It started simple enough: a bothersome little knot on the side of Ronald Carson’s neck. Ron’s concern grew when the knot was still in the same spot near his throat after two months. He decided to have it checked out by his doctor, just to be sure.
Ron’s doctor felt the lump and immediately scheduled him for a computerized tomography (CT) scan the next day. Ron wasn’t expecting a call until Monday, but first thing Sunday morning, his doctor called with the news: it was cancer.
“You hear the word cancer and you’re just immediately scared,” says Ron. “My doctor assured me that oropharyngeal cancer is 95% curable, but you still wonder about that remaining five percent.”
Ron’s physician referred him to Dr. Pratish Shah, a Radiation Oncologist at St. Elizabeth Healthcare. Dr. Shah recommended seven weeks of radiation — five days a week for a total of 35 treatments. Ron also needed three cycles of chemotherapy. Fortunately, a positron emission tomography (PET) scan revealed that Ron’s oropharyngeal cancer hadn’t spread.
Innovative clinical trial for throat cancer patients
Before treatment began, Dr. Shah and the St. Elizabeth Clinical Research team met with Ron to discuss a new clinical trial option for head and neck cancer patients. The MuReva trial evaluates the safety and efficacy of the MuReva Phototherapy System with a light delivery mouthpiece immediately before radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
“This study evaluates the effectiveness of phototherapy in reducing severe radiation side effects for patients with certain head and neck cancers,” says Dr. Shah. “Ron was an ideal candidate for the study. Treatment for head and neck cancer can be quite difficult and we often manage symptoms with supportive care. We hope to show that phototherapy benefits patients like Ron by decreasing the severity of symptoms and the early results are promising.”
The study only added an extra few minutes before each treatment — and for Ron, made a world of difference.
“A lot of people with this type of cancer are in so much pain during treatment that they can’t swallow,” says Ron. “The clinical trial helped me so much. I could swallow the whole time and I had no pain.”
Like many oropharyngeal cancer patients, Ron did have change in taste related to chemoradiation. He struggled through the seven weeks of treatment and relied on supplements such as protein shakes and the occasional cup of soup but felt thankful he could keep down enough nutrients to avoid a feeding tube. Oropharyngeal cancer patients can have impaired taste and dry mouth for six to twelve months following treatment.
“I can’t wait for my taste to come back,” says Ron. “I will never take tasting food for granted again — that’s something you don’t even realize you’ll miss until it’s gone.”
Expanding clinical trial program
St. Elizabeth proudly offers the opportunity for patients to join nationally-acclaimed clinical trials — such as trials hosted by the National Cancer Institute – close to home, right in their own community.
“Our clinical trial program provides opportunities for St. Elizabeth patients to have access to the latest breakthrough therapies close to home,” says Barbara Logan, Director of the St. Elizabeth Clinical Research Institute. “We proudly offer ‘Clinical Research Right Here.’”
Before his cancer diagnosis, Ron had never been sick with anything more than a cold. He had never been in the hospital or had an IV before — but the St. Elizabeth care team put him right at ease.
“I’m from Cincinnati, and this was my first time going to a Kentucky hospital,” says Ron. “The St. Elizabeth experience was great. I didn’t even mind going every day! The nurses and the clinical trial team were so good to me – they even brought me a birthday balloon on my birthday.”
On May 16, 2021, Ron celebrated his six-month completion of treatment. His taste is slowly returning and after recovering from COVID-19 earlier in the winter, Ron is looking forward to brighter days ahead. He credits St. Elizabeth with helping him beat his cancer and highly recommends participating in a clinical trial at St. Elizabeth.
“I had nothing to lose by participating in the trial, and it made such a difference,” says Ron. “I’d recommend it to anyone in the same position.”
For more information on clinical trials available at St. Elizabeth Healthcare, please visit St. Elizabeth Clinical Research to connect with one of our Oncology Research team members.