Off-Ramp Extra is a daily dose of Off-Ramp, hosted by KPCC's John Rabe.
Hosted by John Rabe

Experimental cancer treatment "magic" for La Canada teacher Connie Tucker

(12/26/2012 UPDATE: Connie Tucker writes, "I just had my third set of scans. My primary tumors are continuing to shrink, and everything else is stable. The doctors at the clinic are still very excited about my progress!" And so are we, Connie! -- John)

This is a story about an experimental cancer treatment that - at least for the time being - is helping a La Canada woman who was dying from cancer. Connie Tucker, 57, has been an ESL instructor at Citrus College for more than 20 years. Her cancer showed up a couple years ago, and after chemo failed she got into a clinical trial for Merck 3475, which theoretically allows her T-Cells to attack cancer. Connie says her tumors started shrinking immediately and have continued to do so, and she literally feels better than ever.

It's very tempting - especially if you have cancer, know somebody who does, or have loved ones who've died of it - to want really hard for this to be a cure. But there are many caveats about this story. Connie says one of her goals, now that she has a new lease on life, is to get the word out that "clinical trials save lives." But many people in clinical trials are not saved. Some are control subjects who don't get the drug. For others, the drug simply doesn't work, or doesn't continue to work. Clinical trials are a vital part of developing medicine; they're simply not meant to be a cure. We simply have to wait to see how this turns out.

This is one story of a woman who is very lucky. If we are very lucky, the drug she's testing will be the breakthrough, but according to the journal Nature, which graphed-out clinical trials, at least as many trials fail as succeed. For much more context and more case studies, check out the excellent article I've linked below from The New Yorker.