When doctors told a father of 3 from South East Leeds that he had cancer the size of a rugby ball and that he might not live until Christmas 2015, he cashed in one of his pensions and bought a BMW.
That was more than 5 years ago and now thanks to a revolutionary drug trial at Manchester’s international acclaimed cancer centre, The Christie, Dean Colgan, 60, is fit and well and his cancer is too small to measure on scans.
“It was a miracle for me and my partner Susan,” he said. “I was told I would be dead in less than 5 years but I’m still here now.”
The former engineering machinist and security guard from the village of Kippax, who is currently unable to work due to severe arthritis in both knees, discovered a thick stream of blood whilst urinating. Dean was worried about bladder cancer so went to see his GP.
He was referred for an ultrasound at a local hospital where they discovered a tumour the size of a rugby ball that had obliterated his right kidney. He was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer) which had spread to his lungs, lymph nodes and pancreas.
“I was absolutely devastated by the news,” said Dean. “The consultant said I would be lucky to still be alive 6 months later at Christmas if I didn’t have an urgent operation to remove the main tumour on the kidney. I was very low at the time but my partner pulled me through. I fought the cancer as much for her as for me.”
”I went in for the operation and wasn’t sure I wanted to wake up after it. When I came round from the surgery they said I still might only have a few years to live because of the spread to other organs.
“When I thought I only had a short time left, I cashed in one of my pensions and used the money to buy a BMW, a couple of decent TVs and some new furniture.
“I was told that The Christie in Manchester was the best place for me to go for further treatment. They saw me in January 2016 and I started on a clinical trial for a new drug combination that Pfizer was developing.”
The trial was the first time that a combination of the immunotherapy drug avelumab and cancer growth blocker tablets known as tyrosine kinase inhibitors had been used to treat kidney cancer.
“When the treatment started, I felt a tickling sensation where my right kidney used to be. It felt like the drug was fighting the cancer there.
“I owe my life to The Christie and Pfizer. I’m fitter than ever. I do weightlifting and can lift heavier weights now than I could 15 years ago.
“At my most recent scan, The Christie told me that my lymph nodes were back to normal, the cancer had been cleared out of my chest and the only 2 small areas of cancer remaining were too small to measure.
“I’m now leading a pretty normal life. Susan and I bought a caravan and like to visit the seaside every few weeks. Filey is our favourite place to go to.”
Dean has been taking ‘targeted therapy’ tablets called Axitinib twice each day for nearly 5 years and was making fortnightly trips to The Christie for an infusion of the immunotherapy drug Avelumab for 4 years. Due to COVID-19, these visits reduced to once every 4 weeks over the last year.
When Dean started this trial, the combination of treatments was still in the early phases of evaluation (phase I). Since then, they have completed evaluation in a large phase III trial (Renal Javelin-101) which proved that the combination is more effective than the standard tablet therapy Sunitinib.
Following these trial results, Avelumab and Axitinib were approved for widespread use in the NHS in September 2020. As a result, Dean can now access the tablets and 4 weekly infusions in Leeds, which is much closer to home. He will continue with these for as long as the drugs remain effective.
Dean’s oncology consultant at The Christie, Dr Tom Waddell, said: “Dean has had an excellent response to this trial drug combination. By stimulating the immune system (with Avelumab) at the same time as blocking some of the key survival pathways for the cancer cells (with Axitinib) we can improve outcomes for patients.
“We see that on average the tumours shrink more, and remain controlled for longer than with previous treatments. However, not all patients will get as good a response to treatment as Dean with no visible cancer remaining at the current time. I’m really pleased that he was able to access this treatment at The Christie within the clinical trial several years before it became available in standard practice.”
The patient involved in the trials mentioned was treated in the NIHR Manchester Clinical Research Facility at The Christie.
The Christie NHS Foundation Trust was the first specialist trust to be rated as ‘Outstanding’ twice (in 2016 and 2018) by the health regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC). It referred to The Christie as ‘a leader in cancer care’ and ‘a pioneer in developing innovative solutions to cancer care.’ The CQC praised the Trust’s staff which it said ‘go the extra mile to meet the needs of patients and their families’ and that they were ‘exceptionally kind and caring.’ In 2017, the CQC rated The Christie as the best specialist trust in the country, and one of the top three trusts overall in England.