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Fear the tumour not the trial!!!!!


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RALEIGH, N.C. -- For patients like Tomma Hargraves, clinical trials for cancer mean the difference between life and death. Just a year ago, a lump on her neck led to a diagnosis of advanced lung cancer, but thanks to a clinical trial of a revolutionary treatment, she is now in remission.

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“I have a lot to be thankful for, because I’m very lucky to be where I am and to have found the treatment that I got,” Hargraves said.

Because of the stage of her cancer, Hargraves was invited to be part of a clinical trial at UNC to test new drugs for lung cancer that may one day take the place of routine chemotherapy. In her case, the drugs were given along with chemotherapy and intense radiation, which meant a tough nine months of treatment.

“I looked at the protocol and the risk factors and I said, should I be scared of this? And he said, I’d be more scared of your tumor,” she said.

Dr. Mark Socinski, director of the Thoracic Oncology program at UNC, says that less than 20 years ago, radiation would have been the only course of treatment for a patient with advanced cancer like Tomma.

That “one size fits all” approach is no longer the case with cancer treatment. Socinski says today’s targeted treatments – using combinations of chemotherapy, radiation and drugs -- that inhibit cancer cell growth or target blood vessels in tumors are the result of years of clinical trials and willing patients like Tomma.

“It is always amazing to me how willing cancer patients are to do these sorts of things in the name of science and advancing the knowledge and feeling like they are a part of it,” Socinski said.

Now, Tomma has volunteered for clinical trial of a lung cancer vaccine as part of a world-wide study. For two months, she has made weekly trips from Raleigh to UNC’s Lineberger Cancer Center for a series of injections.

While she doesn’t know if the vaccine she is getting is the real thing or not, Tomma says the eight-week commitment and even the shots are nothing, compared to her first round of treatment.

“I really believe that we’re going to win the fight on cancer by people being willing to do things like this,” she said. “How else is it going to happen?”

Advocates say the stigma associated with smoking has prevented lung cancer from getting much needed research dollars that might fund more clinical trials. That is no consolation to lung cancer patients, like Tomma, who quit smoking decades ago, or to the growing number of nonsmokers being diagnosed with lung cancer every day.

Tomma is one of a growing number of lung cancer patients who are not active smokers. She quit more than 25 years ago.

In fact, one in five women with lung cancer have never smoked at all. For women like her, clinical trials represent a new lease on life. Research has shown that up to 20 percent of women and eight percent of men who get lung cancer have never smoked.

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