AML Testing Archives

Testing is an ever-present part of the cancer journey, helping identify stage, treatment options, progress, and potential recurrence. Testing can also introduce a whole new vocabulary into your life. Don’t let jargon overwhelm you or undermine your grasp of test options and results.

We can help you evolve into an informed AML advocate who understands results and how to use testing as a conduit to the most personalized care.

More resources for Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) Testing from Patient Empowerment Network.

What Is the Impact of Cytogenetics on AML Care?

 

What Is the Impact of Cytogenetics on AML Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Understanding the cytogenetics of your acute myeloid leukemia (AML) can help determine which treatment option might be best for you. Registered nurse Mayra Lee defines this complex term and the role it plays in AML care.

Mayra Lee, RN, is an outpatient clinic nurse at Moffitt Cancer Center. Learn more about Mayra Lee.

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Why Cytogenetics and Molecular Profiling Necessary for AML Patients

  

What’s Next in AML Research?

  

Predictive (Familial) Genetic Testing vs. Cancer Genetic Testing: What’s the Difference?

Transcript:

Cytogenetics would be the term that I would say patients are unaware of and don’t understand it quite often. It’s probably the first time you hear it when you come and sit down and we talk about the disease because the first thing you want to know is what is my prognosis and what is the treatment. Well, a lot of that is made through the cytogenetics of the disease.

We use these terms and we don’t often explain what all of that means. And what that means is that the disease itself has chromosomes, has mutations, has genetic information that will help us determine which treatment is a better option for you or is there a genetic mutation that you perhaps have that we now have medications that are used to treat that genetic mutation as a said just a few seconds ago. Like for the three, if you have that mutation, we now have medication to treat that where we didn’t have that five years ago or even four years ago.

 So, that terminology of cytogenetic and biomarkers are very new. They’re not something that the general public knows or understands very well.

But when you come to academic centers like where I’m at right now that is all we’re going to talk to you about because we want to do personalized medicine. And personalized medicine means what is it that your disease looks like because your disease does not look like the other AML patients. Your disease is your disease and it looks different and it’s going to behave differently. And so, we want to know about those mutations. So, so much of your treatment, so much of the prognosis is so closely linked to that that I think it’s an important thing to know. It’s important to understand it. It’s important to ask. It’s important to pause your doctor and your nurses and say, “I don’t understand what you mean by that. What does that word mean? Can you explain that to me?”

AML Genetic Testing: Could It Lead to a Targeted Treatment for You?

AML Genetic Testing: Could It Lead to a Targeted Treatment for You? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

AML expert, Dr. Pinkal Desai, outlines the reasoning behind the necessity of cytogenetics and molecular testing when managing an AML diagnosis. Want to Learn More? Download Your AML Navigator Resource Guide, here.

Dr. Pinkal Desai is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and Assistant Attending Physician at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Dr. Pinkal Desai:         

So for patients who are undergoing molecular testing or any diagnosis of AML, both cytogenetics and molecular profiling are important, so they do not supersede each other. This is the conglomerate information that we need from the diagnosis to make important medical decisions. Usually the diagnosis would include: looking at the cells under the microscope by the pathologist; flow cytometry, which is a way to identify the subtype of leukemia; chromosomes or karyotypic analysis, which is to look at the individual chromosomes and whether they are abnormal in these leukemia cells; and the last one would be the molecular mutations, which would be single-gene profiling of the leukemia cells.

All of these are important, and it’s not that one can be omitted. They’re all part and parcel of the diagnosis of AML, and all of them should be done.  

So my advice to patients whenever this topic comes up of molecular mutations is always an unequivocal – there should be no question that this should not be done. The advice is plain and simple. This has to be done at diagnosis and, in certain cases, at relapse as well in order to figure out the best treatment possible. If they’re at a site or a clinic where this molecular testing is not available, then they should seek a second opinion to a site that would do this testing because in this day and age of leukemia, there is no treatment and diagnosis that can be done without all of these components in place.

In the old days, we didn’t have a lot of treatment in AML. It was either chemotherapy or hypomethylating agents, and that’s it. But now we have several drugs, five or six of them, that were just approved in the past two years specifically for leukemia and targeting some of these mutations. We have Midostaurin, Gilteritinib, Ivosidenib, Enasidenib, and I don’t want to go on and on about these drugs, but the most important thing is that in this day and age where you have so many drugs, how to incorporate these drugs into the management for patients, both upfront and in the relapse setting, it’s extremely relevant to do this testing, and this is highly encouraged and should be done as part of the diagnosis and treatment.

What’s Next in AML Treatment and Research?

What’s Next in AML Treatment and Research? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Pinkal Desai, an AML specialist, discusses research in-progress on MRD testing and pre-disease mutations in leukemia.

Dr. Pinkal Desai is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and Assistant Attending Physician at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Dr. Pinkal Desai:         

So we at Weill Cornell are a big leukemia center, and we are leading a lot of the clinical trials in AML, both in the upfront and the relapse setting. There are several research initiatives that we are highly interested in. One of them is how to incorporate some of these targeted treatments, both in the upfront and in the relapse setting.

The most important one that we’re actively working on is to monitor these patients, so MRD testing, or minimal residual testing, is extremely relevant in order to figure out whether the treatments are working in the right fashion, and would you change treatment or would it impact the patient’s overall survival if some of these mutations persist or not.

And we are really interested in monitoring these patients and these mutations to figure out a plan which is targeted not only for the mutation but also for the specific patient, and that is one of the things that we are very interested in and doing at Cornell.

We’re also looking at pre-disease mutations. There are several mutations – this is personally my research interest as well – there are certain people who are at risk of developing leukemia; for example, people who are undergoing chemotherapy for other cancers, and the presence of some of these mutations before the diagnosis of leukemia would highly be relevant because if we’re monitoring some of these people and figuring out who can develop this leukemia and can you do something about it, so this is sort of more on the prevention aspect of leukemia or secondary leukemia, which is also something we are interested in at Cornell and ongoing research is for us.

But the most important things is obviously for patients who actually have the diagnosis of AML, the best available agents as part of clinical trials, the best way to monitor them and design treatments so that we can achieve the best possible results for the patient is what we are striving for at Cornell, and it would be extremely helpful for patients to enroll into these trials and contribute both to their own treatment outcomes and also to the AML community at large.

Predictive (Familial) Genetic Testing vs. Cancer Genetic Testing: What’s the Difference?

Predictive (Familial) Genetic Testing vs. Cancer Genetic Testing: What’s the Difference? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Brittany DeGreef, a genetic counselor, explains the difference between hereditary genetic testing for cancer risk and genetic testing following a cancer diagnosis.

Brittany DeGreef is a Genetic Counselor at Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. More about this expert.

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 Find Your Voice Resource Guide  Key Genetic Testing After an AML Diagnosis  Genetic Testing Explained

Transcript:

My name is Brittany DeGreef and I am a licensed and certified genetic counselor and I work primarily in oncology genetics. At the Lurie Cancer Center, what I do is I provide comprehensive genetic counseling services for patients and families. Basically, what I do is take in family and personal history.

I help interpret what patterns we’re seeing in families. I provide risk assessment. Then we order and interpret genetic testing results. Based on those results, sometimes we make medical management recommendations for patients and families within a multi-disciplinary team within oncology at Northwestern.

The difference between predictive genetic testing and cancer genetic testing – let’s start with predictive genetic testing first. This means that we are testing someone who might be at risk for a specific hereditary condition, in particular, hereditary cancer syndromes.

In this case, what we’re doing is testing someone who is asymptomatic or does not have any signs of cancer at this point. What we’re trying to do is to identify if that person might be at high risk for specific cancers and implement certain screening strategies to risk reduction procedures and implement surveillance, if needed, if someone is at high risk for specific cancers.

When we think of cancer genetic testing, this person is likely already diagnosed with cancer and what we’re doing is trying to figure out if this person inherited something from either their mom or dad that placed them at a higher risk to get cancer in the first place.

In the past, this type of testing did not impact treatment strategies. But recently, this has been kind of the forefront of medicine where we are seeing patients who are just diagnosed with cancer and they are using genetic testing information to then incorporate that into their treatment approach.

Key Genetic Testing after an AML Diagnosis

Key Genetic Testing after an AML Diagnosis from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Elizabeth Bowhay-Carnes provides advice on key genetic tests that should take place after an AML diagnosis and how they can inform your treatment options. Download the Find Your Voice Resource Guide here.

Dr. Elizabeth Bowhay–Carnes is Director of the Adult Non-Malignant Hematology Program and Co-Director of the Adolescent/Young Adult Oncology Program at Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center.  More about this expert.

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Optimize Your First Visit with Your AML Team Why Should You Become Educated About Your AML?  Why Should Patients Be Hopeful About AML Treatment Options?

Transcript:

Transcript: 

When a patient is first diagnosed with AML, or Acute Myeloid Leukemia, that test comes back initially as a test called flow cytometry, and that is really just one of the very first initial tests that is needed in the workup.   

AML does not have traditional staging, as solid tumors have. There’s no such thing as a stage one, two, three, four. Instead, AML is divided into different risk categories. We call those low-risk, intermediate-risk, or high-risk, or sometimes we use the term standard-risk, intermediate-risk, high-risk.  

And that information is determined from some specialty tests that we call cytogenetics. Sometimes we use the term molecular testing or next-generation sequencing. Those three different terms, cytogenetics, molecular, next generation sequencing, are all specialty lab tests that help us determine what risk category group does a patient fall in.  

So, when a patient is first diagnosed with AML, that is very important to establish the initial diagnosis, but there’s those important follow-up tests that are done over the following weeks of treatment, from diagnosis at the beginning of treatment, that determine what a patient’s risk categories are. That information is very important because when we talk about initial treatment, a lot of the time that initial treatment is the same for all patients.   

But then, there are other medications that can be added on, or different steps in the treatment process, that vary based on a patient’s individual risk category and risk characteristic. 

A Conversation With Dr. Jo-Anne Vergilio

A new year means new programs! We’d like to introduce to A Conversation With, which is a collection of conversations with healthcare leaders, including patient advocates and various healthcare professionals, to take a closer look at the topics and issues important to empowered patients, care givers, and their families.

In our first segment of A Conversation With, we spoke with Dr. Jo-Anne Vergilio the Senior Director in Pathology; Senior Associate Medical Director in Laboratory Operations, and Senior Hematopathologist at Foundation Medicine, Inc. Dr. Vergilio discusses what patients should know about biomarker testing and answers the following questions:

  1. How does biomarker testing work?
  2. How does biomarker testing help a cancer patient’s doctor with determining next steps in treatment?
  3. When in a patient’s course of treatment would they want to get biomarker testing?
  4. What is the difference between different kinds of biomarker tests?
    • Single marker vs. comprehensive
    • Tumor vs. liquid
  5. What does it mean for a biomarker test to be FDA-approved?
  6. If a doctor isn’t offering biomarker testing, what are some things that patients might say to their doctor?

Coping With Scanxiety: Practical Tips from Cancer Patients

“Every three to four months I get a wake-up call that my life has taken an unexpected turn. Believe me, there are daily reminders of how different I am now; but scan time is big time scary time, mentally. It takes living with cancer to yet another level of heighten sense of mortality and anxiety.  So MANY thoughts and what ifs course through my brain.  SO hard to shut it off.”  – Katie Edick, METASTATIC AND MAKARIOS.

It may not be officially part of the medical lexicon yet, but “scanxiety” is no less real for those of us who have experienced a diagnosis of cancer.   Pamela Katz Ressler, RN, MS, HNB-BC, founder of Stress Resources, describes scanxiety as “the anxiety, worry and fear that accompanies the waiting period before and after a medical test.” She says it is a common side effect of modern medicine. “As our medical system has become more technologically adept at measuring indicators of disease so too has our anxiety” she says. “Scanxiety is an unintended consequence of medical testing, yet it is one that is rarely discussed by medical professionals with patients.”

Writing in Time magazine in 2011, lung cancer survivor, Bruce Feiler, characterized scans as “my regular date with my digital destiny.  Scanxiety, he wrote, arises from the feeling of “emotional roulette wheels that spin us around for a few days and spit us out the other side. Land on red, we’re in for another trip to Cancerland; land on black, we have a few more months of freedom.”

One of the most common emotional and psychological responses to the experience of cancer is anxiety.  Cancer is a stressful experience and normal anxiety reactions present at different points along the cancer journey.  Did you know that the word anxiety comes from the Latin word anxius, which means worry of an unknown event? Worry, in turn comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “to strangle” or “to choke” – which may very well convey the feeling we have right before a scan, or whilst waiting for its results.

Anxiety is a natural human response that serves a biological purpose – the body’s physical “fight or flight” (also known as the stress response) reaction to a perceived threat. Symptoms vary for each person.  You may experience a racing or pounding heart, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, upset tummy, sweating or tense muscles. Alongside these physical manifestations, you may feel irritable, angry or apprehensive and constantly on the alert for signs of danger. All of these signs indicate that sympathetic arousal of our nervous system has been activated, preparing us to stand our ground and fight or take flight and run away from danger.

Scanxiety, points out Katz Ressler, can be intense and may mimic symptoms of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is an extreme anxiety disorder that can occur in the aftermath of a traumatic or life-threatening event. Symptoms of PTSD include re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive distressing recollections of the event, flashbacks, and nightmares. As Susan Zager, founder of the non-profit organization, Advocates for Breast Cancer (A4BC), points out “MRIs are very noisy – and because my recurrence was found through an MRI biopsy, I have many memories of scary results from that test.”

It’s been over ten years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer and while my scans are less frequent these days, the anxiety never fully goes away. As blogger and patient advocate, Stacey Tinianov writes, “This is reality even after almost five years with no evidence of disease. I’m not a worrier or a hypochondriac. I’m just a woman whose body once betrayed her by growing a mass of rouge cells that, if left unchecked, have the potential to bring down the house.”

If you are facing an upcoming scan and feeling anxious about it, you may find the following tips helpful. Based on my own experience and the experience of others in the cancer community, these tips are some of the ways in which we have learned to cope with scanxiety.

1. Identify your body’s stress response

How we experience stress is individual to each of us. Learning to tune into what happens in your body when you perceive a stressful situation is the first step in understanding your individual stress response. Does your jaw clench? Is your breath shallow? Are your muscles tense? When you become more aware of your physical response to stress, it will help regulate the tension when it does occur.

2. Pay attention to your breathing

When we are stressed we tend to breathe more shallowly.  Shallow breathing, which does not allow enough oxygen to enter our bodies, can make us even more anxious.   When you feel stressed, practise taking some slow deep abdominal breaths.  Deep abdominal breathing slows the heart down and lowers blood pressure. The advantage of focussing on the breath is that it is always there with us. We can turn to it anytime we are feeling anxious.

3. Stay focussed on the present

Focussing on the past or future can increase your anxiety. Katz Ressler recommends staying focused on the present moment as a way to quieten anxious thoughts. “Methods that have proved successful for scanxiety focus on tools of resilience, often based on mindfulness strategies,” she says. “Key in these methods is to focus on the present moment and not on the outcome of a test or scan.” Focusing on each and every breath is an excellent way to begin to increase your awareness of the present moment.  If you would like to try some short mindfulness meditations to increase resilience and help decrease anxiety, you will find some on Katz Ressler’s website.

4. Use visualization

By enhancing your relaxation skills, you are can lower the fight or flight response that is often triggered during times of increased anxiety. Visualization involves using mental imagery to achieve a more relaxed state of mind. Similar to daydreaming, visualization is accomplished through the use of your imagination. Karin Sieger who has recently received a diagnosis of cancer for the second time, shares this advice, “I certainly keep my eyes shut when inside the machine; focus on my breathing; remind myself this has a start and finish; and then generally try and go in my mind to a calm meadow and have a snooze. Because for once there is nothing else I can or should do for the next minutes.”

5. Practical coping tips

Karin also points to the claustrophobic feeling of being enclosed in a scanning machine as a contributor to anxiety.  Stage IV breast cancer patient, Julia Barnickle recommends an NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) process, called the “Fast Phobia Cure” which worked for her. “I still don’t like enclosed spaces,” she says, “but I certainly don’t panic like I used to.” Blogger Margaret Fleming also recommends asking the attendants for any items that can make you more comfortable, such as ear-plugs or a blanket.

6. Break the worry habit

Worry can be a habit and like all habits can be broken.  As soon as that worry voice starts in your head, examine it before it takes hold. Ask yourself, will worrying about this help me in any way?  Julia writes, “For me, worrying is a choice – as is happiness. In the same way that I choose to be happy, regardless of what happens around me or in my own life, I also choose not to worry about – or fear – what might happen in the future. I tend to believe that things will work out for the best. And besides… what will happen will happen, regardless of whether or not I worry about it – so I don’t see the point of spoiling my enjoyment in the meantime. I prefer to get on with my life.”  Jo Taylor, who is living with secondary breast cancer agrees. “I have taken the view that nothing will change the outcome, therefore there’s no point in worrying,” she says.

7. Create an anxiety worry period

Many patients speak about the most anxious period of time being the time you are waiting for scan results. As stage IV blogger and patient advocate, Susan Rahn, writes, “Waiting for the results of any scan that will tell you if the cancer is active and taking up residence in new parts of your body is just as  anxiety inducing, if not worse, as the time leading up to and the day of the actual scan.”

You won’t be able to break the worry habit entirely and ignoring anxious thoughts and feelings can sometimes make them worse.  It’s still important that you acknowledge your worry but not let it control your life. One tip is to designate one or two 10-minute “worry periods” each day, time to fully focus on your anxiety. The rest of the day is to be designated free of anxiety. When anxious thoughts come into your head during the day, write them down and “postpone” them to your worry period.

8. Take Some Exercise

Exercise is one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce stress and anxiety –providing a natural outlet for your body when you are exposed to too much adrenaline. Jo Taylor, who runs an Exercise Retreat To Recovery program in the UK, finds that staying physically active is helpful. “I am still very nervous in the time between scan and reporting, “she says, “but throwing myself into work or exercise or anything else I do is helpful.”

Virtually any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can act as a stress reliever. The important thing is to get moving, even if that means just walking around the block. Movement with flow and rhythm can also help calm the body and mind. Katz Ressler recommends gentle yoga and walking meditation as proven ways to decrease the stress response and increase the body’s natural calming mechanism. “Finally, remember”, she says, “while you cannot control the outcome, you can work to control the experience and that starts with building resilience.”

I hope you will find these tips helpful and if you have any other coping tips please feel free to add your advice in the comments below.

AML Genetic Testing and Me

AML Genetic Testing and Me Webinar from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Genetic testing can help physicians to better understand an individual’s AML and help guide treatment decisions. So which genetic tests should AML patients have and when? In this Patient Empowerment Network program, in partnership with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), an expert panel discusses essential genetic testing for AML patients. Dr. Lee Greenberger, Chief Scientific Officer at the LLS is joined by AML specialist Dr. Amit Verma and patient advocate Kuldip Ahluwalia as they explain this complex topic and share tools for patients to help ensure they get the best care.