Now that my cancer treatments are six months apart and I feel so well in between, sometimes it’s almost possible to forget that I have that dread disease. Almost, but not quite.
Yesterday morning, we were back at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton for Lutetium treatment #7 and this morning, I had the follow-up scans and met with my doctors to learn the results.
Once again, the news was good. The black marks on the screen that represent my tumours were not only significantly smaller than they were at diagnosis three years ago; they appeared to be noticeably smaller than they were six months ago. Three were still very obvious and the doctor pointed out the fourth one, but where was number 5? Gone? Was that possible?
Dr. Koumna, the newest member of my care team, explained that what we know for sure is that that tumour, one of the smallest in the first place, is no longer absorbing Lutetium, the radioactive substance that binds to my tumours and fights them on the spot. It may be gone or it may be dead or completely non-functioning. Either way, the news is definitely good!
On the other hand, the morning was also somewhat sobering as we were reminded once again that neuroendocrine cancer (NETS) is a deadly disease. We learned that a couple of things have changed in the treatment protocol since we last sat down with the doctors six months ago. First of all, I will now be having a CT scan three months after every treatment instead of after every second one. In other words, twice a year instead of only once. According to Dr. MacEwan, head of the team, they’ve discovered that leaving these tumours unchecked for six months, as they had been doing, was putting patients at too great a risk. Secondly, although I was told last year that after I’d had four treatments at six month intervals, if everything was still going well, we would try nine months between treatments, that is no longer an option. Again, leaving these tumours untreated for that long was proving to be too risky.
This type of therapy, known as Peptide Receptor Radionuclide Therapy or PRRT, is still very new. It is extending the lives of NETS patients beyond what was possible in the past and as that happens, even the specialists are still learning. I truly thank the Lord that I live so close to one of the centres where this treatment is available because there are not many of them in North America!
The most disconcerting thing that we learned this morning is that, at this point, only 12 Lutetium treatments are available per patient. For me, that means just 5 more. Two and a half years and then what? Dr. MacEwan was frank in explaining that the clinical trial that I’m part of and that is the only way to access this treatment in western Canada at this time, was set up with a maximum of 12 treatments because they didn’t actually expect to need more than that. Though they knew that in the early stages of use, Lutetium was proving to be successful in providing symptom relief, stopping or slowing tumour progression and improving overall survival, they really did not expect it to be as effective as it’s proving to be. Now that some patients are approaching the 12 treatment maximum and still doing well, Dr. MacEwan will be going back to the government to apply for further funding and permission to continue therapy beyond 12 treatments. He fully expects that to be in place before I need it.
In the meantime, I’m highly radioactive again meaning that I need to stay somewhat isolated from other people for the coming week and, as usual after a treatment, I’m feeling quite tired, but I’m home and very happy to report that one little black dot was missing from the screen today!
This is not my scan because I got so involved in discussing what I was seeing (and not seeing) on the screen that I forgot to ask if I could take a photo of it, but this gives you an idea what the scan I get after each treatment looks like. This patient has tumours that are larger than mine and located in different areas of the body.
If you’re interested in reading more about PRRT and how it works, one of the best explanations that I’ve found written in language that a non medical person can understand is found here. Keep in mind that this is an American site and some of the information, particularly toward the end of the article, pertains specifically to PRRT use in the US.