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http://www.nzherald.co.nz/category/stor ... d=10416321

Cancer - The New Frontier: Alive two years on, thanks to new drug

Thursday December 21, 2006

By Errol Kiong

The experimental drug DMXAA was crucial in Jim Torrens surviving lung cancer. Photo / Martin Sykes

Two years ago this month, Jim Torrens started coughing blood.

A life-long smoker, Mr Torrens was at work one afternoon when he started bleeding in his lungs. Lung cancer was quickly diagnosed.

By New Year's Eve 2004, Mr Torrens, 71, was having the top lobe of his right lung removed. Further tests, however, revealed that the procedure did not go far enough, and three weeks later, the rest of the lung was removed.

Then a follow-up scan found two cancer nodules on his remaining lung. Each was a centimetre in size - and growing.

The outlook wasn't good - until he was introduced to Auckland oncologist Mark McKeage.

Dr McKeage was running a clinical trial using an experimental drug on non-small cell lung cancer patients like Mr Torrens.

The drug was DMXAA, developed at the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre by Professors Bruce Baguley and Bill Denny.

Dr McKeage said although DMXAA is in the early stages of development, results from the trial involving 70 patients in four countries have been positive.

"I think it is fair to say that it is showing remarkable promise."

Plans are moving "rapidly" for large-scale clinical trials involving patients in several countries, including New Zealand.

On March 2 last year, Mr Torrens was given his first dose of DMXAA, as well as standard chemotherapy. The procedure was resumed every three weeks.

"It was pretty rough, too, mate, I can tell you. I don't know which was worse - the cancer or the treatment."

Because his immune system had been weakened by the chemotherapy, he contracted a chest infection which developed into pneumonia.

By his fourth procedure in May, the doctors decided to stop the treatment.

But it was enough. Follow-up checks have shown Mr Torrens to be free of cancer.

The plastics industry veteran, however, knows there are no guarantees. He's given up his pack-a-day habit of nearly 60 years and has a wedding and a big family gathering among events lined up this month.

"Once you're committed to life with cancer, you've just got to have a total turnaround mentally and be very, very positive, and say you're going to beat the b*stard."

* The Herald's Christmas campaign for cancer research has received a $10,000 donation from the Southern Cross Building Society Charitable Trust.

Chairman Howard Sexton said the trust has supported various charitable organisations such as the Starship Foundation and the Child Cancer Foundation, and it seemed appropriate to give to the Auckland Cancer Society for the first time in light of the Herald appeal.

The trust's contribution brings the tally to $70,974. The appeal runs until Saturday.

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