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.

What You Need to Know Before Choosing a Cancer Treatment

What You Need to Know Before Choosing a Cancer Treatment from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

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What steps could help you and your doctor decide on the best treatment path for your specific cancer? This animated video explains how identification of unique features of a specific cancer through biomarker testing could impact prognosis, treatment decisions and enable patients to get the best, most personalized cancer care.


If you are viewing this from outside of the US, please be aware that availability of personalized care and therapy may differ in each country. Please consult with your local healthcare provider for more information.


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TRANSCRIPT:

Dr. Jones:

Hi! I’m Dr. Jones and I’m an oncologist and researcher. I specialize in the care and treatment of patients with cancer. 

Today we’re going to talk about the steps to accessing personalized care and the best therapy for YOUR specific cancer. And that begins with something called biomarker testing.

Before we start, I want to remind you that this video is intended to help educate cancer patients and their loved ones and shouldn’t be a replacement for advice from your doctor.

Let’s start with the basics–just like no two fingerprints are exactly alike, no two patients’ cancers are exactly the same. For instance, let’s meet Louis and another patient of mine, Ben. They both have the same type of cancer and were diagnosed around the same time–but when looked at up close, their cancers look very different.  And, therefore, should be treated differently.

We can look more closely at the cancer type using biomarker testing, which checks for specific gene mutations, proteins, chromosomal abnormalities and/or other molecular changes that are unique to an individual’s disease.

Sometimes called molecular testing or genomic testing, biomarker testing can be administered in a number of ways, such as via a blood test or biopsy. The way testing is administered will depend on YOUR specific situation.

The results could help your healthcare team understand how your cancer may behave and to help plan treatment. And, it may indicate whether targeted therapy might be right for you. When deciding whether biomarker testing is necessary, your doctor will also take into consideration the stage of your cancer at diagnosis.

Louis:

Right! My biomarker testing results showed that I had a specific gene mutation and that my cancer may respond well to targeted therapy.

Dr. Jones, Can you explain how targeted therapy is different than chemo?

Dr. Jones:

Great question! Over the past several years, research has advanced quickly in developing targeted therapies, which has led to more effective options and better outcomes for patients.

Chemotherapy is still an important tool for cancer treatment, and it works by affecting a cancer cell’s ability to divide and grow. And, since cancer cells typically grow faster than normal cells, chemotherapy is more likely to kill cancer cells.

Targeted therapy, on the other hand, works by blocking specific mutations and preventing cancer cells from growing and dividing.

These newer therapies are currently being used to treat many blood cancers as well as solid tumor cancers.  As you consider treatments, it’s important to have all of the information about your diagnosis, including biomarker testing results, so that you can discuss your treatment options and goals WITH your healthcare team.

Louis:

Exactly–Dr. Jones made me feel that I had a voice in my treatment decision. We discussed things like potential side effects, what the course of treatment looks like and how it may affect my lifestyle.

When meeting with your healthcare team, insist that all of your questions are answered. Remember, this is YOUR life and it’s important that you feel comfortable and included when making care decisions. 

Dr. Jones:

And, if you don’t feel your voice is being heard, it may be time to consider a second—or third—opinion from a doctor who specializes in the type of cancer you have. 

So how can you use this information to access personalized treatment?

First, remember, no two cancers are the same. What might be right for someone else’s cancer may not work for you.

Next! Be sure to ask if biomarker testing is appropriate for your diagnosis. Then, discuss all test results with your provider before making a treatment decision. And ask whether testing will need to be repeated over time to identify additional biomarkers.

Your treatment choice should be a shared decision with your healthcare team. Discuss what your options and treatment goals are with your doctor.

And, last, but not least, it’s important to inquire about whether a targeted therapy, or a clinical trial, might be appropriate for you. Clinical trials may provide access to promising new treatments.

Louis:

All great points, Dr. Jones! We hope you can put this information to work for you. Visit powerfulpatients.org to learn more tips for advocating for yourself.

Dr. Jones:

Thanks for joining us today. 


This program is supported by Blueprint Medicines, and through generous donations from people like you.

What Factors Help Guide Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decisions?

What Factors Help Guide Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decisions? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What treatment is best for your metastatic breast cancer? Dr. Halle Moore of Cleveland Clinic reviews important considerations when choosing a therapy, including the role of molecular testing.

Dr. Halle Moore is Director of Medical Breast Oncology at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Moore, here.

See More From Engage Breast Cancer

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Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decisions: Which Path is Best for You?


Transcript

Dr. Halle Moore:

For patients with advanced breast cancer, some of the major factors that affect our treatment decisions are first the receptor results. This includes the ER and PR, which are the hormone receptors, as well as HER2. These receptors really guide the initial treatment options.

In addition, the patient’s overall health status is an important factor in treatment decisions. And then the prior treatment history, what the patient has previously received, either in an earlier stage of disease or previously for their advanced cancer.

Molecular testing for metastatic breast has gone from something that was primarily used only in the research setting to something that is now quite valuable in making treatment decisions every day in the clinic.

The results of molecular testing may indicate whether our patients are eligible to receive certain treatments, such as immunotherapy or certain targeted cancer treatments. We also have an increasing number of clinical trials that are testing treatments targeted to the molecular drivers of an individual’s cancer.

I would say one of the most interesting new approaches in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer is the use of antibody drug conjugates. These combine an antibody against a target that’s likely to be present on cancer cells more so than on normal cells in the body.

And, typically, a very potent chemotherapy drug is combined with the antibody. The antibody then allows for delivery of a high concentration of this chemotherapy drug preferentially to the cancer cells allowing for very effective treatment of the cancer while limiting toxicity from the treatment to the rest of the body.

COVID-19 Vaccination: What Do Breast Cancer Patients Need to Know?

COVID-19 Vaccination: What Do Breast Cancer Patients Need to Know? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is it safe to get the COVID-19 vaccine if you have breast cancer? Dr. Halle Moore of Cleveland Clinic provides valuable insight, including a discussion of side effects and the importance of staying up-to-date with visits and screenings.

Dr. Halle Moore is Director of Medical Breast Oncology at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Moore, here.

See More From Engage Breast Cancer

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Are You Prepared for Your Breast Cancer Appointment? Expert Tips.


Transcript

Dr. Halle Moore:

For most adults with cancer or with a history of cancer, vaccination against COVID-19 with one of the newly approved vaccines is definitely recommended.

Common side effects after the COVID vaccinations are a sore arm, which is probably one of the most common side effects that we see. Fatigue and muscle aches can occur. Also, some patients will experience fever and chills, and that seems to be especially after the second dose of the vaccine. Rarely, severe allergic reactions can occur. And also, some people will experience enlargement of lymph nodes, typically in the underarm area or in the neck on the side of the vaccination.

This is particularly important for cancer patients to be aware of since enlarged lymph nodes could also be seen with cancer, and that might be alarming to some patients if they experience this side effect without knowing that that is a normal immune response to the vaccine.

In addition, cancer patients who are getting imaging, either a CAT scan or even a routine mammogram, if they get that imaging soon after the vaccine, the lymph nodes could be seen on imaging, and that might raise a concern as well. So, it’s important that patients let their provider know if they’ve had a recent vaccine and they’re getting any kind of imaging or mammogram.

So, breast cancer patients who are on chemotherapy or other treatments that could affect the immune system should definitely discuss with their oncology team the timing of vaccination with respect to their treatments.

This often needs to be individualized based on the planned duration of the cancer treatment as well as how much that treatment actually affects the immune system. In general, it is safe to get the vaccine during chemotherapy. It’s just that there may be a potential for reduced immune response during certain types of chemotherapy.

On the other hand, some chemotherapies are given more long term. And we don’t generally advise interrupting the chemotherapy for vaccination. So, oftentimes, we will recommend vaccination even in the setting of cancer treatment. Certainly, anti-estrogen treatments, hormonal treatments for breast cancer, or radiation treatment for the breast cancer should not alter either the safety or the effectiveness of these vaccines.

So, some of the ingredients in the various vaccinations that have led to these allergic reactions that we’ve heard about are also present in certain chemotherapy drugs. So, for people who have had a life-threatening reaction to chemotherapy, for instance, an anaphylactic reaction, it would be a good idea to discuss with your oncologist whether you should see an allergist prior to vaccination. This is something that we’re recommending for patients who’ve had severe allergic reactions to try to determine what component the reaction was to and whether vaccination with any of the individual vaccines might be safest.

Delaying care for non-COVID-related health concerns has been a major concern over the past year. It’s important for people to know that hospitals and medical clinics have numerous safety precautions in place. And we are really strongly encouraging everyone to continue to address all of their healthcare needs and to receive important treatments, particularly cancer treatments.

Metastatic BC Research: How Can You Advocate for the Latest Treatment?

Metastatic BC Research: How Can You Advocate for the Latest Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What do metastatic breast cancer patients need to know about the latest research news? Dr. Megan Kruse shares highlights from the 2020 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS), along with her advice for advocating for the right testing to help guide treatment options.

Dr. Megan Kruse is a Breast Medical Oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. More about this expert here.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

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What Could Advances in Breast Cancer Research Mean for You?

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Factors That Guide a Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decision

 


Transcript:

Dr. Kruse:                   

At this year’s San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, there were a few interesting presentations about the treatment of first-line metastatic triple-negative breast cancer that I think patients should be aware of.

Two of the presentations centered around trials that were presented in the past. Those reporting, patients reported outcomes from the IMpassion 130 study, which looked at chemotherapy for metastatic triple-negative disease plus the immunotherapy atezolizumab. And then, there was also an update on the results from the KEYNOTE-355 study, which was a study again of chemotherapy for metastatic triple-negative patients in combination with pembrolizumab, a different immunotherapy. And both of these studies showed that there was benefit for women in certain sub-groups of triple-negative breast cancer when looking at addition of immunotherapy.

And so, what I’d like to draw patients’ attention to with these presentations is that you have to be aware of if you fall into one of these categories so you know if you’re a candidate for the particular type of immunotherapy that can be added to chemotherapy. There are two different ways to test for if a patient is a candidate for immunotherapy and they are both tests that can be done on biopsies of metastatic or cancer recurrent sites in the body.

They can also be sent off of original breast cancer tumors. And what we now know is that for patients who do not have markers that suggest immune activation or where the immune system would be responsive to immunotherapy the addition of that extra therapy really does not help to improve cancer control over chemotherapy alone. And I think that’s a really important topic because everyone is very interested in immunotherapy, but it does have side effects of its own and it can actually be lasting side effects in terms of inflammation in organs like the liver, the colon, and the lungs.

And then, the third presentation that I’d like to bring up is the IPATunity study, which looked at the addition of a targeted therapy called ipatasertib to, again, chemotherapy for the first treatment of metastatic triple-negative disease.

And so, this is getting into an area of targeted therapy for metastatic triple-negative disease. And again, only looks at patients that have a particular marker that suggests sensitivity to this drug. And those are certain genetic markers, predominately changes in a DNA marker called PIK3CA. In this study, we actually found that there was no benefit for the targeted therapy added to chemotherapy for patients that had that genetic mutation, which was different than what was seen in earlier studies of the same combination. So, I think there’s more work to be done and it’s probably too early to say that this targeted therapy will not be used in treatment of metastatic breast cancer.

But what all of these research studies show together is that metastatic triple-negative cancer is not really just one disease. It’s very clear that within that one name, there are multiple different patient types and tumor types that need to be cared for differently.

And so, again, I think the theme from these abstracts and these research presentations is that we have to look into the right therapy for the right patient at the right time, which largely involved DNA-based testing.

So, when patients are thinking about their treatment options and how to best help with their providers about what treatment options exist for them, I think it’s important to recognize the type of testing that may be advantageous in your cancer type.

And so, for all metastatic breast cancer patients, we really recommend that they’ve had genetic testing to look for DNA changes like BRCA mutations that will lead to treatment options. For metastatic triple-negative disease, it’s important to make sure that you’re providers are testing for PDL1, which would make you a candidate for immunotherapy. And then, the more we learn about clinical trials, the more we have options for patients that have had drug-based DNA or genome-based testing. So, that’s an important term for patients to become familiar with is genomic testing.

And I think when you bring that up with your providers, they’ll know what you’re talking about and they’ll know that what you’re potentially interested in is new targeted therapy for the cancer that may either come in combination with chemotherapy or as a standalone treatment option. If you don’t have those options that are available, and FDA approved basis for regular routine patient care, there is always the option of clinical trials.

And so, if that is something that you’re interested in, genomic testing will often open the way. So, I think as you’re writing notes when you’re talking to your providers, you might wanna jot down whether or not you’ve had genetic testing and whether or not you’ve had genomic testing in the past, as both of those things will help potentially address all of your treatment options.

I’ve very hopeful about the research that is going to lead to new developments for breast cancer treatment in the next few years.

I think what we’ve seen both at this San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium as well as other conferences in the recent past has been a lot of focus on finding the right treatment for the right patient at the right time. And so, patients seem to be very interested in finding out this information. They often come to clinic armed with the most recent data, which allows their providers to have really informed discussions about what the best treatment might be. And to talk about if the new treatments are not great right now, what treatments might look like in the future.

I think the other thing that’s encouraging about the research that we’ve seen presented at this conference is that some of these trials are very, very large. For example, the RxPONDER trial was a trial of over 9,000 patients. And I really think that’s amazing to get that many patients interested in research that may not directly impact their patient care but will impact the care of others moving forward.

It’s just a sign that our breast cancer patients are empowered, and they want to make a difference in the scientific community as a whole.

 

Breast Cancer Research News: SABCS Conference Highlights

Breast Cancer Research News: SABCS Conference Highlights from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Expert Dr. Megan Kruse shares highlights from the 2020 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS). Dr. Kruse provides an overview of what this news means for early stage breast cancer patients, along with her optimism about the future of breast cancer research and treatment.

Dr. Megan Kruse is a Breast Medical Oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. More about this expert here.

See More From The Pro-Active Breast Cancer Patient Toolkit

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Transcript:

Dr. Kruse:                   

The San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium is a national meeting with international presence that combines all of the latest data from research on breast cancer topics. It involves clinical research, basic science research, a lot of patient, and patient advocate support.

And the idea here is to bring together all the different disciplines that are involved in breast cancer patient care and do the best information and knowledge sharing that we can each year.

This year’s San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium brought us a lot of interesting research focusing on early-stage breast cancer patients. I think the most important presentations that were given had to do with the treatment of high-risk lymph node-positive hormone receptor-positive breast cancer patients. And these were really across three abstracts. The first abstract of interest was the Monarch E study, which looked at high-risk women with hormone receptor-positive HER2-negative breast cancer and optimizing their medical therapy.

So, these patients are typically treated with anti-estrogen therapy and the idea of the research that was presented was if the addition of a targeted medication called abemaciclib or Verzenio could help to improve outcomes for women in this population. And what the trial found was that for women who took their anti-estrogen therapy for the usual length of time but added the abemaciclib for the first two years of that anti-estrogen therapy that there is actually an improvement in cancer-free survival time or an improvement in cure rates. And this was important because these women may not benefit from chemotherapy, as we’ll talk about in another abstract.

An addition research presentation that was given that goes alongside of the monarch E study was that of the Penelope B study. And the Penelope B took a similar population to what was studied in Monarch E. So, again high-risk women with lymph node-positive, hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer; however, in Penelope B, all of these patients had received pre-surgery chemotherapy.

And in order to qualify for the trial, the patients had to have some cancer that remained in the breast or the lymph nodes that was taken out at the time of their surgery. So, these are patients clearly in which chemotherapy did not do the whole job in terms of getting rid of the cancer. And again, the idea here was to add a second targeted therapy to the endocrine therapy to see if that would improve cancer-free time for patients in this population. The difference in this study was that the partner targeted therapy that was used was a drug called palbociclib or Ibrance.

And the drug was actually only used for one year in combination with endocrine therapy rather than two years as was used in the Monarch E study with abemaciclib. Interestingly enough, the Penelope B study was a negative study, meaning that it did not improve the cancer-free survival time for women who took the endocrine therapy plus targeted therapy compared to women who took the endocrine therapy alone.

So, I think that these are two interesting studies that one should look at together. And clearly, may impact what we do for the treatment of high-risk hormone receptor-positive women moving forward. The third abstract that I’d like to touch on that I think was important for women with early-stage breast cancer is the RxPONDER study, also known as SWOG 1007. And this study again was looking at lymph node-positive, hormone receptor-positive HER2-negative breast cancer patients and seeing if the addition of chemotherapy helped to improve their cancer-free survival compared to anti-estrogen therapy alone.

And so, in this study, while the study population was all women with early-stage breast cancer, meeting the one to three lymph node-positive criteria, you really have to break the results down into the results for pre-menopausal women and the results for post-menopausal women.

Because overall the study really showed no significant benefit to chemotherapy on top of endocrine therapy for women in this population; however, we did see that there was a clear benefit for women who were pre-menopausal. So, the women who had no benefit from chemotherapy were largely those who were post-menopausal, while those who were pre-menopausal derived extra benefit from chemo on top of anti-estrogen therapy. And that benefit depended on what the Oncotype recurrent score was.

With women that had the lowest of the recurrent scores having a chemo benefit of about three percent going up to over five percent for women who had Oncotype recurrent scores in the mid-teens to 25 range. In both of these groups, women who had Oncotype scores of 26 or above would have chemotherapy as per our standard of care.

So, I think that this abstract is important because in the past women who had lymph node-positive breast cancer generally received chemotherapy no matter what. More recently we’ve understood that not all of these cancers are created equal and that some cancers may not actually have benefit from chemotherapy in terms of improving cure rate. So, this study is a big step forward to help individualize and specify the treatment for women with lymph node-positive, hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative early breast cancer.

I’ve very hopeful about the research that is going to lead to new developments for breast cancer treatment in the next few years.

I think what we’ve seen both at this San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium as well as other conferences in the recent past has been a lot of focus on finding the right treatment for the right patient at the right time. And so, patients seem to be very interested in finding out this information. They often come to clinic armed with the most recent data, which allows their providers to have really informed discussions about what the best treatment might be. And to talk about if the new treatments are not great right now, what treatments might look like in the future.

I think the other thing that’s encouraging about the research that we’ve seen presented at this conference is that some of these trials are very, very large. For example, the RxPONDER trial was a trial of over 9,000 patients. And I really think that’s amazing to get that many patients interested in research that may not directly impact their patient care but will impact the care of others moving forward.                                   

It’s just a sign that our breast cancer patients are empowered, and they want to make a difference in the scientific community as a whole.

 

How Can You Advocate for the Best Breast Cancer Care?

How Can You Advocate for the Best Breast Cancer Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Breast cancer expert Dr. Julie Gralow explains how you can advocate for the best metastatic breast cancer care, through speaking up, utilizing care team members and taking key steps to achieving better care.

Dr. Julie Gralow is the Jill Bennett Endowed Professor of Breast Medical Oncology at the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. More about this expert here.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer


Related Resources:

How Genetic Mutations Affect Metastatic Breast Cancer Disease Progression and Prognosis

Factors That Guide a Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decision

What Could Metastatic Breast Cancer Genetic Testing Advances Mean for You?


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

For patients who may be hesitant to speak out for themselves and advocate for their own care and treatment, what advice do you have?

Dr. Gralow:                

You have a whole team who’s behind you, and I’m the MD on the team, but I’ve got a nurse practitioner, and a nurse, and a scheduler, and a social worker, and a nutritionist, and a physical therapy team, and financial counselors. I’ve got a whole team who works with me. And so, a patient might be hesitant to speak up during the actual appointment with their physician. It’s a short amount of time. I would recommend come into it with written-down questions because things go fast. You don’t get a lot of time with your doctor.

Things go fast, but don’t come in with 25 questions, either. Pick your top few that you want to get taken care of this visit because if you come in with 25 or 30, you’re going to lose the answers to most of them. Maybe bring somebody with you who’s an advocate and a listener for you who could be taking notes, so you can process and you don’t have to write it down, or ask if you can record it. It’s really important if you’re newly diagnosed or maybe there’s a progression and you’re going on a new treatment. That’s okay too.

But, I would also say you have a whole team behind you, so sometimes, if you don’t have time or if you’re hesitant to speak up in your doctor’s visit, you can ask the nurse, or maybe you can ask the social worker for help, even. See if there’s support groups around.

Interestingly, we’ve got a peer-to-peer network where patients can request to talk to somebody else who’s matched to them by some tumor features, and their stage, and things like that. Maybe finding somebody else who’s gone through something similar, and somebody independent to talk to instead of relying on your family.

It can also be really helpful to talk to a therapist or a psychologist about your fears, and sometimes, you want to be strong for your family, strong for your children and all, but you need a safe space with somebody that you can just express your fears and your anger if that’s what’s going on, or your depression or anxiety to while you’re trying to hold a strong face for others in your family. So, I would encourage patients to look at who is the whole team and talk to the other members of the team as well, and sometimes, they can help advocate.

Also, find somebody who might be able to come to your appointments with you, somebody who will help you advocate or remind you – “Didn’t you want to ask this question?” – or be another set of ears that you can process it with afterwards.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Gralow, we’ve covered a lot of useful information today for patients. Thank you so much for joining us.

Dr. Gralow:                 

Thank you, Katherine.

Katherine:                  

And, thank you to all of our partners. To learn more about breast cancer and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell.

How Can Breast Cancer Genetic Testing Empower Women?

How Can Breast Cancer Genetic Testing Empower Women? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Stephanie Valente explains how breast cancer genetic testing results can help women learn about their breast cancer risk and guide prognosis and treatment choices.

Dr. Stephanie Valente is the Director of the Breast Surgery Fellowship Program at Cleveland Clinic. More about this expert here.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

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Transcript:

Dr. Valente:                

So, genetic testing in this day and age is really empowering to a lot of women. So, it allows women to take control of their health from the beginning. So, if somebody has a strong family history of breast cancer, and that woman doesn’t have breast cancer but wants to know if she’s at an increased genetic risk for developing breast cancer in her lifetime – Knowing that risk and if a gene is identified, that woman could undergo high-risk screening.

So, saying if she develops breast cancer, it would be caught early, and she can go into a high-risk program. Or she can elect to prophylactically – meaning before cancer – remove her breasts. That would be both of the breasts with a mastectomy – Again, with or without reconstruction. And so, that decreases the risk.

Nothing in life is 100%. But it essentially decreases the risk of getting breast cancer. Some of the genes, like the BRCA gene – that’s a very common gene – is a 60% to 80% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. And so, that would take that lifetime risk down to about 5% risk of developing breast cancer. And so, that’s empowering for a lot of women. And so, some women do elect to have that procedure.

The other thing for genetic testing is that for women who are diagnosed with breast cancer, sometimes the triple-negative breast cancer – finding out whether or not they carry a BRCA gene. We know that certain genes in triple-negative breast cancer allow patients to have better treatment outcomes with certain chemotherapy. So, the medical oncologist may opt to add a specific chemotherapy based on whether or not that patient actually carries a genetic mutation.

What Should You Know About the Role of Surgery in Breast Cancer Treatment?

What Should You Know About the Role of Surgery in Breast Cancer Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Stephanie Valente explains how surgery approaches, including mastectomy and lumpectomy, are used in treating breast cancer, and addresses common misconceptions about mastectomy.

Dr. Stephanie Valente is the Director of the Breast Surgery Fellowship Program at Cleveland Clinic. More about this expert here.

See More From The Pro-Active Breast Cancer Patient Toolkit

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Transcript:

Dr. Valente:            

So, breast cancer patients have the option to remove their whole breast, which is called a mastectomy. And if they pick that option, they could choose to have reconstruction or to essentially go flat. Yes, we have even done reconstruction in metastatic breast cancer patients. Metastatic breast cancer patients live for a really long time, so giving them reconstruction to make them feel whole and kind of put them back together after a mastectomy is definitely a good option.        

The other option is to just remove the cancer. So, if the patient has a small breast cancer, and it’s metastatic, we can just say – Hey, you don’t have to have the whole breast removed. So, we can do a lumpectomy, as well.

So, a lumpectomy is essentially a surgery that removes the cancer with a normal rim of tissue around it. We also call it a partial mastectomy, meaning you’re removing just part of the breast. Or it’s also called breast-conserving surgery. So, it’s any method that removes that cancer with a normal rim of healthy tissue around it but allows the woman to keep her breasts.

So, when it comes to surgical choices and a cancer coming back, some women think that if they pick the most advanced surgery, such as a mastectomy, it helps prevent cancer from going somewhere else in the body. And that’s actually not true. Removing both breasts, doesn’t make you live one day longer. At that point, a mastectomy or a lumpectomy is a choice.

And prognosis – meaning whether or not the cancer’s gonna show up somewhere in the body – is based really on two things – the stage at which the breast cancer presents itself and what type of breast cancer it is – meaning is the cancer outside of the lymph nodes? How large is it? And if it’s a triple negative or some other type of breast cancer? Those determine the higher likelihood that somebody could develop metastatic breast cancer later in their life, even though small, early-stage breast cancers, unfortunately, can also develop metastasis later on in life.

But women sometimes think that if they pick the most aggressive surgery, it’s helping prevent metastatic spread later on in life. And that’s actually not the choice.  Breast cancer surgery is the option that women choose to surgically remove their breast cancer. But again, choosing a mastectomy or a lumpectomy for an early-stage breast cancer is a choice of how they wanna remove the breast cancer. But it doesn’t improve the chances that they won’t have metastatic spread later on.

So, the role of surgery for metastatic breast cancer is mainly for what we call to remove the cancer or sometimes for local control. So, the number one treatment if somebody is diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer is systemic therapy. That might be chemotherapy or endocrine therapy. But it’s really to get the metastatic disease under control.

So, where does breast cancer usually go? Bones, liver, lungs, brain. So, surgery to remove the breast or the breast cancer in the breast doesn’t really take care of those problems. But a lot of times for metastatic cancer, the one reason would be for local control. So, if the cancer is causing issues in the breast – swelling, coming out of the skin – where it’s a wound issue, then we’ll remove that to get better control of the area in the breast.

The other reason is if somebody has metastatic cancer, and their cancer in the other area of their body is controlled with the therapy, then we say – Hey, chemo’s working, or the systemic therapy’s working. The only thing that seems to be left is the area in your breast. Then for a conversation with medical oncology, we say you don’t have to come off your medications. This is a good time to remove the breast cancer to control that problem.

Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment and Research News

Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment and Research News from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

As metastatic breast cancer testing approaches continue to expand, new and promising treatments have emerged. Dr. Lisa Flaum shares information on recently approved treatment options and the role of genetic markers in accessing targeted therapy. 

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

See More From The Pro-Active Breast Cancer Patient Toolkit

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Transcript:

Dr. Flaum:                  

There are a lot of new and promising treatments for metastatic breast cancer. So, the treatments in general and the novel treatments and studies really vary based on the subset of metastatic breast cancer. So, when we’re making our treatment decisions, a lot of it is defined by those markers. So, if someone has a tumor that is hormone receptor, estrogen and progesterone receptor positive, and HER2-negative, the mainstay of treatment is typically drugs that target estrogen and often partnering drugs that target estrogen with other more novel or newer treatments.

So, just in the last five plus years, there have been a number of new drugs and even new drug categories that we didn’t have previously. So, for that population of the estrogen receptor positive tumors, the biggest breakthrough over the last number of years has been a class of drugs called CDK4/6 inhibitors. So, that includes drugs like Ibrance, Kisqali, Verzenio. And they’ve emerged as a very important and effective and often a recommendation for our first-line treatment for these patients combined with anti-estrogen therapies that have vastly improved outcomes for patients. So, a much higher percentage of patients respond to these drugs, the duration of the responses has extended quite a bit. And importantly, patients tend to tolerate this drug class really, really well.

 So, for many patients starting out with that diagnosis, this type of drug class is going to be part of the discussion. Even in the last year, another drug category has emerged with approval of a new drug called alpelisib, which is something called at PI3 kinase inhibitor. So, again, back to defining the options based on the molecular profile of the tumor. So, this newer oral drug also partnered with anti-estrogen therapy, has been an important breakthrough for the treatment of patients who harbor this specific molecular abnormality. So, important to define whether that’s an option by some of these molecular testing.

There’s also newer drugs and studies of newer drugs that affect the estrogen receptor in different ways than some of our traditional medications.

And this is an ongoing area of significant research. So, that’s the estrogen receptor positive tumors.

For patients who have HER2-positive tumors, these are tumors that tend to be more aggressive, that tend to require more aggressive upfront treatment, which usually involves drugs that specifically target HER2. So, again, defining what’s driving the tumor and hopefully having drugs available that can target that specific abnormality. So, HER2 targeted drugs have evolved quite a bit over the last couple of decades.

Initially, we just had a drug called Herceptin and then a drug called Perjeta or pertuzumab was developed. Then more recently a drug called Kadcyla. And then even in just the last six to 10 months, two new drugs that target that HER2 protein. One of them is called tucatinib, the other one is called Enhertu. They’re not necessarily appropriate for the first line of treatment, but really sort of expands our toolbox in terms of how we treat these types of tumors. And these are developments that have occurred, for one of the drugs, just in the last six months, and the other within the last year. So, a lot of progress.

And then for the third subset of tumors, which are the triple-negative tumors, those are the ones that do not over-express estrogen, do not have estrogen or progesterone receptors, and don’t overexpressed HER2. This has been historically an area of unmet need. So, tumors where we can’t use anti-estrogen therapies, we can’t use HER2 targeted drugs. And so, the main stay has always been chemotherapy. And even for this subset, we’ve had progress.

So, one of the drug classes that’s been approved in the last couple years for triple-negative breast cancers is immunotherapy. So, immunotherapy has gotten a lot of press. It’s been really breakthrough treatment for a lot of different cancers, has lagged behind to some degree in breast cancer, but has become now one of the early treatment options for people with metastatic disease, specifically those that harbor a molecular marker, an immune marker, something called PD-L1. So, another example of the tumor’s biology dictating potentially one of the treatment options.

There have been other drugs that have been approved for triple-negative breast cancers in women who have BRCA mutation, so who have germline genetic predisposition to breast cancer. And that opens another array of treatment tools that have been approved in the last few years. And then more recently, just over the last six months, another drug that’s been approved for triple-negative breast cancer, which is a drug called sacituzumab, again, not first treatment, but something that defines potentially future lines of treatment. So, big picture, there has been a lot of progress that increasingly alters our treatment tools for patients and allows us to have sequential treatments that can be effective if their given treatment is no longer effective.

Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decisions: Which Path is Best for You?

Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decisions: Which Path is Best for You? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 For each metastatic breast cancer patient, there are several variables to consider to access the best treatment path. Dr. Lisa Flaum explains key factors to consider, and discusses how the risks and benefits are weighed when making treatment decisions for an individual patient.

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

See More From The Pro-Active Breast Cancer Patient Toolkit

Related Resources:

 

Transcript:

Dr. Flaum:                  

So, when we’re determining a treatment approach, there are a number of variables. So, to some degree, based on a patient’s individual characteristics, their age, their other health issues, may guide what treatments are available or indicated or even desirable from a patient’s standpoint. To some degree, the locations and extent of disease are important. So, if someone has cancer and that’s causing a particular symptom, with bony sites being a particular example, there may be a role for something targeted; Something like radiation, and in rare cases, surgery to target a specific symptomatic or worrisome spot of metastatic cancer.

In general, the mainstay of treatment for metastatic breast cancer is what we call systemic treatment or medical treatment, treatment that’s going to go everywhere and treat the cancer wherever it is. In some situations, we may be deciding between more or less aggressive treatment, and the locations and sites of disease may be important in determining that. If someone has extensive disease, for instance in a vital organ like the lung, the liver, the brain, we may start with something more versus less aggressive to try to get it better under control quickly. Whereas people with more limited metastatic disease may be able to start with something less aggressive.

And then beyond that, a lot of the decision-making is based on those molecular markers that I alluded to, which are defined by the hormone receptor status. So, whether the tumor expresses those estrogen and progesterone receptors, and whether the tumor over-expresses HER2. And then to a lesser degree, based on other markers that may be defined by additional tests.

So, every treatment discussion we have is a two-way street. So, our job is to present the data, present options, present recommendations. And often, we have an opinion on where we would fall and if there are a number of different options. But to me, it’s a collaborative discussion. And if there are options, it’s weighing what potential benefit do we get from a single option or from adding something to that particular option versus what are the downsides? And some of it is discussion about logistics. Do we do something IV versus oral? Is there a particular side effect that we’re hoping to avoid, such as hair loss? Which of course, we’re trying to avoid. Some treatments may have a higher likelihood of working, but a higher likelihood of causing hair loss. That may factor into our decision.

So, whether it’s the first decision point when we’re deciding on preliminary therapy or future decision points as we go through this journey, there is always a discussion about this is where we are, these are what our options are. Here’s how we’re going to weigh the pros and cons. And then it comes back to a collaborative decision about how we weigh the risks and rewards and where we’re going with an individual patient.

So, clinical trials are always part of at least the conversation, so they’re always a consideration at each step of our discussion. So, from a preliminary treatment standpoint, we’re always going to go through here are our standard options. Here’s, again, what we think is most appropriate. And if there’s a clinical trial that’s appropriate in that scenario, we’ll lay that out there as an option. So, a clinical trial is always worth discussing. It’s always worth asking that your doctor, “Is a clinical trial appropriate for me at this point?” But it’s not always the right recommendation.

So, there are a lot of scenarios, especially at the beginning of treatment for metastatic disease where we have so many options, and so many new and novel treatment options and drugs that have been approved fairly recently that have defined the standard of care, that the standard is going to be often what we recommend. And a clinical trial may be something that we would use if that treatment fails to work or at some future point down the line. And at other points in time, we have very good, appropriate clinical trials that could be indicated at any step along the way. So, it’s worth the discussion. Whether it’s the recommendation or not depends on the circumstances, it depends on the time. What we have today was very different than what we might’ve had available six months ago and six months from now. But clinical trials are out there, and if the location that a patient is going doesn’t have access to clinical trials, it’s always reasonable to ask too, “Should I be going somewhere else to see if a clinical trial is appropriate?”

Essential Testing Following A Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Essential Testing Following a Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

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

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

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Transcript:

Dr. Flaum:                  

When someone has either a diagnosis or a suspected diagnosis of metastatic cancer, meaning a diagnosis of cancer that has spread somewhere outside of the breast. And the most important initial step is establishing a tissue diagnosis. So, we could have our suspicions based on imaging, based on symptoms, but the most important thing is to confirm it. And usually that confirmation involves some type of tissue biopsy. So, collecting cells, examining them under the microscope, making sure that the diagnosis in fact, is cancer. Making sure that the cancer has spread from the breast, which is something that is definable under the microscope for the most part. And then evaluating various molecular markers within the tumor itself that are critical to guiding treatment.

So, in addition to the tissue diagnosis, the other important first step is what we call cancer staging. So, establishing the extent of the tumor within the body, which typically involves some type of scans, which may be variable depending on the situation or depending on the physician often could be a CT scan and a bone scan, maybe a PET scan. There may be an MRI.

So, a number of different tests that help us establish where the tumor is at baseline, so we can better understand the anatomy, but also to follow down the road to establish whether any given treatment is working. There are also maybe discussions of other types of molecular testing beyond what we determined in terms of the traditional biologic markers. You might hear the terms next generation sequencing tests like Foundation, Guardant, Tempus, which better define the cancer’s biology, which increasingly is becoming useful in terms of targeting treatment to someone’s specific cancer.

So, the molecular tests are looking at a few different things. So, first and foremost from a breast cancer standpoint, the most important basic molecular markers are what we consider to be the four main receptors, which is the estrogen and progesterone receptor, which dictates whether a given tumor is driven by estrogen and importantly dictates whether anti-estrogen therapy is going to be an appropriate component of the treatment. The other basic marker is called HER2, which is a protein that’s over-expressed.

In about 20% of breast cancer patient cells, and it’s also very critical in terms of guiding treatment. For specific types of breast cancer, once we know those preliminary molecular markers, then there’s an array of other types of anomalies within the tumor itself that could help to guide specific treatment. So, a couple of examples, and I can talk about that when you talk about treatment. If someone has a genetic predisposition to breast cancer with a BRCA mutation, there’s a specific treatment that might be appropriate. More recently, there’s another abnormality that can be detected by these tests called a PI3-Kinase mutation that identifies a population of patients who could be appropriate for another type of targeted therapy. So, for an individual, knowing what their particular profile is, whether or not those treatments are going to be indicated right at the beginning of treatment or maybe something that we use down the road. Inevitably, they’re going to help us understand what our tools are when we’re helping to make those decisions.

What Could Advances in Breast Cancer Research Mean for You?

What Could Advances in Metastatic Breast Cancer Research Mean for You? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What should metastatic breast cancer patients know about emerging approaches to treatment and care? Dr. Julie Gralow reviews developments in metastatic breast cancer research, including advances in genetics, subsetting disease and personalized medicine.

Dr. Julie Gralow is the Jill Bennett Endowed Professor of Breast Medical Oncology at the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. More about this expert here.

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What Could Metastatic Breast Cancer Genetic Testing Advances Mean for You?

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Transcript:

Katherine:                  

There have been so many advances in breast cancer research. What are you excited about in research right now?

Dr. Gralow:                

Well, every single drug that’s been approved, every single new regimen that’s been approved in breast cancer is the direct result of clinical trials, and this is a major part of my career, is to help patients get access to clinical trials and run important clinical trials that could lead to new discoveries – is this regimen better? What’s the toxicity?

Because until we have a cure for breast cancer, we need to do better, and we need to research better treatment options. So, doing trials, having access to clinical trials where you can participate, help move the science forward is key.

I think where we’re moving with breast cancer is the more we’re understanding the patient and the tumor, the more we’re realizing every single breast cancer is different, actually, and whereas when I started my training 20-plus years ago, breast cancer was breast cancer – we weren’t even using HER2 yet, we were just learning how to use estrogen receptor, and we kind of treated everything the same – now, we’re subsetting, and subsetting, and subsetting. Even in triple negative breast cancer now, which is about 18-20% of breast cancer, we’re subsetting.

Does that triple negative breast cancer have PD-L1, which is associated with being able to get immunotherapy drugs? Does it express androgen receptor? Because sometimes, even a breast cancer that doesn’t have estrogen or progesterone receptor can express the androgen receptor, like prostate cancer, and we can use some prostate cancer drugs. So, even triple negative breast cancer we’re subsetting and subsetting, and could that triple negative breast cancer be associated with a BRCA1 or 2 mutation, and then we can use the PARP inhibitors?

So, I’m actually really excited about that we’re learning more and more, and subsetting, and not treating breast cancer as one size fits all, and if we can better tailor the treatments to the patient and the tumor, that we are going to get to the point where I can tell my patients yes, we can get cures in metastatic breast cancer.

What is the Role of Genetic Testing in Breast Cancer?

What is the Role of Genetic Testing in Breast Cancer? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Breast cancer expert Dr. Julie Gralow discusses the role of genetic testing in metastatic breast cancer care, reviewing the impact of inherited–and acquired–genetic mutations on treatment options.

Dr. Julie Gralow is the Jill Bennett Endowed Professor of Breast Medical Oncology at the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. More about this expert here.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

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What Could Metastatic Breast Cancer Genetic Testing Advances Mean for You?

What Are Essential Genetic Tests for Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients?

Metastatic Breast Cancer: Debunking Common Misconceptions

 

Transcript:

Katherine:                  

All right. Dr. Gralow, when you meet with patients, what are some of the more common misconceptions that you hear related to diagnosis?

Dr. Gralow:                

Well, I think people do confuse – especially at an early diagnosis – that the metastases, the travel to the local lymph nodes, is not the same as a metastatic breast cancer, so we spend some time talking about how it’s still curable and not considered a distant metastasis if the lymph nodes are in the armpit or up above the collarbone, and so, that’s something that we spend some time talking about.

This whole term of “metastatic recurrence” – unfortunately, when you start looking online and get your information from Dr. Google, you read right away that it’s no longer curable, and in 2020, yes, that’s true. That’s probably the most specific statement that we can make. We are not going with curative intent, which means we treat for a defined amount of time, and then all the disease goes away, and we stop treatment, and then you go on with your life, and it never comes back. That would be cure.

But, I think it’s really important to point out that much of metastatic breast cancer can be highly treatable, and what we hope to do – and certainly, at least a subset of metastatic breast cancer – we want to convert it more to what we would call a chronic disease, and so, think of it more like hypertension, high blood pressure, or diabetes. These are diseases that we generally don’t cure with treatment, but that we can control with drug therapy, which sometimes has to be adjusted, and if we don’t control it, we can get some bad complications.

So, that’s not all metastatic breast cancer, unfortunately – we can’t convert all of it to something where we can use a therapy for a long time that keeps it in check and where you have a pretty good quality of life – but we’re hoping that more and more, we’re getting targeted therapies and more specific treatments to patients so that we can convert more patients to a more chronic kind of situation.

Katherine:                  

Many people are confused about genetic testing. They often think that it relates to ancestry or physical traits like hair and eye color. What’s the role of genetic testing in breast cancer?

Dr. Gralow:                

Well, you can do genetic testing of the patient’s inheritance, which is how most people think of genetic testing, and that’s actually really important and increasingly important in metastatic breast cancer to do your own inheritance. Have you inherited a gene that was associated with how your cancer developed? Because now, we actually have a class of drugs called PARP inhibitors that are approved for tumors that have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation with them. Most of those mutations were inherited, but not all. Sometimes they can develop as well.

So, now, when my patient – if she didn’t previously have genetic testing for an inherited risk for breast cancer either coming from mom or dad’s side of the family, a lot of people do have that up front, especially if they’re younger at diagnosis or they have a lot of family members with breast cancer. If she didn’t have that genetic testing done previously, at the time of the metastatic occurrence, I’m going to recommend that that be done because knowing if the cancer is associated with one of these DNA repair genes – BRCA1, BRCA2, some other genes – we have a new treatment option, which is an oral pill that actually is highly effective if the tumor has a mutation in one of these.

But, we can also – so, that’s genetic testing of the patient’s own DNA, but we can also do what we call genetic testing – or genomic testing, if you will – of the genes of the cancer. What were the changes in the DNA at the gene level that caused a normal breast cell over time to develop into a cancer cell that’s now growing without responding to our body’s checks and balances? So, what were those mutations, deletions, or amplifications in the tumor itself?

So, we’ve got the patient’s genetics, we’ve got the tumor’s genetics, and both of those come into play when we’re making our best treatment recommendations and trying to understand what the right approach is.

Katherine:                  

How is testing administered?

Dr. Gralow:                

So, for our inherited testing, those gene changes can be found in every cell in the body, so we can do that from a simple blood test where we just look at the blood cells. We can actually do it with our sputum and with a cheek swab, even. You can get enough of the DNA from the inside of the mouth to do that.

For a tumor’s genetics, we need some of the tumor, so that’s either done with a biopsy into the metastatic site or, as I mentioned before, increasingly, we’re exploring the potential for a liquid biopsy – so, drawing some blood and then trying to find pieces of the tumor that are shed into the blood.

Factors That Guide a Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decision

Factors that Guide a Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decision from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Dr. Julie Gralow discusses factors that affect metastatic breast cancer treatment decisions, including the cancer’s biology, the overall health of the patient, and treatment side effects.

Dr. Julie Gralow is the Jill Bennett Endowed Professor of Breast Medical Oncology at the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. More about this expert here.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

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What Could Metastatic Breast Cancer Genetic Testing Advances Mean for You?

What Are Essential Genetic Tests for Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients?

Metastatic Breast Cancer: Debunking Common Misconceptions

 

Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Well, Dr. Gralow, what other factors should be taken into consideration with a treatment route?

Dr. Gralow:                

I always like to think of the treatment decision as relying on three factors, and the first relates to the tumor factor, the cancer factor.

So, we talked a lot about the biology, the estrogen receptor, the HER2, the genomic profiling. So, that’s critical, but there are two other components that we need to really strongly consider when trying to devise the right treatment regimen. One of those is patient factors, and not just the patient’s genetics, but are they pre- or post-menopausal?

What is the age? Where are they in life? Are they young with young kids? Are they working, and is that an important priority for them? Are they older and with grandchildren, and they don’t need to work? What is it that would be critical? What are the patient’s priorities here, and what are their fears, what are the things they would – what would be really important as we plan a regimen? And so, the patient factors which would be patient priorities and where they are in life right now.

And then, there’s factors related to the treatment itself, which would include not just how effective it is, but – and, this is really important when trying to decide regimens – what are the side effects of a regimen? For some patients, hair loss is a big deal, and we can put it off as long as possible – maybe choosing the first couple regimens don’t cause hair loss sometimes.

But, for other people, that doesn’t matter to them. For some, we have oral – some regimens, and that could keep them out of the infusion room, and others actually – I’ve had patients who actually like coming into the infusion room regularly so that they can review the side effects and get the reassurance provided by it. So, we’ve got different route of administration of the drugs, different side effects. If you already had, for example, a neuropathy – a numbness/tingling of fingers and toes – from treatment that you might have gotten for early-stage disease, we’d probably want to avoid drugs where that’s their major side effect in the metastatic setting and that would increase that even further.

We’ve got some drugs that cause a lot of toxicity to our GI system – nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea – and other drugs that don’t. And so, understanding what symptoms the patient already has and actually tailoring the treatment based on some of the side effects of the drug could also be done, as well as how they’re administered. So, again, patient factors, tumor factors, and then, factors related to the treatment itself all come into play when we make decisions.

Katherine:                  

There have been so many advances in breast cancer research. What are you excited about in research right now?

Dr. Gralow:                

Well, every single drug that’s been approved, every single new regimen that’s been approved in breast cancer is the direct result of clinical trials, and this is a major part of my career, is to help patients get access to clinical trials and run important clinical trials that could lead to new discoveries – is this regimen better? What’s the toxicity?

Because until we have a cure for breast cancer, we need to do better, and we need to research better treatment options. So, doing trials, having access to clinical trials where you can participate, help move the science forward is key.

I think where we’re moving with breast cancer is the more we’re understanding the patient and the tumor, the more we’re realizing every single breast cancer is different, actually, and whereas when I started my training 20-plus years ago, breast cancer was breast cancer – we weren’t even using HER2 yet, we were just learning how to use estrogen receptor, and we kind of treated everything the same – now, we’re subsetting, and subsetting, and subsetting. Even in triple negative breast cancer now, which is about 18-20% of breast cancer, we’re subsetting.

Does that triple negative breast cancer have PD-L1, which is associated with being able to get immunotherapy drugs? Does it express androgen receptor? Because sometimes, even a breast cancer that doesn’t have estrogen or progesterone receptor can express the androgen receptor, like prostate cancer, and we can use some prostate cancer drugs. So, even triple negative breast cancer we’re subsetting and subsetting, and could that triple negative breast cancer be associated with a BRCA1 or 2 mutation, and then we can use the PARP inhibitors?

So, I’m actually really excited about that we’re learning more and more, and subsetting, and not treating breast cancer as one size fits all, and if we can better tailor the treatments to the patient and the tumor, that we are going to get to the point where I can tell my patients yes, we can get cures in metastatic breast cancer.