Ingalls advances colorectal cancer treatment through research |

Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related death among American women. South suburban woman Michelle Burnett is well aware of this.

Before becoming the second person in the world to enroll in a groundbreaking research study at Ingalls Cancer Care in 2016, Burnett, who was battling stage 4 colorectal cancer, had no options!

Prior chemotherapy treatments for her seven-year battle with advanced colon cancer had left her weak, tired and unable to drive. When her cancer spread to her lymph nodes in 2015, Burnett’s doctors told her she had no options and no time.

But everything changed when she came to Ingalls Cancer Care at the request of a friend.

“When you’re given a diagnosis like me, you want to find a really good place to go,” she explains. “As soon as I walked into Ingalls, I knew that was where I had to do my treatment.”

The “miracle” study, as Burnett calls it, uses immunotherapy to tap into the body’s ability to fight disease, in this case, advanced colorectal cancer.

People also read…

Ingalls has enrolled a number of patients in the groundbreaking international study sponsored by F. Hoffman-La Roche Ltd. and was the only hospital in Illinois — and one of few in the Midwest — to offer the trial. As a result, it attracted inquiries and patients from several neighboring states. (This particular research study is now complete.)

Burnett’s cancer care team at Ingalls includes Mark Kozloff MD, medical director of Ingalls Cancer Care, and cancer research nurse Joy Vlamakis, RN. After just four treatments, the difference for Burnett, who had been too ill to leave home, was like “night and day”.

“I remember calling Joy and saying, ‘Oh my God, I feel normal’,” she recalled. “It was the first time in a year and a half that I felt so good thanks to these treatments. The real miracle happened when I had my CT scan done after four treatments and discovered that not only had my disease improved by 36% overall, but one of my liver tumors had completely disappeared. That’s why I wanted to go to Ingalls, and that’s what they can do for you.

In fact, Burnett is doing so well that she’s back on stage, something she never thought she could do a year ago.

“Colorectal cancer was once thought to be unresponsive to immunotherapy,” says Dr. Kozloff. “The immune system is the body’s natural defense against disease, but cancer cells have a way of suppressing the immune system. Immunotherapy agents help unlock the potential of the immune system to fight them in certain types of cancer.

“These are the blockbuster drugs in cancer care right now,” he adds. “And I’m proud to say that we have been studying and using these treatments at Ingalls for several years now.”

Ingalls currently offers immunotherapy treatments for malignant melanoma, certain types of lung cancer and kidney cancer, and is investigating immunotherapy agents to treat esophageal and gastrointestinal/stomach cancers.

Colorectal Awareness Month

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so what better time to face its risks and how to prevent it? Most cases begin as small clumps of non-cancerous cells called adenomatous polyps. Over time, some of these polyps become colon cancers. Because they can be small and produce few or no symptoms, doctors recommend regular screening.

“Most people with colon cancer have no symptoms in the early stages of the disease,” says gastroenterologist Adrienne Fregia, MD. “When symptoms appear, they likely vary depending on the size and location of the cancer in your large intestine.”

Studies show that up to 90% of colon cancers could be prevented by proper screening. Those at average risk should begin screening at age 50; but those at increased risk, including people with a family history and African Americans, can begin screening at age 45.

Several screening options exist, including annual fecal occult blood screening; flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years; and colonoscopy every 10 years.

“More frequent or earlier screening may be recommended if you are at increased risk for colon cancer,” Dr. Fregia said. “Discuss the benefits and risks of each screening option with your doctor.”

For more information, call Ingalls Care Connection at 708-915-2273 (CARE).

Comments are closed.