Cancer patient is first in Hawaii to receive new treatment

HONOLULU — A Hawaii resident who has been living with a slow-growing yet incurable cancer since 2006 became the first person in the state to receive a new specialized radiation treatment.

The cancer in Mary Bona’s abdomen grew over the summer despite several rounds of chemotherapy and other treatments.

That’s when her doctor found out about a treatment approved earlier this year by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to target hard-to-reach neuroendocrine tumors.

Neuroendocrine tumors are a group of rare cancers that originate primarily from the pancreas or intestines, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported .

The new procedure allows doctors to intravenously inject radiation into a chemical that “acts as vehicle” to carry the cancer-killing drug directly to the tumors. The novel medication developed in the Netherlands was flown to Oahu from Italy with a tight expiration date.

“I was excited and I feel great,” Bona said in September, following the hourlong procedure.

Bona was the first patient in Hawaii to undergo the procedure at The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu.

Following the treatment, she was “radioactive” and placed in isolation for about six hours while taking a special formula of amino acids to protect other areas of her body from the radiation. She remained isolated at home for three days until her radiation levels decreased.

“There has been no really good treatment to kill the cancer up until this point,” said Dr. Marc Coel, the center’s medical director of nuclear medicine, who oversaw the procedure. “This will go to different parts of the body without exposing normal tissues to radiation. This is the first treatment that is actually targeting this cancer to kill it.”

Bona’s doctor, Clayton Chong, chief of oncology at Queen’s, said most of the cancer treatments have not been curative, but palliative to control symptoms. However, current clinical trials have found the new procedure can significantly affect survival rates, with up to four times higher chance of controlling the disease.

The standard treatments control the cancer for an average eight months, while the new treatment has been shown to control it for 28 months and counting in studies, he said.

However, most insurance companies don’t pay for experimental investigative treatments. Bona’s carrier had agreed to pay for hers.

Each treatment runs about to $20,000 to $30,000, and patients need four doses in an eight-month period.


Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser,


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