Key Questions Patients Should Ask Before Participating in a Breast Cancer Clinical Trial

Key Questions Patients Should Ask Before Participating in a Breast Cancer Clinical Trial from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What questions should breast cancer patients ask their healthcare team before entering a clinical trial? Dr. Adrienne Waks shares her advice and key questions that breast cancer patients should ask before participating in a trial.

Dr. Adrienne Waks is the Associate Director of Clinical Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. To learn more about Dr. Waks click, here.

See More from Breast Cancer Clinical Trials 201

Related Resources:

What Role Do Breast Cancer Patients Play in Care and Treatment Decisions?

Should Breast Cancer Patients Consider a Clinical Trial?

Hesitant to Join a Breast Cancer Clinical Trial? What You Should Know.


Transcript:

Katherine:

What are some key questions patients should ask their healthcare team about participating in a trial?  

Dr. Waks:

Yeah, I think there’s a couple of major ones. What’s the rationale behind this trial? Why do you think it might be better than the standard? What do I stand to gain in terms of effectiveness? Do you think it could be worse than the standard of care, and why or why not? So, basically, trying to capture well, what’s the rationale and the potential benefit of a trial? We’re always doing trials to try to give the patient some sort of benefits, so very reasonable to ask about that. Number two, of course, is what are the extra side effects that could be associated with participation on this trial, and how much do you know about them? 

Is this a drug that you’ve used for five years in  a different context or is it a pretty new drug and you don’t have a great sense, so number two, what are the side effects potentially associated with participation on the clinical trial? And then the third thing I would say is what is the extra burden on me going to be, not in terms of side effects but in terms of life disruption, time spent and things like that? What are those extra burdens going to be if I participate in a clinical trial will I have to get extra scans, will I have to do extra visits, will I have to get extra biopsies?  

You know, there are a number of clinical trials that require biopsies or have optional biopsies at least because in addition to studying a new drug we’re trying to understand in whom does it work and in whom does it not. And so, we want to have biopsies to help us understand that, but a patient should obviously want to be informed about those biopsies.  

So, what will the extra on me look like? And then, we always try as investigators in a clinical trial to put in place as best we can some ways to sort of mitigate the burden on patients. Like, well if I have to have a biopsy, can my parking be covered that extra day or what accommodations can be made to try to mitigate some of the disruption or the extra time? So, I would say those are sort of the three or four main things to ask about. 

Should Breast Cancer Patients Consider a Clinical Trial?

Should Breast Cancer Patients Consider a Clinical Trial? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Dr. Adrienne Waks, a breast cancer expert, discusses why and when patients should consider participating in a clinical trial.

Dr. Adrienne Waks is the Associate Director of Clinical Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. To learn more about Dr. Waks click, here.

See More from Breast Cancer Clinical Trials 201

Related Resources:

What Role Do Breast Cancer Patients Play in Care and Treatment Decisions?

Hesitant to Join a Breast Cancer Clinical Trial? What You Should Know.

Key Questions Patients Should Ask Before Participating in a Breast Cancer Clinical Trial


Transcript:

Katherine:

Why should a breast cancer patient consider participating in a clinical trial?  

Dr. Waks:

It’s a great question. I always tell patients and, of course, I work at Dana Farber, so we participate and I come to this question with a bias and a huge enormous amount of belief in the importance and the value of clinical research, but I honestly would encourage all patients to encourage clinical trials at all points in their breast cancer care. I think that often patients think that clinical trials are something that your doctor will bring up when you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of cancer treatment options. 

You know, you’ve exhausted everything that’s good and now we’re going to give you treatments that were given to the mice last week or something like that. But that could not be further from the truth. At every stage of breast cancer treatment whether you have a stage I breast cancer or you have a metastatic breast cancer, all of the current standards for how we treat patients and all of the data that we have to tell us you should use those treatments because they’re beneficial, all of those standards and those data come from patients who came before you who participated in clinical trials. Those were not patients who were at the very last stage of their cancer treatment.  

They were patients who could have been newly diagnosed with a Stage I breast cancer, newly diagnosed with metastatic breast or something like that. We change the standards of how we treat patients at all stages by running clinical trials. 

In breast cancer, we have such effective treatments that it’s virtually unheard of that we would compare something to nothing. There’s almost never a time in breast cancer treatment when it’s ethical to offer nothing as a therapy, so most of our clinical trials are not saying you might get a placebo sugar pill and that’s it. It’s saying either you’ll get Arm A, which is this agent or you’ll get A plus B which is the standard plus something else. So, it’s not like by participating in a clinical trial you’re omitting standard therapy. What we’re generally trying to do is give you standard therapy and something better or replacing a part of standard therapy with something we think is going to do better.  

Every time we design and implement a clinical trial, we’re obviously doing so because we hope that we can improve upon the current standard. So, there certainly isn’t a trial for everybody at every stage in their treatment course, and it’s absolutely fine if there’s no trial ongoing that’s the right fit for you, but I think it’s always a good question to ask. You know, is there a trial I should consider here? 

Hesitant to Join a Breast Cancer Clinical Trial? What You Should Know.

Hesitant to Join a Breast Cancer Clinical Trial? What You Should Know. from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What do breast cancer patients need to know about clinical trials? Breast cancer expert Dr. Adrienne Waks addresses common concerns and misconceptions about trial participation.

Dr. Adrienne Waks is the Associate Director of Clinical Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. To learn more about Dr. Waks click, here.

See More from Breast Cancer Clinical Trials 201

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Should Breast Cancer Patients Consider a Clinical Trial?

Key Questions Patients Should Ask Before Participating in a Breast Cancer Clinical Trial


Transcript:

Katherine:

What would you say to patients who may be hesitant to participate in a trial? 

Dr. Waks:

That’s a great question. I think many patients are at first hesitant to participate in a trial, which is natural. You know, there’s already so many overwhelming and scary decisions to be made when it comes to getting a breast cancer diagnosis or any cancer diagnosis that introduce a whole other set of discussions. Instead of variables, it’s found extremely overwhelming and adds another level of what might feel like uncertainty, so I think that’s a completely natural response is to be hesitant and overwhelmed if somebody brings up the clinical trial. 

But what I would try to address in terms of patient concerns is number one, I think that patients worry that if they are approached about a clinical trial that means there aren’t other good options available to them which not always, but almost always is actually far from the truth. Usually it’s just because we have a standard, we think it’s pretty good but we’d like to do better than the standard and participating in a clinical trial is how we do that. 

So, first I always, of course, assure patients this clinical trial is not like something we’ve never tested before and we know nothing about it, and it’s not because I don’t have other options for you. It’s just because I want to do better than the existing options and often it’s looking at an agent that’s already FDA-approved, but we’re trying to combine it with a different agent or something like that. 

So, obviously, number one try to give patients some reassurance about what we already know about the trial agents and also reassure them about the fact that we don’t anticipate the efficacy of their treatment overall would be compromised. Rather we’re trying to improve upon that. So, I think that’s probably the most common concern that I hear from patients, but, of course, as providers it’s our job to understand from that specific patient who’s in front of you what are your particular concerns about clinical trials in general. And are those misconceptions that I can dispel for you, or are they real things that some women on trials do experience in which case we should talk through them and decide if it’s the right fit for you.  

It’s almost always true that participating in a clinical trial does come with what I always call a few other hoops to jump through, because when you’re participating in a clinical trial we want to learn from your experience. So, we do want women to complete questionnaires about their side effects or have a second appointment one week later so that we can do an extra side effect check-in or something like that. You know, do an EKG that they wouldn’t otherwise need. So, there can be and often are some additional logistical or scheduling components that come with participation in the trial. 

Again, we would want a patient to voice how that might or might not fit into her life and be very up front about what could be expected in terms of additional asks which can be extremely minimal or sometimes more disruptive depending on the trials. So, obviously, we just need to have a conversation about that. 

Why Should Breast Cancer Patients Feel Empowered to Speak Up About Their Care?

Why Should Breast Cancer Patients Feel Empowered to Speak Up About Their Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Why is it important for breast cancer patients to speak up and have a voice in their care? Breast cancer expert Dr. Adrienne Waks shares her perspective encouraging patients to ask questions and understand their care.

Dr. Adrienne Waks is the Associate Director of Clinical Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. To learn more about Dr. Waks click, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Why should patients feel empowered to speak up and ask questions? 

Dr. Waks:

Well, I think for all sorts of different reasons. I think in breast cancer there are times when there’s a very clear right answer and right path forward and then a variety of other options that are clearly not recommended, not standard of care inadvisable, dangerous whatever, so there’s plenty of circumstances where that’s the case. But there’s also lots of circumstances, probably the majority of decisions that a patient has to make over the course of her or his breast cancer treatment plan and a variety of circumstances where there’s actually a number of different reasonable paths forward. 

Again, I think that’s the physicians or the nurse practitioner, the infusion nurse, whatever healthcare practitioner is helping to guide the patient through that particular decision, it’s our role to help lay out those options. Ultimately, we will always look to the patient for the most important final decision, so in order to make that decision, a patient needs to ask questions and help us understand where is she or he coming from, and what are their values and what are their competing interests, competing priorities outside of their breast cancer diagnosis, what is the most important outcome, a thing they want to maximize most, a thing they don’t really care about. 

We’ll never be able to bring that perspective to the table. We always look to the patient to do that. 

And so, they’re only get there by asking questions. Obviously, we’re going to try our best to anticipate all of the questions and lay out the options as comprehensively as we can, but there will always be things we can’t anticipate and things that are important to the patient that we just simply could never know about. So, we understand, appreciate, expect, and hope that a patient will ask questions and even more so that their accompanying family member or friend will do the same. 

What Role Do Breast Cancer Patients Play in Care and Treatment Decisions?

What Role Do Breast Cancer Patients Play in Care and Treatment Decisions? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What is shared decision-making? Breast cancer expert Dr. Adrienne Waks outlines the shared decision-making process and explains how patients can play an active role in their care.

Dr. Adrienne Waks is the Associate Director of Clinical Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. To learn more about Dr. Waks click, here.

See More from Thrive Breast Cancer

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Why Should Breast Cancer Patients Feel Empowered to Speak Up About Their Care?

What Are the Treatment Options for Early Stage Breast Cancer?

How Is Metastatic Breast Cancer Treated?


Transcript:

Katherine:

What is shared decision-making, and how does it work? 

Dr. Waks:

So, to me basically what that means is that patients and providers are working together to decide what are the best steps to take in a patient’s treatment plan, essentially. I see my role as the provider being to lay out the menu of options and try to, of course, offer some guidance about which might be the best, which are less preferred, why that is. But then, to guide the discussion and then have the subsequent conversation with the patient about how do they take in that information, what feels like the right fit to them and then incorporate their preferences into the actual plan we make in terms of how to go forward. 

Katherine:

Well, what role do patients play in the decision-making? 

Dr. Waks:

I think the patients play the most important role ultimately. You know, what I always say to patients is I’m always going to try to offer my opinion. Again, lay out a variety of different options and then offer my opinion because I think I would imagine it could be frustrating if you’re a patient and you go to a doctor and they say like here are five options, and you can just select between them. So, it’s definitely I think the physician’s role to try to put some value judgments or comparisons of the different options, but ultimately, basically every single decision is the patient’s, and I can tell them that’s what I would have done or that’s not what I would have done, but I understand where you’re coming from. 

Again, it’s not like your physician isn’t there to guide you and give feedback and try to tell you what the best choice is. But actually ultimately in breast cancer management and in a free medical issue, it is ultimately the patient’s decision, so their voice is the most important one. 

What Are the Treatment Options for Early Stage Breast Cancer?

What Are the Treatment Options for Early Stage Breast Cancer? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Breast cancer expert Dr. Adrienne Waks reviews available treatment approaches for patients with early stage breast cancer and explains the role of sub types when choosing a treatment plan.

Dr. Adrienne Waks is the Associate Director of Clinical Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. To learn more about Dr. Waks click, here.

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What Role Do Breast Cancer Patients Play in Care and Treatment Decisions?

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Well, let’s get into the specific treatment options that are available for breast cancer patients. Could you tell us about those?  

Dr. Waks:

So, fortunately, the answer to that question is enormous, because we have so many effective treatment options in breast cancer and generally our patients do very well in the long term when they are diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, so stage I or II or III breast cancer.  

That might involve the breast, it might involve the lymph nodes under the arm, but it hasn’t traveled anywhere else in the body. So I’ll set aside metastatic breast cancer and just talk about stage I, II, and III. 

So, as you may know, we think about as medical oncologists we completely separate treatment considerations for three different subtypes of breast cancer. Those are hormone receptor-positive, HER2-positive and then triple-negative. So, again, highlighting just important developments and not really the overall treatment planning for each of those subtypes, in ER-positive disease or estrogen receptor-positive disease hormonally-driven, estrogen-driven breast cancer – those are all sort of terms for the same thing, I think there have been a couple of important developments over the last few years.  

Probably the most important recent one is the new understanding and demonstration that the CDK4/6 inhibitor abemaciclib, the brand name of that drug is Verzenio. 

That drug when we administer it for two years after a patient has had their surgery and in conjunction with alongside the antiestrogen medicines; the antiestrogen medicines are usually done for a minimum of five years, when we add on to that the CDK4/6 inhibitor abemaciclib, we see that for women with higher risk disease, so maybe some lymph node involvement or a large tumor in the breast or both that the addition of the Verzenio, the abemaciclib seems to decrease their risk of recurrence of breast cancer a couple of years out. So, that’s been an important exciting development. 

Again, not for all women within early stage estrogen-driven breast cancer, but for a little bit more advanced early stage disease like lymph node involvement. You know, we’re obviously always looking for ways to reduce that risk of recurrence for women who have a little bit more risk at diagnosis and the addition of abemaciclib was an exciting and welcome addition to our toolkit there. 

In HER2-positive disease, which is about 20 percent of breast cancers overall, I think what the recent years have brought us is increasing understanding that in many cases we give women too much chemotherapy and that we need to be – so, here it’s less about adding on. Like the Verzenio example I was just talking about and more about individualizing and figuring out in whom and how we can pull back from sort of the kitchen sink approach that we take often to treating a HER2-positive early stage breast cancer and be more thoughtful and more personalized in the amount of treatment that we give women with HER2-positive breast cancer. 

The reason for that is that we’re basically 20 years into understanding that for HER2-positive breast cancers we can treat those cancers very effectively with anti-HER2 antibody drugs like trastuzumab or Herceptin. We didn’t even know that until 20 years ago. And so, Herceptin, trastuzumab and similar drugs have really revolutionized how effectively we can treat women with HER2-positive breast cancers. And so, at this point, it’s becoming more and more clear that we can really lean more on our arsenal of anti-HER2 targeted therapies like Trastuzumab. Pertuzumab (Perjeta) is another one and trastuzumab MTNC and TDM1 is another one. 

So, we have all these excellent smart targeted treatments for women with HER2-positive disease, but yet the standard of care is still to give all those good rational targeted treatments with a whole bunch of chemotherapy that comes with a lot of side effects. 

I think more and more we’re figuring out that we can lean more on our anti-HER2 treatments and require less of the really side effect heavy chemotherapy, but how do we do that thoughtfully? We obviously don’t want to undertreat anybody, so how do we do that thoughtfully? How do we pick out the women who only need the anti-HER2 treatment and can get away with less chemotherapy. I think that’s really what’s exciting in HER2-positive early stage breast cancer right is how do we individualize and take advantage of targeted agents that we have? 

And then finally, in the third subtype of breast cancer which is triple-negative breast cancer which accounts for about 10 percent of breast cancers, the most exciting development there clearly in the last year or so is the realization and the demonstration in randomized clinical trial that we can improve outcomes for those women if we give them not just chemotherapy but also chemotherapy combined with immunotherapy and specifically the immunotherapy agent called pembrolizumab or Keytruda. 

So, up until a year or two ago, the standard for a stage I or II or III triple-negative breast cancer was to get a multiagent chemo regimen and chemo was really the only type of option we had to treat those triple-negative breast cancer patients and now we know from a major important clinical trial called Keynote 522, that if we take a standard chemo backbone and add Pembrolizumab immunotherapy onto it, that we can help those women do better in the long term. So, that’s really a pretty new in the last one or two years standard of care for triple-negative breast cancer. 

And I guess the last thing I’ll say is not about one of those three subtypes of breast cancer but specifically for women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation associated with their breast cancer, which is a minority. It’s about 5 percent of breast cancer patients. Obviously, the proportion changes depending on your subtype of breast cancer and your age when you’re diagnosed, but for women who have a breast cancer associated with BRCA1 or 2 mutation and have a higher risk or early stage breast cancer. 

So, again, they have a number of lymph nodes involved or a big tumor in the breast or something like that, we now know that we can add on one year of the PARP inhibitor medication called olaparib or Lynparza to the postoperative treatment of those breast cancer patients in addition to whatever other treatment they got; the antiestrogen pills, the chemotherapy, or a combination of those two, and with the addition of olaparib or Lynparza for a year that we can again see better long-term outcomes for those patients and help them avoid recurrences. 

So, that’s not a majority of breast cancer patients but is a targeted treatment that we’re very excited about that definitely makes an important contribution to reducing risk for women with a BRCA1- or BRCA2-associated cancer or men for that matter. I’m saying women, but it could absolutely apply to men. 

How Is Metastatic Breast Cancer Treated?

How Is Metastatic Breast Cancer Treated? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Breast cancer expert Dr. Adrienne Waks discusses treatment approaches for metastatic breast cancer and explains how research is evolving.

Dr. Adrienne Waks is the Associate Director of Clinical Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. To learn more about Dr. Waks click, here.

See More from Thrive Breast Cancer

Related Resources:

What Role Do Breast Cancer Patients Play in Care and Treatment Decisions?

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What Are the Treatment Options for Early Stage Breast Cancer?


Transcript:

Katherine:

What about people who have metastatic disease? What treatment advances are available for them?  

Dr. Waks:

Yeah. You know, I think that’s an incredibly important question and a totally different set of discussions than we have with women with early stage breast cancer and unfortunately and unacceptably at this point for a woman diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer still typically that can become a life-threatening diagnosis. 

So, it’s exceptionally important that we rapidly improve the treatment options that we have for women with metastatic breast cancer. Maybe everybody says this every year, but I think that this year, 2022, has been a particularly exciting year in terms of advances that we’re making in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer, really of all subtypes. I would say the most exciting class of drugs or type of drugs that’s coming out in breast cancer and in all malignancies honestly, is called antibody drug conjugates, which is to say an antibody. So, a molecule that’s targeted to some particular approaching on a cancer cell surface and then is attached to or conjugated to a chemotherapy molecule.  

So, the antibody is like a smart delivery system directly to the cancer cell for what’s call a payload, basically like a sort of action molecule or the killer molecule, which is the chemotherapy. 

Those kinds of antibody drug conjugants have made a huge impact in recent years in improving outcomes for women really with all subtypes of breast cancer, so that drug class I think is a very exciting one to watch in general. In terms of specific recent developments in metastatic breast cancer, so probably the biggest blockbuster development over the past year and really over just the past three months is the understanding that we can break out a subtype of metastatic breast cancer that we really didn’t even talk about before which is called HER2-low breast cancer. So, before if you asked me in May of 2022, there really were only two types of HER2 readouts for a breast cancer tumor. 

There was a HER2-negative breast cancer tumor and there was a HER2-positive breast cancer tumor and as I already told you, the HER2-positive accounts for about 20 percent of breast cancers overall. The other 80 percent are HER2-negative. And so, historically, again you asked me three months ago I would have said if you’re HER2-positive and that 20 percent will give you these different HER2-directed treatments and if you’re not, we can’t use those. And what’s changed is that we’ve developed new antibody drug conjugants. So, drugs that are targeted against in this case the protein HER2 that seem to be so effective and work so well, that you don’t truly have to be HER2-positive.  

You can be HER2-low and still benefit from these treatments, which is to say your cancer has a little bit of HER2 protein on the surface of the breast cancer cells but not a lot. So, not enough to make it positive but enough to make it low in its designation. 

That’s actually a large proportion of breast cancer patients. It’s over 50 percent of breast cancer patients, so it’s significantly more than HER2-positive, so a large proportion of breast cancer patients actually fit into this new category called HER2-low and we now know from data that were presented in June of 2022 and then published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which is our biggest most high profile academic medical journal, we know that for patients who fall into that HER2-low category, again that’s more than 50 percent of breast cancer patients, that they can, if they have a metastatic breast cancer, benefit from this new antibody drug conjugate called trastuzumab deruxtecan (Enhertu).  

When it was compared to the existing chemo options we have for those patients which do have some efficacy but nonetheless, when trastuzumab deruxtecan was compared to the existing chemo options, it clearly looked better for patients with HER2-low breast cancer. So, that was not just an exciting advance in terms of new treatment options which we always love to be able to offer to patients but also in terms of breaking out this entirely new designation and subcategory that captures more than half of our metastatic breast cancer patients and helping us to offer them something new and hopefully will be a pathway for other drugs to be developed in this space and for this new subcategory. 

So, that was very exciting. I’ve been talking about it with patients all the time in the past just three months since those data came out.  

You know, a second antibody drug conjugate that has also been very exciting in recent months and recent years is called sacituzumab govitecan which Trodelvy is the brand name of that one. That’s an antibody drug conjugate that’s targeted against a different protein on the cell surface that’s targeted against the protein Trop-2, so that’s where the Trodelvy comes from. It’s targeting Trop-2. That’s an antibody drug conjugate that we’ve known for probably three or more years now can be very effective in triple-negative metastatic breast cancer. So, we’ve had that option for a number of years in metastatic triple-negative breast cancer. 

But again, just in the past few months have gotten good and exciting data that this Trodelvy or sacituzumab drug also works in estrogen-driven breast cancers.  

And so, it’s giving another option to patients with not just triple-negative but also estrogen-driven breast cancer. So, that was another very recent development just in the last three months or so. 

Katherine:

That’s really exciting. 

What Do You Need to Know About Metastatic Breast Cancer Genetic Testing?

What Do You Need to Know About Metastatic Breast Cancer Genetic Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Why is it important to ask about metastatic breast cancer genetic testing? Find out how test results could reveal more about YOUR breast cancer and could help determine the most effective treatment approach.

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What Questions Should Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients Ask Before Starting a Treatment Plan?


Transcript:

Why should you ask your doctor about metastatic breast cancer genetic testing?

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network – also known as the NCCN – recommends that every metastatic breast cancer patient undergo genetic testing. The test results can help predict how your cancer may behave and could indicate that one type of treatment is more effective than another.

This testing identifies specific gene mutations, proteins, chromosomal abnormalities, and/or other molecular changes that are unique to YOU and YOUR breast cancer.

There are two main types of genetic tests used in breast cancer:

  • Germline or hereditary genetic testing, which identifies inherited gene mutations in the body. These mutations are present from birth, can be shared among family members and be passed on to subsequent generations.
  • The second is somatic or tumor genetic testing, which identifies markers that are unique to the cancer itself. It is also commonly referred to as genomic testing, biomarker testing, or molecular profiling. Somatic mutations are NOT inherited or passed down from family member to family member.
  • Depending on your history, your doctor may order one–or both–of these types of tests.

So why do the test results matter?

  • If you have specific gene mutations – such as the BRCA1 or BRCA2 inherited gene mutations – it could indicate that a targeted treatment approach may be the most effective option. For example, there are two oral targeted therapies that are approved specifically for use in metastatic patients with BRCA1-positive or BRCA2-positive breast cancer.
  • Results of these tests may also help you to find a clinical trial that may be appropriate for your particular cancer.
  • Additionally, results from germline genetic testing may suggest that close family members should also be tested to determine their risk.

How can you insist on the best breast cancer care?

  • First, always speak up and ask questions. Remember, you have a voice in YOUR breast cancer care.
  • Ask your doctor if you have had–or will receive–genetic testing, including germline and somatic testing.
  • If you have already undergone genetic testing, bring a copy of your results to your current doctor, so they can understand your results and determine whether additional testing is needed.
  • Have a discussion with your healthcare team about the test results – including which markers were detected and how results may impact your care and treatment plan.
  • Ask whether your family members should meet with a genetic counselor or undergo testing to help gauge their risk of developing breast cancer.
  • And, finally, bring a friend or a loved one to your appointments to help you process and recall information.

To learn more about breast cancer and to access tools for self-advocacy, visit powerfulpatients.org/breastcancer

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What Questions Should Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients Ask Before Starting a Treatment Plan?

What Questions Should Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients Ask Before Starting a Treatment Plan? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Before metastatic breast cancer treatment begins, it’s important to speak up and ask questions. Expert Dr. Sarah Sammons shares key questions patients should ask to ensure a personalized approach to their care and treatment.

Dr. Sarah Sammons is an oncologist at Duke Cancer Institute and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Sammons here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

What key questions do you think patients should ask about their proposed treatment plan, to make sure they’re getting the most personalized approach for their disease?

Dr. Sammons:

That’s a great question. So, first and foremost – when you get an initial diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, it can be nearly debilitating mentally at first, so it’s a little bit hard to be an advocate for yourself.

But it is so important, eventually, to become an advocate for yourself and the first thing that I would say is it’s very important that you have had a biopsy of a metastatic site. So, if something shows up on a scan that looks abnormal – maybe a liver legion or a lung legion – it’s very important that that area is biopsied and checked again for estrogen, progesterone, and HER2. And the reason for that is – there’s a phenomenon called subtype switching. So, a patient can – maybe her early-stage breast cancer was estrogen receptor-positive. There’s a 15 to 20 percent chance that her metastatic disease could be estrogen-negative, and it’s critical that we know what the estrogen and the HER2 are, so that we can treat them with the initial best treatments.

So, that’s number one. I think it’s very important to have a biopsy of your metastatic site, to repeat that estrogen and HER2.

Next, pretty important to have had at least germline BRCA testing. And the reason for that is: We now have drugs, the PARP inhibitors that I talked about before, that specifically benefit patients that have a BRCA mutation.

And then, the next would be – is there a role for next generation sequencing, which is the somatic gene testing of the patient’s tumor.

I would say practice patterns differ. For HER2-positive breast cancer, it’s probably not important to have that upfront because we have a very – it’s critical that we know that you’re HER2-

positive, so that we can give you those best HER2 targeted therapies in the first few lines. But we’re really not going to use that genomic sequencing information for really the first couple of years in metastatic, HER2-positive breast cancer.

For hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, I do think it’s pretty important to know what your genomic testing is – your next generation sequencing is – upfront. If you have an ESR1 mutation, then we know that you’re resistant to certain types of endocrine therapy, and we would not give you them. If you have a PI3-Kinase, then we would give you that if you qualified, otherwise we would give you that drug that targeted the PI3-Kinase mutation probably in the second line.

So, next generation sequencing is pretty important, either in first or second line, in hormone receptor-positive breast cancer.

Triple-negative breast cancer – the most important thing upfront is to know what your PDL1 status is. And it’s very important that if you’re PDL1-positive, you get immunotherapy with your first treatment because we know that immunotherapy, if you get it in later lines of treatment, does not work as well as if you get it in the first line.

So, it’s always really tough for patients to wait a couple weeks to get started on treatment, but as long as your disease is not growing so rapidly that your physician is concerned, which is on the rare end, it’s good to get all your ducks in a row, get all of the information that you need, so that you can be started on the best treatment.

Katherine:

Dr. Sammons, why should patients feel like they should speak up and that they have a voice?

Dr. Sammons:

Patients should feel like they should speak up and have a voice because this is their life. This is your life. This is your treatment. This is – nobody is going to advocate for you as well as yourself. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a physician that is an advocate, and many of us are, but nobody will advocate for you as well as you will advocate for yourself. So, that’s reason number one.

And reason number two would be: we’re all humans. Your doctors are humans. Some physicians, especially physicians in the community, may not only treat breast cancer. They may treat every single type of cancer, and it’s very hard to stay specifically on top of all of the new drugs and new options coming out in every tumor type; it’s virtually impossible.

So, I just think it’s important to be an advocate. Never be afraid to ask a question. Most physicians should not feel threatened by that. We like a patient to be engaged. So, never worry or be fearful about that. 

An Expert Review of Emerging Metastatic Breast Cancer Research

An Expert Review of Emerging Metastatic Breast Cancer Research from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What’s the latest in metastatic breast cancer (MBC) research? Expert Dr. Sarah Sammons shares an overview of emerging treatment options and how they could be utilized in MBC care.

Dr. Sarah Sammons is an oncologist at Duke Cancer Institute and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Sammons here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

When it comes to metastatic breast cancer research and emerging treatment options, what are you excited about specifically?

Dr. Sammons:

That’s a really good question. I think, right now, I’m very interested in a class of drugs called antibody drug conjugates.

What antibody drug conjugates are – they take a monoclonal antibody, which is – most patients have heard of Herceptin. So, Herceptin is an antibody which goes in and targets HER2. But that antibody is actually linked to a payload of chemotherapy cells. But instead of just – regular chemotherapy we inject that chemotherapy into the veins, it goes all throughout the body, it can be fairly toxic.

Antibody drug conjugates specifically find the cells that have that biomarker, like HER2, or TROP2, or HER3, and they find that cell, and they don’t release their chemotherapy until they’re taken up by that cell. So, it’s more a targeted, focused chemotherapy.

There is an antibody drug conjugate in HER2-positive breast cancer called Enhertu, or trastuzumab deruxtecan, which is – has been shown to have excellent efficacy in very heavily pre-treated HER2-postitive breast cancer.

It’s moving into earlier lines of therapy. The drug is so effective in HER2-positive breast cancer, we’re also looking at it in something called HER2-low breast cancer. So, breast cancers that we never thought before would respond to HER2 targeted therapy is – it appears that even if they express a little of HER2, this drug might have efficacy. So, that’s in clinical trials, and that’s really exciting.

What’s also great, is about 60 percent of women with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer are HER2-low. So, that could be a really great drug option in the future for those patients.

There’s another antibody drug conjugate called sacituzumab govitecan, which is approved in triple-negative breast cancer, and was shown to improve overall survival, which you always want at the end of the day – a drug that is well-tolerated and helps patients live longer.

That drug is approved in triple-negative breast cancer, but we’re now looking at it in hormone receptor-positive breast cancer.

There are also a variety of other antibody drug conjugates in clinical trials. One that’s looking at HER3, a few others that are looking at HER2, and also TROP2.

So, I’m definitely excited about antibody drug conjugates.

I’m also very excited about the field of immunotherapy in general. Immunotherapy has sort of lagged behind in breast cancer compared to some other tumor types like lung cancer and melanoma. But in triple-negative breast cancer, we finally have approval for two types of immunotherapy, but only if they have a certain biomarker.

Right now, immunotherapy only helps patients with metastatic triple-negative breast cancer if they express something called PDL1. So, we have FDA approval for two different immunotherapies for PDL1-positive triple-negative breast cancer. And there are many different strategies ongoing in clinical trials with different types of immunotherapy that try to harness the patient’s immune system to fight the cancer, instead of just giving regular chemotherapy. It’s really trying to help the patient’s immune response help fight the cancer. 

What Do Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients Need to Know About Genetic Testing?

What Do Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients Need to Know About Genetic Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What do metastatic breast cancer patients need to learn about genetic testing? Expert Dr. Sarah Sammons explains the difference between germline testing versus somatic testing and defines key terms, including biomarker testing and genetic mutations.

Dr. Sarah Sammons is an oncologist at Duke Cancer Institute and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Sammons here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Many patients are confused by genetic testing. Let’s look at the difference between germline and somatic testing.

Dr. Sammons:

Yes, that’s a really good question and one that comes up in the clinic quite frequently. When I tell a patient that I want to get some sort of genetic testing, they often are confused, and say, “Well, I’ve already had genetic testing, maybe when I was first diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer.” And so then, I do often times need to explain what the difference between germline and somatic genetic testing is.

So, germline testing is testing that’s done on cells in your body that actually don’t have cancer. And the purpose of germline testing, which we often do in early-state breast cancer or in metastatic breast cancer, is to understand if you have inherited genes that could pre-dispose you to developing breast cancer. But also, in the metastatic setting, it’s important to do germline testing because we do have drugs that are approved for patients that have germline mutations in the BRCA genes. And research is evolving, but there are other germline genes of interest that could be biomarkers for other therapies.

Somatic testing is basically genetic testing on the breast cancer cells themselves. So, most often we will get a biopsy, usually of a metastatic area, like the liver, or bone, or lung. Really the safest, most accessible place. If we’re able to safely get a biopsy, oftentimes we’ll send somatic testing – that’s also referred to as usually next generation sequencing – is all somatic testing. And that tests mutations that have developed in the breast cancer itself. It could potentially be biomarkers for optimizing and tailoring personalized treatment approaches to the patient’s cancer.

Katherine:

I’d like to define a few terms. First of all, what is biomarker testing?

Dr. Sammons:

That’s a really good question. So, a biomarker is really anything – it could be a gene; it could be a protein – that is expressed on a patient’s cancer, that makes them a good candidate for a certain drug, essentially.

So, one of the earliest biomarkers that we’ve had in breast cancer – and still, I would argue, the most important biomarkers – are estrogen receptor and HER2.

Now, we test all breast cancers for estrogen receptor and HER2 because we know for estrogen receptor – if a patient has estrogen receptor high positivity at their initial diagnosis, that is the best biomarker for endocrine therapies, whereas HER2 present on a breast cancer cell – patients that overexpress HER2, they are great candidates for drugs that specifically target HER2.

So, it simply means that we found something on their breast cancer cell that makes them a good candidate for a treatment.

Katherine:

What is a genetic mutation?

Dr. Sammons:

So, genetic mutations are a permanent change in the DNA of a gene, in either a cancer cell or a cell that somebody was born with. So, it’s a change in the DNA sequence. And some gene mutations drive cancers to grow. Some mutations do not drive cancers to grow. Generally, in the treatment of all advanced cancers, we only target with drugs those gene mutations that we know are what we call “driver mutations.” So, mutations that actually cause the cancer to grow.

How Do Genetic Mutations Impact Breast Cancer Risk, Prognosis and Treatment?

How Do Genetic Mutations Impact Breast Cancer Risk, Prognosis and Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

For breast cancer patients, how do genetic mutations impact risk, prognosis, and treatment? Expert Dr. Sarah Sammons provides insight about currently known genetic mutations and their impact on breast cancer care.

Dr. Sarah Sammons is an oncologist at Duke Cancer Institute and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Sammons here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

What are the known genetic mutations that can increase breast cancer risk?

Dr. Sammons:

Very good question. So, about 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers are related to inherited genes. The most common ones that most patients have heard of, or most people have heard of in the media, are the BRCA1 and BRCA2, the BRCA genes. Those genes make patients highly susceptible to developing breast cancer throughout their lifetime. We’re talking 60 to 80 percent risk.

There are, over time, other genes that we have found also predispose patients to developing breast cancer.

There are over 10 at this point. Some of the most common ones are CHEK2, PALB2, PTEN, TP53, and CDH1. There are a few others, but those are kind of the main ones.

So, really when you develop a diagnosis of breast cancer, your oncologist and/or your surgeon will take a family history. They’ll keep into account your age, the type of breast cancer that you have, and we really have specific criteria now in which patients would qualify for genetic testing.

Genetic testing not only has become important to understand if you have a gene that could predispose you or your family to breast cancer, but we now have drugs that specifically target or are biomarkers for BRCA1 and BRCA2.

So, now it’s going to become even more important to test patients with early state and metastatic breast cancer because we have drugs that could actually specifically target BRCA.

Katherine:

How do these mutations impact a metastatic breast cancer patient’s treatment path?

Dr. Sammons:

Sure. Well, we can start with germline. So, really, right now, the only germline mutations that really impact a patient’s treatment are the BRCA1 and the BRCA2 genes. So, for patients that have germline mutations in BRCA1, we have a class of drugs called PARP inhibitors, that have been

shown to be more effective than chemotherapy in those patients. So, really, any patient that has a HER2-negative breast cancer – these genes are approved in HER2-negative breast cancer, so triple-negative or hormone receptor-positive breast cancer in patients that have a BRCA mutation.

It’s pretty critical to have this germline testing done because if they do have a mutation, then we would have a therapy for them that was more effective than chemotherapy. So, that’s why it’s important in that setting.

We’re also learning more and more, and research is evolving, that probably patients that have germline PALB2 mutations also may benefit from PARP inhibitors, but that data is still evolving.

In terms of somatic gene mutations, or next generation sequencing, your doctor might say that, “I want to send your tumor to look at the genes in the tumor that will help me decide what could be the next best therapy for you.” So, we would get a biopsy or use an old biopsy, and send your tumor to a variety of different companies that do this type of sequencing.

Some of them include FoundationOne, Curis, Tempus. And it would come back with a panel that would show what genes were mutated in your breast cancer.

About 40 percent of patients with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer have something called a PIK3CA mutation. And we have a drug called alpelisib (Piqray) that specifically targets that mutation.

Germline mutations usually also show up in the somatic testing. So, a BRCA mutation may also show up. The next generation sequencing also tests something called tumor molecular burden, which tells us basically how many mutations are altered in the DNA of your cancer. And we know that if you have many mutations, that you might be more likely to benefit from immunotherapy.

So, that’s another thing that we look at when we send that genomic sequencing. So, there are a variety of mutations and biomarkers that we can learn from sequencing the breast cancer, that will help us decide what’s the next best treatment for you in your metastatic breast cancer course.

Katherine:

What about prognosis, Dr. Sammons? Do these genes impact how a patient’s cancer may behave?

Dr. Sammons:

That’s a good question. The short answer is: Research is still evolving in this area, but I would say yes.

Katherine:

It sounds like it’s a qualified yet.

Dr. Sammons:

It’s a qualified yes. So, I would say for germline BRCA1 – we know that patients with germline BRCA1 are more likely to have triple-negative breast cancer.

So, in terms of early-stage disease, we know that triple negative breast cancer has a worse prognosis, a higher risk of coming back. But the FDA actually just approved PARP inhibitors in the early-stage setting for patients with BRCA mutations because it reduced the risk of recurrence.

So, where that settles out: Yes, we know that BRCA1 carriers are more likely to have triple-negative. Triple-negative is more likely to relapse, but every year we have newer and newer therapies that reduce the risk of relapse.

In the metastatic setting, BRCA carriers sometimes actually have been shown to live longer than patients without BRCA mutations because they’re more likely to respond to chemotherapy. We have the PARP inhibitor option – for all of those reasons.

In terms of gene mutations in the tumor, we do know that patients that have something called ESR1 mutations – so, if you have a hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, you have something called an ESR1 mutation.

We know that that means that you would be resistant to many of our endocrine therapies. And patients that have ESR1 mutations do usually have a shorter prognosis than patients that don’t.

So, there are a variety of mutations that are appearing to have impact on prognosis. 

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How Can You Ensure You’ve Had Essential Metastatic Breast Cancer Testing?

How Can You Ensure You’ve Had Essential Metastatic Breast Cancer Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can metastatic breast cancer patient ensure they receive essential testing? Dr. Jane Lowe Meisel explains how tests can vary by patient and shares advice for key questions to ask to help ensure optimal care.

Jane Lowe Meisel, MD is an Associate Professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University. Learn more about Dr. Meisel here.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

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How Genetic Mutations Affect Metastatic Breast Cancer Prognosis and Treatment

What Are Essential Genetic Tests for Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients?


Transcript:

Katherine:

We’ve talked about several key tests. Some patients may be confused about whether they’ve received these tests. So, what questions should they ask their physician to make sure they’re getting appropriate testing?

Dr. Meisel:

I think it’s probably useful because not everybody needs every test, and I think there are often things you hear about online or from friends or even in a webinar like this and there may be a good reason why you haven’t had that particular test. So, I wouldn’t assume that if you haven’t had everything that we’ve talked about today even, that someone’s made a mistake or that you need that and aren’t getting it. But I would ask. I think it’s always helpful to know more, knowledge is power. And so, if you have never had a CT scan or a CA27-29 level or a genomic testing.

I think it’s not a bad thing if you’re curious about it, to just ask your treating team, “Hey, I heard about genomic testing, is there a reason I haven’t had that? Or have I had that?” Maybe you have, and they called it something else. I think it is complicated, but I think it helps to understand what you’ve had done and what you haven’t had done. And sometimes, asking about something like that may prompt the team to do things that my benefit you.