Local Woman's Cancer Treatment Signals
The Future of Health Care
Christina Haywood Pictured With Her Husband and Mother Before Treatment
It wasn’t the ideal way to start a vacation.
In June of 2013, 34-year-old Christina Haywood and her boyfriend had just started a summer getaway when she got the call. She had been diagnosed with stage 3 rectal cancer.
“I looked at this boy that I had been dating since February and thought: ‘Wow, this is the best relationship I’ve ever had and now it’s over. He didn’t sign up for this,’” Haywood recalls.
But the boyfriend – now her husband – stuck with her through every stage of the treatment that followed. And thanks to recent advances in genetic medicine, sometimes called “precision” or “personalized” medicine, Haywood received specialized care that significantly improved her chances for a long and healthy life.
“Bad luck” or genetic mutation?
Haywood was no stranger to cancer. Her father died from a rare form of skin cancer when she was 12. An uncle had brain cancer. Her grandmother and one of her aunts had breast cancer. About the same time Haywood discovered her own condition, her sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“Because there were so many different types of cancer, we never really thought there was a genetic component. We just thought it was random bad luck,” Haywood says.
Despite this history, Haywood initially dismissed signs that she had colon cancer, including bloating, bleeding, diarrhea, constipation and intense pain. “I ignored all of those red flag symptoms for way too long, which I think a lot of people with colon cancer do.”
Haywood was referred to Dr. Manish Bhandari, an oncologist at The Christ Hospital. From their first appointment, he suspected a genetic link between her family’s cancers.
“What struck me right away was that her father had passed away from a very rare subtype of cancer when he was in his 40s. That was really the clue to go hunting to see if there was a genetic mutation living in the family,” Dr. Bhandari says.
“The testing itself was really easy. You can either have a blood test or you can swish with Scope and spit it into a test tube,” Haywood recalls.
Testing and a review of her family tree revealed that Haywood had a rare subtype of Lynch Syndrome known as Muir-Torre Syndrome. The “smoking gun” had been found.
“Families that are afflicted by this have early onset cancer, but also a very particular set of cancers, including the rare one her dad had,” Dr. Bhandari says.
Genetic diagnosis enables precision treatment
Once Haywood’s condition had been identified, Dr. Bhandari knew typical treatments for colorectal cancer wouldn’t be right for her.
“We collaborated with experts in Muir-Torre syndrome,” Dr. Bhandari says. “She got a different chemotherapy regimen that is scientifically shown to work better for people with her condition.”
Haywood’s sister also proved to have Muir-Torre syndrome, and other members of her family were encouraged to seek genetic testing.
“Thankfully, no one else who has been tested has been positive,” Haywood says.
Haywood has been in remission since 2014, but remains vigilant against future cancers.
“A big component beyond the precision chemotherapy is very active and targeted surveillance of the type of cancers associated with Muir-Torre syndrome, so we can catch any other cancer that may develop when it’s not life threatening,” Dr. Bhandari says.
A promising future
While success stories like Haywood’s are more common as precision medicine strategies become a routine part of treatment, many physicians believe this is just the beginning of a new era.
“There’s a transformational change in health care that is the downstream effect of the Human Genome Project,” says Dr. Philip Leming, who leads initiatives to further The Christ Hospital’s efforts into genomic medicine. “It’s more than just precision medicine. It’s a convergence of immuno-oncology, innovative technology and big data. The future of medicine is being completely transformed.”
One of the key initiatives at The Christ Hospital is participation in the GRAIL project, which is working to develop a blood test for cancer.
“We have a very active research department that’s working with these new technologies,” Dr. Bhandari says. “Over the next decade, we’ll see even more genetic testing to better predict your risk of disease states.”
“I think if any of us are honest, we’d all like another lifetime right now, because it’s going to be such a phenomenally exciting future,” Dr. Leming adds.
The Christ Hospital is located at 2139 Auburn Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45219. For more information, call 513.585.3343 or visit www.thechristhospital.com