Athletic. Healthy eater. Non-smoker. At 57, Greg Vrettos’ lifestyle profile read like every doctor’s recommendation for good health. When he developed a respiratory ailment that lingered, Greg and his doctors were stunned to learn that the model patient had stage-4 lung cancer.
Researchers have long questioned the seemingly inexplicable “bad luck” that causes non-smokers to develop lung cancer. Studying these patients’ tumors has yielded clues; some of their lung cancers carry unique genetic mutations. Novel therapies are being developed to directly target these mutations, leading to personalized medicine based on the tumor’s “molecular fingerprint.”
When Greg was diagnosed, his doctors at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center were having success identifying and treating a particular type of lung cancer mutation: EGFR. Greg’s lung cancer tested positive for the EGFR mutation, and he became the first patient at Mass General enrolled in the first ever clinical trial to target his mutation as a first line of therapy. He began taking a medicine designed to attack the mutation in his tumor that was driving his cancer. “I didn’t have any hesitancy about starting a clinical trial,” said Greg. “I guess I just had so much confidence in Mass General and in my doctors that I believed it had to be the best option.”
Greg’s optimism paid off. Within days of starting the trial, his chronic cough and fatigue began to ease. More importantly, the tumors in both of his lungs began shrinking. Literally and figuratively, Greg was able to breathe easy again.
Thanks to molecular fingerprinting, Greg’s mutation was identified right away. He never had to endure the traditional regimen of surgery, radiation or chemotherapy and the often harsh side effects they produce. His targeted therapy took the form of an oral medication that he tolerated very well. Greg never even lost his hair.
Targeted therapy has meant a lot to Greg; savoring retirement with his wife, a return to his active lifestyle, and welcoming his first grandchild into the family. Molecular fingerprinting and personalized medicine may be the future of cancer treatment, but to Greg they are simply his future.
“My future was totally unknown before,” Greg notes. “It still has an element of the unknown, but I couldn’t be happier with where I am. It has not inhibited me from enjoying the things I love in life and as long as it can continue, it will be a perfect outcome.”