One of the things I do as an oncologist is take care of a lot of patients with advanced cancer of the colon and rectum. Many of these patients who have metastatic cancer go through surgeries and chemotherapies. Many do well and survive, but a significant number fail. Getting to know these people as individuals has been one of the best things in my entire career and life.
But it is hard to lose these patients, who have become friends, when you have nothing else to offer. That is the reason I am so excited about now having the ability to save living cancer tissue and then test it for the benefit of the individual patient. I can now say, “I am sorry that our standard therapies have failed, but we now have the ability to test your cancer tissues outside your body and find out if any drugs that are not typically used for this type of cancer will work for you.”
I told one of my patients about this new way of doing things a couple months ago. He had failed the standard therapies and was getting the third type of chemo through his medical oncologist. He agreed to save his tumor tissue and have it tested. We found that while none of the standard therapies worked on the tissue outside his body, we had not one but several good options to use against his cancer. The cancer that had been placed in a lot of little dishes and then treated with several different drugs actually died when treated with several of the different drugs. Exciting stuff.
But then I saw him back in the office. The medication that was going to successfully kill his cancer had just arrived. Unfortunately, he had gone downhill during that couple of weeks. We should have done the testing earlier. It turns out he was so sick that we no longer had that “window of opportunity” available to us. He was placed on hospice and died shortly after that.
So, the reality is that we should think ahead enough to give us some time. We have to save the living tissue before that last chance is too far gone.
We were too late this time. Let’s don’t have it happen over and over again.