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GR patient joins test of lung cancer drug


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http://www.mlive.com/news/grpress/index ... xml&coll=6

Monday, November 28, 2005

By Danielle Quisenberry

The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS -- James Kempema figured taking a risk might be the decision that saves his life.

Diagnosed in July with an advanced stage of non-small cell lung cancer, the 74-year-old leapt at the opportunity -- one of only a handful nationwide -- to receive an experimental treatment.

Kempema is the first patient involved in a Spectrum Health research effort to test the effectiveness of an experimental drug used along with chemotherapy to reduce or stop cancer cell growth.

The treatment is for otherwise healthy individuals with untreated non-small cell lung cancer.

Grand Rapids is one of five U.S. sites involved in the study, sponsored by California-based Amgen, the world's largest biotechnology company.

That the work is being done in Grand Rapids is a tribute to the increased presence of the city in the cancer research world, said Spectrum Health spokesman Bruce Rossman. Trials also are being done in Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago and Nashville.

For Kempema, of Georgetown Township, it is a chance to receive treatment beyond the standard, not far from home.

"Why accept the tried and true if I don't really have to? I wasn't trying to be sanctimonious and be the experimental pig," said Kempema, married for 45 years to Jean, who added, "it was clear I probably was not going to win if we did the standard treatment."

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women, according to the American Lung Association. An estimated 163,510 deaths from lung cancer will occur in the United States this year.

"It is unfortunately deadly," said Dr. Timothy O'Rourke, an oncologist at the Cancer and Hematology Centers of Western Michigan, 710 Kenmoor Ave. SE, and the primary investigator for Spectrum Health's study.

Surgery is the best defense against the cancer, but many patients are not eligible or healthy enough to be able to withstand invasive procedures to remove tumors, he said.

In Kempema's case, the cancer had spread to his bones.

After three 21-day cycles of chemotherapy and a daily dose of the experimental drug, Kempema's lung cancer was reduced by 25 percent. And the bones, no longer showing cancer cells, began to rebuild themselves, Jean Kempema said.

By month's end, Kempema will be done with chemotherapy and doctors will again test the treatments' effectiveness.

The couple are optimistic they can head to Arizona for the winter and see their son and his wife in Texas when their twin grandsons are born in March.

It is not clear yet whether the success of the treatment can be attributed to the use of the experimental drug, O'Rourke said.

Now, he and his team are working to determine proper dosage of the drug, which to this point has had minimal serious side effects, including high blood pressure. Later, they will add patients and compare the success of this treatment to others.

"It is a long pathway when the drugs first start out before they become standard," O'Rourke said.

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