A drug normally used to treat high blood pressure is being credited for reducing a Vancouver woman’s colon cancer to undetectable after just five weeks.

After five years of undergoing treatment for colorectal cancer, including painful and complicated surgeries, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, last fall Trish Keating was told the disease was incurable – and her chances of living through it were slim.

“They discovered it in my lymph nodes,” she said. “I mean, that was pretty well the death sentence for me.”

Her oncologist, Dr. Howard Lim, said scans of Trish’s body revealed cancer riddled through her body, up to her abdomen and chest.

“It was basically like a Christmas tree, to be quite frank,” he said.

Facing a grim prognosis, the former costume designer consulted with her doctors and decided to enter a new and experimental clinical trial that brings the power of genomic sequencing directly into patient care for people suffering incurable cancers.

The  BC Cancer Agency’s Personalized Onco-Genomics Program – known as POG – sequences the patient’s tumour and healthy DNA, compares the results, determine what’s biologically driving the patient’s cancer – and identify potential treatments. The specialized treatment program, which is funded entirely by donors, was launched in 2012.

Doctors took one of the tumours from her spine and analyzed it to find out what drugs may target her cancer. The results were revolutionary, says Dr. Lim.

“In her case it was a blood pressure medication that happened to block one of the pathways that her cancer was operating on,” he said.

Using a blood pressure medication to fight colon cancer seemed like a long shot, until the results came back.

After just five weeks using the drug identified by POG, her cancer had shrunk to the point it was barely detectible. By two months, the tumours were completely undetectable.

“It’s definitely a miracle,” Keating said.

Even her oncologist was surprised by the astounding results.

“To be quite honest I did not anticipate the kind of response that she would get, but this is what POG is about -- trying to find surprises,” he said.

Dr. Lim said Keating’s results are outliers and not everyone should expect the same results. But he says the outcome is exciting and the medical community is hopeful the discovery will lead to many more.

“Everyone has the chance to be extraordinary, whether on conventional treatment [or] clinical trials. Everybody's different, no matter what,” he said.

Keating’s health has continued to improve and she and her husband are hopeful about the future.

“It's important to realize there is hope and to just live with that belief that there's hope no matter how desperate you might feel your situation is,” she said.

Click here to learn more about the POG program.