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What You Need to Know About Lung Cancer Research

What You Need to Know About Lung Cancer Research from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

As a lung cancer patient, why should you stay informed about research? Expert Dr. Heather Wakelee reviews what patients need to know.

Heather Wakelee, MD is Professor of Medicine in the Division of Oncology at Stanford University. More about this expert here.

See More From the The Pro-Active Lung Cancer Patient Toolkit

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Could Advances in Lung Cancer Research Benefit You?


Transcript:

Dr. Wakelee:

So, there’s so much happening in lung cancer research now, it is hard to really narrow it down to one thing to be specifically excited about. Where we have made so much progress in particular is with target treatments, and also with immune therapy. So, when we think about the targeted treatments, it’s only been about 15 years since we first learned about drugs that would specifically target the EGFR gene mutations.

And when we found a tumor with an EGFR gene mutation, we then had a medication we could give that would work better than chemo. And now we have five EGFR drugs available in the US. And then we found out about this ALK gene mutation that happen in some tumors. Now we have five drugs that work there. And the with ROS1, that was found, and now we’ve got four drugs that work there that are approved.

And it seems that we keep learning about more and more mutations, so those are mutations called NTRK and BRAF. And with all of those, we now have drug treatments, so it’s been very, very rapid discovery of specific gene mutations and drugs that work for that. And I think we’re continuing to see new targets being identified and new drugs being found.

And also, when those drugs stop working, better understanding why and what we can do to help them work longer, or what we can give next. So, that’s a very active area of research that’s exciting. And then we have the immune therapy. So, the ones that are available so far are drugs that block either PD-1 or PD-L1, and that’s one of the really important stop signals for the immune system.

And tumors can use that stop signal to block an immune reaction to a tumor. But if you block that stop signal then the immune system can attack the cancer. So, that’s really important, these PD-1, PD-L1 drugs.

We also know about another stop signal called CTLA-4, and there’re drugs that block that as well. And now, where there’s a ton of research is in trying to work with other parts of the immune system, other either pro-immune or anti-immune signals, and changing those in a way where we can improve the ability of the immune system to find the cancer cells and attack the cancer cells.

So, there are many, many studies being done with drugs, and especially in combinations, trying to get that response against the cancer from the immune system to be even stronger. And that’s, I think, where we’re making the most exciting headway now.

New and Improved Lung Cancer Treatment Options

New and Improved Lung Cancer Treatment Options from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Are there new lung cancer treatment options that you should know about? Expert Dr. Heather Wakelee reviews the latest research.

Heather Wakelee, MD is Professor of Medicine in the Division of Oncology at Stanford University. More about this expert here.

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Could Advances in Lung Cancer Research Benefit You?


Transcript:

Dr. Wakelee:

So, the treatment of lung cancer has been changing very, very quickly. We’ve had a lot of new options that have become available in the last few years, and there’re new ones coming along all the time. When I started treating lung cancer, which was a number of years ago, we were able to treat and help people.

But our only real option when the cancer was metastatic was chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is still an important part of treatment for many people, but now we have other options. So, starting about 15 years ago, people were able to identify that some tumors had specific genetic changes. We also call these molecular changes, or gene mutations, or just mutations in the tumor. They have a lot of different names.

But when we do find them, these are things like EGFR or ALK or ROS or BRAF or MET, we actually have different treatment options that only work for tumors that have those specific genetic changes, and don’t work in tumors that don’t have those. So, when we talk about genetic changes a lot of people think, “Oh, that’s something that I’ve inherited.”

These are not things that are inherited. This is not something that’s in the whole person. It’s just in the tumor. So, it’s a mutation that happened in the DNA of the cell, and that cell then became the cancer. And depending on what that mutation or mutations are, we still can have chemotherapy, and that can work.

But for specific ones, and specifically EGFR, ALK, ROS, BRAF, we know that there are pill drugs and oral medication that actually is gonna be better than chemo, at least for a period of time, if a cancer has that specific mutation.

So, it’s really, really important to figure that out. It’s not something a doctor can sort out just by looking at the patient or looking at the tumor under the microscope. We have to do special testing, looking at the tumor DNA.

And we now have ways of looking for those mutations, not just in the tumor tissue, but also sometimes with blood. So, we can draw a blood test and look for those as well when there’s a tumor that’s shedding the DNA. So, it’s really important to think about that. And we now have a whole host of medications that we can offer people when we the find these mutations that we didn’t used to have, even a few years ago.

And, actually, if you think back over the last five years, we’ve had new drugs approved, a few of them every year, for these specific gene mutation tumors, so that’s really, really exciting. The other thing that’s changed dramatically just in the last five years is what we call immune therapy.

So, when we think about the different types of treatment, chemotherapy works by poisoning DNA. And in order to make a new cell, you have to make new DNA. Tumors are doing that more than a lot of normal tissue, and so we’re able to give chemotherapy and specifically hurt tumors and not the rest of the person very much.

With the targeted treatments where we find a gene target and where there’s a gene mutation in a tumor, those are medications that specifically hit that altered gene, that altered protein made by the gene. And then they work really, really well. What immune therapy does is it actually changes the way your body’s own immune system interacts with the tumor. So, we have a lot of types of immune cells, but the ones that are involved in really fighting the cancer directly are called T cells.

And so, normally, a T cell would recognize something that’s foreign like an abnormal-looking cell that’s a cancer, and attack it. But we have a lot of different systems in our body that stop the T cells from recognizing normal tissue and attacking it.

And one of the best systems for that is something called PD-1 and PD-L1. And so, if you have a T cell and it sees a PD-L1 signal on tissue, it assumes that that tissue was normal tissue and it doesn’t attack. But if you can hide that PD-L1 signal, then if it’s a T cell, a part of the immune system comes in and doesn’t see the PD-L1, it doesn’t get the stop signal. It’s not told to not attack. So, it could attack the tumor better.

And I’m not describing it well because it’s so complicated. There are a lot of different factors that help a T cell know whether to attack or not to attack. But, again, one of these key stop signals is the PD-1, PD-L1 interaction. And so, scientists were able to develop medications that can block PD-1 or PD-L1. And when those medications are in the body, if a tumor is using that particular stop signal as a way to hide from the immune system, when you give the medication that blocks it then the tumor is no longer hiding.

And then the immune system, those T cells, can come in and attack. So, these immune treatments, and there are now a lot, and so these are drugs, like pembrolizumab, also called Keytruda; nivolumab, which also called Opdivo; durvalumab, which is called IMFINZI. And there are many, many others. Those medications have now been shown to really, really help to fight cancer, particularly when the tumor is using that PD-L1 signal. But they can also be combined with chemotherapy and then they work even if there’s not a lot of PD-L1 in the tumor. So, again, it’s a very complex story.

But where we’ve seen dramatic improvements in treatment is we have targeted treatments when the genes are – there are specific genes mutating in tumors. We have immune therapy, which worked for a lot of other people. And sometimes when there’s also gene mutation, but not always, we still have chemotherapy. And then there’s ongoing research with a lot of different medications. Many of them are focusing on better ways to get the immune system to work against cancers beyond what we can already do.

Being Empowered: The Benefits of Learning About Your Lung Cancer

The Benefits of Learning About Your Lung Cancer from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

As a lung cancer patient, why should you stay informed about research? Expert Dr. Heather Wakelee provides her advice.

Heather Wakelee, MD is Professor of Medicine in the Division of Oncology at Stanford University. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Dr. Wakelee:

So, as a patient living with lung cancer, you have many options today that you wouldn’t have had 5, 10, 15 years ago, which is wonderful.

Because things are changing so quickly, it’s very hard for physicians and other care providers to keep up with all of the latest information. It’s especially hard if you are seeing an oncologist who not only has to keep up with everything that’s happening in lung cancer, but also everything that’s happening in breast cancer, and colon cancer, and melanoma, and so many other diseases.

And so, while everybody does their best to know the latest and greatest in research, and all of the new drug approvals, sometime that’s just possible. So, as a patient, you wanna make sure that you, focused on your particular disease, are up-to-date on what you can possibly know about the best ways to treat your disease, so you can talk to your physician and make sure that he or she also knows about those, and is using that latest information to help you get the best possible care.

There’s also a lot of ongoing clinical trials. And being able to ask about those and know what may or may not make sense for you, is also a reasonable thing to be able to talk with your doctor about.

And sometimes that involves continuing your care with your doctor, but also getting another opinion, particularly at a research center where they might have access to more trials, new drugs, some of which might be better than what’s available, and some of which might not be. But without talking to people about that, you’re not gonna be able to know that.

And that’s why it’s really important to do what you can or your family can do to be educated and know what is going on in the field of lung cancer, so you can get the best possible care.

Diagnosed with Lung Cancer? Why You Should Seek a Second Opinion

Diagnosed with Lung Cancer? Why You Should Seek a Second Opinion from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Should you seek a second opinion? Lung cancer expert Dr. Heather Wakelee explains when to consider seeing a specialist.

Heather Wakelee, MD is Professor of Medicine in the Division of Oncology at Stanford University. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Dr. Wakelee:

So, when facing a new diagnosis of lung cancer, one of the questions that often comes up is whether one should go get a second opinion or see a lung cancer specialist. And that is a question that obviously is gonna vary quite a bit by where a person is, where they’re getting seen, and what they’re facing.

I think a time that it’s really critical would be if someone has a Stage III lung cancer or told it might be Stage III. That’s a really good time to get a second opinion and make sure that the group that is taking care of you has had a multidisciplinary discussion. And when I say multidisciplinary, I mean, a thoracic surgeon, a radiation oncologist, and a medical oncologist have altogether looked at what’s going on with the particular case of that patient to decide up front what’s gonna be the best approach.

Because sometimes surgery is the right first approach. And sometimes it’s not. And sometimes radiation’s important, and sometimes it’s not.

So, it’s really critical to have a big team looking at what’s going on for Stage III. And if you’re in a hospital that really doesn’t see a lot of Stages III lung cancer that might be a good time to think about getting a second opinion outside of where you’re being treated.

I think, otherwise, if someone is newly diagnosed and we know the cancer is early stage where surgery might be involved, it’s good to check in that the surgeons who would be doing your operation are surgeons who know about lung cancer and have done lung cancer surgeries frequently. Sometimes in smaller hospitals there are surgeons who do both heart and lung surgery. And we know that the outcomes are not always quite as good in that setting.

Sometimes there’s no choice, and that’s okay. But if there is an opportunity to talk to a dedicated thoracic surgeon who’s used to doing lung cancer surgery, that’s another good time to get a second opinion. When we’re dealing with a more advanced stage of metastatic lung cancer, if someone is newly diagnosed and their tumor ends up having an unusual gene mutation or translocation.

And the molecular changes in lung cancer are really important to know about. And things like EGFR and ALK and RAS, where most medical oncologists will be familiar. But there’re others, like BRAF and RET and MET, and those can really change treatment outcomes as well, but not everybody who sees lots of different kinds of cancer as an oncologist will know everything there is to know about those.

So, if you have an unusual gene mutation, that’s another good time to get a second opinion with someone who’s a dedicated lung cancer expert. And usually those folks are at the larger academic medical centers, so oftentimes in cities, or affiliated with universities.

Another time is if someone does have a tumor with an EGFR, ALK, or one of the more common mutations, but the main drugs have stopped working, that’s often a time where someone who has specialized just in lung cancer might have some other options.

It’s also something to think through when someone’s newly diagnosed, if they know that their doctor has looked at the immune markers like PD-L1, and looked at the genetic changes in the tumor, and has a clear plan that’s gonna involve chemotherapy, or chemotherapy plus radiation, or chemotherapy plus immune therapy.

Then there might not be something that’s gonna be different in an academic center. But before you start treatment, if you’re still feeling okay, don’t have to start treatment tomorrow, and wanna know maybe that there’re clinical trial options, that’s another time to think about getting a second opinion. And a lot of academic centers will work to get people in very, very quickly if they knew they’ve just been diagnosed and they really need to get started on treatment right away.

Diagnosed with Lung Cancer? An Expert Outlines Key Steps

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

Dr. Heather Wakelee outlines key steps that patients should consider taking following a lung cancer diagnosis.

Heather Wakelee, MD is Professor of Medicine in the Division of Oncology at Stanford University. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Dr. Wakelee:

For a patient who is facing a new diagnosis of lung cancer, there are a lot of really important things to keep in mind. But really thinking about top three of them, the first one is that you wanna know what stage the cancer is. And when we talk about stage, we’re talking about how far the caner has spread. So, sometimes a cancer is found at Stage I when it’s still just a mass, a tumor in the lung.

Stage II means that it’s spread into some of the lymph nodes that are still in the lung. And for Stage I and II, for most people, we know that that means surgery is the treatment option. The next stage is Stage III, and that means that the cancer has started to spread into these lymph nodes.

And lymph nodes are just normal part of the body, but it’s a place cancer often will go. And if it goes into the lymph nodes in the center of the chest, called the mediastinum, then it becomes Stage III. And that changes the treatment. It’s usually more complicated. You wouldn’t normally just have surgery. There’s still sometimes surgery, and sometimes radiation, and almost always some sort of treatment like chemotherapy.

But it’s very complex. And usually we recommend that if you know it’s Stage III that you have a team that’s surgeons and radiation oncologists and medical oncologists to think about it. And then Stage IV means that’s it’s spread. So, knowing – meaning that it’s spread in a way where treatments are gonna involve chemotherapy or targeted treatment or immune therapy, and sometimes radiation, but not normally surgery.

And so, because it’s such a big difference in how things are treated based on stage, that’s the most important question to talk to your treating team about. The next most important question, assuming that it’s metastatic or Stage IV because that’s the most common way that we find lung cancer.

If it is metastatic or Stage IV then you wanna find out well, are there any markers, any tumor markers or cancer genetic changes, that are gonna help pick the treatment. And when I say that, I’m talking about gene changes in specific genes. The ones we think about a lot is something called EGFR, or epidermal growth factor receptor; or ALK, which is A-L-K; KRAS. There’s a whole list of them. But the most important are EGFR, ALK, and ROS, and BRAF.

And why that’s so critical is that if you have metastatic cancer and the tumor has one of those mutations then instead of chemotherapy, the best treatments are gonna be pill drugs, so basically, medications that you take my mouth. And we know that when the tumor has one of those specific mutations, the pill drugs are gonna be more likely to shrink the tumor and have that last longer. So, that’s why it’s so important to know about that. And then the other thing that we look at a lot is something called PD-L1, and that helps us determine about the immune therapy.

So, there’s been a lot on the news about this new class of treatments called immune therapy. And those can work for a lot of different people with a lot of different kinds of cancers. But they don’t always work. And this PD-L1 test can help us know a little bit more about when it might be the best choice, or when it might be something we can add to chemotherapy. And so, getting that information back is important, too.

And I’m gonna add a little bit extra to that. A lot of times that PD-L1 result will come back faster than the gene changes of the tumor, the molecular changes to the tumor. And it’s important to have the whole picture, so you wanna know not just what stage, not just the PD-L1, but also if there are any gene changes in the tumor, so that the best treatment choice can be talked about with the care team.

Trustworthy Resources to Help You Learn More About Lung Cancer

Trustworthy Resources to Help You Learn More About Lung Cancer from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Expert Dr. Martin Edelman shares credible resources to help lung cancer patients become informed and empowered.

Dr. Martin J. Edelman is Chair of the Department of Hematology/Oncology and Deputy Director for Clinical Research at Fox Chase Cancer Center. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Patricia:

Let’s talk a little bit about health literacy. What would you suggest patients use for online resources? What are good resources?

Dr. Edelman:

So, there are some excellent resources. The International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer has resources for patients. The National Coalition of Comprehensive Cancer Center Network (NCCN) has resources. American Society of Clinical Oncology has resources. So, those or American Cancer Society. So, there are some really reliable sources out there. And there’s a great deal that’s very unreliable – people’s Facebook pages. I’ve seen this.

Patricia:

It’s a big place.

Dr. Edelman:

Everybody always – and I think it’s important for people to understand. There will be people who will get something and have a fantastic response. I’ve used anecdotes.

The anecdotes I’ve used are to illustrate the potential hope of benefit. They’re not exceptions to the rule anymore. They’re the good case scenarios. I could have just as many anecdotes of people who didn’t benefit and stuff. And I think it is important going into this – and that’s why we are reassessing patients constantly and getting repeat scans because we don’t necessarily know always – even if something’s 90 percent effective, it means 10 percent of the time it’s not.

And each patient – we’re getting better at individualizing and personalizing therapy, but we’re not perfect yet. And we probably never will be. So, there will always be anecdotes. I think what’s – as a friend of mine puts it – the plural of anecdotes is not data. When I say, “Well, chemoimmunotherapy works.” It’s not because I have anecdotes of that, though anecdotes illustrate the magnitude of benefit.

I have data that shows that the chemoimmunotherapy regimen was compared to chemotherapy and was clearly and unequivocally superior. When I give a statistic that 60 percent of patients, 65 percent, can benefit from those types of regimens. That’s based upon prospective randomized control trials.

Does Surgery Cause Lung Cancer to Spread? The Facts.

Does Surgery Cause Lung Cancer to Spread? The Facts. from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Could undergoing surgery cause your lung cancer to spread? Dr. Martin Edelman debunks this misconception.

Dr. Martin J. Edelman is Chair of the Department of Hematology/Oncology and Deputy Director for Clinical Research at Fox Chase Cancer Center. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Patricia:

Sure. Here’s one I hadn’t heard until just now. Surgery causes lung cancer to spread.

Dr. Edelman:

Yeah, that’s common in certain states. When I was in Maryland that was a biggie.

So, there’s a myth that the air gets to the tumor, and then it spreads. But that’s certainly not true. It certainly is possible that in a bad surgical procedure that disease can be spread, but I think historically what that was was in the days before we had as accurate of radiographic studies. So, it’s kinda interesting. I always say, “I’m not that old, and I began medical school before there were CT scans.” So, the way you would diagnose something was with a chest x-ray. That was your best chest imaging. And the brain you’d image with something called a pneumoencephalogram, which is – you don’t know what that is. Most people don’t, and they should be thankful for that. But we had no real way of knowing these things. So, what would happen is there would be a surgical exploration. They would say, “Well, it looks very localized.” But then you’d go in, and there was lots of disease all over the place.

And for the most part, that doesn’t happen anymore. Now we have CT/PET scans. We have MRIs. Patients before they go to surgery usually have had – our pulmonary physicians will usually have sampled the nodes in the middle of the chest, the mediastinum. So, it isn’t that there aren’t surprises, but there are far fewer. And certainly, a properly done operation should not spread lung cancer. I would emphasize the properly done operation. It is my strong belief that nobody should have surgery for lung cancer from other than a board certified thoracic surgeon who spends their time thinking about lung cancer, preferably in an institution with a fair volume of this.

We know – it should be no surprise to people, practice makes perfect. People who really focus in an area – people at the NCI-Designated Cancer Centers, comprehensive cancer centers – who do a lot of this have greater expertise.

Lung Cancer Treatment Decisions: Which Path is Best for You?

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

Dr. Martin Edelman reviews key factors that help to determine a treatment course for lung cancer patients.

Dr. Martin J. Edelman is Chair of the Department of Hematology/Oncology and Deputy Director for Clinical Research at Fox Chase Cancer Center. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Patricia:

How are you approaching treatment decisions with your patients?

Dr. Edelman:

Well, the treatment decisions that we make – that I make are those that are in ways similar to other medical oncologists. It really depends because some of the patients may first go to a surgeon or whatever. However they come into the system, there are a few key factors in this. First is – make your decision based upon, Number 1, which kind of lung cancer. So, there are two major varieties. You have small cell and non-small cell, and they are treated – they are biologically distinct, and they are treated in distinct ways.

And then the next major consideration is the stage of the tumor, which is our way of expressing how advanced that is and deciding on both the therapy as well as conveying a prognosis and evaluating a patient for a clinical trial. And that’s based upon the size and location of the tumor; presence, absence, and location of lymph nodes; and the presence or absence and, these days, the number of metastatic areas of disease.

And then, lastly, and again depending a little bit upon the stage and interacting with all the others is what condition is the patient in? Anybody can get lung cancer, but still the median is in older individuals.

Many of these patients have compromised cardiac and pulmonary status as well as other diseases of aging, hypertension, cardiac disease, etcetera. Those people – one obviously has to tailor one’s treatments to fit those comorbidities. So, that’s sort of how the basic assessment – obviously, some patients show up with metastatic disease. We know that, but we go through a whole process for this.

The staging system that we use is complicated, and it keeps changing. We’re, gosh, up to version eight of this? I started with version three. I’m not quite sure I’ve fully mastered the current one, and the ninth edition is coming soon. And why does it keep changing? Because our knowledge of the disease keeps changing. The database keeps expanding.

We’re able to be more refined. Molecular variables have not yet fully entered into our considerations. Unquestionably, they will. But basically, one could consider lung cancer – despite the four major stages and multiple substages – that you really have three buckets that people will fit into. They have localized disease, which we will predominantly address with a localized therapy – surgery, radiation. And many of those patients, however, particularly those who might have a lymph node that’s positive, will benefit from chemotherapy to prevent recurrence.

We have patients with locally advanced disease. Primarily, those are patients who have lymph nodes located in the middle of the chest as opposed to more localized disease where if there’s a lymph node present it’s more in the lobe of the lung. Those patients with lymph nodes in the middle of the chest or larger tumors are approached with frequently a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, sometimes surgery.

And then we have patients with advanced disease who will be predominantly treated with drug therapies, which nowadays, depending upon the molecular background of the tumor, could be a targeted treatment if they have a specific mutation.

Something we see most frequently, though certainly not exclusively, in patients with scant or no smoking history, they may be approached with immunotherapy or chemotherapy combined with immunotherapy.

And there are many considerations that go into those decisions. And even in advanced stage, there are certainly roles for surgery and radiation depending upon whether there are structural abnormalities, occasionally whether there are relatively few areas or several areas of metastatic disease. And in the localized and locally advanced disease, our goal is cure in those, though we certainly are not there for every patient yet.

And in advanced disease, it’s extension of life, which is now quite considerable compared to untreated disease. And I think in certain situations, particularly those who only have a single area of metastatic disease, curative treatment is a realistic possibility. And even those with more disseminated disease, we’re now beginning to see a substantial fraction of patients who are still alive at five years or more. So, we’re beginning very cautiously to think that perhaps some of those patients may even be cured of their disease, though I’m not quite ready to say that.

Could Advances in Lung Cancer Research Benefit You?

Could Advances in Lung Cancer Research Benefit You? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Expert Dr. Martin Edelman reviews the latest lung cancer research and explains how it may impact patient care.

Dr. Martin J. Edelman is Chair of the Department of Hematology/Oncology and Deputy Director for Clinical Research at Fox Chase Cancer Center. More about this expert here.

View more from Fact or Fiction? Lung Cancer


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Transcript:

Patricia:

Let’s start with an overview of lung cancer’s research. Can you tell us a little bit about the field right now?

Dr. Edelman:

So, I think the field has been remarkable over the last few years. There’s been more progress, more drugs, more things that have happened in the last five years than probably the prior 50. It’s been an amazing time both for developments in microbiology as well as in immunotherapy of the disease, which is exciting for all concerned.

For patient’s, of course – really a promise of longer, better lives, even cures where we previously did not see any in advanced disease. For the scientists – an amazing amount of new information. And for clinicians and clinical investigators – just almost too many questions for us to answer.

Patricia:

It sounds like the field is really advancing quickly. What do you attribute that to?

Dr. Edelman:

Well, you know, I think there are a number of things. Everybody always talks about breakthroughs, but breakthroughs really happen after decades of other work. And what’s happening now is really a result of many, many years of different types of work. There were our colleagues in immunology who built this area of cancer immunology for many years – I have to say with much skepticism from many, myself included.

The advances in molecular biology – our abilities to do things with tumors to determine genetics at a rate and a pace and a cost that was previously unimaginable. All of these things have developed in the last few years but really are a result of the decades of work before that. If you look at immunotherapy – probably one of our biggest areas of progress – the roots of that are a century old. So, nothing’s really new. It’s just now we have the technology and the ability to really use it. And then I would also say that we’ve created the infrastructure that lets us test this – the people who have done the studies, the endpoints for the studies, the expertise in doing clinical trials – that also was there for decades, and we frequently were kind of ridiculed at times.

Oh, you’re just testing this drug against that drug, but the reality is is it was those incremental advances. It was the ability to know the endpoints, to refine the populations, to develop the infrastructure that allowed for all of this to happen.

Patricia:

Dr. Edelman, as a researcher in the field, tell us why you’re hopeful about lung cancer research.

Dr. Edelman:

Well, I think that we have gone from trials with very small incremental improvements and frequently a very slow degree of progress where if we had a positive study every two or three years, we were thrilled – to the point where we’ve had an avalanche of positive studies. I don’t think my younger colleagues know what a negative trial looks like anymore. Even our negative trials are pretty impressive. We’ve had studies where an immunotherapy agent was compared with chemotherapy. And it was designed to show that the drug would be better.

And it was just as good, and that was a negative study. That’s the correct interpretation, but still I would point out that that’s quite remarkable because these other drugs had taken us 25-30 years to develop. And now we have another drug with a very different mechanism of action that’s as good potentially. That’s impressive. I think we’ve just had an amazing degree of progress in the last few years. We have far more drugs. We understand far more about the disease – the technology at every point from diagnosis to assessment of response to the ability to evaluate better what we’re not doing well. So, our studies now frequently have biopsies before, during, and after treatment in a way of trying to figure out why is stuff working or not working.

Back in 2006 or so, I proposed a study. We ended up doing it, but it took two or three years because we were requiring a biopsy result – actually, not even a new biopsy but just an archived specimen from the original biopsy to determine eligibility, and there was strong pushback that we would never be able to do that. And now, we routinely are getting biopsies and re-biopsying, and that’s over a brief period of time.

So, we’re getting to get better understanding of the disease, and why stuff works and doesn’t work. And I think that that’s why our progress will accelerate. And I would again emphasize progress only happens – real progress – only through clinical trials. We’ve cured a lot of mice for many decades. A mouse is not a person. You actually have to do the studies patient by patient, and I think we are making substantial progress. We almost have too many things to test right now.

Fact or Fiction? Lung Cancer Symptoms, Side Effects & Treatment

Fact or Fiction? Lung Cancer Symptoms, Side Effects & Treatment from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

When it comes to lung cancer information you find online, how do you decipher fact from fiction? Dr. Martin Edelman, a renowned lung cancer expert and researcher, shares his insight and expertise on symptoms, side effects and treatments for lung cancer.

Dr. Martin J. Edelman is Chair of the Department of Hematology/Oncology and Deputy Director for Clinical Research at Fox Chase Cancer Center. More about this expert here.

View the Fact or Fiction? Lung Cancer program resource guide here


Related Programs:

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The Empowered Lung Cancer Thriver and Expert Chat


Transcript:

Patricia:                      

Welcome to Fact or Fiction: Lung Cancer Symptoms, Side Effects, and Treatment.

Today, we’ll debunk common misconceptions about lung cancer symptoms, side effects, and treatment. I’m Patricia Murphy, your host for today. Joining us is Dr. Martin Edelman. Dr. Edelman, why don’t you introduce yourself.

Dr. Edelman:              

So, I’m a medical oncologist. I’m the Chair of the Department of Hematology/Oncology and Deputy Director for Clinical Research at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Patricia:

And before we get started, we should say this program is not a substitute for medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team with any questions.

Let’s start with an overview of lung cancer’s research. Can you tell us a little bit about the field right now?

Dr. Edelman:              

So, I think the field has been remarkable over the last few years. There’s been more progress, more drugs, more things that have happened in the last five years than probably the prior 50. It’s been an amazing time both for developments in microbiology as well as in immunotherapy of the disease, which is exciting for all concerned.

For patient’s, of course – really a promise of longer, better lives, even cures where we previously did not see any in advanced disease. For the scientists – an amazing amount of new information. And for clinicians and clinical investigators – just almost too many questions for us to answer.

Patricia:                      

It sounds like the field is really advancing quickly. What do you attribute that to?

Dr. Edelman:              

Well, you know, I think there are a number of things. Everybody always talks about breakthroughs, but breakthroughs really happen after decades of other work. And what’s happening now is really a result of many, many years of different types of work. There were our colleagues in immunology who built this area of cancer immunology for many years – I have to say with much skepticism from many, myself included.

The advances in molecular biology – our abilities to do things with tumors to determine genetics at a rate and a pace and a cost that was previously unimaginable. All of these things have developed in the last few years but really are a result of the decades of work before that. If you look at immunotherapy – probably one of our biggest areas of progress – the roots of that are a century old. So, nothing’s really new. It’s just now we have the technology and the ability to really use it. And then I would also say that we’ve created the infrastructure that lets us test this – the people who have done the studies, the endpoints for the studies, the expertise in doing clinical trials – that also was there for decades, and we frequently were kind of ridiculed at times.

Oh, you’re just testing this drug against that drug, but the reality is is it was those incremental advances. It was the ability to know the endpoints, to refine the populations, to develop the infrastructure that allowed for all of this to happen.

Patricia:

How is genetic testing changing the landscape?

Dr. Edelman:

So, genetic testing – and in this case the testing of the tumor, not the germline, not the individual – has been very, very crucial. If you go back about 20 years ago, there was a family of drugs called epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitors or EGFR inhibitors.

And the basic science at the time made it look like these would be best combined with chemotherapy in squamous cell carcinoma. And as it turned out, combined with chemotherapy they weren’t very useful. But as single agents, there were these occasional very dramatic results.

So, that came at a time when we were able to evaluate tumor DNA, sequence it with some degree of ease at a reasonable cost. So, there was a discovery of specific mutations, which were targeted by these drugs. So, it was sort of interesting in that it was the clinical observation that led to the discoveries in biology, not really the other way around.

But then that in turn resulted in looking for other mutations, which were found, and then the development of other drugs – in some cases, the repurposing of other drugs for those. And now we have about a half a dozen very validated targets, each one of which in a small slice of the population – between say 1 percent and 5 percent – 10 percent of the lung cancer population – but these – if the patient has within their cancer that particular mutation, these are drugs that are 80 percent-plus effective and frequently can be administered with relatively little toxicity.

And usually they’ll give them benefit for one-plus years or more. So, that’s been an example of progress there.

Patricia:

How does lung cancer generally present in people? What might someone notice?

Dr. Edelman:

So, when I teach my residents how do people show up, which is, of course, very different for me – they usually show up with the diagnosis in hand. But for somebody who’s a primary care physician, what are you going to see? Well, you could see symptoms at the site of the origin of the disease – in the lungs. So, the pneumonia that doesn’t go away, the cough that doesn’t go away, the chest pain. So, that’s one way that it can present. It can also present, unfortunately, all too frequently as advanced or metastatic disease where the tumor has spread to other organs in the body, such as bone or brain. So, you may have a pain or a fracture, seizure, headache. Those are all possibilities.

And then sometimes the tumor can secrete various factors. We see this particularly in small cell lung cancer where there are certain metabolic syndromes that can develop or neurologic syndromes as a result of hormones or antibodies that the tumor can secrete. These are called paraneoplastic syndromes.

And then tumors sometimes show up and increasingly so now that screening has been validated, and screening in lung cancer is every good if not superior to screening in breast cancer. There’s a common myth that it doesn’t work. But in fact, this has been now demonstrated in multiple randomized trials done in the United States, in Europe that clearly demonstrate improved outcomes for patients who are at risk who undergo screening exams with low-dose CT.

So, frequently, we see those patients and then again sometimes just incidental discoveries when somebody’s getting a scan for another reason. So, those are all the ways that it can present.

Patricia:

So, it sounds like we’re very good at getting people to doctors like yourself who can specialize in their disease once it’s diagnosed.

How are you approaching treatment decisions with your patients?

Dr. Edelman:              

Well, the treatment decisions that we make – that I make are those that are in ways similar to other medical oncologists. It really depends because some of the patients may first go to a surgeon or whatever. However they come into the system, there are a few key factors in this. First is – make your decision based upon, Number 1, which kind of lung cancer. So, there are two major varieties. You have small cell and non-small cell, and they are treated – they are biologically distinct, and they are treated in distinct ways.

And then the next major consideration is the stage of the tumor, which is our way of expressing how advanced that is and deciding on both the therapy as well as conveying a prognosis and evaluating a patient for a clinical trial. And that’s based upon the size and location of the tumor; presence, absence, and location of lymph nodes; and the presence or absence and, these days, the number of metastatic areas of disease.

And then, lastly, and again depending a little bit upon the stage and interacting with all the others is what condition is the patient in? Anybody can get lung cancer, but still the median is in older individuals. Many of these patients have compromised cardiac and pulmonary status as well as other diseases of aging, hypertension, cardiac disease, etcetera. Those people – one obviously has to tailor one’s treatments to fit those comorbidities. So, that’s sort of how the basic assessment – obviously, some patients show up with metastatic disease. We know that, but we go through a whole process for this.

The staging system that we use is complicated, and it keeps changing. We’re, gosh, up to version eight of this? I started with version three. I’m not quite sure I’ve fully mastered the current one, and the ninth edition is coming soon. And why does it keep changing? Because our knowledge of the disease keeps changing. The database keeps expanding.

We’re able to be more refined. Molecular variables have not yet fully entered into our considerations. Unquestionably, they will. But basically, one could consider lung cancer – despite the four major stages and multiple substages – that you really have three buckets that people will fit into. They have localized disease, which we will predominantly address with a localized therapy – surgery, radiation. And many of those patients, however, particularly those who might have a lymph node that’s positive, will benefit from chemotherapy to prevent recurrence.

We have patients with locally advanced disease. Primarily, those are patients who have lymph nodes located in the middle of the chest as opposed to more localized disease where if there’s a lymph node present it’s more in the lobe of the lung. Those patients with lymph nodes in the middle of the chest or larger tumors are approached with frequently a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, sometimes surgery.

And then we have patients with advanced disease who will be predominantly treated with drug therapies, which nowadays, depending upon the molecular background of the tumor, could be a targeted treatment if they have a specific mutation.

Something we see most frequently, though certainly not exclusively, in patients with scant or no smoking history, they may be approached with immunotherapy or chemotherapy combined with immunotherapy.

And there are many considerations that go into those decisions. And even in advanced stage, there are certainly roles for surgery and radiation depending upon whether there are structural abnormalities, occasionally whether there are relatively few areas or several areas of metastatic disease. And in the localized and locally advanced disease, our goal is cure in those, though we certainly are not there for every patient yet.

And in advanced disease, it’s extension of life, which is now quite considerable compared to untreated disease. And I think in certain situations, particularly those who only have a single area of metastatic disease, curative treatment is a realistic possibility. And even those with more disseminated disease, we’re now beginning to see a substantial fraction of patients who are still alive at five years or more. So, we’re beginning very cautiously to think that perhaps some of those patients may even be cured of their disease, though I’m not quite ready to say that.

Patricia:                      

Well, it sounds, though, like there is a lot of reason to have hope if you are diagnosed with lung cancer, especially if it’s diagnosed early. Of course, that would not stop a patient from worrying.

So, I hope what we can do next is talk a little bit about some of the things we’ve heard patients say, and you can fact-check us on that.

Dr. Edelman:              

Sure.

Patricia:

This sounds like a real worrier. There are no new treatments in lung cancer.

Dr. Edelman:

Well, there’s nothing but new treatments in lung cancer. So, I’ve been involved in oncology, I think – let’s see. My fellowship was in the late 80s. That ended about 1990, so we’re about – what is it not quite 30 years later? Virtually every drug that I use was in development during my professional career. Just within the last few years, all the immunotherapeutic agents were developed. Within the last say 48 months, they were licensed. The targeted drugs are all new within the last 15 years or so. So, we’re pretty much nothing but new drugs in lung cancer.

And not just drugs, but also surgical techniques have proceeded from open thoracotomies in almost all patients to video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery, which is less morbid and gets the patient out of the hospital faster.

Radiation progressed from relatively low intensity radiation that was done where you drew it on x-ray. I can still remember that when I was a resident to now four-dimensional assessments and the use of intensity-modulated radiotherapy.

Perhaps a role – maybe, maybe not – for proton therapy in this situation; the use of stereotactic body radiotherapy for treatment of localized disease in patients who are medically unfit – I think we’re nothing but new therapies.

Our supportive care is massively better than it was 30 years ago. Nausea and vomiting, severe problems – it’s largely a thing of the past. We have extremely effective antinausea agents. I may disappoint some people by telling you that marijuana is not one of them. But the fact is is that many of those drugs were developed because the drugs 20 years ago, 30 years ago, were quite nausea producing. And it was heavily lung cancer folks across the country – my colleagues, Dr. Brower, Dr. Gandara, Dr. Einhorn, others – who are very involved in lung cancer, genitourinary malignancies, gynecologic malignancies, but we’re using what’s termed highly emetogenic chemotherapy. We developed many of the antinausea drugs. We were extremely concerned about this.

So, our drugs are better. They’re more active. They’re less toxic. We have better supportive care. We have better integration with other modalities, such as radiation and surgery.

There are still many, many questions with treatment. Many areas we can improve. Many things we don’t know, but it’s nothing but new therapies.

Patricia:                      

Your history as a physician and noticing all this change will likely help you advise patients who worry that their lung cancer diagnosis is a death sentence, which is something else that we hear from patients.

Dr. Edelman:              

So, life is a death sentence. It’s a little bit flippant, but I think that there are many, many bad diseases out there. And certainly, there is no good lung cancer. And I don’t want anybody to leave this and think – oh, everything’s rosy. It’s not. Though I do a lot of administration these days, I’m still in clinic. I see a fair number of patients, and the news is not always good. Not everybody responds. Not everybody benefits. And that’s why we still need to do the trials and advance what we’re doing both in terms of increasing the efficacy and decreasing side effects.

Having said that, we have many, many patients who are living excellent productive lives, able to make life events – anniversaries, birthdays, etcetera – who would not have otherwise been alive to do that. And as I said, there is an increasing fraction of cured patients where the disease is no longer at all an issue. But it’s one of those things – we don’t know until we try. And there is no shortage of bad things that can happen to people. Lung cancer is one of them. I think what we do have is increasing options for people that truly meaningfully improve their lives.

Patricia:                      

Sure. Here’s one I hadn’t heard until just now. Surgery causes lung cancer to spread.

Dr. Edelman:              

Yeah, that’s common in certain states. When I was in Maryland that was a biggie.

So, there’s a myth that the air gets to the tumor, and then it spreads. But that’s certainly not true. It certainly is possible that in a bad surgical procedure that disease can be spread, but I think historically what that was was in the days before we had as accurate of radiographic studies. So, it’s kinda interesting. I always say, “I’m not that old, and I began medical school before there were CT scans.” So, the way you would diagnose something was with a chest x-ray. That was your best chest imaging. And the brain you’d image with something called a pneumoencephalogram, which is – you don’t know what that is. Most people don’t, and they should be thankful for that. But we had no real way of knowing these things. So, what would happen is there would be a surgical exploration. They would say, “Well, it looks very localized.” But then you’d go in, and there was lots of disease all over the place.

And for the most part, that doesn’t happen anymore. Now we have CT/PET scans. We have MRIs. Patients before they go to surgery usually have had – our pulmonary physicians will usually have sampled the nodes in the middle of the chest, the mediastinum. So, it isn’t that there aren’t surprises, but there are far fewer. And certainly, a properly done operation should not spread lung cancer. I would emphasize the properly done operation. It is my strong belief that nobody should have surgery for lung cancer from other than a board certified thoracic surgeon who spends their time thinking about lung cancer, preferably in an institution with a fair volume of this.

We know – it should be no surprise to people, practice makes perfect. People who really focus in an area – people at the NCI-Designated Cancer Centers, comprehensive cancer centers – who do a lot of this have greater expertise.

Patricia:                      

How about this one? Treatment is not effective in older patients.

Dr. Edelman:              

Treatment is highly effective in older patients. It’s interesting. So, we had long arguments about, when I started in this field, whether treatment ever worked, and there were a number of studies that showed that chemotherapy – that one platinum was better – what’s called a platinum-based agent – was better than no therapy.

And then that two drugs were better than one drug. And people would say, “Oh, well, that doesn’t work in the elderly. And they should only get one drug.” And that’s because, I guess, their burning bush on the lawn told them this. And the fact is is that then got evaluated in a controlled trial, a very nicely done study by my European colleagues. But what was crucial was that they used somewhat lower doses of chemotherapy, a little bit different schedule of chemotherapy, and it was clearly superior to a single agent. And those were even days before immunotherapeutics and these targeted agents. So, many patients will benefit. You just have to be aware of certain basic principles in geriatric medicine as well as basic principles of lung cancer care.

So, first off, if the patient is elderly but their tumor is characterized by a driver mutation, they get one of the so-called targeted agents. And these are these days very non-toxic, easy to take, and highly effective.

Patients – many are going to be eligible for immunotherapy either as a single agent or combined with chemotherapy. Chemotherapy drugs could certainly be cut in their doses and still preserve much activity and be done safely.

I had a woman with small cell lung cancer. This is now about a year and a half ago or so. And she’s in her 80s. And she came to me because she was told – oh, just sorta get your affairs in order. And her disease was what we term an extensive small cell. The staging system’s a little bit different, but she didn’t have a really vast bulk of disease. And we treated her with standard chemotherapy drugs but at somewhat lower doses and some careful TLC and some other supportive things like growth factors.

She got all of her treatment on an outpatient basis, had an excellent response. We used radiation later to consolidate her treatment, and I see her back every couple of months. I wouldn’t say that she’s necessarily cured of her disease, but she does yoga every day. She lives a full life. She sees her grandchildren. And she’s, I think – I wanna say 83-84 years old. I think she’s quite grateful for that. It’s not the numerical age.

The flipside is if somebody’s 50 years old and they’re extremely ill when they come in, then one has to be very cautious about what one does. We used to say that those patients who come in who are severely impaired should simply get supportive care and hospice services.

And actually, how would I put it? Our lives have gotten a little bit more difficult lately because as things have gotten better for patients – because I can’t necessarily say that as much because some patients may be very susceptible to the effects of – their disease may be very susceptible to the effects of immunotherapy. I had one patient who was a younger gentleman who was on a gurney. He was in his 50s, lost an enormous amount of weight , he was on oxygen. We immediately gave him fluids. My fellow – I had an excellent fellow at the time – came to me and said, “Should we admit him and send him to hospice? Or just send him to hospice?” And I looked, and he had a biomarker that indicated that he might have an excellent response to immunotherapy, so we gave him solely immunotherapy and saw him back a few days later. He was still pretty touch and go. We gave him some fluids. A week after that – still, we were kinda touch and go, but he was still with us.

And then a week after that my medical assistant, comes in, and she says, “You know, he looks a little bit better today.” And he was in a wheelchair that day. And then a few weeks after that, he had a walker, and a few weeks after that a cane and about a year after that was asking me about whether or not he could go on a cruise. Again, I still see this gentleman – a couple weeks ago. It’s now almost two years later. And the question now that we have is – should we stop his treatment? And he is restored to complete full health, has had almost no side effects of treatment.

So again, this is not every patient. Some people will be treated and get every side effect and no benefit, but I think I’ve become a lot more reluctant to say that any patient should not at least be offered the opportunity for treatment knowing what the potential side effects are. And there still are considerable and sometimes severe side effects from therapy.

Patricia:                      

Yeah. And again, your experience and your long perspective on this disease can help you advise your patients thoughtfully. Here’s the last one that I have on my list here. Clinical trials are experimental and risky.

Dr. Edelman:              

Yeah. Well, so is the rest of life. So, there generally – is there risk? Yes. Essentially, every patient is always a trial because we for the most part don’t – even in the disease states where we have very active treatment – so, let’s say – for example, we were talking about the EGFR mutation. So, we have excellent drugs. We have a drug now, osimertinib – outstanding drug, easy to take, low risk of side effects.

The earlier generations – there was a lot of rash, diarrhea. That’s been pretty much done away with. But on average, patients benefit from this drug for about a year and a half.

So, that’s not great if you’re 40 or 50 years old. You want to do better. So, what are our current studies? Well, we’re looking – we’re re-addressing a question that we thought had been answered, but really it wasn’t – about, well, what’s the value of chemotherapy plus this drug? What about the value of other drugs?

So, we can’t promise anybody anything, but our current treatments are still not good enough. There are certain diseases, let’s say Hodgkin’s disease, where you know you’re gonna cure almost all the patients up front or testicular cancer, etcetera, where – again, but thanks to trials, clinical trials, we now are at that stage. We’re not there yet in lung cancer, and the reality is is every patient should really be on a study. I think it’s – and we have this problem now in that our studies have also become far more complicated to enter people in because there are many more variables one has to look at it. What’s the molecular background of the tumor? How many prior therapies?

The condition of the patient, their organ function, etcetera – and the regulatory burden has become much, much greater. But clinical patients are in clinical trials. Let’s look at the question. Are they risky? Well, everything is risky, but we do a lot to manage that risk. Patients who are in studies are observed more closely. We have to. It’s the law. There’s frequently additional personnel assigned. They’re usually getting standard of care plus a new treatment or a new treatment followed by the standard of care or some variation of that.

They’re observed, like I said, much more carefully than we would otherwise. And so, I think actually patients on trials generally will do better, and we actually have evidence. Multiple individuals have looked at this – everything from first-in-man trials or early dose escalation studies, controlled studies – that show that patients, even those on the control arm, generally do better than similar types of patients who are not treated on studies because we just are more careful.

And the physician who participates in trials is generally someone who has a greater knowledge of the disease.

Patricia:                      

Sure. What do you notice from your patients? What do they tell you that you think needs to be debunked?

Dr. Edelman:              

Well, very similar to some of the questions that you’ve asked. I mean we address these issues all the time about – is there hope with this? How bad is it gonna be, etcetera? Sometimes people think that inevitable diagnosis is gonna have pain and misery, etcetera, or a lot of admissions. I spend a lot of time particularly in their first visit addressing many of the questions that they may have.

And again, there’s always this problematic balance with the disease, particularly in the advanced setting in particular, where one has to balance out what is, I think, an increasingly positive picture with the reality that still the vast majority of patients will ultimately die of their disease, but the question is – how long can we put that off? How can we improve quality and quantity of life, even if one is going to ultimately die of the disease?

I think those are the things – there’s this weird dichotomy that people come to believe in that either you get treated and you’re gonna always have symptoms or your life will be pleasant and wonderful, and you’ll have this quiet wonderful peaceful demise if you’re not treated. And it’s really not true. The disease can be extremely uncomfortable, painful, distressing, etcetera. And treatment puts that off. Treatment prevents symptoms. Treatment improves quality of life.

And it takes a little bit of time because that’s how people are very socialized with this. Not every drug causes hair loss. Not every drug results in nausea. There’s too much misinformation out there.

Patricia:

Sure. Sure. Treatment can arrest the disease or slow down the progression of the disease, but it also has side effects.

Let’s talk a little bit about some of the concerns that patients have about the side effects. Let’s see: Side effects are unavoidable.

Dr. Edelman:

Well, that’s not true. As I said, what were the side effects? If you go back a couple decades and you ask patients what were they concerned about, many of them were concerned about nausea and vomiting. And that is largely a thing of the past. Many patients will still have some queasiness with treatment, but even our most nausea-producing drugs – we really do have outstanding drugs for the prevention of that. You have to use them. You have to take them.

It’s very important to give them appropriately. There are very excellent guidelines that are out there. Sometimes, patients are still undertreated, no question about that. Not every drug has industry strong backing. There’s one drug – for example, olanzapine, (Zyprexa) was actually developed as an antipsychotic, and I always tell the patients, “No, I don’t think you’re crazy.”

But it’s at a lower dose, and we have excellent, excellent evidence that that drug given for a few evenings after chemotherapy is extraordinarily effective along with the other drugs in preventing nausea and vomiting. So, that’s one thing.

Hair loss is still somewhat inevitable with certain drugs – the taxanes. But many of our regimens don’t cause hair loss.

Or as I tell folks – only you and your hairdresser will know for sure because its hair on the pillow, but the average person won’t pick you out of a crowd. Those are big concerns still. There still are potentially life-threatening effects from chemotherapy, and we spend a lot of time educating people about that. But those are not inevitable, and it’s actually a minority of patients in lung cancer.

One should not confuse – there are different malignancies. Still, the treatments for say leukemia, though even that’s changing, can be extraordinarily toxic or the bone marrow transplant patients. Many, not just lung cancer, but in the other diseases as well – many of the things that people attribute to the drugs are more due to the disease. So, I always say, “The greatest failure and side effects to the drugs are they don’t work well enough because the side effects of the disease can be considerable.” So, that’s the bigger issue. The immunotherapeutic drugs have a rather interesting set of side effects.

They are clearly initially or frequently better tolerated than the older cytotoxics, which still have an extremely valuable place in the treatment and cure of lung cancer. The immunotherapeutics have clearly been quite beneficial, but their side effects can be subtle and far less predictable and can be very severe. Virtually, any organ in the body can be affected by this. We like to say, “If it ends in ‘itis,’ you can get it from immunotherapeutics.”

So, there are lots of side effects, no question. But they can be managed. They can be prevented. They can be treated. Sometimes, we have to abandon a drug. So, people who get severe – what we call immunotherapy-related adverse events – may not be able to continue on their drugs. But even that is not necessarily always the case.

Patricia:

This next one really gets to the heart of the doctor-patient relationship.

I shouldn’t share my side effects with my healthcare team because I don’t want them to stop my treatment routine.

Dr. Edelman:

Well, you can’t prevent the side effects if you don’t know about them. And I always would tell patients, I said, “You know, if you’re having a problem, please don’t call me at 4:00 on Friday afternoon. I’m gonna end up sending you to the emergency room, which I may anyway.” But a lot of times, we can solve certain things over the phone. There are a lot of side effects that can be treated and particularly if one is aware early on. So, yeah, you should share the side effects because how’s somebody gonna know how to deal with them?

Now, the problem we run into sometimes is in a population that’s on average 60s and 70s, could be younger. There’re lots of things that can be just part of ordinary life. Everybody gets headaches, back pain, etcetera, etcetera.

We have to treat those sometimes and evaluate them much more aggressively because of the possibility of them being related to disease or drug, but it helps to sort it out. You can’t be too blasé about it because sometimes things need to be looked at very urgently, particularly with immunotherapeutic drugs. Some of the side effects that can be severe can sometimes be very subtle in their onset.

Patricia:

What else to patients talk to you about? What kinds of things do they come in and talk about that may need to be debunked or that you need to correct?

Dr. Edelman:

Well, it’s not contagious. It’s not hereditary, things like that. Many people – I’ll ask always about asbestos. And they’ll say, “Well, I worked in this old building that had asbestos in it.” Well, that doesn’t count, particularly one of the rarer – we’re not really talking about it today, but mesothelioma, which is associated with asbestos.

You know you gotta actually really be exposed, which means that somebody has to have torn into that. The latency is 30-40 years, so it’s the pipefitters; but actually, the most common cancer associated with asbestos is non-small cell lung cancer. It’s not mesothelioma. There are lots of those sorts of things. But in general, many of the questions you’ve raised are quite common questions.

Patricia:

As a patient, how can I differentiate between symptoms of lung cancer versus the effect of treatment? What should I be thinking about as a patient?

Dr. Edelman:              

It’s not always easy. And again, that’s why you gotta discuss it, and it’s not always easy for me to determine that because there are always several possibilities. It could be a side effect of treatment, it could be a side effect of disease, or it could be a side effect of people’s comorbidities. And these frequently interact. So, a patient – anemia is a common problem where you have low red blood cells.

Well, we know that you get anemia from disease. That causes a degree of what’s called anemia of chronic disease.

Our drugs frequently can result in anemia, and then anemia can bring out other symptoms. Patients who have lung and heart dysfunction to start with are gonna have more problems. They may get angina. So, there’re a lot of these things that interplay. And it’s not always straightforward.

Patricia:

And Dr. Google can really get involved here.

Dr. Edelman:              

Yeah. That’s always a problem, yeah.

Patricia:

Yeah. Which brings us to our next section – myths about lung cancer in general. How about this one? All lung cancer is the same.

Dr. Edelman:              

Well, I think by now one should be clear that not only is it not the same but even what we used to term – as I said, my life as a clinical investigator used to be a lot easier because we had non-small cell lung cancer. We had a particular stage.

And now we have EGFR mutated. We have non-small cell lung cancer that occurs in people without a driver mutation. And then, well, do they have something called PD-L1 expression? Which if it’s high, predicts for benefit from immunotherapy alone; and if not, then chemotherapy and immunotherapy is kind of the way to go in patients who are reasonable for that. We have patients who may have an EGFR mutation and then, which kind of EGFR mutation? Patients without mutations, ROS, RET, cMet. It goes on and on and on and on.

And all of these are different in small-cell lung cancer and then stage of disease. And even within the stages, there are all sorts of subtleties in terms of the optimal treatment. So, it really is a team decision for many of these patients how to treat them. And like I said, there are an increasing number of options.

And the answers are not always clear or perfect.

Patricia:

Right. How about this one? Lung cancer only affects the lungs.

Dr. Edelman:

Well, obviously, lung cancer can spread and kinda goes wherever it wants. There is essentially no organ in the body – I’ve had patients who were referred to me as “lung cancer” – rather who initially showed up with a breast mass and were seen by breast cancer physicians. They would biopsy it, and it was clearly lung cancer that had metastasized to the breast. Lung cancer can go to the eye then go to the brain, the skin, the adrenal glands, the liver. It’s a disease that unfortunately likes to travel and metastasize in the body very early in its natural history. In other words, when you say early in late lung cancer that’s not necessarily a time. It’s really low stage and high stage. You can see a lung cancer that can be a rather small tumor in the lung that may have already spread elsewhere in the body. 

Patricia:                      

Right. Right. How about this one? Supplements will help with symptoms and side effects.

Dr. Edelman:

Not likely, and more likely the other way around. So, as I said, we have some very good ways of preventing things like nausea and vomiting. There’s a lot of advice that is quite reasonable in terms of dealing with side effects – staying well hydrated. Hydration means salt-containing fluids – chicken soup, of course, being just about perfect or Pedialyte. Things like that are very good. But exercise is extremely good.

The problem with supplements is nobody really knows what’s in those. Many things can interact with various drugs. The term nutraceutical to me is nonsense. They’re unregulated drugs. And what do I mean by that? Many substances and many foods metabolize through the liver or influence enzymes in the liver. Many of our drugs are processed through the liver.

Drugs can influence – so, a drug that might inhibit the metabolism of a chemotherapy or a targeted drug will increase the body’s exposure to that. That can increase the side effects. Or alternatively, it can accelerate the processing of the drug, which will decrease the efficacy. I’ve seen this on many occasions.

One should think that much of the population is on anticholesterol drugs, cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins. Well, if you – I’m sure anyone who does it – you look at the bottle or you got the advice from the physician that says, “Don’t have it with grapefruit juice.” So, let’s think about that. If grapefruit juice can substantially increase the side effects from a very commonly utilized drug like a statin, just think about what an unknown thing that you bought – and remember, everything you buy at these stores – that so-called supplement – you have no idea what’s in it. There’re no standards for these.

The FDA is not really checking on those. I believe a few years ago the New York State Attorney General looked at this and found out a lot of these supplements were sawdust or weren’t what they say they were. So, I’m very – I would strongly discourage the use of anything outside of what’s actually a prescribed medication. If one wants to use an alternative therapy, like yoga, massage, image therapy, and again exercise, things that we know really work with people – absolutely, do that. But I would discourage these herbal medication supplements, etcetera. Or if you insist upon it, definitely tell your physician because then when they’re dealing with the side effects, it helps them to figure out what it was.

Patricia:

Yeah. Discussing what you’re taking or what you would hope to take with your physician and your care team is probably paramount.

Let’s talk a little bit about health literacy. What would you suggest patients use for online resources? What are good resources?

Dr. Edelman:              

So, there are some excellent resources. The International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer has resources for patients. The National Coalition of Comprehensive Cancer Center Network (NCCN) has resources. American Society of Clinical Oncology has resources. So, those or American Cancer Society. So, there are some really reliable sources out there. And there’s a great deal that’s very unreliable – people’s Facebook pages. I’ve seen this.

Patricia:                      

It’s a big place.

Dr. Edelman:              

Everybody always – and I think it’s important for people to understand. There will be people who will get something and have a fantastic response. I’ve used anecdotes.

The anecdotes I’ve used are to illustrate the potential hope of benefit. They’re not exceptions to the rule anymore. They’re the good case scenarios. I could have just as many anecdotes of people who didn’t benefit and stuff. And I think it is important going into this – and that’s why we are reassessing patients constantly and getting repeat scans because we don’t necessarily know always – even if something’s 90 percent effective, it means 10 percent of the time it’s not.

And each patient – we’re getting better at individualizing and personalizing therapy, but we’re not perfect yet. And we probably never will be. So, there will always be anecdotes. I think what’s – as a friend of mine puts it – the plural of anecdotes is not data. When I say, “Well, chemoimmunotherapy works.” It’s not because I have anecdotes of that, though anecdotes illustrate the magnitude of benefit.

I have data that shows that the chemoimmunotherapy regimen was compared to chemotherapy and was clearly and unequivocally superior. When I give a statistic that 60 percent of patients, 65 percent, can benefit from those types of regimens. That’s based upon prospective randomized control trials.

Patricia:                      

Dr. Edelman, as a researcher in the field, tell us why you’re hopeful about lung cancer research.

Dr. Edelman:              

Well, I think that we have gone from trials with very small incremental improvements and frequently a very slow degree of progress where if we had a positive study every two or three years, we were thrilled – to the point where we’ve had an avalanche of positive studies. I don’t think my younger colleagues know what a negative trial looks like anymore. Even our negative trials are pretty impressive. We’ve had studies where an immunotherapy agent was compared with chemotherapy. And it was designed to show that the drug would be better.

And it was just as good, and that was a negative study. That’s the correct interpretation, but still I would point out that that’s quite remarkable because these other drugs had taken us 25-30 years to develop. And now we have another drug with a very different mechanism of action that’s as good potentially. That’s impressive. I think we’ve just had an amazing degree of progress in the last few years. We have far more drugs. We understand far more about the disease – the technology at every point from diagnosis to assessment of response to the ability to evaluate better what we’re not doing well. So, our studies now frequently have biopsies before, during, and after treatment in a way of trying to figure out why is stuff working or not working.

Back in 2006 or so, I proposed a study. We ended up doing it, but it took two or three years because we were requiring a biopsy result – actually, not even a new biopsy but just an archived specimen from the original biopsy to determine eligibility, and there was strong pushback that we would never be able to do that. And now, we routinely are getting biopsies and re-biopsying, and that’s over a brief period of time.

So, we’re getting to get better understanding of the disease, and why stuff works and doesn’t work. And I think that that’s why our progress will accelerate. And I would again emphasize progress only happens – real progress – only through clinical trials. We’ve cured a lot of mice for many decades. A mouse is not a person. You actually have to do the studies patient by patient, and I think we are making substantial progress. We almost have too many things to test right now.

Patricia:                      

That’s a good problem to have. Dr. Edelman, thanks so much for taking the time today.

Dr. Edelman:              

You’re welcome. My pleasure.

Patricia:

And thank you to all of our partners. To learn more about lung cancer and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. That’s powerful patients with an S .org. I’m Patricia Murphy, your host. Thanks. 

The Empowered Lung Cancer Thriver and Expert Chat

The Empowered Lung Cancer Thriver and Expert Chat from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.


Transcript:

Laura Levaas:

Hello, and welcome to this Patient Empowerment Network program, the empowered cancer survivor and expert chats. I’m your host, Laura Levaas, the lung cancer community manager for Patient Power, and a two-year survivor and thriver of lung cancer. This program is produced by Patient Power. We thank Celgene Corporation, Novartis, and Pfizer for their financial contributions to this program. They don’t have editorial control, but we do really appreciate them helping us make this program happen.

So, our guest today is Dr. Ross Camidge, the Director of Thoracic Oncology at the University of Colorado here in Denver. He’s also one of the top doctors in the U.S. for the very type of lung cancer that I have. It’s a rare mutation called ALK positive. And hopefully he can talk about that a little bit more later.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

We can talk about that until the cows come home.

Laura Levaas:

That’s good. Well, I’m excited to be interviewing somebody who is in the same town as me. So, you’re right down the road.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Yeah, and we’re doing it virtually. Isn’t that crazy?

Laura Levaas:

It is crazy. So, we’re both in Denver, but we’re both online. So, I hope you’re having a good day. And thank you for joining us. So, can you estimate how many lung cancer patients you’ve worked with during your career?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

More than 1,000, I would have thought. So, I tend to see about 30 people a week, of whom about two or three of them are new each week. And then you can do the math. And then I’ve been here…it’ll be 15 years in October. So, someone really clever with a calculator can do that calculation, but it’s several thousand.

Laura Levaas:

That’s a lot.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Yep.

Laura Levaas:

Is there a case that stands out to you in your career? Maybe somebody who beat the odds of their prognosis, or somebody that had a very interesting or unusual case?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Well, you know, it’s funny. I mean, there are lots of people who I’ve looked after who’ve inspired me in different ways. But the ones that I keep thinking about the young patients who were diagnosed before we knew about all these molecular sub-types of lung cancer.

And I remember one young guy. He was 21 years old. He was really into skateboarding and art. And his parents were busy getting a divorce at the time. And it was a total disaster to have a diagnosis of lung cancer, and he’s stuck in the middle. And his disease was incredibly aggressive, and he didn’t survive very long. And somewhere in me, it’s like, well, he must have had something. He must have had ALK; he must have had ROS1.

And these things weren’t even described at the time. And part of life is about timing. So, nobody wants to have lung cancer. But it’s a much better time to have lung cancer now than it was last year, and certainly last decade.

Laura Levaas:

Right. So, there is hope for people who are diagnosed now?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Well, I mean, I think that the best example of that is, people who now have Stage 4 lung cancer, the questions they have to ask are, “Shall I go for promotion in my job? Shall I go on this fun vacation? Am I gonna marry this person?” The same things that we all struggle with before a diagnosis of lung cancer. Because there used to come a time when you got a diagnosis of lung cancer, and the same conversation at least that the doctor was concerned was, “You’re about to drop down dead.” We phrased it differently, but you get the drift.

And now, those are completely separated by an unspecified amount of time, in the same way that we’re born and we die at some point in the future, and we don’t quite know when that’s gonna be. And so, we don’t have the two things – “Hi! Mrs. Jones! You’ve got a bouncing boy and they’re about to drop down dead.” Now, they’re separated by life. And we are gradually increasing the distance between those two events.

Laura Levaas:

I think that’s amazing. And this is a good segue, actually, for me to tell a little bit about my story. I don’t wanna get too far into the weeds. But my story, I think it was unique because I had a threemonth prognosis, basically, by the time they got a hold of me. I’d been misdiagnosed for about a year, which is pretty common, I think, with –

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Yeah.

Laura Levaas:

– lung cancer. You know, allergy symptoms, some migraine symptoms. And mine was actually caught, oddly enough, during a breast cancer screening. Because my mother is a breast cancer survivor, and she was diagnosed very young. So, my doctors have always been really proactive about that. But my original prognosis was three months. And that’s before they knew that I was ALK positive. So –

Dr. Ross Camidge:

So, who told you that you had three months?

Laura Levaas:

It was –

Dr. Ross Camidge:

That’s what drives me crazy, some well-meaning person in the emergency room.

Laura Levaas:

Yes. And I think it’s because when they discovered what I had, I had 50 brain mets and 50 spine mets, and my brain was swelling. And they were telling my family, “We’ve gotta get her into whole-brain radiation right away.”

We found out about two weeks later that I was ALK positive. So, they stopped the radiation, and I went right into taking Alectinib, which is a newer drug. And it was approved by the FDA I think about three months after I started taking it as first line for ALK.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

It’s all about timing.

Laura Levaas:

And then it stopped – yeah. Yeah. So, it’s kind of – I feel a bit like a champion. Because they said, “Well, you have three months.” And that can be a real bummer. And it’s a real shock to friends and family and my boyfriend at the time, who’s no longer. But here I am, 26 months later. And I feel great. And nobody ever thinks that I’m sick. They’re always shocked to find out that I have lung cancer. So –

Dr. Ross Camidge:

I think you’ve done great. And you’re still doing great.

Laura Levaas:

Thank you. And let me explain to our audience how I met you. One of the things that helped me have a positive outlook on being diagnosed with lung cancer is, No. 1, because I have this mutation, there was a targeted therapy available to me. And so, within six months, all of the cancer ground to a halt.

And I was basically able to resume most of my normal activities. I could drive again. I could go out to eat. I could do some normal things. But a friend of mine told me that there was a Facebook group for my specific type of cancer. And it was so valuable, and it helped me sort of like find my people. I refer to them affectionately as mutants because we’re all mutants together. But we share information. And they told me about your second opinion program, which I hope is okay to talk about on –

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Sure.

Laura Levaas:

– this program. But that’s how I found out about you. And you’re now my oncologist. And I’m in a Phase 2 clinical trial for a drug that’s new to me. And I’m very excited about that.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

You haven’t started it yet, have you?

Laura Levaas:

I have. I started it last week.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Oh, you started last week, didn’t you?

Laura Levaas:

I did. I did. The first couple days, I felt weird. But now, I feel great. So, for those –

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Yeah, that’s fantastic.

Laura Levaas:

– that are watching, just know I do think having a positive attitude will help you through those really tough times when you’re feeling low. Reach out to your sub-group. Reach out to the people who have what you have. Because they’ve been walking that path, and they can help you.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

I mean, I think that one of the things is – I mean, it’s the same like when doctors talk to doctors. You can do the shorthand. You don’t have to explain what you’ve got and what it means. You don’t have to explain to me that you weren’t a smoker. You can just sort of jump in and say, look, this is the stuff that’s happening with me. And they understand.

Laura Levaas:

Absolutely. Absolutely. So, I am going to ask you a couple of quick questions. And then we got a lot of audience questions for you. So, I hope you’re ready.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Yep. Bring it on.

Laura Levaas:

Lots of really good questions. So, before we transition into those, I wanted to ask whether you have noticed a mindset shift? You mentioned right at the beginning that this is the best time to be diagnosed with lung cancer because there are options. But are you noticing a mind shift in your patients?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Yeah, I mean, I think there is. I mean, I think lung cancer has gone from being – or let me rephrase that. Certain sub-groups of lung cancer has gone from being this kind of embarrassing thing, that you were sort of hidden in a closet, and nobody knew a lung cancer survivor because they didn’t exist – to now, I can show a room full of people and you can’t pick out who’s the lung cancer patient and who’s their significant other in the picture because everybody looks the same. And that, to me, is huge success.

So, I mean, one of the things we did last year – and I may have shown you the picture that we have up in the clinic – is we actually had a survivors’ celebration.

Laura Levaas:

Awesome.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

And to get your invite, you had to be at least five years out from your diagnosis. And we invited 400 people. Now, to be honest, we messed up the timing, and we sent the invites out about two weeks late. But we still had about 100 people turn up –

Laura Levaas:

That’s great.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

– which was pretty awesome. And we took a big picture. And it’s framed and sitting up in the clinic, for the simple reason that when you’re first diagnosed, you know these people exist, but you don’t believe they’re real. And I wanted to be able to come outside and say, “See that guy there? Well, he’s 10 years out. And look, he still looks fine, and he’s leading a normal life.”

So, I don’t mean everybody’s gonna do that. But it’s gone from being this fantasy – I might win the lottery – to, well, I might graduate from high school. I mean, it becomes a much more realizable dream.

Laura Levaas:

Right. Well, what questions do you think patients should be asking when they’re first diagnosed? They go to the doctor. They’re like, “You have lung cancer.” What should a patient ask?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Well, some of the basics are, what’s the stage of the cancer? How far has it spread around the body? So, usually, at least in the USA, people are getting a PET scan and an MRI of their brain.That’s the kind of standard bread and butter. I mean, 10 year ago, probably the most common thing I would encounter in the second opinion is somebody who wouldn’t have scanned the brain. They were waiting until someone had symptoms before they scanned it, which was like, well, you’ve lost a few neurons by then.

Now, probably the big thing is, have they done molecular testing? And I think the education has been, that’s not a uniform box. If you find something, that’s great. But if somebody says, “Well, you don’t have a mutation,” the next question is, “Well, what have you looked for?” Because if you haven’t looked for A, B, and C, you don’t know that that’s not there. So, the things that we test for have become more expansive.

And then the last one – and it’s hard not to say this without sounding like a complete jerk, but I’m going to do it anyway – is that the disease has become super complex and super specialized. And you don’t have to have all of your treatment with a thoracic specialist, but you should have a relatively early appointment with a thoracic specialist to just check that you’re on the right path.

Laura Levaas:

Good. That’s –

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Those are the three things.

Laura Levaas:

Okay. Those are really, really good things to ask. I wanted to ask also how long you’ve been involved in lung cancer clinical trials in the development of new medicines?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Well, I’ve been here, as I said, nearly 15 years. I trained before that amongst other places in Edinburg, in Scotland, which is where I did most of my training. And that’s where I first encountered lung cancer patients. And it was actually probably the very first – so, you were taken round to different centers in your training. And I landed in lung cancer. And I really liked the patients. And I kind of felt that they were … they were very undemanding. Often, many of them had smoked, and they were kind of feeling a little embarrassed. And so, they made you want to step towards them because they were kind of stepping away from you. And I also felt that it was kind of poised for a breakthrough. So, that was kind of how I got involved.

And then since I’ve been here, when I first arrived in Colorado, it was pretty well known for lung cancer. But it had not a huge clinical program. I think when I arrived, they put nine patients a year on clinical trials. And within a few years, we were putting more than 100 on. So, I really helped to build that. And then with my colleagues here, we’ve been able to build the program.

Laura Levaas:

What’s the best advice you can give someone who is newly diagnosed with cancer?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Well, the first thing is, for those of you who’ve seen The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the first thing is, don’t panic.

Laura Levaas:

That’s good advice. That’s good advice.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

The thing is, what you do is, you get diagnosed. And there’s a period of time where the room – you just can’t hear anything, and you feel distant from it. And what you’ve gotta do is, you – absolutely, you can wallow in self-pity for a period of time. And then you have to get up and move on. And that’s when you say, okay, this is a problem like anything else in life. And I will figure out the best of all possible solutions.

Laura Levaas:

Absolutely. Conversely, Terry wanted to know, what is the biggest mistake patients make in decisionmaking about treatment?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Well, listening to people who say you only have three months to live.

Laura Levaas:

Yeah. That’s not good.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Yeah. I don’t know what – I think perhaps believing that everything you see about cancer on the TV – which is everyone who’s bald and throwing up – must automatically apply to you. Or that that person down the street who died from a brain tumor automatically applies to you. I mean, so, cancer isn’t cancer. There are different diseases. And until you can find out, like you said, your peer group, you don’t know what the truth will be for you. And then you’re still gonna make your own rules up anyway.

Laura Levaas:

That’s true. That’s true. And I was thinking the other day, my needs when I was first diagnosed are very different than what they are now a few years later. Because in the beginning, I didn’t have coping skills. And I just didn’t know what to do. But you do develop them over time. And I remember a woman telling me, “Oh, you’ll figure it out.” And that made me really mad. But I see the wisdom –

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Yeah.

Laura Levaas:

Yeah. I see the wisdom in that now because you do figure it out over time.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

But how did you figure it out? How did you develop those coping skills? … Am I allowed to ask you questions?

Laura Levaas:

Oh, absolutely! Yeah, I think it was helpful, oddly enough, that I wasn’t allowed to drive and that I was in such a bad state. Because it allowed me to sort of withdraw from society for a while, withdraw from my work, withdraw from relationship drama. Because I ultimately ended up breaking up with my partner because he wasn’t capable of handling what I was going through, and he wasn’t supportive. So, all of the things that were familiar to me, like my job, my apartment, I retreated from all of that. And at the time, it sucked. But now, I’m like, that allowed me to have a perspective that was removed from everything. And I just –

Dr. Ross Camidge:

How old was your son at the time when you were diagnosed?

Laura Levaas:

Four.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

So, I mean, there’s an element of where you can withdraw from society, but you’ve got a 4-year-old.

Laura Levaas:

That’s right.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

So, how do you deal with that?

Laura Levaas:

Yeah. Well, I ended up moving in with my sister. Because at that time, I couldn’t drive, and I couldn’t take care of myself. So, I did rely really heavily on her. And their daughter is the same age as my son. So, they were going to school together. I relied very heavily on them, and I’m so thankful for that because that allowed me to just rest and heal. Because in the beginning – not to get too far in the weeds – but I couldn’t watch TV. I couldn’t be on my phone. I couldn’t be on the computer. Just no attention span whatsoever because of whole brain, I think. So, retreating from everything actually was good for me. And I’m also kind of a loner. So, I liked it, being alone too, oddly enough.

Good question.

I have another question from Christine C. She says, how long do you think it will take until lung cancer will be a chronically managed disease?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Well, I think for some people, it already is. So, I now have 10-year Stage 4 survivors who are still alive and still thriving, to use your word. So, for those people, it’s a reality. And I don’t know – as I said, people will make their own rules – I don’t know how long they will go. I mean, I honestly do not know how long I can control their disease. You just have to stay alive and in the game and hope that breakthroughs will happen.

Now, then the challenge is, okay, “Well, what about me? I don’t have ALK. I don’t have – whatever.” And you go, okay, well, so, everyone – we have to try and replicate the success of the ALK positive population with all of the other sub-types of lung cancer or the ones that don’t even have a label yet. And so, there’s plenty of work to do.

Laura Levaas:

Definitely. Leslie wants to know, what do you see in the near future for treatment of lung cancer? And she lists a couple of things like a fourth generation TKI, immunotherapy – a couple of things that I don’t even know what they are, SHP2, Protex, anything else?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Yeah. I don’t know what Protex is, but I know what SHP2 is. So, first of all, so, the concept of the fourth generation TKI, I mean, I assume that’s because we have a third generation TKI and therefore, the next one must be called the fourth generation. So, I don’t know that the generations of TKI is going to be the immediate solution.

If I had to say what I think the future is gonna hold, there’s a couple of things. So, one is I think we can – and we’ll use ALK as an example. But really, ALK is this model system that everybody else with lung cancer might like to replicate. So, we’re really good at developing drugs that are great at suppressing one particular pathway that is driving some people’s cancer.

But the cancer still grows eventually. Usually now, with some of the drugs – like the one you’re on and the third-generation drug – is that they’re not growing because they’re turning back on the same pathway. What they’re doing is, they’re growing through some other pathway coming up. So, finding these other pathways, these so-called second drivers, is going to lead to rational combinations of drugs. That’s one way.

The other thing which is kind of the elephant in the room is, well we have these drugs. You have these fantastic responses on the scans. But if you stop the drug, the cancer starts to grow. And if you go back on the drug a week later, it’ll shrink down. So, you clearly haven’t killed all of the cells which are even sensitive to that drug. So, until we can address why we can’t get 100 percent cell kill – that’s a technical term – we’re never gonna deal with the elephant in the room, which is, why can’t we actually cure people?

And that’s a very different situation from, why does the cancer grow three years later? The question is, why, when you walk through the door and you have a great response on the scan, if you had a magic microscope, why is there still one in 1,000 cells left? And that to me is actually the horizon we need to look for.

Laura Levaas:

Okay. Okay. That’s a great answer. A few more questions. Will R. wants to know about a lung cancer vaccine.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Well, so, you could view that in a couple ways. So, if you think about how we use vaccines, we use them when we don’t have a disease to prevent us from getting that disease. We don’t really use a vaccine when we’ve already got the disease. So, if you’ve got chicken pox, I don’t vaccinate you for chicken pox. I treat the chicken pox. And so, lots of people are trying to develop vaccines, but they’re giving them in the wrong way. They’re giving them to somebody with an established lung cancer, and then they’re surprised that it doesn’t work. But that’s not what vaccines do.

The question is, could we find a way of saying, well, these are the people who are at highest risk for lung cancer, and give them something before they have lung cancer to reduce their risk? And the answer is, maybe. But if you can imagine, that’s a really difficult study to do. It would take years and years and years.

I’ve just come back from something called the World Conference on Lung Cancer, which was in Barcelona – tough life – but the biggest breakthrough there wasn’t about treatment. It was about a study that was actually done in Scotland about screening people. So, we’re pretty familiar with, if you smoke this much, you meet a certain criteria, and you go get a CT scan. But that’s no good if you’re not a smoker. You don’t meet those criteria.

So, they still have to look at a blood test. And they can show that that particular blood test, it wasn’t definitive. It wasn’t, you’re gonna get cancer or not. But it bumped up your risk if you are positive on the blood test to then make that screening even more effective.

Laura Levaas:

That’s awesome.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

And they had some evidence – loose evidence – that it might even work in never smokers. And I think that’s what will come in the future too. And then what if you identify this high-risk group? I’m getting all excited now – all that higher-risk group? Maybe then say, okay, well, why are they at higher risk? Is that the group we give a vaccine to?

Laura Levaas:

Right. And then how would you identify a non-smoker, high-risk group? Can you?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Yeah, well, so, it’s a work in progress. So, one of the things that they’re starting to do is find some of the mutations which are driving people’s cancer in the blood. Okay? So, the problem is that the sensitivity of the test isn’t very good. So, you can find it when somebody has lots of cancer in their body. But to get the screening, you want to find it when there’s one little ditzel in your lung. So, you have to really turn up the sensitivity.

And I think that’s where the field is kinda going. So, they would know that if they found ALK in your blood, if they made a super sensitive test, that that would be wrong. Shouldn’t be there. And therefore, they would say, you should go get a CT scan. And so, the sensible thing would be, develop a cocktail of tests for every one of the things that drive lung cancer and say, if we find it, that’s bad news. Go get a CT scan.

Laura Levaas:

I like that. A cocktail of tests. Good. Well, hopefully, that will be soon. Two more questions. This is a really great question, actually, from Gail O. Is there a resource for local oncologists to reach out to for information and collaboration about lung cancer? Because as I’m sure you know, some of these smaller centers, maybe those physicians aren’t seeing lung cancer patients. So, they – I don’t wanna say they don’t know what to do, but maybe a patient is not getting the appropriate treatment protocol.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

I mean, that’s a really good question. So, it depends on where you are in the world. So, there are guidelines that NCCN, National Comprehensive Cancer Network – which is a common guideline used in the USA – is updated every few months. And that’s a common thing that a private practitioner could look at. And yet, it’s astonishing how many people sort of still don’t follow that. That’s a guideline. And the trouble with guidelines is, they don’t describe every possible scenario. In terms of how do you –? This may come as a huge surprise to you, but doctors have egos.

Laura Levaas:

No!

Dr. Ross Camidge:

No! So, how do you convince a person who may be a very good general oncologist that they don’t know everything? And that’s really hard. So, it’s not that we don’t necessarily have the resource. But we have to have people feel comfortable, if you like, asking for help. And I think that may be the biggest challenge.

I mean, I’ll give you an example. So, here we are in Colorado. There are probably several hundred medical oncologists in the state, of whom a handful ever send us patients for clinical trials. And you go, well, they must all see lung cancer. Lung cancer’s common. So, why do only some of them send people for clinical trials? Either they’re sending them somewhere else – and that’s okay – or they’re just not asking for help. And that is a huge tragedy if that’s happening.

Laura Levaas:

Yeah. So, is there a resource for local oncologists, like –?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Do you want me to actually answer the question?

Laura Levaas:

If it’s possible. It’s a big question.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

No. I mean, not in a – I mean, there are lots of separate resources. So, all oncologists are subject to CME, continuing medical education. There are videos they can watch. There are updates of all these conferences. But they have to want to do it. Nobody is getting down and forcing them to do it.

Laura Levaas:

Right. And I think that’s where an empowered patient comes in. An empowered patient will seek out the care that they’re looking for.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

Yeah. I mean, I do lots of second opinions. And for many of my patients, they’re around the world and around the country. And sometimes, their oncologist I form a very close relationship with because we both feel like we’re looking after the same person. And you almost feel like you’re kind of a co-parent. And that’s great because they don’t feel threatened by me, and I don’t feel threatened by them, and we can work together. “Well, this has happened. This is what the scan shows. What do you think? And I’ll do this.” And others don’t. But that’s how it can work well.

Laura Levaas:

Okay. Last question. This person’s name is Parentin B. I’ve never heard that name before. It’s very interesting. Are there recommendations about what patients can do themselves, like supplements, diet, exercise, etc., that could be helpful? And I know when I was first diagnosed, that was one of my first questions. Because my physician said, “Well, eat healthy.” And I was like, “Well, what does that mean?”

Dr. Ross Camidge:

What does that mean? Yeah.

Laura Levaas:

So, I think there’s a glut of, should we do Keto? Should we do Paleo? Should we go vegan? Vegetarian?

Dr. Ross Camidge:

I think one of the things is, what this is actually telling us is that when we’re diagnosed, we want to be part of the solution ourselves. We don’t want to be passive and have people do things to us. And I think the physicians who go, “Well, no. Nah,” I mean, they’re missing out on that need to take some aspect of control of our lives.

And so, some of it, you can channel that energy into becoming empowered and educating yourself about it. Not to the point that you’re obsessed about it, but I mean so that you’re, again – occasionally, I get patients who come in, and you go, “So, what treatment are you on?” And they go, “I don’t know.” And you go, “Well, you’re hardly taking control if you wanna change your diet, yet you can’t be bothered to learn the name of your chemotherapy. That’s not empowerment.”

I think diet is something we can all control in our lives. It can also make you – a diagnosis of cancer makes you vulnerable to anyone who wants to sell you any kind of quack theory. I think most people, at least our cancer dietitians here, would say, you bump up the fresh fruit and vegetables. You don’t have to become a juicer. But fresh fruit and vegetables generally make you feel better. They keep your bowels moving more, which sometimes, some of the treatments can interfere with that. You don’t have to feel guilty if you have a candy bar. But if you minimize the amount of highly processed food you have and the amount of sweets, that’s fine. It’s like anything else. You can have cheat dates. Don’t feel bad about it.

But all of that is kind of subjective. There’s people who are gonna tell you, you have to have cottage cheese and flax seed oil or the Gerson diet and have coffee enemas. I prefer my coffee this way, but –

Laura Levaas:

Me too.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

And there are always testimonials about these things, but there’s very little hard evidence that it actually makes a difference. The one exception is exercise. Actually, there’s quite a lot of data that being a healthy weight – so, not overweight, and just being active. It doesn’t mean you have to sign up for a triathlon, but just going for a walk every day or doing something actually makes people feel better, makes them cope with the treatment better. And there’s even some data that actually survival is improved. So, that’s definitely something that people can do.

Laura Levaas:

Well, those are all really good things. And I appreciate these questions. Many of them came from the ALK positive Facebook group that really helped me cope through some of my tough times. And there are some really smart folks in there, way smarter than me. Probably not as smart as you. But they –

Dr. Ross Camidge:

No! Way smarter than me! They’re all like nuclear physicists and things.

Laura Levaas:

I’m really amazed at the amount of specialized information that I’ve been able to find in these support groups. So, kind of winding up. Thank you, Dr. Camidge, for joining us today for – it’s a new program, actually, from the Patient Empowerment Network, but it’s produced by Patient Power. And again, we want to thank Celgene Corporation, Novartis, and Pfizer for their support, even though they don’t have editorial control. We’re kinda driving the bus. And we’re really grateful that you could join us today and answer all of these pressing questions.

Dr. Ross Camidge:

My pleasure.

Laura Levaas:

Thanks. We’ll catch you next time. And everybody, thanks for watching. Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Encore: Facing a Lung Cancer Diagnosis

This podcast was originally published by Cancer Support Community on November 17, 2015, here.

“Being empowered is choosing to adopt actions, behaviors, and attitudes that can help you regain a sense of control over your treatment and life with cancer,” excerpt from Frankly Speaking About Cancer: Lung Cancer. Part of being empowered means learning all you can about your specific type of cancer—what it is, how it affects your body, how it’s treated and what you can expect during diagnosis, treatment and beyond.

 

Frankly Speaking About Cancer: Join host Kim Thiboldeaux, President and CEO of the Cancer Support Community, for a weekly radio broadcast empowering listeners to live well with cancer. Every Tuesday, 4PM ET (1PM PT)

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This resource was originally published by Cancer Care.org here.

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