Breakthrough cancer drug, used to treat rare condition, offered at two metro cancer centers

OLATHE, Kan. -- They say they're breaking new ground in cancer treatment.

One metro infusion center said its among the first to use a new drug, and its said to be easier and more effective for patients.

When Gardner's Janet Leeker first spotted the lesion on her back, she thought it was a bug bite. The 78-year-old said those lesions spread across her back and chest.

Turns out, it was BPDCN, a rare form of cancer that, according to doctors at Olathe Health Cancer Center, usually looks like leukemia -- and it's just as serious.

"When you first see it, you go, 'Oh, no!'" Leeker told FOX4.

Leeker, a breast cancer survivor from Johnson County, was already due for an annual cancer-related follow-up visit.

Doctors weren't sure how to treat BPDCN since many oncologists never see it. In fact, one cancer specialist said it represents less than 5% of all cancers.

"It was spreading really bad. It really looked crazy for a little while," Leeker said Friday.

Dr. Larry Corum, an oncologist with Olathe Health Cancer Center, said he located a new drug called Elzonris, which was only recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Corum said Olathe Health is one of the first cancer centers in the nation to use Elzonris in an outpatient capacity.

He said the first infusion is given in the hospital, but he said if that goes well for the patient, they can take following treatments from their home.

"Historically this disease has been treated like acute Leukemia, which is a very intensive treatment. Patients are traditionally admitted to the hospital," Corum said.

Leeker said she's feeling better after getting five months worth of treatments. She's also part of a maintenance program, where she receives doses of Elzonris every three weeks.

The drug has only been on the market since December. An Olathe Health news release said she's believed to be only the second patient to receive the drug.

"The amazing thing is these skin lesions began to recede and shrink within about four days of her initial treatment. Before she left the hospital, it was clear that she was responding," Corum said.

"This is a very easy medicine to take, very easy," Leeker said. "I'm very fortunate. To have that come up a month before you go see the doctor, that stuff was probably coming up as I was getting my biopsy."

Oncologists say Elzonris is more focused than traditional chemotherapy since it's designed to target cancerous cells without the side effects.

A spokesperson for the University of Kansas Cancer Center confirms the KU Cancer Center also offers Elzonris.

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