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This new treatment is putting cancer patients into remission

Posted on Jan 6, 2014 ( comments)

The “r-word” was not something that had ever entered David Montgomery’s mind.

“Remission. I didn’t even think it was possible,” he said.

But about six months into an experimental new treatment for Montgomery’s chronic lymphocytic leukemia, an incurable, slow-growing form of the blood and bone marrow cancer, his bone marrow showed no more sign of the disease.

“I’m still amazed with the results,” he said. “It’s better than my best hopes.”

Montgomery spent years flying planes commercially and in the Army, until a routine military physical caught something abnormal in his blood.

A second opinion brought him to MultiCare Regional Cancer Center, a network affiliate of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. The special relationship between the cancer center and the SCCA means MultiCare patients are eligible to enroll in the alliance’s oncology trials.

Montgomery joined a trial testing a new drug called Vorinostat, added to the typical chemotherapy treatments received by CLL patients.

Patients with Montgomery’s form of cancer typically receive six cycles of chemotherapy over six months. After six months, patients move to a maintenance phase, where they are carefully watched with maintenance chemotherapy every three months for three more years. Even after chemotherapy, the expectation is that the cancer will come back and will need to be treated again.

Researchers hope the addition of Vorinostat will eliminate that resurgence.

“Remission is normally not an option with this type of cancer,” said Christine Goetz, a Clinical Research Coordinator with MultiCare’s Institute for Research and Innovation. “The hope, and the hypothesis, is that this will put people into remission.”

So far, the study appears to be working.

Nearly a year after joining the study, Montgomery still shows no sign of disease.

He retired from the Army early in 2013 and moved to Reno, Nevada with his wife and two Labradors, traveling back to MultiCare Regional Cancer Center for maintenance treatments. Goetz helps by scheduling his appointments and coordinating with doctors and researchers.

For Montgomery, who says he’d never been seriously ill in his life before his diagnosis, it’s the people he’s met along the way who are the best part of the set-up.

“I gotta say, the idea that you have this coordinator that takes care of all the stuff is just amazing to me. My confidence in the level of treatment is so much higher,” he said. “It makes all the difference to me.”

Montgomery says he’s been amazed watching how well his care team has worked together – from doctors to pharmacists and more. Seeing them take on some of the stress and worry has lightened his own load.

“I didn’t need to worry about (reactions to the different drugs) because they were worried for me,” he says. “They really took care of me.”

MultiCare has been involved in research for nearly three decades. In 2010 the MultiCare Institute for Research & Innovation was formed to gather all of MultiCare's research efforts into a single program. 

The Institute is one of the region's only community-based medical research centers and helps make clinical trials and outcomes-based research for new medicines, medical treatments and devices locally accessible. 

By supporting high quality, cutting edge research within our community, we help to improve the care our patients receive, now and in the future. Learn more by visiting multicare.org/research.

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Halley Knigge
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