It should have been the beginning of a new chapter in his life as an adult. He was just 18 and ready for anything — except a cancer diagnosis. Instead of heading off to college, Osiris Rios embarked on a difficult journey to treat his newly diagnosed acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
|Osiris Rios benefited from a TomoTherapy clinical trial. (Photo by p.cunningham)|
Now the young man has his life back on track thanks to a technique developed at City of Hope that uses TomoTherapy to help patients with leukemia and other blood cancers.
In May 2006, Rios started having trouble breathing, and some of his lymph nodes were swollen. He knew something was amiss, so he went to Los Angeles County+University of Southern California (LAC+USC) Medical Center.
A computed tomography scan and biopsy uncovered his cancer. At that time, City of Hope’s current chief medical officer, Alexandra Levine, M.D., M.A.C.P., was his oncologist at LAC+USC, and she recommended that Rios get a second opinion at City of Hope. Levine arranged for Rios to see Anthony Stein, M.D., in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation.
After a round of chemotherapy at LAC+USC, Rios began receiving chemotherapy at City of Hope. A month later the cancer was in retreat and Rios was receiving what physicians call consolidation and maintenance therapy, treatment to reduce his last remaining cancer cells and maintain remission.
But by age 21, he relapsed. He needed a hematopoietic stem cell transplant, but he was ineligible for the standard transplant procedure because he had refractory leukemia that was resistant to chemotherapy, and the chances of success using whole-body radiation were very low.
Instead, Stein recommended a new clinical trial that evaluated the use of total marrow irradiation, or TMI, in combination with two chemotherapy drugs to prepare him for a stem cell transplant. In total marrow irradiation using TomoTherapy, radiation oncologists can selectively focus escalating doses of radiation to the areas of the body containing cancerous cells to kill these cells while minimizing exposure to the healthy, major organs. This hopefully means fewer side effects, better outcomes and remission.
“I was nervous at first, since I was the second patient on this particular study, but I had few options and was blessed with a great physician who I trusted,” Rios said. “Dr. Stein is a man of very few words, but they are always the right ones at the right time.”
More than 150 City of Hope patients have now received this unique and promising procedure, which was pioneered at City of Hope. Oncologists from around the world have invited City of Hope physicians to share their techniques.
“We’re still evaluating TMI, but we believe it may be a way to administer radiation to people who are either too frail or who are older than 55 and are unable to go through traditional radiation — so it could allow many more patients to receive lifesaving transplants,” said Jeffrey Y.C. Wong, M.D., chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology.
Rios began preparing for his 2008 transplant through five months of chemotherapy in combination with TMI. Then he underwent the stem cell transplant using stem cells from his sister, who was a perfect match. After recovering, he went back to college and began taking Aztec dance to connect him to his cultural roots and to help him physically and spiritually get back in shape.
These days, the future looks bright for Rios. In June 2010, he received his Associate in Arts degree from Los Angeles Community College and is completing a few prerequisite courses so he can transfer to California State University, Los Angeles. Eventually, he aims to attend the University of California, Los Angeles, to pursue a career as a museum curator and specialist in the preservation of indigenous textiles and clothing.
“I am very interested in fashion and Mesoamerican culture, so it made sense for me to combine these two passions,” Rios said. “I was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, and I want to focus on preserving my ancestral heritage. I’m glad that City of Hope has given me the chance to pursue my dreams.”