NATIONAL - If you're facing cancer, you want just the right chemo combination to destroy your tumor. Doctors are starting to use a test that can determine which chemo drugs will work best for you.
Few would be grateful for a black widow spider bite, but there are exceptions.
"Had it not been for the spider bite, I may not be here today," says Bernie Ward.
For Bernie, a trip to the hospital for the bite identified something worse: lung cancer.
"I thought immediately; cancer, chemo, radiation, and suffering down the pike."
Doctor Thomas D'amato removed the tumor that invaded Bernie's lung.
"He falls into that category of patients that had no lymph nodes that were positive, but he had a big tumor and he's a young man."
Because chemotherapy would be part of Bernie's treatment, Doctor D'amato recommended testing the tumor for resistance to chemo drugs.
"It's a biological test that measures the ability of the tumor to either grow, or not grow, in the presence of very high doses of standard chemotherapy agents."
With up to 85 percent of patients not benefiting from chemotherapy, finding the right combination in a test tube spares the patients trial and error.
"We can apply agents that are more apt to work and avoid agents that are likely not going to work," said the doctor.
Bernie's test identified five out of sixteen chemo combinations that would work best.
"It made me feel better that at least I'm not going to get these other drugs that aren't going to work other than getting me sick, causing me a problem," said Bernie.
With his treatment successfully behind him, Bernie's glad his personalized chemotherapy attacked his cancer like a black widow.
Patients can request the test, called the Extreme Drug Resistance Assay.
Tumor samples are gathered when surgery takes place, so arrangements must be made before surgery so samples aren't sent to the lab. And the test is generally covered by insurance.