WEST BOYLSTON (CBS) — Lung cancer is the deadliest of all cancers, killing smokers and non-smokers alike. In fact more people die each year from lung cancer than from breast, colon and prostate cancers combined.

Rosemary from West Boylston Declared her Curiosity asking, “Why isn’t there more focus on lung cancer and more of a commitment to curing the disease?”

Well, that made us curious. And we found a new and exciting development being pioneered right here in Boston that may give new hope to a lot of people.

People like Barbara Popper from Needham. “I’ve been able to live pretty much a normal life for the last two years, whereas when I first heard the diagnosis, I didn’t expect to be here two years later,” she says.

WBZ-TV’s Kate Merrill reports.

The diagnosis Barbara heard in December of 2008 was stage 4 lung cancer. A non-smoker, Barbara was shocked, especially since her only symptom was a swollen lymph gland in her neck.

“I was really prepared to think about closing out a lot of things,” she remembers.

But her doctor sent her to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston for a new test, one that would discover the specific gene mutation causing her cancer.

Dr. Pasi Janne is one of the developers of the test. “The gene mutates for some reason, and that mutation then drives the growth of the cancer,” he says. So knowing the type of gene alteration allows doctors to create new treatments beyond harsh chemotherapy, something Barbara has never had to endure.

Instead, she takes the drug Tarceva once a day, and for two years it has controlled her disease. “I’ve been able to travel and do things and work and take care of grandchildren and really, I’ve been very lucky,” she says.

Testing for gene mutations is an important new tool for the treatment of many kinds of cancers, leading to what are called “targeted therapies.” Those medicines attack the disease at its core with fairly mild side effects.

“I think the opportunities are there and we may just be at the tip of the iceberg. Patients are living three to four times longer than they used to, even with advanced lung cancer, which is remarkable, and Barbara is living proof of that,” says Dr. Janne.

Barbara doesn’t know how long the medication will manage her advance cancer, but the hope is that doctors will continue to develop new medications so that people like Barbara can live a normal life for as long as possible.

“You have a whole different appreciation when you know your time is not unlimited,” says Popper.

As more tests for genetic mutations are developed, the number of targeted therapies will also grow, making more cancers manageable, rather than deadly.

Comments (21)
  1. dchris says:

    The challenge with lung cancer is that by the time symptoms appear the disease is usually advanced. I belive 50% of people diagnosed at a stage 4 pass away within 1 yeat. It is great there are targeted therapies giving new hope. But there needs to be effective screening tests developed. I believe cancer caught in stage 1 has a 5 year survival of over 70%. I am suprised the medical research community has not placed more emphasis in finding ways to detect this disease earlier since it kills over 150,000 people each year. I saw my mother suffer with this disease two years ago and it turned her into a vegetable.

  2. cynic says:

    My brother is a Colon cancer survivor.(( Years) periodically he gets a blood test that would reveal antibodies that would indicate the return of the Cancer. Would this same blood test be usefull for screening everyone for Cancer…I don’t know…Just asking..

  3. cynic says:

    There are those that would have us believe that if no one smoked lung Cancer would go away.Unfortunately this isn’t true.The truth is that no one KNOWS what causes Cancer.

  4. cynic says:

    Just curious…Is anyone continuing Dr.Folkmans work or did it die with him?

  5. Kathy says:

    I want to thank WBZ-TV for responding to Rosemary’s question with such a positive story and for putting the spotlight on this overlooked cancer. I also want to let Rosemary know that there are private organizations such as LUNGevity Foundation that are indeed committed to funding research for both the early detection and effective treatment of this disease. They have funded much research right here in Boston. Some of that funding is locally raised by the Boston Area Lung Cancer 5K Walk each November.

  6. Lorraine Kerz (Sy's mom) says:

    Thank you WBZ-TV and Kate Merrill for bringing much needed attention to lung cancer. I lost my 29 year old son Silas to the disease two and a half years ago. Silas was tested for the genetic mutation, but none was found. What I have come to know to be painfully true, is that this is a disease that is so stigmatized it is underfunded for research that would provide early detection which would provide a greater chance for survival. It is time we stop the stigma and continue the education needed to make these necessary changes. Best of luck to Barbara as she continues her treatment.

  7. Barbara says:

    I would like to thank Rosemary also for asking the question, for my mom was diagnosis with stage four lung cancer Dec 10th didn’t know what to do, then saw the news on Barbara Popper.

  8. taxedout says:

    Gee I guess with All the TAX money on cigerettes and tobacco I was sure this cancer was eliminated!!! I’m sure All that Tax money has been going to find a Cure and not into some pol’s pocket!!! Let’s raise the tax a little more and really do the job right!!!

  9. Mann says:

    I hope this research conitnues. We just lost our 34 year old daughter to lung cancer. In six months it spread to her bones and brain. I look forward to a time when hopefully cancer will be a disease of the past.

  10. Mariah says:

    You know I hadn’t known lung cancer was the deadliest but I am not surprised. It is just awful. http://www.weitzlux.com/asbestos-lung-treatment_1962637.html

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