Breast Cancer Archives

 

My Breast Cancer Story

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. It was found by accident on a chest x-ray, and I was shocked. There was no history of breast cancer in my family, and I never thought it could happen to me.

Cancer patients are supposed to be upbeat; we are supposed to relax and trust that our doctors will provide the best possible care. I had never had a serious illness before, so I was naïve about what to expect from the medical establishment. I wanted to feel that I was safe and in good hands, and that I could simply follow my doctors’ advice. Unfortunately, that was not my experience.

Our physicians are usually our primary source of information, but the fact is that medicine in the USA is a business. Physicians are paid for their time, so unless a patient is a family member or a VIP, most physicians will not allot a patient any more time than the number of minutes that is the “standard of care.” Some doctors are more caring than others, but the for-profit system that we have in the United States rewards oncologists financially if they squeeze in as many patients as possible. A surgical oncologist will want to do surgery; a medical oncologist will want to do chemotherapy; a radiation oncologist will want to do radiation. This is what they know and what they are paid to do; and most oncologists want to get on with it as quickly as possible.

What they will usually not do is spend extra time consulting with specialists and/or looking in the medical literature for newer and better ways to treat their patients. They will generally not become knowledgeable about any kind of treatment outside their specialty, such as nutrition or any type of complementary medicine. I suspect that most oncologists would be willing to spend the time if they were paid, but insurance in the United States will usually not reimburse for these kinds of activities. In fact, the extra time that an oncologist would have to spend would actually cause them to lose income.

It seemed to me they just wanted me to follow their program, but I knew from even a very quick survey of the literature, that cancer decisions are not easy and simple. The treatment is often unsuccessful, and the side effects can be life threatening. Every patient’s case is different, so the “one-size-fits-all” approach on which traditional cancer treatment is based may not be the best way to proceed. Every year 40,000 women in the United States die of breast cancer after getting the standard of care. I did not want to be one of those statistics.

Because I have an academic background, it was natural for me to jump in and do a lot of research. I went to books, journals, and the Internet. I also got a huge amount of help from other patients. I told lots of people that I had breast cancer, and I gave them permission to tell anyone they wanted. My thought was that the more people they told, the fewer I would have to tell. But I had a huge side benefit—because breast cancer is so common, lots of former patients offered advice and support. I also joined a local breast cancer support group and an online support group at breastcancer.org. These patients were incredibly valuable to me. They referred me to doctors, including an integrative oncologist; they told me how to save my hair through chemotherapy; they told me about a program to reduce side effects through fasting; I was able to avoid neuropathy, mouth sores, and much more.

As of now, I have no evidence of breast cancer, but I am at high risk for recurrence or metastasis, so I am not able to simply return to the life I had before. Conventional cancer care offers periodic tests to see whether the cancer has returned, but it does not offer anything beyond hormone therapy to prevent the cancer from returning. The problem is that if it returns it will likely no longer be curable. I had to go outside of conventional oncology, where I found a lot of evidence that changing one’s “terrain” can keep the cancer dormant. Working with an integrative oncologist, I follow a program of diet, supplements, exercise, mental/spiritual practices, and avoidance of environmental carcinogens.

I learned a great deal from my cancer experience that most people don’t know, and I wanted to share my experience. I wrote a book that I hope will help other patients take charge of their care, to help them make the best medical decisions and to stay in remission afterward.

Clinical Trial Mythbusters: Does the Clinical Trial Process Need an Extreme Makeover?

Does the Clinical Trial Process Need an Extreme Makeover?

Clinical Trial Mythbusters: Does the Clinical Trial Process Need an Extreme Makeover? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Downloadable Program Guide

Many cancer patients feel that the clinical trial process is in need of a serious makeover. One of them is Jim Omel. Jim, a retired oncologist living with multiple myeloma, turned patient advocate, makes it his business to understand myeloma from the inside out. He joins this program to share his experience in clinical trials and how he learned about his vulnerabilities as a cancer patient.

Also joining the discussion is, Dr. Michael Thompson, medical director for the Early Phase Cancer Research Program at the Aurora Research Institute and an active clinical researcher developing new treatments, particularly early phase (Phase I and II) molecular biomarker-driven clinical trials.

Join us for a meeting of the minds on debunking myths around clinical trials. How are patients protected within a trial? Will I as a patient be lost in the clinical trial system? Can I select my own arm in a trial? The questions are endless and, left unanswered, contribute to the barriers to trial enrollment.


Transcript:

Andrew Schorr:

Welcome to this Patient Empowerment Network program. I’m Andrew Schorr from Patient Power. I’m joining you from near San Diego, Carlsbad, California, and I’m so excited about this program, Does the Clinical Trial Process Need an Extreme Makeover? Having been in a clinical trial, and I’ll talk about my experience in a little while. I am a big fan, but I know that people have concerns, and I know that the percentage of cancer patients who are in clinical trials among adults is very low. How does that affect drug development and having the chance to get closer to cures for us?

I want to thank the financial sponsors for this program who provided assistance to the Patient Empowerment Network. They are Celgene Corporation, Astellas and Novartis. They have no editorial control, so what happens in the next hour is what we say, the questions you ask, what we hear from our experts who are joining us.

If you have a question, send it in to questions@patientpower.info. Again, if you have a question, send it in to questions@patientpower.info, and our wonderful producer Tamara will take a look at it, forward it to me, and as we can over the next hour we’ll be discussing questions you have already sent in. And we’ll have a very inspiring, I think, and provocative dialogue between our experts.

So let’s meet them. I want to take you to Grand Island, Nebraska, where my dear friend Jim Omel is there. He’s a retired now family practice physician. And, Jim, for years you’ve been a myeloma patient. When were you diagnosed with myeloma, and what’s happened along the way? You’re taking regular treatment now, I think, some treatment for the bone complications. How are you doing, and when were you diagnosed?

Jim Omel:

Andrew, I was diagnosed in 1997. It started off with a plasma cytoma at T10. I broke my back, I underwent a stem cell transplant in 2000 and had six years of remission. It came back in 2006, and I had radiation and lenalidomide (Revlimid), and it went away a while. Came back again in 2010, and I had radiation, bortezomib (Velcade), Revlimid, dex, and it went into remission. And since then, Andrew, I’ve been so fortunate that all I’ve been taking is bone-protective bisphosphonates.

Andrew Schorr:

Oh, good for you. Now, you were in a trial, but you decided not to continue, but yet you’re a believer in trials.

Jim Omel:

Oh, absolutely. Without trials our treatment wouldn’t change. When I had a full evaluation at Arkansas they suggested that I join their trial, and I did, and at the end of that trial was a tandem transplant. And I got to thinking and reading, and I didn’t really want to get that extent of treatment. I had a single transplant, and I dropped out of the trial. And that’s one of the things that I would certainly tell our listeners, that they can stop a trial at any time. They’re not bound to it. Ever since then, Andrew, I’ve had the good fortune of having fairly responsive myeloma, and when I had my treatments they responded to standard therapy. I certainly would have rejoined another trial if necessary, but I was fortunate that it responded the way it did.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. And before we meet our next guest, I just wanted you to list some of the committees you’re on, because you’re very active locally and nationally on behalf of patients. So what are some of those activities you’re doing?

Jim Omel:

Well, I’ve been doing this since about 2000, so that involves a lot of activity. Peer review with the NCI was one of my main ways to get started.

Andrew Schorr:

National Cancer Institute.

Jim Omel:

Yes, and I progressed on to the Board of Scientific Advisors, which was a really good, important work with the director of the NCI. I’ve been an FDA patient representative for many years and was on the advisory board that brought Kyprolis or carfilzomib to us. I spend a lot of time each month for sure with the Alliance Cooperative Group working with Paul Richardson as we bring you new trials to patients. I’ve been with CINBR, Center for National Bone Marrow Transplant research for several years, several advisory boards. I’m on two pharma accompany advisory boards as they seek patient input.

Andrew Schorr:

Wow. All right. Well, the point of this, what I wanted our viewers to get, is that Jim is—trained as a physician, worked many years as a family physician, became a patient, eventually had to retire. He’s been through a lot of treatment and is very much an advocate for all of us, particularly in this process of trials. So we’re going to talk about the unvarnished truth about trials and see how we can make it better. Okay.

Let’s skip over to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where we’re joined by Dr. Mike Thomson, who is very involved in research, and Mike has been very involved in all sorts of programs related to education. So, Mike, first of all, welcome to the program, and tell us a little bit about your involvement both locally in research and in education of other physicians nationwide and worldwide.

Dr. Thompson:

Sure. So not as impressive as Jim, but he’s one of my heroes who has really dedicated himself to improving the clinical trials process. I have an MD, PhD. My PhD is in pharmacology, and I was interested in pharmacogenetics and how individuals vary in their response to drugs, especially cancer drugs. I did my fellowship at MD Anderson and worked with a lot of myeloma doctors there and have worked in the community setting seven years in one place and about five years now where I’m located at and Aurora Healthcare in Milwaukee. I have been on the NCI Myeloma Steering Committee. I’m currently on the NCI lymphoma steering committee. I helped organize the ASCO 2016 meeting. I was the Chair of Education. As of June, I’m one of the editors for cancer.net around myeloma, so taking over from Paul Richardson who did that. So I’ll have about three years doing that and probably asking people like Jim for help to provide educational materials for people. And in the world of myeloma, I’ve created the MMSM or Multiple Myeloma Social Media hashtag to have Twitter chats, which I know some people don’t think are the optimal form of communication, but it is a way to get information out from experts and some opportunity for patients to ask questions. So I’ve been highly involved in social media, highly involved in the NCI and NCORP for increasing access to clinical trials in the community. And right now I am in the middle of an NCI designated clinical trial called EAA172 for multiple myeloma, which has gone through ECOG Executive Committee, the NCI Myeloma Steering Committee, and now we’re discussing with the companies and with Ctap how to bring that forward. And I think that’s—one of the things is how much effort it takes to bring some of these trials from concept to activation.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. Now, we’ve mentioned this more rare cancer, multiple myeloma, not rare if you have it, but Jim has it, Mike specializes in it a lot. But what we’re talking about applies to the clinical trial process about broadly. So we may have people with us living with lung cancer and hoping to live longer and better, prostate cancer, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, like me, are also myelofibrosis. I’m a two-fer, if you will. There may be many different cancers among our audience, and the process applies to all. So we’re going to talk about that. So whatever it is, ask your questions, questions@patientpower.info. I’m just going to share a little personal story for a second, because I’m very passionate about it, and I wanted to mention it. And this is part of our Clinical Trials MythBusters series, and we have previous programs on Patient Power with lung cancer experts, experts in other conditions about the clinical trial process, so look that up on patientpower.info. There will be a replay of today’s program and also a downloadable guide with highlights that you can share, talk about it with your doctor, with other patients, with people you know and for your review. Okay.

So now my own story. I was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, the most common adult leukemia, in 1996—terrified, had no idea what it was. Didn’t know anything about what a trial was, didn’t know what the treatments were. Quite frankly, thought I’d be dead like within a week. I didn’t know. And so you start getting educated, and eventually that led to me connecting with academic medicine specialists and ultimately suggestion at the appropriate time of being in a Phase II clinical trial. I didn’t know what the phases were, we may talk about that along the way, and it was 2,000 miles from my house. So I traveled a number of times to be in that trial, and I had my local oncologist collaborating on that. And the end result was I had a 17-year remission. I had treatment again for chronic lymphocytic leukemia. It wasn’t until last year, 17 years. And I got the combination of medicines 10 years before that combination was approved. So I’m a believer.

The second thing I’d say about trials was I was in a second trial along the way, and I had deep vein thrombosis, blockages in the veins in my legs, for a blood thinner trial. And by being observed in that trial, that led to them discovering a second cancer which was at work related to those clots, myelofibrosis, and I was observed, so I liked the attention. It had nothing to do with what they were testing. It had to do with the observation you get. So, again, I love the attention of being in a trial. It may give you access to tomorrow’s medicine today, but there are things that may be broken. So, Jim, let’s start with that. Jim, what has been some of the frustration points for you the way the process has been today?

Jim Omel:

Well, I think one of the main things, Andrew, is that clinical trials tend to be designed to answer scientific questions. I think what they should do is be patient friendly. I think they should be designed to help patients. If you ask any researcher, what is the purpose of the scientific trial, clinical trial, they will say, to answer a question. If you ask a patient, they’ll think the purpose of the trial is to help patients. The—it may seem like a minor point, but it’s not. Patients need to be the center of them. We need to help patients understand what their contribution is to a trial. For instance, hardly ever does a patient hear how their outcome, what they did during a trial improved the final outcome of a trial. The patient needs to be centered. If we get the trial to a point where some of the questions are pretty obviously answered, rather than continuing to recruit patients just to be statistically valid, I think trials should close sooner. I think they should be more focused on getting patient care without necessarily the scientific question. I’m not a radical. I’m certainly a fan of trials. We wouldn’t be where we’re at without trials, but I think they should just become more patient-centered and patient-friendly.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. Now, Mike, Dr. Thomson, so we know we can’t have new drugs approved by the FDA unless there are trials, Phase I, Phase II for sure, and often, typically, Phase III and sometimes even monitoring after a drug has been approved. I think you call those Phase IV trials. But from where you sit having been around this a long time what are some of your frustrations? What would you like to see be improved?

Dr. Thompson:

I agree a lot with Jim. I think another word to put on it is pragmatic trials. So I’ve been on a number of advisory committees, NCI investigator-initiated studies and pharma-directed studies. And when you have an advisory group with a bunch of academics they often think about the theories, and they think about what would be interesting to know. And increasingly both the NCI and others are getting not only patients but community physicians who will say I don’t really care about this question here. And we don’t think that it will fly and won’t accrue, and we know a lot of trials don’t complete accrual, so therefore patients are wasted, if you will, because we won’t have the information, we won’t be able to answer questions. So I agree. There are so many things get to involved it’s hard to break them all down, but part of the issue is answering a clinically meaningful question. I think the meaning should be patient-centered. Within those questions you can ask scientific questions that are imbedded in what are sometimes called secondary imports or co-relative studies. But I just last week was talking to some pharmaceutical leaders, and I said, you have to design a trial to answer a question people care about, and that’s patients and physicians. Because sometimes the trials are designed to get FDA approval, and they’re comparator arm if it’s a randomized study, is an arm that we don’t think is the current standard of care, and we have to do them in countries where they don’t have as many therapies and they don’t have as much access, so they’ll get them done. But then when they’re approved in the U.S. we don’t know what to do with the trial, because it’s not a question we’re asking. So that’s important. And I think if more studies are done not to get FDA approval but to go on pathways and to ask, what are the clinical branch points for decision-making, I think that’s when you’ll start getting good trials.

There are a number of other issues around the pragmatics. So there’s this NCI Match study, tons of people screened, very few people on the matched drugs, and they switched over to a strategy more like an ASCO TAPUR, where they waited for people that already had testing and then the people that had already kind of pre-screened couldn’t get evaluated for the study. And many, many more people went on study. The imaging and other things in the middle were not as rigorous as a usual clinical trial. It rolled quickly, and I think the point is you’re looking for big end points. Where you have to sort of go back to the classical, randomized, Phase III large study is when you’re trying to make incremental improvements, so, for instance, breast cancer where the cure rate or progression-free survival rate may be in the 90-something percentile rate, or even CML or other things where we’re doing so well you’d need a lot of patients and probably a standard design. But in many other areas you can do a variety of different techniques—Bayesian analysis, continuous reassessment models.

And one thing Jim mentioned was stopping for futility or if there’s an obvious benefit, and that is done but probably not as often as it should be. And the designs using what are called interim analyses or futility analysis with data safety monitoring boards or DSMBs, probably could be more robust. There could be more of them. I think people are afraid to do them, because they do slow the trial down, they slow accrual, and that has to do with stuff both within the trial as well as extrinsic to it. So there are a number of barriers and issues, but I think Jim’s pinpointed them as well.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. Well, folks, you can tell that Dr. Thomson is a scientist. We’re going to unpack this and get down to the nitty-gritty. So, okay. So, Jim, so first of all, we mentioned this term “randomization.” So people wonder in cancer am I going to get the good stuff? I know that I’m sick, maybe like in your area, multiple myeloma, there have been lots of new medicines, but in some other areas not, like pancreatic cancer, for example.

So, say, I understand the standard therapy, and you’re testing it maybe against that, but I want to get the good stuff, because I’m really hopeful. I want to be a believer. So could you just describe where we are with randomization, because that’s a concern people have?

Dr. Thompson:

Absolutely, Andrew, and thanks for asking that question. That’s a real red, red hot button item for me. I maintain that if the patient has gone through the effort of studying their cancer, studying the possible treatments, and they’ve learned of a trial that’s opened that they would qualify for, they’re excited, they go talk to the principal investigator, and they say I want to be in this trial. And the PI turns to them and they say, well, we’ll flip a coin. You may get the medicine we’re going to be using, or you may get standard therapy. Just imagine how disappointing that would be. And when it comes to randomization, Andrew, there’s many, there are many trials that absolutely lack equipoise. And I’m afraid that scientists often use equipoise.

Andrew Schorr:

Now, tell us what that means. You’ve got to define that for us.

Jim Omel:

Equipoise basically means equal, equal balance within the arms. In other words, technically, officially the principal investigator doesn’t know which arm is best. And yet look at it from the patient’s standpoint. Let me give you an example. There was a trial in which patients had the choice of three oral drugs in one arm versus a stem cell transplant in another arm. Now, think about that. Think of the insurance ramifications. Think of the fact that it takes almost a year to really totally recover from a stem cell transplant, versus taking three oral drugs. How can anyone say that there’s equipoise in a trial like that? So how can you pattern your life with the flip of the coin or a computer randomizing you into one of those arms?

Andrew Schorr:

Wow. That’s, that’s an important issue. Another one is, Mike, you know, people are—one of the ladies wrote in on Facebook I posted about this program, and she said, well, the trials are not really accessible to me because I live in a rural area, and they’re only in the big cities. You’re in one, Milwaukee. But Jim’s in Grand Island, Nebraska, and some people if you set requirements for the trial, well, you’ve got to come see me, you’ve got to come to the clinic for a variety of tests with some frequency and somebody has to drive four or five hours and take off work and get babysitters and all that, it just makes it impractical. Where are we with more trials being available or having an aspect of it, like testing, closer to home?

Dr. Thompson:

So I work at a community setting. I’m at our kind of flagship hospital but we cover most of the population centers of Wisconsin, so I think we cover about 70 or 80 percent of the population. So that’s a huge issue for our site is that we—when I talk to sponsors including as recently as last week I say if we can’t do it at all our sites I’m not really interested in doing your trial.

There are exceptions of course. We’re doing a surgical trial or a radiation trial that has to be at one site or sometimes a Phase I trial with just a lot of blood monitoring, very intensive, they can only be done at a few sites. But in general I completely agree that we should try to have the drugs available to people in the community they live in, because that’s where their social networks are, right? So that’s where their family is. They can stay at home. They don’t have to just go into a hotel. They don’t have to pay for travel, and I think it’s better for everyone. And for companies, I’ve been trying to tell them that it’s more generalizable to the reality of where cancer patients are. So

85 percent of cancer patients are in the community setting and are treated there, and drugs should be accessible to them there. So, you know, both the using the CCOP mechanism or NCCCP, and now we have the NCI Community and College Research Program or NCORP. The whole idea is to increase that access to community sites. So this has been going on a long time. I think there were budget cuts, and so the U.S. and the way we’ve established our cancer budgets has been to decrease access at least NCI trials and usually need some of those NCI trials to support the research infrastructure to do other studies. So I think part of that, you know, a lot of these things you follow the money. And if there was more money for community research sites, you could hire more research staff to get these things done.

But I think we need to get them done in the community, because we know if you do early phase studies and they look promising in highly selective patients, then when you expand them and put them in the community you go from efficacy to effectiveness, and the effectiveness isn’t there because the patients are different. So there are all these things with real-world data and comparative effectiveness research at ASCO’s cancer link trying to get at some of that not on study to just try to get the data.

But we need to have access to people, and the way to make drugs cheaper, make them develop faster and answer more questions, both scientific and patient-oriented, is to get more people on trial. There’s a big example for immunotherapy drugs where there are so many immunotherapy drugs and trials there are not enough patients to get it done. So we’re going to enrolling in trials which don’t complete, or we’re not going to be able to answer these questions, so it’s going to stall and move it out the process of moving faster. In myeloma, we move very fast, but we need to do this in other areas too.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. So let’s talk about that. So, Jim, you know, the president had a big kick-off, HHS Secretary Azar I think just yesterday as we do this program, was before Congress and part of it was the discussion of can we lower the cost of drugs ultimately? And one aspect of it is can we speed drug development. So instead of all these trials languishing at the cost of millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars, how do we speed it up?

So one is participation, certainly, but can the process be simplified as well, Jim? What work is going on there, so we can try to get these answers and get to the FDA and present the data quicker, and hopefully there’s been lower cost in getting to that point?

Jim Omel:

Well, as we’re learning more and more about each individual patient, personalized medicine and targeted therapy, we certainly should start relying more on biomarkers. Biomarkers can be a way to select patients that would particularly fit a given treatment.

We need to lower costs. We need to make trials slicker and faster. Single-arm trials are those in which a patient just get—all the patients get the therapy. They all get the same treatment. And FDA has actually approved drugs based on single-arm trials, a much faster and efficient way to get an answer.

The problem is that the costs are going to be there. When I think about Mike and all the work that he does in developing his venetoclax (Venclexta) trial that he mentioned, Mike has put in months or years, and it’s all above and beyond his normal time. I mean his day job is to take care of patients, so all of the work that he does to develop a trial is just remarkable in the extra hours it takes and the consistency that Mike gives to doing his work. We need to make the trials more efficient.

We need to use biomarkers. We need to make them shorter. We need biostatisticians to come up with ways to give us an answer without having to approve so many hundreds or thousands of patients to all these potential new treatments.

Andrew Schorr:

So, Mike, let’s talk about that. And, Mike, first of all, I want to thank you for your—well, both of you, but, Mike, certainly in the clinic, thanks for your devotion to this.

But continuing on that, so this was brought up by Jim, biomarkers, and I know in some of the blood cancers now we’re talking about more and more minimal residual disease testing, and we’re doing genomic testing to see what genes have gone awry, what’s our version of lung cancer or a breast cancer or a myelofibrosis or whatever it is.

And then do we qualify for a trial? What’s our specific situation? Do you feel that that sort of precision medicine testing and analysis can help refine this, so we know which trial is right for which person at which time and also some analysis along the way of how is it going?

Dr. Thompson:

Yeah, so at my site I’m the director for precision medicine, and I gave a talk at ASCO on precision medicine and barriers in the community setting, so I’m very passionate about that. And I think that is one of the ways you can try to get things done with smaller numbers of patients and things done faster. And part of this is alignment, right? So there’s different perspectives, a patient perspective, a payer perspective, a pharma sponsor perspective, the physician. There’s all these different perspectives, and I think it’s trying to get them all aligned and trying to get things done faster.

So, you know, there are some areas where we don’t know enough, and we can’t use biomarkers. But there are other areas where we have a biomarker, and there’s feasibility, and we can test that quickly. And if we are looking for a large effect size—here I am in jargon mode—but if you’re looking for a big, big hit, a home run, is to look for an alteration that is very specific and we think is—a drug can target. So-called targeted therapy—it’s a little bit of a misnomer.

So—and lung cancer has been one of the hottest places for this. So there’s ALK inhibitors, ROS1 inhibitors, EGFR inhibitors, and now BRAF inhibitors, HER2 targets. So lung cancer has exploded with precision medicine therapy, and the same with melanoma and BRAF. So, you know, I think even skeptics will say you don’t really need statistics if the prior therapies, nothing worked, and you give something, and 80 percent of people respond.

There are issues with precision medicines, but the main thing is not response rate but durability. And I think that’s going to be the next iteration of the NCI Match study, which is a large precision medicine study, is stop doing just these small groups of people who are showing activity, but then they relapse quickly. And I think it’s going to look at systems analysis, and how do we overcome resistance.

But one way to get at this and another different take on it is inclusion and exclusion criteria. So this has to do with access and individualizing and being patient-centric. Many of the inclusion and exclusion criteria, when somebody says, oh, I have lung cancer, oh, here’s a lung cancer trial, and they say, oh, you can’t go on the trial. And much of that is because there’s language that’s been cut and pasted from a previous trial which is not really pertinent.

So if the new drug is metabolized by the kidney, you don’t necessarily need to look at the liver studies. And we did a small study or I was aware of a small study done by Kaiser where if we improve the inclusion-exclusion criteria, accrual rate can go up 30 percent—so no cost to that.

Andrew Schorr:

Wow.

Dr. Thompson:

And Ed Kim led a publication about six journal articles in JCO about different aspects of inclusion-exclusion criteria including function, HIV status, age, etc.

Andrew Schorr:

Well, yeah. We had Ed Kim on the program just a week ago, as a matter of fact.

So, Jim, inclusion, exclusion, so first of all, we’re in this age where electronic medical records, it would seem that at your fingertips there could be some analysis of your record and some matching or offering of trials that could come out of an analysis of your results, genomic results. Do you have ALK or ROS or whatever, if it’s lung cancer, whatever it may be maybe JAK2 positive in myelofibrosis, what is various status for us?

And also broader inclusion criteria, and Mike was getting at that, saying some was just—excluding was just cut and pasted. And a lot of us patients would feel, well, that’s just unfair. So what’s your comment on all that, about inclusion and exclusion and analysis so we can be matched with trials more easily, can be offered to us?

Jim Omel:

Inclusion and exclusion criteria are really important parts of trials. They’re what get people into trials, they’re what keep people from being in trials. And, unfortunately, Andrew, many times the criteria are very defined, very narrowed, and drug companies especially want to do it this way to get the best effective appearance of their drug. They want to get approval. And yet in the real world, in fact most times, patients who would not even need inclusion criteria are the very patients that are going to be taking these drugs.

And Mike’s right. There’s too much cut and paste. If a trial takes a thousand patients to write a proposal or protocol, too many times researchers will just take the exclusion criteria that might have been from a previous trial and, like Mike said, cut and paste it when perhaps it’s not even necessary to have creatinine values or kidney values measured so precisely on this particular drug compared to the other one.

So those are the criteria that let people in or keep people out of trials, and they absolutely need to be widened. To make a drug more applicable to the general population we need to reflect the general population more in trials.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. Right. It’s sort of a Catch-22. So if somebody is at a drug company and they’re investing hundreds of millions of dollars maybe to develop a drug, and then that trial is languishing or taking longer to get there, somebody ought to go back and say, well, can I loosen up this criteria, get the big answer and do benefit to patients who may be very willing to be into a trial that doesn’t have all of these requirements that are not really necessary? And we get the answer and get it quicker, and help people along the way. I mean, it’s pretty obvious to me, and I hope they’re watching, folks.

So, Mike, here’s a question for you, though, and you work with people in the community setting. So we have patients who have written in and said, you know what, where I go to the cancer clinic they never mentioned trials to me, and Jim alluded to the extra time it may take for physicians and their teams is when there are trials. You have just treating people with current therapies, and then you’ve got research layered on top of that. It’s very time consuming.

But what about just awareness at the community level? What can we do about that so that wherever I go into a clinic they have a clear picture of what I’m dealing with, and if there is important research going on that relates to me I hear about it? Now, maybe they say, you’ve got to go to a university center, you’ve got to go to Milwaukee, wherever you have to go, but there’s that discussion.

Dr. Thompson:

Yeah, so with all of these, you know this has been analyzed in multiple different papers. We were on one looking at a trial log, trying to look at some of these issues, and what seems to be clear is when people are offered trials they tend to go on them at about the same rate, and that has to do—seems to be somewhat independent of socioeconomic status, race, etc., or geographic area.

So one of my colleagues, Dr. Verani, told us about—about this, about rural settings how do you get people on trial. So there are different barriers. So one is the trial, and like Jim said, if you can only do some therapy that you have to come in quite a bit for that limits the geographic area you can accrue to for most people.

There are site issues where if you don’t have enough research staff to be there enough the doctor doesn’t feel supported to spend time on it. There are physician issues where they may not care about trials, or they have too much people scheduled in clinic, they’re an hour behind, and they can’t stop to spend time on it.

Also in the community setting you may be seeing every type of cancer, and you can’t remember everything, versus at many academic settings you may only see one or a cluster of types of cancer. So if you’re seeing lung cancer all day and you have 10 trials open, you probably know those trials very well for lung cancer, because you don’t care about the CLL or myeloma trials, you only care about lung.

And then there are patient factors. So patients that are in rural Wisconsin may have different characteristics, and the reason they’re in rural areas, you know, the motivations is about, you know, going in for things and stuff like that may be different than people who have the capabilities to fly to Boston or Houston or New York, and they can do that. So all of those areas are important.

Now, one potential way to help mitigate some of those things is we have got a clinical decisions support tool, which is an IT product, which our physicians have to enter in what they’re going to do with the patient. So it could be observe, no treatment, hospice or various therapies. And when they put in the cancer and the stage it pops up with the clinical trials, the first thing that pops up. And so the physician doesn’t have to do the trial, but they have to say why they’re not doing it. And so we can track over time. It doesn’t necessarily help that individual patient, but that doctor has been aware of the trial, and we kind of get an idea of why people are not going on studies, and so that’s one way to do it.

Something we just did the last week is we had a different IT product where the NCI-matched precision study opened up five new arms with different targets for different drugs. So we looked back at the number of patients that had those targets identified within our entire system, and then we screened those to see how many people were still alive, and were their organ functions still good enough to go on these trials because of the inclusion-exclusion criteria, and we found several. So we’re now able to contact the physicians and the research staff to go back for these patients that had screened for molecular testing and now they have new options.

So I think there are IT issues that you can do systemically to try to take some of those barriers away, and then each of those points does have barriers which probably have different solutions and different ways of tackling. But one reason, you know, the accrual rate hasn’t gone up a lot is it’s not easy. It’s a complex problem, so there’s not going to be one single thing you do. There’s going to be many different ways to try to improve things, including patient education.

Andrew Schorr:

Yes, well, okay. To let’s flip that over. Jim, you and I are patients. So what do we want to say, and from your perspective?

So back at the clinic and from group has, so Mike is working on IT to identify trials and have it pop up on the screen for the doctor. Okay. Great. But we’re the ones living with the condition. What can we do so that promising research that we may learn about is available to us? We can see whether it matches up with us. Maybe we have to go down the road. Maybe we have to have a discussion with our doctor to even encourage them to have you us be in a trial. How do we make it happen, okay?

Jim Omel:

Well, of course, we all need to educate ourselves about our cancer. When I was in medicine school I had heard about myeloma, but I certainly wasn’t any expert in it. I had two patients in my practice that had myeloma. I knew sort of how to take care of them. But since I developed my myeloma, I have become my own expert. And as I lead my support group, Andrew, I make them experts. I teach this cancer to them so that they can make educated decisions.

Patients are very likely to go on the Internet, watching Patient Power. In my particular cancer, they’re going to go to the IMF and MMRF to look at myeloma trials and see what’s available. And they will take that information to their doctors, many times making their doctor aware of trials that perhaps they aren’t each advocating or aware of.

So, Mike’s right. There are many factors that keep patients from trials, but one of the things that patients really do themselves is educate themselves and perhaps even to the extent of bringing or educating their doctor about what can be available for their treatment.

Andrew Schorr:

Mike, I want to ask you about cost. So you mentioned different inclusion, exclusion, or what’s your liver function or this or that. So there is a problem where maybe certain drugs or certain aspects of a trial are covered, but then your insurance company, you know, that you have or Medicare or whatever, they say, oh, no, we don’t pay for that, but yet it’s part of the trial or it goes along.

So people have a concern about cost. I want to ask you about two aspects of cost related to testing sometimes. And then also are there programs that can assist with the logistical costs for patients as well?

Dr. Thompson:

So when I trained at Mayo Clinic and MD Anderson, and when I got—first went into practice I prided myself in not caring about cost. And then I realized you have to think about these things because you can bank—you know, we bankrupt, about 40 percent of people with cancer get bankrupted. So these are huge issues for people who want to keep their houses, that want to hand something down to their kids, and cost is huge, right? So that can either be throughout the whole course of standard treatment, or it can be trying to meet the cost of going places, trying to find clinical trials.

So the Affordable Care Act and various other national and state legislative initiatives have tried to make insurance companies pay for the standard costs in clinical trials. There are some carve-outs for smaller companies and things like that, and so this is, you know, not perfect, but in general insurance companies should pay for the standard cost of clinical trials. They should pay for standard imaging stuff too, and they try to get out of that. So it’s not a perfect world, but that should be covered. And any research-associated costs should be covered by the company. Even in some NCI trials some people disagree with what should be covered and isn’t, and it’s complicated. But in general, a patient, the research cost should be covered.

Now, that does not include travel, lodging and a lot of incidentals. So there are a variety of foundations, that could be The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, that could be other organizations which could help with that. Individual hospitals or health systems might have ways of approaching that. And sometimes there are things you can do within the various companies. So there’s a new target called Entrek, and the company Loxo, I’ve heard will fly people who wherever there’s a site and pay for them to go on the study, which I think is amazing. That’s not true for every company and every drug being developed. But that’s one way to do it.

One of the issues that comes up with IRBs if you’re giving people money, are you coercing them? And, you know, if you’re just recovering the cost to travel, I don’t think you are, right? But those are one of the things that come up. But certainly there are lots of disparities. And just like in different countries, they don’t have access to the drugs we have as standard drugs here, and not all of these disparities are going to be fixed because we have—outside of cancer we have lots of disparities in the United States, but cost is a big issue.

And then value, which we’ve been increasingly talking about in the oncology community, which is utility over cost. And that’s more for once we’ve done the trial figuring out even if shows like it works, how do we figure out how to use it based on those characteristics?

Andrew Schorr:

Thanks. And also I wanted to mention that Mike Snyder is sending that question, answering why it cost so much. I hope that answers it.

We have—you know, some people wrote in as we were preparing for this program and they were bitter because they thought they had a spouse, let’s say, that had died in a clinical trial. And that relates to a couple of things. One is transparency. Is the data from a trial and any dangers that show up, is that reported and analyzed in public, Jim? And also what are the risks being in a trial, and what is the monitoring to try to have trials be at safe as possible. So, Jim, maybe you could talk about that from a patient perspective.

I want to make sure I know what I’m getting, I know what the risks are, and if any have come up along the way I want it to be reported, and I want to know that there’s a team looking out for me.

Jim Omel:

You have every right to expect that, Andrew. If you’re in a trial you have the right to get that knowledge if there’s new things that come up that we’ve learned about. And part of every trial as it’s being written, there has to be a data safety monitoring board. These are the experts who will do what you’ve asked be done. They will monitor the trial as it goes along. They will look for any safety issues. If there are patients who are developing liver toxicities, they will find this. They will point this out and perhaps see if the trial needs to continue or if something needs to be revised.

The presence of institutional review boards review whether trials should go forward or not. Patients who are in trials actually get very, very good medical care and medical coverage. In fact, I would maintain, Andrew, that they get better care than just standard care. They have experts that are watching them even more carefully than would be in a general routine care setting because they’re looking for these concerns and problems.

The person who mentioned the bad outcome, we can’t ever say that every trial is going to be perfect. There are going to be concerns. That’s why trials are done. But they’re relatively rare, and we do have boards and review organizations during the trial, not afterwards, but during the trial to be looking out for your benefit, Andrew, so that you’re not hurt by the trial.

Andrew Schorr:

All right. But let’s say this—and, Mike, for you. So, first of all, admittedly a lot of these trial start, and people are sick people, and they’re feeling maybe the trial is their last hope. We had a friend, Lisa Minkove, who died in the CAR-T trial for CLL not long ago. She had been very sick with CLL, so we’d hoped that it would work. It didn’t work for her, whether CLL won. And we know other people whereas the learning is going on about often powerful new medicines they didn’t benefit. Or in one case, there was a drug, venetoclax we know about, there were some deaths early on when the drug was far more powerful than was originally understood. So what do we do? I mean that’s the real world I guess of scientific study, but that’s a concern, you know, Mike, of people saying, oh, my God, I’m worried about being a guinea pig the unknowns on the subject of dangers.

Dr. Thompson:

So there are a couple of things. So whenever people say—it doesn’t come up as much recently about being a guinea pig, I say, well, guinea pigs don’t have choices, so. And so like Jim has said you can drop off a trial if you want to drop off it. But—so I think for adverse events and things that can happen, one reason to randomize people is that you do understand then if you treat someone with one thing and then another and the death rate the same in both, the drug is not causing it. That’s just the disease. And a couple years ago, there was a presentation from the group at Dana-Farber on the precision medicine program, and the issue was they were taking so long to get people evaluated that their performance status or how well they felt was good, and by the time they got through the evaluation many of them had died. Because the disease, you know, when you get to fifth, sixth, seventh-line therapy it can often progress very rapidly.

And so I think that’s one of the issues, that people can feel the drug did it, and it’s hard to know. And we get these—doctors get these things called adverse events reporting forms, and we have to try to come up with is this probably related, possibly related, and we also get these forms that say you have a patient on the study. The study is open in three countries, thousands of people on it. One person died of a heart attack, and you have no idea as the physician, well, is that the same rate as—you know they’re 70 years old. Is that the same rate as this other 70-year-old. So you need the enumerator and the denominator, and that’s what the DSMB or the Data Safety Monitoring Board is supposed to do, which is look at the data and say, is this beyond what we would expect? And they can stop the trial. They can do expanded cohorts. They can do things to try and figure that out. Now, we know from like even car companies lying about their exhaust systems that if the Data Safety Monitoring Board gets false data, well, you can’t fix that. But that’s pretty nefarious. Like that I think is not something that’s commonly happening and would be a very serious thing to happen.

Now, one thing for transparency is that almost all studies I’m aware of get registered on clinicaltrials.gov or maybe some other sites but usually that site, and they’re supposed to report out the outcomes. It’s not also a perfect process, but you should be able to see how long the study has been open, are there any complications related to it and those types of things. So this whole process is not perfect, but I would say in general the people at the companies are trying to develop something they think is going to work. They’re trying to do it safely, both to help develop their drug well as well as to avoid a bunch of regulatory issues, and the people on the Data Safety Monitoring Board are trying to do their best to answer these questions. But the smaller the number of patients which increasingly will take the trials we are doing and almost are aiming for, it’s harder to be definitive about when these things happen and what caused it.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. Right. It’s imperfect, as we said. So, Jim, Mike Thompson mentioned earlier, gave lung cancer as an example and, of course, across immunotherapy, there are so many companies endeavoring to move this research along. So let’s say you had lung cancer or one of these others where this is big, although it’s going on in the hematology area too, so a patient says, oh, my god, there are all these trials, and I might qualify for one, two, three, four. How do I prioritize? What do I bet on? And maybe my own doctor is doing more than one. So what do you say to patients if they become receptive to being in a trial and there’s more than one trial that they qualify for?

Jim Omel:

That’s a very good question, and it’s a nice kind of problem to have, to have choices of trials. I think, Andrew, the best answer is the patient needs to look at what they are looking for. Are they looking for longevity? Are they looking for something that’s going to expend their life? Are they looking for a trial that maybe will greatly improve their quality of life? Perhaps they’re looking for a trial that gives them one pill per week versus two injections a week. So there are certainly effectiveness end points. There are different things that patients find of value.

But to answer your question it really comes down to each patient needs to ask themselves, what is it I’m looking for in a trial? Do I want something that makes my burden lighter? Do I want something that’s going to extend my life? How much am I willing it accept as far as potential problems versus the standard of care that I know what the problems exist with if I don’t go on a trial?

Andrew Schorr:

Right. So that’s a question we got in, is they’re trying to assess that. One was about how do I prioritize? The other is, by being in a trial, Mike, is it going to make me sicker? Like, to do I have to go through the valley of the shadow of death to get, hopefully, to a better place, and how do you discuss that with your doctor when not everything is known?

Dr. Thompson:

Yeah, maybe I’ll kind of step back and say for phases of trials, Phase I, the intent—both ASCO and NCI say the intent of a Phase I trial is therapeutic. But the statistical design is to evaluate safety. A Phase II is to look at initial efficacy or how well it works, and Phase III is to compare versus standard of care the efficacy. So there’s other types of designs, phase 0, Phase IV and other things, but it used to be, I think, you know, I—we would say don’t go on a Phase I unless that’s the last option because you’ve already gone through the safety initial efficacy if it’s a Phase III trial. It costs a lot of money to do Phase III trials so fewer are being done now, and we’re kind of finding that in this era of precision medicine people are going on trials, and there’s no one rule, but I look at it as if it’s a study involving a lot of different groups of patients, a lot of—you know, it’s not individualized to you, I don’t know, but I think it will have less of a benefit probably than if it’s something like a study designed for BRAF melanoma back when that was a study and you have BRAF. Well, it’s targeted for you. It doesn’t mean it will work, but even if it’s an early phase, a Phase I or II trial, it’s really aimed at your disease.

And we’re finding this with venetoclax, with T1114, and there’s other markers, FLT3 in AML, all these things, and sometimes we find that the drug doesn’t work like we think it’s going to work. The ALK and ROS story in lung cancer, it may benefit other people that we didn’t recognize before, and that’s part of–we’re trying to find people besides T1114 that respond to venetoclax in myeloma because it looks like some people will. But I think as we’re getting more targeted therapy it doesn’t mean there’s no toxicity, but it at least has the suggestion that we’re targeted more at your specific cancer. And some of these pills can have as much toxicity as IV chemo s, but our aim is to decrease toxicity and increase efficacy. And I think, like Jim said, you’ve got to look at different trials and hopefully with a physician who has time to sit down and run through several scenarios. And some people will take the most aggressive therapy because that’s what they’re after, and some people will try something that’s easier and closer to home. So everyone’s values are a little bit different, and you have to try to individualize as a patients.

Andrew Schorr:

Right.

Dr. Thompson:

One thing about trial matching is besides clinicaltrials.gov, there’s myeloma and other groups that are doing these matching, so you can put in characteristics of your cancer and you can try to filter out and get a closer approximation, including at clinicaltrials.gov you can click on the states in the surrounding area or how many miles you’re willing to travel.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. I would mention, put in a plug for our advocacy group friends, whether it’s Lung Cancer Alliance, Bonnie Addaria Lung Cancer or the International Myeloma Foundation with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, you can be in contact with them directly and talk about your situation, and they will often be very aware of trials and how it’s starting to line up with these sub groups, subtypes of illness. Here’s a question we got it in with Jack. I just want to get in a couple more before we have to go. This relates to what you were talking about the National Cancer Institute’s Match trial, as I understand it, Mike. He said, regarding precision medicine I thought I heard that initial results have been disappointing for the NCI trial which treats patients with a specific mutation with a specific drug for that mutation. How does this impact precision medicine? You want to talk on that? Mike?

Dr. Thompson:

Yeah, so the people who are opponents of precision medicine would say that the SHIVA trial in Europe and the NCI Match trials were failures. I think you need to look at it a little more carefully. And if you do a huge screening and you don’t have many drugs you don’t have many matches and not many people are going to benefit. So there are some arms in match that match the accrued the number they wanted, and the drugs didn’t work well. So those were truly we think negative studies. But I think the things about Match are there is a huge interest in the community, and they had thousands or several hundred people screened when they only had a few arms opened, and those people weren’t matches, and it basically overwhelmed the system. And then they had to rejigger it to open up more arms. So I think we could—you know, pick holes in the design of the initial study, but I think it took everyone by surprise how much interest there was in trying to personalize these molecular therapies. And other iterations such as ASCO TAPUR, there’s company versions of it like Novartis Signature, and I think the new design of Match do allow for better match rates, and we’ll see how after they’ve adjusted how well they can hit their targets.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. So that’s an example, where we’re going through a makeover there. Before we go, Jim, we have people watching from all over the world, and Mike alluded to sometimes trials done in other countries. Certainly they are. So we have somebody from New Zealand, we have people from other countries now. How do I access trials? Does it have to be in my country? Or what would you say to an international audience as far as finding out what’s available to them?

Jim Omel:

That’s a difficult question because every country has their own standards. Each country has their own boards that review. What is allowed in some countries are not even allowed. Observational trials can have more importance in some countries than others. Again, it’s a tough question. I think perhaps the person who asked it really needs to be again their own advocate and go online, go with their physician, go to their local support groups, go to their national groups, because they’re the ones that can give that local person their answer. There’s no one set answer for every country because there are some many variances.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. I do want to tell one of my favorite stories. I had a friend Jan Rin in Dublin, Ireland. She had a tremendous problem with more advanced chronic lymphocytic leukemia, one of the conditions I have, no trial for her there. She heard about Imbruvica being studied in Leeds, England, different health system, national health system. She was in Ireland, didn’t have it. She got permission from the Irish government to go over to Leeds and be in Dr. Hellmann’s trial there, and I think it saved her life. She would tell you that. So she had to be pushy. There were newspaper articles. She had to do lots of things to make it happen. It’s going to be varied by country but it starts with…

Jim Omel:

…drug like the one you mention, and it’s not available in the country, and there’s so much of that in myeloma. We have many, many drugs in the US that they don’t have in other parts of the world, and it would be so sad to be a patient in those countries, know that a treatment like that is available but not have access to it. So we all need to work to get these drugs available to patients wherever they’re at.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. Amen. I want to just get some final comments from you. We may just go a couple minutes over. So, Mike, the process is improving, I hope, you’re working on it. Can we feel confident that these gaps, if you will, improving it for prevision medicine, more awareness among the doctors wherever we may go, financial assistance, working with the insurance companies, are you working on it so that this process, we can have some improvement and hopefully have higher levels of enrollment and can get drugs approved quicker?

Dr. Thompson:

Yeah, I think we’re all very concerned about it. We should all be aligned in having more patients on trial, moving things faster and getting it done more cheaply. And I think we’re making progress. It’s not as fast as any of us want, but we’re all trying to move the ball forward.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. So, Mike, it comes—excuse me. Jim, it comes down to us then as patients. We have to push, right? We have to see what’s within ourselves, what are we willing to do, understand our clinical situation and what’s going on for our cancer, and we’ve got to push, right?

Jim Omel:

And one of the things we need to push for are more interesting trials. We need to make pharma companies put up their drug against another pharma company’s drug. I think it’s so troubling when they’re afraid to take big steps. They just take little, incremental steps with their trials. If we can put drug A of one company versus drug A of another company—pharma companies are really reluctant to do those kinds went trials, and yet those are the kind that would be exciting to patients. I could give certain names of myeloma drugs, but we won’t get into that. It just needs—we need to get better, more interesting trials, and that will attract patients.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. So I want to just put in a plug for something. We started something at Patient Power called the Patient Power Ambassador Program, and you can see it listed on our site, where you can share your voice. So we can all work with Jim, work with Dr. Thompson, and we cannot just be getting what’s right for us, but we can push on this process. So please consider doing that. Because I want to thank you, Jim Omel, for not just getting what’s right for you as a myeloma patient, but working on these government panels and with advocacy groups to try to advance it for all of us. Jim Omel, thank you for doing this.

Jim Omel:

Thank you, Andrew. It’s a pleasure to do this, and I’ll keep doing it.

Andrew Schorr:

Yes. And long life, Jim. Thank you.

Jim Omel:

Thank you.

Andrew Schorr:

And, Dr. Mike Thompson, thank you, Mike, for your leadership too and those extra hours put in, not just for programs like this but all the clinical research speaking to industry and the government to try to improve this process. Thanks for being with us, Dr. Mike Thompson.

Dr. Thompson:

Thanks for having me on, and I think this is the some of the most powerful patient educational material that people can get, this type of program.

Andrew Schorr:

All right. Thank you so much. So, folks, we’re all in this together. So you have your own issues about whether you know about trials, whether you want to be in a trial, that’s right for you or a loved one, whether it’s close to home, not close to home, so—but we have these discussions. So please look ongoing at the clinical trials mythbuster series. The let us know how we did today. You can always write to me, andrew@patientpower. Our producer, Tamara, T-A-M-A-R-A, at patientpower.info. And talk to your own doctor and your own healthcare team about clinical trials and where they line up, what are the obstacles, for you participating. And let’s see if we can improve this process and ultimately have more medicine that can lead to a cure for us be available sooner. Thank you for watching. We’ve done our best today, but this is an ongoing discussion. In Carlsbad, California, I’m Andrew Schorr. Jim joined us from Nebraska, Dr. Mike Thompson joined us from Wisconsin. Worldwide, we’re here for you. Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all. Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.


Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Empowerment Network are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

A Yoga Technique to Increase Relaxation and Reduce Anxiety

Certified Yoga Therapist Raquel Jex Forsgren shares a short yoga and breathing technique to help you reduce anxiety and increase relaxation. You can refer back to these practices in stressful situations to help control your mind and breath.

You can check out more of Raquel’s videos on her YouTube channel, Yoga With Raquel.


Transcript:

Raquel Forsgren:

So what I’ll ask all of you to do, even those of you that are on‑‑joining us with Andrew‑‑and Dr. Subbiah, you can do it as well‑‑I’d like all of you to feel really comfortable, just to sit in your chair or if you’re watching this in your bed lying on your back, just wherever you are I want you to just simply close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing that.  And immediately feel the surface of whatever it is that’s supporting you, the chair, the bed, see if you can sink into it, even 5 percent more than you were initially.

Wherever your hands are, feel the bottoms of your hands, maybe the bottoms of your feet, your toes, your heels.  Just feel the body itself.  Now notice your breathing and don’t judge it, just notice what it’s doing, if it’s nice and slow and fluid as you inhale and exhale or shorter little breaths or sticky or clunky in any way.  Don’t analyze it.  Don’t go into any thinking other than just noticing.

Begin to expand your muscles in your ribs as you take your next inhale.  Just think about expanding your ribs out just a little bit more, taking two more nice, slow inhales and exhales.  And I want you to bring to mind one thing you’re really grateful for today.  One thing.  The next before we move on, bring to mind a goal, an intention.  It could be how you want to feel for the rest of the day, emotionally or physically.  How do you want to feel or what do you need?  Beautiful.

Softly begin to open your eyes and bring your hands right in front of your heart with your palms placed together.  We’re going to do just a few movements of our arms so that you can see what it’s like to connect movement, your body and mind and breath together, and also thinking about lung cancer just something that helps expand the lungs and just activate all of those muscles themselves that need to be nourished.

So as you inhale just open your arms like an (? cast) or goal post.  And you’ll need to adjust this.  If you have had surgery along the central plate, take it nice and easy, just open, inhaling.  As you exhale bring your arms together, touching your palms together, elbows and forearms.  Inhale, open the arms again.  Exhale, closing the arms together.  Just take two more only moving with your own breath.  And closing.  One more time just like that, beautifully opening and relaxing.  And releasing the palms back down on your hands.

Close your eyes one more time.  I want you to notice if anything has changed within your body, your mind or your emotions, and there’s nothing wrong if nothing’s shifted.  I just want you to notice.  And softly blink open your eyes again because I want to show you and have you go through with me one of the best anxiety reducing breathing techniques that can be done.  It’s published in the literature.

It’s called alternate nostril breathing.  You can do this while you’re waiting at the doctor’s office for results, if you starting to feel panicky or anxious, when you’re inside an MRI machine or a CT scan, when you are just waking up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts and you can’t seem to shut them off.  So you’ll take two fingers, sometimes it’s the outer fingers but sometimes with arthritis in older hands it’s a little tougher, so I like to use two fingers, you’re going to bring them up to your nose, and you’ll be closing off one nostril at a time.  And I want you to breathe normally and naturally, okay.  So this isn’t anything forced.

Close off the right nostril first, and just delicately push it.  You don’t have to push it clear into your nose.  Just delicately push it.  Exhale all the way out the left side of the nostril.  Then inhale through the left nostril, exhale out the right nostril.  Inhale through the right nostril, exhale out the right nostril.  We’re going to do three more of these.  Inhale through the left, exhale out the right.  Inhale through the right and exhale a little longer out the left.  One last time.  Inhale through the left and exhale longer out the right side.

Bring your hands back down to your lap and close your eyes again.  Take a nice normal, natural breath.  And I want you to notice what’s different in your breathing, if anything.  Just notice it.  Notice your heart beating.  Come back to that intention or that goal you set for yourself.  And softly blink open your eyes with a smile.  I’m expecting all of you watching to be smiling even though I can’t see you.  And Namaste.

Fact or Fiction: 10 Common Breast Cancer Myths Busted

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and while many of us may think there is already plenty of awareness of breast cancer these days, it’s quite surprising how many myths exist alongside the facts.  Some breast cancer myths still continue despite a lack of evidence. A survey found that agreement with the phrase: “It seems like everything causes cancer” is on the increase. The danger is that when people believe this, confusion and misinformation about risk factors also increase. This can lead to unnecessary worry and can even hinder good prevention and treatment decisions.  So let’s untangle the facts from the fiction by busting ten of the most common myths which persist about breast cancer.

 

Myth #1: Finding a lump in your breast means you have breast cancer

Fact: Most breast lumps are caused by benign (noncancerous) changes, cysts, or other conditions.

Breast tissue is changing all the time because of fluctuating hormone levels, especially during times of menstruation and breastfeeding. It’s important to be aware of how your breasts normally look and feel, and know what changes to look for.

Take Action: While most breast lumps will not turn out to be cancer, lumps that feel harder or different from the rest of the breast (or the other breast), or change over time, should always be checked by your doctor.

 

Myth #2: Feeling pain in your breast is a symptom of breast cancer

Fact: Most breast cancers do not cause pain in the breast (although some do).

Many women experience breast pain or discomfort in the week leading up to their period. The pain usually goes away after menstruation.  Other breast conditions, such as mastitis (an infection of the tissue of the breast that occurs most frequently during breastfeeding), may cause a more sudden pain.

Take Action: If you have breast pain that is severe or persists and is not related to the menstrual cycle, you should be checked by your doctor.

 

Myth #3: Breast cancer is a hereditary disease

Fact: Only 5% to 10% of breast cancers are thought to be hereditary. The other 90% are largely due lifestyle and environmental factors. 

The risk in a person believing this myth is that they might think there is nothing they can do to prevent breast cancer if it is already in their family. Genetic testing can help you understand your inherited risk and allow you to make choices about your future care.
Some high-risk women also choose to have a prophylactic mastectomy to decrease their risk.

Take Action:  Cancer is a complex group of diseases with many possible causes, including lifestyle factors such as smoking, diet, and physical activity. Lower your risk of developing breast cancer by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and limiting the amount of alcohol you drink.

 

Myth #4: Only women get breast cancer

Fact: While the incidence of breast cancer in women is significantly higher than in men, men can get breast cancer.

Many people don’t think of men as having breasts. In fact both men and women have breast tissue, although men have much smaller amounts than women. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, men carry a higher mortality than women do, primarily because awareness among men is less and they are less likely to assume a lump is breast cancer, which can cause a delay in seeking treatment.

Take Action:  Know the signs of male breast cancer. Symptoms include a hard lump underneath the nipple and areola and color change in the surrounding area.

 

Myth #5: Breast cancer only occurs in post-menopausal women

Fact: While it is true that the older a woman is, the higher her breast cancer risk becomes, breast cancer does occur in younger women.

Although breast cancer in young women is rare, more than 250,000 women living in the United States today were diagnosed with it under age 40[1]. In young women, breast cancer tends to be diagnosed in its later stages and be more aggressive. Young women also have a higher mortality rate and higher risk of metastatic recurrence (return of breast cancer in areas beyond the breast).

There is no effective breast cancer screening tool yet for women under 40, most of whom have dense breast tissue that prevents routine mammograms from being a useful screening tool.

Take Action:  Being breast aware is very important. Become familiar with how your  breasts normally look and feel and, if you notice a change, you should see your doctor as soon as possible.

 

Myth #6: Wearing an underwire bra causes breast cancer  

Fact: Claims that underwire bras cause breast cancer have been widely debunked as unscientific.

According to the myth, wearing your bra every night or for too long daily prevents your pores from being able to breathe. Sweat accumulates and toxins build up which are believed to cause breast cancer. Another version of this myth is that wearing a bra which is too tight or sleeping in your bra can cause breast cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) states “we do not know of any epidemiologic studies published in scientific journals that suggest bras directly contribute to breast cancer.”

 

Myth #7: Deodorants can cause breast cancer

Fact: There is no evidence to back the claims that deodorants and antiperspirants cause cancer.

People sometimes worry about whether chemicals in common products such as cosmetics or toiletries could cause cancer, but there is no good scientific evidence to show that these products affect the risk of cancer. According to Breastcancer.org, even the strongest antiperspirant doesn’t block all perspiration in the armpit. Most cancer-causing substances are removed by the kidneys and released through urine or processed by the liver. Toxins are cleared by lymph nodes and not by the sweat glands.

Take Action: If you still have concerns about the link between antiperspirants and breast cancer, see the NCI fact sheet on Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer for more information.

 

Myth #8: Breast cancer is a single disease

Fact: Breast cancer is not one disease, but a complex group of different types of tumours.

Until quite recently, breast cancer was thought of as one disease, so everybody got much the same treatment, which led to overtreatment for some patients.  We now know that at a molecular level tumors act and respond to treatments differently.  Researchers have to date classified breast cancer into 10 different subtypes.  Having a more detailed system of tumor categories can help tailor treatment to individual patients and predict women’s survival more accurately.

 

Myth #9:  Stress causes cancer

Fact:  The scientific evidence that stress causes cancer is not conclusive.

Despite studies which show weak evidence of an association between stressful events and a diagnosis of cancer, many people still hold the belief that stress is a factor in causing cancer. It’s unrealistic to think we can avoid stress completely. Everyone feels stressed at some point in their lives. But long periods of stress can cause mental health problems such as anxiety and depression and can contribute to physical health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and ulcers. It makes sense then to get our stress levels under control.

Take Action: Adopt healthier coping mechanisms, such as learning stress-management techniques, taking the time to eat healthily and exercising more.

 

Myth #10:  Mammograms cause breast cancer

Fact: While mammograms do involve radiation exposure, the dose used is extremely low.

A mammogram (an x-ray of the breast) currently remains the gold standard for the early detection of breast cancer. Mammograms can detect lumps well before they can be felt, and the earlier that lumps are caught, the better one’s chances for survival. While it’s true that radiation is used in mammography, the amount is so small that any associated risks are tiny when compared to the benefits.

Take Action: According to the National Cancer Institute, the standard recommendation is an annual mammographic screening for women beginning at age 40. Base your decision on your physician’s recommendation and be sure to discuss any remaining questions or concerns you may have with your physician.

To wrap up, certain myths about breast cancer, though inaccurate, can nevertheless seem to make sense when we hear them repeated often enough.  While some risk factors for breast cancer are out of our control, knowing and understanding our risks will help us make the best choices possible for ourselves and our loved ones.

[1] Young Survival Coalition statistics on breast cancer in younger women.

 


For information on galactocele, please check out the blog What is a Galactocele, and What Can I Do About It? and 12 Breast Cancer Myths And Facts You Should Be Aware Of

Clinical Trial Mythbusters: Do Patients Have A Voice While Participating in a Clinical Trial?

For survivors Roberta Alberle and T.J. Sharpe and so many others, cancer was an unwelcome intruder that suddenly demanded their attention. Both became proactive and engaged, vocal patients, doing research about their treatment options and gaining access to clinical trials that made a HUGE difference.

Watch to learn:

  •       Do patients still have a voice during the clinical trial process?
  •       What is a clinical trial navigator?
  •       How can patients help their healthcare team be more effective in locating trials for them?
  •       More about clinical trial resources

Clinical Trials Mythbusters: Do Patients Have A Voice While Participating in a Clinical Trial? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 

Clinical Trial Mythbusters: Are Clinical Trials a Gamble for Me or My Loved One?

Is a clinical trial right for me or is it a gamble with my health? How will my loved one be affected? Do the risks outweigh the benefits? Watch as a panel of experts, including an oncologist, trial coordinator, and patient advocate as they debunk some of the myths around clinical trials. Listen to hear the patient voice and perspective for getting the best care-making decisions about clinical trials.

Watch to learn:

  • What are common clinical trial myths?
  • Why should patients participate?
  • How can patients navigate the system?
  • How can I or my care partner work with my medical team?

Clinical Trial Mythbusters: Are Clinical Trials a Gamble for Me or My Loved One? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 

Clinical Trial Mythbusters: Are Clinical Trials a Last Resort Treatment Option?

Are clinical trials only for patients who run out of treatment options? Watch as our expert panel answer questions as they debunk common myths around clinical trial participation. Tune in to hear the patient perspective and expert advice for making decisions about clinical trials.

Watch the video and learn:

  • What is a trial and when should I consider one?
  • What are common clinical trial myths?
  • If my cancer center does not offer a trial, what should I do?
  • How can I stay informed?
  • Is there financial assistance to be in a trial?

Clinical Trial MythBusters: Are Clinical Trials a Last Resort Treatment Option? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.


Transcript:

Andrew Schorr:

Hello and welcome to this Clinical Trials MythBusters program.  I’m Andrew Schorr from Patient Power joining you all the way from Barcelona, Spain.  We’re here for a conference.  You’re about to meet folks from across the U.S. and wherever you’re joining us.  Thank you so much for joining us.

Thanks to our wonderful partner, the Patient Empowerment Network, and also the Coalition for Clinical Trial Awareness and the Alliance for Patient Access.  And thank you to our sponsors, they all start with A, Astellas, Amgen and AbbVie.  They help make this program possible.

We have a lot to talk about in helping debunk the myths about clinical trials and hopefully raising awareness and understanding for you and your family, so you can consider a clinical trial and see whether it’s right for you.  And I can tell you, in so many areas of cancer now there’s exciting research going on. But if you want to get the possibility of tomorrow’s medicine today, and it happened for me with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, being in a Phase II trial way back in 2000, 10 years before the drug combination I received was approved.  I know it was life-saving for me.

And I want you to meet our first guest.  It was life-saving for him, and that is Pat Gavin.  Pat joins all the way from Marne, Michigan, which is outside Grand Rapids.  Pat, thank you so much for joining us on this program.

Pat Gavin:

Thanks for having me, Andrew.  Glad to be here.

Andrew Schorr:

Now, Pat, I want to go over a little background about you.  I believe that you’ve been treated for three cancers, right?  Pharyngeal head and neck cancer, in 2007, right?

Pat Gavin:

Right.

Andrew Schorr:

And also you were treated for melanoma 2008, and then in 2014 prostate cancer.  Now, you were in a Phase II trial for that pharyngeal head and neck cancer.  Do you believe it made a big difference for you?

Pat Gavin:

Well, that trial is absolutely the reason I’m here today.  My oncologist described it as we had the experience of witnessing a miracle.

Andrew Schorr:

Let’s meet one of our medical specialists who is joining us, who has been on our Patient Power programs before and our lung cancer programs, and that’s Dr. Charu Aggarwal.  She joins us from Penn Medicine, the Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia.  She’s a lung cancer specialist and also a head and neck cancer specialist, very active in trials.  Dr. Aggarwal, thank you for joining us.

Dr. Aggarwal:

Thank you, Andrew.  Thank you for having me here.  I’m delighted to be part of this program.

Andrew Schorr:

Dr. Aggarwal, you have a lot of research going.  It takes patients wanting to participate for us to ever have approved medicines, right?

Dr. Aggarwal:

Absolutely.  And I think that’s key in clinical trial participation, to get drugs to patients early.

Andrew Schorr:

All right.  And certainly in the area of lung cancer and many other cancers now there’s a lot happening, and smart researchers like Dr. Aggarwal are trying to prove some things that really seem like they would make a lot of sense, but we patients have to participate, be their partner.  I’ve seen that.

Dr. Aggarwal, lung cancer is a good example, but you’re an oncologist, and you see many different areas that are changing fast.  What would you say to patients about the opportunity, like I said, did it give me tomorrow’s medicine today?  Or, Pat, who feels he’s alive because of that.  You must see that a lot.  Doesn’t always work out, but it’s happening more and more, isn’t it?

Dr. Aggarwal:

It is definitely happening more and more.  Clinical trials are really accelerating our ability to get patients, like you said, tomorrow’s medicine today.  In the last five years, we’ve had upwards of eight to 10 drugs approved for lung cancer alone, and it would not have been possible without patients’ participation on clinical trials.

As we understand the biology of diseases better and as more medicines are available to us, the only way to access them and the only way to get FDA approval is through clinical trials.  And we’ve certainly seen that for lung cancer, but we’ve also seen that for head and neck cancer, and immunotherapy is now possible because of clinical trial participation.

Andrew Schorr:

Right.  And I’m living with two cancers, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, where there are many new drugs now, and now we’re looking at trials with combinations of new drugs.  And then I have another condition, scarring in the bone marrow, myelofibrosis, and I was very grateful that a new drug had been approved for that. And I’ve taken that drug now four-and-a-half years, a genetic inhibitor, and I’ve met patient number one, who is in that trial, and I give him a big hug.

Now, Pat, what do you think are some of the myths?  You know, you meet people all the time.  What do you think are some of the things that people just think are true but really aren’t?  Maybe you could tick some off.

Pat Gavin:

Well, one of the big myths out there is that there’s going to be a placebo arm, and there are not placebo arms to treatment trials, unless the standard of care would be a wait and watch, which is relatively rare.  So you’re always going to get either standard of care or a combination that includes standard of care and the test drugs or the—test drugs.  You’re never going to be left out there with just taking a sugar pill.

Andrew Schorr:

Right.  So let me go over that with Dr. Aggarwal.  People I think are—have heard about trials for other illnesses, but we’re talking about cancer now.  Your patients don’t get just a little white pill with nothing in it, right?  They either get quality care, standard of care, or they get something new.  Is that correct?

Dr. Aggarwal:

That’s correct.  So the era of placebo?controlled trials is almost over, and I say almost because in the metastatic setting or in the stage IV setting or incurable setting we almost always never use placebo anymore.  We are either randomizing patients to standard of care or meeting standard therapy, the chemotherapy, be it a pill, be it targeted therapy or immunotherapy, and we compare patients to that approach and introduce the experimental approach on the other hand.

Now, if there are patients that have standard of care as observation, then, of course, that observation arm does become our randomized arm.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  And may I ask what Pat was taking, or like I know in leukemia we have people who are in watch and wait.  So we have some people who are in watch and wait, okay.  So I get that.

Pat, what’s another myth, do you think?  So one was where you get a placebo, so we heard no.  So what’s another myth, do you think?

Pat Gavin:

I think there’s always a feeling that I’m going to be just a guinea pig, and that’s the one thing I think I hear most often from people is I don’t want to be a guinea pig.  I want to make sure that I’m getting a treatment and not being exposed to things that are unsafe.  Of course, there’s always a certain amount of risk with any trial that we participate in, but the chances of some of the things happening that you might see on the comedy TV shows just aren’t going to be there.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Dr. Aggarwal, let’s go over that.  So, first of all, you’re at a major university center, University of Pennsylvania and Abramson Cancer Center.  What sort of panels in decision?making of smart minds are there going to whether you’re even going to go ahead with a certain trial?  I think you call it an investigational review board.  Tell us a little about the process of deciding whether you’re going to have a trial at your institution at all.

Dr. Aggarwal:

Yes.  So there’s a very thorough review of clinical trials, and these are vetted through several committees both in terms of ethical review as well as scientific review.  And, you know, when my patients say to me I don’t want to be a guinea pig, I really try and figure out what is it about the trial that they don’t want to do?  Is it the fact that they don’t want to get the investigational drug, or is it the number of tests that are involved in association with receiving that drug?

And I think, you know, most of the time, 80 to 90 percent of the time, I’m able to answer patients’ questions and concerns regarding their guinea pig concern, and most of the times actually it’s related to the fact that they don’t want to undergo extra tests or procedures that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

As soon as they hear that this is actually a drug where it may benefit them and they’re not just going to get a sugar pill, most patients are actually interested in clinical trial participation, because they’re here to really help themselves and to get something that can help their cancer.

Andrew Schorr:

So, Pat, another concern—well, I guess one limitation of people being in trials is people don’t even know about them, you know, not only don’t understand what a trial is but have not even been told that it’s an option, and that’s a problem in the U.S. today, isn’t it?

Pat Gavin:

Absolutely.  I even think it was a problem for me.  I didn’t know that a trial was going to be available in my home town.  If it wouldn’t have been for my oncologist recommending it to me, I probably wouldn’t have joined.  Fortunately, today I think patients are getting more knowledgeable about trials that are out there, and they’re hearing more and have the interest in joining a trial, and they’ll recommend it to their oncologists and tell them that they are interested.  But not knowing about them is a big problem.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay, Pat.  So for our viewers today, what question or questions would you urge cancer patients or family members to ask today so that they have the awareness of trials that might be right for them?

Pat Gavin:

Well, the first thing I would do is I would offer to my oncologist that I’m interested in being in a trial.  And I would ask what type of trials are available for people with my cancer, and what would you recommend as far as the trials that you see out there that you think is right for what I’m facing today?

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  All right.  Well, now joining us I think is Mary Ellen Hand, who has been at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago for many years and also works with lung cancer patients but has been in oncology for many years.  Mary Ellen, first of all, thank you so much for being with us.

Mary Ellen Hand:

You’re welcome.  Sorry for the technical difficulty.

Andrew Schorr:

It’s okay.  Thank you for being with us, Mary Ellen.  So from your point of view, what’s a myth that comes up a lot for people?  We’ve been talking a little bit with our other guests about whether with you get a placebo, no, whether you’re a guinea pig, no.  Are there other myths that you can think of that you really want to talk about now?

Mary Ellen Hand:

I think that people sometimes come to this thinking I don’t want to do something because I don’t—as you’re saying, a guinea pig or be in uncharted territory as opposed to having an opportunity to have a therapy that may be more impactful in their disease and help control their cancer better.

And, secondly, I will have people who have an out?of?network insurance or something that doesn’t allow them the flexibility to maybe even come to our institution or somewhere else for their therapy, and they think cancer trials are free care, anything you get if you’re on a trial is free.  And what is true is that ordinary customary charges for things like blood tests and scans and doctor appointments and the medicines that are approved are billed to your insurance, and what the company might provide that’s being tested would be the thing that’s provided free to you.  And so I think that that’s a misconception that many people have.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Now, can a major medical center like yours help a patient discover the financial issues related to them, maybe even work with their insurance company to see are there options for them related to being in a trial?

Mary Ellen Hand:

I think over the last couple years in particular things have become much more complicated for people.  You know, some people sign up for Medicaid or Medicare replacement policies in the different states.  There’s Medicaid with places—Medicaid policies that don’t allow people flexibility.  But certainly that’s our job is to help people find out where they could go and if they’re eligible for a trial to help them get to that trial, and some of that is people who have—fit a particular niche.

And some people need to be well enough to travel, you know, if they need to—if the trial is out of our ZIP code.  Here in Chicago we’re very collegial in head and neck cancer and lung cancer and, you know, multiple other cancers.  You know, if the trial exists five miles from here, we’ll facilitate the patients getting on that trial there.

I think that medical records, one of the many—one of the most common medical records systems is available at many institutions across the country, so people can have access to the reports for another hospital.  Otherwise, there are coordinators and people who can make sure that all of that gets to the research nurse and gets in the hands of the person who is going to take care of that.

And then at our hospital, and I’m sure across the country, we make sure that they get the imaging so that they have something to compare it to, and then that’s uploaded into your chart, you know, at the other facility so that everybody has the right information to take care of the patients.

 

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Dr. Aggarwal…

Dr. Aggarwal:

I would just add…

Andrew Schorr:

Go ahead, please.

Dr. Aggarwal:

I would just add that this is a very common concern about the financial responsibility for clinical trials.  And here at Penn we are actually trying to make this process very, very transparent so that when I discuss a clinical trial with a patient actually our consent forms reflect what will be the standard of care costs and what will be sponsored by the clinical trial.

And, in fact, we do facilitate meetings with a financial counselor so that if a patient has concerns about what will be covered versus what will not be covered will be discussed at length with a financial counselor.  And that actually has gone a long way in allaying some of the concerns that patients have when going on clinical trials.  So, you know, it goes hand in hand with what Mary Ellen was saying, that I think once patients hear from the oncologist that there’s another level of—from a finance person I think that really goes a long way.

And I would urge patients to actually discuss and ask the facility where they’ll be treated if there is such a person who can discuss with them, because most academic cancer centers do have this facility.

Andrew Schorr:

So many people are treated, you know, by a local oncology clinic, but often they can work in partnership with an institution like yours, Chicago, Philadelphia, others around the country.  How does that work?  How can that work where they can be in your trial but maybe some testing or some other things, or do they have to commute to your institution maybe from a distance all the time?  Let’s start with you, Dr. Aggarwal.  Can there be more partnership, or are more trials available now in the community as well?

Dr. Aggarwal:

So a lot of partnerships exist between community physicians as well as academic physicians, so I see patients for my community oncology colleagues all the time, and the goal really is to make access easier, you know, the access to clinical trials and drugs easier.  So while the administration of the drug and the monitoring of the drug may happen at the academic center, there are many tests and imaging procedures that can occur in the community.

And the goal is also to make this easier for patients.  So if a patient is 25 miles away, I try not to drag the patients here just for a clinical exam or just for a scan.  You know, so I would facilitate them getting scans closer to home with their outpatient oncologist and then ask them to perhaps bring a CD with them for review.  They can get their blood work done closer to home.

So there are lots of things and lots of procedures where we work synergistically with their community physician hand in hand to try and facilitate all of these procedures so that they don’t have to keep traveling all the time.  So we certainly do that.

Andrew Schorr:

In Chicago, too, Mary Ellen?

Mary Ellen Hand:

Certainly.  You know, there are some things that the study requires.  If an infusion needs to be done onsite, that’s what happens.  You know, we have patients who travel across the country that might have a genomic mutation.  They may be looking for second or third generations of drugs, and so those people may travel.  So they have their local oncologist, meaning near, whether that’s someone in the community or someone in the academic center.

I think that’s another thing, is that patients are concerned that their doctor, whom they’ve forged this relationship with and the nurse, they think they will be upset if they go somewhere else.  And then instead of knowing that it’s a great opportunity for us to advance the body of knowledge but it’s also—we’re always encouraging and hopeful that people can get onto a clinical trial.

And so I think it makes them feel really good that people have these connections.  I think they like to know they’ve talked, they like to know that everybody’s on the same page and this many more layers of care take care of that.

Andrew Schorr:

Pat, let’s pick up on that.  So…

Mary Ellen Hand:

Their problem, their knowledge, all of us together, so.

Andrew Schorr:

Right.  Well, Pat, let’s talk about that.  So people have a doctor, maybe the one who diagnosed them, and they have a close relationship with them, and they’re afraid of losing them.  What do you say to people?  Mary Ellen spoke about that but from your perspective.

Pat Gavin:

Well, I think it depends somewhat on the trial and where they’re going to be available.  I received all of my care through the clinical trial locally at the Lacks Cancer Center here in Grand Rapids.  It was a trial like many others that are in the national clinical trials network, and the NCI-sponsored trials are generally available at the NCORP sites, and there are a lot of those around the country.  I was fortunate to have one of the original ones here in Grand Rapids by the Cancer Research Consortium, and those trials are available in academic centers, they’re available in community cancer centers like I had.  So it depends on the trial.

Now, some of the pharma trials may be a little more isolated and localized to specific hospitals for some of their early?phase trials.  Talk to your oncologist again.

Andrew Schorr:

We are getting questions.  And so I mentioned I have chronic lymphocytic leukemia.  This came in from George, who also has CLL.  He said, I’ve had no treatment, but it’s likely that it will be needed very soon, and it seems that Medicare patients are treated somewhat unfairly when it comes to available financial assistance for oral chemo, oral drugs that are now in trials often, Mary Ellen.

And so he says, are we likely to run into problems with clinical trials if you’re on Medicare?  So, Mary Ellen, any guidance about that, Medicare patients and trials?

Mary Ellen Hand:

No.  I think that we’re an aging America, so I think that we want to be sure that patients who are on Medicare have access to clinical trials.  So I think what he’s speaking particularly to is the co?pay of some of these medications is so very high, and co?pay assistance programs are not always built to support and help them in this.  But I think that if he’s going to be eligible for a clinical trial, he should, you know, number one see if he’s eligible. And then hopefully the place that he’s at will be able to help navigate that for him so that he can be—you know, be eligible to participate in that trial.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  One other question, Dr. Aggarwal.  This one comes from Stacey.  Stacey also has leukemia, and we’ve had oral drugs being developed a lot now for various leukemias, this is CLL.  And so there’s a clinical trial underway combining two of these oral agents, ibrutinib (Imbruvica) and venetoclax (Venclexta), is underway at MD Anderson in Houston, and the same trial is supposed to begin at Northwestern in Chicago near where Mary Ellen is, and that’s in May.

And she says since there’s a four? to five?month period before the introduction of venetoclax following ibrutinib, what would be the chance that I could join the trial at Northwestern in May, or would this be something I would have to direct to the doctor leading the trial?  She’s wondering about since the drugs get combined but sort of one after the other, can you sort of start, and how does that work?

Dr. Aggarwal:

So I would say that each clinical trial is different in terms of how they’re designed and what eligibility criteria are outlined.  I would really encourage participation—or I would encourage her to speak with this—speak about this trial with a physician or contact the PI of the clinical trial at MD Anderson…

Andrew Schorr:

Principal investigator.

Dr. Aggarwal:

…principal investigator to try to get some clarification of that.  There are some trials that prohibit previous therapies or previous ibrutinib, for example, prior to enrolling in a combination clinical trial, and there are some trials that allow prior participation.  In some instances, they may see progression on ibrutinib prior to combination therapy that is ibrutinib and venetoclax.  So I think it’s a matter of finding what the check boxes on the trial are, and talking to the principal investigator would be the best way to go about it.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Here’s a question for Pat.  So, Pat, one of the things I wonder about is there are people who are on modern therapy now like for instance some of these drugs we mentioned, people are doing well on ibrutinib or people are doing well on venetoclax, or people are doing well on some of the lung cancer drugs.  Now, none of us know how long they’ll last, so they say, well, why should I even think about trials if it’s not broken now?  What would you say to them?

Pat Gavin:

We have to as patients look at clinical trials as a form of treatment, and it should be something that should be considered right from the beginning.  I hear people saying that, well, I’m going to go with what I’ve got so far, and if that doesn’t work and nothing else is an option, then I’ll use it as a last resort.  Now, in some cases a clinical trial may be a last resort, but in other cases, like you mention, there may be things about early treatment that would disallow you from participating in a clinical trial later on, so it’s best to be talking about clinical trials as an option right from the beginning.

Andrew Schorr:

Well, you know, this is a series we’re doing, and so we’ve covered some ground today, and I just want to recap a couple of things.  We talked about the phases of trials.  We talked about financial issues, and there are counselors to help you related to that.  Pat and I told the story of each of us thinking we wouldn’t be alive if we hadn’t been in a trial.  We talked about genomics.  So we’ve covered a lot in our first one, and we have another program coming up late in June.  Dr. Aggarwal, was this a good start?

Dr. Aggarwal:

This was an excellent start.  I think we definitely look forward to more patient participation on further trials, further programs like this.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  And, Mary Ellen, do you think we made a good start today, and hopefully people will now consider trials?

Mary Ellen Hand:

I think that it’s always just good to have more education, so whatever venue we can give that to people, whether it’s talking one on one with their physician or nurse or whether it’s online, to give people permission that they can get more information.

I think the other important thing to know is the criteria we talked about is you can’t—if you are truly getting a second opinion, you should get it before you start something, because you don’t want to have started a treatment that you get one dose of something that blocks you from access to a clinical trial.  Or you don’t want to have your genomic testing done yet, and yet you’ve started chemotherapy.  So sometimes it’s just educating people that, you know, if they’re not very sick, there’s time to get more information.

Andrew Schorr:

Good, good point.  Pat, what’s a final comment from you?  What do we want to leave people with, hopefully have more people think about trials, get access to them and have greater participation?

Pat Gavin:

Well, every time I talk I say I’m alive today by the grace of God and the fact that I participated in a cancer clinical trial.  They make a difference.  They’re the reason why you and I are alive today.  They need our support.  If clinical research is going to advance, we have to have patients in clinical trials.

Andrew Schorr:

Right.  So if we want progress and cures for the cancers that we’re living with, we’ve got to work with folks like Mary Ellen, Dr. Aggarwal and the other folks involved in research around the world, really.

Well, I’m over here in Europe, today in Barcelona.  This is a worldwide broadcast we’re doing.  Pat Gavin, I want to thank you so much for joining us from near Grand Rapids and wish you good health, Pat.  Thank you for being with us.

Pat Gavin:

Thanks.

Andrew Schorr:

And, Mary Ellen Hand, thanks for joining us again on our programs and in Chicago and 34 years of devotion to us, Mary Ellen, you keep going.  Thank you for being with us.

Mary Ellen Hand:

You’re welcome.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Dr. Charu Aggarwal from Penn Medicine, the Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia, thank you for being with us again on one of our programs.  And thanks for the research that you’re moving forward with and your devotion to patients with cancer.  We hope that—well, we know it makes a big difference, and we look forward to you having great discoveries in partnership with patients moving forward.

Dr. Aggarwal:

Thank you for having me.

Andrew Schorr:

Great program.  Our next program will be coming up on June 21st, and we’re going to discuss are clinical trials a gamble?  So how do you decide as a patient, you and your family?  We’ll talk about that in June.  Thank you so much for being with us.

Coping With Anxiety and Depression

An expert panel discusses different methods to cope with anxiety and depression through all the phases of a cancer journey. Jane Williams, MSN, RN, FNP, says one of the best ways is to communicate openly with your healthcare team and loved ones. Letting them know how you feel and what you need can lead to you feeling better. Remember that you’re not alone in your journey, and sharing your emotions can help you figure out what works best for you, whether that be running, meditating, etc. Watch the full video below for all the panel’s advice on coping with anxiety and depression.

Coping With Anxiety and Depression from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Healing vs. Curing

Healing vs. Curing from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Founder and CEO of CanSurround, Meg Maley, alongside a panel of Niki Koesel. MSN, ANP, ACHPN, FPCN, Eric Roeland, MD, and lung cancer survivor Randy Broad discuss healing vs. curing and how a healthcare team should focus on what it means to each individual patient.

Supportive vs. Palliative Care

Supportive vs. Palliative Care from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Founder and CEO of CanSurround, Meg Maley, alongside a panel of Niki Koesel. MSN, ANP, ACHPN, FPCN, Eric Roeland, MD, and lung cancer survivor Randy Broad discuss the definitions and differences of supportive and palliative care, and what it means to them

The Emotional Side of Cancer

The Emotional Side of Cancer from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Founder and CEO of CanSurround, Meg Maley, alongside a panel of Niki Koesel. MSN, ANP, ACHPN, FPCN, Eric Roeland, MD, and cancer survivor Randy Broad discuss the emotional side of cancer and how symptom and comfort management should be apart of your treatment from the beginning.

Connecting to Cancer Patients Online

Deana Hendrickson talks about how important it is to connect with other patients and advocates online. Connecting online to patients with your same disease allows you to make amazing and empowering connections. Check out the whole clip below as Deana explains:

Empowering Lung Cancer Patients Town Meeting from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Six Lessons Learned From Breast Cancer

“The period of greatest gain in knowledge and experience is the most difficult period in one’s life.”  — Dalai Lama

Writing in Oncology Times, radiation oncologist, Matthew Katz MD, described cancer as an illness of transformation. “Biologically” he wrote, “it represents a change in growth and homeostasis. Metaphorically, a cancer diagnosis can transform how you see yourself and the way you experience life afterward.” When the dust settles after the cancer storm has passed, it is not uncommon for patients to reappraise their lives. Cancer forces us to slow down and look at what really matters. Caught up in the routines of daily living, it is easy to avoid doing this; but cancer stops us in our tracks and pushes us to the edge of what is familiar. With cancer there is no hiding place; its sharp glare strips away pretence and artifice, revealing the true nature of our lives and relationships.

Cancer is an invitation to take stock and re-examine your life, to discover ways of leading a more meaningful and fulfilling life. Richard G. Tedeschi, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, reports five common growth outcomes from interviews he conducted with trauma survivors.

  • A deepened appreciation of life.
  • Enhanced relationships with others.
  • An appreciation for personal strength and endurance.
  • Setting out on new pathways or pursuing new interests and opportunities.
  • Spiritual growth and development.

As part of breast cancer awareness month, I extended an invitation to six women to share what they have learned from their personal experience of breast cancer. Their answers to the question, “what did cancer teach you?” reflect the themes identified by Dr Tedeschi. The women’s experiences span a trajectory of breast cancer from recent diagnosis and active treatment, to several years’ post-treatment.

Elizabeth McKenzie, a licensed psychologist who lives in Seattle, WA, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. She learned to appreciate the value of stillness and find healing in solitary pursuits.

“When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, I knew that I had just been enrolled in a crash course with countless learning objectives. Some of the lessons, however, have been unexpected.

I learned to appreciate stillness, the silence in life. I am an extroverted person. I work as a child/adolescent psychologist. I am married. I am a mother. I am a daughter and a sister. I have many friends. Before cancer, I thought that the foundation of my life was largely my connection with others. The time I was forced to be alone to heal from many surgeries for my own health, led to my pursuing other solitary pursuits, mindfulness meditation, nature photography, personal writing, and exercise.

Over time, I have learned that my individual experience was also part of that foundation; to have time alone to live in mindful stillness is a basic need for my mental and physical health, one that I had long neglected. In working on this solitary foundation, I have also strengthened my connection with others. I am now giving serious consideration to attending a residential mindfulness retreat, one that would require that I be silent, except for counseling with teachers, for 3-7 days. That is something that in the past, I would have considered myself neither able to do nor willing to give myself that kind of time. Today, I feel emotionally and physically ready for the experience of being by myself, with myself, surrounded by nature, for days on end. This gives me sense of peaceful willingness, a gentle hopefulness, in a life full of uncertainty.”

Becky Hogue, a PhD Candidate (Education) at the University of Ottawa, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014. Becky wanted to share a cautionary tale so others could learn from her hard-earned experience.

“When I think back about one thing that I’ve learned, it is that treatments change over time but advice is full of ‘old wives tales’ which are often based upon older treatments. This was never more poignant than during my last round of AC chemotherapy. Throughout AC chemo, I had been suffering from nausea. I knew from support group that people who tolerated it well only had nausea for three to five days. I had nausea for at least eight days. Given I was on a 13-day cycle, this meant more days with nausea then without. Now, my nausea was never really bad. When I complained to my oncologist, he asked me “when was the last time you threw up?” Never. My nausea was never that bad, it just lingered.

The folks at support group (especially those a year or so ahead of me) would talk about different nausea meds. The meds I was on were not the meds that everyone was talking about. I found myself wondering if I should be on different meds? In my mind, a change of meds would mean less nausea. I would tolerate the chemotherapy side effects so much better.

What I didn’t realize was that these different nausea meds were the old school meds. The meds my oncologist had me on were the new ones. People in support groups, and some of the older chemo nurses, were not familiar with the new meds. The recommendations I was getting about ‘what works’ were ‘old wives tales’, and I bought into them instead of trusting my oncologist.

For my last bout of AC chemo, I tried a different combination of anti-nausea meds. My oncologist was away, so his nurse practitioner changed my meds (in part because I asked for it). I’m sure that if my oncologist was there, he would have explained that I was on the new meds, but also that they were doing their job. I didn’t know the other option was the older option. I didn’t realize that the folk lore about the effectiveness was in part just because it was the older meds. The new meds had not been around long enough to be part of the lore. With the change my nausea was no better, but the side effects of the meds were much worse. I ended up with terrible mouth sores (so bad I needed liquid morphine to manage the pain). One of my biggest regrets regarding my treatment was that I changed anti-nausea meds for the last cycle of AC chemo.  I had forgotten my own advice. I had forgotten who I had decided to trust (my oncologist), and let the ‘lore’ effect my treatment.

This tale is meant to be a cautionary one. Not so much about seeking advice, but about remembering that people who have followed this path before you did so at a different time. The treatment options (and side effect management options) available to you today may not be the same ones that were available for someone else a year ago. Although older treatments may work, chances are the newer ones are better. Before changing treatment plans based upon what you are hearing on the net or in support groups, ask yourself ‘is this an old tale’? And finally, decide who you are going to trust, and trust them.”

Audrey Birt, a two-time breast cancer survivor, focussed on lessons of courage, connection and resilience.

“Cancer taught me I’m more resilient than I would have believed, it helped make me braver. It also taught me that life cannot be controlled. This made me more able to live in the moment and for the moment and that’s probably not so good for my bank balance but it’s great for my life balance in a way. It taught me to reengage with writing through my blog and in a funny way it changed my life and connection to others. But it also taught me my fragility and that’s a lesson I’m still learning, one day at a time!”

Author of From Zero to Mastectomy, Jackie Fox, has written of how breast cancer “gave me part of myself back”.

“One of the obvious benefits of cancer is reconnecting with friends and family, but old loves like art and music may reappear in your life as well. In my case, I started writing poetry again. I hadn’t written or published anything for nearly 20 years and I really thought that part of my life was over. I’m so grateful to have it back and I hope I never lose it again.”

Liz O’Riordan was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2015. From her unique perspective as a consultant breast surgeon, she is learning what it’s like to be a patient from the other side.

“Being a patient in my own speciality has opened my eyes to a lot of little things that could be changed to improve patient care. I learned that the language of cancer is completely different for a patient compared to a doctor. I have been made acutely aware that some of the phrases I’ve used in clinic when breaking bad news, that I’ve heard others say, or come up with myself, now make me cringe. A lot of women get recalled from screening with tiny low grade cancers (<1cm), and I’ve said “If you’re going to get breast cancer, this is a good one to have”, or “You’re lucky that we caught it early”. All of these phrases were said with good intentions, to try and reassure the women that they were unlikely to die of their cancer, and would not need chemo. And most women are still in shock, so I never see them truly react to what I have just said. But no cancer is a good one to have, and no-one is lucky to get cancer. I will pay close attention to what I say to patients in the future.”

The final lesson is one of authenticity and integrity, something Eileen Rosenbloom who was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2010, believes cancer cannot take away.

“Although I often felt like cancer was a thief that had taken everything from me, being so ill also created an opportunity to see what it could never take — the very essence that is me. Sometimes I’d look at my eyes in the mirror and think: There I am, right there. I’m still me. It felt empowering to realize no matter how dark things got, I still had control over some part of myself. My very essence remained intact, even if stripped down to a raw version without any frills.”

Whatever place you are at with a diagnosis of breast cancer, there are lessons to be learned. These will be unique to you; but you can also learn from those who have walked this path before you. Reach out to them, and lean on their experience to help make the way a little smoother for your own journey.