Targeting lung cancer

Individualized cancer therapies will improve the quality of life

April 30, 2014

To call 83-year-old Jackie Raser a cancer survivor is an understatement. Diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer in 2008, she underwent more than a year of intense drug therapy at a nearby hospital.

When treatment failed to stop the tumor's growth, doctors there told her she had just months to live.

“We were stunned,” her daughter Nancy Harris says. “But we decided to do fun things while she still could. We threw her a 79th birthday party, thinking it would be the last.”

Instead, the party was a new beginning for Raser. One of the guests told Harris about Dr. Ignatius Ou, a UCI Health oncologist and researcher at the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, who was conducting clinical trials of a drug targeting gene mutations in non-small cell lung cancers.

When Ou learned that Raser had one of the rare mutations the drug crizotinib is designed to treat, he immediately enrolled her in the trial. The results exceeded all expectations.

"When my mother started crizotinib, she was struggling to breathe and had a terrible cough," Harris says.

Jackie Raser, lung cancer patient

After just two weeks, Raser's cough improved, and the tumor had shrunk to a degree that surprised even Ou. Within three months, it was dormant.

"Although crizotinib doesn't cure cancer, it can block genetic pathways that cause tumor cells to grow," Ou explains. Raser continues to take the drug and lives a full, active life despite her disease.

"With chemotherapy, I was vomiting and was so weak I couldn't walk from one room to the other," Raser says. "Now I get tired, but it's nothing like the other drugs."

Moreover, Ou's care of Raser is changing the way lung cancer is treated nationwide. A report on Raser's response to crizotinib was published and helped lead the National Comprehensive Cancer Network to recommend using the drug to treat this rare type of lung cancer.

Ou explains that lung cancer treatment has changed dramatically in the last few years. Tumors now undergo molecular profiling, and therapies are tailored to each patient's unique cancer. Targeted treatments have a much higher success rate and tend to be less toxic than older regimens.

"Dr. Ou is incredibly dedicated, responsive and compassionate," Harris says. "Thanks to him, it's 2014, and my mom's still here."

More than two dozen lung cancer trials are underway at UCI Health. If you're interested in learning more, call 714-456-8000 or visit

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Featured in UCI Health - Spring/Summer 2014 Issue