Brian Beck: Living with Stage IV Colon Cancer, Thanks to Clinical Trials and Research
A positive result on an in-home screening test led me to undergo a colonoscopy, which led to my diagnosis of colon cancer. I was 54. Follow-up scans revealed that the cancer had spread to my liver, which meant I had stage IV disease. I had a colon resection followed by chemotherapy and then a liver resection. This was followed by more chemotherapy. Follow-up scans showed that the cancer had recurred in my liver. At that point I participated in a clinical trial that was evaluating a combination of two immunotherapies and a molecularly targeted treatment. My cancer responded very well and, as a result, the treatments were stopped. Unfortunately, subsequent scans found new lesions. I have recently started receiving a combination of two HER2-targeted drugs, tucatinib and trastuzumab. I’m doing well, working full time, and hoping for a great response to these medicines.
When I was 54, I was encouraged by my primary care physician to get routine screening. Even though I am a health care professional and knew it was recommended to start colorectal cancer screening at age 50, I had put off my own screening. I thought I would know if there was something going on in my body, but I didn’t. Positive results from an in-home, stool-based screening test led me to undergo colonoscopy, which revealed a tumor in my sigmoid colon. It was a surprise for sure. Follow-up scans showed that the cancer had metastasized to my liver.
Working with our health care team, my family and I came up with a treatment plan. I had a colon resection to remove the primary tumor. After that, I got chemotherapy and then another surgery to remove the cancer in my liver. This surgery was followed by more chemotherapy. The treatments were successful, so after a year, I stopped treatment in favor of regular monitoring scans. Unfortunately, a scan soon showed that I had a new lesion in my liver.
At that point, I joined a clinical trial that was evaluating a combination of two immune checkpoint inhibitors and a molecularly targeted therapy. I went through the same type of response: initial success, followed by a recurrence as soon as I stopped treatment. Since then, I have progressed through different treatments, including immunotherapy and others. After having another recurrence, I started on a clinical trial that is testing the combination of two HER2-targeted therapies, tucatinib and trastuzumab. I was eligible for the trial since my cancer is HER-2 positive, a pretty rare occurrence for colorectal cancer. Two weeks after I started treatment, the combination was approved by FDA. We are hoping for a great response to this combination. Maybe this will be the treatment that prevents future recurrence.
One of the things that I do now is use my story to help people who are on the fence about cancer screening, like I was. I would strongly encourage primary care and specialty clinics to make sure their patients are getting the recommended screenings. It’s important to be proactive and get it done because it could save your life. I would like to thank Congress for funding the research that I have benefited from. Every treatment that I’ve received has been based on research. I hope that robust funds will be allocated for future research to find ways to improve the treatments, to do more clinical trials, and to save more people. I’m a testimony sitting in front of you, four and a half years into my diagnosis of stage IV cancer and still working full time. Unfortunately, that is not every patient’s experience. I feel very lucky, but more people should have access to the treatments that have kept me alive. My message to Congress is that supporting research that leads to successful treatment or prevention of stage IV cancer can save future lives.