Lung Cancer Clinical Trials and Research at Lexington Medical Center

Lexington Medical Center plays a leading role in the treatment of lung cancer by enrolling patients in clinical trials and research that use state-of-the-art methods to improve outcomes and save lives.

Clinical Trials
Lexington Medical Center is participating in several national lung cancer clinical trials. Most of them examine a patient’s genetic markers to determine which type of treatment will be most effective.

Genetic markers are increasingly important in the treatment of cancer. For years, everyone with a particular type of cancer received the same treatment. Today, clinicians are learning that cancer treatment should be tailored toward each individual based on the genetic makeup of his or her cancer. Two of the biggest lung cancer trials Lexington Medical Center is participating in are Lung-MAP and ALCHEMIST.

In the Lung-MAP trial (SWOG S1400), clinicians collect tissue from a lung cancer patient, look at the genetic markers and determine which drug is most appropriate based on the patient’s DNA.

This method of genomic profiling matches patients with treatments that target the mutations driving that person’s cancer.

Nan Faile, MS, RN, CCRP, research nurse coordinator at Lexington Medical Center

Nan Faile, MS, RN, CCRP, research nurse coordinator at Lexington Medical Center

“We’re just at the beginning of discovering these genetic markers,” said Nan Faile, MS, CCRP, research nurse coordinator at Lexington Medical Center. “Eventually, there will probably be hundreds of genetic markers.”

In addition, the Lung-MAP trial uses the science of immunology. That means using new medicines to manipulate the body’s immune system into attacking lung cancer cells. While the body recognizes certain illnesses, such as the common cold or the flu and works to fight them, it does not recognize cancer cells because cancer blocks the immune system. Immunology is changing that.

In the ALCHEMIST trial, researchers examine lung cancer tumors from patients and look for specific alterations in genes that are thought to drive the cancer. Patients who meet specific criteria will receive treatment with drugs that may improve survival rates.

Lexington Medical Center offers a lung cancer screening program for patients with a long smoking history, with the goal of diagnosing the disease in its early stages. When lung cancer is diagnosed later, the mortality rate is as high as 70 percent in the first year. So early detection is key.

“Patients who are diagnosed early may receive a survival benefit they otherwise would not,” Faile said. “We can put their lung cancer in remission.”

shutterstock_281348399Statistics show that lung cancer screening can reduce mortality by 20 percent.

To track the effectiveness of the screening program, Lexington Medical Center has begun a Lung Cancer Screening Registry. Patients who receive lung cancer screenings through the hospital’s program and volunteer to participate in the study are entered into it. Lexington Medical Center thanks each patient for their participation in the program. They are crucial to advancing science.

In 2015, five patients were diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer after being screened for lung cancer at Lexington Medical Center. Hospital researchers are tracking their treatment progress.

Additionally, the registry helps clinicians follow up with screening patients even if their test results were normal. National guidelines show that patients who meet criteria for lung cancer screening should be screened three years in a row.

“We want to provide comprehensive research across the spectrum to offer services that would otherwise be unavailable, improve care and see our patients doing better and better,” Faile said.

For more information on clinical trials and the lung cancer screening program at Lexington Medical Center, visit

Cancer Gets Personal When Doctor Becomes the Patient

In her 22 years as an emergency medicine physician in Lexington Medical Center’s Emergency department, Debbie Simpson, MD, has seen it all.

“I’ve seen a lot of people go through a lot of things. It makes you appreciate the priorities in life,” she said.

As part of her job, Dr. Simpson refers patients who need follow-up care to other doctors after they leave the ER. That’s how she first crossed paths with Steve Madden, MD, oncologist with Lexington Oncologydr-madden-and-deborah-simpson, a Lexington Medical Center physician practice.

“Debbie would call me about admitting cancer patients to the hospital from the ER,” Dr. Madden said.

While Dr. Madden has become accustomed to Dr. Simpson’s referrals over the years, there was no way he could have imagined that this healthy, energetic woman would be calling his office on behalf of herself.

That’s because Dr. Simpson was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram. The woman who was used to giving life-saving care to patients for more than two decades in the ER was now the one who needed help.

“I didn’t wear my hospital badge when I visited the doctor, or waited for this test or that test,” Dr. Simpson said. Instead, she simply tried to be a patient. “It made me appreciate everything all of our patients go through when we send them for tests.”

Scans and biopsies revealed that Dr. Simpson had two tumors, but her health problems didn’t stop there. Dr. Madden did additional testing to make sure they had a full picture of what was going on inside Dr. Simpson’s body. That’s when he discovered that she also had renal cancer.

Over the next year, Dr. Simpson underwent multiple surgeries including a lumpectomy, a hysterectomy and kidney removal. After all of that, Dr. Simpson endured chemotherapy and radiation.

“She never complained,” Dr. Madden said. “It’s her faith, really. She is solid.”

It wasn’t always easy, but Simpson finished her last radiation treatment over a year ago. Her hair returned after she lost it during chemotherapy, and her long-term prognosis is good. In true Dr. Simpson form, she prefers to focus on the positive side.

“Being a mother makes me a better doctor,” she said. “Life experiences make me a better doctor. My husband died of a heart attack at 42; that was almost 11 years ago. I feel like these things shape you, then you can relate to what your patients and their families are feeling,” Dr. Simpson said.

Ideally, Dr. Madden would like to see all of his patients get to spend more time with their families. He’d like parents to see their sons or daughters get married or their children graduate from college.

“You don’t treat the disease; you treat the whole person,” Dr. Madden said.

In this age of computers and technology, he has made it his mission to keep the personal part of medicine front and center.

“That’s a blessing I get from the patient. It’s a two-way street. They appreciate us helping and all of that, but everyday, someone says something that lifts me,” Dr. Madden said. “We are definitely in this fight together.”

Blythewood Woman Values 3-D Mammography

In October 2006, Constella Zimmerman’s life turned upside down when she was diagnosed with breast cancer after her doctor discovered a lump during a checkup. Living in New Jersey at the time, Constella was preparing to return to her home state of South Carolina for a new job opportunity. She endured chemotherapy and radiation in New Jersey and South Carolina.

Constella says she never lost sight that her faith would see her through her cancer treatments. “The first thing I did was have my son shave my head,” she said. “While I had to come to terms with what I was facing, I realized that other people have survived and I had to have faith that I would survive, too.”

Constella Zimmerman photographed at Doko Manor in Blythewood

Constella Zimmerman photographed at Doko Manor in Blythewood

Now, as a 10-year survivor, Constella is adamant about keeping up with her annual checkups. She’s a patient at the Northeast Columbia office of Sandhills Women’s Care, a Lexington Medical Center physician practice, where she had her first 3-D mammogram.

Sandhills Women’s Care offers 3-D mammography, also known as ‘tomosynthesis.’ This breast cancer screening tool creates a group of three-dimensional pictures of the breast and allows doctors to view tissue one millimeter at a time, making tiny details visible earlier and easier.

Jennifer Linfert, MD, FACOG, an OB/GYN at Sandhills Women’s Care, stresses that early detection is key in treating breast cancer successfully.

Jennifer Linfert, MD, FACOG

Jennifer Linfert, MD, FACOG

“Patients will find that 3-D mammography is no different from the mammogram they are accustomed to as far as compression, positioning and time,” she said. “The benefit to patients is that the multiple layers of images resulting from 3-D mammography can help doctors better evaluate the breast tissue.”

3-D mammography uses a low dose X-ray to create multiple images within seconds that are similar to the “slices” of images in a CT scan. The FDA-approved procedure uses the same type of equipment as a 2-D mammogram and a similar dose of radiation. Studies have shown that 3-D mammography also reduces false positives and unnecessary callbacks for patients with dense breast tissue.

Constella, who holds a PhD and is a professor at Webster University, understands the need for patients to be well educated and informed about their health care.

“My doctors made sure that I had plenty of detail about why 3-D mammography was a preferred method of screening for me,” she said. “And the fact that they could get results to you quickly is so important. You’re always thinking ‘what if.’ That’s the reality of it.”

Patients who have mammograms performed through Lexington Medical Center receive results in less than five days.

Constella is a true believer in encouraging every woman she knows to have her annual mammogram. “I skipped my mammogram one year; and as it turns out, that one year I skipped was the year it mattered,” she said. “If I hadn’t skipped, we would have caught it much sooner.”

Her advice to every woman is to mark that date on the calendar and never, ever miss that appointment.