Clinical trials help gran defy terminal lung cancer diagnosis

Monday 10 June 2024

Jan Mundt had just celebrated the birth of her first grandchild when she received a devastating cancer diagnosis.

Despite having never smoked, Mrs Mundt was told a pain in her chest was being caused by stage four lung cancer – and she had less than a year to live.

But thanks to her participation in the clinical trials of two new drug treatments run by Mater Research’s oncology team, Mrs Mundt has defied the odds.

Her grandson Charlie is now six years old and, although Mrs Mundt is not cancer-free, she has been able to treasure time with him and the rest of her family.

“When I was first diagnosed, Charlie was three months old,” she said.

“I wanted to be around to see him go to school and set myself a goal that I’d be around for that. He started prep last year, and I proudly held his hand and walked him through the school gates on his first day.”

Lung cancer is Australia’s biggest cancer killer, claiming an estimated 8690 lives each year. The disease has the lowest five-year survival rate of any cancer at just 24 per cent.

Mrs Mundt, of Ipswich, went to her GP with chest pain in March 2018 and an X-ray later revealed a 6.5cm tumour on her lung.

Following a biopsy at Ipswich General Hospital, she was referred to an expert panel at Mater Hospital Brisbane, consisting of Mater oncologists and cancer researchers.

She was entered into the clinical trial of a new treatment which combined immunotherapy and chemotherapy. Over 15 months, the pioneering treatment halted the tumour’s growth and shrunk it to 5cms.

Dr Vikram Jain, Director of Medical Oncology at the Mater Cancer Care Centre, said the treatment was the first in Australia to combine immunotherapy and chemotherapy for lung cancer and has since become a standard option for treatment of the disease.

“Lung cancer treatment has come a long way in the last six years – and much of that is down to the success of clinical trials and the participation of patients like Jan,” Dr Jain added.

Mrs Mundt, who is now 64, was recently entered into a second immunotherapy trial, which is training her immune system to recognise and seek out cancer cells.

“Last week, I celebrated my sixth anniversary of starting treatment for lung cancer,” Mrs Mundt said.

“I’m doing well and am so grateful for every day I get to spend with my family. I now have a second grandson, Thomas, and I am looking forward to being there when he starts school too.”

Mater Research, based at Mater’s South Brisbane health campus, is currently supporting more than 200 clinical trials across areas including cancer, neurology and women and babies’ health.

Dr Jain said clinical trials are essential to cancer care and give clinicians the ability to treat patients with some of the newest and most innovative cancer treatments.  

“The increased cancer survival rates we see today are because of access to trials, and from successful trials becoming the standard of care,” Dr Jain said.