James “Rocky” Lagno was so sick that doctors only gave him about a year to live. Having been diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer, even aggressive chemotherapy and radiation didn’t prevent the New Hampshire native’s tumors from growing larger.
To top it off, he was also diagnosed with thyroid cancer and then, several months later, an MRI revealed a dozen brain lesions.
“The oncologist told me I should probably think about getting my bucket list together” Lagno, 53, recalled of the 2011 conversation he had with his doctor.
Fortunately for Lagno, his wife, Geralynn, lobbied for a biopsy that uncovered a rare genetic mutation linked to lung cancer. Once discovered, Lagno was entered into a clinical trial to test out a relatively new approach to cancer treatment known as molecular targeted therapy.
Traditional cancer drugs are indiscriminant, attacking not just cancer cells but every living cell in the body. Molecular targeting agents like the one Lagno received – which are no longer experimental and are being used with increasing frequency – are designed to target specific cancer mutations, explained Washington University in St. Louis cancer researcher, Elaine Mardis.