Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in this country for men and women, claming more than 150,000 lives each year. Traditionally, people who use tobacco are associated with a lung cancer diagnosis, but more and more nonsmokers have the disease.
Ankit Patel could be considered the poster child for good health. The 29-year-old enjoys camping with his wife and taking care of his body.
"No family history of cancer," Patel said.
So when Patel hurt his shoulder working out earlier this year, cancer was the furthest thing from his mind.
"I thought it was a little twitch, and would probably get better," Patel said.
But it didn't. An MRI showed he had lung cancer, which had spread to his shoulder, back and bones.
"It was like, it cannot be that, because I never smoked in my life, or never been exposed to radiation or other chemicals. I thought it should not be lung cancer," Patel said.
He and his wife, Payal, began to put life on hold.
"It's just shocking when a 29-year-old gets stage 4 cancer. No one wants to believe it. If it gets better, then we can do certain things, plan a family," Payal Patel said.
Ankit Patel is part of the roughly 15 percent of nonsmoking patients diagnosed with lung cancer. He suffers from a rare genetic mutation referred to as EML4-ALK.
"Some genes go out of control and they start expressing themselves in such a way that allowed the cells to grow and develop into cancer," Dr. Rodolfo Bordoni with Georgia Cancer Specialists said.
Now there's a new way to fight the cancer. Patel is one of a group of certain lung cancer patients who can skip chemo and instead take a newly approved, targeted drug. The FDA approved Crizotinib a year ago. It targets the ALK gene.
"I've been taking the pill for about a month and a half now and you know, last time I got the X-ray done, it's been shrinking," Patel said.
Bordoni sees results in other patients too. Several were part of the clinical trial to get the pill approved, and he said it's proving to be effective.
"Just with a single pill one or two times a day, patients go from even being in a wheelchair and come to next consult a month later walking and enjoying life," Bordoni said.
That's giving the Patels hope about their future.
"It's been a miracle for us," Payal Patel said.
"I don't feel like I have any limitation. Hopefully it cures ... cures 100-percent," Patel said.
Bordoni said the drug can give patients an extra year or two to live, and in that time, more treatments could be available to extend their lives. He said seeing the results has been the most rewarding experience in his three decades of treating lung cancer patients.
Copyright 2012 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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