Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) Defined

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) Defined from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is CLL? Dr. Brian Hill defines chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and explains how it differs from small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL).

Dr. Brian Hill is the Director of the Lymphoid Malignancies Program at Cleveland Clinic. More about this expert.

Related Resources

Overwhelmed By a CLL Diagnosis? Key Steps to Take

How to Learn More About Your CLL

Fact or Fiction? CLL Causes and Symptoms


Transcript:

Dr. Brian Hill:

So, chronic lymphocytic leukemia is a term that refers to a cancerous condition in which the abnormal or cancerous white blood cells are a type of B-cells with certain characteristics that are present above a certain threshold in the blood. Those same cancer cells can also grow and divide and set up shop in other organs besides the blood and bone marrow.

And that can be a lymph node, spleen and sometimes we find the exact same type of cell in a lymph node or other parts of the body. And we don’t find it in large quantities enough in the blood. And when that happens, we call it small lymphocytic lymphoma or SLL. So, people get very confused by the terminology, “Do I have leukemia, or do I have lymphoma.” And so, a lot of times there’s a reference to a condition called CLL-SLL. CLL-SLL really is one disease.

And the term leukemia or lymphoma really just refers to where is the predominant location for the abnormal cancer B-cells. Are they in the blood or are they in the tissue?

If it’s in the blood, mostly above 5,000 cells per microliter, that’s the cut off. If it’s in the blood predominantly, it’s CLL. But if those same cells are in the lymph nodes or the spleen but not above that threshold of 5,000 in the blood, then the term is small lymphocytic lymphoma. And often times that diagnosis made from a tissue biopsy or a lymph node biopsy rather through a blood test or a bone marrow biopsy. Really, these are the same disease. And even physicians who don’t practice in this area get confused about it.

And it’s important to know that they can be treated exactly the same and are interchangeable. Rarely I’ve seen a mistake be made that someone who has a diagnosis of SLL or small lymphocytic lymphoma is treated with the types of chemotherapy drugs that we would typically use for indolent forms of lymphoma.

And some of those therapies overlap. So, there are biologic similarities and clinical similarities between B-cell lymphomas and CLL-SLL for sure. But there is a lot of nuance in B-cell lymphomas, and not every single treatment that works really well for B-cell lymphoma should be used in CLL or SLL.

You’re Not a Guinea Pig: Understanding Clinical Trial Participation

You’re Not a Guinea Pig: Understanding Clinical Trial Participation from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

“Will I be a guinea pig if I participate in a clinical trial?” CLL expert Dr. Brian Hill explains the clinical trial process and addresses common patient fears and misconceptions.

Dr. Brian Hill is the Director of the Lymphoid Malignancies Program at Cleveland Clinic. More about this expert.

Related Resources

What You Need to Know About Developing CLL Research

The Truth About CLL Treatment Options

Tips for Determining the Best CLL Treatment for You


Transcript:

Dr. Brian Hill:

So, one of the first questions many people ask about being a clinical trial participant is, “Am I a guinea pig?” And what I would say is we’re always practicing medicine. Anything we do, we’re practicing.

But we are always trying to get better whether it’s formally on a trial or not. In terms of side effects of treatment, no matter what – if we have the treatment available, any medication can potentially cause side effects. And it’s very difficult to predict. So, even if you are not on a clinical trial, you could be treated with a standard therapy and potentially have problems or difficulty with it. In terms of clinical trials, it depends where in the sort of journey you are in. If you have never been treated before and now you need to be treated, there are trials that are appropriate for people who are at their first line of treatment.

And this is not typically where we are experimenting with new drugs. So, this is typically where we have established treatments or just sort of trying to compare which one is better. Sometimes these are randomized.

So, there’s a flip of a coin, and you can be assigned to one or another. And I understand why many patients may not want to have their treatment determined by chance. But I would keep in mind that usually if this is being done, it’s been vetted through not just the institution where they are being treated, but often times through review boards throughout the country who basically say, “We think it’s okay to have a flip of a coin decision here because if we have a great treatment which is A and a great treatment which is B and we really don’t know if A or B is better, it’s okay to sort of have a randomization where you may get A or B.”

Sometimes A is the standard and B is likely to be better, but we don’t really know that B is better. And the only way to get the second option would be to be on the clinical trial. So, in that case if you are enrolled, the “worst” option would be the standard.

But it may give you the option of being even better than the standard. And again, if we knew that the second option was better then it wouldn’t be a clinical trial, it would be our standard.  This is sort of how we make progress. And it requires a buy in from the medical community and physicians, but also, it’s important that patients feel comfortable with it. So, that’s kind of for front line treatment. In terms of subsequent therapies, again there are a lot of very good standard treatments available.

And sometimes there are new drugs that are being developed. If the new drug has never been given before to a human, that’s called a Phase One trial. And typically, those are given or offered to people who have had many other lines of therapy and may not have other good options. But sometimes we know that the new drug has been given to people, it’s safe.

The side effect profile is already known even if it hasn’t been given to large numbers of people. And in those cases that would be something around something often called a Phase Two trial where we know it’s safe, but we’d love to see how well it works. And that’s an option for patients as well.

Right. So, outside of talking with your hematologist/oncologist or CLL specialist, there are many other resources for getting information about CLL. The Lymphoma Research Foundation, The Leukemia Lymphoma Society and the CLL Society are all great organizations that have useful websites.

They have 1-800 numbers you can call into. Many of these groups have – I know the CLL Society has a support group in many cities that’s held on a regular basis. And often times there are patient meetings organized through LLS or LRF, the two groups that I mentioned, that allow patients to come and learn from each other and also ask questions of specialists who may be speaking at those events.

An Overview of New CLL Treatments

An Overview of New CLL Treatments from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Are there new CLL treatment approaches that patients should know about? Dr. Brian Hill reviews the “explosion of new treatments” in the past few years.

Dr. Brian Hill is the Director of the Lymphoid Malignancies Program at Cleveland Clinic. More about this expert.

Related Resources

Tips for Determining the Best CLL Treatment for You

Fact or Fiction? CLL Treatment & Side Effects

CLL Genetic Tests: How Do Results Impact Treatment and Care?


Transcript:

Dr. Brian Hill:

So, there’s been an explosion of new treatments for CLL just in the past five years. As of before 2014, most of the treatment we had involved both traditional chemotherapy drugs with antibodies.

Those antibodies include Rituximab and more recently other antibodies such as obinutuzumab. The explosion that I’m referring to is really in the development of very effective and generally well tolerated targeted agents. The most well known in the first one of these was Ibrutinib which inhibits a protein that tells the CLL cells to grow and divide called BTK. There are other blockers or inhibitors of BTK that are now approved include Acalabrutinib. The side effect of these are slightly different, and there are reasons why you might choose one or the other.

There’s also a very potent medication called Venetoclax which is now used – which has a different mechanism of action than BTK blockers.

Many of these work better when you combine them with the antibodies I mentioned. And so right now a lot of the research that’s ongoing is examining the utility of combining these agents or how to best sequence them. So, much of the decision about how we can best treat patients is derived from really well done, well designed clinical trials. And sometimes clinical trials can give patients an option that’s not yet a standard but is likely to become a standard.

Or it can give you access to a drug that is promising and not yet widely available. So, there are definitely times to seek – at least ask the question whether a clinical trial is a good option or the best option.

And there may be times where it is not appropriate, and the standard treatments are very reasonable and may require fewer visits to a referral center to be treated. So, I think it’s worth having that conversation both with the primary hematologist/oncologist as well as the CLL specialist.

Not to Worry! Your Guide to Watch and Wait

Not to Worry! Your Guide to Watch and Wait from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Watch and wait, or active surveillance, often feels like watch and worry to CLL patients. Dr. Brian Hill provides a comprehensive guide to the period of time before CLL treatment begins and shares approaches for managing anxiety.

Dr. Brian Hill is the Director of the Lymphoid Malignancies Program at Cleveland Clinic. More about this expert.

Related Resources

Overwhelmed By a CLL Diagnosis? Key Steps to Take

How to Learn More About Your CLL

Essential Lab Tests for CLL Patients


Transcript:

Dr. Brian Hill:

So, watch and wait is the term that’s referred to for not actively treating a patient with CLL after the diagnosis. As many people probably out there watching know, the diagnosis of CLL is often made incidentally or accidentally through routine laboratory tests that are done for some other reason.

Maybe they are going to have surgery. Or maybe they are going to have just a primary care checkup. And blood count shows too many white blood cells. And everything else is fine. The patient feels normal. There’s no symptom. But it leads to a referral usually to a hematologist who then does more testing and makes a diagnosis of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The word leukemia is very scary because it often conjures up images of acute leukemia which is a disease that can make people very sick very quickly.

We’re taught in much of medicine and in much of cancer that early diagnosis and early treatment is very important. And it is very important for many conditions – breast cancer or we’re taught let’s get our mammograms.

And have an early detection and immediate treatment to cure the breast cancer. Similarly, colon cancer – get your colonoscopy, get your diagnosis sooner rather than later. And have surgery so you can have a higher likelihood of a cure. In the case of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, it’s never been shown despite multiple attempts over many decades, that treating someone with CLL is – earlier, is going to impact the outcomes and the big picture. But we do know that treating CLL earlier can lead to more side effects earlier.

So, in other words, if you feel fine and your blood counts are just a little abnormal, and there’s not compelling indication to treat, we can safely observe patients until an indication for treatment exists. And what I tell patients is that if we treat today, the treatment will work.

If we treat tomorrow, the treatment will work. And if we treat in five years, the treatment will work. So, there’s – we have very good evidence that delaying treatment until you need it does not compromise the likelihood of the treatment working. So, it’s a little bit of a different mindset from other types of cancer where we are taught to treat early and immediately. So, a lot of times people will call it watch and worry instead of watch and wait, and there’s a lot of anxiety about that.

Again, their diagnosis has the word leukemia in it. It can be a very scary time. And it takes a little bit of trust to be convinced that you don’t need to be treated just because you have it. And that’s often times when we do get second opinions if the first hematologist/oncologist says it’s okay to watch it and wait. We don’t need to treat. A lot of the time people then seek another opinion to confirm that’s accurate. And in most cases – I would say 90% of the time when I’ve had a second opinion for a patient who’s been recommended to watch and wait, I typically concur with that recommendation.

So, during watchful waiting or – I like to call it active surveillance because it’s not that we aren’t doing anything, we are surveilling or monitoring. And the two things that we monitor are symptoms and blood counts. So, it sort of begs the question that many people ask which is, “If you are not going to treat me now, when will you treat me? When will I need to be treated?” And the first indication – the first thing we look at is symptoms. So, if you have symptoms of significant fatigue to the point where you are really having a difficult time functioning.

Or if you have drenching night sweats that wake you up from night and make you change your nightclothes. Those type of symptoms would push us to treat. So, those are the things that are being asked of patients at their regular follow up which is usually every two or three months initially.

And sometimes can be spaced out to every four to six months if things are stable. But usually during the first year you want to be checking on folks every two to three months. Weight loss would be another symptom to look out for – sort of unintentional weight loss. The other thing we monitor is the blood counts. So, with a simple CBC or complete blood count, we can see what is happening with the white blood cell count which may and often goes up.

And a lot of folks focus on the white blood cell count and its trajectory and how that is rising. Some people’s white blood cell count can fluctuate. Others can stay relatively flat. And some people do have a continued rise on the white blood cell count. The white blood cell count in and of itself is not the final reason to recommend treatment.

But with time, as the white blood cell count goes up, we sometimes see the other numbers going down. And actually, the other numbers going down are the ones that are more important. Those numbers are – the red blood cell count measurement which is usually measured by hemoglobin concentration or hematocrit. And then the other is the platelet number. So, if either the hemoglobin or the platelet number gets below threshold, those are typically indications for treatment.

So, during this period of observation or active surveillance – watchful waiting, whatever term you choose. This can go on for years.

And it can be associated with anxiety. So, trying to do things to cope with managing anxiety is important. Other things that many people are interested in are – is diet. So, do we know of a particular food or food group that we should focus on? Or is there something we should avoid? And the short answer to that is that many – it’s a difficult topic to study. As you might imagine, diet can be so varied around people. And in a typical week the average person eats so many different types of foods that it’s difficult to focus in on one particular thing.

What we can say is that in general for health, clearly fresh fruits and vegetables are the best source of nutrition. And also, are best for your health.

Avoiding processed foods and processed meats and other foods that are high in saturated fats is probably important in general for your health. Although we can’t say specifically that it’s definitely going to make an impact in the white blood cell count or the trajectory of the CLL. In terms of supplements and natural products, many people are interested in this topic. And again, it is a difficult one to study. Some of the natural products out there are purified forms of things from plants and other ingestible herbs and so forth.

But the problem is, is that if you take any component – even if it’s natural occurring, take it in large quantities it can lead to other problems. There was a well-known study from – that studied the impact of green tea extract on the white blood cell count.

And if you took large quantities of green tea extract, it seemed as if it did sort of lower the white blood cell count a little bit. But some people also had abnormalities of their liver function as a result. So, I don’t recommend green tea extract. And I instead say, “If you like tea and you want to drink green tea, I think that’s probably fine.” But I wouldn’t do it in excess. And just maybe try to incorporate it into a balance diet otherwise.

Why You Need a CLL Specialist

Why You Need a CLL Specialist from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Why should you seek care with a CLL specialist? Dr. Brian Hill outlines the benefits of seeing a CLL expert and advice for approaching a second opinion.

Dr. Brian Hill is the Director of the Lymphoid Malignancies Program at Cleveland Clinic. More about this expert

See More From The Pro-Active CLL Patient Toolkit


Related Resources

Overwhelmed By a CLL Diagnosis? Key Steps to Take

How to Learn More About Your CLL

Nervous About A Second Opinion? How to Confront Your Fears

 


Transcript:

Dr. Brian Hill:

Patients should consider seeing a CLL specialist because oncology is a very complicated field. There are many different types of cancers that oncologists treat. And particularly in smaller hospitals, maybe with general oncologists who see lung cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer and CLL as well as many other types of – patients with many other types of problems. It’s very difficult to stay 100% up to date on all those fields. All of oncology is very rapidly evolving.

And the progress that’s being made in all the diseases I mentioned is very fast paced. And so, things change. And there’s new data emerging all the time. And CLL specialists or lymphoma specialists are able to stay more up to date on these topics. And usually that can result in maybe better options for patients.

So, we often get second opinions or third opinions for patients with CLL.

And one of things patients are understandably concerned about sometimes is the impact this will have on their primary oncologist. Maybe they are from a smaller town or have a smaller hospital. They have an oncologist, hematologist, gynecologist who they like, and they trust, and they don’t want to hurt their feelings or damage the relationship because they may need their primary or local hematologist, oncologist to help them if they are sick or something goes wrong.

So, I think that most oncologists recognize that – again, the field is very complicated. And it’s common for people to seek opinions from referral centers. So, I would say the best thing is to be up front about it. And explain to their primary that it’s not that they don’t like them or don’t trust them.

But it’s important – it’s their health. And they really want to make sure they have another set of eyes. And I even sometimes encourage my own patients that if they have questions about what I’m talking to them, to welcome another opinion. And if there’s good communication about it, I don’t think that you should be concerned about the sort of hurt feelings aspect of it.

How to Learn More About Your CLL

How to Learn More About Your CLL from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can you learn more about CLL? CLL Expert Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz shares credible resources and valuable tips to help you become an educated and empowered patient.

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz is the Lymphoma Section Head and Director of Immunotherapy in the malignant hematology department at Moffitt Cancer Center. More about this expert here.

See More From The Fact or Fiction? CLL Series


Related Resources

Fact or Fiction? CLL Treatment & Side Effects

The Truth About Managing CLL Treatment Side Effects

The Truth About CLL Treatment Options


Transcript:

Patricia Murphy:        

Okay, well we’ve talked about a lot of treatment and side effects and myths. As an informed patient, I may want to go out on the internet and find out all I can about CLL. What should I be looking for? What should I be careful about when it comes to online awareness and health literacy?

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz:        

Very, very important topic that I love to really discuss with my patients. I always say that some patients kind of intoxicate themselves with multiple websites and with different backgrounds.

I think we – I do recommend them to really go to the websites, to the websites who really provide a very fair and really clean and important information. I would definitely – we were discussing about the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, CLL Society, Patient Power, to really – National Cancer Institute’s website, places that they have very well filtered information that we can really give to the patient. There is no doubt there’s many others not in this list, but I think we always have to be aware that there’s other websites that may not really provide really, really a good information or may really confuse our patients. So, I like to always really go to the sources that I really trust the most.

Patricia Murphy:

Yeah, so reputable sources and always checking with your doctor, obviously, about things that you’re considering.

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz:        

Absolutely. Absolutely. I always tell to my patients, “You go there, you look at that, you read, but then after that you have a question. Come because sometimes you may have misconceptions.”

The Truth About Managing CLL Treatment Side Effects

The Truth About Managing CLL Treatment Side Effects from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When it comes to information about CLL treatment side effects, what’s fact and what’s fiction? CLL expert Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz addresses common questions and misconceptions.

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz is the Lymphoma Section Head and Director of Immunotherapy in the malignant hematology department at Moffitt Cancer Center. More about this expert here.

See More From The Fact or Fiction? CLL Series


Related Resources

The Truth About CLL Treatment Options

Which Molecular Tests for CLL Will You Need?

What You Need to Know About Developing CLL Research


Transcript:

Patricia Murphy:        

Let’s talk a little bit about side effects. You mentioned before that sometimes it’s hard to get patients to comply long term with treatment. What kind of things are they dealing with?

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz:        

So, there is many, many side effects, completely different depending on the drugs, right? So, every drug, as you can imagine, has different side effects. Obviously, the side effects that we discussing these days are the ones in relations to the patients who really have chronic therapies, right?

So, we talking about the BTK inhibitors, specifically ibrutinib. We know some of these patients may have a continuous bruising or really even rashes in the skin. Diarrhea may happen in the beginning. They, for example, may have issues with blood pressure, may have multiple issues that fatigue, joint pains, bone pains, polyarticular arthralgias. So, all of these things that some of them they are acute. Obviously, we’re talking about arrhythmias of the heart, the atrial fibrillation, that may need to be taken care of by cardiology consultation. However, there’s another things that are annoyance. I would discuss, right?

Annoyance that the long run may really affect quality of life on our patient, and obviously, it’s important to really have a really good and honest conversation with – between patient and doctors to see how we can really provide these. I mentioned those reductions or even switching drugs, sometimes is also appropriate in situations where we cannot really fix the problem with those reductions.

It sounds like these side effects, while challenging for patients, can be managed with medications. Are there ways to manage these side effects?

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz:             

Sometimes. Sometimes, they can be managed through certain medications. Sometimes they are chronic, and we cannot do nothing about. It’s the reason the dose reduction maybe is the best thing.

Patricia Murphy:        

Yeah, yeah. Okay, here’s another fact or fiction game we can play about side effects. “There is nothing that can be done for my side effects,” and we kinda talked about this. “What about fatigue? What can I do about my fatigue?”

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz:

That’s actually a problem, a problematic one. I think – one of the things that I discuss with my patients sometimes, inpatients and other populations of patients with other comorbid conditions, sometimes, and I don’t say that always, fatigue can really be produced by multiple things. So, we always also emphasize the fact that they need to be seen by private physician to make sure there is no other issues concerning the fatigue, classical in diabetic patients. Something in other patients with other cardiac conditions, right?

However, the truth is that fatigue is one of the main issues in CLL, sometimes happening before therapy or after therapy, with or without according continuous therapy. So, maybe fatigue is one of the big ones and is one of the ones that we really, really hear from our patients very, very often. We may really, as mentioned before, trying to do an adjustment of the doses, but in times of management, that I would say is a challenging one.

Patricia Murphy:        

It’s a tricky one. Sure. How about this one? “There’s an increased risk of secondary cancer and skin cancer from chemo.”

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz:        

Well, secondary cancer is something that we see very commonly in patients with CLL. So, CLL by themself with no therapy can really predispose patients to have high incidence of secondary cancer. We know this for a long time. How chemotherapy or even the new strategies such as BTK inhibitors or monoclonal antibodies or even – can’t really change that. We don’t know.

What we know is that our patients live longer with these new strategies. So, the question is, one of the hypotheses could be that those patients, because they live longer, they have more chances to develop cancer. Skin cancer is extremely common in CLL patients, very, very common. And always the argument is that, “Well, maybe the immunosuppression due to the leukemia condition, maybe they predisposed to that. The question is, how drugs really eradicate or control a disease can affect this incidence. That’s something that we don’t know.

There’s some anecdotal evidence that some patients, after getting certain therapies, may really have more of this skin cancer. Other patients do better. Still, it’s hard to really generalize.

Patricia Murphy:        

Sure. This one kinda gets back to the doctor-patient relationship. “I shouldn’t bother my team with side effects.” 

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz:        

Well, obviously there’s a reason we follow patients. We follow patients on a regular basis to really see how they’re doing, what kind of side effects they have, what they are doing. I was mentioning that with fatigue, we may not do much.

Some cases when the patient has with arthritic inflammation of the joints, that we have seen, well, steroids may – for a short period of time – may work. Obviously, oral pains, we still can really prescribe some Tylenol or things that can really improve that pain. For the diarrhea, many things to do. For the cramps for example also, we CoQ10, a calcium supplement, so it’s always seems that we can really introduce, obviously, for the nausea, something easily to treat.

So, I think the best thing is to really have the regular visit with the doctor and discuss. I always really tell my patients always, write it on a piece of paper the things that they need to ask because many, many times, with the rush of the clinics, patients really forget about the really important thing what they come in for.

The Truth About CLL Treatment Options

The Truth about CLL Treatment Options from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When it comes to CLL treatment information, how can you separate fact from fiction? CLL expert Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz tackles common questions.

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz is the Lymphoma Section Head and Director of Immunotherapy in the malignant hematology department at Moffitt Cancer Center. More about this expert here.

See More From The Fact or Fiction? CLL Series


Related Resources

The Truth About Managing CLL Treatment Side Effects

How to Learn More About Your CLL?

CLL Treatment: What Are Your Current Options?


Transcript:

Patricia Murphy:        

Let’s play a little fact or fiction game. I’ll tell you some of the things we have heard from patients with CLL, and you can tell me if it’s fact or fiction.

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz:        

Sure, absolutely.

Patricia Murphy:        

Here we go. First one. And I think we’ve already solved this, but I’ll just say it’s a concern of patients. “You have to treat CLL right away.”

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz:            

That’s not true, as I mentioned before, and I tell you, most of the patients will really come really scared into our work clinics and with a very high anxiety levels do not require therapy. So, I think it’s important. So, it’s very specific research. So, most of the people are – many people think that because their white blood counts continue to raise, this is the criteria for therapy, while it’s a very specific reasons of doubling time, but really, really relatively rare.

So, it’s relatively rare to be – need therapy for count or high count. And most of the people has high blood counts, they don’t feel it. Besides that, I think the emphasis is that if the patient needs therapy, well then, they need therapy. But they already anticipate that.

Patricia Murphy:        

Yeah. Okay, here’s another one. “Watch and wait can go on for years, and I may never need treatment.”

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz:     

You’re right. So, there is a special population of patients, mainly with certain characteristics such as, for example, 13q by FISH, 13q deletion by FISH, and IGHV mutation in heavy chain immunoglobulin, those groups of patients that is the classical ones that not all of them, but some group of them, may never require therapy, and there is patients in my practice that have been followed for years and years, 10, 15, or even 20.

Patricia Murphy:        

Man, that’s very interesting. How about this one? “Chemotherapy is the only available approach. One size fits all when it comes to treatment options.”

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz:     

Well, as I mentioned before, at length it’s not really chemotherapy. I wouldn’t say that chemotherapy is not an option these days, but however, with introduction of the new therapies, I think it’s moving away. It’s moving away to the therapy for CLL patients. And I think – I have to admit that we really, with the incorporation of these time limited therapies that I discussed before, chemoimmunotherapy is using less and less.

In the community, maybe because the incorporation of the new drugs it takes longer, it still may be used, and they may be used, but definitely in academic institution, I can tell you for sure, chemoimmunotherapy is almost gone.

Patricia Murphy:        

That’s a great point about community care. That’s a great point. So, as a patient, I may be able to look into more therapies if I ask my doctor, perhaps?

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz:         

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I think many doctors in the community and academic institution, they know that, but obviously, I think patient with CLL need to understand that there’s multiple options today, right? And another thing that you said, that chemoimmunotherapy is the only option, it is not really the right answer for our patients, right? There is no doubt it is an option, but there’s many others that need to be discussed with our patients to see how we gonna fit those different therapies for a specific patient as was mentioned, try to customize it, try to really adopt the different goals and really, really, outcomes for each individual patient.

Patricia Murphy:        

Yeah, I think we tackled this one a bit, but it’s probably worth mentioning again. How about this one? “I have to take inhibitor therapies forever.”

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz:     

Forever. That’s right. BTK inhibitor, I mentioned before, and mostly – all the BTK inhibitors, even the PI3K gamma inhibitors that they are proving second line now, they are being described – or they are being studied that they are taking anti-disease progression, or an acceptable toxicity, right? So, that’s the reason. So, maybe we’d say, “Well, on remission. Can I stop therapy?” Well, we do not recommend that because the data that we have from the clinical trials, patients continue therapy. And we note, as far as patient continue therapy, patient gonna do well.

So, the question is, what happens if you stop therapy? Well, we know that some patients may really have a relapse very, very fast, we call flare, classically happening in the lymph nodes – tumor flare – while other patients may really take longer to really have relapse.

So, we cannot – it’s very, very hard to really advise, and it’s something I do not advise, to stop therapy because we don’t know how the patient’s gonna really behave. However, there’s no doubt in certain situation when patient may have toxicity, chronic toxicity, patient may discontinue the drug. Some of these patients, they have been switched to another strategy, or some of them decide to say, “Okay, doctor, leave me alone. I wanna recover, and then after that, we’ll see if I really want to get in something else or I want to wait until my disease come back.” So, some take different strategies.

Patricia Murphy:        

All right, one more. “It doesn’t matter if I miss one dose of oral therapy.”

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz:     

Well, there is no doubt that the compliance is always a big issue on chronic therapies, oral therapies, and we really emphasize the importance to really, you know, give these drugs in a daily basis as being prescribed.

No doubt that there’s two issues here, the financial toxicity, the fact that some patients may really have a very high copayment, so they may want to skip doses to save money. That’s really, really unfortunate, but happen, right? The second one, obviously, is people who may really have significant side effects of the drug and may not want to retake the drug.

So, I think these things that need to be discussed with the providers, with doctors, to see how better we can really manage these situations. Let’s say an intolerance, maybe adjusting the dose, dose reduction. In financial toxicity, it’s a challenge, right? We try to help our patients, multiple foundations, Leukemia Lymphoma, many others, but I have to really say, sometimes this may not happen. So, it’s one of the big frustrations in some patients and doctors when we encounter this situation.

Patricia Murphy:        

It really stresses the importance of a doctor-patient relationship.

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz:  

Absolutely, absolutely. But once again, I think we always discuss about compliance. I think compliance is very, very important for the success of any therapy, so we definitely support the fact that patients should really take the drug as prescribed.

Patricia Murphy:        

Totally. What else do you hear from patients? Anything that you hear that you feel like you have to bust some myths about when you’re talking with your patients?

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz:  

Well, as you can imagine, in the – doing the phase of active surveillance, and because patient is really quite scared, they looking for any alternative medications or even therapies that they are out there that they think are gonna save their lives, right?

And although I quite liberal with things, we always pay attention to some of these things that are likely to really have any effect and sometimes may be deleterious for the health of patients, so I always really make them aware that there’s very, very few things that are being tested, and there’s not much evidence that any of the alternative medicines that we have really out there can have any influence.

Everyone referred to the green tea extracts as something that is being described in the literature with curcumin, so these the couple of things that we may really give to our patient as a way to feel that they are doing something because I think it’s the frustration of the patient that they have to wait. They are in surveillance, but they are not doing nothing.

However, my best advice to my patient is to really try to really get in a very good and healthy lifestyle, right? To really prove, you know, nutrition in the ways that everyone knows but very few people does, exercise as possible, and try to really keep themselves as healthy as possible because we know that there’s other things that can happen, for example, infection is another thing that may also really, really complicate the active surveillance strategies that we really recommend.

Patricia Murphy:        

Right, right. What about clinical trials? Do you hear misconceptions from your patients around enrolling in clinical trials?

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz:  

For sure. For sure. It’s very, very classical. People always – many patients, unfortunately, they think a clinical trial is an experimental drug that has never been proven in patients. And although it could be true, most of the time, they are a drug who has a very, very important background. They have an important, you know, scientific evidence why we try them. It’s true on phase one trials, they really are tested for toxicity. Phase two trials, it’s for somewhat efficacy. However, I think we need to discuss specific basis what kind of trial.

Another important misconception is most of the people think they really gonna get placebo. The famous placebo versus drug issue. It’s very rare to see placebo trials in oncology, right? Most of the patients, what they’ve been randomized, another kind of bad word for patients. “Oh, I been – I gonna be randomized in the placebo.”

Well, No. 1, placebo arm is very rare, and the randomization is standard of care versus something that we believe gonna improve the standard of care. Let’s say ibrutinib in comparison with ibrutinib plus something else, okay? Something else, okay?

Which Molecular Tests for CLL Will You Need?

CLL Treatment: Which Molecular Tests Will You Need? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Following a CLL diagnosis, which molecular tests are essential? Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz reviews the types of tests available and their potential impact on prognosis and treatment.

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz is the Lymphoma Section Head and Director of Immunotherapy in the malignant hematology department at Moffitt Cancer Center. More about this expert here.

See More From The Fact or Fiction? CLL Series


Related Resources

How to Learn More About Your CLL?

Tips for Determining the Best CLL Treatment For You

What You Need to Know About Developing CLL Research


Transcript:

Patricia Murphy:        

Yeah, yeah. Let’s talk a little bit about molecular testing for a moment. What can you learn from molecular testing? When will that –

Dr. Javier Pinilla:        

Yeah, molecular testing is quite important. I think that there’s different tests that we really perform, right? NCCN guidelines, iwCLL, has really, really laid out the fundamental tests that we need to provide, or we need to really do at least – they say “at least” when the patient requires therapy. Why? Because obviously, it’s gonna be an important part of how we are going to see the patient and how the patient is going to behave, even during therapy.

So, we are discussing about obviously FISH tests, FISH tests, that’s a chromosomal analysis that is very, very classical and has been done for years for classical chromosome abnormalities, 11q, 17p, that is the bad, always what you think that is the bad one. It’s true that it may even, with the new therapies, has shorter period of responses, 13q, trisomy 12. So, we set out with this one.

Besides that, what is the other important thing? The mutation status of the heavy chains in the immunoglobin, the IGHV mutation status. Very, very important because even when the new therapies made no difference, while we know patient with unmutated immunoglobulin may really have different outcomes in the long run. The truth is that with ibrutinib, for example, or venetoclax, we don’t see the difference in outcomes, but still we need to see what’s happening in the long run. So, the good news is that with the new therapies, we don’t see difference that we used to see with chemotherapy that unmutated immunoglobulin patients, they may really fail more often than mutated ones.

However, I think it’s something important that we need to implement. Last, but not least, is the TP53 mutations. I think it’s something that it should be implemented, and I think the teaching point is that TP53 mutations, maybe also NOTCH1 or SF3B1 – other mutations that may really give to patients a bad outcome in the long run, at least with the chemoimmunotherapy, it’s something that also can be done, or at least it’s something that will be important to really incorporate to our patients. Not in all the cases, but in some, TP53 for sure. 

Tips for Determining the Best CLL Treatment for You

Tips for Determining the Best CLL Treatment for You from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

CLL expert Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz explains how a treatment regimen is chosen, stressing the important role that patient preference plays in making a decision.

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz is the Lymphoma Section Head and Director of Immunotherapy in the malignant hematology department at Moffitt Cancer Center. More about this expert here.

See More From The Fact or Fiction? CLL Series


Related Resources

Fact or Fiction? CLL Treatment & Side Effects

The Truth About CLL Treatment Options

CLL Treatment: What Are Your Current Options?


Transcript:

Patricia Murphy:        

What are the things that you’re thinking about when you’re considering treatment for your patients, when you’re making those decisions?

Dr. Javier Pinilla:        

Well, I think it’s important to really notice and to really understand my patient, is that we need to provide education. We need to provide education, and obviously, every – many, many patients ask me, “Doctor, what I should do?” Right?

But I think it’s very important for me to understand what is the goals of every patient, right? Age, comorbid condition, way of life, people like to travel versus staying in the same place. So, I try to really educate about the options because we are very lucky that we have multiple options. We also understand – so, what is gonna be the difficulty is to really get therapy A versus therapy B and how much control or monitoring they require, and finally also, as mentioned before, to try to customize therapies for different patients.

I always say that – we discuss in the beginning that not everyone with CLL requires therapy at the beginning. However, when people require therapy, not everyone requires therapy for the same reason. Some people may require therapy because they are anemic, okay, extreme anemia. Why? Because their bone marrow cannot really produce enough red cells or even platelets. Why? Because they is full of CLL cells.

So, those patients in my opinion, they can really do very well with strategies as BCL-2 inhibitor in combination and alone. Why? Because these drugs is able to truly and very, very efficaciously really eliminate the CLL.

So, we go into another scenario. Patient with very high, bulky lymph nodes in the neck, axillary and abdominal, for example, with enlarged spleen who may have very, very severe B-cell symptoms. We note that we cannot apply anything. There’s no doubt that introduction of Bruton’s tyrosine kinase inhibitor or even – is extremely successful in reducing the symptomatology very fast and shrinking the lymph nodes in a very short period of time. So, again, I would say that it’s black and blue or like a black and white and – different.

Patricia Murphy:        

Black and white.

Dr. Javier Pinilla:        

Black and white. Thank you. So, but the truth is different patients may require different strategies, and obviously, patients’ preference are really, really important.

Patient may come back to be in therapy for life, maybe patient maybe don’t care. Patient may really, really, really want specifically shorter therapy. So, I think we need to really understand that in the options and start to work with them, also depending on the presentation on the needs for therapy.

What You Need to Know About Developing CLL Research 

What You Need to Know About Developing CLL Research from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Are there CLL research advances that patients should be aware of? Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz outlines the latest in CLL treatment and research.

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz is the Lymphoma Section Head and Director of Immunotherapy in the malignant hematology department at Moffitt Cancer Center. More about this expert here.

See More From The Fact or Fiction? CLL Series


Related Resources

Which Molecular Tests for CLL Will You Need?

CLL Treatment: What Are Your Current Options?

Tips for Determining the Best CLL Treatment For You


Transcript:

Patricia Murphy:        

It sounds like we have made tremendous progress with CLL. What kind of clinical trials should patients be investigating? What are they – what’s out there?

Dr. Javier Pinilla:        

Well, there is no doubt that a lot of people until now were really looking for venetoclax front line clinical trials. Now it’s available in the clinical practice. However, we’re still trying to figure out combination of drugs, right? For example, in this case, I have mentioned we have a very good drug like ibrutinib in front line. We have all the BTK inhibitors that are coming up such as acalabrutinib. We have other PI3K inhibitors that are being not very successful in the front line, right to the second line, like idelalisib, duvelisib, even copanlisib.

And other drugs, like I said, ibrutinib. So, we have a plethora of drugs, really available as clinical trial outside the ones that have approved. However, one of the things that we are really starting to explore in the recent year is how we combine all these mechanisms of action. The most typical combination that we are really now under trial is the combination of two or three drugs, as happens in many other forms of cancer.

So, this combination of these three – some of, two or three of these drugs, is very, very well studied now in an integral trial, the ECOG, the alliance trial, we gonna start to see those trials, and of course, our patients in front line will have the opportunity. Besides that, we gonna see more and more trials are going to combine patients who are already in chronic therapy with ibrutinib with a second drug, with the goal to in the future be able to discontinue therapy because it’s one of the issues that ibrutinib has these days. Patient takes the drug for life.

CLL Treatment: What Are Your Current Options?

CLL Treatment: What Are Your Current Options? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz reviews current approaches to treating CLL patients, including targeted therapies and the role of watchful waiting in newly diagnosed patients.

Dr. Javier Pinilla-Ibarz is the Lymphoma Section Head and Director of Immunotherapy in the malignant hematology department at Moffitt Cancer Center. More about this expert here.

See More From The Fact or Fiction? CLL Series


Related Resources

The Truth About CLL Treatment Options

Tips for Determining the Best CLL Treatment For You

Which Molecular Tests for CLL Will You Need?


Transcript:

Dr. Javier Pinilla        

Well, right now, most of the time – in fact, it’s the most common scenario that we encounter on a weekly basis. Patients get diagnosed with leukemia. That is really a bad word for most of the patients, and they really come to our clinic as a very, very scared and anxious about the diagnosis. However, we don’t really treat most of them. Almost 70% of the patients don’t require therapy to start with, right? So, as you may know – and many, many people who really gonna watch this program will know that we really do active surveillance and watchful waiting.

For many, many months, sometimes years, and there is some specific criteria that patients need to really accomplish to really start therapy. What are those? Well, developing an anemia, low platelets, large lymph nodes that really produce some symptoms, B-cell symptoms like, you know, night sweats, drenching night sweats, fevers, weight loss, lack of appetite, and fatigue, and so on, right?                                   

So, there is no doubt that there is reason why we need to treat. Regarding the treatment of this condition, well, we have been lucky because in the last, let’s say, seven, eight years, there has been a plethora and really large and new advances in the therapy for this condition. We went from the very old chemotherapy strategies in the oral form or even the intravenous form, chlorambucil, a very old drug, more than 50 years in the ways, through fludarabine, Cytoxan, even bendamustine. These last three were used in combination with what we call immunotherapy.

So, chemoimmunotherapy was very, very popular, let’s say, 10 years ago after the chlorambucil went away as a really not very optimal therapy. So, the main standard of therapy for CLL for many years in combination of chemo and immunotherapy with really good results. However, patients unfortunately in many situations will really relapse.

So, we always talk to the patient that when the times of therapy comes, we gonna really put the patient in remission in many cases. In some cases, it’s not really a full remission. It’s a partial remission. But this, most of the time, happen for a certain period of time upon after the patient will require a new therapy. That was kind of the dilemma and the things that we are being really experienced in for years.

However, the introduction of target therapy, that was really a revolution in CLL. That’s happened in many other cancers, including other leukemias, like a chronic myeloid leukemia. These new drugs really came to really change the paradigm, to really fix the duration of chemoimmunotherapy to really taking pills, we can really get a patient in a remission, or at least in a very good control of the disease for a longer period of time as soon as the patient continues to take the drug.

Obviously, we’re talking about BTK inhibitors that really, really extremely popular, and truly, today, a standard of care for any patient who has newly diagnosed CLL who requires therapy in any form, high risk, low risk, older, younger, with comorbid condition, without. This is very well reflected in NCCN guidelines with category 1, in this case, to the most common.

the case I ready to try. So, we know that. We know that, and we really see patients who really enjoy these drugs for a long period of times. However, obviously, this always come with another issues, like intolerance, and in some other cases, progression, right?

So, it’s – BTK mutation has been described and has been seen in high-risk patients. So, this being the standard, and really, we enjoying this, but we have a very recent, last May, a new drug approved. It was already approved for patients who really failed other therapies but now also, we have the ability to get this drug as an initial therapy.

This therapy, in this case, is called a BCL-2 inhibitor. The name is venetoclax, in combination with another immunotherapy I mentioned before that was classically used with chemo. In this case, venetoclax, BCL-2 inhibitor, is combined with obinutuzumab, a drug with a very powerful anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody.

What really has brought us this new strategy? Well, it’s coming back that the paradigm, as mentioned before, changed from fixed duration with chemoimmunotherapy to long term durability for pills, but now, we have also the opportunity to discuss with patients the possibility to really offer them, in certain conditions, not for everyone – again, we need to really understand that we need to customize the therapy for patients, right?

But this new combination really, really will allow us to – many patients who don’t want to stay in therapy for life, so we can really offer back time-limited therapy with substituting the old chemotherapy by this drug called BCL-2 inhibitors, venetoclax. They work very similar to chemotherapy, and they are extremely effective, you know, cleaning or at least reducing, and sometimes completely eradicating most of the CLL cells in the bone marrow of patients with CLL.

However, we still no have longer follow-up in the front line. We have a longer follow up in the second line when patient has failed chemo or other drugs with these combination with venetoclax. In the front line, the data are very, very good, but the – it’s relatively short follow-up. So, patients receive care for a year, and they stop. So now, we are following those patients. There was a recent publication in the New England Journal that really described this population with this trial called CLL 14, but definitely, we need to really continue to see how these data evolve as we have seen with a routine for many years.

We have already seven years follow up on ibrutinib, and it’s something that keep going, and this is what is gonna help us to understand who and what can really be given these kind of therapies, okay?

Fact or Fiction? CLL Causes and Symptoms

Fact or Fiction? CLL Causes and Symptoms from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How do you decipher what’s fact and what’s fiction when it comes to chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) causes and symptoms? Dr. Kerry Rogers shares updates in CLL research and tackles common questions and misconceptions.

Dr. Kerry Rogers is a hematologist-oncologist at The James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute. More about Dr. Rogers here.

See More From The Fact or Fiction? CLL Series


Related Resources

Fact or Fiction? CLL Treatment & Side Effects

Overwhelmed By a CLL Diagnosis? Key Steps to Take

CLL Genetic Tests: How Do Results Impact Treatment and Care


Transcript:

Patricia:                      

Welcome to Fact or Fiction: CLL Causes and Symptoms. Today, we’re talking about chronic lymphocytic leukemia. We’ll debunk misconceptions about CLL causes and symptoms. I’m Patricia Murphy, your host. Joining me today is Dr. Kerry Rogers. Dr. Rogers, thanks so much for taking the time. Why don’t you introduce yourself?

Dr. Rogers:                 

My name is Kerry Rogers. I am a hematologist, and I work at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, and thank you very much for inviting me. This is one of my favorite topics – talking about chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Patricia:                      

Fantastic. Well, before we get started, this program is not a substitute for medical advice, so please, consult your medical care team or you – before we get started, this program is not a substitute for medical advice, so please refer to your healthcare team with any questions.

Patricia:

Dr. Rogers, let’s just get a brief overview of CLL and how it progresses.

Dr. Rogers:                 

So, I’m sure everyone already knows that chronic lymphocytic leukemia is a chronic blood cancer of a cell called the B lymphocyte, and with the frequency that people are getting blood tests these days in the United States, the most common way that I see people diagnosed with this at this time is actually just having an increased white blood cell count when they went to get routine blood counts.

So, it seems like the majority of people being diagnosed are diagnosed at a time when they’re not actually having symptoms from the disease, and maybe everyone already knows or not, but the way that’s managed is that the disease is actually just monitored until some sort of what I like to call “problem” from it develops.

So, I’ll go over what the problems are that can come along as the CLL progresses, but it’s important to realize that there’s many people alive and living with CLL doing very well and not having any problems from the disease yet, and I’ve seen a couple people that have had this disease longer than I’ve been a doctor, and one person that almost had this longer than I’ve been alive with no problems from it.

So, developing something from CLL that’s gonna need treatment is not universal. So, as the – for the majority of people, though, CLL – over its natural history – will go on to progress to cause what I like to refer to as “problems” from it. Some people call them “treatment indications.”

So, when problems are developing is about the time you consider treatment before you get really sick from it, and there’s a couple main ways that the CLL can cause problems. One is that the CLL can build up in the places where those cells live, which is the lymph nodes, so people can get really big lymph nodes in their neck, in their groin area, sometimes inside the body, causing problems. And, lots of people have small lymph nodes that aren’t causing problems, and that’s okay, but if they become really big or problematic, then it’s time to do something about them.

The cells can also build up in the bone marrow, so the bone marrow produces all your healthy, normal blood cells that go into the blood and have a lifecycle in the blood. So, if your bone marrow fills up with CLL cells, then you can’t produce the regular,  healthy blood cells, and it’s time to do something about the CLL.

Sometimes, the white count can get really high, and that’s not always a reason to do something, but most people do see – over the natural history or course of having CLL – their white blood cell count and lymphocyte count increases, and there’s not actually a firm number where you say, “Boy, you hit X number, it’s time to treat this,” but if the count is increasing rapidly, then usually, you want to treat this before it increases so much that you develop an issue from that. And then, the last category of things that happen with CLL that’s a problem from it are what we call constitutional symptoms.

So, this can be fatigue that’s limiting your activities, like I took care of someone that was too tired to get the mail from his porch due to CLL. He’s doing great now, but that would be a problem. Sometimes drenching night sweats or an extreme weight loss – and, I’m not talking about people that do Atkins diet lose weight, I’m talking about people that are eating everything and losing weight just because of the CLL.

And, the reason this happens that – CLL is a cancer of B lymphocytes, which are immune system cells, so they can release some of the same chemical mediators that your immune system releases for an infection, and that’s what causes some of those symptoms. But, the main things that progress over the course of having CLL are increasing lymph nodes, lowering of your healthy blood counts due to increasing CLL in the bone marrow, the white count can go up rapidly, or people can develop really problematic constitutional symptoms from it.

Patricia:                      

Let’s talk a little bit about how CLL is staged, Dr. Rogers.

Dr. Rogers:                 

So, unlike most cancers, where CLL is staged with CT scans or PET scans, the staging for CLL is actually remarkably simple, and I really like this because it limits the amount of testing you have to do for people, especially the people that might be just monitored for their CLL or observed. You don’t wanna put them through a lot of intensive testing they don’t need. So, the only two things you need to properly stage CLL are a complete blood count and a good physical exam.

So, in the United States, we use something called RAI staging, which is R-A-I staging, and before I launch into what it is, I will just say that even RAI stage 4 CLL is very treatable, and people do well for many years, so this is not the same as when you think about lung cancer or breast cancer staging, where stage 4 is a much worse spot than stage 1. The staging for CLL – all of it is still very treatable.

So, RAI stage 0 is when you only have an increase in lymphocytes, which is the CLL cells in the blood. Stage 1 is when you have increasing lymph nodes in addition to that. Stage 2 is an increased size of the liver or spleen. And then, if someone has anemia from CLL, then it’s stage 3, and stage 4 is if you have low platelets from CLL. So, 3 and 4 are indications that the bone marrow’s not working well due to CLL.

Patricia:                      

Dr. Rogers, it seems like CLL is a very manageable disease. What are you considering when you’re making a prognosis with a patient?

Dr. Rogers:                 

So, for many people, CLL is a very manageable disease. Like I said, some people have had CLL longer than I’ve been a doctor and have needed no treatment for it. However, there are people with CLL that go on to have a lot of difficulty from it, including not doing well with more than therapy or needing really new, advanced therapies, like something called CAR T-cell therapy.

So, for any individual person, you can never say how it’s gonna turn out for them, but we do use our experience taking care of lots of people with CLL to make an educated guess as to if this person’s gonna be someone that’s gonna expect to need a lot of treatment in their lifetime, or maybe no treatment in their lifetime.

And, the main things we look at in addition to just the staging or are they having symptoms or problems from CLL yet is molecular testing. So, these are genetic tests just on the cancer cells, so they’re not genetic tests that other people in the family get tested for, it’s just changes in the cancer cells, so that can give us a guess as to how long before people need treatment and how well they’ll respond to treatment.

And, I know a lot of people are probably already familiar with this, but there’s a particular chromosome change you can test for called deletion 17p, and that predicts a shorter time to needing treatment, needing more treatments in your lifetime, maybe going on to needing those advanced treatments like CAR T-cell therapy.

It used to be recommended that people with 17p get regular like-donor stem cell transplants, which, in some cases, is still done. And then, on the other end of the spectrum, there’s a chromosome change called deletion 13q, which predicts that in many cases, people don’t need treatment for many years and do very well. So, there’s a panel of chromosome changes that can predict where people are gonna fall on the spectrum.

The other chromosome change that’s become important is something called complex karyotype – and again, this is just in the CLL cells, but the karyotype is the arrangement of the chromosomes and these – the other tests I was talking about are chromosome changes picked up with a test called FISH. This is just looking at all the chromosomes, what they look like, and if there are three unrelated genetic abnormalities are more, it’s something called a complex karyotype, and it predicts people will fall in this category of needing more treatment or having more things to do with their CLL in their lifetime rather than not.

And then, the third thing that is really important is something called – and, this is gonna sound long – but, it’s immunoglobulin heavy chain gene mutational status, and mutations in the immunoglobulin heavy chain gene occur normally as these B cells mature, so people that are mutated have more mature cells that became CLL, and people that are unmutated have less mature cells, and people who are mutated that have more mature cells tend to have fewer problems from CLL in their lifetime, and there’s a few implications for CLL treatment for that category.

So, I kind of take all those things into consideration, and then, the other thing that I think is important to consider is newer molecular testing, but that’s still in development, so I think I’ll just end there for now in what I take into account.

Patricia:                      

I did want to ask one follow-up. Dr. Rogers, how often do you like to check in with your patients with CLL?

Dr. Rogers:                 

Oh, that’s an excellent question, because I think it really depends on how they’re doing.

So, people that have had a lot of changes in their CLL, like the white counts increasing, healthy blood counts going down, lymph nodes changing – then usually, I see them back more often, so I even see someone maybe six or eight weeks later if they have a lot of changes. And then, generally, people who are having changes in their CLL are taking treatment for CLL; I’ll see them at least every three months.

However, like I said, there are people who have had this CLL for decades with no changes in how their disease is, so those people I’ll see every six months, or even sometimes once a year, especially if it’s been 10 years and nothing has changed with the CLL. Even though I like them and enjoy seeing them, I’m sure they have things they’d like to do rather than coming to see me.

Patricia:                      

Here we go. Dr. Rogers, let’s talk about facts and fiction around CLL. Here’s what we’ve heard from CLL patients. Are these fact or fiction? “Exposure to pesticides caused my CLL.”

Dr. Rogers:                 

So, this is a very difficult one, and I will preface this by saying I’m not actually an expert in environmental exposures. I am more an expert in CLL management. But, there is some evidence that exposure to pesticides, including Roundup, increases the risk for developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and there’s a class-action lawsuit against Roundup that my patients keep asking me about.

I think it’s really hard to say for any one person whether or not their cancer is caused by pesticide exposure. If it’s someone that sprayed Roundup in their garden a couple times, then no, I wouldn’t think so. If it’s someone that was bathing in it regularly, exposed to it on the farm all the time, then it might have contributed, but there’s usually more than one thing that goes into someone getting CLL, so I would never plant the entire blame for something on one particular exposure, but I do think it’s quite possible that pesticide exposure can increase a person’s risk for developing CLL and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Patricia:

This is probably applicable just to veterans. “I was exposed to Agent Orange, and it caused my CLL.”

Dr. Rogers:

So, the same stuff I said about pesticides applies to Agent Orange, but Agent Orange can be a factor in developing CLL. It is in the VA list of diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure. So, for anyone that was exposed to Agent Orange that developed CLL, I would really encourage them to go to the VA and get their Agent Orange intake interview because they are likely entitled to VA benefits because they have CLL and were exposed to Agent Orange.

Patricia:                      

Do you hear that often from your patients who were exposed to Agent Orange?

Dr. Rogers:                 

That they’ve gone to the VA? Yes. Actually, I have a couple people that – many of these people get care at the VA, which is also great, but I do take care of a couple of people who have VA benefits due to Agent Orange exposure who have CLL for sure.

I also have a couple people that, despite the fact that they were exposed to Agent Orange, didn’t feel like going to the VA and seeing if they could get benefits, and I think that’s very reasonable, too. Whether or not people wanna do that is an individual decision, but is definitely on the list of Agent Orange exposure-related diseases. And so, the VA could provide care, medications for CLL, and in some cases, other financial benefits, so for anyone who would like, I think contacting the VA if you have CLL and were exposed to Agent Orange is not a bad idea.

Patricia:                      

How about this one? “CLL is only a disease of the elderly.”

Dr. Rogers:                 

Oh. Well, that one is definitely not true. So, CLL is not really a disease of children. I’ve never seen someone under 18 with it, and of course, the median age of diagnosis is somewhere between 65 and 70, sort of around 65, so that means that there’s a lot of people less than 65 living with CLL.

I’ve seen people as young as 20, I’ve seen some people in their 30s, I see many people in their 40s and 50s, and also, part of this question is what do you consider elderly? I don’t really know that I consider people in their 60s elderly in many cases. So, people in their 90s are usually willing to accept that they’re elderly, but people in their 60s, often, I wouldn’t call them elderly, and I know you draw these age numbers to say you’re a senior citizen, but there’s more things that contribute to the word “elderly.”

So, I guess what I’d say is this is – CLL is definitely not exclusively a disease of the elderly. There are many people in their 40s living with this, and I’ve seen people as young as their 20s, and then, also, you gotta figure out for yourself where you’re gonna draw the line and say “elderly.”

Patricia:                      

Sure. How about this one? “CLL is genetic, and my children may inherit it.”

Dr. Rogers:                 

So, this is a very difficult question. Instead of saying CLL is genetic, I think what I would say is that CLL is heritable, meaning it can run in families.

And, the rough estimate is that 1 in every 10 people that are living with CLL have someone in their family that will also get CLL, so we know that it does run in families – not in every case, but many cases – and I think at least in terms of people I’ve seen with this, people come and see me, and they either say, “Oh yeah, sure, my cousin, my uncle, my parents, my brother – everybody had CLL.” Or, they’ll say, “Really? Someone else in my family could get this?” So, it becomes pretty clear who’s gonna have it in their family and who’s not, but it does increase the risk of your family members getting CLL.

The interesting part of that is as a CLL community, I think we have not done a very – or, we have not been able to pin down a gene that causes it. So, if you think about breast cancer, colon cancer, you can say, “Oh, someone has a BRCA mutation, the family needs to get tested, we can do something to avoid your kids getting breast cancer.”

But really, with CLL, they’ve done a lot of research looking at family cohorts – and, by “they,” I mean not me specifically, but other CLL researchers have done this – and really have not identified anything that’s saying, “Oh, if you have this gene, you’re gonna get CLL, you’re at risk for CLL,” so, we can’t say it’s genetic and there’s one gene it’s pinned on, although it might be genetic based on a constellation of genes or a gene we haven’t identified. So, I think that’s kind of interesting.

The other thing that I’ll say that’s really important when thinking about whether or not your family could be at risk for CLL is that even people that have very what we call unfavorable or high-risk CLL, with something like deletion 17p, other family members that have CLL end up having a pre-CLL condition called monoclonal B lymphocytosis, or 13q CLL, or 11q CLL, so they have a completely different genetic feature for their CLL, even though you can tell they’re in the family as people with CLL.

So, it’s not that the CLL genetic factors we use to predict how you’re gonna do with it are inherited throughout the family, just the risk for getting CLL. I think that’s important to realize.

The other thing is that unlike breast cancer, where you say, “Oh, this is in your family, you should get breast MRIs, you should consider a prophylactic mastectomy,” there’s not a good screening system for CLL, and since when it’s diagnosed, it’s observed, and there’s no known way that we have to prevent it, it’s not like you have to go and get your entire family tested because we don’t have a genetic test, and a screening is not as beneficial as it is in breast cancer where you can get a surgery to prevent yourself from getting the disease. Does that make sense? Okay.

Patricia:                      

Thank you. What are some of the things that you hear from your patients that we haven’t mentioned?

Dr. Rogers:                 

About CLL?

Patricia:

About the way they got it.

Dr. Rogers:

Oh, the way they got it. Hmm. I think the most common things I hear from people that we haven’t mentioned are in either the exposure category, to things that aren’t known to cause CLL, or infections, like, “Oh, I had a really bad bout of influenza,” or “I got pneumonia, and then I got CLL.” I don’t know if these – I don’t know if any infections that are demonstrated to cause CLL.

Sometimes, the white count can go up when people have infections in response to that, because they’re still living immune system cells, so if people get diagnosed when they have an infection because they got their blood drawn or because their white count went up because they were sick, but that’s something common I hear. And so, it’s really hard to say, “Your bout of pneumonia isn’t why you got this,” but it is frequently how people get diagnosed with that, so I hear that sometimes.

Patricia:                      

What are the actual causes of CLL? What do we know?

Dr. Rogers:                 

So, CLL, like most blood cancers is – the way I like to think about it is that your blood cells are one of the most rapidly growing and dividing cells in the body.

You know how over the course of your lifespan, your skin sloughs off, your hair grows, you have to cut it? So, your blood cells divide and turn over within your body, and they’re really quite rapidly dividing, and when cells divide, they replicate their genetic material, and just because it happens so many times over the lifespan, they make mistakes and pick up mutations.

So, many of the mutations they pick up either cause that cell to die, which is fine, or cause your immune system to attack it as abnormal, which is fine. But, in some cases, the mistake or mutation they made when the cells were dividing causes the calls to become broken or mutated in a very specific way that makes them CLL. And, it’s probably not just one mutation; it’s probably a series of them that accumulate to cause CLL.

And so, some of these things are those things we test for in a FISH panel, like 17p is an abnormal genetic change that happened as these cells were dividing over the course of the person’s lifespan, but there’s probably more changes than that that go on, and eventually, the cells become CLL, grow out of control, and have the common features of CLL. So, that’s how I like to think about it.

And then, these questions of “Oh, did pesticides contribute? Did this contribute? Did Agent Orange contribute?” is really just about did those agents cause your cells to break or mutate more, or in a specific way that would make them CLL? So, a lot of things that cause cancers in general, and not just CLL or increased risks for cancers in general, are things that alter, break, or change DNA.

Patricia:

Dr. Rogers, we’ve talked a little bit about symptoms – fatigue, night sweats, swollen lymph nodes. How do you manage the symptoms of CLL?

Dr. Rogers:                 

That’s a good question. So, if people have enough symptoms from CLL that’s really impacting their life significantly, then I suggest they take a CLL treatment.

So, if people have big lymph nodes that are interfering with what they’re doing – like I said, that nice man that was too fatigued to get his mail off his porch – that’s a reason to do a CLL therapy, treat the CLL, and make those symptoms go away. The really difficult ones are when you’re not sure if someone’s fatigue is related to CLL.

So, there’s many people I take care of that are living with chronic levels of fatigue that are not enough to impair their daily activities much, and you’re not sure what it could be related to, so one thing I like to do for things that aren’t clearly severe CLL symptoms is try to figure out what else could be causing it. So, I know myself and many other physicians I work with closely that treat CLL – we think we might diagnose more people with sleep apnea than fatigue related to CLL, and getting your sleep apnea treated is very important. So, it’s always important to do a very thorough look to make sure that these symptoms are from CLL.

And then, in terms of milder fatigue, treating CLL won’t always make that better because people usually live with some chronic side effects from the treatment, and it’s really hard to improve on feeling really good. So, if people have some mild fatigue but feel pretty good in general, it can really only make that worse at some point. And, I find that people themselves find ways to manage. Some people who might be in the actually elderly category like to nap, especially if they can and they’re retired.

Younger people actually shockingly sometimes find moderate exercise helpful. And, I know a lot of people find moderate exercise helpful for other forms of fatigue. So, for people living with mild levels of fatigue, that is definitely – people have those strategies to exercise. A couple people really improved their nutrition and found it helpful. So, sleeping better, focusing on maximizing benefit from things you can do, is good.

In terms of night sweats that people get sometimes that aren’t too severe, usually, they find ways to manage with fans or things like that in the bedroom.

Patricia:                      

These sound like important quality-of-life conversations with your physician.

Dr. Rogers:

Definitely. And, I think any time people have symptoms, it’s always good to talk to definitely your hematologist, especially if you have CLL and you don’t know if it’s CLL-related or it could be, and then, also, your primary care doctor or your general doctor, because sometimes, they’re really good at thinking of what else could be contributing, and occasionally, it’s a back-and-forth before you really determine what’s causing this and if it’s CLL-related, but either way, feeling better is really important.

Patricia:                      

Sure. Let’s talk about symptoms a little bit more. Here are a few things that we’ve heard from CLL patients. Are these fact or fiction? “I shouldn’t travel if I have CLL, since I may get an infection.”’

Dr. Rogers:                 

I think that is fiction. So, I’ve heard this, too, and the way I like to think about it is if you’re expected to live with CLL for a very long time, you had better go out and do the things you want to do. This is not supposed to keep you a prisoner in your house. Now, if you’re in the middle of starting some sort of more intensive treatment for it, or less intensive treatment, but you started last week, that is not a good time to go somewhere where there are no hospitals – in the middle of the Pacific Ocean or to rural Africa. So, you’ve gotta be smart about those things, but you wouldn’t go to rural Africa the week after you had a heart attack, either.

So, I think for people who are doing well, living with CLL, but aren’t needing some sort of – in situation where they need a lot of medical visits and care right now, definitely travel. And then, yes, you can get infections when you travel, but you can get infections in your own neighborhood, and I don’t think that keeping yourself only in your neighborhood or where you live is really gonna help you live any better.

You do have to be kind of smart about it. So, if you’re gonna go somewhere where there’s malaria, go to a travel clinic. Make sure that you take the advice of the travel clinic. If you’re going to Houston, you probably don’t need to do anything special. If you’re going to Central America, then you might wanna go to a travel clinic. And, as you know, most people with CLL are instructed to avoid live vaccines, so you have to tell the travel clinic, “I’m going X place. What are the recommendations? I’m not supposed to get live vaccines.” Sometimes, they can recommend low doses of antibiotics to avoid this. They have practical ways to avoid it – for ticks, if you tuck your pants into your socks.

So, being cautious and taking care not to get infections is good advice, but I don’t think it really helps people to limit their travel. Does that make sense? If someone got a stem cell transplant or something, that’s a different category. I’m talking about most people with CLL.

Patricia:                      

Sure. Well, you mentioned the problem with live vaccines and patients with CLL. Should patients with CLL get a flu shot or vaccines? Because we hear from some patients – they say they shouldn’t.

Dr. Rogers:                 

Yeah. So, because CLL is a cancer of the immune system cells – B lymphocytes – it makes the rest of the immune system function differently than in healthy individuals. So, the benefit that people get from vaccines if they have CLL is actually less, so the – if you get a flu shot, it doesn’t decrease your risk of getting the flu the same way it would for a healthy adult.

However, it’s still a good idea to do because people with CLL live at a higher risk of infection, and the way I view it is you should take every opportunity to decrease your risk for infection because influenza is curable, and if you can decrease your risk even a little bit, I would do it. Now, live vaccines are a bit of a debate because people who are immunocompromised don’t get them. So, live vaccines are a live virus similar to the on that you’re being vaccinated against.

So, examples of live vaccine are the oral typhoid vaccine, the MMR vaccine – I know we’re having measles outbreaks in some parts of the country, so MMR is kind of off the table. There is an intranasal flu vaccine that’s live. It’s very hard to get these days and uncommon to be offered. So, I recommend people get all the vaccines they’re due as long as they’re killed vaccines.

There is now a new shingles vaccine called Shingrix, which is a killed vaccine. I’ve had many patients get that. We’re not sure how well it works in CLL; probably not as well as in healthy adults, but it is safe, so if you get your hands on it – it’s been on shortage – there’s no reason not to get these things. I do think for people that have had really severe vaccine reactions that’s always an individual conversation with your doctor.

Patricia:                      

Yeah, it sounds like it. How about this one? “I’m not experiencing symptoms, so I don’t need treatment.”

Dr. Rogers:                 

That may or may not be true. So, in some cases, especially if people are in monitoring or observation for their CLL, the goal is to start treatment before you get horribly sick, right?

So, in some cases, you’ll see that the changes in the blood really predict that someone’s going to start to be really sick from CLL in the next few months. You might see their platelet count is going down, or their hemoglobin is going down a lot, and so, there’s kind of a level – so, a platelet of 100 and hemoglobin of 10-11 where you think about treatment. It’s not like, “Oh, you hit this level, you need to do treatment tomorrow,” but it’s time to plan a treatment.

Also, that is the one group of CLL patients where a bone marrow biopsy is really needed to make sure that the decrease in blood counts is CLL and not something else. Most of those people feel fine, but if your platelet count is headed down, it’s probably best to start treatment before your platelet count is below 10 and you start having bleeding symptoms. So, there are some people who are recommended to take treatment for CLL because their doctor has noticed that they’re gonna be at risk for developing problems or symptoms that might make them feel much less well.

And so, you wanna start the treatment when you’re still feeling good and before you’re having a lot of bleeding and issues. However, the majority of people who don’t have symptoms don’t need treatment for it. Quite a while ago, they did randomize people with intermediate- or high-risk CLL to either chemotherapy at diagnosis or delayed until they had one of those treatment indications I’ve been talking about, and treating it with chemotherapy just because you’ve diagnosed it did not help people live longer or better. So, if people are not having symptoms and their doctor doesn’t notice a problem, there’s no reason to treat it.

Patricia:                      

We talked a little bit how diet and exercise can help with symptoms, but can they control symptoms? Tricky question.

Dr. Rogers:

I’m not sure. I think that’s really individual. The thing I get asked all the time is, “What diet do I go on to make my CLL go away, or so I never need treatment?” And, there are no evidence-based diets to make your CLL go away. The coffee enema thing doesn’t work. The no-sugar thing – I’m not sure that works.

I do tell my patients to try to eat and behave as if they’re gonna be around a long time because people with CLL usually expect to live many, many years, and heart disease is still killing people in this country, so you can’t stop managing your diabetes, you can’t start eating hamburgers when you have horrible heart disease, so I think you still have to follow a regular, healthy adult diet.

Most people feel better if they eat fruits and vegetables and try to eat a well-balanced adult diet, so I think that helps pretty much everyone, even healthy adults, but I don’t have any specific diet to control CLL symptoms, although I did have one guy that said ever since he’s been eating white toast every morning, all his symptoms are much better. So, if you find something that works for you, it doesn’t matter what it is. If it’s working out for you, you should do it.

Patricia:     

Excellent. What do you think about the future – how do you feel about the future of CLL treatment? What makes you hopeful?

Dr. Rogers:

Oh. Well, I think a couple things. One is for CLL, in many ways, the future is now, and I think it’s only going to get better from here on out.

So, a little less than a year ago, two very large clinical trials were reported that compared our best chemotherapy to oral targeted therapy with an ibrutinib-based regimen for CLL, and the oral targeted therapy was superior in terms of something we call “progression-free survival,” which is how long people were alive without their CLL coming back or causing problems.

So, oral targeted agents, which, in general, not – everyone’s an individual, so until you try a treatment, you don’t know what’s gonna happen, but in general, have fewer side effects than chemotherapy, are better at controlling CLL than chemotherapy, so that’s what I like to put in the category of “the future is now,” and I think it’s only gonna get better. So, we’re improving on our existing oral targeted agents with next-generation drugs that have slightly different side effect profiles.

We are also studying combinations of these drugs, and oral targeted agents, and monoclonal antibodies to try to make treatment shorter, to try to get remissions deeper, to really try to improve the quality of life of people taking these therapies and not just improve how long they live with CLL.

And then, for people that really have the worst of the luck with CLL that have really high-risk findings, that don’t benefit for as long as we’d like from oral targeted therapies, that their CLL comes back after a couple years on those, I think the most exciting thing is really CAR T-cell therapies and those cellular-based therapies that aren’t donor stem cell transplant because I’ve seen people who have really benefited from those who had terrible problems from their CLL before that, and I think that’s gonna improve quality of life for a very specific subset of our CLL patients.

That is still in clinical trials for CLL, but has been in enough of them I can feel very confident that we have an idea about what the side effects are and how well it works. So, that’s really exciting. Can I add just one more thing about this before I…?

Patricia:

Absolutely.

Dr. Rogers:

So, I saw a consult recently for a person that was recommended to start treatment for CLL. His questions for me were, “Should I start treatment now, and what treatment should I take?” This person had never had a treatment before. So, I agreed with his oncologist, who said that he should start treatment now, and his oncologist had talked about several options, but I think with some of the changes in what we’re recommending for CLL, his oncologist had also wanted him to come see me to get a recommendation too, so it was like, “Oh, that’s great. Why don’t you go see Dr. Rogers at Ohio State and see what you should do?”

And so, one of the things he had discussed with the two oncologists in his office closer to his home were, “Oh, we have these – we have ibrutinib, it’s a really outstanding oral targeted agent, but you’ve gotta take it for a really long time, so why don’t you just take chemotherapy, because I think something better will come along?”

And, I was like, “This something better. Literally, this was demonstrated to be better than the chemotherapy. Something better did come along, and it’s this.” So, ibrutinib is better than chemotherapy. I think the idea of “Why don’t we do a less effective treatment because something better might come along?” is not true anymore. We have something better. And, he actually decided to enroll in a randomized phase 3 trial that’s gonna set the new standard of care in CLL, so he was very excited to get treatment as part of a research study. I think he decided that was actually really important to him, and he really liked what the study was.

But, it was just – it was kind of like, “Maybe something better will come along.” I’m like, “Something did.” So, that’s kind of the nice position that many people with CLL are in now. There’s still a lot of work to be done in CLL, but I just get increasingly hopeful as therapies get easier to take and more effective.

Patricia:                      

Fantastic. Thanks so much, Dr. Rogers, for taking the time to join us today.

Dr. Rogers:                 

Thanks for inviting me.

Patricia:

And, thanks to all of our partners. To learn more about CLL and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit www.powerfulpatients.org. That’s powerful patients – with an “s” – dot org. I’m Patricia Murphy. Thanks so much for joining us.

How Can The CLL Society Help You?

How Can The CLL Society Help You? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Brian Koffman, co-founder of The CLL Society, explains its mission and goals. Dr. Koffman reviews programs and services that assist chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients and their loved ones.

Dr. Brian Koffman is the cofounder, chief medical officer, and executive vice president of The CLL Society.

See More From The Pro-Active CLL Patient Toolkit


Related Resources

How Can Patients Advocate for Genetic Testing

Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed CLL Patients

CLL Office Visit Planner

 


Transcript:

Dr. Koffman:              

Hi, I’m Dr. Brian Koffman. I’m a retired family doctor, and I’m the cofounder, chief medical officer, and executive vice president of the CLL Society. And, what, you ask, is the CLL Society? Well, the CLL Society is a 501(c)3 not-profit that focuses on the unmet needs of the CLL community in terms of supporting, educating, advocating on behalf of, and researching what needs to be done in the CLL community.

The CLL Society is very proud of the programs that we offer. So, among the programs that we offer, the backbone is a website that covers everything from the very basic kind of information – frequently asked questions – to really the latest research that’s coming out.

Also, on the website, CLLSociety.org, we have a whole toolbox, and in that toolbox, there are lists of acronyms. There are links to other CLL resources. There are links to CLL experts around the country. There are spreadsheets to help you with your lab sheet – lab results so you can follow them and mark the trans-Excel spreadsheet. We also do trial educational forums across the country with places like MD Anderson, Dana-Farber, or the National Institutes of Health.

And, we have 30-plus support groups in Canada and the USA that meet generally on a monthly basis, so there’s a peer-to-peer interaction, and we provide education to all of those. And, one of the programs that I’m most proud of is for patients who don’t have access to an expert. We provide free virtual consultations with CLL experts from the top institutions through a Zoom-type platform that’s HIPAA-compliant so patients can ask their questions to a remote expert, that expert reviews their medical records, and then to their local hematologist so they get the benefit of a consult that they wouldn’t otherwise.

Nervous About A Second Opinion? How to Confront Your Fears

Nervous About A Second Opinion? How to Confront Your Fears. from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients may be hesitant to ask for a second opinion to help guide their care and treatment choices. Dr. Brian Koffman shares his advice for confronting fears and becoming a confident self-advocate.

Dr. Brian Koffman is the cofounder, chief medical officer, and executive vice president of The CLL Society.

See More From The Pro-Active CLL Patient Toolkit


Related Resources

How Can Patients Advocate for Genetic Testing

Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed CLL Patients

CLL Office Visit Planner


Transcript:

Dr. Koffman:   

It’s a relatively rare cancer, and most hematologists and oncologists are busy taking care of the more common cancers, like breast, colon, prostate, or lung cancer.

So, they don’t really have a lot of experience compared to a CLL expert who only sees CLL patients, or more than half their practice is CLL patients, in terms of taking care of those patients. There are roughly 20,000 hematologist/oncologists in the USA, and there are roughly 20,000 new patients diagnosed with CLL a year, so if you do the math, you can figure out a community hematologist might be seeing one new CLL patient every year.

So, you wouldn’t see a surgeon who does one hernia repair a year, you’d see one who does many every week. So – and, it’s not just that these people have more experience. There’s research that shows that there’s a survival benefit to seeing a CLL expert, and people live roughly two years longer – based on some old research – by just having an expert as part of their team.

Above and beyond that, CLL is being revolutionized in how it’s being treated, and there’s all kinds of new therapy, and what the best treatment today will be upstaged by a better treatment next month, perhaps. So, unless you’re really focused on CLL, you’re not gonna be aware of what the latest data, what the latest research is, so it’s critically important because they’re on top of what the latest research is, they’re on top of what the latest clinical trials are, they’re on top of the best way to use the new medications that are available, and they provide you with significant survival advantage and management of some of the potential complications with CLL.

So, some people are concerned about getting a second opinion because they’re worried that it might portray to their doctor that they don’t have trust in their judgement or that they’re not happy with the care that they’re getting. Well, as a retired physician, let me assure you that most doctors are very thick-skinned, and we generally welcome people getting another opinion – a second opinion – and medicine is collaborative, and so, most doctors aren’t hesitant about you doing that, and welcome that. Bluntly, if you have a doctor who doesn’t want you to get a second opinion, that would be, for me, a real urgency to get a second opinion.

If hesitant or nervous about getting a second opinion, what I would encourage you to do is think hard about what – whose skin is in this game. Who is the person who has the disease? Who is the person that’s gonna benefit from getting that extra information? So, what is the worst that could happen? The worst that could happen is that you could see the expert, get an opinion that’s identical to your own physician’s, and that just inspires confidence in what’s going on.

The other thing that could happen is there might be an alternative that’s more attractive – less toxic, more effective – and wouldn’t you kick yourself if you hadn’t taken that chance and pursued getting that extra information? So, it’s – every medical decision should be a shared medical decision, and it’s all right as patients to ask for that second opinion and just…not to be hesitant about doing it.

Really, again, it’s rare that a doctor is gonna object to you doing that, and if your doctor objects, then I think you’ve gotta look at what that means, and especially in view of the data, there’s a survival advantage to getting a second opinion.