Biomarker Testing, a ‘Gamechanger' in Cancer Care, Now Covered in Illinois

“Without my immunotherapy, I wouldn’t be here"

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A busy mom of three, Alecia Mandal, was stunned to learn in August of 2020 that she had colorectal cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes.

“We were all afraid I was going to die,” Mandal said.

The former oncology nurse immediately began chemotherapy and lost her hair. She had three grueling treatments when she got a call from her doctor, Dr. Sheetal Kircher with Lurie Cancer Center at Northwestern Medicine.

“She told me I qualified, and to be honest with you, even as a healthcare professional, I didn’t really know what that meant,” Mandal said.

Mandal had biomarker testing done on her tumor and her cancer had specific markers that qualified her for a different course of treatment, called immunotherapy.

“It ultimately is an absolute game changer in the course of her disease,” said Kircher, Medical Director of the Lurie Cancer Center Survivorship Institute.

Kircher said biomarkers are basically descriptors of the cancer and they can help identify the best treatment options.

“The barriers to biomarker testing and cancer care in general is that it is expensive, it is insanely expensive, “ Kircher said.

While Mandal’s insurance covered the biomarker testing, Kircher has other patients whose insurance denied coverage, until now. Last year, the Illinois legislature passed a biomarker testing bill that requires comprehensive coverage for what Kircher called the future of cancer care.

“This is a more precise way of treating cancer that is moving at a pace that is unbelievable,” Kircher said.

Mandal gets immunotherapy every three weeks. She said the side effects are minimal compared to chemotherapy and is sharing her story to help other cancer patients learn about biomarker testing.

“I have had 19 months where I didn’t think I probably have any. I am feeling good. I am doing things I used to do,” Mandal said. “Without my immunotherapy, I wouldn’t be here.”

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