After complaining of a sore throat to his family doctor, Lawrence Hensley, 59, was referred to Jeffrey Dribben, MD, an ear, neck, and throat specialist at The Reading Hospital and Medical Center. Dr. Dribben found a growth in Lawrence’s throat, which a biopsy revealed to be stage IV tonsillar cancer.
At The Reading Hospital Regional Cancer Center, Drs. Terrence Cescon, MD, oncologist, and Albert Yuen, MD, radiologist, explained that treatment would be intensive for Lawrence’s advanced cancer. In addition to surgical removal of the tumor, he would also undergo both radiation and chemotherapy.
While discussing treatment options with his specialists, Lawrence learned about Clinical Trial RTOG-0522, a study the Regional Cancer Center was offering for his type and stage of throat cancer. This particular clinical trial was designed to help specialists evaluate the standard radiation and chemotherapy regimen versus the same regimen with the addition of the drug, cetuximab, on advanced head and neck cancer. They suspect that cetuximab may delay or prevent tumor growth by blocking certain cellular chemical pathways that lead to tumor development. Also appealing to Lawrence was the hope that his participation in RTOG-0522 would help pave the way for future advances in the treatment of tonsillar cancer.
Lawrence researched the clinical trial protocol thoroughly, and considered his wife and two young daughters before enrolling in the study. “I had nothing to lose,” he recalled, “and there seemed much to be gained.” Thanks to volunteer participants like Lawrence, who join forces with medical experts, clinical trials enable researchers to learn which techniques are safe and effective so they can be made widely available.
“Because RTOG-0522 offered the best treatment available for Stage IV tonsillar cancer, it only made sense to enroll,” said Lawrence. “I was also comforted by knowing an experienced cancer team would monitor me extremely closely throughout treatment.” Following surgical removal of the tumor, in the space of several months, Lawrence’s treatment included 35 radiation sessions and two courses of chemotherapy. “I never felt alone throughout the treatment process,” recalled Lawrence. “My protocol nurse, Serena, made everything easy and convenient. She did the scheduling, explained all the details, stayed with me, and really watched over me.” The Regional Cancer Center team will continue to follow Lawrence closely for the first year, periodically for the next five years, and annually thereafter.
“After my last treatment in April 2009, I got the all-clear,” said Lawrence. Today, Lawrence is back to work and is grateful and eager to spend all his free time with his wife and two daughters, who keep the family stepping with their school band activities. “If you’re considering a clinical trial, the best advice I can offer is to do your research and go for it. That’s what I did and I have no regrets.”