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Personalized medicine close to home

November 10, 2021

Rita and Mark Levin with their son and two of their grandchildren.

Early in 2021 Rita Levin of Buffalo Grove did what we hope all patients do annually – she went to her primary care physician for a physical. She received a good report and learned she was well. That is, until she developed a cough that just wouldn’t go away.

Her primary care physician tried several different treatments, to no success.

It was in March when he suggested she visit NCH pulmonologist Neeraj Desai, M.D. Dr. Desai was the one that ran the tests that found the 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, immediately started the search for an oncologist to learn her options. They sought care at the academic hospitals in Chicago – but found the wait time extensive and personal attention lacking. Doing her own research, Rita was thrilled to find Rajat Malhotra, M.D. practicing near their home in Arlington Heights, who had many wonderful online reviews. “Working with Dr. Malhotra is good for my health and my spirit,” Rita shared.

Dr. Malhotra understood the Levins wanted to expedite treatment. He ran tests including a needle biopsy and a lymph node excision to help better define the molecular makeup of the tumor, but he wanted more information to suggest 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. We decided it was worth the wait.”

The result was Rita was an ideal candidate for targeted therapy – which meant the best treatment was one pill a day with relatively mild side effects – for her, some mild diarrhea and itchy skin. She would not need to go through chemotherapy.

However, it wasn’t all good news, one month worth of pills equaled $15,000. Dr. Malhotra’s office and lung cancer Navigator Juli Aistars stepped in to help the Levin’s 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 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.
“I have no doubt I’m in the right place at NCH. Other people talk about “famous” hospitals…but for me, NCH is famous. We’ve been living in the U.S. for 32 years, and Dr. Malhotra is the first doctor I’ve met with such a good heart and a mind like a computer.”

Rita and Mark emigrated to the U.S. 32 years ago from the Eastern European country of Belarus – near Russia. They have two children and five grandchildren.

About Precision Medicine at NCH

Precision medicine targets your unique cancer cells.

When it comes to cancer treatment, one size does not fit all.

Each cancer patient’s tumor cells have a unique genetic makeup, so why should all patients receive the same treatment for the same cancer type? Precision medicine, also known as personalized precision molecular oncology, is transforming the way we treat cancer at NCH.

Precision medicine looks at a cancer’s molecular makeup to better understand the unique biology of that particular tumor. These and other unique variables are then linked to compiled scientific data so that we can provide personalized treatment based on correlation with real-world clinical outcomes. Therefore, because precision medicine is personalized, we can deliver more precise therapies tailored to your specific tumor.

Additionally, we are proactive in our care for you. We have comprehensive genetic counseling to identify any inherited gene mutations that might predispose you and your family members to various types of cancers. If a genetic risk is identified, we can develop a personalized plan to monitor and reduce your risk.

For more information visit or call 847-618-6660.

Note: Doctors Desai and Malhotra are independent physicians in the community with privileges at NCH. They are not employees or agents of NCH.

No case is the same; results may vary.