Did Lung Cancer Claim Your Loved One? Invest 20 Minutes to Help Researchers Find New Treatments!

If your loved one was treated for lung cancer at a community hospital, and has since died, you can help find new lung cancer treatments that might spare other families the anguish you’re feeling.

Lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer. Fortunately, researchers have discovered several new therapies that are helping to turn metastatic lung cancer into a chronic illness instead of an automatic death sentence.  Some of these therapies are effective for 70-80% of patients whose tumors have certain biomarkers .

Unfortunately, not all types of lung cancer have such effective treatments — yet.  Researchers need to find more lung cancer biomarkers and develop more drugs to target them. Discovering these biomarkers and new therapies requires studying LOTS of lung cancer tumor tissue.  If more tumor tissue from different patients were available for researchers to study, we might find new biomarkers and effective targeted therapies faster.

How can I help?

If your loved one was treated for lung cancer at a community hospital, and has since died, you can help by donating your loved one’s archived tumor tissue. 

Researchers usually obtain tumor tissue from lung cancer biopsies and surgeries performed at their academic cancer centers.  However, most lung cancer patients (about 80%) are treated at community and clinics, not academic cancer centers.  Those hospitals generally just archive any tumor tissue that is not needed for guiding patient care, and destroy those tissues five to ten years after the patient has died.  This means a lot of tumor tissue that could be used for finding new lung cancer therapies never gets to researchers.

The National Cancer Institute’s Lung Cancer SPORE at the University of Colorado (I’ll call it CU Lung SPORE for short) aims to help lung cancer researchers find cures faster.  Like other NCI SPOREs, CU has a biorepository (some people may call it a biobank) where they store patient specimens and medical records.  The biobank provides the tissues along with the important clinical background to scientists studying new ways to treat lung cancer, not only from the University of Colorado, but to institutions all around the country. Researchers can search for available specimens and request them for research projects.

The CU Lung SPORE created a pilot study to collect archived tumor tissue and medical records of deceased lung cancer patients, and place these in their biobank so that researchers can use them.  This study focuses on deceased patients because they have no further need of the tissues (living patients may need their specimens for tumor testing later).  The study needs five to ten more family members to submit signed release forms so we can complete the pilot study and assess whether this a feasible way to gather more lung cancer tumor tissue for research.

HIPAA laws forbid a research center from asking patients or family members about donating tissues and medical records if the patient wasn’t treated at their facility. But advocates (like me) CAN ask.

What do I have to do?

To participate, all you need do is:

  • Download the release form (by clicking on this link Family member Release Form (revised 2016-06-23) and fill in some information about you, your loved one, and where your loved one was treated,
  • Sign the release form, and
  • Mail the completed, signed release form to:
    • Mary K. Jackson
    • Team Manager – Specialized Program of Research Excellence [SPORE]
    • University of Colorado Cancer Center
    • 13001 E 17th Place MS B-189
    • Aurora, CO 80045

Filling in the release form only takes about 20 minutes (assuming you have to look up the contact information for the hospital).  Pretty easy, isn’t it?

What happens next?

The SPORE will contact the hospital where your loved one was treated and request your loved one’s archived tissue and medical records. Once these documents are received at CU, they will be reviewed by the study team, de-identified (which means personally identifying information is removed), and placed in the CU Lung SPORE’s biobank.


PLEASE consider donating your deceased loved one’s archived lung cancer tissue and medical records for research through this project. You can learn more by contacting me (the patient advocate for the CU Lung SPORE) at jfreeman.wa@gmail.com, or the CU Lung SPORE at the address above.

Do it to honor your loved one.  Do it for the next family stricken by lung cancer. Whatever your reason, please do it.  We’ve lost too many to this disease.


Note: This research study’s official project title is “Patient-Initiated Biobanking of Deceased Lung Cancer Patient Tissues” and its study number is COMIRB# 15-1294.  It is not a clinical trial dealing with live patients, so you will not find it listed on clinicaltrials.gov.  

Why I’m in a Clinical Trial

The fact that I’m alive is a modern-day medical miracle. And I owe it to clinical trials.

In early 2011, I was in good physical shape, slightly overweight, eating healthy and exercising regularly. After I tolerated a nagging, slight cough for a few months without any relief from antibiotics, my doctor ordered a chest x-ray. Before I’d left the lab, she ordered a CT scan. Before I arrived home from the clinic, she called: the radiologist saw a mass in my lung. Two days later, a Friday, I saw a pulmonologist who performed a biopsy. He called me Tuesday evening, May 10, 2011, with the news: at age 55, as a never smoker, I had lung cancer.

Scans and tests over two weeks rendered a diagnosis of stage IIIA non-small-cell adenocarcinoma complicated by obstructive pneumonia. I was not a candidate for surgery, but the oncologist considered me curable. My tumor didn’t have either the EGFR or ALK mutations.  After ten days in the hospital and weeks of IV antibiotics, I recovered enough to get radiation therapy and low-dose chemotherapy, followed by one full dose of chemo (my side effects were too severe to allow me to have more chemo). I finished first-line treatment in early August 2011.

My post-treatment CT scan in late September 2011 showed the lymph nodes were almost completely clean, and the tumor had shrunk by over 90%. I thought I had a great chance at a cure. In the next two weeks, I underwent several tests to determine if I was healthy enough to have the lung removed. One of the tests was a PET scan, which found a hot spot on my right front collarbone. A few days, later two lymph nodes were removed in an open biopsy and found to be more of the same cancer. I was now stage IV–metastatic lung cancer. No lung surgery for me. The radiation oncologist advised waiting rather than radiating because I’d had a large volume of lung zapped already.  My oncologist also advised waiting a few months before starting a new chemo to give my body time to recover.

I decided to learn more about treatment options during those few months. From my participation in the Inspire.com Lung Cancer Support Community, I’d learned about the Lung Cancer Mutation Consortium Protocol clinical trial, which tested for ten mutations in lung cancer tumors. I had lots of slides courtesy of my two new tumors; testing for more mutations sounded hopeful, and I liked the idea of contributing in some small way to the science looking for a lung cancer cure. I searched for the trial on clinicaltrials.gov and emailed its contact person at the University of Colorado in Denver. I couldn’t travel to Denver (my pulmonologist thought my hollow tumor might cause a collapsed lung if I flew), but UC accepted me into the trial and tested my tissue anyway.  A few weeks later I received a call from the head of the trial, Dr. Paul Bunn: I had none of the ten mutations.

In two months, a visible 3-inch tumor grew by my right collarbone in the area where the lymph nodes had been removed. I had a CT scan the day after Christmas, met with my oncologist to discuss treatment, and had a power port installed. After six rounds of chemo over five months, CT and brain MRI scans showed all my original tumors were gone, no new tumors had appeared, and the collarbone tumor had shrunk over 90%. We decided to go for a possible cure with more radiation.  Six weeks later, my Sep 2012 PET-CT scan showed the original tumors were gone and the collarbone tumor was dead. However, I had two new nodules suspicious for cancer, this time in my right lung. Twice now I’d recurred within two months after finishing treatment. What to do next?

Someone on the Inspire.com forum suggested that because I was a young, healthy, never smoker with adenocarcinoma, I fit the profile of patients who had new mutation called ROS1. The poster was in a ROS1 clinical trial in Boston, but the trial was also at University of Colorado. I asked my oncologist about ROS1 testing, but he hadn’t heard of it (the research had been published just nine months earlier). While visiting family in Denver, I arranged to meet with Dr. Bunn and learned UC now tested for new mutations, including ROS1 and RET, and that my tumor had a 10-20% chance of having one of them.  I agreed to let UC test my remaining slides.

I had a biopsy a week later. The pulmonologist said he got a good sampling of the larger nodule but couldn’t find any cancer cells. We decided to wait a month and do another CT scan to see if either nodule grew. The very next day, an email from Dr. Bunn told me I tested positive for ROS1. UC had an opening in a clinical trial that involved a pill called Xalkori, which targeted cells having the ROS1 mutation.  Since I didn’t have a biopsy confirming cancer, Dr. Bunn offered to hold a trial slot for me pending results of my next scan.

My October 2012 chest CT showed the smaller nodule grew nearly 50% in one month. I called UC the next morning and started the process to apply for the ROS1 clinical trial. They agreed to consider me without a biopsy. I scrambled to collect all my medical files and scan CDs. Five days later I flew to Denver for two weeks, hoping I’d pass the screening and be accepted into the trial. I took my first Xalkori pill November 5, 2012.

For the next sixty days, I flew to Denver every two weeks, departing Seattle on Monday and returning home Wednesday. I had blood and urine tests every visit, along with other tests (like EKGs and eye exams), and a clinic visit at whichI met with the doctor to review test results and discuss symptoms. I then flew home with two weeks worth of pills. The first PET-CT scan on New Years Eve showed my two lung nodules were gone and no new hot spots—my first clean scan in 20 months of lung cancer. The side effects I experienced were far easier than either chemo had been. I had my life back.

After the first scan, my visits to UC shifted to every four weeks; after ten drug cycles, they shifted to every eight weeks. Now at UC visits I have blood work, a PET-CT scan, a visit with my UC oncologist Dr. Ross Camidge, and a brain MRI every six months. I have blood work done at my home clinic in off months.

I am not cured–the Xalkori only suppresses my cancer. However, Dr. Camidge has a plan for treating my recurrences.  It’s an odd existence, living from scan to scan. I’ll be in treatment for the rest of my days. Yet I’m hopeful that if/when each clinical trial stops working, a better one will be waiting for me.  Maybe they’ll find a cure for me before I die.

And in the meantime, I’m living.