Our live webcast last night with two cancer experts from Vanderbilt Medical Center, and a patient who owes his life to them, provides a clear picture, in my opinion, of the future for beating cancer.

The headline is: It’s in your genes.

What we learned is that there are 30 to 40 genes that play a role to trigger the growth of cancer cells. Just 30 to 40 from among the 25,000 or so discovered in the big Human Genome Project. We also heard last night that some of these “cancer genes” are “driver genes” that are the real “bad guys” and some of them are “along for the ride.” In other words, if new medicines can target the “driver gene” cancer can be arrested or event cured without needing a medicine to target each gene that plays a role.

I know it’s a little like science class, but it can make a difference to each and every cancer patient. Our patient guest last night, 62-year-old Lee Lange from Clarksville, Tennessee, is a great example. Lee was dying from malignant melanoma that formed a tumor in his brain, pretty unusual since it usually shows up first on the skin. He had brain surgery and radiation. But there were signs he had melanoma elsewhere in his body. He needed systemic therapy to target those spots of cancer and kill those unhealthy cells.

Unfortunately, traditional chemotherapy for melanoma is rarely effective. But at Vanderbilt now, and at some other leading research centers, they are doing genetic profiles of new patients’ cancer cells. For Lee that brought good news. There was an experimental new medicine, a pill, being studied to target the cancer gene he had. Lee took that therapy with few, if any, side effects for 17 months. It reduced the size of his tumors and allowed him to live a full life.

The therapy wasn’t perfect. The cancer has returned and now Lee is on a second clinical trial. But it made a huge difference for over a year and a half.

According to the two cancer researchers on our program, Drs. Jeffrey Sosman and William Pao, this was a perfect example of the promise of new medicines to fight cancer at the genetic level…very different from the typical “scorched earth” approach of chemotherapy that often kills healthy cells while it wallops cancer cells – with side effects as an unfortunate consequence.

What does this mean for you or a loved one who is diagnosed today with cancer? 1) YOU MUST HAVE DOCTORS IDENTIFY THE GENETIC ROOTS OF YOUR CANCER and not just whether it’s lung cancer, colon cancer etc. , where it is and how big? It’s all about the BIOLOGY of YOUR cancer. 2) YOU MUST GET A SECOND OPINION AT A CANCER RESEARCH CENTER and discuss whether participating in a clinical trial could possibly fight your cancer more effectively at the genetic level, where it all starts.

This is not to say that for many cancers, the standard approach, at a community hospital or clinic near you is bad. For many breast cancers, for example, those doctors are very experienced and have great success. But for melanoma like Lee’s, or lung cancer, less common leukemias, and for many other cancer types, the university research could make all the difference. You owe it to yourself to consult with those experts. They can work with your local doctor, that first person you saw who you may really like but who may not truly know “the latest.”

Please, put the nation’s smartest cancer researchers on your team. Don’t you need that in the fight of your life?

I know I am impassioned about this, but Lee’s example and my story too just reinforce for me how this can make a life saving, or at least life-extending, difference.

Think about it this way: Lung cancer is our most common cancer. It’s also our biggest cancer killer. Most patients do not live very long. But, if the genes that are active in your lung cancer can be targeted by a new, even experimental medicine, your life expectancy can be much longer. Shouldn’t you look into this?

Here’s a resource: The National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Help Line: 1-800-4CANCER.

Please call. Tell them Andrew sent you

Wishing you and your family the best of health!