Targeted Lung Cancer Treatment

Richard Heimler, a former non-profit executive and father of two, was on his way home from a business trip when he experienced chest pains and difficulty breathing. Richard sought the advice of several doctors and was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Since the tumor was between two lobes in Richard’s right lung, his oncologists made the decision to surgically remove his lung entirely. 

Within six months, Richard had post-pneumonectomy surgery due to the shifting of organs in his chest because of the void in his chest without a right lung. His doctor inserted breast implants in the area where the lung was removed. This improved his Two years later, Richard was diagnosed with a small malignant brain tumor. He had successful surgery to remove the tumor. This was followed with six months of A year later, he was diagnosed with a small malignant tumor in his right thoracic area under his ribs and it was successfully removed. He was put on Tarceva even though his mutations were negative for EGFR amplifications and fish negative. A year later, he was diagnosed with another small brain tumor (same region of the brain) and had gamma knife radiation to successful destroy the tumor.

A year later, he was diagnosed with multiple small tumors on his left lung and immediately began chemotherapy. When Richard’s cancer progressed to Stage 4, his health care team informed him of a new therapeutic target in cancer called anaplastic lymphoma kinase, or ALK, that is present in about 3-5 percent of NSCLC tumors. Richard had his tissue tested for ALK, and the results came back positive. He then enrolled in a phase 2 clinical trial of crizotinib, a first-in-class compound that inhibits ALK, blocking signaling in a number of cell pathways that may be critical for the growth and survival of cancer. After a few months on crizotinib, Richard’s chest scans showed that his two largest tumors had decreased in size and the other tumors remained stable. He began gaining weight back and friends said he appeared healthier and more energetic. He slowly started going back to the gym and had more time for his Since taking crizotinib, Richard said that he has felt better than he had since his initial diagnosis. He has continued to see his health care team frequently for scans and checkups, and credits then for helping him find the best treatment option each step of the way. Richard has been able to spend more time going to plays and sporting events with his children and attending cycling classes at his gym. He has also been an active member of the Lung Cancer Alliance community, providing other newly diagnosed lung cancer patients with inspiration and advice. 

FYI: ALK gene rearrangements are found in around 5 percent of lung cancer tumors and are more common in people with lung cancer who never smoked. Crizotinib is an oral drug that was found to inhibit the effects of the ALK gene and to stop or reverse tumor growth. This is an example of a genetically targeted treatment. More details are available at: