Four years ago, Beth Chancellor knew something was wrong. She was troubled by odd sensations in several parts of her body. “I could feel something above my right breast, underneath my right armpit and in my shoulder blade,” she said.
When Beth’s husband encouraged her to see a doctor, the X-ray results were clear. At age 59, Beth was diagnosed with lung cancer. While she was scared, she knew she had time to make good decisions.
“At the hospital I was at, they suggested I see a breast cancer doctor,” Beth said. “But I felt that no matter how experienced someone might be, I really needed to see a specialist who had experience specifically with lung cancer. I called Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Froedtert Hospital.”
The Froedtert & MCW Clinical Cancer Center at Froedtert Hospital campus takes specialization to the next level. Physicians work in multidisciplinary teams that include cancer surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and other vital experts. Each specialty team focuses on a specific kind of cancer or group of related cancers. This allows them to be up to date on the most effective therapies, including those that may not be available elsewhere.
Adaptive Therapy Clinical Trial
At Froedtert Hospital, Beth was linked with Smitha Menon, MD, medical oncologist and MCW faculty member. “Beth was diagnosed with a stage III cancer,” Dr. Menon said. “That means the cancer had spread to some of the lymph nodes in her chest.”
Because Beth’s cancer was locally advanced, having spread to nearby tissue and lymph nodes, she was not eligible for surgery. Instead, her team recommended a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. She was also offered the opportunity to take part in a clinical trial, one designed to solve a major challenge in cancer treatment.
“One of the difficulties we face is that cancer can be a moving target,” said Elizabeth Gore, MD, radiation oncologist and MCW faculty member. “As cancer responds to treatment, we often see changes in the size of a tumor and sometimes even its position.”
To account for these changes, Dr. Gore and others are testing a treatment strategy known as adaptive therapy. It uses advanced positron emission tomography, or PET, imaging to track tumor changes during the weeks of therapy and adjust radiation targeting for maximum effectiveness.
“Adaptive therapy allows us to give a higher dose of radiation to the most active areas of a tumor while avoiding normal tissue,” Dr. Gore said. “That increases our chance of controlling the cancer.”
After Beth learned about the clinical trial, she was happy to take part. “Being in a study is completely voluntary and there are no promises,” she said. “But I thought my participation would help someone else, so I chose to do it.”
Beth started treatment in January 2016 with a care plan consisting of weekly chemotherapy accompanied by daily radiation therapy for six weeks. As part of the adaptive therapy trial, she received a PET scan midway through her treatment.
“The mid-therapy scan showed her tumor had decreased in size but some parts remained very active,” Dr. Gore said. “This information allowed her care team to simultaneously narrow the treatment target and keep radiation away from healthy tissues. Ultimately, it enabled us to safely deliver a much higher dose of radiation therapy to the most active areas of the tumor.”
After Beth finished treatment in spring 2016, post-treatment scans showed no evidence of cancer. Since then, she has received regular tests to monitor for recurrent tumors.
“I see Beth every six months and she’s doing extremely well,” Dr. Gore said. “She has been out of treatment for a while, and we’re not seeing any evidence of disease. Clinical trials can be very important for patients who have a challenging cancer. But even in situations where a trial is not available, we work very hard to use the existing tools to create an individualized treatment plan that offers the best chance of a cure.”
Like a Family
Today, Beth said she feels wonderful. She is going strong in her job as a community living advisor at a Milwaukee senior living community and enjoys gardening, fishing with her husband and spending time with her nine grandchildren.
“I have passed the three-year point and am in remission,” Beth said. “My goal is to reach the five-year mark, and I feel very confident I will get there.”
Beth praises the individualized care she received at the Clinical Cancer Center. “From the first day I met the team, my care has been phenomenal,” she said. “All of my caregivers have been positive, loving and supportive, very much like a family that cares.”