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Lung Cancer Patient Finds Help Through Targeted Therapy

Tuesday, November 30, 2021 7:15 AM

Rita Levin and familyBy: Amy Jo Steinbruecker

When Rita Levin developed a cough that wouldn’t go away, her primary care physician recommended several different treatments but the hacking persisted.

She was referred to Northwest Community Healthcare pulmonologist Neeraj Desai, M.D. who in March discovered a mass in Rita’s lung. Although she had never smoked a day in her life, Rita was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

Rita and her husband, Mark, of Buffalo Grove, immediately started the search for an oncologist to understand her treatment options. They were thrilled to find Rajat Malhotra, M.D.

Dr. Malhotra understood the Levins wanted to expedite treatment. He ran tests that included a needle biopsy and a lymph node excision to better define the molecular makeup of the tumor, but he wanted even more information before recommending treatment options.

“He explained there was a test that would take up to 10 days for results, but it could give him information that could help the treatment be personalized to me and my condition,” Rita said. “We decided it was worth the wait.”

The test – generically called “next-generation sequencing” – revealed that Rita was an ideal candidate for targeted therapy. This meant the best treatment for her was one pill (osimertinib) a day with relatively mild side effects. She would not need to go through chemotherapy.

However, it wasn’t all good news. A month’s worth of pills would cost $15,000. Dr. Malhotra’s office and NCH Advanced Practice Nurse Juli Aistars stepped in to help the Levins file for financial assistance through the drug maker, AstraZeneca. They were accepted into the program and were able to receive the medicine at no cost.

While her next PET scan is in February, they have already seen her tumor shrink and her tumor marker has dropped from 24 to a near-normal range. Her lung cancer is treatable, but not curable, however, she knows she’s getting the right treatment for her body and her condition.

“Working with Dr. Malhotra is good for my health and my spirit,” Rita said.

For more information about cancer care at Northwest Community Healthcare, visit or call 847-618-6660.