Breast Cancer Newly Diagnosed Archives

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More resources for Breast Cancer Newly Diagnosed from Patient Empowerment Network.

What Are Common Barriers Breast Cancer Patients Seeking Care Face?

What Are Common Barriers Breast Cancer Patients Seeking Care Face? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are some barriers breast cancer patients face in their access to care? Host Dr. Nicole Rochester asks Dr. Regina Hampton to share her perspective on obstacles that prevent optimal breast cancer care and how we can help get more patients on their path to empowerment.

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What Key Questions Should Newly Diagnosed Breast Cancer Patients Ask Providers?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

So my first question for you, Dr. Hampton is, what are the common barriers, breast cancer patients and their families face when seeking care, what are the issues that our patients and families are facing?  

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

I think one of the big issues is having access to a breast center, so a multidisciplinary breast center, and so they tend to be in sort of in larger cities, sort of downtown, and many minority communities in these days can’t afford to live downtown. So they’re living on the outskirts, so they may…while they may have great doctors there, many times those doctors may not be up on the latest and the greatest, they may not have access to clinical trials, and so that really truly is a barrier in that sometimes our minority patients may get sub-optimal care. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

That’s very concerning. I’m glad that you brought that up, that we’re not disparaging the doctors that practice in those settings, but what you said is really important that they may not have access to some of those up-to-date clinical trials and things that we may see at academic centers, so thank you for bringing that to our attention. 

What Key Questions Should Newly Diagnosed Breast Cancer Patients Ask Providers?

What Key Questions Should Newly Diagnosed Breast Cancer Patients Ask Providers? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What key questions should breast cancer patients who are newly diagnosed ask their care providers? Dr. Regina Hampton explains vital points to learn about your specific breast cancer to ensure thorough exploration of treatment options and the best care for you. 

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Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

As a breast surgeon, can you share with us what are some key questions that patients with breast cancer should be asking their team at the beginning of their diagnosis? 

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

I think it’s important to understand the type of cancer that you have, is it non-invasive, is it invasive, it’s important to know the characteristics of the tumor, is this a hormone-driven tumor, is in a non-hormone-driven tumor or triple-negative tumor? And then to ask in each step, with each discipline with surgery, finding out what are the pros and cons of a lumpectomy versus a mastectomy, when you get to the medical oncologist, finding out the pros and cons of chemotherapy versus hormone therapy, or doing both. How is that delivered? How is this going to affect my daily life? Can I still work if I’m getting chemotherapy? What happens when I get radiation? And what are the options? So, I think it’s just really important to, I’d say, go online and find a list of questions or a lot of great organizations out there that have pointed questions that you should ask each step of the way, many times the navigators will give you booklets and things to read that, have questions. And I think don’t be afraid to turn one visit into two or even three visits to make sure that you’re understanding the options. 

I‘m always troubled when I see patients who maybe years ago might have had some options, but they just rushed through and decided maybe to do mastectomy and they say, “You know what, had I really just stopped and thought about it, I might have made a different decision.” So, I think it’s very important, and I feel as the provider, the provider really should know how to read the room and really be able to pick up on the fact that, “You know what, she’s just not here today, and so…I’m going to stop talking. I’m going to send her away, let her digest this, and we’re going to come on back so we can have another conversation.” And I think as providers, we have to not be afraid, and I know it’s hard because time is tied. And we’re trying to see as many patients, but it’s really important to understand that every patient may need something a little bit different, and really trying to hone in on that, I think is really important as a provider, and making sure that you’re heard because a lot of times I think women of color, men of color as well, are not really heard by the doctor, and many of the doctors come in with their own biases and think, “Oh well, she’s young, she’s automatically going to want a mastectomy,” or “She’s old, we’re going to go ahead with a mastectomy,” well, it’s a matter of really listening to the patient and seeing how you can meet in the middle, and if the patient has to get a treatment that they’re not really keen on getting, but you know it’s the right thing to do. 

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

Again, it’s just having that conversation and dialogue so that they understand your reasoning. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Thank you. So, Dr. Hampton, it is evident during this interview, and, of course, I also know you personally and professionally, and you have certainly built a reputation of being a compassionate provider. Clearly, you are very committed to communicating with your patients, but the reality is not all of our colleagues are like Dr. Hampton. And so, I’m thinking about something you said about really kind of pushing back, so to speak, sometimes we have to push back in a polite way with our health care providers, and you mentioned maybe the woman is being faced or the man with treatment recommendations and maybe they have some concerns about that, and I know that not every patient feels comfortable disagreeing with their doctor or even engaging in a dialogue where they want to actually have more conversation. So many people, even in 2021, adopt a paternalistic relationship with their doctor where the doctor says, do this, and then they do it. And so, is there any advice that you can give our listeners our watchers, for when they’re in that situation with their breast surgeon or their oncologist, and they’re just not feeling comfortable, they don’t feel like all of the treatment options are being presented, are there any tips that you can provide for that? 

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

And in those cases, it’s important to go and get a second opinion, it doesn’t mean that you’re saying that that doctor is not a great doctor, you just may want to hear the information. It could be the same information, just presented it in a different way. All of us kind of explain things a little bit differently, and so I think getting a second opinion is important, and if your first doctor is offended that you’re getting a second opinion, you should fire that doctor. I tell my patients like, this is not my journey, this is not about me, this is really about you. Where do you want to go? We will help you get there, we’ll help you get the appointment, because I think it’s important for patients to have that information, so feel empowered and realize you can ask questions of the doctor, we’ve changed medicine and that…it’s a patient-centered approach. It’s not me. The doctor, I know all it’s…you may come in with a new study, let’s talk about it, and if you don’t have a doctor who’s open to hearing that information, then that might not be the doctor for you. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Yes, we have to have that type of relationship with our patients where we’re making joint decisions where the patient and their family members are truly brought in as members of the healthcare team. 

What Questions Should Patients Ask About Breast Density and Mammograms?

What Questions Should Patients Ask About Breast Density and Mammograms? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can breast cancer patients take action to improve their quality of care? Respected breast cancer expert Dr. Regina Hampton shares advice and insights on breast imaging and some situations when additional imaging may be necessary. Learn about what questions to ask related to breast density and mammograms. 

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What Key Questions Should Newly Diagnosed Breast Cancer Patients Ask Providers?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

If we start to talk about treatment access, I want to focus on access to quality treatment, in addition to the geographical barriers, we know that sometimes patients have limited access to quality breast cancer care due to their own gaps in knowledge, and studies show that patients who are knowledgeable and engaged in their healthcare received better care. So can you speak to what we have learned specifically if we talk about breast density and the various ways that patients should ask questions to their health care providers, those with dense breast tissue, what are some of the questions that they should be asking, and what should patients with increased breast density know?  

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

One of the things I like to start out with letting people know is that breast density is not anything bad. It’s just normal breast tissue. And when we’re younger and our breasts are a little more perky and sitting up, we tend to have more density in the breast, which is great, because you’re perky and high, but mammograms are not the best when you have dense breast tissue. As we start to get more seasoned and the breasts start to go south, that’s actually when mammograms get better, so it’s really important for patients to look at their report and see what they’re saying about breast density, many times they will recommend that a woman come in for additional imaging, it could be an ultrasound, it could be additional mammograms, so it’s really important that women tune into that, and if they don’t understand, to be able to call the facility and ask questions. And I think the big thing is not to be afraid if they ask you to come back in, what I tell people is, “You know what? That just means somebody is looking at your mammogram, and it doesn’t mean that there’s anything bad, it means somebody was looking and saying, ‘We might need to look a little deeper and just make sure there’s not anything going on,’” so trying to eliminate that fear when they see that word, density.  

And if you get a normal mammogram, but you are feeling something abnormal, you need to ask some more questions and ask for more tests. 

What Steps Can Breast Cancer Patients Take To Be More Proactive?

What Steps Can Breast Cancer Patients Take To Be More Proactive? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What steps can breast cancer patients take to be more proactive in their care? When is it appropriate to voice concerns? Dr. Regina Hampton offers advice for patients and loved ones how to work towards achieving optimal care.

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Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Are there some other practices or key steps that patients can take so that they have a proactive approach in their healthcare and that they can feel more confident in voicing some of these concerns when they’re communicating with their healthcare team? 

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

I think it’s important to have a support person. And that could be a family member, it could be a neighbor, it could be your best friend. Doesn’t always have to be family, sometimes it’s better to have somebody who’s not family, because sometimes a family, they get you know they get emotionally involved and we get that, but I think it’s important to have another pair of ears because especially when you get a new diagnosis, you’re not going to hear everything, and I know patients. The second somebody says, cancer, breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, they just shut down. That’s it. They’re not going to hear. You could tell them, I have a million dollars for you, they’re not hearing you, they’re not going to follow the directions to go get that million dollars because they just have shut down, and even at that second visit, they still are just sort of…I call it the whomp, whomp, whomp. They see my mouth moving, but they’re not really hearing the words, but if they have another support person who can be there to record the conversation, who can take notes, even in the era of telemedicine, somebody can dial in to listen. I’ve been doing family meetings and people have been on the West Coast, or somebody couldn’t get off the work, but there was somebody there who could hear that information, I think that’s so important, and especially as we get more seasoned, Mom and Dad, sometimes they are a little in denial on the information that they can take in, but so important to be there in some form, and with telemedicine, it makes it quite easy to get another pair of ears in the room. 

Absolutely, you are speaking my language, Dr. Hampton, I’m telling you, because the other thing that I always recommend is for patients to have a buddy, and like you said, that may be a family member, it may be a best friend, it may be someone in your church, but I think the studies  say that something somewhere around 30 percent to 40 percent is all that we retain when we go to the doctor’s office, and so like you said, especially if you’re getting bad news, a lot of that information goes out of your brain, and so it’s so important to have a back-up person and that person can sit and take notes, and sometimes they can even remind you of some of the questions that you may have had or some of your concerns, I really, really appreciate you bringing that up.  

 I think it’s also important to take a deep breath, I find people get a cancer diagnosis and they want to just rush through everything. Well, in most cases, cancer doesn’t spread that fast, but there are a lot of decisions to make, and you really should take that time to hear all the options, may need to get a second or third opinion so that you really can make good decisions, you can’t make good decisions if you’re fearful, just can’t do it.  

How Can Breast Cancer Patients Connect to Patient-Centered Care?

How Can Breast Cancer Patients Connect to Patient-Centered Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What actions can breast cancer patients take to connect to patient-centered care? Dr. Regina Hampton shares insights about breast cancer resources that aid in supporting whole care of the patient.

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What Key Questions Should Newly Diagnosed Breast Cancer Patients Ask Providers?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Something that I see in my field is that most patients and family members are operating from obviously a non-medical viewpoint, and sometimes they just don’t even know what questions to ask, how can we empower patients so that they don’t feel limited in their care, and how do we make them aware of the treatment options that are available? 

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

So I think the good thing about many breast centers is that they do have what are called navigators, who really sit and hand-hold the patient through the process, and they sit and do one-on-one counseling, they try to find resources to help the patient get through treatment, they hold support groups, they really are a wealth of information and a nice go-between between the patient and the physician or the provider. So trying to find a comprehensive breast center where they have a whole program that’s dedicated to patient-centered care, I think is important. It’s also important that patients be empowered to go online, you can find what questions do I ask? Print it out and bring it to your appointment and ask those questions, and it may take a couple of visits to get those questions answered, but I think it’s important to get the questions answered. If you’re with a provider who is feeling like they don’t have time to answer or they’re blowing you off when you’re answering those questions, guess what? You can fire your doctor and go find another doctor and I don’t think we do that enough. 

I get on my patients and say, “You know what, you all scrutinize when you go buy shoes, when you go buy that cute dress, when you go buy that new car, but we should scrutinize our providers because they’re taking care of our most precious commodity, and that is our body.” 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

That is absolutely true. I have fired a couple of doctors in my day, and I recommended that some of my family members fired their doctors as well, so I really appreciate that coming from you, Dr. Hampton. And you touched on a little bit on what I’m going to ask next, and not really staying on this advocacy piece, we’ve talked about the importance of patients feeling empowered, and you shared a really good tip which I love, which is writing your questions down, it’s something that I frequently recommend to my clients and my friends and family members.  

How Can Breast Cancer Providers and Patients Help Address BIPOC Disparities?

How Can Breast Cancer Providers and Patients Help Address BIPOC Disparities? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Can breast cancer providers and patients help address BIPOC disparities? Dr. Regina Hampton provides insight on differences she’s seen with BIPOC patients moving forward after diagnosis and ways patients can empower themselves toward receiving optimal care. 

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Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Dr. Hampton, you mentioned that you in practice have seen differences in the way that your white patients handle their breast cancer diagnosis compared to your Black patients, and I was wondering if you’d be willing to expand on that just a little bit, what are some of those differences that you’ve seen between those two groups? 

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

So, I noticed that in the white women that I’ve diagnosed, that they just seem to take the diagnosis and are ready to jump on board, ready to move forward with treatment and figuring out what needs to be done. And I’ve found with my African American women, it just, it takes a little bit longer explaining, trying to get them to understand the how, the why, what we’re getting ready to do, and even with that explanation, there’s still some hesitancy. And so, I’m curious to know what is that and why is that? And really hear from the patient’s perspective.   

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

That’s really interesting because, of course, right now in the midst of the pandemic, that just mirrors what we’re seeing with COVID-19 vaccination, and I wonder if what you’re seeing with your African American patients with breast cancer has to do with mistrust, and what we talked about just related to some of the history regarding the treatment of people of color by the health care system and racism and bias, do you think that there’s a level of mistrust of the healthcare system that may be playing into some of that reluctance that you’re seeing? 

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

Absolutely, absolutely, yes. And I’d just be curious to just hear from that patient perspective, I think a lot of those things, as we saw in the pandemic, we carry those things even though so much has changed from back in the day. So, it’s going to be interesting to hear that from the patient perspective and then to be able to hopefully share that information, and I think it could translate, as you were mentioning in to other areas of health, and see if we could then take that to a broader audience and try and make a difference in these disparities. 

How Can BIPOC Breast Cancer Patients Overcome Health Disparities?

How Can BIPOC Breast Cancer Patients Overcome Health Disparities? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can BIPOC breast cancer patients help overcome health disparities? Experts Dr. Nicole Rochester and Dr. Regina Hampton share ways to be more proactive with breast cancer screening, in interaction with healthcare providers, and in sharing breast cancer stories.

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Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

You alluded to the different care sometimes that patients of color receive. So I want to shift and talk about racial and ethnic inequities, and unfortunately, we know that with every other illness, unfortunately similarly with breast cancer, there’s a long history of women, particularly in BIPOC communities receiving disparate care, a lot of times they are not offered some of these treatment options, maybe they don’t have access to some of the breast cancer centers, so can you just share some information about some of the disparities that we see, in breast cancer? And then I’m curious to know how you specifically address them being a Black woman breast surgeon 

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

So, one of the things to know is that as African American women, we tend to get breast cancer at younger ages, and not a lot of physicians know and can recognize that, so it is very important that when a young African American woman has a breast complaint that that’s taken seriously and worked up to make sure that we’re not missing a breast cancer. So, I think it’s important again to have those conversations talking about family history, because we don’t talk about family history, in our families. I’ve had a patient just come in and say, Yeah, well, grandma had a breast missing, no no nobody said cancer, well they probably should’ve said cancer, so we’ve gotta have those health conversations in our family, so I think it’s important for patients to really be their advocate because many times these young women are dismissed and thought, “Oh, you’re too young,” and I’ve even been kind of fooled myself by some of the young women, so knowing that younger women get breast cancer at younger ages, if you think something is going on, you need to really take that seriously. And then I think it’s also talking about the options, we do tend to get a more aggressive form of breast cancer, but the treatments have changed, and while chemotherapy may be indicated for many patients, it’s not for all patients, and so really taking that time to understand what all the options are, “Well, why are you recommending chemotherapy? What’s going to be the benefit for me? What’s the survival benefit for me? What are the side effects? How this going to affect my sex life? How is this going to affect me and my relationship with my children, with work?” 

So really just asking all of those important questions, I think it’s also important to ask for what you want. I don’t think we speak up enough, there was actually a study that I was looking out that shows that we don’t get offered reconstruction as often as our white counterparts. The disparity is about 24 percent, and that’s really huge. That’s important. So, we really need to ask those questions and to know, well, maybe I can’t get reconstruction at this juncture, but can I get it in the future, there’s a federal law that covers all of those for all breast cancer patients, no matter what color you are, so again, it’s just asking those questions. Sometimes taking somebody and having somebody else ask the questions can be helpful. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Yeah, making somebody else the bad guy, so to speak. Absolutely, any time I have a conversation about health disparities and health and inequities, honestly, I get a little angry inside because for you to share that statistic that we’re not as often offered reconstructive surgery, that is a huge part of our identity as women. Our appearance, our self-esteem, and I just want to point out for our viewers that unfortunately, as Dr. Hampton has stated. A lot of times, these disparities are sometimes due to lack of knowledge, so Dr. Hampton mentioned that Black women tend to get breast cancer at a younger age, and you need to know that if you’re seeing a breast surgeon or even an internist or oncologist who is not a person of color or who is not up-to-date on that information, they may not know those statistics, but unfortunately, there also is this bias that you’ve talked about as well, and we know that we all have bias, we are exposed regularly to negative images, negative stereotypes of African Americans, Latino, Native Americans, and doctors are not immune to that bias and we carry those biases into the exam room, and so for people of color with breast cancer, it is particularly important that you follow these recommendations that Dr. Hampton has mentioned, and I just love that really all of them center around advocacy and speaking up for yourself and standing up for yourself. Are there any other things, Dr. Hampton in closing that you can think of specifically for patients of color, things that they can do to really protect themselves from these inequities that exist in breast cancer care. 

 Dr. Regina Hampton: 

I think we have to really start at the beginning and being more proactive about our screening, making sure that we’re getting those mammograms, making sure that when we get a mammogram, we’re asking for the best mammogram if there’s new 3D technology, making sure that you get that so that we can find things at an earlier stage, and I think also we have to call it kind of throw out all the myths. We got to let them go people, we got to let them go. And I know there have been some challenges and we have had some historical issues, I think Dr. Rochester and I both agree and acknowledge that, but at some point, we have to move forward and be more proactive and really knock down some of those barriers and not let some of those old things that happen hold us back from the new technologies that are available. So, I think the good thing, we’re in a day and age where most early-stage cancers are not a death sentence and we find them early, we can treat them early, and I think we have to just talk in our community, I’m always amazed that many Black women still don’t share their stories. 

So, you have women who are in the same circle and don’t realize that the person two seats down went through breast cancer, and you all still go to coffee, and she didn’t share her story. And now you’re facing breast cancer, you’re thinking, “Wow, I’m just alone.” And so, I think we have to really share that, not only in our families, but we’ve got to share it with our sisters, because you never know who you’re going to be helping through that journey. I find it interesting that there’s really a difference between how African American women take a breast cancer diagnosis and white women take a breast cancer diagnosis, and we’re getting ready to really look at this, and I’m really excited about it because I really want to know what is it and why is there such a difference? But I think we have to not hide, we have to really share our stories, and sharing your story is going to help somebody else. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Absolutely, I think part of the hiding and even what you mentioned about the family history not being shared as part of this kind of myth that we have to be strong or that Black women are invincible and that we can’t be vulnerable. And you’re absolutely right, we need to talk about this in our circles, we need to talk about it with our daughters or nieces, all of our family members, so that we’re all educated and empowered.  

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

It’s funny you mentioned that because that’s one of the first things I tell patients to do. I say, “Look, you’ve got to let other people take over, because we’ve got work to do, and kids have got to eat peanut butter and jelly, they’ve just got to eat some peanut butter and jelly, they’ll be all right, but you’ve got to put yourself first.” And I think if we put ourselves first, put our screenings first, we’re good about getting our kids, getting them to their health appointments, we as women have got to get ourselves to our health appointments and put ourselves first, so that we can be there for our families. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

You just reminded me of something we as women, are really good at taking care of our kids and our spouses and other members of our family, but then we do that at the expense of ourselves, and I can say when I used to practice as a pediatrician, we were trained to address postpartum moms, and people realize early on that, hey, okay, they may not have their postpartum visit for six weeks, but they’re taking that baby to the pediatrician in two or three days, and so we would talk with the postpartum moms about screening them for depression and things of that nature, but I never thought about…you literally just gave me this idea that maybe pediatricians should also be checking in with our patients’ moms and asking them about their screening, I don’t know if they would be offended by that, but it truly takes a village, and so maybe we need to be encouraging the parents of our patients and making sure that they’re getting their regular screenings and their health maintenance as well, because you’re right, we will look out for the babies, and we will put ourselves on that back burner every single time. 

How Can I Get the Best Breast Cancer Care No Matter Where I Live?

How Can I Get the Best Breast Cancer Care No Matter Where I Live? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can all breast cancer patients get the best treatment no matter where they live? Watch as experts Dr. Nicole Rochester and Dr. Regina Hampton discuss the importance of being comfortable with your own care. Learn about how to find a comprehensive breast center dedicated to patient-centered care and staying in the know regarding your treatment options.

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Transcript:

Nicole Rochester: 

Hello and welcome. My name is Dr. Nicole Rochester, I’m a pediatrician, health advocate and speaker, and the host for today’s Patient Empowerment Network program. Today we’re gonna be talking about how breast cancer patients can truly get the best care no matter where they live. And what does getting the best breast cancer care no matter where you live actually mean? The answer revolves around awareness, gaining access and connecting to resources at the right time, we are so happy that you have tuned in as we dig deep to understand what the barriers are, get expert advice on how to overcome them and gain clarity on your path to empowerment. Please remember, this program is not a substitute for seeking medical care, so please be sure to connect with your healthcare team on what the best options may be for you. It is my honor and privilege to be joined by Dr. Regina Hampton, Medical Director of the Breast Center at Luminous Health Doctors Community Hospital. 

Dr. Hampton has dedicated her life to helping women fight breast cancer. Thank you for joining us, Dr. Hampton.  

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

Thank you for having me. Looking forward to a great conversation. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

So we’re gonna start by discussing some of the barriers to breast cancer care. Now we know that some barriers to care include things like geographic, distance to services, financial hardships, access to transportation, and more. So my first question for you, Dr. Hampton is, what are the common barriers breast cancer patients and their families face when seeking care, what are the issues that our patients and families are facing? So 

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

I think one of the big issues is having access to a breast center, so a multidisciplinary breast center, and so they tend to be in sort of in larger cities, sort of downtown, and many minority communities in these days can’t afford to live downtown, so they’re living on the outskirts, so they may… While they may have great doctors there, many times those doctors may not be up on the latest and the greatest, they may not have access to clinical trials, and so that really truly is a barrier in that sometimes our minority patients may get sub-optimal care. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

That’s very concerning. I’m glad that you brought that up, that we’re not disparaging the doctors that practice in those settings, but what you said is really important that they may not have access to some of those up-to-date clinical trials and things that we may see an academic centers, so thank you for bringing that to our attention. If we start to talk about treatment access, I want to focus on access to quality treatment, and you just kind of alluded to that, in addition to the geographical barriers, we know that sometimes patients have limited access to quality breast cancer care due to their own gaps in knowledge and studies show that patients who are knowledgeable and engaged in their healthcare received better care, so can you speak to what we have learned specifically if we talk about breast density and the various ways that patients should ask questions to their health care providers, those with dense breast tissue, what are some of the questions that they should be asking and what should patients with increased breast density know?  

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

One of the things I like to start out with letting people know is that breast density is not anything bad. It’s just normal breast tissue and when we’re younger and our breasts are a little more perky and sitting up, we tend to have more density in the breast, which is great, ’cause you’re perky and high, but mammograms are not the best when you have dense breast tissue. As we start to get more seasoned and the breast start to go south, that’s actually when mammograms get better, so it’s really important for patients to look at their report and see what they’re saying about breast density, many times they will recommend that a woman come in for additional imaging, it could be an ultrasound, it could be additional mammograms, so it’s really important that women tune into that, and if they don’t understand, to be able to call the facility and ask questions. And I think the big thing is not to be afraid if they ask you to come back in, what I tell people is, You know what? That just means somebody is looking at your mammogram, and it doesn’t mean that there’s anything bad, it means somebody was looking and saying, We might need to look a little deeper and just make sure there’s not anything going on, so trying to eliminate that fear when they see that word, density. 

And if you get a normal mammogram, but you are feeling something abnormal, you need to ask some more questions and ask for more tests. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Thank you. That’s extremely important. Something that I see in my field is that most patients and family members are operating from obviously a non-medical viewpoint, and sometimes they just don’t even know what questions to ask, how can we empower patients so that they don’t feel limited in their care, and how do we make them aware of the treatment options that are available? 

Dr. Regina Hampton:

So I think the good thing about many breast centers is that they do have what are called navigators, who really sit and hand-hold the patient through the process, and they sit and do one-on-one counseling, they try to find resources to help the patient get through treatment, they hold support groups, they really are a wealth of information and a nice go between between the patient and the physician or the provider. So trying to find a comprehensive breast center where they have a whole program that’s dedicated to patient-centered care, I think is important. It’s also important that patients be empowered to go online, you can find what questions do I ask? Print it out and bring it to your appointment and ask those questions, and it may take a couple of visits to get those questions answered, but I think it’s important to get the questions answered. If you’re with a provider who is feeling like they don’t have time to answer or they’re blowing you off when you’re answering those questions, guess what? You can fire your doctor and go find another doctor and I don’t think we do that enough.  

I get on my patients and say, You know what, you all scrutinize when you go buy shoes, when you go buy that cute dress, when you go buy that new car, but we should scrutinize our providers ’cause they’re taking care of our most precious commodity, and that is our body. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

That is absolutely true. I have fired a couple of doctors in my day, and I recommended that some of my family members fired their doctors as well, so I really appreciate that coming from you, Dr. Hampton. And you touched on a little bit on what I’m gonna ask next, and not really staying on this advocacy piece, we’ve talked about the importance of patients feeling empowered, and you shared a really good tip which I love, which is writing your questions down, it’s something that I frequently recommend to my clients and my friends and family members. Are there some other practices or key steps that patients can take so that they have a proactive approach in their healthcare and that they can feel more confident in voicing some of these concerns when they’re communicating with their healthcare team.  

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

I think it’s important to have a support person. And that could be a family member, it could be a neighbor, it could be your best friend. Doesn’t always have to be family, sometimes it’s better to have somebody who’s not family, ’cause sometimes a family, they get you know they get emotionally involved and we get that, but I think it’s important to have another pair of ears because especially when you get a new diagnosis, you’re not gonna hear everything, and I know patients. The second somebody says, cancer, breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, they just shut down. That’s it. They’re not gonna hear. You could tell them, I have a million dollars for you, they’re not hearing you, they’re not gonna follow the directions to go get that million dollars ’cause they just have shut down, and even at that second visit, they still are just sort of… I call it the whomp, whomp, whomp. They see my mouth moving, but they’re not really hearing the words, but if they have another support person who can be there to record the conversation, who can take notes, even in the era of telemedicine, somebody can dial in to listen. I’ve been doing family meetings and people have been on the West Coast, or somebody couldn’t get off the work, but there was somebody there who could hear that information, I think that’s so important, and especially as we get more seasoned, Mom and Dad, sometimes they are a little in denial on the information that they can take in, but so important to be there in some form, and with telemedicine, it makes it quite easy to get another pair of ears in the room. 

Absolutely, you are speaking my language, Dr. Hampton, I’m telling you, ’cause the other thing that I always recommend is for patients to have a buddy, and like you said, that may be a family member, it may be a best friend, it may be someone in your church, but I think the study say that something somewhere around 30% to 40% is all that we retain when we go to the doctor’s office, and so like you said, especially if you’re getting bad news, a lot of that information goes out of your brain, and so it’s so important to have a back-up person and that person can sit and take notes, and sometimes they can even remind you of some of the questions that you may have had or some of your concerns, I really, really appreciate you bringing that up. 

So, I’m sorry, if I may just add another thing, I think it’s also important to take a deep breath, I find people get a cancer diagnosis and they wanna just rush through everything. Well, in most cases, cancer doesn’t spread that fast, but there are a lot of decisions to make, and you really should take that time to hear all the options, may need to get a second or third opinion so that you really can make good decisions, you can’t make good decisions if you’re fearful, just can’t do it. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

That is so true. Oh, I’m just loving this conversation. Thank you. That is so very important. So we know that all the barriers that we’ve talked about so far can impact or limit treatment options, and sometimes that can lead to additional complications, so we talked about patients should ask questions, and I wholeheartedly support that. As a breast surgeon, can you share with us what are some key questions that patients with breast cancer should be asking their team at the beginning of their diagnosis? 

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

I think it’s important to understand the type of cancer that you have, is it non-invasive, is it invasive, it’s important to know the characteristics of the tumor, is this a hormone-driven tumor, is in a non-hormone-driven tumor or triple negative tumor? And then to ask in each step, with each discipline with surgery, finding out what are the pros and cons of a lumpectomy versus a mastectomy, when you get to the medical oncologist, finding out the pros and cons of chemotherapy versus hormone therapy, or doing both. How is that delivered? How is this gonna affect my daily life? Can I still work if I’m getting chemotherapy? What happens when I get radiation? And what are the options? So I think it’s just really important to, I’d say, go online and find a list of questions or a lot of great organizations out there that have pointed questions that you should ask each step of the way, many times the navigators will give you booklets and things to read that, have questions. And I think don’t be afraid to turn one visit into two or even three visits to make sure that you’re understanding the options. 

I’m always troubled when I see patients who maybe years ago might have had some options, but they just rushed through and decided maybe to do mastectomy and they say, You know what, had I really just stopped and thought about it, I might have made a different decision. So I think it’s very important, and I feel as the provider, the provider really should know how to read the room and really be able to pick up on the fact that you know what, she’s just not here today, and so… I’m gonna stop talking. I’m gonna send her away, let her digest this and we’re gonna come on back so we can have another conversation, and I think as providers, we have to not be afraid, and I know it’s hard ’cause time is tied. And we’re trying to see as many patients, but it’s really important to understand that every patient may need something a little bit different, and really trying to hone in on that, I think is really important as a provider, and making sure that you’re heard because a lot of times I think women of color, men of color as well, are not really heard by the doctor, and many of the doctors come in with their own biases and think, Oh well, she’s young, she’s automatically gonna want a mastectomy or she’s old, we’re gonna go ahead with a mastectomy, well, it’s a matter of really listening to the patient and seeing how you can meet in the middle, and if the patient has to get a treatment that they’re not really keen on getting, but you know it’s the right thing to do. 

Again, it’s just having that conversation and dialogue so that they understand your reasoning. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Thank you. So, Dr. Hampton, it is evident during this interview, and of course, I also know you personally and professionally, and you have certainly built a reputation of being a compassionate provider, clearly you are very committed to communicating with your patients, but the reality is not all of our colleagues are like Dr. Hampton. And so I’m thinking about something you said about really kind of pushing back, so to speak, sometimes we have to push back in a polite way with our health care providers, and you mentioned maybe the woman is being faced or the man with treatment recommendations and maybe they have some concerns about that, and I know that not every patient feels comfortable disagreeing with their doctor or even engaging in a dialogue where they wanna actually have more conversation. So many people, even in 2021, adopt a paternalistic relationship with their doctor where the doctor says, do this, and then they do it. And so is there any advice that you can give our listeners our watchers, for when they’re in that situation with their breast surgeon or their oncologist, and they’re just not feeling comfortable, they don’t feel like all of the treatment options are being presented, are there any tips that you can provide for that? 

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

And in those cases, it’s important to go and get a second opinion, it doesn’t mean that you’re saying that that doctor is not a great doctor, you just may wanna hear the information. It could be the same information, just presented it in a different way. All of us kind of explain things a little bit differently, and so I think getting a second opinion is important, and if your first doctor is offended that you’re getting a second opinion, you should fire that doctor. I tell my patients like, this is not my journey, this is not about me, this is really about you. Where do you wanna go? We will help you get there, we’ll help you get the appointment, ’cause I think it’s important for patients to have that information, so feel empowered and realize you can ask questions of the doctor, we’ve changed medicine and that… It’s a patient-centered approach. It’s not me. The doctor, I know all it’s… you may come in with a new study, let’s talk about it, and if you don’t have a doctor who’s open to hearing that information, then that might not be the doctor for you. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Absolutely love that, absolutely love that. Yes, we have to have that type of relationship with our patients where we’re making joint decisions where the patient and their family members are truly brought in as members of the healthcare team. I really, really appreciate that. I wanna shift to… You mentioned this as well, you alluded to the different care sometimes that patients of color receive, so I wanna shift and talk about racial and ethnic inequities, and unfortunately, we know that with every other illness, unfortunately similarly with breast cancer, there’s a long history of women, particularly in BIPOC communities receiving disparate care, a lot of times they are not offered some of these treatment options, maybe they don’t have access to some of the breast cancer centers that you alluded to the beginning, so can you just share some information about some of the disparities that we see, in breast cancer? And then I’m curious to know how you specifically address them being a black woman breast surgeon 

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

So one of the things to know is that as African-American women, we tend to get breast cancer at younger ages, and not a lot of physicians know and can recognize that, so it is very important that when a young African-American woman has a breast complaint that that’s taken seriously and worked up to make sure that we’re not missing a breast cancer. So I think it’s important again to have those conversations talking about family history, ’cause we don’t talk about family history, in our families. I’ve had a patient just come in and say, Yeah, well, grandma had a breast missing, no no nobody said cancer, well they probably should’ve said cancer, so we’ve gotta have those health conversations in our family, so I think it’s important for patients to really be their advocate because many times these young women are dismissed and thought, Oh, you’re too young, and I’ve even been kind of fooled myself by some of the young women, so knowing that younger women get breast cancer at younger ages, if you think something is going on, you need to really take that seriously. And then I think it’s also talking about the options, we do tend to get a more aggressive form of breast cancer, but the treatments have changed, and while chemotherapy may be indicated for many patients, it’s not for all patients, and so really taking that time to understand what all the options are, well, why are you recommending chemotherapy, what’s gonna be the benefit for me, what’s the survival benefit for me, what are the side effects, how this going to affect my sex life, how is this going to affect me and my relationship with my children, with work?  

So really just asking all of those important questions, I think it’s also important to ask for what you want. I don’t think we speak up enough, there was actually a study that I was looking out that show that we don’t get offered reconstruction as often as our white counterparts. The disparity is about 24% and that’s really huge. That’s important. So we really need to ask those questions and to know, well, maybe I can’t get reconstruction at this juncture, but can I get it in the future, there’s a federal law that covers all of those for all breast cancer patients, no matter what color you are, so again, it’s just asking those questions. Sometimes taking somebody and having somebody else ask the questions can be helpful. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Yeah, making somebody else the bad guys, so to speak. Absolutely, any time I have a conversation about health disparities and health and equities, honestly, I get a little angry inside because for you to share that statistic that we’re not as often offered reconstructive surgery, that is a huge part of our identity as women. Our appearance, our self-esteem, and I just wanna point out for our viewers that unfortunately, as Dr. Hampton has stated. A lot of times, these disparities are sometimes due to lack of knowledge, so Dr. Hampton mentioned that black women tend to get breast cancer at a younger age, and you need to know that if you’re seeing a breast surgeon or even an internist or oncologist who is not a person of color or who is not up-to-date on that information, they may not know those statistics, but unfortunately, there also is this bias that you’ve talked about as well, and we know that we all have bias, we are exposed regularly to negative images, negative stereotypes of African-Americans, Latino, Native Americans, and doctors are not immune to that bias and we carry those biases into the exam room, and so for people of color with breast cancer, it is particularly important that you follow these recommendations that Dr. Hampton has mentioned, and I just love that really all of them center around advocacy and speaking up for yourself and standing up for yourself. Are there any other things, Dr. Hampton in closing that you can think of specifically for patients of color, things that they can do to really protect themselves from these inequities that exist in breast cancer care. 

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

I think we have to really start at the beginning and being more proactive about our screening, making sure that we’re getting those mammograms, making sure that when we get a mammogram, we’re asking for the best mammogram if  there’s new 3D technology, making sure that you get that so that we can find things at an earlier stage, and I think also we have to call it kinda throw out all the myths. We go to let them go people, we got to let them go. And I know there have been some challenges and we have had some historical issues, I think Dr. Rochester and I both agree and acknowledge that, but at some point we have to move forward and be more proactive and really knock down some of those barriers and not let some of those old things that happen hold us back from the new technologies that are available. So I think the good thing, we’re in a day and age where most early stage cancers are not a death sentence and we find them early, we can treat them early, and I think we have to just talk in our community, I’m always amazed that many black women still don’t share their stories. 

So you have women who are in the same circle and don’t realize that the person two seats down went through breast cancer and you all still go to coffee and she didn’t share her story, and now you’re facing breast cancer, you’re thinking, Wow, I’m just alone. And so I think we have to really share that, not only in our families, but we’ve got to share it with our sisters, because you never know who you’re gonna be helping through that journey. I find it interesting that there’s really a difference between how African-American women take a breast cancer diagnosis and white women take a breast cancer diagnosis, and we’re getting ready to really look at this, and I’m really excited about it ’cause I really wanna know what is it and why is there such a difference? But I think we have to not hide, we have to really share our stories and sharing your story is gonna help somebody else. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Absolutely, I think part of the hiding and even what you mentioned about the family history not being shared as part of this kind of myth that we have to be strong or that black women are invincible and that you we can’t be vulnerable. And you’re absolutely right, we need to talk about this in our circles, we need to talk about it with our daughters or nieces, all of our family members, so that we’re all educated and empowered.  

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

It’s funny you mentioned that ’cause that’s one of the first things I tell patients to do. I say, Look, you got to let other people take over, ’cause we got work to do, and kids got to eat peanut butter and jelly, they just got to eat some peanut butter and jelly, they’ll be all right, but you’ve got to put yourself first, and I think if we put ourselves first, put our screenings first, we’re good about getting our kids, getting them to their health appointments, we as women have got to get ourselves to our health appointments and put ourselves first, so that we can be there for our families.  

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

You just reminded me of something we as women, are really good at taking care of our kids and our spouses and other members of our family, but then we do that at the expense of ourselves, and I can say when I used to practice as a pediatrician, we were trained to address postpartum moms, and people realize early on that, Hey, okay, they may not have their postpartum visit for six weeks, but they’re taking that baby to the pediatrician in two or three days, and so we would talk with the postpartum moms about screening them for depression and things of that nature, but I never thought about… You literally just gave me this idea that maybe pediatricians should also be checking in with our patients, moms and asking them about their screening, I don’t know if they would be offended by that, but it truly takes a village, and so maybe we need to be encouraging the parents of our patients and making sure that they’re getting their regular screenings and their health maintenance as well, because you’re right, we will look out for the babies and we will put ourselves on that back burner every single time. 

Dr. Hampton, you mentioned that you in practice have seen differences in the way that your white patients handle their breast cancer diagnosis compared to your black patients, and I was working… If you’d be willing to expand on that just a little bit, what are some of those differences that you’ve seen between those two groups? 

So I noticed that in the white women that I’ve diagnosed, that they just seem to take the diagnosis and are ready to jump on board, ready to move forward with treatment and figuring out what needs to be done. And I’ve found with my African-American women, it just, it takes a little bit longer explaining, trying to get them to understand the how, the why, what we’re getting ready to do, and even with that explanation, there’s still some hesitancy. And so I’m curious to know what is that and why is that? And really hear from the patient’s perspective.  

That’s really interesting because of course, right now in the midst of the pandemic, that just mirrors what we’re seeing with COVID-19 vaccination, and I wonder if what you’re seeing with your African-American patients with breast cancer has to do with mistrust, and what we talked about just related to some of the history regarding the treatment of people of color by the health care system and racism and bias, do you think that there’s a level of mistrust of the healthcare system that may be playing into some of that reluctance that you’re seeing? 

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

Absolutely, absolutely, yes. And I’d just be curious to just hear from that patient perspective, I think a lot of those things, as we saw in the pandemic, we carry those things even though so much has changed from back in the day. So it’s gonna be interesting to hear that from the patient perspective and then to be able to hopefully share that information, and I think it could translate, as you were mentioning in to other areas of health, and see if we could then take that to a broader audience and try and make a difference in these disparities.  

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

That is awesome. Well, this has been an amazing conversation, Dr. Hampton, just to summarize, what you and I have talked about, you talked about the importance of really advocating for yourself, which as a professional health advocate, that just has me bouncing up and down in my seat, but you’ve talked about the importance of being educated and knowledgeable and looking for the information, you mentioned that there are some good resources on the internet where we can actually find questions that we should ask when we go to see our doctor after a breast cancer diagnosis, you’ve talked the importance of making sure that it’s a team effort and that if we are seeing a position who is not centering our concerns and our needs, if we don’t feel like we’re being heard, if we feel like we’re being dismissed or rushed, that we can and should consider either getting a second opinion and or firing that doctor. And getting another doctor all together, which I fully support, we’ve talked about bringing in a buddy, whether that’s your family member, your best friend, your neighbor, someone at your church, but someone that you trust and who can really sit there with you at those medical appointments and be your eyes and ears, we talked about the fact that patients with the new diagnosis of cancer, of course, are overwhelmed, they’re not hearing a lot of the information, so having that buddy to be able to ask questions on your behalf, to be able to take notes on your behalf is extremely important. 

And we also talked about some of the disparities and that unfortunately, women of color, men of color with breast cancer sometimes don’t receive the same care that they maybe do to access issues, but it also may be due to bias among the providers that are treating us or lack of knowledge about the differences and how breast cancer presents in people of color, and again, the importance having that knowledge, the importance of being educated and being empowered to speak up and to ask questions, so I just appreciate all of this advice, I’m sure that those of you watching have gotten so many pearls from Dr. Hampton, so we want to thank you again for tuning in to the Patient Empowerment Network program. Again, I’m Dr. Nicole Rochester, thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Hampton, it was a pleasure, thank you for having this conversation with me today.  

Dr. Regina Hampton: 

Thank you. 

NCCN Guidance on Safety and Effectiveness of COVID-19 Vaccines for Cancer Patients

NCCN Guidance on Safety and Effectiveness of COVID-19 Vaccines for Cancer Patients from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine recommended for people living with cancer? Dr. Erin Roesch shares recommendations from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) for those undergoing cancer treatment, including guidance on mask wearing and advice for family members.

Dr. Erin Roesch is a breast medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Roesch here.


Transcript:

Katherine: 

Many cancer patients have questions about the COVID vaccine. Is it safe? Do we need to continue wearing masks? Here to address these questions is cancer expert, Dr. Erin Roesch. Dr. Roesch, would you introduce yourself?

Dr. Roesch: 

Hello. And thank you for inviting me to participate in this very important conversation. My name is Erin Roesch. I am a breast medical oncologist at Cleveland Clinic.

Katherine: 

Excellent. Thank you so much for joining us today. I’d like to run through a list of concerns that cancer patients have about vaccines in general and the COVID vaccine specifically.

So, let’s start with a basic question. Should people get vaccinated if they have cancer?

Dr. Roesch: 

Yes. All individuals diagnosed with cancer should get the COVID-19 vaccine as recommended by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network or NCCN.

An immunocompromised state makes many people with cancer at higher risk of serious COVID-19 illness. Those who are vaccinated are less likely to become sick with COVID-19. And, also, vaccinated people who do get COVID-19 are much less likely to become seriously ill.

I would also mention that those living in the same household as a person diagnosed with cancer and caregivers or other close contacts should also get vaccinated.

Katherine: 

Another common question is whether people with cancer should wait for any reason to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Roesch: 

Most people with cancer should get the vaccine as soon as they can with a few exceptions according to NCCN.

People in the process of receiving stem cell transplant or cellular therapy should wait at least three months after they finish treatment to get vaccinated.

Those diagnosed with certain forms of leukemia should also wait a few weeks after receiving treatment to allow their immune system to recover so the vaccine can be effective.

It’s not been clearly defined exactly how chemotherapy affects responses to COVID-19 vaccines. But some data suggests that immune responses may not be as robust. However, it is still recommended that those receiving chemotherapy and also immunotherapy and radiation should get vaccinated whenever they can.

Katherine:

I think a lot of people are concerned too about whether one vaccine is better than another. What would you say to them?

Dr. Roesch:

And that is a common question that I often get in my clinic. And I advise my patients to receive or take whatever vaccine they are offered.

We don’t really have any studies or data at this point suggesting one being better than another in cancer patients.

Katherine: 

Some people are wondering if the vaccine can give a person COVID-19. How would you address that?

Dr. Roesch: 

I would say that as none of the currently available vaccines are made with a live virus, the vaccine itself can’t give a person COVID-19. By getting vaccinated, actually, those who are immunocompromised are really helping society to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Immunocompromised people who get COVID-19 may be more likely to infect others due to prolonged shedding of the virus after infection.

Katherine:

What about side effects? Are the vaccine’s side effects worse for people with cancer?

Dr. Roesch:  

No. Side effects do not appear to be worse for those diagnosed with cancer. Results to date suggest that the vaccine’s side effects in people with and without cancer are really no different.

These side effects, as we have seen, may include arm soreness, rash, fatigue, chills, fever, headache, for example.

Katherine: 

And, finally, can cancer patients stop wearing a mask after they’ve been vaccinated?

Dr. Roesch:

Cancer patients should continue to wear a mask post-vaccination. Many people with cancer may have a harder time actually fighting infections and may not respond as well to vaccines. So, people diagnosed with cancer and their close contacts should get vaccinated and then continue to follow precautions, which include wearing masks, social distancing, hand hygiene.

Katherine:

Is there a certain length of time that people need to continue wearing a mask after being vaccinated?

Dr. Roesch:  

At this time, I would recommend patients continue to follow the CDC guidelines that are currently in place. And at this point, I don’t think we have a projected end time for that yet.

Katherine:    

Is there anything else you’d like to share with cancer patients who may be concerned about vaccinations?

Dr. Roesch:    

I would encourage those diagnosed with cancer to not only themselves get vaccinated but to also really voice and stress the importance of vaccination to those that surround them, including, again, members of their household, close contacts, and even beyond their inner circle.

I would also advise people to try and avoid letting the concern of possible side effects related to the shot deter them from getting it. The symptoms of COVID-19 can be much worse and potentially serious for some compared with the relatively minor side effects that we’ve seen with the vaccine itself.

I also would mention I’ve had personal patients that have expressed concern about functioning of their immune system while receiving chemotherapy and how this might affect their response to the vaccine. I do emphasize to them that even though responses might not be as strong as they may be in the absence of active treatment, I feel like the potential benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks in my mind.

Katherine:   

Thanks so much for joining us today, Dr. Roesch.

Dr. Roesch:

Thank you for having me.

Tools for Living with Cancer and COVID-19

Tools for Living with Cancer and COVID-19 from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Breast Cancer Network Manager Mary Leer highlights the importance of a previous interview with Dr. Shaji Kumar focused on COVID-19 and cancer. In the original interview, Empowered Patient and Care Partner Ask the Expert: Addressing COVID-19 Concerns, vaccine concerns are also addressed and key factors are given for cancer patients, survivors, and care partners.  

See More From the Best Care No Matter Where You Live Program


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Transcript:

Mary Leer:

Hello, my name is Mary Leer, and I am the Patient Empowerment Network’s [PEN’s] Network Manager for the Breast Cancer Network.  

 As PEN’s Breast Cancer Network Manager, I was proud to sit down with noted Mayo Clinic expert, Dr. Shaji Kumar. The interview helped me think deeply about my own experience as a cancer survivor and how it relates to my experience living through the pandemic that is still around us all. As cancer patients, we’ve had to live with multiple uncertainties and make decisions that can quite literally and figuratively be painful. We’ve had to make decisions about cancer treatment with our medical team, and we’ve had to deal with the fact that it is in our own best interest to at times take a path that we do not want to take in the name of healing ourselves and living a healthier life. We have learned to live with options and making choices with outcomes that are not certain, our experience and roles as survivors and as caregivers can make it hard sometimes difficult to understand the decisions of others who are hesitant or resistant to getting a vaccine. So I listened and learned from Dr. Kumar discussion about the importance of getting vaccinated to reach a significant percentage of our population. He shows compassion for those whose fear of the pandemic has led them to a decision to turn away from getting vaccinated, perhaps out of fear, distrust of medicine and anger about government impinging on personal rights, or perhaps, of course, their own personal health journey, please implore others to listen to the interviews Jeff and I did with Dr. Kumar. 

Dr. Kumar gave us very clear advice.  He answers many of the questions about COVID-19 that cancer patients, and our community have been asking and frankly worrying about. As you listen to the interviews on PEN’s website, you will hear his voice of reason, make it clear how critical it is for cancer patients, indeed all of us to get vaccinated for the sake of our own and for others’ health. As he states there are uncertainties about aspects of vaccination, such as the strength and length of one’s individual protective immune response, but the bottom line is that cancer patients especially need to be vaccinated to protect their health, even if one is well post-treatment. If still in cancer treatment or if one has had the COVID-19 illness, he told us to discuss the optimum time to get vaccinated with your medical team. He truly gave a clear message that there is solid evidence for the efficacy, safety of approved covid vaccines. Listen carefully and share Dr. Kumar’s interview responses with your cancer community and with your family. His answers address lingering questions my family and I had about COVID and cancer, the bottom line, these interviews with Dr. Kumar are once again, a way of giving us the tools to compassionately help ourselves and others through this COVID-19 health crisis. 

What Are Essential Genetic Tests for Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients?

 

Following a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, what tests are essential? In this podcast, Dr. Lisa Flaum reviews the role of key tests, and the impact of molecular (genetic) test results on treatment decisions.

About the Guest:

Dr. Lisa Flaum is a Medical Oncologist at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

How Has Cancer Research Evolved in Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic?

How Has Cancer Research Evolved in Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What have been some benefits for cancer research during the COVID-19 pandemic? Expert. Dr. Shaji Kumar describes some of the clinical trial changes that have been born from the pandemic to improve access to care and to decrease the risk of infection for cancer patients.

See More From the Best Care No Matter Where You Live Program


Related Programs:


Transcript:

Mary Leer:

Are there any noticeable trends born out of the pandemic that will be or could be a benefit to the future of cancer care or research?

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

That’s a very important question, and I think we always learn from adversity, and I think this is going to be no different. I think, especially when the pandemic hit back in the spring of last year, we all had to think fast on our feet to figure out how best to continue to tell about the best care for the cancer patients without compromising the care in any way. And we knew that bringing the patients back into the clinic at the same rate we did before the pandemic would expose them to significant risk for infection, so how do we continue with treatment? There have been very different things people have tried…one of them is to try and get the medications to patients at home. If they are on IV medications, they can be changed to something that’s comparable that can be given by mouth. We already did that for some patients. For some patients who used to come to the clinic very often, so we figure out is there a way for them to get some of those testing done in a clinic much closer to home, so they can avoid the travel, they can avoid being in a bigger city, they can avoid being in a bigger institution, again, reducing the risk of exposure, and then you look at those numbers and then decide on the next course of treatment. We converted many of the clinic visits to video visits. Nothing is as good as having the patient right in front of you, but this is the best we could do under the circumstances.

And I think that helped. So I think the clinical trials was a big problem because in many of those trials were done in a very rigid fashion with very little variability allowed within the protocols. And everybody loosened from the clinical trial sponsors, the pharmaceutical companies, the institutional review board, the investigators to try and build flexibility into those clinical trial structures to allow patients to continue to be on those trials, So what does that mean for the future? I think the video visits are here to stay, I think we will continue to utilize that and bring patients back to the clinic only when it’s absolutely needed. I think the clinical trials will have in-built flexibility so that patients can enroll on clinical trials remotely, they can potentially be given some of those medications at home, maybe it would be something where we would check into the patients on a regular basis to make sure things are proceeding in the right way. I think there are increasingly technologies that will allow the patients to communicate in real time with the care team and also provide many of the data that we need through iPads or iPhones, Apple watches, whatever we end up using.

So that is that I think that technology will rapidly take off in the next few years. So I think a lot of the care of the patients with cancer in general, and particularly cancer patients, is going to look very different five years from now, because of all these things that we have always thought of and we thought, “Yeah it will take time to implement, it’s difficult.” Now we figure it out in a year. We can do a lot of those things.

Jeff Bushnell:

What’s the final takeaway for the average cancer patient and caregiver, how to get through this? What’s your bottom line for us all?

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

Your cancer treatment comes first, let’s not compromise on it, let us do it as safe as we can by observing all the instructions in terms of social distancing, masking, avoiding gatherings, getting vaccinated, and make sure you keep connected with your care team. You don’t have to be in the clinic to do that. There’s a variety of different tools, I think every hospital has options to either through their medical records to message their care team, or set up video visits and so forth.

So we want to be in a state where it was before the pandemic in terms of your communications, but use the technology, so we can decrease the risk of exposure without compromising the quality of care.

Should Cancer Patients Get COVID-19 Vaccines If They’ve Tested Positive for Antibodies or the Virus?

Should Cancer Patients Get COVID-19 Vaccines If They’ve Tested Positive for Antibodies or the Virus? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What are the recommendations for cancer patients on COVID-19 vaccines if they’ve tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies or the virus? Expert Dr. Shaji Kumar shares current vaccine recommendations for cancer patients.

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Transcript:

Mary Leer:

Here’s a question many cancer patients are unclear about if antibodies are present or if I have tested positive before, “Should I still get the vaccine?”

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

I know the recommendation right now is to go ahead and get the vaccine, partly because we don’t know the natural immunity from the infection, how long does it last. So it seems like the antibodies can start to wane off the infection. And again, we don’t have a lot of data on it, but it looks 3 to 6 months, it might start waning at least to the level that they can detect. Now, whether that is sufficient or even the undetectable levels is protective against a future infection, we don’t know. There have been some reports of people getting a second infection even though they have been infected before again, scattered reports, we don’t know how widespread that phenomenon is going to be, so given all these, I think the current recommendation would be to go ahead and get vaccinated. We generally tell people to wait for two to three months after the infection to go ahead with the vaccination.

Jeff Bushnell:

Is the idea of pre-screening, especially for cancer patients, maybe who may be at risk to see whether they have antibodies be an effective thing to decide which vaccine they should get? What are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

You look at the Moderna and the Pfizer trials, and they said, now over 90 percent effective. Look at the AstraZeneca trials, you know, it’s like they recorded 70 to 80, 85 percent, and the J&J about 80 to 90 percent effective. Do these numbers mean much? It’s really hard to know, I think, partly because they have been tested in, again, different countries, different times, as the virus was continually changing its characteristics. So one could argue that maybe the vaccines that were tested later on when this will be some of the mutants were already there might be more effective, but we don’t know.

I think at the end of the day, 80 versus 90 is not something we would decide a vaccine on. The fact that, yes, if something was only 10 percent effective versus 90 percent, it’s a probably different story. So based on the numbers we have seen, I would say whatever you can get to first, if you don’t want to get jabbed twice, maybe you go with something that goes, it’s only one dose, but that may be the only distinguishing factor here, but nevertheless, I think we have to just get the vaccination, the first vaccine that we can get our hands on.

How Can People Help Achieve COVID-19 Herd Immunity?

How Can People Help Achieve COVID-19 Herd Immunity? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

How can community members help work toward COVID-19 herd immunity? Expert Dr. Shaji Kumar explains why some are hesitant to get COVID-19 vaccines and ways that members in the community can educate others about COVID-19 infection and how vaccine access can be increased in remote areas.

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Transcript:

Jeff Bushnell:

Vaccine hesitancy has really become sort of the issue to the potential of achieving herd immunity, but the average person, how can we help overcome hesitancy and increase the people’s trust in the vaccine, and also increase the equitable distribution amongst all populations? Problems for being able to get it. What can we do to sort of push ourselves over the hill to get to that herd immunity?

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

You bring up a very important point, and I hope we are in a much better place than many parts of the world right now because we have one of the few countries where a significant proportion of the people have been vaccinated, but we are not quite at the point where we can claim herd immunity, I think we still need to continue to pursue this, and I think the ideal goal is to get everyone who’s eligible to get a vaccine vaccinated. Now, you bring up some of the very important points, because even though vaccine hesitancy is a real problem, the underlying reason behind this is manifold, and the only way to tackle that is we have a multi-front approach that will take into account what is the reason behind it.

So for the people where it’s hard to get to populations which can live in far from the areas, it may be more the ability to use those vaccines, which does need the complicated storage, for example, the J&J vaccine. You only need one dose. It’s easy to store. So that may be one of the approaches to be taken. And people who believe that this is a vaccine is going to create side effects, or it’s part of some grand scheme to introduce a variety of things. I think it’s a person of education, and I think they really need to tell them what can happen with, not really just to them, but the fact that if you continue to allow these infections to proceed on stuff, there are going to be increasing numbers of mutations, and that in turn is going to make the pandemic much more difficult to control in the long run. So it’s totally an individual benefit, but it’s on to the society’s benefit to have everyone be vaccinated. And then definitely, I think knowing that should anything unto it happen, there’s going to be medical care that’s going to be available to these individuals, and I think that’s also an important point, so who are near and dear to them is going to be the key thing

What Information Is There for Those Hesitant About COVID-19 Vaccines?

What Information Is There for Those Hesitant About COVID-19 Vaccines? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

For those cancer patients who have COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, what information is there about vaccine development? Expert Dr. Shaji Kumar shares details about development and clinical trials of the COVID-19 vaccines – and the reasons why testing could be carried out at a rapid rate compared to other vaccines.

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Transcript:

Mary Leer:

Can you speak to those who might be hesitant about the speed of vaccine development around COVID. I’ve heard this often from other people saying, “Well, they develop this so quickly, how can we trust it?”

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

I think those concerns are quite valid, I think vaccines have always been a very controversial topic and not just COVID vaccination but even for childhood vaccinations. There have been long-standing concerns that some of those vaccinations may be responsible for some of the issues that we see in the children and even in the late adulthood. I think what we really want to get across is, again, taking that question apart, and there are multiple different aspects to it, one is the whole concept of how we created the vaccine so quickly, we kept telling everyone from the time that it started that it takes five to 10 years to develop a good vaccine, and now we have something in a year, so obviously that raises concerns amongst people. I think it’s just a testament to how far technology has come. In the past, we had to isolate the protein and use that protein to develop the immune response, and what has been really unique about the COVID situation has been the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine, both of which uses a new technology called the mRNA-based technology. And this is something that has been developed over the past decade to decade-and-a-half, and I would say this is a platform that was perfect, just waiting for the right opportunity to come along.

And the COVID situation really presented that. And even though it was the speed with which this was developed, is just because the technology has come along so much and we can actually do that, and the second is how fast the clinical trials have been done, and I think that speaks to, again, the infrastructure that they have been developed over the years to rapidly develop and implement a clinical trial. So the clinical trials, both Pfizer and Moderna trials had 40 to 50,000 people enrolled in a quick phase and the community transmission that was happening at a very high rate. We could get these trials done in a very rapid manner, so the patients or the people who enrolled in this clinical trial the fact that they were not getting infected could be determined in a much, much faster fashion than what you would have done in the past with any of the other vaccines. So I think the technology is robust. The [COVID] trials are very well-conducted and the end point in terms of efficacy has been very well-determined or very accurately determined. And given the size of these trials and the number of people who have been a goal, I think we can feel fairly confident that the risk associated with this vaccine is pretty low, so you can argue that one of the risk of a particular side effect is only 1 in 80,000. So maybe to the 40,000 people enroll in the trial, they may not have adequate numbers of that and that was certainly a concern when they started vaccinating. And we just know a couple of days ago, there was a publication that looked at almost like 63 million vaccine doses that have been given, and overall the risk of vaccine related side effects have been very, very minimal.

But on the other hand, we all heard about what would happen with some of those vaccines and the blood clots, and I think that even though…yes, it is, as it is a risk. It is a very, very small risk. And the fact that you were able to identify them right away again, I think tells us that should there be rare side effects, you’re going to find it, and we are going to figure out the mechanics of why those side effects happen. And we’re going to figure out how to avoid those things.

So, I think the information flow is so fast and all the data related to vaccines and the side effects are being captured in a real-time fashion that you’d immediately be aware of side effects should that happen.