-19 and drug overdoses grabbed a lot of the headlines in 2021, but recently released numbers from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment show that cancer was still a leading cause of death in the state, and the number-one cause of death for the 45–84 age range.  

Author Greg Glasgow | Publish Date August 22, 2022
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Research    Community    Lung Cancer

ALK Positive Summit Focuses on Community and Survivorship

Until 2007, about 1 in 20 lung cancer patients all had the same thing in common but did not know it.

Author Rachel Sauer | Publish Date August 01, 2022
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Research    Press Releases    Lung Cancer   

CU Cancer Center Study Aims to Predict Critical Markers for Lung Cancer Treatments

A new study from the University of Colorado Cancer Center explores which lung cancer patients are the best candidates for novel therapies that directly target a gene identified as driving certain cancers.

Author Julia Milzer | Publish Date July 27, 2022
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Research    Lung Cancer    Immunotherapy

CU Cancer Center Researcher Focusing on Multiple Avenues of Immunoprevention for Lung Cancer

An exciting and innovative area of cancer research is immunoprevention, in which studies focus on preventing cancer before its onset by using vaccines, antibodies, and other immune mechanisms.

Author Rachel Sauer | Publish Date July 06, 2022
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Research    Community    Lung Cancer   

New TORI Director Looking Forward to Supporting Multidisciplinary Research and Building Relationships

This year, lung cancer will account for an estimated 130,000 deaths in the United States – approximately 25% of all cancer deaths. Among those deaths, people who are Black will be disproportionately represented.

Author Rachel Sauer | Publish Date April 29, 2022
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Patient Care    Lung Cancer    Prostate Cancer    Melanoma    Immunotherapy   

Acknowledging the Fears of Cancer by Giving Them a Face and a Name

To understand why Beau Gill built a mental cupboard for Jeff and Spike, first you must travel back with him to the small town of Catemaco in Mexico’s state of Veracruz.

Author Rachel Sauer | Publish Date April 20, 2022
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Research    Lung Cancer

Studying the Role of Different Signaling Pathways in RET-Positive Lung Cancer Treatment Resistance 

University of Colorado (CU) Cancer Center member Tejas Patil, MD, is one of three researchers to receive a combined $1 million grant from the Hamoui Foundation and LUNGevity Foundation to study RET-positive lung cancer

Author Greg Glasgow | Publish Date March 21, 2022
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Community    Awareness    Lung Cancer    Public Health

Radon Exposure an Ongoing Cancer Concern for Colorado Homes and Indoor Spaces

When Colorado Governor Jared Polis declared January National Radon Action Month, he noted that about 50 percent of Colorado homes test at or above the guideline level at which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends remediation.

Author Rachel Sauer | Publish Date January 20, 2022
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Breast Cancer    Lung Cancer    Colorectal Cancer

American Cancer Society Reports 32% Drop in Cancer Deaths Since 1991

The American Cancer Society (ACS) released its annual cancer statistics last week, reporting that the risk of dying from cancer in the U.S. has fallen 32% over the past 28 years. Cancer deaths in the U.S. reached their peak in 1991, with 215 out of every 100,000 people dying from cancer, and have been falling ever since, largely due to a decline in the amount of people who smoke.

Author Greg Glasgow | Publish Date January 18, 2022
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Patient Care    Community    Lung Cancer    Magazine    CU Medicine Today

“We Want to Give People the Opportunity to Grow Older”

At her lowest point, after hearing there wasn’t much more that medicine or science could do for her, Connie Walters asked her best friend and ex-husband, Abel, to stay with her overnight. She wasn’t sure she would wake up and she didn’t want to die alone.

Author Rachel Sauer | Publish Date November 30, 2021
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Research    Community    Lung Cancer

Lung Cancer Screening Rates Increase With Access to Medicare

Lung cancer screening is recommended only for those who are at high risk for the disease — adults ages 50­–80 who smoke at least 20 packs a year — but even among members of that high-risk group, screening rates remain low, ranging from 5% to 20% of those eligible for the screening CT scan.

Author Greg Glasgow | Publish Date November 15, 2021
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Patient Care    Community    Lung Cancer

Dealing with Cancer One Step at a Time

It was just a cough – a nagging one, sure, but nothing too serious, Duane Cerniglia thought. Give it some time and it will go away.

Author Rachel Sauer | Publish Date November 12, 2021
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Research    Community    Lung Cancer    Magazine

Improving Survivorship for Individuals Diagnosed With Lung Cancer

There are two things most people believe about lung cancer, says Jamie Studts, PhD, co-leader of the Cancer Prevention & Control Program at the CU Cancer Center: Those who suffer from it most likely caused it by using tobacco, and the prognosis for surviving the disease is poor.

Author Greg Glasgow | Publish Date November 02, 2021
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Research    Faculty    Lung Cancer

LUNGevity Award Supports Ongoing Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Research

One of the reasons why cancer continues developing and growing is not just because cancer cells exist, but because they can recruit help from the body’s own blood vessels, stromal cells, and immune cells.

Author Rachel Sauer | Publish Date September 30, 2021
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Patient Care    Lung Cancer    Clinical Trials

Traveling to CU Cancer Center for a Lung Cancer Clinical Trial

David Kooyman transferred his care to University of Colorado Cancer Center member and associate professor of thoracic oncology, Tejas Patil, MD, to be part of a clinical trial to help with his rare lung cancer gene fusion.

Author Cancer Center | Publish Date August 19, 2021
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Lung Cancer

Kathy Griffin’s Lung Cancer Diagnosis: What Nonsmokers Need to Know

Comedian Kathy Griffin, 60, shared the news with the world Monday via Twitter: She was about to undergo surgery for stage I lung cancer.

Author Greg Glasgow | Publish Date August 04, 2021
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Research    Lung Cancer

Study Identifies MET Amplification as Driver for Some Non-Small Cell Lung Cancers

A study led by D. Ross Camidge, MD, PhD, director of thoracic oncology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and CU Cancer Center member, has helped to define MET amplification as a rare but potentially actionable driver for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Author Valerie Gleaton | Publish Date July 19, 2021
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Research    Patient Care    Community    Lung Cancer

From Debilitating Chemo to One Pill a Day for Lung Cancer

One of the most difficult nights of Hank Baskett Sr.’s life was the night he told his wife he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

Author Greg Glasgow | Publish Date May 24, 2021
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Research    Lung Cancer

A New Treatment for Brain Metastases from Small-Cell Lung Cancer

A new phase 3 randomized clinical trial overseen by CU Cancer Center member Chad Rusthoven, MD, and Vinai Gondi, MD, from Northwestern University, is testing whether a new treatment approach could result in improved outcomes for patients with small cell lung cancer (SCLC) that has spread to the brain. 

Author Greg Glasgow | Publish Date April 08, 2021
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Research    Philanthropy    Awareness    Lung Cancer    Pediatric Cancer

Golfers Against Cancer Funds Three CU Cancer Center Researchers

The Denver chapter of Golfers Against Cancer this week named University of Colorado (CU) Cancer Center researchers Matthew Sikora, PhD, Jamie Studts, PhD, and Jenna Sopfe, MD, as the beneficiaries of three $50,000 grants for cancer research and clinical trials.

Author Cancer Center | Publish Date February 12, 2021
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Press Coverage    Lung Cancer

Dr. Schenk on the Evolving Treatment Landscape in Lung Cancer

Erin Schenk, MD, PhD, University of Colorado Cancer Center member, discusses the rapidly evolving treatment landscape in lung cancer.

Author OncLive | Publish Date August 25, 2020
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Press Coverage    Lung Cancer

Dr. Bunn on Data With Trastuzumab Deruxtecan in HER2-Mutant NSCLC

Paul A. Bunn, Jr, distinguished professor, James Dudley Chair in Lung Cancer Research, Division of Medical Oncology, University of Colorado and a 2014 Giant of Cancer Care® in Lung Cancer, highlights encouraging data with fam-trastuzumab deruxtecan-nxki (Enhertu) in HER2-mutant non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Author OncLive | Publish Date July 27, 2020
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Research    Lung Cancer    Cancer

CU Cancer Center study tackles racial and socioeconomic disparities in patients with lung cancer

Lung cancer is the deadliest cancer in the United States. In Colorado more than 2,500 people will be diagnosed with the disease and more than 1,400 will die of it in 2020. While advances in lung cancer treatment have gifted many patients with more time, the benefit of these treatments is limited by the racial and socioeconomic status of some patients in Colorado. A new study at the University of Colorado Cancer Center focuses on reducing disparities in lung cancer patients with diverse backgrounds.

Author Cancer Center | Publish Date June 24, 2020
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Research    Lung Cancer    Cancer

Chad Rusthoven, MD, awarded Coltman Fellowship to support small-cell lung cancer research

University of Colorado radiation oncologist Chad Rusthoven, MD, was recently awarded the prestigious Dr. Charles A. Coltman Jr. research fellowship award from the Hope Foundation for Cancer Research. The award provides two years of salary support to engage early career investigators from Southwest Oncology Group (SWOG) affiliated institutions in clinical trial research.

Author Cancer Center | Publish Date June 08, 2020
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Lung Cancer    Cancer

FIRE-SCLC analysis: Largest ever study of first-line radiosurgery for brain metastases from small cell lung cancer

The international First-line Radiosurgery for Small-Cell Lung Cancer (FIRE-SCLC) analysis led by University of Colorado Cancer Center researchers and published today in JAMA Oncology details clinical outcomes for 710 patients with brain metastases from small cell lung cancer treated with first-line stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS), without prior treatment with whole-brain radiation (WBRT) or prophylactic cranial irradiation (PCI).

Author Cancer Center | Publish Date June 04, 2020
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COVID-19    Lung Cancer    Cancer

D. Ross Camidge, MD, PhD: COVID-19 lung cancer treatment diary

March 5th: The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Colorado is reported in a young man who had been on vacation to Italy before continuing his vacation amid the skiing and snowboarding crowds up in Vail.

March 10th: While I am in my lung cancer clinic, I get an email from Harry Ren, a doctor from the Shanghai Pulmonary Hospital who had worked with us previously. He had heard COVID-19 was in Colorado. Harry warns me to wear protective equipment, to keep myself and the team safe. Over 3,000 Chinese doctors and nurses have gotten sick from COVID-19.

March 11th: The World Health Organization officially labels COVID-19 a pandemic.

March 12th: We admit our first lung cancer patient with COVID-19 symptoms – a potential “patient zero” for us. Bert, short for Roberta, is a wonderful 77-year old retired publisher, who appeared to be responding to her treatment but then developed increasingly difficult breathing and low-grade fevers over a week.1 On her CT scan there are new infiltrates in both lungs. She had received immunotherapy together with her last chemotherapy which can cause inflammation in the lungs. We send blood tests for different infections, including COVID-19.

Bert is stabilized and kept under isolation conditions. Steroids, which can be used to treat inflammation in the lungs, but which could worsen some infections, are kept in reserve while the test results are awaited.

March 16th: All my work meetings have become virtual. From our respective rooms and offices, the clinical and research teams discuss ongoing clinical trial accruals; then new and difficult cases in our weekly Tumor Board.

March 17th: My clinic has changed dramatically. I see a fraction of the patients I would normally see in person; the rest are through telehealth appointments. Our scheduler jokes that tech support for older patients has now become an everyday part of her job.

March 19th: There is little traffic and I get rock star parking at the clinic. We still do not have the COVID-19 results back on Bert. It has been 7 days since she was admitted. Her other infectious tests are all negative.

I do my usual phone call with the thoracic oncology consortium that I direct – 14 University Hospitals and Cancer Centers across the USA and Canada. Patient accruals to clinical trials are down. Everything is becoming bottlenecked. Patients are scared. Staff are scared. However, the feeling on the call is that, as doctors, this is what we went to medical school for.

Because medical situations are the explosions we run toward rather than away from. In medicine, we are used to chaos. We are used to finding and protecting the possible, under a barrage of the uncontrollable, the impossible.

On the call among my colleagues, we all feel as if we are the shepherds of our own flocks. Patients with lung cancer are, in theory, no more susceptible to catch COVID-19 than anyone else, but if they do catch it, they will have a higher risk of dealing with the worst of the symptoms COVID-19 has to offer.

I finish off the day with a Remote Second Opinion from Israel.2 In Haifa, the patient and her children are now faced with not just the stress of her lung cancer growing, but a new kind of stressor. To determine the next best treatment would require a biopsy but going into the hospital to get this done could increase her risks of COVID-19 infection. To not get the biopsy would mean hunkering down with a progressing cancer or switching straight to chemotherapy in the absence of rational alternatives. The risks they are most worried about all relate to catching COVID-19. The risks from her progressing cancer appear clearer.

There are internet adverts for virus killing light-wands. Hydroxy-chloroquine, an anti-malarial and anti-inflammatory agent, is being thrown around as a possible ‘treatment’ for COVID-19 without any debate about the source or extent of the data available to support these claims. I revisit how patients with cancer can fall prey to promises of miraculous results from unproven treatments simply because they so desperately want the good news to be true.

March 21st: I get Bert’s COVID-19 test result back. She is negative. She finally starts steroids and her treatment can move on. It took 9 days to get her results back and we can only test people who are in-patients in the hospital. Any attempt to halt the spread of the virus by isolating known positive people using these tools is doomed to failure.3 Instead we have only one solution for the entire population: Keep distant, keep clean.

March 26th: Colorado as a state is ordered to stay at home. In the Cancer Center, we set in place jeopardy and double, triple and quadruple jeopardy plans. Who covers whose patients in the event one of our lung cancer doctors gets quarantined or sick. We even establish back-ups across other tumor-types in case whole teams are incapacitated.

March 31st: My thoughts on the similarities between how we are all dealing with COVID-19 worldwide and what patients with cancer have already been through from the moment they were diagnosed crystalize after a particular conversation in the clinic. The patient said to me, “Now you know what it’s like:”

This is what not knowing whether you will be well next month or on the verge of death feels like.

This is what not knowing if you will be financially ok or ruined because of matters beyond your control feels like.

This is what worrying that every minor symptom is the start of something far more deadly feels like.

This is what consuming every piece of news, hoping for a breakthrough, knowing that most of the breakthroughs you find are not real, but you still consume them because anything is better than nothing, feels like.

This is what watching others die and wondering if you will be next feels like.

But now we have to worry about COVID-19 as well.

That same day I see Bert again. She looks great and feels great. Her treatment, without the immunotherapy, is set to continue. Life goes on.

Author Cancer Center | Publish Date May 14, 2020
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Awareness    Lung Cancer    Advocacy

In new role at CU, Jamie Studts works to reduce stigma blocking use of lung cancer screening

It didn’t take long for Jamie Studts, PhD, to notice a big difference between Kentucky, where he worked for 13 years in the Department of Behavioral Science at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, and Colorado, where he was recently appointed Co-Leader of the CU Cancer Center Cancer Prevention & Control Program: “After my recruitment, I was on a visit to search for a house and I went to a bar with some family who live in the area. Outside there were 100 people and not one of them was smoking. There were maybe two or three people vaping, but nobody was smoking. That’s pretty different in Kentucky,” he says.

Author Cancer Center | Publish Date March 25, 2020
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Lung Cancer    Diversity

African Americans, Hispanics less likely to receive recommended lung cancer imaging

The use of PET-CT imaging gives doctors the best possible picture of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), and this accurate imaging helps to match patients with the best treatments. Unfortunately, not every NSCLC patient gets the recommended PET-CT imaging. Now a University of Colorado Cancer Center study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows an important predictor of PET-CT use: African American patients were only about half as likely as non-Hispanic whites to receive this important imaging; Hispanics received this imaging about 70 percent as frequently as non-Hispanic whites.

Author Cancer Center | Publish Date March 11, 2020
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Lung Cancer    Clinical Research

Lancet Oncology: Entrectinib effective, well-tolerated against ROS1 and NTRK lung cancers, especially with brain metastases

Pooled analysis of three phase 1 and 2 clinical trials published online ahead of print in the journal Lancet Oncology show that the drug entrectinib is effective and well-tolerated against advanced ROS1 and NTRK fusion-positive non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC). Results of the trials STARTRK-1 (NCT02097810), STARTRK-2 (NCT02568267), and ALKA, show 77 percent response rate to entrectinib in 53 patients with ROS1+ NSCLC, with a median progression-free survival of 19 months and a median duration of response of 24.6 months. In 54 patients with NTRK+ NSCLC, 57 percent responded to entrectinib, with a median progression-free survival of 11.2 months and a median duration of response of 10.4 months. Based on the early promise of these trials, in August 2019 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted entrectinib accelerated approval for the treatment of metastatic ROS1+ NSCLC and for advanced tumors across cancer types defined by NTRK fusion. The current journal articles update these findings that led to approval.

Author Cancer Center | Publish Date December 13, 2019
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Philanthropy    Lung Cancer

Nancee and Paul Pronsati help make Denver hub of research, treatment, and community for ALK-positive lung cancer

Paul and Nancee Pronsati, not in Denver

If Nancee Pronsati had been diagnosed with stage IV ALK-positive lung cancer a decade ago, her years of life expectancy would have been measured with fewer fingers than it takes to make a peace sign. But due to advances in genetically targeted therapies, many driven by research and testing at University of Colorado Cancer Center, Nancee is 3.5 years out from diagnosis and doing well. In honor of November’s Lung Cancer Awareness month, Nancee and her husband, Paul, are giving back to CU Cancer Center research programs that are developing the next generation of treatments against ALK-positive lung cancer.

“I was diagnosed when living in New York City and started treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering,” Nancee says. “But my thoracic oncologist there knew I was from Denver and encouraged me to come home for treatment due to the incredible researchers and doctors here.”

Nancee and Paul, also not in Denver

In fact, CU Cancer Center has become an internationally recognized leader in the treatment of lung cancers driven by specific genetic alterations. The gene ALK is one of these alterations – when it becomes accidentally fused together with a partner called EML4, the resulting ALK-EML4 fusion gene makes the blueprint for a cancer-causing protein. CU researchers including D. Ross Camidge, MD, PhD, and Robert C. Doebele, MD, PhD have been at the forefront of testing drugs that silence the action of ALK, leading to FDA approvals for drugs like crizotinib, alectinib, brigatinib, and lorlatinib.

“I’m very active in a social media group for ALK-positive lung cancer patients, and everyone knows that Dr. Camidge is one of the only choices for a second opinion. It’s just accidental where I live. It’s been amazing to hear people from all over the country talking about the treatment here in Colorado,” Nancee says. (Many lung cancer patients access these second opinions without traveling, through CU Cancer Center’s Remote Second Opinion Program.)

One of the people Nancee and Paul met through their involvement with Denver’s ALK-positive community is Emily Daniels, also a patient of Dr. Camidge.

“Emily live near each other and walk together sometimes,” Nancee says.

During her treatments, Emily has worked with University of Colorado to set up a fund specifically supporting ALK-positive lung cancer research, along with the annual Links for Lungs golf tournament to raise for the fund (2019 sold out quick! Keep your eyes peeled for 2020). This November, Nancee and Paul decided to infuse another $100,000 into Emily’s fund for ALK-positive cancer research.

Member of the extended Prosanti family

“Paul and I decided to donate to that part of the Lung Cancer Colorado Fund primarily because we liked the idea of all of the ALK-designated donations being consolidated as much as possible,” Nancee says.

“Seeing what Dr. Camidge and his team were able to do when Emily’s life was hanging in the balance – they were able to move with agility and creativity, and basically save her life – that’s a really compelling story,” Paul says. “The same thing could happen to Nancee. These targeted therapies don’t work forever, and when you see the team’s track record in figuring out what to do next, on the fly, to save that person’s life, that’s proof that our contribution is going to the right place.”

In addition to laboratory work, the fund supports the development of investigator-initiated clinical trials, a special class of clinical trial based on a researcher’s own findings or observations. Unlike trials sponsored by large pharmaceutical companies, investigator-initiated clinical trials tend to be nimble, moving promising treatment hypotheses quickly from pre-clinical testing directly into hospital settings where they can benefit patients.

“Dr. Camidge’s team is able to act quickly if they have an idea – combining existing drugs or testing some new theory – and that’s exciting for us. With a terminal disease, you want to move quickly, at the same time these other more measured approaches are being funded by drug companies,” Paul says.

In addition to skiing and craft breweries, Denver has become known for its community of researchers, doctors, and patients focused on the genetic alterations that drive lung cancer.

“These are people who are fighting for their lives every single day and they’re not just talking about it, they’re doing things. You feel a measure of pride in the community. The ferocity and passion, it’s cool,” Paul says.

It’s the ferocity and passion of people like Nancee and Paul Pronsati that will help to ensure that new treatments against the disease continue to come from Colorado.

Author Cancer Center | Publish Date November 19, 2019
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Research    Lung Cancer

Patients not treated at NCI-designated centers less likely to receive newer, high-cost lung cancer drugs

Genetically targeted drugs and immunotherapies are transforming the way we treat many forms of lung cancer. However, a University of Colorado Cancer Center study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows that while the use of these drugs rose 27 percent from 2007 to 2015, new, high-cost lung cancer drugs are not used equally in all places, with all patients. Patients who lived in high-poverty areas were 4 percent less likely to be treated with high-cost lung cancer drugs. On the other hand, patients treated at National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers were 10 percent more likely to be given these drugs than were patients treated in other settings.

Author Cancer Center | Publish Date November 19, 2019
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Patient Care    Lung Cancer

Guest Blog: Good News and Bad News

Joe Schneider, Lung Cancer Survivor

“I have good news and bad news,” the ER doctor told me. I had been sent to the ER under the suspicion of a heart attack because of chest pains. “We took an x-ray of your chest. The good news is that your heart is fine. However, we found a large mass in your left lung. You probably have lung cancer. You should see someone about that.” Then he handed me a prescription for a very powerful pain killer. I did not see that as a good omen.

Within a few days I had the PET scan and the biopsy to confirm the diagnosis: non-small cell lung cancer.  It had already metastasized to my spine and my ribs (the cause of my chest pains). I was Stage IV from the initial diagnosis.

 My first meeting with the community oncologist was not real upbeat. I was warned to stay off the internet because I would only find the dismal survival statistics. The best they could offer was the standard of care chemotherapy, a doublet of a platinum-based chemo drug paired with another drug.

Of course I didn’t stay off the internet. I researched what were the “new and exciting” lung cancer treatments. I learned about gene mutations that could drive the growth of a cancer. Ones such as EGFR and ALK were responsible for some lung cancers. And for these there were already drugs available to treat, a class of drugs called inhibitors.

I also researched what cancer centers and what doctors were the experts in treating lung cancer and were doing research into new treatments. The University of Colorado Cancer Center was often on the top of the list. Additionally, I found that Dr. Ross Camidge was a leader in the research and practice around the overall treatment of lung cancer and specifically the treatment of mutation-driven cancers. And best of all, this was practically in my own backyard, a mere 60 miles from northern Colorado.

It was amazingly easy to get an appointment with Dr. Camidge. He educated me about the mutations that had been identified in NSCLC. And what drugs were available to treat which mutations. Another biopsy was scheduled and a molecular analysis to determine what actionable mutations, if any, I might have.

It was indeed my lucky day (if there is such a thing for someone with lung cancer) when he informed me that I was ALK positive. And there was an inhibitor to treat it. The drug crizotinib had been approved by the FDA just the previous last year. I started on it and my next scan showed great results.  I was sent back to my local oncologist. Dr. Camidge said to return when my cancer comes back.

Inhibitors are truly wonder drugs. A few pills each day. And overall less-severe side effects than traditional chemotherapy. But they have a limitation. Almost invariably, resistance to the drug will develop. Minor mutations in the gene driving the cancer disable the drug’s therapeutic power. And the cancer comes back.

After about three years of life as normal, routine scans showed that my cancer was back.  I had developed resistance to crizotinib. I returned to UCH and Dr. Camidge. He told me about a new ALK-inhibitor that was then in clinical trials. Brigatinib was successful in overcoming the resistance to crizotinib. He offered me the opportunity to enter the clinical trial.

I had several motivations to enroll in a clinical trial. Most importantly, it would provide access to a drug that potentially control my cancer. It’s also an important way that the practice of medicine can make scientific progress. I had run across many claims for cancer treatments that were based on limited, inaccurate, or anecdotal data. A clinical trial is the standard by how claims of efficacy are judged. The data is collected according to a very precisely defined protocol. The results are presented at professional conferences and published in established medical journals.

The clinical trial also allowed me to work more closely with the doctors, staff, and trial coordinators. I received wonderful support. Appointments were scheduled for me. The drugs were handed to me. I didn’t have to deal with insurance for anything related to the trial. I was responsible for only the standard of care items that I would have had regardless of my trial participation.

And then there’s the economic motivation to participate in a trial. You not only get access to the drug that could save your life, but in most cases the drug is provided by the drug manufacturer at no cost.

Brigatinib controlled my cancer for a year before I showed progression.  Next up was the lorlatinib clinical trial. Lorlatinib is a third-generation ALK inhibitor and showed promise of working after brigatinib. I came off brigatinib, signed the paperwork, and a few weeks later started lorlatinib. Many more tests were involved. I had more scans and blood work. I spent a day at the hospital having my heart activity tracked via EKG after I took the dose of lorlatinib. And during each visit I took cognitive tests, computer-based activities to test my reaction time and short term memory. 

Lorlatinib worked great for a while. But once again I showed progression, localized in a few lymph nodes. This time, there was no next-generation drug trial to jump to. Instead we opted to use targeted radiation to zap (technical term: ablate) the suspicious lymph nodes. I became familiar with the Radiation Oncology department on the first floor of the Anschutz Cancer Pavilion. A few months later after 10 radiation treatments, my scans were clear. My cancer was under control. I was fortunate to continue on with the clinical study protocol.

I’ve repeated this process two more times. As long as lorlatinib provides overall control of my cancer and the sites of progression are localized, I will continue. My last radiation treatment was January 2019 and my scans have been coming back clear – no sign (yet) of the cancer coming back.

This treatment of using radiotherapy to treat this pattern of progression in ALK patients was pioneered here at UCH.

Over these years, I’ve been fortunate that I had an “easy” cancer. I know that for many, their cancer is anything but easy. But I’ve been able to maintain my life as normal. I continued to work for several years after diagnosis before I took an early retirement offer. 

I enjoy my retired life. My wife and I travel. I travel into the mountains often. And after a hiatus of about 50 years, I’ve started camping again.  It’s been great to head off to the mountains with one of my son. And this last summer, my wife has started to join me on my camping trips.

Author Cancer Center | Publish Date November 06, 2019
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Awareness    Lung Cancer

5 Misconceptions about Lung Cancer

Lung Cancer Misconceptions

Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer related death in both men and women in the United States. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. 

Despite advances in research, there are still misconceptions about the disease. I sat down with Dr. Ross Camidge, MD, PhD, Joyce Zeff Chair in Lung Cancer Research at University of Colorado Cancer Center to discuss the most common misconceptions he encounters:

Author Cancer Center | Publish Date November 01, 2019
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Research    Honors    Lung Cancer

Tejas Patil, MD, earns award to forward research in early detection of lung cancer recurrence

University of Colorado Cancer Center member, Tejas Patil, MD, received the John Fisher Legacy Fellowship Award at the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) World Conference held in Barcelona last month. Patil is the first physician worldwide to receive the prestigious $50,000 grant, which Patil will use to further his research in detecting lung cancer recurrence in early stages.

Author Cancer Center | Publish Date October 09, 2019
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Lung Cancer    Radiation

Immune system damage may explain ineffectiveness of high-dose radiation against lung cancer

When it comes to using radiation against lung cancer, preliminary clinical studies were pretty clear: More is better. So why did a large phase 3 clinical trial find exactly the opposite – that stage III non-small cell lung cancer patients treated with higher doses of radiation actually had shorter overall survival than patients treated with lower-dose radiation?

Author Cancer Center | Publish Date June 27, 2019
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Patient Care    Lung Cancer    Clinical Trials

Virtual clinical trial gives entrectinib edge over crizotinib against ROS1+ non-small cell lung cancer

Crizotinib and entrectinib are both active against ROS1+ non-small cell lung cancer. But which is best? The answer seems easy: Just compare the drugs’ clinical trial results. However, not all trials are created equal, and these differences in trial designs can lead to irrelevant comparisons – like comparing athletes’ running times without noting that one ran a kilometer while the other ran a mile. Now results from an innovative, “virtual” clinical trial presented at the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting 2019 attempt to place crizotinib and entrectinib on an equal playing field. In this analysis, patients taking entrectinib were able to stay on treatment longer and had about almost 6 months longer progression-free survival than patients treated with crizotinib.

Author Cancer Center | Publish Date May 30, 2019
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Lung Cancer

Insights into brigatinib’s rare side effects may help more lung cancer patients benefit from the drug

Brigatinib is a next-generation ALK inhibitor that earned FDA approval in 2017 as a second-line therapy after treatment with crizotinib for ALK-positive non-small cell lung cancer. Recently, clinical trial results published in the New England Journal of Medicine and presented at the 2018 World Conference on Lung Cancer show its promise as a first-line therapy. However, while brigatinib is commonly well-tolerated, in about 3% of cases, patients report experiencing shortness of breath within hours of starting treatment. With severe symptoms or if even mild symptoms occur after stopping and then restarting the drug, the manufacturer’s guidelines suggest permanently ceasing use. Now a study by researchers at Columbia University, University of California San Diego, and University of Colorado Cancer Center, published in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology, offers insight into the seriousness and duration of these symptoms, and suggests an alternative treatment strategy that could allow more patients to benefit from this drug.

Author Cancer Center | Publish Date May 21, 2019
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Research    Faculty    Lung Cancer    Funding

AACR, Johnson & Johnson Fund Colorado Search for Lung Conditions that Allow Growth of Cancer

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) announced today that in partnership with the Lung Cancer Initiative at Johnson & Johnson, it will fund a major grant led by University of Colorado Cancer Center investigators to pinpoint the lung tissue characteristics that allow cancer cells to grow, potentially leading to new strategies to prevent and treat the disease.

Author Garth Sundem | Publish Date March 06, 2019
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Patient Care    Awareness    Lung Cancer

Survivor Raises Money for Lung Cancer Research

Emily Daniels was 32 years-old and pregnant with her second child when she was diagnosed with lung cancer.  One year later, Emily presented a check for more than $100,000 to the Lung Cancer Colorado Fund (LCCF) bringing the fund over the $1 million mark.

Author Erika Matich | Publish Date February 28, 2019
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Faculty    Awareness    Lung Cancer

Hope for a Cure

At 32 years old and 33 weeks pregnant, Emily Daniels lived the kind of life that many of us strive to achieve. With a baby boy on the way, a loving husband, a healthy and happy 3-year-old daughter, family and friends close by, a good job, and an active social life, there was much to be grateful for. By all accounts, her day-to-day was perfectly normal and just the right amount of hectic.

Author Cancer Center | Publish Date January 03, 2019
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Patient Care    Lung Cancer

With the Right Care, Patients Now Living a Median 6.8 Years After Stage IV ALK+ Lung Cancer Diagnosis

According to the National Cancer Institute, patients diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) between the years 1995 and 2001 had 15 percent chance of being alive 5 years later. For patients with stage IV disease, describing cancer that has spread to distant sites beyond the original tumor, that statistic drops to 2 percent. Now a University of Colorado Cancer Center study published in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology tells a much more optimistic story. For stage IV NSCLC patients whose tumors test positive for rearrangements of the gene ALK (ALK+ NSCLC), treated at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital between 2009 and 2017, median overall survival was 6.8 years. This means that in this population, instead of only 2 percent of patients being alive 5 years after diagnosis, 50 percent of patients were alive 6.8 years after diagnosis.

Author Garth Sundem | Publish Date December 31, 2018
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Research    Patient Care    Lung Cancer

Blood Tumor Markers May Warn When Lung Cancer Patients Are Progressing on Targeted Treatments

For many years, oncologists have known that cancers can secrete complex molecules into the blood and that levels of these molecules can be easily measured. These so-called ‘tumor markers’ are traditionally associated with a single dominant cancer type, for example Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) linked to prostate cancer, Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) to colorectal cancer, CA125 to ovarian cancer, CA19.9 to pancreatic cancer and CA27.29 to breast cancer. However, the real challenge has been to determine a practical use for these markers. They don’t appear to be useful as a means of screening otherwise healthy people for evidence of underlying cancers.

Author Garth Sundem | Publish Date September 06, 2017
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Community    Lung Cancer

CU Cancer Center investigator honored for his part in the fight against lung cancer

An investigator from University of Colorado Cancer Center is being recognized for his contributions to the battle against lung cancer.

Author Cancer Center | Publish Date May 17, 2013
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CU Cancer Center In the News


Camidge and Vokes Reflect on Research Journeys, Team Building, and Mentorship

news outletOncLive
Publish DateAugust 24, 2023

In this episode of "How This Is Building Me," Drs Camidge and Vokes discuss the span of countries and institutions along Dr Vokes’ journey to MD Anderson Cancer Center, how Dr Vokes balances research and work in the clinic, and how the correct mentors can help shape career paths in oncology.

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Colorado Public Radio

Community Gardening Can Also Grow a Bounty of Physical and Mental Health Benefits, a CU Study Finds

news outletColorado Public Radio
Publish DateAugust 15, 2023

Horse Barn Community Garden is in Five Points’ Curtis Park, near downtown Denver. This is where you’ll often find Charlotte Griffin, watering the vegetables.

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Science News

Why Are More People Under 50 Getting Colorectal Cancer? Scientists Have Some Clues

news outletScience News
Publish DateAugust 14, 2023
Many factors may be driving an uptick of the cancer among younger and middle-aged adults.
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Radiation-Immunotherapy Strategy Shows ‘Strong Efficacy Signal’ in Pancreatic Cancer

news outletHealio
Publish DateAugust 08, 2023

A novel therapeutic approach that combined radiation and immunotherapy demonstrated the ability to eliminate pancreatic tumors and halt metastases.

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