You'd never know it, but Connie Smith has had thyroid cancer for a third of her life.
"I was diagnosed when I was 40, 21 years ago," Smith says.
She's had two surgeries and a lifetime of radioactive iodine to keep the slow-growing cancer in check. But a few years ago, it spread to her lungs.
"It just looked like you took a paintbrush, dipped it into ink and then splattered it on a white wall. It was all through my lungs, so it's inoperable," Smith says.
Dr. Lee Rosen offered Smith a new drug -- Axitinib -- in a class of drugs called VEG-F inhibitors. They cut off blood supply to tumors and are thought to block several receptors on cancer cells.
"We don't really know why exactly they work, but as long as they work, I always say that we'll figure it out later," says Lee Rosen, M.D., a hematologist and oncologist with Premiere Oncology in Santa Monica, Calif.
One study shows 30 percent of patients with advanced thyroid cancer had tumors shrink by more than half. Another 40 percent saw their cancer stop growing.
"Our longest patients have been on this study for three, three and a half years already -- [that's] completely unheard of," Dr. Rosen says.
Smith started the drug three years ago -- hoping it would save her life.
"When she started the study, her prognosis was probably that she had a 20 to 30 percent chance of being alive in a year," Dr. Rosen says.
Now, the tumors in her lungs are all but gone.
"What can you say when someone gives you time? It's just wonderful," Smith says.
Dr. Rosen says there are several trials going on across the country studying this class of drugs for many different types of cancer. Side effects of the drugs can include fatigue and sores in the mouth, and on the hands and feet.
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