Stage IV Metastatic NSCLC Shares Key Learnings on Her Journey

Stage IV Metastatic NSCLC Shares Key Learnings on Her Journey from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lung cancer patient Carol shares her journey with stage IV metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Watch as she discusses the symptoms she experienced, how she pushed when her symptoms were dismissed, and key learnings that empowered her on her journey.

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If You Have Lungs, You Can Get Lung Cancer Teri’s Story

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Transcript:

My name is Carol, and I was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic  non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) at the age of 53. My initial symptoms were dismissed, but I advocated for myself to receive an accurate diagnosis.

My lung cancer journey began in an emergency room right after New Year’s Day 2022 with severe headache symptoms of head pressure, pain, and vomiting. I knew it was not a normal headache. The ER team started to treat me for a migraine and wanted to send me home. I pushed back and explained that I’d been experiencing symptoms of fatigue, frequent headaches, dizziness, and a weird buzzing sound in my ear over the last few months. I knew that I didn’t feel right and insisted on getting a brain scan.

After waiting hours to get in for the brain scan, they were shocked to find 10 brain metastases. Then a PET scan uncovered the root cause – a tumor in my lung and multiple metastases throughout my body, including leptomeningeal disease. Back when I started having symptoms, I tried to book an appointment with a neurologist, but there wasn’t an opening until February. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had left the ER on January 3 to wait until February. We know our bodies best and need to make sure we push for answers when we know there’s something more to the story. This pushing can be uncomfortable, because no one wants to be labeled “a difficult patient”, but it’s our health – and sometimes our life – at stake.

Following my diagnosis, I received one round of chemo until my genetic testing came back with the EGFR exon 19 deletion result. Then I was switched to a more targeted medication and still receive monthly infusions for bone mets.

Physically my treatment allows me to live an almost normal life enjoying my previous activities of golfing, hiking, and  gardening. And I’ve been surprised by my mental strength and positivity in the face of this horrible disease. Sure… I have times when helpless or sad or angry feelings come up, and I need to embrace and FEEL them, but overall I feel thankful and hopeful.

Some things I’ve learned during my lung cancer journey include:          

  • If something doesn’t feel right with your health, speak up and don’t stop pushing until you get answers.
  • Pay attention to your body when you experience multiple symptoms.
  • Focusing on helping others is another way to take your mind off of your own worries.
  • My friends and family are a big source of emotional support, and we are all going through this cancer journey together. So, I find that it helps them to feel useful when I give them small tasks to do, so they feel like an active part of this journey.

These actions are key to staying on your path to empowerment.

If You Have Lungs, You Can Get Lung Cancer: Teri’s Story

If You Have Lungs, You Can Get Lung Cancer: Teri’s Story from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lung cancer patient Teri shares her experience with stage IIIA non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Watch as she discusses the symptoms she experienced, her extended journey to diagnosis, and key learnings that kept her on the path to empowerment.

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Stage IV Metastatic NSCLC Shares Key Learnings on Her Journey

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Transcript:

​​My name is Teri, and I was diagnosed with stage IIIA non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in June of 2018. My lung cancer diagnosis was delayed as I was helping my mom deal with her own lung cancer journey.

My journey to diagnosis started with severe abdominal pain that was diagnosed as diverticulitis. During my hospital stay for abdominal pain, my scan showed a spot on one lung. In retrospect, I should not have brushed this off, but I wasn’t concerned since I’d never been a smoker. Almost a year later, I had a CT scan that showed my nodules had grown, and I was referred to an oncologist.

My surgery was scheduled to remove the middle and lower portions of my right lung, as each had a large mass. The weekend before surgery, I wanted to find my “baseline” for activity level. So I hiked, rode my bicycle, gardened, and kayaked with no indication that ANYTHING was wrong. My oxygen level was always 100 percent, and my energy level felt normal.

My surgery was successful, and I came away with clear margins and nothing found in my surrounding lymph nodes. I had several rounds of chemo following my surgery and had scans done every 6 months. However at the one-year mark, there were signs of recurrence. 

I felt ready to continue with my life but needed to get the remaining upper lobe removed. My surgeon told me the surgery would be “a morbidly serious procedure.” He said this three times during a single appointment.

The surgery was successful, but I had many “morbidly serious” incidents. I made it through with my husband’s amazing support.

Today, I lead a very full and active life with one lung. I am currently cancer-free. My desire is to be a support person for newly diagnosed lung cancer patients. I want to be a ray of hope for other patients so that they know they are not alone.

Some things that I learned during my lung cancer journey include:

  •   Pay attention when unusual lab results or scans come back even if you’re a non-smoker.
  •   Energy levels will not always be an accurate gauge of cancer in your body.
  •   My husband was an incredible source of support during my lung cancer journey.
  •   I am happy to share my story if it helps even one person feel they are not alone.

These actions are key to staying on your path to empowerment.

How Do Lung Cancer Patients Benefit From MRD Testing?

How Do Lung Cancer Patients Benefit From MRD Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MRD testing is another tool in the lung cancer care toolkit. Expert Dr. Christian Rolfo from Mount Sinai explains how MRD testing aids in patient monitoring, use of liquid biopsies in patient care, and updates about immunotherapy for early stage lung cancer.

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Lung Cancer Treatment Landscape Overview


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

There are a few questions from our audience that I would love to present to you, and so one of them comes from MacKenzie and MacKenzie asked, “Can you speak about MRD testing and what that means for lung cancer?”

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, and that we were discussing briefly. So minimal residual disease is the…as I say, when we have an operation, we can have the opportunity to have completely resected a tumor, but we don’t know more than with the CT scan when the patient will recover. So we are without an answer believing every follow-up visit what has happened, seeing if it has gone. So we are trying to reduce this…reduce the anxiety first of all, to try to get the tools that are able to identify patients that they can recurrence, have a recurrence so liquid biopsies, one of them, and we have now the several methods that are trials and several data coming that there are some companies that actually they are a market for some of the options, we are still having validations, required validations, but we will certainly be there very shortly in time to identify these patients and to treat them in the proper time.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Wonderful, and I think you just addressed a question that came in from Harold, which was., “Is liquid biopsy playing a role in monitoring disease recurrence in lung cancer?”

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Sure, we are actually tailoring treatments and checking the patients, and I have several, several experiences in patients that they’re monitoring over the time, and we have actually some of the vendors that are proposing this approach monitoring, liquid biopsy is a great tool because it’s minimally invasive, it’s just a blood draw, and we can continue. Not all the patients have the possibility in terms of they are not all cheaters, that is something we need to know DNA, so it’s the majority of them, we can do it in some minimal proportion, we cannot do it when there are also possibilities to follow them.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:  

And our last question from the audience comes from Laura, and she wants to know, “Are  immunotherapy combinations in the metastatic setting, expanding to treat earlier stage lung cancer?”

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, absolutely, we have actually an FDA approval for us, one of the immunotherapeutic drugs in patients after the resection of the disease with some characteristics, but we are there and actually we are having more and more clinical trials using in earlier stages so we will say in the other stage from the earlier stage from that is the neoadjuvant, and we call that when we are doing a treatment to reduce two months to be operated later on, so we have also some trials that are going there, but we have an approval already for the adjuvant setting that is after the surgery in some patients. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

That’s wonderful. You’ve given us a lot of good news. A lot of hopeful news, Dr. Rolfo, it is time for us to wrap up. I want to thank you again for being here for sharing your expertise. 

How Can Lung Cancer Disparities Be Addressed?

How Can Lung Cancer Disparities Be Addressed? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lung cancer disparities work against care for some patients, but how can they be addressed? Expert Dr. Christian Rolfo from Mount Sinai explains some disparities in patient populations and how care can be improved for these underserved patients. 

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Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

So I’d love for you to talk a little bit, Dr. Rolfo, about some of the challenges related to appropriate access to lung cancer care as it relates to different socio-demographic populations, and then how can we begin to address those disparities.

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, this is a topic that is really in my heart because I was coming with you before we start the communication, the recording of this. I was working in Europe before coming to the United States. I was shocked by the disparities that we see in some healthcare situations, so in my position before in Europe, we have a healthcare system that discovering for patients and we have, obviously, difficulties, but here I saw in some communities really under-served in terms of access to different service and healthcare is one of them. 

So we need to be conscious about that when we have patients that are struggling to get transportation, we have patients that are struggling to get approval for some drugs. So, there are a lot of areas that need to be addressed, disparity also in terms of language, we have also patients that are not understanding the doctors, we have patients that are having difficulty when to get to the app information when we are saying, Oh, you can see your report in your app, so it’s not easy for some of them, we have generational gaps as well, these are disparities as well. So taking or being conscious of all these factors is making us take action and how we can take actions in our institutions, and in several institutions in the country, we have the support of an experienced team that is addressing that, and teams are specific that are working for disparities. Some of them are social workers, some of them are advocate patients, so we have a big team of institutions that are helping to the patients to go for different scenarios, and even we have patients that are homeless, so how we treat patients in these conditions when we know that the patient is in a shelter, so if you have toxicity, what will we be doing. So all these things are taken into consideration, believe me, because it is like New York, you have a big disparity of or a big diversity, and we say of populations in one consultation morning, you can see all of them in your waiting room, so we need to try to address all this, and there are politics that are coming from us as a healthcare system, but there are also politics that they need to come from governmental politics, so try to use these…all the tools that we have at our disposal are important, and also we have a very good support of advocacy groups. 

And this is something that I want to really profit their patient to say thanks because we have several, several advocacy groups that are doing a terrific job from testing to helping patients to go through this journey. So it’s really an important job, and obviously families, families are helping to these disparities and patients, so patients themself. So what I say always to the patient, raise your voice, empower yourself. Try to ask for your rights if you don’t understand your doctor… Ask again, if you want to have a second opinion, talk to your doctor, that is the most important thing. We are very open to help the patients, and that is our mission. So if I say to my patients, If you want to have a second opinion, please let me know, and I try to direct you to somebody who is an expert in the field and can help us to learn better your disease or your treatment, but I think it’s a situation that everyone is winning, especially the patient, but also ask for future patients understanding better every case. 

How Can Specific Biomarkers Impact Lung Cancer Progression?

How Can Specific Biomarkers Impact Lung Cancer Progression? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lung cancer progression can be aided by monitoring of biomarkers, but what do they indicate? Expert Dr. Christian Rolfo from Mount Sinai explains biomarker characteristics that help monitor disease progression and how clinical trials help in treatment advances.

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Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

So with regard to the biomarkers, you mentioned that these are kind of unevenly distributed among different populations depending on your origin, and so how does that play into the progression of the disease, what do we know about why patients with specific biomarkers have a different degree of disease progression?

Dr. Christian Rolfo:

Yeah, so we know more or less that the characteristics, I mean more or less in terms of the evolution of the clinical characteristics of these patients, in terms of organ affection in case of progression, but what is most important of this is that we are able to continue to identify, and I say monitoring these patients with liquid biopsy, for example, this is a good tool to understand or to understand it a bit better, which kind of mechanistic involvement. 

So because we have, for example, patients who were receiving the case that I was discussing before EGFR mutations and they received one graft from the very beginning, a third-generation TKI is the one that is approved for the first line, and this patient has a progression. The possibility to have a mechanism of resistance is different, so we can have mutations that are coming in the same pathway, so in the same area, same kind of mutation, but different location, just to the people understand is the kind of line and we have the mutation that is here, the one that we are attacking, but we have another mutation that is in this area, and it’s not covered by the track that is covering this mutation. 

So we have nowadays drugs that are going to, in this area in clinical trials, or we have in other cases other areas of the task of mutations that have nothing to do with the original one. So we are activating another kind of pathway, or we are transforming the tumor from one kind of tumor to another kind of tumor, so for this reason, identify which kind of mechanism of resistance is in place can have an important or have important implications for how we are treating these patients,  so we need to look at that to treat the patients.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: Wonderful. And speaking of resistance, we know that there are some patients who end up trying multiple therapies in order to treat their lung cancer, are there alternative treatment strategies for lung cancer patients who have failed all therapies? 

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, absolutely, we have research in lung cancer is never stopping in oncology generally, but in lung cancer it’s really exciting to see how this research is evolving, and it’s arriving to the patients the meaning of the research when we are doing access to the patients, to the discovery of the finding that we have, and obviously, we have strategies in the clinical practice, but also we have the clinical trials. So clinical trials, and that is something we need to try to define very well because some patients believe that when we are going to clinical trials there are no more options or we don’t have any other options to do. 

We are sometimes using clinical trials even in the first line, so even in patients that are for the first time being treated. Because we know that some of the cases we are treating patients with from some standard of care and using drugs on top, we want to explore it, we can improve these outcomes that we already know. That could be also a clinical trial, that is also a clinical trial. So don’t take the participation in a clinical trial as the last option that you have, sometimes you will go to your doctor and the first time that you see a doctor for your first diagnosis, they can propose a clinical trial. 

And this is really valuable. What we really appreciate is the collaboration of the patients to be in clinical trials, because we need to remember that the drugs that we are using today were analyzing other patients before, so the treatment that you are receiving in a standard of care today were before a clinical trial, it’s really important how we can interact with the research and the clinical practice very easily, so we have also some options that are…for what we call early drug development, that there are some drugs that are in patients who are receiving the standard of care, and they have the opportunity to be treated in new drugs, and you can discuss…believe me there, and 

I know that there is a lot of questions about clinical trials but the clinical trial setting is really restrictive, it’s very well-coordinated, so you would be part of a very coordinated and structured things that they try to protect the patients in the first instance, and try to understand also how we can help the patients and the future generations. So that is really why we appreciate patients that the contribution of patients that are giving to this clinical research because it’s helping to advance the knowledge for the new patients as well.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

And I really appreciate how you described clinical trials, and particularly your distinction about it’s not always this last ditch effort that sometimes you all are using clinical trials as first-line therapy. One of the common things is that clinical trials are tomorrow’s medicine today, and helping patients and families to understand that there’s value in being involved in clinical trials and that…and I think with COVID there’s a little more understanding, but certainly, we have a long way to go, and so I appreciate you sharing that. Do you have any specific examples of patients in your practice, and not names, of course, but examples of…that have benefited from clinical trials?

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Absolutely, we have several of examples, and actually FDA was doing a terrific job in the last year to try to get access quickly access to the drugs for patients, and some of this access that was granted was based in clinical trials that we’re starting for a Phase I or Phase II trials, owe are really doing a very rapid evolution of the drug development, and this is a revolution actually of the drug development because we have access very quickly. I can tell you that it was certainly in my career, several patients in clinical trials that they got benefits. Obviously, clinical trials are answering questions, so that is the way that we can answer questions scientifically and is the only way that we can advance in clinical therapeutics. 

How Can Biomarkers Help With Lung Cancer Treatment?

How Can Biomarkers Help With Lung Cancer Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Biomarkers can assist with lung cancer treatment, but how are they used exactly? Expert Dr. Christian Rolfo from Mount Sinai explains what is examined in biomarkers and how they aid treatment of specific population groups.

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Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

We know that no two lung cancers are the same. Can you explain to the audience how biomarkers help with lung cancer treatment and they can be so important? 

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, we have different…as I say, we are looking at specific characteristics from the tumor when I’m referring to genomic alterations that I’m not referring to something that you can get from your family and bring to your descendants. So I’m talking about mutations that are occurring inside the tumors and only for the tumor, and so affecting only the subject that has this patient that has this alteration. So these biomarkers are an important way to identify populations that we can treat specifically, and I would like to be a little bit more specific on that. We have some of the alterations, for example, one of the mutations that we call EGFR or epidermal growth factor receptor mutation that is supported in different populations in different frequencies. For example, if we have patients that are with an Asiatic origin, we have there the possibility to have a…and I’m referring, for example, Chinese, Japanese, this area of the East Asia, we have a hyper-prevalence of these mutations in around 50 percent of the patients with lung cancer, non-squamous we’d say this is another characteristic of the tumor can have this specific alteration. If we are moving, for example to Latinos, the pains of the areas of Latinos they are coming from, if you have Mexican or, for example, Peruvian, they have also due to their ancestry, they are similar to the Asiatic population, 40 percent we’re going to white populations and Anglo-Saxons or Europeans, they have around 7 to 15 percent  according to the different regions. 

African Americans within 15 to 20 percent. So these kinds of alterations are giving us the opportunity to treat and we have nowadays inhibitors and that’s drugs that are from first, second and third generation, so we were evolving in January, this pharmaceutical in January to develop all drugs that are able to penetrate in the brain and acting not only in the tumor, but also in brain metastases. And patients who have this mutation, for example, are treated in first line, in front line, or the first treatment that they receive are pills, no chemotherapy. So for this reason, and that is something that is important because when we know that patients, when they start this journey of lung cancer diagnosis before they see an oncologist, they were struggling to get the diagnosis and then we’re passing through several doctors from the general practitioner or to the emergency room, going to CT scan and then a biopsy then a pulmonologist until they get the diagnosis, it’s a big period of time sometimes that we are very nervous because we want to each patient to have a treatment as soon as possible, and sometimes when they arrive to us, we say they need to wait until we have the results of these biomarkers. 

So it’s difficult to understand, I put in the place of the patients and the families are really difficult to understand that I was passing a lot, I went here, I came here and I want your treatment right away, but this period that we are asking to wait is really important, because we will have information that can change radically the treatment and the history of these patients. So one of the problems that we have in America is the lack of testing, so we have all the tools to test the patients, but if we are looking at some of the statistics, 50 percent of the patients have been tested. 39 percent if we are moving to groups, for example, of AfricanAmericans, so we need to be very careful that don’t push to get the treatment very quickly without having all the elements to this thing, which kind of treatment is the most adequate for the patient. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

That is such important information, and I really appreciate that, I appreciate it. That you put it in the perspective of the patients and family members. And that grueling, long wait, long time to diagnose this, and finally you’re in front of a specialist and the perception is that, Okay, now I’m going to get this treatment that I need, and then like you said to hear, now you have to wait a little bit longer, but also to understand that that wait is important to make sure that you get the treatment that is meant for your specific type of cancer, I think that is so incredibly important.

Dr. Christian Rolfo:

And believe me, we are trying to push as well from the that there are, unfortunately, technical times that we cannot overcome that are for testing and for having these results, and we can do that by like I said liquid biopsy, but also tissue biopsy, so we are sending the tissue that the patients gave for a biopsy in a biopsy or in a resection when they have surgery. We take these small biopsies and we send them for analysis and take longer sometimes, so it’s a pity and we know, but it’s the only way to go for the right treatment. 

What Are the Latest Lung Cancer Treatment Updates?

What Are the Latest Lung Cancer Treatment Updates? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

With lung cancer research advances, what are the latest treatment updates? Expert Dr. Christian Rolfo from Mount Sinai explains treatment and monitoring advances and shares about lung cancer types that need more research funding.

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Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Are there any other exciting updates that patients and families should know about related to lung cancer, maybe things that are in the works that we may hear about in 2023?

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, I said, for example, liquid biopsy I was mentioning liquid biopsy, and we are focused obviously, and in patients that have advanced disease or when they have this disease that is already confirmed. But we are now moving the tools that we have to the dedication of cancer using liquid biopsy from the very beginning, so we can use a minimal residual disease, that is patients after the surgery. And I think I hear answering one of the questions that we have in the chat that this minimal residual disease is the quantity of two more that sometimes we are not able to see in the images or is very tiny, and we have equivocal information, the possibility to discover the patients that after surgery, have the possibility to recurrence or have come back of the disease is really important.  

And also we are looking for early detection of lung cancer trying to identify patients with the high-risk populations that they are maybe having the opportunity to be in lung cancer screening because they are smokers, or because they have all the characteristics on top of this model that we can also use the liquid biopsy there. But one of the most important messages that I want to say, because I mentioned it here smokers, and I want to remind you that we have a big proportion of patients around 20 to 25 percent of the patients that they never smoked and that they can develop lung cancer. So we have a motto, we say if you have a lung, you can have it because we want to break this stigma that lung cancer has the only patients who are smoking, obviously smoking and tobacco are related highly with lung cancer. 

But also we have patients that are second-hand smokers or they have other causes of lung cancer. So we need to be aware and we need to try to get attention for that because, in this special population of non-smokers, we know that there is a special characteristic that we can treat them completely different, so it’s very important that we identify those patients as well.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

I really appreciate you sharing that, Dr. Rolfo, because as I’m sure you know, there’s a lot of stigma associated with lung cancer and the assumption that if you have lung cancer, then that automatically means that you are a smoker. And now that we know that people who smoke, those are challenges. But to just acknowledge that not everybody with lung cancer is someone who is a smoker, and also that the approach, the treatment approach may be different, so I really appreciate you pointing that out.

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

And actually, Dr. Rochester, you know this stigma was causing several domino effects. We have less funding for research, we have less support from the community sometimes like other tumors have, for example, breast cancer. So if we are looking specifically in lung cancer, the quantity of women that are dying or are going to a diagnosis of lung cancer, it’s very impressive, but actually it’s killing more people sometimes than other tumors. So we need to be very careful with this stigma because we need…and this is a call for action, now we need more funds, we need more support from the community, because this is a very important area that will need research. 

How Can Drug Resistance Impact Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer?

How Can Drug Resistance Impact Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Drug resistance can develop for some lung cancer patients, but is there impact to non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)? Expert Dr. Christian Rolfo from Mount Sinai explains drug resistance, patients who may be at-risk for this issue, and monitoring that is performed for optimal treatment.

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Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

What have we learned about drug resistance as it relates to non-small cell lung cancer? Are there any new developments in that area?

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, obviously the patients of the…as I just commented, we have different patients with different needs and different scenarios, so we are now fragmenting a lot of the diseases, and we have actually different diseases. And one big disease that is the lung cancer, so now we are treating patients in a different way. And some patients have, for example, patients who are under treatment with targeted therapies, they can develop mechanics of resistance that we can nowadays not only identify but also treat. 

So we can treat and change the recurrence of these patients. One of the tools that we are using for that is liquid biopsy, for example, that is this blood draw that we are going for the patients, and actually, we are trying to do this determination from the very beginning and also monitoring the patients after we have this information to see if we are able to determine the mechanics of resistance, see also the outcomes of some of the therapies and change the treatment when it’s necessary. In immunotherapy, we have alterations that are resistant or refractory, that is another way of definitions so refractory we say patients that are not responding during the treatment and resistance of patients that or simply patients that are after the treatment having a progression in a very short time, so we need to identify these two categories and try to treat them in different ways that we have armamentarium for that as well. 

Lung Cancer Treatment Landscape Overview

Lung Cancer Treatment Landscape Overview from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lung cancer treatments have been rapidly expanding, so what are the current options? Expert Dr. Christian Rolfo from Mount Sinai outlines the lung cancer treatment landscape and which patients might benefit most from some treatments.

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Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Now, let’s delve into this very important topic, how can I get the best lung cancer care? And, Dr. Rolfo, we’re going to start with an overview of the lung cancer treatment landscape. We know that this landscape is rapidly changing and keeping up with the pace of developments could be a challenge not only for doctors, but certainly for patients and family members, so I was hoping that you could give us an overview of the current lung cancer treatment landscape.

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

In the last year, lung cancer treatment was changing radically. We have actually, including some of their new concepts as precision medicine or personalized medicine, that we have actually different therapies that are specifically for some group of patients, that they have specific alterations in their tumors.  And when I’m talking about alterations, I refer to mutations, genomic alterations that can be targeted nowadays with specific medications, and currently, some of them are actually, the majority of them are actually pills, for example. So it was changing radically, and we are not using it like before chemotherapy for everyone. Another area of important interest was the introduction of immunotherapy, this is also an important tool for fighting cancer. And there you have a substance that are administered generally, all of them are intravenous, and this is the principle of that is to await from your own inner system, from the patient immune system, they are the tools to fight against the cancer. 

So it’s a very innovative way to approach cancer, and this is…the good thing is that these two approaches targeted therapies, immunotherapy, and also still obviously the combination with chemotherapy in some of the case with immunotherapy, we can use not only metastatic patients, so in patients who have advanced disease, but also we can use in patients who have earlier stage that they were operated, for example, and we want to prevent that this patient is not going to a further process of cancer metastases, or there are several, several innovations. Then we have innovations that are coming also from local treatments and we call local treatments the one that, for example, surgery or radiation, we have new technologies also that are arriving there, and the combination sometimes with the medical treatment or systemic treatments that are going everywhere that is the description of systemic are helping these patients to have not recurrence and improving. Actually, lung cancer survival was really improving in the last years, and we are very excited by that because, unfortunately, it’s very still an aggressive disease that we were able to change with all this armamentarium the prognosis of these patients. 

How Can I Get the Best Lung Cancer Care?

How Can I Get the Best Lung Cancer Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can lung cancer patients access optimal care? Expert Dr. Christian Rolfo from Mount Sinai and Dr. Nicole Rochester discuss the latest lung cancer treatments and research, lung cancer testing, equitable care, and patient-centered care for the best health outcomes.

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Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Hello and welcome. I’m Dr. Nicole Rochester, I’m a pediatrician, a professional health advocate, and your host for today’s Patient Empowerment Network program. We are so happy that you tuned in. How can you access the best possible lung cancer care? What do the latest combination therapies mean for you? Should you consider a clinical trial as a path to enhancing your lung cancer care? This Best Lung Cancer Care program focuses on providing actionable steps to achieving equitable care and connecting to patient-centered care on your path to empowerment. We are joined today by international lung cancer expert, Dr. Christian Rolfo, Professor of Medicine and Associate Director for Clinical Research in the Center for Thoracic Oncology at the Tisch Cancer Institute. Thank you so much for joining us today, Dr. Rolfo.

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Thank you, Dr. Rochester, for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Wonderful. I’m looking forward to our conversation. Now, following this program, you will receive a survey and we would be thrilled to get your feedback because this helps inform future lung cancer programs we produce. Please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical care, so please be sure to connect with your healthcare team regarding the best options for your care. Now, let’s delve into this very important topic, how can I get the best lung cancer care? And, Dr. Rolfo, we’re going to start with an overview of the lung cancer treatment landscape. We know that this landscape is rapidly changing and keeping up with the pace of developments could be a challenge not only for doctors, but certainly for patients and family members, so I was hoping that you could give us an overview of the current lung cancer treatment landscape.

Dr. Christian Rolfo:

In the last year, lung cancer treatment was changing radically. We have actually, including some of their new concepts as precision medicine or personalized medicine, that we have actually different therapies that are specifically for some group of patients, that they have specific alterations in their tumors. And when I’m talking about alterations I refer to mutations, genomic alterations that can be targeted nowadays with specific medications, and currently, some of them are actually, the majority of them are actually pills, for example. So it was changing radically and we are not using it like before chemotherapy for everyone. Another area of important interest was the introduction of immunotherapy, this is also an important tool for fighting cancer, and there you have a substance that are administered generally, all of them are intravenous, and this is the principle of that is to await from your own inner system, from the patient immune system, they are the tools to fight against the cancer, so it’s a very innovative way to approach cancer, and this is.

The good thing is that these two approaches targeted therapies, immunotherapy, and also still obviously the combination with chemotherapy in some of the case with immunotherapy, we can use not only metastatic patients, so in patients who have advanced disease, but also we can use in patients who have earlier stage that they were operated, for example, and we want to prevent that this patient is not going to a further process of cancer metastases, or there are several, several innovations. Then we have innovations that are coming also from local treatments and we call local treatments the one that, for example, surgery or radiation, we have new technologies also that are arriving there, and the combination sometimes with the medical treatment or systemic treatments that are going everywhere that is the description of systemic are helping these patients to have not recurrence and improving. Actually, lung cancer survival was really improving in the last years, and we are very excited by that because, unfortunately, it’s very still an aggressive disease that we were able to change with all this armamentarium the prognosis of these patients.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wow, that’s a lot. I mean it’s exciting to hear that there are so many new developments on the horizon and that so much has happened just in the last year as it relates to therapy. What have we learned about drug resistance as it relates to non-small cell lung cancer? Are there any new developments in that area?

Dr. Christian Rolfo:

Yeah, obviously the patients of the…as I just commented, we have different patients with different needs and different scenarios, so we are now fragmenting a lot of the diseases and we have actually different diseases, and one big disease that is the lung cancer, so now we are treating patients in a different way. And some patients have, for example, patients who are under treatment with targeted therapies, they can develop mechanics of resistance that we can nowadays not only identify but also treat. 

So we can treat and change the recurrence of these patients. One of the tools that we are using for that is liquid biopsy, for example, that is this blood draw that we are going for the patients, and actually, we are trying to do this determination from the very beginning and also monitoring the patients after we have this information to see if we are able to determine the mechanics of resistance, see also the outcomes of some of the therapies and change the treatment when it’s necessary. In immunotherapy, we have alterations that are resistant or refractory, that is another way of definitions so refractory we say patients that are not responding during the treatment and resistance of patients that or simply patients that are after the treatment having a progression in a very short time, so we need to identify these two categories and try to treat them in different ways that we have armamentarium for that as well.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wonderful, thank you for that. So you’ve mentioned a lot about updates, are there any other exciting updates that patients and families should know about related to lung cancer, maybe things that are in the works that we may hear about in 2023?

Dr. Christian Rolfo:

Yeah, I said, for example, liquid biopsy I was mentioning liquid biopsy, and we are focused obviously, and in patients that have advanced disease or when they have this disease that is already confirmed. But we are now moving the tools that we have to the dedication of cancer using liquid biopsy from the very beginning, so we can use a minimal residual disease that is patients after the surgery. And I think I hear answering one of the questions that we have in the chat that this minimal residual disease is the quantity of two more that sometimes we are not able to see in the images or is very tiny, and we have equivocal information, the possibility to discover the patients that after surgery, have the possibility to recurrence or have come back of the disease is really important. 

And also we are looking for early detection of lung cancer trying to identify patients with the high-risk populations that they are maybe having the opportunity to be in lung cancer screening because they are smokers, or because they have all the characteristics on top of this model that we can also use the liquid biopsy there. But one of the most important messages that I want to say, because I mentioned it here smokers and I want to remind you that we have a big proportion of patients around 20 to 25 percent of the patients that they never smoked and that they can develop lung cancer, so we have a motto, we say if you have a lung, you can have it because we want to break this stigma that lung cancer has the only patients who are smoking, obviously, smoking and tobacco are related highly with lung cancer. 

Dr. Christian Rolfo:

But also we have patients that are second-hand smokers or they have other causes of lung cancer, so we need to be aware and we need to try to get attention for that because, in this special population of non-smokers, we know that there is a special characteristic that we can treat them completely different, so it’s very important that we identify those patients as well.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I really appreciate you sharing that, Dr. Rolfo, because as I’m sure you know, there’s a lot of stigma associated with lung cancer and the assumption that if you have lung cancer, then that automatically means that you are a smoker, and not that we know that people who smoke, those are challenges, but to just acknowledge that not everybody with lung cancer is someone who is a smoker, and also that the approach, the treatment approach may be different, so I really appreciate you pointing that out.

Dr. Christian Rolfo:

And actually Dr. Rochester, you know this stigma was causing several domino effects. We have less funding for research, we have less support from the community sometimes like other tumors have, for example, breast cancer. So if we are looking specifically in lung cancer, the quantity of women that are dying or are going to a diagnosis of lung cancer, it’s very impressive, but actually it’s killing more people sometimes than other tumors. So we need to be very careful with this stigma because we need…and this is a call for action, now we need more funds, we need more support from the community, because this is a very important area that will need research.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Absolutely, so that brings me to the next section of our program, you’ve mentioned a lot of these therapies already, I just want to go a little bit deeper into exploring some of the lung cancer treatment strategies and also talk about clinical trials, so you talked about bio-markers. Can you expand a little bit on that? We know that no two lung cancers are the same. Can you explain to the audience how biomarkers help with lung cancer treatment and they can be so important? 

Dr. Christian Rolfo:

Yeah, we have different…as I say, we are looking at specific characteristics from the tumor when I’m referring to genomic alterations that I’m not referring to something that you can get from your family and bring to your descendants. So I’m talking about mutations that are occurring inside the tumors and only for the tumor, and so affecting only the subject that have this patient that has this alteration. So these biomarkers are an important way to identify populations that we can treat specifically, and I would like to be a little bit more specific on that. We have some of the alterations, for example, one of the mutations that we call EGFR or epidermal growth factor receptor mutation that is supported in different populations in different frequencies. 

For example, if we have patients that are with an Asiatic origin, we have there the possibility to have a…and I’m referring, for example, Chinese, Japanese, this area of the East Asia, we have a hyper-prevalence of these mutations in around 50 percent of the patients with lung cancer, non-squamous we’d say this is another characteristic of the tumor can have this specific alteration. If we are moving, for example, to Latinos, the pains of the areas of Latinos they are coming from, if you have Mexican or for example, Peruvian, they have also due to their ancestry, they are similar to the Asiatic population, 40 percent we’re going to white populations and Anglo-Saxons or Europeans, they have around 7 to 15 percent according to the different regions. 

African-Americans within 15 to 20 percent. So these kinds of alterations are giving us the opportunity to treat and we have nowadays inhibitors and that’s drugs that are from first, second and third generation, so we were evolving in January, this pharmaceutical in January to develop all drugs that are able to penetrate in the brain and acting not only in the tumor, but also in brain metastases. And patients who have this mutation, for example, are treated in first line, in front line, or the first treatment that they receive are pills, no chemotherapy. 

So for this reason, and that is something that is important because when we know that patients, when they start this journey of lung cancer diagnosis before they see an oncologist, they were struggling to get the diagnosis and then we’re passing through several doctors from the general practitioner or to the emergency room, going to CT scan and then a biopsy then a pulmonologist until they get the diagnosis, it’s a big period of time sometimes that we are very nervous because we want to each patient to have a treatment as soon as possible, and sometimes when they arrive to us, we say they need to wait until we have the results of these biomarkers.

So it’s difficult to understand, I put in the place of the patients and the families are really difficult to understand that I was passing a lot, I went here, I came here and I want your treatment right away, but this period that we are asking to wait is really important because we will have information that can change radically the treatment and the history of these patients. So one of the problems that we have in America is the lack of testing, so we have all the tools to test the patients, but if we are looking at some of the statistics, 50 percent of the patients have been tested…39 percent if we are moving to groups, for example, of African-Americans, so we need to be very careful that don’t push to get the treatment very quickly without having all the elements to this thing, which kind of treatment is the most adequate for the patient. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

That is such important information, and I really appreciate that, I appreciate it. That you put it in the perspective of the patients and family members. And that grueling, long wait, long time to diagnose this, and finally you’re in front of a specialist and the perception is that, Okay, now I’m going to get this treatment that I need, and then like you said to hear, now you have to wait a little bit longer, but also to understand that that wait is important to make sure that you get the treatment that is meant for your specific type of cancer, I think that is so incredibly important.

Dr. Christian Rolfo:

And believe me, we are trying to push as well from the that there are unfortunately technical times that we cannot overcome that are for testing and for having these results, and we can do that by like I said liquid biopsy, but also tissue biopsy, so we are sending the tissue that the patients gave for a biopsy in a biopsy or in a resection when they have surgery. We take these small biopsies and we send them for analysis and take longer sometimes, so it’s a pity, and we know but it’s the only way to go for the right treatment.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

So with regard to the biomarkers, you mentioned that these are kind of unevenly distributed among different populations depending on your origin, and so how does that play into the progression of the disease, what do we know about why patients with specific biomarkers have a different degree of disease progression?

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, so we know more or less that the characteristics, I mean more or less in terms of the evolution of the clinical characteristics of these patients, in terms of organ affection in case of progression, but what is most important of this is that we are able to continue to identify, and I say monitoring these patients with liquid biopsy for example, this is a good tool to understand or to understand it a bit better, which kind of mechanistic involvement. So because we have, for example, patients who were receiving the case that I was discussing before EGFR mutations and they received one graft from the very beginning, a third generation TKI is the one that is approved for the first line, and this patient has a progression.

 The possibility to have a mechanism of resistance is different, so we can have mutations that are coming in the same pathway, so in the same area, same kind of mutation, but different location, just to the people understand is the kind of line and we have the mutation that is here, the one that we are attacking, but we have another mutation that is in this area and it’s not covered by the track that is covering this mutation. 

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

So we have nowadays drugs that are going to, in this area in clinical trials, or we have in other cases other areas of the task of mutations that have nothing to do with the original one. So we are activating another kind of pathway, or we are transforming the tumor from one kind of tumor to another kind of tumor, so for this reason, identify which kind of mechanism of resistance is in place can have an important or have important implications for how we are treating these patients, so we need to look at that to treat the patients.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Wonderful. And speaking of resistance, we know that there are some patients who end up trying multiple therapies in order to treat their lung cancer, are there alternative treatment strategies for lung cancer patients who have failed all therapies? 

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, absolutely, we have research in lung cancer is never stopping in oncology generally, but in lung cancer it’s really exciting to see how this research is evolving and it’s arriving to the patients the meaning of the research when we are doing access to the patients, to the discovery of the finding that we have, and obviously, we have strategies in the clinical practice, but also we have the clinical trials. So clinical trials, and that is something we need to try to define very well because some patients believe that when we are going to clinical trials there are no more options or we don’t have any other options to do. We are sometimes using clinical trials even in the first line, so even in patients that are for the first time being treated. 

Because we know that some of the cases we are treating patients with from some standard of care and using drugs on top, we want to explore it, we can improve these outcomes that we already know. That could be also a clinical trial, that is also a clinical trial. So don’t take the participation in a clinical trial as the last option that you have, sometimes you will go to your doctor and the first time that you see a doctor for your first diagnosis, they can propose a clinical trial. 

And this is really valuable. What we really appreciate is the collaboration of the patients to be in clinical trials, because we need to remember that the drugs that we are using today were analyzing other patients before, so the treatment that you are receiving in a standard of care today were before a clinical trial, it’s really important how we can interact with the research and the clinical practice very easily, so we have also some options that are…for what we call early drug development, that there are some drugs that are in patients who are receiving the standard of care, and they have the opportunity to be treated in new drugs, and you can discuss…believe me there, and 

I know that there is a lot of questions about clinical trials but the clinical trial setting is really restrictive, it’s very well-coordinated, so you would be part of a very coordinated and structured things that they try to protect the patients in the first instance, and try to understand also how we can help the patients and the future generations. So that is really why we appreciate patients, that the contribution of patients that are giving to this clinical research because it’s helping to advance the knowledge for the new patients as well.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

And I really appreciate how you described clinical trials, and particularly your distinction about it’s not always this last-ditch effort that sometimes you all are using clinical trials as first line therapy. One of the common things is that clinical trials are tomorrow’s medicine today, and helping patients and families to understand that there’s value in being involved in clinical trials and that…and I think with COVID there’s a little more understanding, but certainly, we have a long way to go, and so I appreciate you sharing that. Do you have any specific examples of patients in your practice, and not names of course, but examples of…that have benefited from clinical trials?

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Absolutely, we have several of examples and actually FDA was doing a terrific job in the last year to try to get access quickly access to the drugs for patients, and some of this access that was granted was based in clinical trials that we’re starting for a phase one or phase two trials, so we are really doing a very rapid evolution of the drug development, and this is a revolution actually of the drug development because we have access very quickly. I can tell you that it was certainly in my career, several patients in clinical trials that they got benefits. Obviously, clinical trials are answering questions, so that is the way that we can answer questions scientifically and is the only way that we can advance in clinical therapeutics. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Wonderful. So I want to move into treatment access, we’ve talked a little bit today about some of the differences that we see in lung cancer with regard to the biomarkers, you and I know, and I’m sure that was in the audience, know that health disparities are widely reported here in the United States with really any all conditions, including lung cancer. So I’d love for you to talk a little bit, Dr. Rolfo about some of the challenges related to appropriate access to lung cancer care as it relates to different socio-demographic populations, and then how can we begin to address those disparities.

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, this is a topic that is really in my heart because I was coming with you before we start the communication, the recording of this. I was working in Europe before coming to the United States. I was shocked by the disparities that we see in some healthcare situations, so in my position before in Europe, we have a healthcare system that discovering for patients and we have, obviously, difficulties, but here I saw in some communities really underserved in terms of access to different service and healthcare is one of them. So we need to be conscious about that when we have patients that are struggling to get transportation, we have patients that are struggling to get approval for some drugs. 

So, there are a lot of areas that need to be addressed, disparity also in terms of language, we have also patients that are not understanding the doctors,  we have patients that are having difficulty when to get to the app information when we are saying, “Oh, you can see your report in your app,” so it’s not easy for some of them, we have generational gaps as well, these are disparities as well. So taking or being conscious of all these factors is making us take action and how we can take actions in our institutions, and in several institutions in the country, we have the support of an experienced team that is addressing that and teams are specific that are working for disparities. Some of them are social workers, some of them are advocate patients, so we have a big team of institutions that are helping to the patients to go for different scenarios, and even we have patients that are homeless, so how we treat patients in these conditions when we know that the patient is in a shelter, so if you have toxicity, what will we be doing. 

So all these things are taken into consideration, believe me, because it is like New York, you have a big disparity of or a big diversity, and we say of populations in one consultation morning, you can see all of them in your waiting room, so we need to try to address all this, and there are politics that are coming from us as a healthcare system, but there are also politics that they need to come from governmental politics, so try to use these…all the tools that we have at our disposal are important, and also we have a very good support of advocacy groups. 

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

And this is something that I want to really profit their patient to say thanks because we have several, several advocacy groups that are doing a terrific job from testing to helping patients to go through this journey. So it’s really an important job, and obviously families, families are helping to these disparities and patients, so patients themself. So what I say always to the patient, raise your voice, empower yourself.

 Try to ask for your rights if you don’t understand your doctor… Ask again, if you want to have a second opinion, talk to your doctor, that is the most important thing. We are very open to help the patients, and that is our mission. So if I say to my patients, If you want to have a second opinion, please let me know, and I try to direct you to somebody who is an expert in the field and can help us to learn better your disease or your treatment, but I think it’s a situation that everyone is winning, especially the patient, but also ask for future patients understanding better every case.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Well, as an independent patient advocate, myself, Dr. Rolfo, I always get super excited when physicians like yourself are talking about and emphasizing the importance of patients and families advocating for themselves, so I just want to reiterate a couple of things that you said just to make sure that our audience heard it very clearly and asking questions is one of the things that you said that is, I believe one of the most important ways that we can advocate for ourselves and for our family members in healthcare settings, and I really appreciate that you offer advice around second opinions.

A lot of people feel that they are sending their doctor if they ask for a second opinion, but a confident doctor like yourself and a good doctor is going to encourage that, particularly if the patient or family just needs that extra reassurance, so I just really appreciate that you brought that up. Before we wrap up, there are a few questions from our audience that I would love to present to you, and so one of them comes from MacKenzie and MacKenzie asked, can you speak about MRD testing and what that means for lung cancer?

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, and that we were discussing briefly. So minimal residual disease is the… As I say, when we have an operation, we can have the opportunity to have completely resected a tumor, but we don’t know more than with the CT scan when the patient will recover. So we are without an answer believing every follow-up visit what has happened, seeing if it has gone). So we are trying to reduce this…reduce the anxiety first of all, to try to get the tools that are able to identify patients that they can recurrence, have a recurrence so liquid biopsies, one of them, and we have now the several methods that are trials and several data coming that there are some companies that actually they are a market for some of the options, we are still having validations,  required validations, but we will certainly be there very shortly in time to identify these patients and to treat them in the proper time.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Wonderful, and I think you just addressed a question that came in from Herald, which was is liquid biopsy playing a role in monitoring disease recurrence in lung cancer?

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Sure, we are actually tailoring treatments and checking the patients, and I have several, several experiences in patients that they’re monitoring over the time, and we have actually some of the vendors that are proposing this approach monitoring, liquid biopsy is a great tool because it’s minimally invasive, it’s just a blood draw and we can continue. Not all the patients have the possibility in terms of they are not all cheaters, that is something we need to know DNA, so it’s the majority of them, we can do it in some minimal proportion, we cannot do it when there are also possibilities to follow them.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Excellent, and our last question from the audience comes from Laura, and she wants to know, “Are immunotherapy combinations in the metastatic setting, expanding to treat earlier stage lung cancer?”

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, absolutely, we have actually an FDA approval for us, one of the immunotherapeutic drugs in patients after the resection of the disease with some characteristics, but we are there and actually we are having more and more clinical trials using in earlier stages so we will say in the other stage from the earlier stage from that is the neoadjuvant and we call that when we are doing a treatment to reduce two months to be operated later on, so we have also some trials that are going there, but we have an approval already for the adjuvant setting that is after the surgery in some patients.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

That’s wonderful. You’ve given us a lot of good news. A lot of hopeful news, Dr. Rolfo, it is time for us to wrap up. I want to thank you again for being here for sharing your expertise. In closing, is there any takeaway that you want to leave with our audience today regarding lung cancer and advocating for themselves.

 Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

I will say that, first of all, thanks for the opportunity and it was a pleasure to discuss with you and I’d write to the population and say, Try to ask for your rights as a patient, so ask for your rights, be proactive in terms of your disease, you are the main actor here,  we are tools of trying to help you to arrive to the destination, but the good important thing is to create a good relation with your doctor, and to create a good relation with your doctor is part of the trust from both sides, so having an open communication… Open communication with the family as well. Sometimes we are smuggling or hiding things as a patient for our families to don’t help them, and vice versa that is not helping in this process, absolutely. And if you want, if you have that asking if you’re never deserving, so this is what we are here and all the team is here to help you.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Wonderful. Well, I just want to echo what Dr. Rolfo said about asking questions about being an active member of your medical team, the doctors are there to assist you, but you are ultimately the expert for your disease for your body, so I just wanna thank you again deferral for being here for sharing such important information thank you all again for tuning into this patient empowerment network program. If you’d like to watch this webinar again, there will be a replay and you will receive an email when that recording is available, and remember, following this program, you will receive a link to a survey, please fill out that survey. Let us know what was helpful so that we can serve you better in the future to learn more about lung cancer and to access tools to help you get the best care no matter where you live. Visit powerfulpatients.org/lung cancer. I’m Nicole Rochester, thank you so much for joining us. 

How Can Lung Cancer Patients Take a More Active Role in Their Care?

How Can Lung Cancer Patients Take a More Active Role in Their Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

As a lung cancer patient, how can someone take a more active role in their care? Experts Dr. Nicole Rochester and Dr. Olugbenga Okusanyaprovide advice for patients to empower themselves and questions to ask themselves about their lung cancer care team members for their best care. 

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Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

What advice do you give to patients that you see so that they can feel empowered, Dr. Okusanya? Is there any specific advice that you give when you see patients and things that just helped them to take this active role that you’ve been describing? 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

Number one, I tell patients to bring someone with them to their appointments, someone who can stand by as within reason someone who can be there to listen as well, because usually I say, if I tell you 100 things in an appointment which can legitimately have, I could give you 100 unique points of information and in one 45-minute visit. If you catch 30 of them or 35 of them, you really understand that. I think that’s a lot because they’re very emotionally charged. So, hopefully someone else is with you, maybe catches another 30 or 40, and that gets you to a point where you can really sit down later and understand. I encourage patients to take notes to write things down, and if they want to, to record, to have audio recording of the session, I wouldn’t say anything to you now that I wouldn’t say in a month or in a year, or anywhere else. I’m going to tell you exactly what I think and I…and if I have uncertainty, I will expose that uncertainty, I will let you know that this is a case that could go either way. And this is a piece of information that I’m looking back and forward between these two options and that really helps the patients later on go back and say, “Did I really hear that right? Did I really understand it right?” So that you can feel like you’re getting the best care, and I really think that you have to make sure that you feel comfortable with the provider. 

I think that’s just the number one thing. Are you happy with them? Do you like the way they comported themselves? Did you like the way they spoke to you? Did you like their staff? Also remember, you’re likely going to be interacting with their staff as much as you interact with the physician, so the other people in the office, the front desk people, the nurse practitioners, the medical assistants, those are the people that you’re going to spend a lot of time talking to. Did you have a good rapport with them? Also, all that stuff counts to make sure that you’re getting the best experience possible and that you can really be an advocate for yourself. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

I just want to reiterate, you share so many pearls today, but I just want to reiterate a few of them, and they really resonate with me as a former caregiver and as a health advocate, but that’s the importance of asking questions, the importance of bringing a buddy, and I appreciate that, particularly in your field, when we go into a doctor’s office and the word “cancer” is stated, everything else goes out of the window, and even in less threatening situations, there’s data that shows that…I think about 20 percent to 25 percent of what we say as physicians is actually retained, so certainly when you get a bad diagnosis, that number is even lower, so bringing somebody with you who is not necessarily emotionally detached, but they can literally kind of be the note taker, and they may even pick up on some nuances and things that you may have missed as a patient is so incredibly important. I love that you’ve offered the option of recording, I think that’s also another tool that many patients and family members aren’t aware of, and I think there’s an assumption, and it’s true to some degree that doctors don’t want to be recorded, but knowing that that is an option. 

The fact that the care that we receive really is impacted by whether or not the person specializes in lung cancer, a thoracic surgeon, and being empowered to ask that question, “Is this your specialty? How often do you see patients like me?” And being empowered to ask those questions that ultimately won’t lead to improved care is just so incredibly important, and I think just everything that you’ve shared that really allows the patients and the caregivers to understand just how important their role is you’re the one that’s going to take out the cancer and you’re the one that’s going to get them better, but there are so many things that happen before that step, before they are on that operating room table that is so important 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

I think for patients and their advocates, I think it’s really important number that you’re putting together a health care team. You’re putting together a group of people like the avengers. You’re putting together a bunch of people to come together to help you deal with this health problem. You are entering into a therapeutic relationship, so that relationship has to be healthy in order for you to have the best possible outcome, you should feel good about, you know, your doctor is going to be very skilled, become very knowledgeable, and just like we talked about before. You really want to find someone who has the heart of a teacher, someone who can sit down and explain it to you in a way that’s going to be digestible and that is going to be actionable. So, I think if patients and advocates remember that you want to build a really solid, a really healthy relationship with someone who’s going to help you take care of your health, I think if you do that, you’re going to be in excellent hands. 

Key Questions for Newly Diagnosed Lung Cancer Patients to Ask

Key Questions for Newly Diagnosed Lung Cancer Patients to Ask from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

As a newly diagnosed lung cancer patient, what are key questions to ask? Experts Dr. Nicole Rochester and Dr. Olugbenga Okusanyashare advice on questions to lung cancer care providers and the reasoning behind specific questions to work toward optimal care. 

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How Can Lung Cancer Patients Take a More Active Role in Their Care?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

What are some key questions that patients and care partners should ask at the very beginning when they are first beginning this journey with lung cancer? 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

So, I would say…question number one that I would ask is like, “Do you specialize in this? Is this something that you do on a regular basis? What percentage of your practice is lung cancer care?” You would really like an answer that’s more than 50 percent, you would like someone who sees lung cancer patients and takes care of lung cancer patients as a matter of routine. And something I would also say as a patient, you kind of want your care to be routine, you don’t want to be someone where things are just being figured out for the first time, you really want to have someone who does this all the time. The other questions I would ask are, “Can you tell me what all the options are, not just the one you’re offering to me? I really want to know what all the options are.” And I always tell patients the options are really very broad. And a physician chose the option is one, you may want to not do anything that is an option, you know saying, “We know it’s there, we understand, and we’re going to watch it or not do anything,” is a very reasonable option they should tell you about biopsies or surgery or non-invasive therapeutic modalities. 

You really want to say, “I want you to give me the laundry list, all the things that are possible in the institution that I’m sitting in.” And then I would also ask, “What are the things that you are not considering before that might be options? What are the things that maybe you’ve ruled out in your mind, and can you tell me more about that?” Because we’re very physicians, we’re very good at heuristics, really good at skipping steps and making next logical jobs, so it’s good to ask one of those steps that you skipped in your mind, and why did you skip them?” And then the last thing I would ask is, “Is this the kind of case that should be discussed in a multi-disciplinary clinic or conference? Is there anybody else I should talk to about this problem?” And I think if you can ask those questions and feel very confident about asking those questions again, most practitioners who are high level and specializing in this will not be offended, they will be glad that you’re asking the question, it will be a relief for both of you. I think if you can ask those questions, you can really help to eliminate some of those ascites and really get on the right trajectory from the beginning.  

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Those are such important questions, starting with the first one you provided, which is, “Do you specialize in this?” I think that we spend a lot of time sometimes betting, other professionals, even hair stylists, or if we want to get our car fixed, we want to go to the person that specializes and whatever is wrong with that particular problem, but we don’t always take such care with our most precious commodity, our body. So, I think that’s so incredibly important that we ask that question, and it’s not to make bad comments about those who don’t, but people like yourself have trained for many years, and there’s something to be said about that when this is your area of focus, and this is what you do day in, day out. So, I love that, I also really love what you said about kind of getting inside of the brain of the doctor, because you’re right, we’re skipping steps and we’re going through algorithms, but we don’t often bring the patient into that process, and so I really love the idea of the patients questioning, “Are there things that you didn’t consider and why?” And really having a full understanding, understanding of all of those treatment options, and maybe if the doctor has erroneously ruled out one of those possibilities based on maybe an assumption that gives the patient an opportunity to clarify that. 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

And I would say, as a patient, oftentimes, we want to ascribe very positive feelings towards your physician, it’s a notch, a very natural thing to do because you want them to be good, so that eventually you’ll be good, and they’ll take good care of you. You want to ascribe those positive thoughts, and I think that’s very reasonable. But we should approach that with a little bit of question, because this is someone who has a lot of information and a lot of knowledge, and you want to make sure you are getting everything in the middle, so it doesn’t get lost in translation. You want to make sure you’re there for that conversation. 

How Can Lung Cancer Patients Ensure Quality Care No Matter Location?

How Can Lung Cancer Patients Ensure Quality Care No Matter Location? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Now that lung cancer patients have access to in-person and telemedicine visits, how can they ensure quality care no matter location? Experts Dr. Nicole Rochester and Dr. Olugbenga Okusanyashare their advice on maximum travel times to in-person providers, when telemedicine visits make sense, and how to ensure you get the best fit for you as a patient. 

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Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

You mentioned telehealth, and we know that one of the barriers to receiving care, and you’ve indicated that in terms of having access to a multi-disciplinary team, having access to thoracic surgeons as opposed to general surgeons. So, we know that that is impacted by where we live, and that often our geographic location can actually be a barrier to the receipt of quality care, so I’d love for you to just talk a little bit about how patients who may be in more remote locations can make sure that they are also receiving appropriate care for their lung cancer. 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

Yeah, I think this is a very substantive challenge, I think this is one of the holes in healthcare, there are these regions in the country where you just are not going to have access to any number of surgical sub-specialists or radiation oncologists, or lung cancer specific oncologists. I think that is a really big challenge. I think we have actually learned through the pandemic that the physical barriers really are not the reason to not get the best care, so I think those patients should be exquisitely interested in telehealth and in phone calls, and I think most healthcare systems now, because the reimbursements have been approved for telehealth and actually now built infrastructure to support it as an ongoing concept. So now, if you are a patient that’s in Arizona and you want to talk to a doctor who’s in New Jersey, you can do that, you can make that happen. If you find someone, you Google them, you find a friend in that area who knows someone, you can call their office and say, “I want to have a telehealth visit.” And as long as you have broadband Internet and a phone, you can do it. You can have that conversation. 

So, I would advocate for people to really make sure that you at least feel like people in the sort of local regional area that you can perhaps get to maybe two, three hours away. But you can imagine a scenario where you can get there, you can try and establish some level of care and some level of rapport with them. I think that’s something that has really opened, has been one of the few good things to come out of the pandemic. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

I was going to say the exact same thing. That is one…there haven’t been a lot of positive things, but that certainly is one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic, is this surge, and it’s not that we already had the capability, but it certainly was not being used to its maximum capacity. I appreciate that. So, speaking of telemedicine and COVID, I think one of the challenges that patients and often care partners have is understanding when is a telemedicine or telehealth visit appropriate versus when do you actually need to go see that doctor in-person, so…can you help clarify that? 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

Yeah, so I think in general, even if you start with the telehealth is, I think there’s very little downside to telehealth for almost anyone in general, because a lot of the information can be garnered from the patient record, from their scans. I think in general; it gives you 85 percent of what you need out of that interaction, and it may be more convenient for the patient, a lot of times it’s actually more convenient for the doctors, doctors have now found ways to work from home. They do have to have their clinic from home, it’s a much more relaxed environment than more efficient. I think there are times like for instance, I have to make decisions about offering surgery to patients who I consider to be moderate or high risk, I think there is a benefit and having that patient come and see me in the office because they have to somehow pass what we call the eyeball test, and that is a little bit of where this disparity comes in in lung cancer surgery, because it depends on whose eyeball is looking at you, making your determination about what they think is going to happen with you in surgery. 

I remember…actually one of my favorite patients ever. She had data that did not look like she would tolerate surgery, everything about her data did not look favorable. And I saw her, I remember seeing her in-person, and you could see the spark in her eye and energy that she had, and I said, “You know what, we’re going to do it.” And she did great, she did phenomenally well. And that is a case where if you’re in the population of patients that may be slightly more moderate, slightly more high-risk, and you need someone to really look you in the eye and you say, “I’m going to do what it takes to get through this.” I think that’s the patient where the in-touch, in-person visit really is that extra touch that can be benefited. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Wow, I love what you said about the spark in her eye and also how you connected that to health disparities, and I don’t know the race or ethnicity of the patient that you’re describing, but we certainly know that that makes a difference, and I just wonder if that had been a different physician, would they have seen that same spark? And I think it just goes back to what we were talking about earlier, and the importance of finding a physician or health care provider with whom you connect, someone that actually respects you, someone that listens to you and sees you as a whole person. So, the fact that you were willing to go beyond that data on her chart, which screamed, This is a poor surgical candidate, met her in-person, and something about her let you know that she was going to be okay. 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

And that’s why in medicine and surgery are still art at the end of the day, it’s still an art. You make decisions, best informed decisions, but there’s a lot of it that is still really special and mystical in a way. And I think having that in-person interactions will let you practice that and it’s exactly what you said, you want to have a really nice relationship with the physician, especially anyone that’s going to be doing anything that might be invasive or dangerous because for the most part, you meet someone for 45 minutes and then you sign up for what could be a life-threatening event. So, you, the physician and the patient should feel really good about that interaction and whatever that energy is, it’s really important, it’s a little bit kind of sacred, I think, and I think it’s really valuable to invest in that if you don’t like the surgeon, you really don’t feel like it’s a good fit or you don’t like your oncologist, find someone else. You’ll do better in the long run, for sure. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

That is so incredibly important. I agree, 100 percent. So much of healing is beyond just the nuts and bolts of the medical care that we provide, or in your case, the surgical care, there’s so much more to that, that’s not really well studied, but that relationship and that connection is key. 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

Critical, and that’s not to say that necessarily the person has to be like the warmest, friendliest, the most fun person you ever met, some people prefer a more yes ma’am, no ma’am, clear-cut, well-defined boundaries of a relationship. Some people prefer a big hug and a laugh and a joke. So if you’re getting what you need, that’s exactly what you need. And if you’re not getting what you need, you should think about your other options 

Empowering Lung Cancer Patients to Increase Their Treatment Options

Empowering Lung Cancer Patients to Increase Their Treatment Options from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can lung cancer patients be empowered to increase their treatment options? Experts Dr. Nicole Rochester and Dr. Olugbenga Okusanyaexplain ways to improve access to lung cancer treatments and to process information more completely for the best care. 

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Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

If we shift gears a little bit and talk about access and some of the concerns about treatment access for lung cancer patients, we know that sometimes these barriers that patients face actually limit their access to treatments, and you indicated surgery as being the mainstay and some difficulties with that, so how can we empower patients so that they don’t feel limited in their care, and how do we make them aware of these treatment options that are available, so that if they are in an office and maybe something’s being offered, but that’s not actually, the standard of care, how do we empower them to get that information and then to act on it? 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

Yeah, so number one, which is something I think people do and they don’t realize how valuable it is, bring a friend to the appointment, don’t come by yourself, because you are in an incredibly vulnerable position, you’ve learned or are learning something incredibly emotionally charged and usually very scary. So, you want to bring someone who obviously is going to love you and care about you, but has enough emotional distance from it that they can be your advocate, they can ask those questions in the room that you may just not be there mentally to ask. Number two, never be afraid to get a second opinion, if you’re lucky enough to live in a populous area with multiple health systems, get a copy of your chart, get a copy of your data, get your disc, make an appointment to see another specialist in another health system and see what they say. Because at the very least, if the information is concordant, then you’re going to feel pretty good about saying, “Okay, then I should just go where I think I feel best or who I have the best sort of relationship with?” And again, if you are not lucky enough to have that opportunity, I would be very aggressive about seeing if telehealth is an option to reach out to someone who is a specialist, I’ve had not happened to me in the past, I remember I had a woman who telehealth, me from Ohio, because she’d actually read one of my papers about lung cancer, and she sent her scans, uploaded them, I looked at them and I gave her my opinion, and this is the new age or medicine. 

This is where we’re at now. This is a viable option, and even if telehealth isn’t an option, you can always just get on the phone. As a lung cancer specialist, a lot of the information I need can be garnered from test scans and images, so frankly, the physical exam has some role, but is not the mainstay of how a lot of the decisions are made. So even if I see your scans and I talk to you, I can give you an opinion over the phone, it takes me 15 to 20 minutes, and a lot of times, those visits may not even be charged, depending on who you actually ask to give you an opinion. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

I’m a huge proponent of second opinions, I’ve talked to so many patients and family caregivers who think that they’re offending their doctor if they ask for a second opinion, so I appreciate that you brought that to the forefront and you deserve to have multiple opinions as you’re making these very important life-changing decisions.

How Can BIPOC Lung Cancer Patients Guard Against Health Inequities?

How Can BIPOC Lung Cancer Patients Guard Against Health Inequities? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can BIPOC lung cancer patients guard against health inequities? Experts Dr. Nicole Rochester and Dr. Olugbenga Okusanyashare advice for questions to ask your doctor and ways to ensure optimal lung cancer care. 

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Dr. Nicole Rochester:

What are some things that patients of color can do in order to protect themselves from these inequities that you’ve talked about, starting with diagnosis and treatment, what can we do? What can patients of color do? 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

So, I think the number one thing is to ask questions, the number one thing is to say, what are my options? What am I dealing with? What should I do or what shouldn’t I do? And to really make sure you get the most at that time when you see a physician, because that is really what we’re there for apart from the surgery, I’m really there to be an educator. I teach as much as I operate on a daily basis whether it be the medical training is whether in my patients, my job is to communicate information back and forth, so you really want to spend the time asking questions and getting as much information out, as much as you can. Number two is, see a specialist. There’s also very good data to indicate that as a Black patient, if you see a board-certified thoracic surgeon, you are more likely to get lung cancer surgery than if you were to see a surgeon of unknown specialization, a general surgeon. So clearly the training gives specialist the ability to make finer determinations and discernments that I think in large part favor Black and minority patients, so you want to find someone who deals with these disease processes all the time because they’re going to look at it in a much higher level and look at it with a lot more granularity. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Just have to repeat what you said, you said, I teach as much as I operate. That just really resonated with me, and I think that…that’s so incredibly important. Doctor means teacher, right? I think that’s the Latin…we are obligated to teach our patients, so I just really appreciate that that’s something that you incorporate in your daily practice.