Category Archives: Scans

Scan report: 4/29/2013

I’m delighted to write that I have not posted a blog simply because I have been too busy living my life. Over the next few days I hope to rectify the lack of communication by playing catch-up. I may as well start with my last scan—being presented here in unadulterated fashion. Couple of notes; for the uninitiated, ground glass refers to patchy or lace-like areas which represent some form of inflammation and/or cancer. We always hope for the former, but in my case, it is likely the latter. Also, the pericardial effusion is not actually new—but rather has been noted for some time, as has the pleural effusion:  no biggie.

linnea radiology 4:13001As for what this all means; in short I continue to have progression. Not marked, but Dr. Shaw felt ‘little significant change’ was not quite adequate either. However, as I am tolerating the alimta and feel pretty well overall followed by one week of feeling just about fabulous, there is no discussion about changing up therapies yet.

Also noted at my appointment was the fact that I have gained fifteen pounds in four months. I was pretty skinny coming into chemotherapy, so this is a good thing. However, at least some of the weight is due to steroids, and therefore not evenly distributed. I’ve got a bit of moon face going on, and my fingers and toes are sorta chubby—merely enhancing my resemblance to a big baby (more about that later).

The devil is in the details

It has been a long winter, but the last of the snow is melting rapidly. In New Hampshire, we are just beginning mud season.

L1020809There have been other harbingers of spring, starting several weeks ago with the silver spigots and buckets of maple sugaring. One of our neighbors has been collecting sap and hauling it down to what looks like some crazy distillery in the woods, complete with a wood frame covered in tyvek, a trash barrel full of empties (miller lite) and a blaring boom box. Just about 24/7, he and his cronies have been evaporating down three giant pans of sap over a wood fire. It’s a labor of love, maple syrup, with a forty to one working ratio (sap to syrup).

However, my neighbor, who has a creative approach to life in general (I speak euphemistically), has found his own way to ‘stretch’ the product. A few days ago, trying to walk off the effects of my fifth infusion, I wandered on down to the maple syrup factory. My neighbor’s cousin was manning the pans, and I asked him if the massive pot of clear liquid on the ground was virgin sap. Nope, he said—It’s olive oil. After I wondered what on earth they used olive oil for, he looked me in the eyes (I’m making that part up—he specifically did not look me in the eyes) and said “It’s hard to make that much syrup.” And then I understood. They were cutting the maple syrup with olive oil.

The moral of this part of the story is: if you’re in New Hampshire and a guy named Ray asks you if you’d like to buy some maple syrup, just say no. Firmly.

Speaking of details, prior to my infusion of alimta a week ago, I got the hard copy of my recent radiology report:

Persistent bilateral multifocal solid and groundglass opacities without significant interval change to 2/4/2013.”

There’s not a damn thing I like about the first seven words, which in plain english simply mean that there is yet cancer scattered throughout both of my lungs. However, at this stage of the game, one focuses on the second half of the sentence: without significant interval change. In two weeks, I will have my second maintenance infusion of alimta, followed by another CT scan, and then a reassessment of the situation. 

In the meantime, I’ve finally kicked the virus and am feeling stronger again. Today I took a rake to the gardens for an hour and also went on a walk. I’m now exhausted but in the good sort of way that comes from physical exertion; I shall sleep soundly tonight.

Hits and misses

From the inside looking out this morning

From the inside looking out Saturday morning

The blizzard rolled in right on schedule Friday, but fortunately, we were graced with a big dump of snow but never lost power; nature in all its glory is sometimes best appreciated from a snug environ.

I had my third infusion of pemetrexed/carboplatin on Thursday. As the last round turned out to be so manageable, we decided to ramp up the platinum a bit, and for the first 48 hours, I felt pretty good. However, yesterday I skipped my afternoon zofran and began ramping down on the dexamethasone as well. By early evening I was seriously nauseous, and experiencing some pretty intense heartburn and a headache. I took a compazine, and when that had no effect, added zofran and dexamethasone. Soon I was feeling better again–I can’t begin to imagine how difficult chemotherapy must have been before the advent of steroids and antiemitics. Thanks to an ambien, I was able to sleep, and hopefully today I can again back off on medication.

So—lots to share. I think I’ll start with the visit to the Avon Breast Center at MGH. After the concerning mammogram on Tuesday, a sterotactic biopsy was scheduled locally. However, I immediately contacted Dr. Shaw and asked about having a consult at MGH instead; if the situation required treatment, it only made sense to coordinate my care right from the start.

Well, the magical Dr. Shaw got me an appointment on Friday afternoon. Because of the impending storm, it needed to be cancelled, but they were able to squeeze me in Friday morning instead. Once there, I met with the surgeon, who performed an exam and immediately found a lump (that had been missed previously) in my left breast as well. And then I had some more mammograms done, this time using a 3D imaging machine. After a short wait, more close-ups on my right breast, and then an ultrasound of my left breast.

The conclusion: likely benign fibrocystic changes in the left breast and a 99.5% chance that the microcalcifications in the right breast represent non cancerous changes. So I won’t need to undergo a biopsy and instead will have a repeat mammogram at the Avon Breast Center in six months. The moral of this story would seem to be, whenever possible, (and particularly when your medical history is complicated), get yourself to a center with the best diagnostic apparatus available as well as the expertise to interpret those results.

So that was great, great news. A good thing too, as my scan prior to chemo on Wednesday was not quite as encouraging:  “Mixed treatment response with interval decreased groundglass opacity in the left lower lobe, though slightly increased let lower lobe consolidation and slightly increased mixed solid ground/glass opacities in the right upper lobe.

In addition, the results of the initial genetic sequencing of the ALK mutation are in (it remains to be seen if full genetic sequencing can be performed, as my biopsy  sample was quite small and will require a cell line to be grown in the lab—something that may or may not be possible). The secondary mutation that showed up post crizotinib (S1206Y) is nowhere to be seen. In its place is G1202A, also a missense mutation on the solvent front, but unfortunately one which confers a good deal of resistance to all ALK inhibitors. This will potentially limit treatment options, and the mixed treatment response may necessitate a change of course sooner rather than later.

I am focusing on the fact that except for the few days post chemo, I am stronger than I have been in months. In fact, although I still have a small amount of wheezing and an occasional cough, the copious amount of  nighttime sputum has disappeared. Hopefully the resolution of this troubling side effect correlates with the positive response. However, given the mixed response, I do wonder if there is a chance that the resolving groundglass opacity might have been an inflammatory response to the LDK378 (pneumonitis has been observed as a rare side effect in patients treated with crizotinib).

At any rate, there is no way to know and the important thing now is that I am feeling better. One more round of pemetrexed and carboplatin and then, unless a subsequent scans reveals significant progression, I will go on pemetrexed (Alimta) maintenance. One round, one week, one day at a time.

Power on

My every-six-week chest CT scan in Boston was scheduled for 2 pm on Monday, the day Sandy was coming ashore. As luck would have it, the MBTA  had announced that they would be shutting down at exactly the same time, and many of the hospital staff rely on public transportation. So I gambled on going in early, which turned out to be a very good thing. Yawkey was running on a skeleton crew, but many patients had also cancelled, so I was able to get my scan and be on the road again by about 1:30 pm. The storm was really starting to pick up as I headed north and there were a few dicey moments when the wind would come blasting over a ridge and hit my car with enough force to shove the vehicle sideways.

I made it safely home shortly before three. David was baking cookies (for cheer and courage in the days to come). Generator, candles and bottled water at the ready, we watched the weather channel as the storm howled outside. After flickering on and off for hours, our lights went out for good at 7 pm.

In anticipation of the storm, school had been cancelled on Monday and remained closed on Tuesday. That afternoon Peter and I needed to go back to Boston, as he had an appointment in the city. There was little traffic, but otherwise no apparent ill effects from Sandy. We enjoyed a warm meal and after checking on the status of the power at home (still out), camped out at a Starbucks for several hours so that Pete could work on homework.

Wednesday brought lower temperatures and a return to school for Peter but still no power. Our small (and noisy!) generator took turns heating the aquariums and cooling the fridge, but the lack of heat and running water were becoming more problematic. Peter and I decided to spend Wednesday night at the Comfort Inn. David came over for a shower, but returned home to tend the generator (as well as the dog and aquatic life!).

After dropping Peter off at school on Thursday morning, I returned to the hotel for a nap and then after check out, stopped in yet another Starbucks to suck up some wifi (and suck down a mocha while I was at it). At 2pm I got the call I had been waiting for:  power on!

On the outer edges of Sandy’s reach, we experienced only a few days of inconvenience; temporarily deprived of creature comforts that we have come to take for granted.

My heart goes out to those for whom the storm’s impact has been far greater.

Playing the numbers

Slow, but steady. The results are in from my recent CT scan and 40% resolution has eased on up to 45%. A significant five percent, as the negative side effects (gastrointestinal issues) from LDK378 have increased in intensity as well.  Dr. Shaw and I had spoken about possibly moving my dose back down to 400 mg if there had been no incremental improvement in tumor burden.

The Radiology Report is less cheering, although certainly is not what I would characterize as a bad report. It reads:

IMPRESSION:  Persistent groundglass opacities in the anterior and inferior left lung and along the right minor fissure. The opacities in the left lung are slightly more prominent. There are no definite new lesions.

It’s all a curious algorithm; this response/non-response thing. “Tumor size has traditionally been estimated from bidimensional measurements (the product of the longest diameter and its longest perpendicular diameter for each tumor)” (quoted from an article in the Japanese Journal of Clinical Oncology) Basically, a linear measurement, which is quite dependent upon the outside diameter of a lesion, is used to estimate volume. Baseline measurements are taken at the onset of a particular treatment, and response (and/or stability or progression) is assessed by comparing successive scans to the initial chest CT. Evidently my earlier 40% ( was not the cutoff for partial response but rather exceeded it. I should have done my homework. From Wikipedia:

Evaluation of target lesions

  • Complete Response (CR): Disappearance of all target lesions
  • Partial Response (PR): At least a 30% decrease in the sum of the LD of target lesions, taking as reference the baseline sum LD
  • Stable Disease (SD): Neither sufficient shrinkage to qualify for PR nor sufficient increase to qualify for PD, taking as reference the smallest sum LD since the treatment started
  • Progressive Disease (PD): At least a 20% increase in the sum of the LD of target lesions, taking as reference the smallest sum LD recorded since the treatment started or the appearance of one or more new lesion

Odd as well is the 5% increase in response coupled with the possible area of greater consolidation noted on the radiology report. Which to me illustrates the limitations of any sort of quantitative measurements; it is all seems a bit hypothetical/ best guess sort of stuff. Data collection. Bottom line, my lungs feel and sound pretty darn good.

The numbers on my labs are closer to normal as well; the oral iron supplement I began taking several weeks ago is helping.

The one concern of the moment is my liver enzymes, transaminases-SGOT and SGPT.

So what is a transaminase? From The transaminases are enzymes that catalyze chemical reactions in the body in which an amino group is transferred from a donor molecule to a recipient molecule. (!)

SGOT is an acronym for serum glutamic oxaloacetic transaminase and SGPT for serum glutamic pyruvic transaminase. Just in case you wanted to know. What is really relevant is that they are enzymes in the liver and elevated values of either can be an indicator of liver inflammation.

My SGOT/SGPT values were ever so slightly elevated the entire time I was on crizotinib. When I went off treatment they fell to normal levels, but soon after my first dose of LDK378, the levels again became slightly elevated. After my dose went up to 500 mg, the values began to rise again.  My SGOT level peaked at 84 a week ago and is now down to 67. The normal reference range for SGOT is 9-32 U/L  (units per liter of serum–the liquid part of blood). My SGPT was at 79 last week and this week  topped out at 102. Normal reference ranges for SGPT are 7-30 U/L.

Hopefully the SGPT has peaked and will start to go down. In the meantime, a glass of wine in the evening is not an option. Sadly, we’ve been invited to a wine tasting party this very weekend (for the oenophiles out there, all with a rating of 93 or above). When I asked Alice (Dr Shaw) if I’d be able to participate, she said, “Wine tasting is just sips of wine, right?” “Well…” I replied, “it can be done that way”.  So I’ve been given clearance to slosh a bit around in my mouth. Just like the real sommeliers. I don’t believe I’ll be able to bring myself to spit it out though; that just wouldn’t be right.

Big four oh!

I had my second chest CT scan since starting on LDK378 a little over a week ago. The report from the radiologist was basically ‘stable’, But at a scan review with Dr. Shaw, there was clearly visual evidence of further improvement (lessening density of the ground glass opacities). The trial review board at Novartis must think so as well, because several days later Alice emailed to say I was now at the 40% mark, which is the cut off for a partial response. It’s not as clean in there as it was after I started crizotinib (Xalkori), at least not yet. But we’re working on it.

September of 2008/pre-crizotinib

November 2008/post-crizotinib

For comparison, here are the before and after images of my lungs in 2008. The left lung is actually on the right of each individual image. It is smaller than the right lung, because the entire lower lobe was removed in 2005, at the time of my diagnosis. Before I started the PF-03241066 trial (crizotinib, Xalkori), the remaining upper lobe of my left lung was getting pretty filled up with cancer, and you can see some activity starting in the right lung as well; particularly near the top.

August 2011/pre-LDK378

The image above is from a photograph I took of my chest CT scan as displayed on a computer monitor, so it’s not as clear as it could be. I’ve not included the two scans I’ve had since I started the trial, as I’m not certain if I am allowed to do that yet (as a subject now, not a patient, the rules are not the same). I’ve included this image simply to give you an idea of how much cancer had come back. Not as diffuse as in 2008, but well on the way and really rather dense in the bottom of the remaining upper left lobe.

So, what I can’t show you, but can tell you, is that the most recent scan is significantly clearer (and if you are considering percentages, 40% certainly sounds twice as good as the initial 19% resolution). I’m no longer coughing and my lungs feel fine.

This trial is in the dose escalation phase, and I entered at 250 mg. Per protocol, once the subjects at the next higher dose had gone without adverse events for two cycles (a cycle is three weeks long), I would be allowed to go up to that dose, or 500 mg. Last monday was my first day at the stronger dose. I’m hoping stronger=more effective yet.

So all in all I’m feeling well. Occasional bouts of diarrhea would seem to be a side effect, and I’ve become mildly anemic, which leaves me a bit rundown and intolerant to cold (not quite as rosy as I once was either). It would seem to be a mixed etiology of nutritional anemia and anemia of chronic disease, according to my labs (and my oncologist!). My hematocrit is 31.2 (normal reference range 36-46), my hemoglobin is 9.6 (normal reference range 12-16) and my MCV (mean cell volume) is 72 (normal reference range 80-100). My iron level is 18 (normal range 30-160) and ferritin is 6 (normal range 10-200).

In a subsequent post I will  go into greater detail about anemia (I’ve been reading up on it, and it’s rather fascinating).

So that’s the medical update. I’m off to eat some spinach.

Viewing the actual scans

I had my appointment with Alice (Dr. Shaw) on Monday, and we were able to view the images of the before and after scans together. They do indeed appear much improved. In my left lung, there remains a hazy footprint of what was formerly an area of consolidation. It could represent inflammation or, possibly more likely, unresolved cancer. The right lung (my ‘good’ lung), looks almost entirely clear.

It is important to remember at this point that A. we are in the dose escalation phase for LDK378, and the therapeutic dose may not have been reached yet, and B. this is not my first exposure to an ALK inhibitor and my cancer had acquired resistance to crizotinib (Xalkori).

All in all–a very respectable response. We will be watching my next set of scans closely and also positioning for dose escalation as soon as possible (there are certain constraints per protocol–and it will be six weeks or so before escalation is a feasibility). Update–Alice received the measurements for resolution (which is factored in a way that is very reliant on degree changes in borders of tumor rather than density) and it is 19%. This is a good place to remind all that I learned a long time ago not to be defined by numbers. I prefer qualitative to quantitative analysis, and symptomatically, I am much improved.

Life goes on. I’ve been busy adding to my portfolio of fallen leaves, although it has not been a stellar season for leaf peeping. They take the fall colors quite seriously in these parts, and there was a story on the front page of the local paper detailing the factors behind the disappointing showing. A very wet spring, coal tar spot, hurricane Irene (which atomized so much salt, it was found on the leaves of maples twenty miles inland). I believe myself to be rather adept at finding something beautiful under any circumstance though, so here goes: