Rivka’s story – coping with bladder cancer
Dr. Jason Luke is an MD, FACP, DF/BWCC oncologist, who specializes in melanoma research and in the development of early-stage drugs.
According to Dr. Luke, studies of patients who manifest abnormal reactions “show us that, in many cases, the research studies do not take into account the rare mutations that spur a reaction, those same mutations that could cause a significant change.” This can be compared to a letter that might not reach its intended addressee if it is addressed just to a country, or a city, instead of to the exact address of the addressee, including street and house number. “We must be far more specific about the real target at the molecular level,” Dr. Luke advised.
Rivka S., a patient of Dr. Berger at Sheba Hospital, is a good example of this. In 2011, Rivka, who resides in Israel, was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer in her bladder that had spread to her kidney. Notwithstanding the treatments, which included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, the malignant tumor metastasized to her neck and lungs, while creating a mass “the size of a tennis ball,” said her husband. After searching the internet and consulting with Dr. Berger, it was agreed that Rivka would undergo tests for genomic DNA sequencing of her tumor tissue. A mutation in the tumor was found, in the gene encoding a protein called a fibroblast growth factor receptor – FGFR. Recently, it was discovered that mutations in FGFR were found in up to 20% of the cases of advanced-stage bladder cancer, such as in Rivka’s case.
When the couple discovered that the Dana-Farber Cancer Research Center in the United States is one of a number of very few centers in the world that are testing an experimental FGFR inhibitor called BGJ398, they flew from Israel to Boston. Dr. Luke warned Rivka that participating in the trial would require them to live in Boston for at least a number of months. They decided to participate and moved to Boston in May 2013, and Rivka began taking the drug in tablet form.
Dr. Jason Luke recalls: “She began to feel better very quickly, and we saw that the large mass in her neck began shrinking immediately. This was amazing, and it seemed like a miracle after all she had gone through. The CT scans showed that the malignant spots in her lungs were shrinking and, within four to six months, the cancer had, in essence, disappeared.”
In the meantime, according to Dr. Luke, Novartis, the manufacturer of BGJ398, has expanded the clinical trial in order “to find additional patients like Rivka. To the best of my knowledge, Rivka’s cancer is in remission.”