Tag Archives: LDK378


I thank each and every one of you for the comments as well as the messages I received. My appointment yesterday was late in the day, and after arriving home around seven, I had a cup of tea and opened some emails. Too tapped out to write, I drew a hot bath and then went straight to bed.

David was out of the house early, so after driving Peter to school, I sat down at the computer and thought I better get a blog up. Alice called (bless her) with some measurements and clarification and then I decided that what I really wanted to do was go back to bed. And I did.

Morning naps are the best. I awakened rested and with that pleasant sense of momentary disorientation…still a bit tangled in the brief dreams I’d just had and totally free of yesterday’s worries.

So. The reports from the scan are not a catastrophe. What was characterized in the previous scan as ‘These findings may represent mild increase in minimally invasive adenocarcinoma‘ is now ‘Increasing round glass opacities in the lateral portion of the left lower lobe and slight interval enlargement of a nodule adjacent to the right minor fissure are suspicious for progressive lung cancer.

Simply put, it is clear that I am developing resistance to LDK378. My cancer, that tricky devil, has figured out a way around yet another therapy.  The largest single lesion, which is actually a patchy ground glass opacity, measured 2.5 cm at its longest point on 2/21/12 and was stable from previous reports. On 4/03/12, there was a slight increase to 2.8 cm. The latest report, dated 5/15/12, notes an increase to 3.5 cm.

Clinical trials utilize a tricky algorithm called RECIST to measure response. The technique is planar, rather than volumetric and is based on averages from several target lesions. BAC, which is characterized by hazy infiltrates rather than clearly delineated solid tumors, is not given to easy quantification.

As Alice explained this morning, for the purpose of the clinical trial, my tumors are only minimally increased in size. This is important, because after a certain degree of progression has occurred, a participant will likely be asked to leave the trial.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the cows are out of the barn and although not yet stampeding, they are getting mighty restless.

So what’s next? Stay the course for the moment. Inquire as to whether or not Novartis would grant permission to return to a dose of 500 mg LDK once again; albeit with careful monitoring of liver enzymes. Monitor my physical symptoms closely; there is in fact a bit of wheezing in both lungs now.

We will also watch that 6 mm spot in my right lung with interest; perhaps it might become a candidate for biopsy whereas the ground glass opacities are fairly useless in that respect. A curious aspect of this particular recurrence is that although the cancer is cropping up in pretty much the same spot it has before, the appearance is slightly different; more haze and less opacity. And that 6 mm nodule appears to be an entirely different beast altogether, prompting me to ask Alice if it is possible that these two separate areas of apparent progression might be driven by individual (and newly acquired) mutations, each conferring their own mode of resistance. Intriguingly, but damnably frustrating as well, the answer is yes, that is possible.

In conclusion, I started on LDK back in September of 2011. Nine months and counting for an experimental cancer treatment is really quite good, and I knew when I signed on, that this would be a temporary fix. I hope to squeeze another few months out of it but if that’s not possible, there are options. Which in itself, is an amazing thing.

I told Alice yesterday that I’m planning on attending Peter’s graduation from high school. That will be three years from now. She thinks it could be doable.

That’s all I need to hear.

Cover girl and a back story

I was in Boston on Monday for labwork, and just adjacent to the elevators is a wall rack where they display current issues of the MGH Cancer Center magazine. On the cover was a familiar image, a CT scan of lungs pre and post crizotinib. Although not identified, they are my lungs. So, I guess that makes me a cover girl.

While there I also paid a quick visit to my friend Sarah Broom (a poet: https://lifeandbreath.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/if-the-world/), who has traveled from her home in New Zealand to enroll in a Clinical trial at Massachusetts General Hospital. We had gotten together the previous week for lunch and on Sunday Evening she’d driven to our house in Amherst with her brother Alex, who was visiting from Australia to be with Sarah as she started trial (her husband is at home with their three young children). The meal on Sunday (local lobster) was really pleasant and Sarah’s brother is every bit as charming as she.  Afterward they managed, for the most part, to stay on the right side of the road (which would be the wrong side of the road ‘down under’) on the drive back to Cambridge.

But more about Sarah and that back story. Back in August of 2008, when my oncologist (at that time, Dr. Tom Lynch) told me that as a newly identified ALK ‘mutant’ I was eligible for enrollment in the phase I trial for PF-02341066 (crizotinib), the trial was transitioning from an initial focus on gastrointestinal cancers to lung cancer. Only one other lung cancer patient had been on trial at MGH, and he had died within weeks of enrolling (his lung cancer was responding to crizotinib, but his disease was ultimately too widespread). Although this news did nothing to alleviate my fear, it also didn’t dampen my enthusiasm; possible death (trial) versus certain death (continued tarceva, chemo, or no treatment at all).

It was but a few weeks later that I became aware of Kevin Brumett, after my husband conducted an internet search for information on ALK mutations. Kevin had posted on Inspire, the online site which I soon joined and continue to participate in. I contacted Kevin, also an ALK mutant. He had been on trial at Dana Farber for some weeks and had recently gotten back his first scans, which showed significant improvement. Kevin immediately became my beacon; this courageous and incredibly optimistic young man who was just ahead of me on this path to who knew where.

I started trial on October 1, 2008 and soon thereafter Kevin told me of another fellow traveler, Sarah Broom, in New Zealand.

Unfortunately Kevin developed a large number of brain metastases early in 2006, and it was at that point that it began to be clear that crizotinib might not cross the blood/brain barrier. Several months later, Kevin died and Sarah and I fell out of touch for a time as well.

Perhaps a year and a half ago we began emailing again and eventually spoke on the phone as well. Now, in a curious turn of fate, we are in the same place once more, each enrolled in clinical trials. LDK378, which is a second generation ALK inhibitor for me, and AUY922, an HSP-90 inhibitor for Sarah. There is a good chance I will eventually go on AUY922 and she on LDK378. Talking at dinner the other evening, we figured that we are number three (Sarah) and number four (myself) in the world to have gone on crizotinib–(although I might have to share number four with another individual who went on trial either the day before or after me at MGH).

It’s all rather remarkable. Our friendship, begun in the most unlikely fashion, the distance we have each traveled (more metaphorically speaking when I refer to myself, but in Sarah’s case, coming from New Zealand, the real deal). The fact that we are both still here, trudging forward, looking for sure footing.

As for those liver enzymes; falling. SGPT is 66 and SGOT is 62. And the wine tasting party? So much fun (hosted by the same fabulous friends who made 11/11/11 special for Pete and I). Part of the evening involved a little contest; we were served pairings and asked to distinguish between labels/vintages. Well friends, my fellow contestants were all quite able, but out of a field of twelve, I tied for first after getting them all correct. My secret? Not mere luck, but rather a reliance on instinct (a superior tool in matters of the senses–but I was nonetheless surprised as well as mighty pleased by my little coup).

My prize? A  lovely bottle of sauterne and liver enzymes headed in the right direction. Win win.

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% (https://lifeandbreath.wordpress.com/2011/12/14/big-four-oh/) 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 MedicineNet.com: 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.

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:

YES! The results of the latest scan are in

I have been feeling well for the past week. My cough has resolved, my energy is up and the chills are gone. All good signs.

This past Monday I underwent the bronchoscopy. Quite uneventful aside from the nasty numbing stuff they squirt up your nose and down your throat prior to the exam. “This is going to feel like you’re drowning” counseled the attending nurse with no apparent irony. And it did.

On Thursday I was back in Boston for my chest CT scan. Although I’d been given a bye on barium for the past two years of the crizotinib trial, I am once again required to drink two ‘milkshakes’. As I’ve explained in some previous detail, I am oblivious to most of the discomforts involved in my day to day medical care. You don’t even want to know how many times I get jabbed with a needle. However, I have never liked putting something in my mouth that I don’t want there. I am, in fact, almost phobic in this regard. Oral contrast is tough for me, and hopefully I can once again talk upper management out of the necessity of such an (onerous) detail.

I had taken the bus in, and David picked me up at the hospital after my exam and we continued on to Randolph, where my oncologist, Dr. Alice Shaw, was being honored by the American Lung Association. Also in attendance were three of Alice’s other patients, including Chris and his wife Karen, pictured on the rather dramatic staircase of the venue. They have an adorable daughter who is just two, and Chris has done quite well on crizotinib. I wish him many more years of success.

Chris and Karen

Bright and early yesterday morning, Alice called and said she had reviewed the scans and that they looked really good, and as well the bronchoscopy was completely negative for any findings. Some hours later she forwarded the CT report, which frankly sounds even more positive than what I’d expected from her description. It reads:


Lines/tubes: None. Lungs and Airways: There is improved consolidation in the left upper lobe and lingula with residual ground-glass opacities, which had been previously chronic and progressive and are considerably improved from 8/31/2011, consistent with improvement in lymphangitic carcinomatosis.

There is a stable 3-mm nodule along the minor fissure. The surrounding smaller nodules have resolved. Pleura: There is a stable small left pleural effusion.

Heart and mediastinum: The thyroid gland is normal. No significant mediastinal, hilar or axillary lymphadenopathy is seen. The heart and pericardium are within normal limits. There is mild pericardial thickening, which appears more prominent compared to 8/31/2011.


History of non-small cell lung cancer status post left lower lobectomy. Improvement in lymphangitic tumor spread in the left lung. Stable indeterminate 3-mm nodule along the minor fissure. Slightly increased mild pericardial thickening.

I like how many times improved or a variation thereof is used in the first paragraph (three), and the addition of considerably is even better. Stable appears twice in the second paragraph. And in IMPRESSIONS, the key words are improvement, stable, and slightly increased. This is a very good, considerably improved, report. Yippee!

And now for some definitions of less than familiar terms:

lymphangitic carcinomatosis:  A condition in which cancer cells spread from the original (primary) tumor and invade lymph vessels (thin tubes that carry lymph and white blood cells through the body’s lymph system).

This is the definition from the National Cancer Institutes online dictionary. From Medscape reference we get this explanation:  The lungs are one of the most common targets for metastatic disease.  Most pulmonary metastases are nodular, but a significant minority is interstitial. Lymphangitic carcinomatosis (LC) refers to the diffuse infiltration and obstruction of pulmonary parenchymal lymphatic channels by tumor.

Interpretation? I believe it is simply another way to describe metastatic lung cancer.

I also looked up the significance off mild pericardial thickening (the pericardium is the membranous sac enclosing the heart), and will discuss it with Alice before I attempt to interpret this finding.

Bottom line; it is a very good report. I have to wonder if I really did have an infection that the latest course of levaquin vanquished. Whatever the underlying cause of my initial malaise as well as the less than stellar PET scan, it is now evident that the LDK378 is having it’s way with my cancer. I’m tripping over myself with gratitude, and well, excitement. The personal impact is obvious, but I’m focusing on the big picture as well; perhaps LDK378 will prove to be yet another viable treatment option for those who harbor an ALK mutation. That would be really be something.


Darkness falls earlier and the leaves are turning. Already bursts of color litter the forest floor; soon it will be an almost fantastical carpet of yellow, pink, red, orange and purple. I have begun my daily treks, camera in hand, attempting to capture…

I feel as if some seasonal change is taking place for me as well.

This is not easy to acknowledge, but I had, beyond merely hope, almost an expectation  in regard to this current clinical trial. I visualized myself having a rapid response and returning, once again, to a period of good health. While on crizotinib, my lung cancer had seemingly melted away. This time, a model of my new mutation had been tested in the lab and shown great sensitivity to LDK378.

On Friday I had a PET scan to assess my progress thus far. The report read:


Overall mild decrease in size of intensity of uptake in opacities in the bilateral, left greater than right, lungs. No abnormal foci of  uptake are identified in the mediastinum. No other abnormal foci of uptake are identified.


Mild interval decrease in bilateral lung tumor burden.

It is not a negative report. Nor does it indicate any sort of rapid response to the trial drug.

First, an explanation of what a PET scan is and does. PET is an acronym for positive emission tomography, and, as defined by Wikipedia:

“Positron emission tomography (PET) is a nuclear medicine imaging technique that produces a three-dimensional image or picture of functional processes in the body. The system detects pairs of gamma rays emitted indirectly by a positron-emittingradionuclide (tracer), which is introduced into the body on a biologically active molecule. Three-dimensional images of tracer concentration within the body are then constructed by computer analysis.”

“If the biologically active molecule chosen for PET is FDG, an analogue of glucose, the concentrations of tracer imaged then give tissue metabolic activity, in terms of regional glucose uptake.”

My PET scan before I started the trial was somewhat ‘hot’, meaning my lungs showed an ‘avidity’ (uptake of) the FDG-PET  (2-deoxy-2[F-18]fluoro-D-glucose positron emission tomography). 

The histology of my lung cancer is BAC, which generally shows only mild FDG avidity.

So what is going on here? There are several possible answers. A PET scan essentially measures metabolic activity, the theory being that a highly metabolic area shows a greater avidity (or eagerness) for glucose. Neoplasms tend to be highly metabolic. However, several sources of inflammation could also produce these ‘hot’ spots. Perhaps I have an unresolved pneumonia which is showing partial resistance to the levaquin. I did feel much better when I was taking the antibiotics.

It may be that my cancer itself has ‘heated up’ or become more metabolic and therefore more aggressive, potentially transitioning away from pure BAC to a histology more in line with adenocarcinoma. Or, despite the early promise, LDK378 may be working, but potentially not as well as we’d hoped.

A passage from the archives of GRACE (an excellent online resource):

“Dr. West: In the metastatic setting for lung cancer specifically, clinical trials include CT scans to assess response or progression.  Do you believe that the PET scan adds significantly to that or can we do as well with CT scans basically showing shrinkage or enlargement of known disease? 

Dr. Djang: Definitely the PET scan has been proven to be more accurate in the setting of metastatic disease.  I think what it comes down to is that if the treatment is working, if the chemotherapy, chemoradiation therapy is working, the first change that you’re going to see is a decrease in the metabolic activity of the tumor cells.  That can only be measured with a PET scan and that change will come first.  The CT can only measure response to therapy by looking at tumor size.  That takes time.  It takes time, at least some time for a tumor to grow or to shrink if the therapy is successful.  If you have a car that has stopped running, the engine will become cool long before the body of the car starts to degrade.  So in the same concept, the metastatic deposit will cool off on the PET scan before it shrinks.  

Dr. West: So a PET scan may be especially valuable in getting some early feedback about whether your treatment is likely to be helpful or not? 

Dr. Djang: Early and more accurate, yes.” 

It has not been an easy time to stay hopeful. I have several friends who are struggling with their disease and I don’t know what the hell is going on with mine. Some weeks ago a post I had written for my online support group  regarding battle fatigue was republished on e-patients.net. I concluded it on a strong note.

I started on levaquin again yesterday; just so that I can feel better. Tomorrow, after my labs, I’m heading to NYC for a few days with my dear W & C. Next Monday I am scheduled for a bronchoscopy. Not only will the surgeon ‘harvest’ some fluid for a culture, an enlarged lymph node might be biopsied. And then on Thursday I will have  a chest CT scan, which is an anatomic versus metabolic view of my disease.

My desire to think positive is sometimes subjugated to my need to think possible; as in all possible outcomes. To prepare myself for whatever comes. But if you spend too much trying to see what lies ahead, you may miss the very moment.

Let me introduce: Evan

Picture taken of my girlfriend (Anne) and I in Vail. March 2010.

My name is Evan Spirito. I am 24 years old and I have NSCLC driven by a mutation in my ALK gene. I was diagnosed in January of 2009 when I was 21.

The cancer originated in my left lung and, by the time I was diagnosed, it spread to my lymph nodes as well as a couple brain metastases. I had the brain mets “zapped” right away with proton beam radiation and then I started chemotherapy. I experienced good results on the Patel Regimen (Carboplatin/Alimta/Avastin) for 6 cycles and then remained on maintenance chemo for several months following. Unfortunately, my cancer started to come back in the spring of 2010.

The results of my genetic testing came back in the meantime and confirmed that my cancer was driven by the ALK mutation. I was put on the Crizotinib trial and again experienced good results with very little side effects. I stayed on the trial for about a year before my cancer once again showed progression in the spring (March 2011).

I started on the STA9090 trial next, however, it proved to be largely ineffective on my disease with the addition of nearly intolerable side effects. After about a month “wash out” period, I began my latest and current trial (LDK 378).

Linnea and I share the same oncologist (Dr. Shaw). She reached out to me a few weeks ago and we discovered that we had quite similar experiences/treatments in our individual battles with cancer. Linnea was about to start the LDK trial herself and, as far as I know, we are two of only a handful of patients currently on the trial.

I know that the many patients are hoping to join the trial soon and looking for more information on what to expect, so, I wanted to share my experience thus far on the LDK trial:

The trial is comparable to my experience on Crizotinib, which was the best/easiest treatment I’ve had to date. The first couple visits are quite long (as Linnea described in her latest post) but after that it gets better. You will dose once a day and go in once a week for lab work and a check up. I have not seen any noticeable side effects from taking the pill apart from one vomited dose in the first week.

For me, the most annoying part of the trial is the eating requirements. Fasting for 2hrs before and after dosing is no fun but if you work out a consistent schedule it will not be an issue. I tried, and may try again, dosing right when I woke up (before eating), then going back to bed for 2hrs before eating breakfast. If your stomach can manage, it might be worth a try.

In my case, it took a solid 7-10 days before I really began to feel the pill working. Sure enough, my first set of scans revealed a major decrease in my disease, which is very encouraging. Things were going rather smoothly until I suffered a minor set back in the form of a chest infection, but with any luck the antibiotics should take care of that and hopefully I’ll be back on track in another week or so.

While being treated for the infection, Dr. Shaw did notice “slight progression” in my disease; however, not enough to take me off the LDK trial. So, as of right now I will continue with the trial for as long as its continues to keep the cancer down.

I hope this little bit of information helps but I’m also aware that every situation is different. As always, take it one day at a time, focus on what’s important going forward, believe in the treatment and it will work!

Evan is an incredibly brave and strong young man (yes, you can get lung cancer when you are only twenty-one).  As the LDK378 trial is yet so nascent, there is very little in the way of anecdotal informational provided by actual participants.  He was kind enough not only to agree to meet me but to generously share his own experience thus far here. Hopefully it will prove useful to other ALK ‘mutants’ who may be considering the LDK trial.

Thanks Evan!