by Clay Fulcher
In April, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of vandetanib for the treatment of medullary thyroid cancer. Clay Fulcher, a patient of Mimi Hu, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Endocrine Neoplasia and Hormonal Disorders, participated in the clinical trial of vandetanib at MD Anderson. Fulcher shares his experience.
The first indication that something might be amiss was in 2007.
I was supporting NASA's Hubble Space Telescope program at Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. I was required to have an annual Air Force physical as a scuba diver during astronaut crew training in JSC's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory.
During my physical, the flight surgeon detected a small lump on my neck and recommended that I see my private physician about it.
Several years earlier, I saw Dr. Ehab Hanna at MD Anderson's Head and Neck Center. At that time, he provided advice and options on dealing with, what turned out to be, a benign growth in my mouth. I contacted his office immediately and received an appointment.
Dr. Hanna quickly determined the source of the swelling was thyroid cancer. He recommended, without undue delay, surgery followed by six weeks of radiation. The post-operative pathology reported the tumor was sporadic medullary thyroid cancer, which had metastasized.
My life changed forever that day.
MD Anderson's clinical team, led by Dr. Mimi Hu, developed a variety of treatment options for me, resulting in its recommendation, and my enthusiastic acceptance of, an invitation to participate in the vandetanib trial.
First, I underwent tests to determine whether I met the criteria to participate in the trial. Plus, I also needed a break between external beam radiation treatments to the neck and the start of the clinical trial medication. As I recall, I was given the first clinical trial medication within a few weeks after completing radiation treatments.
Sidelined by side effects
I don't have the exact days handy, but I believe that I was on the vandetanib clinical trial medication for a little more than a year. I had to exit the trial after developing an unusually high sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation, resulting in development of skin cancer on my hands and wrists.
Dr. Hu recommended me for a second clinical trial conducted at the University of Chicago. She kept close tabs on my progress during the year-and-a-half that I participated in that study.
Some unusual side effects dictated that I leave that trial, too. By that time, researchers identified another medication that showed some promise in treating medullary thyroid cancer. I'm now back at MD Anderson and enrolled in that trial.
During the time that I was taking vandetanib, my tumor became stable and reduced somewhat in size. Side effects I experienced were minimal and simply nuisances, as far as I was concerned.
I salute Dr. Robert Gagel and all of his team for their outstanding work in helping to bring about the FDA's approval of vandetanib. It may not meet everyone's hopes and expectations, but it's a giant step forward and a significant contribution in the fight against cancer.