Fifty-three-year-old Leon Burns, a Silver Spring businessman, was diagnosed with pneumonia in November 2005. He began to question his diagnosis when he didn’t get better, and follow-up X-rays of his lungs showed no improvement.
Adding to his unease was the fact that a good friend had recently died of lung cancer -- after being misdiagnosed with pneumonia. Despite the fact that he had never smoked cigarettes and had no family history of cancer, he decided to take an aggressive approach and find out once and for all what he was dealing with.
He consulted with several doctors and underwent a number of inconclusive diagnostic tests before a CT scan indicated that he did in fact have lung cancer. An oncologist neighbor read his films and advised him of the seriousness of his condition. He recommended that Burns come to the Thoracic Oncology Program at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center (UMGCC) in Baltimore.
A biopsy of Burns’ lung and lymph nodes, and showed stage IIIA locally advanced non-small cell lung cancer. This meant that his cancer was limited to the chest and had not spread to other parts of the body.
Burns and his wife then met for over three hours in a single visit with the thoracic oncology multidisciplinary team.
“I had been carrying around all of my reports and films in the trunk of my car, as I went from one specialist to another, trying to decide where to seek my treatment. One of the reasons that I chose UMGCC is that it appeared to me right away this team had a plan. None of the others I consulted seemed to have a systematic plan to attack the problem. The team here inspired our confidence because they combined knowledge of all the specialties that would be involved in my care,” he said.
The team told Burns about all the treatment options available for his condition. They explained that UMGCC was participating in a national research study testing the benefit of combining three types of treatment – chemotherapy, high-dose radiation and surgery – to treat locally-advanced non-small cell lung cancer.
Earlier work done at UMGCC had shown promising results in treating patients with combination therapy before surgery for lung cancer. The national study is designed to build on this earlier research in order to find out what effects a combination of chemotherapy and high-dose radiation therapy followed by surgery and chemotherapy have on patients and their cancer.
As part of the study, Burns’ treatment plan would consist of seven weeks of chemotherapy and radiation, followed by surgery to remove part of his lung. Surgery after the chemotherapy and radiation is done to remove any remaining cancer, and to decrease the risk of the cancer returning in the lung.
He would then have a recovery period from the lung surgery before beginning another course of chemotherapy. This would be followed by preventive radiation treatment for the brain. Burns agreed to take part in the study, feeling it would give him his best chance of survival.
“In my view, clinical trials provide doctors with more options to treat patients on an individual basis after first carefully considering conventional and proven options,” Burns says.
“On a more personal level, clinical trials have provided valuable data to my doctors regarding my treatment plans and options,” Burns says. “Many of the conventional types of chemotherapy were ineffective against my illness, but through clinical trials, I have been given hope.”
Now about fully recovered from his cancer treatment, he returns to the cancer center for periodic follow-up CT scans every few months.
“I thank God for directing me to the University of Maryland,” Burns says. “Their knowledge, expertise and compassion have reduced the level of pain for my family during this very difficult season.”
Burns said the Greenebaum Cancer Center is taking a leadership role on a national level to eliminate the cancer-outcome disparity between races, and to help all cancer patients through more data from a wider demographic pool.
“Clinical trials are extremely important if we are going to find a cure
for cancer,” Burns says.
For more information about treatments for lung cancer, the trimodality lung cancer clinical trial, or other programs of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, please call 1-800-888-8823.
If you would like to share your story about treatment for cancer at UMGCC, please e-mail us or call 410-328-8289.