How Does Data Inform Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing

How Does Data Inform Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing?

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How Does Data Inform Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lung cancer biomarker testing now has actionable data for clinicians and patient advocates to utilize for improved patient care. Experts Dr. Heather Wakelee and Dr. Leigh Boehmer discuss barriers to time-critical testing, patient communication advice, and health outcome benefits backed up by data.

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Improving Communication Around Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing

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Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Both of you have been on the ground floor of research in this area with regard to biomarker testing and availability and disparities. So I’d love for you to talk a little bit about the data and what does the data tell us with regard to biomarker testing? So I’ll start with you this time, Dr. Boehmer.

Dr. Leigh Boehmer:

[chuckle] Thanks, I appreciate it. I’ve been privileged to work with both providers and patients’ caregivers, taking a closer look at some of the barriers and then practical solutions that might be utilized to address some of these concerns around testing. So back in 2021, ACCC used the mixed methods approach to try to understand the motivators of patients and providers, their practice patterns, their attitudes, the educational needs of patients and providers related to biomarker testing and beyond. And you know what’s really interesting, in almost 100 total provider respondents, less than half of community clinicians who responded said that they used biomarker testing to guide patient discussions.

And that was compared to nearly three-quarters of all responding academic clinicians, and it really made us start to think about…so, you know, the impetus for testing in the context of testing. In this particular research, to my earlier comments, we were actually targeting patients with non-small cell lung cancer who were uninsured, underinsured and/or covered by Medicaid. So dual eligible beneficiaries, and it was really interesting because we looked at why and how conversations were happening about biomarker testing between providers and patients, and really identified some tremendous opportunities for education around clinicians’ needs to become more familiar with guideline concordant testing and to have more practical applications of guideline concordant testing, so things like case-based examples, so then ultimately they could have optimal conversations with patients and help coordinate multidisciplinary care.

There’s also data which would suggest a disconnect between ordering testing after initial staging versus ordering testing at the time of initial biopsy. And, Dr. Wakelee, you said something that really resonated with me because if we can identify patients who need to be tested, if we can have access to testing, we still have a disconnect, and this is largely seen in community programs today where clinicians may be waiting 10 days, 14 days, even longer to receive results of testing, and you’re right, we have patients who need treatment initiated sooner than later, and you miss these opportunities because of delays, prior authorizations and a lot of other things, so the data certainly quantitatively, qualitatively is speaking to this hierarchy of problems and there’s definitely some mismatches between patient and provider perceptions of why testing happens, what it’s used for, and timing of the testing and results sharing.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

That is fascinating, and we’re definitely going to get deeper into that, this whole patient-provider interaction, so I really appreciate you introducing that and thank you for all the research that your organization has done in this area. So, Dr. Wakelee, you’re on the academic side of things, and you also have been deeply involved in research in this area, so what would you like to offer from your perspective in terms of the data around biomarker testing?

Dr. Heather Wakelee:

Well, thanks, and, Dr. Boehmer, you have a very comprehensive answer there, I think that the differences between academic and community sometimes are broad and sometimes aren’t that big at all, and I do think we face a lot of the same challenges. It’s just…it’s making sure that when a physician is meeting with a patient, and let’s say it’s with the oncologist, that the oncologist is really mindful that any patient with non-small cell lung cancer could have a tumor with a driver mutation. I think it’s easy to stereotype and think that only certain patients are going to, and therefore we shouldn’t be testing everybody. And that gets dangerous. I think it also is a matter of where you’re in practice, and if you’re in a practice where the prevalence of the driver mutations and the tumors is low, you might just say, “Oh, I’m never going to see it,” and you stop testing, and that’s also very dangerous because we have seen in multiple trials, as we get back to that research question, that if we can identify a driver mutation…

And we know that more than half of patients who’ve developed lung cancer who have never smoked or have a light smoking history are going to have an actionable driving mutation, and even in people who do have a smoking history, of any ethnic background, they’re still 10 to 20 percent or maybe more as we identify more of these driver mutations, where that’s what’s really the force in the tumor, and if you find it and you can start someone on the appropriate targeted therapy, usually across multiple trials, the toxicity is less than you would get with chemotherapy or immune therapy.

Usually the probability of response is over half, you know, if someone’s going to have a benefit that that’s going to help them feel better for a period of time in controlling their cancer, it really drastically changes their whole tumor outcome, they’re going to be living longer, feeling better, and ultimately that’s our goal when we’re helping someone with metastatic disease, and if you don’t know that the tumor has a driver mutation, you’re never going to give them that appropriate treatment, and I think that is the real challenge that we face, and there are multiple different angles to that, right? You have to have the physician aware of the importance of finding the mutation, altering the treatment as necessary, and giving that patient the best possible option for care.

But it also is making sure that the patients are open about this, because I think there’s still a lot of misperceptions about when we talk about driver mutations and the word mutation, making sure that people understand we’re talking about the cancer and not about the person. And in a short conversation that can sometimes be missed, and then people are afraid of getting tested, afraid of what that might mean for them or their family, and so the communication around, we’re going to test your tumor because your tumor might have a mutation that’s going to allow us to give different care.  I think that’s really important that people always remember to talk about the tumor and not about the mutation in the person, that’s really, really critical.

And also to avoid that stereotyping about who do we test and who do we not test, pretty much anyone with a non-squamous, non-small cell lung cancer, their tumor needs to be tested, and many people who have a squamous cytology that’s also reasonable. So that’s the people aspect of it, the insurance barriers and the interpretation of the results, those are still there as well. And even if you have the perfect communication and the patient understands and you get the testing done immediately, you still have to deal with, is it going to get covered or not? And the results come back, is it going to be interpretable or not? Because that can sometimes be tricky also. 

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