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Saving one life at a time: Targeted treatment for thyroid cancer

Rare cancers account for 25% of all cancer deaths. Now, highly personalized treatments are being created to save one life at a time.

CHICAGO — Each year, 40,000 people are diagnosed with rare cancers. Even though 40,000 doesn’t seem like a lot compared to the almost two million people diagnosed with cancer each year, rare cancers account for 25 percent of all cancer deaths. Now, highly personalized treatments are being created to save one life at a time.

Vivian Panou makes the most of each day for her two girls, Katerina and Aria, all while battling an extremely rare form of thyroid cancer.

She recalls when she discovered something was wrong.

“I touched my throat, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! What is that?’ It felt like a golf ball, and I freaked out,” Vivian tells Ivanhoe.

Surgery, chemo, and radiation all helped for a little while, but then she received some bad news from her doctor.

“I said, ‘Doctor, please tell me, where has the cancer gone and how are we gonna get rid of it?’ and he just dropped his arms. He’s like, ‘Vivian, where hasn’t it gone? It’s gone everywhere,” Vivian expresses.

Medical oncologist at the Lurie Cancer Center at Northwestern Medicine, Dr. Young Kwang Chae, MD, explains to Ivanhoe, “She had very aggressive cancer.”

Dr. Chae finds targeted therapies for hard-to-treat cases. He tried a drug that had never been used before on Vivian’s type of cancer.

“We tailor our therapies based on the patient's genomic profile,” Dr. Chae further explains.

Five days after the first infusion, Vivian’s cancer had dramatically reduced.

Dr. Chae says, “We were seeing that her pain disappeared within, I would say, days.”

Using a highly personalized developmental therapy to hopefully give Vivian the extra days, even years, she’s so desperately looking forward to.

“I feel like the treatment I’m getting has been specially crafted just for me because they wanna make sure that I stick around for my girls,” Vivian expresses.

Today, Vivian remains on the treatment plan and Dr. Chae continues to monitor her progress and look for more ways to keep her cancer controlled.

You will find more hospitals using developmental therapy teams to create personalized treatments for their patients, taking personalized care to a new level.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Shelby Kluver at shelby.kluver@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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