Diagnosed with CLL? An Expert Outlines Key Steps

Diagnosed with CLL? An Expert Outlines Key Steps from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

You’ve been diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), now what? Dr. Matthew Davids explains key steps to take following a diagnosis.

Dr. Matthew Davids is the Associate Director of the CLL Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. More about this expert.

See More From The Pro-Active CLL Patient Toolkit

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Transcript:

Dr. Matthew Davids

So, if I were diagnosed with CLL today, we’ve discussed some of the resources that are available in terms of educating one’s self about the disease: CLL Society website, other videos on VJHemOnc, things like this. There are other websites that give more basic information about the disease, for example, Lymphoma Research Foundation, American Cancer Society, American Society of Clinical Oncology.

So, personally, I would want to know a lot about the disease. And I would probably first turn to these particular resources, which I think can be very helpful.

I would certainly partner with a local oncologist hematologist who can help guide the management. But one thing that you should remember is that most general practitioners for oncology may only see a few CLL patients a year, and the field has changed quite a bit over the last few years. And it can be hard to stay completely up to date on all of these developments.

So, one thing that I would think would be very helpful for anyone diagnosed with CLL is that, if you do have access to a major center that has someone who specializes in CLL or at least in lymphomas, that can be a great resource. And so, I do recommend, if patients can do it, to try to seek out a second opinion from a CLL specialist. And this can be very helpful even if the recommendation is still just observation, that they can help educate about the disease, identify other resources for educational purposes, and just become a part of your team, to have them available down the line.

And I see many patients like this who come for a second opinion at diagnosis. And I kind of tell them, “Go back to your local doctor. Stay on observation. It’s likely you’ll do well for many years on this watch and wait strategy. But at the time when they’re recommending that you need treatment, come back and see me then. It’s easier to get in once I know you.”

And at that point, I can help reassess, 1.) Do I agree that treatment is really needed at that point? Sometimes, it’s actually possible to wait even a bit longer; and then, 2.) What would I recommend for the best treatment option at that time? Could be a clinical trial that might only be available at that center. And I think unless you have a CLL specialist on your team, it’s gonna be hard to know about those available resources.

So, it’s not that you necessarily need to follow exclusively with a CLL specialist. But it’s more to just have them involved, have them know about you. And that way, if you need them down the line, they’ll be available to help support you.

I think in terms of education and self-advocacy, this is a very personal issue. And so, for many of my patients, it’s very important that they are educated about the disease and kind of know the ins and outs of the different clinical trials and so forth.

But it’s also important to remember that that’s not gonna be true for every patient. A lot of my CLL patients are also older patients, and they may not want to know all the details of what’s going on. I think it is important to have someone who’s involved with your care know about these details. Ideally, if it’s not you, it might be a spouse or a partner or a child, for example. A lot of my older patients don’t wanna know all the details about the molecular biology and the clinical trials. But often, it’s their son or daughter who is there with them who wants to know this.

And so, I think it’s helpful often to bring a family member with you to the visits. Because as you can see even from today, there’s a lot of information to learn, and it can be hard to remember everything.

So, having someone else, another set of ears and eyes, someone else can maybe take some notes at the visit and review them with you later, I think can be very, very helpful in terms of your own self-awareness about the disease.

So, in general, I love when patients ask me questions. Sometimes, they are very savvy questions. They are familiar with the literature, and they can kind of really push me to explain my opinions and beliefs about certain treatments. And sometimes, they’re just very basic questions that may be seem silly to the patient but are really not silly questions.

Really, this is a brand-new area for most patients. They have no experience with this when they first start out. So, they should never feel like they’re bothering their oncologist with these questions. I think it’s really important for them to understand the basics of what’s going on. That should really be a minimum for every patient.

And then for patients who wanna know more about some of the details from the research and the clinical trials, I think their doctor should also be able to help explain that to them as well. So, they should never feel like they’re bothering their oncologist with their questions.

Could a Clinical Trial Be Your Best Treatment Option?

Could a Clinical Trial Be Your Best Treatment Option? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is participating in a clinical trial a last resort or could it be your best treatment option? Dr. Matthew Davids explains the clinical trial process and what’s involved in patient participation.

Dr. Matthew Davids is the Associate Director of the CLL Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. More about this expert.

See More From The Pro-Active CLL Patient Toolkit

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Transcript:

Dr. Matthew Davids

My patients often ask me about clinical trials and whether I think that would be a good fit for them. I think there is, in some cases, a bit of a misconception that clinical trials are a last resort for our patients. And we do have some clinical trials that are exploring brand new mechanisms of a drug that have never been used before.

And in that scenario, I would only recommend a trial like that for a patient who has already exhausted all of the standard options.

But I think that, in my opinion, clinical trials should really be the first best choice for most patients. Because we have many trials in CLL that are using the drugs that are already approved, so we know that they’re gonna be effective. And now, we’re putting them together for the first time in new combinations and in new creative ways that will help to advance the field. And most of the trials we have in CLL are not randomized, placebo-controlled. So, patients know what they’re getting. They’re gonna be getting an effective therapy.

And this is a way that they can really get access to cutting-edge care. I would say when you’re a part of a clinical trial, you have a lot of other eyes watching you. In addition to your oncologist and the infusion nurses, for example, you also have research coordinators, research study nurses. Some centers have additional scheduling staff that helps with the clinical trials. So, it’s really a way to get excellent quality clinical care, often getting access to cutting edge treatments.

And so, here at Dana Farber, for example, we try to have a clinical trial option available for patients at every stage of the disease, so that we have trial options for patients who have never had treatment for their CLL, trial options for patients who have maybe only had one or two prior treatments, and then some of those other more experimental clinical trials for patients maybe who have exhausted some of the other options that are available by the FDA-approved therapies.

So, I’m really a huge advocate for clinical trials. I think that’s how we’ll continue to improve the treatment options for our patients with CLL.

CLL Treatment Decisions: What Path is Best for YOU?

CLL Treatment Decisions: What Path is Best for YOU? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Dr. Matthew Davids discusses factors that can impact a chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patient’s treatment course, including genetic testing results, age and co-existing conditions.

Dr. Matthew Davids is the Associate Director of the CLL Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. More about this expert.

See More From The Pro-Active CLL Patient Toolkit

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Transcript:

Dr. Matthew Davids

So, there are a number of different factors that go into the decision of which of these regimens to choose for the initial therapy of CLL. One of them is certainly the age and fitness level of the patient and what other medical issues they have. So, as patients get above the age 65, they typically may have other medical issues and may not tolerate more aggressive chemoimmunotherapy-based regimens like FCR. But they could certainly tolerate the novel agent regimens like ibrutinib or venetoclax plus obinutuzumab.

Another consideration that comes into play is the biology of the CLL cells themselves. Some patients with CLL have a higher risk form of the disease. We call this either deletion 17p or TP53 mutation. And those patients typically do not benefit as much from chemoimmunotherapy.

So, even younger patients there, we think about a novel agent-based approach. And we have, again, the longest-term data on ibrutinib for that population, although venetoclax plus obinutuzumab is also a consideration.

And then as we think about debating between these different options, we also think about the specific other medical issues that a patient may have. So, ibrutinib does have some risks in terms of atrial fibrillation, which is an abnormal heart rhythm. It can cause patients to be a bit more prone to bleeding or bruising. And so, for patients who have these existing risks, if they have heart disease already, or if they’ve had issues with bleeding recently, ibrutinib may not be the best option, and venetoclax plus obinutuzumab would be appealing for a patient like that.

Now, with venetoclax and obinutuzumab, it can be such a potent regimen that it can break the tumor cells open too quickly. This is something we call tumor lysis syndrome. It’s not something we’ve seen commonly with this regimen. But we do watch patients very closely when they’re first dosing.And so, for example, patients who have poor kidney function might be at a higher risk for this side effect. And those might be patients, again, where we think about ibrutinib as a very good option, since it’s very well tolerated even by patients who have issues with their kidneys.

So, those are some of the factors that go into it. Certainly, patient preference makes a big difference. Some patients don’t mind the idea of going on a pill, and they like the idea that it’ll control their disease in the long term. And so there, a therapy like ibrutinib may make a lot of sense. Other patients may find that they prefer what we call a time-limited strategy. And using the venetoclax plus obinutuzumab makes a lot of sense there because it’s a one-year regimen, and they can stop. But we don’t know yet the durability of those effects. So, those are some of the factors that go into making this important decision as to what to receive for a first therapy.

I think patients have an increasingly large role in making treatment decisions about what they would like to receive, especially for their first therapy for CLL. It used to be that we had very limited treatment options for CLL, and really the only choice was chemotherapy. And so, that was a pretty easy choice if you had no other options.

So now, as I’ve highlighted, we have multiple different choices. We have chemotherapy-based approaches. We have novel agent approaches, both continuous and time limited. And so, I think it’s helpful for patients to educate themselves about the pros and cons of these different options, to get input from a CLL specialist, if possible, and certainly from their oncologist as well as family members and friends, particularly if they have had friends who’ve gone through this. Getting their advice can be helpful.

And reaching out to online supports as well can be a useful thing in terms of educating oneself. And at the end of the day, the patient has to make the decision as to what they think is best for them.

And it might be a different decision for each individual patient. But the good news for patients, even though it can be challenging to make this decision, all of these options are good ones. And so, there isn’t really a wrong decision here. But there may be some that are better suited for individual patients based on their own preferences.

The Pro-Active CLL Patient Toolkit Resource Guide

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CLL Toolkit Resource Guide

Download this Guide

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


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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 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.

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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

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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.

Office Visit Planner – CLL

Appointments with your physician can be overwhelming. To optimize your visit, it’s best to arrive organized and prepared to take notes. Our Office Visit Planner can help. Guides for your first office visit as well as your follow-up office visit, tailored for patients and caregivers, are available below. Download, print and bring along with you to the appointment.

For Patients:

First Office Visit Planner
Follow Up Visit Planner

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First Office Visit Planner
Follow Up Visit Planner

 

Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed CLL Patients

 

Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed CLL Patients from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Danielle Brander provides her expert advice for newly diagnosed chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients and outlines key steps for staying informed and engaged in care decisions.

Dr. Danielle Brander is Director of the CLL and Lymphoma Clinical Research Program at Duke Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Brander here.

See More From The Pro-Active CLL Patient Toolkit

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How Can Patients Advocate for Genetic Testing

Essential Lab Tests for CLL Patients

CLL Genetic Tests: How Do Results Impact Treatment and Care

 


Transcript:

Dr. Brander:

For patients newly diagnosed with CLL, I think there are a couple important first steps to take. First is recognizing that this is a long journey, meaning from the time of diagnosis potentially being monitored until requiring therapy, or maybe being a patient that doesn’t ever need treatment, or has to switch amongst different treatment options either due to response or due to a problem tolerating the therapy, is just recognizing that in this long journey it’s also going to be a long time for self-education of yourself, your family, and your caregivers.

And recognizing that at the time of your first appointment with your oncologist, that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed with the information, and just recognize to take the education that you can in pieces, and it’s okay to ask the same questions each time because your understanding is going to evolve with time. There’s only so much information any of us can understand when we’re first hit especially with news and told of leukemia, or even just in trying to understand why patients don’t necessarily need treatment.

It’s somewhat intuitive to all of us to feel like if you find something wrong, especially a leukemia, to want to treat it right away. But I tell patients an important first step is understanding that it is doing something by not doing something if you don’t need to. There’s been a lot of studies over the years showing no benefit to early treatment, and also some side effects, and also that some patients might never require therapy.

So that’s an important first step is understanding that move and that it’s okay to ask the same questions each time. Remind me what we’re looking for if I need therapy, etc.

Also, again, in today’s world, there are a lot of online resources. But one important recognition I would say, is finding the right one. Your treatment team can help guide that. There are also CLL communities that can help guide it to resources that are kept up to date. For example, as I mentioned, there are a lot of new drugs for treatment of CLL, so if you stumble upon research even from three, four, five years ago, that might not adequately reflect out patients do today and all the options that patients have today.

At the time of the first visit, it’s always good to go with a couple of questions in terms of the CLL, particularly if you’re meeting the oncologist for the first time if the testing to diagnose was done by someone other than your oncologist.

You might have had time to think about the questions, but if you’re going and hearing about the diagnosis for the first time, ask for a short follow-up to come back with questions. Because as you go home and process and talk with your family, other questions may come up.

The other important thing I tell patients as a first step is when you’re making the list of questions, try to do it ahead of time, and try to bring someone to be your ears for the appointment, and to take notes, because it’s very easy in the moment to forget everything that’s being said or what questions you might want to ask.

But also prioritize your questions, because what might seem like a short, easy, first question might be a longer discussion, might lead to other questions, and you wanna make sure you prioritize since time is limited, and understanding too much information at once is limited, that you know when you go in what your most important first questions would be.

And then lastly I would say if you’re talking with your team, it’s okay to ask if you want more information or even to understand about research opportunities. If there’s an either blood cancer expert or CLL or lymphoma expert clinic nearby where you might be able to go and get additional information, particularly if you’re thinking about treatment or trial options for you, that doesn’t mean that when you’re seeking out some of those centers that it’s changing who your core care team would be. Those visits can just sometimes be an extra step to help you understand either around the time of diagnosis or just hear in a different way in terms of treatment and trial options.