New cancer treatment helps Colorado mother of 6

AURORA, Colo. -- Cheryl Rathke is quite the success story at the University of Colorado Cancer Center. The UCHealth patient participated in a clinical trial for a treatment that the Food and Drug Administration recently approved.

It’s a new targeted medicine for rare and difficult to treat cancers. Rozlytrek (entrectinib) is now an option for two types of cancers with gene mutations: ROS1-positive metastatic non-small cell lung cancer and NTRK gene fusion-positive advanced solid tumors.

The treatment allows patients like Rathke to take pills instead of going through radiation or chemotherapy.

Two years ago, the mother of six from Littleton had a seizure and was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. It was a real shock for the 49-year-old, since she had never smoked before. But then came the biggest shock of all: doctors discovered she had 11 brain tumors.

Rathke was preparing for the worst when she got a biopsy of a tumor. Genetic testing showed she had a rare mutation called Ros 1. That qualified her for a clinical trial run by Dr. Robert Doebele for a new kind of targeted treatment.

“The way chemotherapy works is that it kills rapidly-dividing cells somewhat indiscriminately. The way that these targeted therapies work is that they actually bind to the abnormal gene in the cancer and turn that gene off,” Doebele said.

Instead of chemo or radiation, Rathke just takes two pills a day. She’ll continue taking them as long as they work.

“It has dissolved all of my brain tumors, so my brain is clean. I have no neurological symptoms any more. My lungs are doing great. I still have to wear oxygen every once in a while,” she said.

Rathke is glad the drug was just FDA approved. She and Doebele hope more patients will benefit as well.

“The take-home message here is: if you have lung cancer, you need to have your tumor tested for these genetic alterations because there can be very promising therapy that can last years,” Doebele said.

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