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OSU works with local hospitals on deadliest cancers

Mike Osgood lost his voice unexpectedly in summer 2012.

He tried throat lozenges for two weeks before seeing his doctor — but that checkup eventually led him to a specialist, a chest scan, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

“I just lost my voice,” the Dayton resident said. “There was no indication of anything else. I’d have a conversation and every second or third word would just not be there. The odds were that it was not cancer.”

But Osgood was diagnosed with lung cancer in July 2012. The disease had paralyzed his left vocal cord.

His Dayton-area team of doctors used standard treatment to eliminate two cancer masses, but a third mass did not respond. Now Osgood hopes a clinical trial at Ohio State University, which will fight the cancer with information from his own genes, will be his cure.

His story is just one way the Columbus university has worked better with local hospitals to treat and predict the deadliest cancers through genetics.

‘Really worthwhile’

Genetic information can also hold the key to reducing morbidity and mortality of colorectal cancer in Ohio.

Ohio State has partnered with 40 hospitals statewide — including Kettering Medical Center, Miami Valley Hospital and Good Samaritan Hospital — to screen as many as 4,000 people for a hereditary condition that makes them more likely to develop cancer.

Anyone diagnosed with colorectal cancer at an Ohio hospital since Jan. 1, 2013, can participate in the Ohio Colorectal Cancer Prevention Initiative.

About 145,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year, which is one of the three most common types of cancer, according to Ohio State.

One in 35 of those people has Lynch syndrome, meaning they are more likely to get a second cancer and their family members are likely to have the condition, as well, said Dr. Heather Hampel, of Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.

If they test positive, their family members will also receive free testing and free genetic counseling, which sometimes is not covered by insurance.

Jennifer Burns was tested for Lynch syndrome after being diagnosed with colon cancer in June 2012 at the age of 37. She first went to the doctor after noticing her feet had swollen on a trip to visit her daughter in Arkansas.

“It was not normal for someone my age to have colon cancer, and not just one mass but two,” the Hamilton resident said.

After surgery at Mercy Health in Fairfield, she was referred to Ohio State and Hampel for genetic testing.

“It was scary,” she said. “But I think it was a relief. Knowing I have that syndrome, they know what to test for. They know what to look for.”

Burns has since also had a hysterectomy, because women with the syndrome are far more likely to develop ovarian or uterine cancer.

Her sisters also tested positive, and her daughters will need to be screened when they are older and have a 50 percent chance of testing positive.

Hampel said the technology to screen patients and their families has been around for some time, but only recently did medical professionals began to agree that every patient should be screened. Just under 300 people have participated in the study so far, according to OSU.

“It’s really worthwhile to do this for every single newly diagnosed colon cancer patient,” Hampel said.

“You can have a lot of people who may be perfectly healthy and even young and find out they have Lynch syndrome and are very high risk for getting colon, uterine and other cancers,” she said. “We know what to do. You start your colonoscopies at age 20 to 25 and you go every one to two years, instead of starting at 50 and going every 10.

“And by doing that we should keep people from getting colon cancer. Or in the worst case scenario, catch it early when it’s treatable. So that nobody should die from a colon cancer or a uterine cancer if they know they’ve got Lynch syndrome.”

New therapies

Information about genes has also helped transform lung cancer treatment “from being a wasteland where nothing worked and everybody died quickly to having multiple very exciting new therapies all based on modern molecular analysis of the tumor,” said Dr. David Carbone, an internationally renowned lung cancer expert who now works at Ohio State.

Lung cancer has had, by far, the worst survival rate of any common cancer, he said. It kills more people than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined, according to the American Cancer Society.

Historically, Carbone said, it has been an average 10 months from the time someone with advanced lung cancer first went to the doctor with a cough to the time they succumb to the disease.

“Most lung cancers are diagnosed at a very late stage when surgery isn’t possible,” he said.

New treatments that are tailored to patients and target their specific gene mutation are being discovered, but few have been approved by the FDA, Carbone said. Ohio State has made genetic screening part of standard care for lung cancer patients.

In some cases, the new treatments will make the tumor “completely shrink away.”

“The patient will go back to normal and this will last for years. It’s very dramatic,” Carbone said. “Unfortunately, we can do those matches only in a subset of patients, but we’re discovering new matches every day.”

Osgood, who never smoked and did not have a family history of lung cancer, said his clinical trial should use his immune system against his cancer, he said. “They’re not poisoning the cancer, they’re empowering my immune system to attack and eliminate the disease,” he said.

Osgood said he sought out Carbone for his expertise, but his local doctors have been important to his care. His oncologist, Dr. Ronald Hale, was critical in explaining the disease to him and helping him understand it.

Osgood said the trial he hopes to enter soon is just that — but he believes it is his best chance.

“You’re in a raft and you’re headed toward Niagara Falls,” he said. “And you see a rope hanging in front of you. You don’t care where the rope came from, or how it’s made… it’s there and it’s an opportunity and there are no other choices.”

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