Dr. Drew Bethune
As a former thoracic surgeon specializing in lung cancer surgeries, Dr. Drew Bethune has had to tell many patients and families over the years that there is nothing he could do for them. Thanks to advances in molecular testing that he has helped bring to the Maritimes, and new treatments targeted to known genetic mutations, the outlook for lung cancer patients is more promising these days.
"The prognosis for lung cancer patients has shifted from dismal to hopeful in just a few years," says Dr. Bethune, who is now medical director of the Nova Scotia Cancer Care Program. "People with inoperable tumours are receiving targeted therapies that put their cancers into remission and allow years of good-quality life."
Dr. Bethune and his colleagues established the Atlantic Molecular Oncology Centre (ACMOC), a molecular testing facility at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, to identify genetic mutations initially in the tumours of lung cancer patients.
“There are already approved therapies available for a number of these cancer-causing mutations, and therapies for several other mutations are coming along." Dr. Bethune explains. "Because we have facilities required to identify the mutations, we can provide patients with the precise medication that will work for their cancer."
Proceeds of Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation's 2017-18 Molly Appeal will provide cell-analysis equipment and support for tumour banking that will allow Dalhousie cancer researchers to analyze patients' cancers in great detail and identify potential new targeted therapies.
"The improvements we're seeing in lung cancer now are possible in other lethal cancers, such as those of the pancreas, esophagus and ovaries," says Dr. Bethune. "We're expanding our tumour banking facilities to encompass more cancers, and ACMOC is now testing for known mutations in myeloma and melanoma, as well as cancers of the colon, breast, and lung. The additional support form the Molly Appeal will help us tie all these capabilities together in a coordinated effort to develop personalized treatments tailored to each patient's cancer.”