Chad Pecot, MD, has a unique perspective on cancer. As a physician who specializes in treating lung cancer, he sees the impact cancer and its treatment can have on people and their loved ones. As a scientist, he understands cancer at its most basic level. As a cancer survivor, he knows the challenges of living with a serious health issue.
Pecot was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2000 when he was 20 years old and a sophomore at the University of Miami studying biomedical engineering. A self-described “cocky student” who had no experience with cancer before his diagnosis, Pecot said having cancer changed and humbled him. The night of his surgery, he remembers he had a date lined up. He’s pretty sure that his parents didn’t let him go.
Pecot, who has been in remission since 2001, chose to study and treat lung cancer after realizing that many patients were not as fortunate as he was, and he wanted to have a broad impact.
“The more I started caring for people with lung cancer, the more I saw that the majority of them would succumb to the illness,” said Pecot, a UNC Lineberger member and an assistant professor in the UNC School of Medicine. “It wasn’t enough for me simply to care for patients in the clinic. Progress against this disease has been modest. I wanted to pick an area of research that if I could make a difference, it would have a massive impact.”
We spoke with Pecot to learn more about his path to medicine and research.
What makes UNC Lineberger special?
“One thing I love about being here is it’s a very collaborative and friendly environment where the focus is on making a difference. It’s not an ego-driven environment where people are super protective of their work and where there’s a lot of self-promotion. The focus is really in the right place here.”
What is the focus of your research, and what advancements have you made in lung cancer?
“When I came to North Carolina from Houston (he was a fellow at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center), I wanted to try to focus not only on lung cancer, and how it spreads, but really the type of lung cancer that is caused by smoking (namely lung squamous cancer). Surprisingly, most research is on lung cancer that’s not smoking-induced. We are already beginning to identify several unique vulnerabilities in this type of lung cancer that we think will lead to new therapies.”
Can you share one standout moment that made you feel like you were making a difference or that was particularly rewarding?
“I share this story with my patient’s permission. I’m taking care of a gentleman who never smoked a cigarette, but got lung cancer. When we looked at the gene changes in his tumor it made me suspicious that he inherited his lung cancer. That’s largely unheard of even in the lung cancer community. I referred him to the genetic clinic at UNC Lineberger, and some members of his family were tested as well. It turns out that not only my patient but at least one of the family members who was tested also has the genetic abnormality. So, not only can we treat my patient, but we may actually be able to prevent bad lung cancer from spreading in several generations of people.”
If you weren’t doing this, what other careers could you see yourself doing?
“I would actually say something that really does fascinate me is criminal psychology. All the ‘Criminal Minds’ and ‘CSI’ shows – I really love that stuff. Maybe doing forensic analyses for the FBI, or something like that, would be really cool, or being one of those CSI specialists, and trying to understand and piece together the mysteries.”