LC Treatments and Clinical Trials Archives

When it comes to treatment, lung cancer patients and their care partners have much to consider. There are often many options available, each with advantages and disadvantages. Some people may seek clinical trials, others may have few feasible options. Understanding treatment options, goals, and what to expect are vital to achieving the best possible outcome for you.

More resources for Lung Cancer Treatments and Clinical Trials from Patient Empowerment Network.

How Can You Access Personalized Lung Cancer Treatment?

How Can You Access Personalized Lung Cancer Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When facing a lung cancer diagnosis, how do diagnostic tests affect your treatment plan. Dr. Tejas Patil discusses appropriate testing for lung cancer, latest targeted therapies and how emerging research is affecting patient outcomes.

Dr. Tejas Patil is an academic thoracic oncologist at the University of Colorado Cancer Center focused on targeted therapies and novel biomarkers in lung cancer. Learn more about Dr. Patil, here.

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See More From INSIST! Lung Cancer

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Why You Should Consider a Clinical Trial for Lung Cancer Treatment

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Should Lung Cancer Genetic Testing Be Repeated Over Time?


Transcript:

Katherine:

Welcome to Insist! Lung Cancer, a program focused on empowering patients to insist on better care. Today, we’ll discuss the latest advances in lung cancer, including the role of genetic testing and how this may affect treatment options.

I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Joining me is Dr. Tejas Patil. Dr. Patil, would you introduce yourself please?

Dr. Patil:                     

Sure. Thank you for inviting me to speak on this platform. My name is Dr. Tejas Patil. I am an Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado, where I take care of patients diagnosed with thoracic cancers, which include non-small cell lung cancer, small cell lung cancer, and also include mesothelioma and thymic cancers. My main research focus is on molecular alterations in lung cancer and development of targeted therapies.

Katherine:                  

Thank you. Before we start, a reminder that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your own healthcare team.

Dr Patil, before we get into an in-depth discussion on lung cancer, would you tell us about the types of lung cancer?

Dr. Patil:                     

Absolutely. Lung cancer has a bit of a confusing nomenclature. Historically, Lung cancer was divided into small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer, and this distinction was based on how the lung cancer appeared under a microscope, but it also has practical implications. Small cell lung cancer tends to have a very different biology than non-small cell lung cancer. It originates from neuroendocrine cells and is treated very differently than non-small cell lung cancer.

Non-small cell lung cancer is also a bit of a misleading term because it really is a catch-all term. It represents a wide group of histologies that are not small cell lung cancer. So, basically, anything that isn’t small cell lung cancer will be non-small cell lung cancer, but that group is very heterogenous and includes subtypes like adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, adenosquamous, large cell and even sarcoma type variance.

Distinguishing between the two is important because the prognosis and treatment options are actually very different between small cell and non-small cell lung cancer.

Katherine:                  

Well, let’s talk about testing and diagnosis. Following a diagnosis, are there specific tests that patients should ask their doctor for?

Dr.  Patil:                    

Right. After a diagnosis of lung cancer has been made, the most important next step is to establish a cancer stage, and so this is typically done through the TNM staging criteria. The T typically reflects the size of the tumor. The N reflects whether there’s lymph nodes involved with cancer and the M refers to whether there’s a metastasis, and metastasis refers to whether the cancer has spread outside of the lung.

Based on a combination of scores using the TNM criteria, lung cancers are staged from one to four. Now, to establish these different scores, oncologists will typically request varieties of scans. These include CT scans, PET CT scans, MRI and in some cases, very sophisticated ultrasound techniques called endobronchial ultrasound, so that’s the staging component. I think, in addition to the staging component, once a patient has a diagnosis of lung cancer, the tissue itself can be subject to a variety of different molecular tests which we will cover in this talk.

Katherine:                  

Well, let’s get into the tests. How are each of these tests administered?

Dr. Patil:                     

Well, first let’s discuss imaging.

Staging is a very important component of lung cancer, and at minimum, a patient should have a CT scan of the chest and abdomen with extension down to the adrenal glands. The reason for this is that this type of imaging, at least the extent of the imaging, will cover most of the metastatic sites that lung cancer tends to go towards. Additionally, a PET CT scan can be obtained.

Now, a PET scan is a very unique form of imaging. Patients will receive a radio labeled form of glucose and the principle of a PET scan is that since cancers metabolize glucose, which is sugar at a higher rate than normal tissue, the scan in principle helps clinicians identify spots where cancer could be. One important point about imaging and this is something patients should be aware of, is that lung cancers are unique cancers in that there’s a very high risk of spread to the brain.

And so, as part of baseline staging, almost every patient with lung cancer should be getting an MRI of the brain to rule out brain metastases.

Then a final point I’ll make is that patients with Stage 2 or 3 lung cancer really should have their cases reviewed in a multi-disciplinary context where there’s input from surgeons, pulmonologists, medical oncologists, and radiation specialists because the treatment for Stage 2 and 3 lung cancer can be quite complicated. I think, and we’ll talk about the – so, that was the staging part. Now, we can talk a little bit more about the diagnostic testing and molecular testing specifically.                    

There’s been tremendous advances in lung cancer. One of the biggest advances has been the appreciation that there are very specific mutations that actually “drive” cancers that cause them to grow, divide and metastasize.

We call this mutation an oncogene. Over the past two decades, there have been many oncogenes in lung cancer that have been identified. Interestingly several of these oncogenes, such as the ALK mutation, or the EGFR mutation, tend to occur in patients who were never smokers.

So, while smoking is the major environmental risk factor for lung cancer, our understanding of these, through molecular testing has identified a group of patients who were never smokers yet still developed lung cancer. The reason this is important to know is that there’s a variety of targeted therapies available for patients who do have mutations such as ALK or EGFR, and these are typically associated with very favorable outcomes in lung cancer.

Katherine:                  

What are common lung cancer mutations, first of all?

Dr. Patil:                     

There are many mutations that are found in lung cancer. I should mention that the scope of what mutations we find very much depends on the type of molecular test that’s performed. This is a topic that’s beyond the scope of this discussion, but know that when you say you are getting genetic testing, a lot of that depends on the genes that are in the test, meaning if a molecular test is only looking for 10 genes, or 10 mutations, it’s only going to pick up 10 mutations versus more comprehensive molecular testing, which look at hundreds or even thousands of genes, will identify more mutations.

That being said, there are approximately 10 mutations currently for which there are targeted therapies, either that are commercially licensed through the FDA, or are being evaluated in the context of the clinical trial.

And in patients who are heavy smokers, the most common mutation that we see that’s an oncogene is a KRAS mutation, and there’s currently drugs in clinical trials that are looking to target a very specific KRAS mutation. 

Dr. Patil:                     

In never smokers, the mutation spectrum is actually quite a bit more varied, and here, we see mutations such as ALK, EGFR, ROS1, RET, MET, HER2 and BRAF.

I want to make a quick point that there’s another biomarker that we use in lung cancer that’s not technically a mutation, per se, but it’s very important for clinicians to obtain, and that’s called a PD-L1 score. This is a score that helps clinicians decide how effective immunotherapy can be in a certain patient.

Katherine:                  

Are some mutations more common than others?

Dr. Patil:                     

Yes. I mean, there are mutations that are very common. I think to answer that question a little bit more in this cleanly, I would say that there are some mutations that are very common in lung cancer such as TP53, but these are mutations where we can’t actually, we don’t have a targeted approach to manage them. So, when I refer to common mutations, I’m talking about mutations where I either have a drug that is available and able to target the mutation, and this drug is being either investigated in a clinical trial, or is commercially licensed.

In lung cancer, the most common oncogene would be KRAS, and there, there’s a couple of exciting clinical trials where there are some promising drugs in development for treating this specific mutation which has been very challenging to treat in lung cancer.

Katherine:                  

How is genetic testing for lung cancer different from hereditary genetic testing?

Dr. Patil:                     

That’s a great question. We have learned that there are several cancers, such as breast and colorectal cancer, where there’s clear evidence that there are hereditary genes that increase an individual’s risk for developing cancer. I personally prefer the term molecular testing over genetic testing as this emphasizes that we’re looking for specific mutations that are really acquired during a patient’s lifetime and typically not inherited.

Katherine:                  

How do genetic mutations in lung cancer affect treatment options for patients?

Dr. Patil:                     

Well, the finding of a molecular alteration, or an oncogene, is really important for a patient with lung cancer because it offers a unique class of therapy that the patient would not have had otherwise. Finding a mutation is important because it allows patients to have treatment options outside of traditional chemotherapy or immunotherapy.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Patil, how do targeted therapies work?

Dr. Patil:                     

Targeted therapies are interesting. They work by specifically targeting and blocking specific mutations in lung cancer, and so it’s kind of like a lock and key model. By blocking the binding site of a mutation, the treatment actually prevents that cancer cell from properly functioning, and this in turn causes the cancer cell to be unable to divide, unable to grow, and ultimately results in cancer cell death. Targeted therapies typically come in either a form of a pill.

That’s the most common way that patients take targeted therapies.

As an aside, I will note that there’s a very unique class of targeted therapies called antibody-drug conjugates. These are really fascinating molecules. They are treatments that are consistent, but very complex, bioengineered structures, so what you have is an antibody that targets some protein on the surface of a cancer cell, a mutation.

This antibody is linked to a chemotherapy payload, and so it allows for very potent chemotherapy to be delivered effectively and selectively to cancer cells, sort of like a Trojan Horse effect where the antibody finds the cancer cell, goes inside the cancer cell, and once the whole structure is inside the cell, that’s when the chemotherapy is released.

Therefore, it’s a way of giving chemotherapy in a more targeted way, and there are several of these in clinical trials right now.

Katherine:                  

Well, you mentioned patients taking pills. What other treatment regimens are there for the targeted therapies?

Dr. Patil:                     

For targeted therapies, the most common is a pill. The schedule depends on the mutation, so it can sometimes be once a day or twice a day. And then, there are IV treatments that we see, and that is the antibody drug conjugate that I’m referring to where patients will have to go to a infusion center to get those. But to my knowledge, most of those are still in the context of a clinical trial, and so I think it’ll be a while before we start seeing them commercially licensed.

Katherine:                  

How do the newer therapies differ from the more traditional chemotherapy?

Dr. Patil:                     

Chemotherapy is still an important tool in an oncologist’s arsenal.

It works by killing, or rather it works by affecting a cancer cell’s ability to divide and grow. The logic here is that since cancer cells typically grow faster than normal cells, chemotherapy is more likely to kill cancer cells. It should be noted that while that is true, there are certain cells in the human body that grow very quickly as well, such as hair follicles, the lining of the mouth, and cells within the bone marrow. And so, as a result, it’s very common that the side effects of chemotherapy typically affect these cells, so you typically see hair loss. You see mucositis, or inflammation of the mouth, diarrhea, and low blood counts, and this a general side effect of chemotherapy.

Katherine:                  

Are there common side effects for some of the newer therapies as well?

Dr.  Patil:                    

That’s a great question and the way I’m going to answer that is it depends on the mutation that the targeted therapy’s affecting. So, a mutation that I’m going to use as an example is a mutation called EGFR. Now, this is a mutation that we see in lung cancer that causes cancer cells to grow, divide, and metastasize.

But EGFR is interesting because it also is found in normal cells, and specifically it’s found in the cells of the skin and the gut lining. This is an example where you’re giving a very targeted therapy that’s trying to attack just the cancer cell, but because normal skin cells and gut cells have this EGFR receptor, the side effects there tend to be rash and diarrhea. Now, that’s unique to EGFR. There are other drugs such as the ALK mutation or the ROS1 mutation that do not have this side effect because that specific receptor is not found in the human body.

Katherine:                  

Oh, I see. Well, how is the effectiveness of treatment monitored?

Dr. Patil:                     

Typically, I have the philosophy that patients generally know their body and can tell when symptoms are getting better or worse. So, as a guiding principle, I rely on patient input very heavily. That being said, I corroborate that experience with some testing. In my practice, I frequently use what we call serum tumor markers, so these are very nonspecific-like tests that sort of let us know if there’s cancer type proteins in the blood that we can detect while they are on targeted therapy.

And then additionally I would recommend that patients get scans frequently, at the minimum every three months if they are on targeted therapy and doing otherwise well. That includes a CT scan of the chest and abdomen, and in certain cases, an MRI of the brain, if there were brain metastases before.

Katherine:                  

Is it necessary to retest at any time?

Dr. Patil:                     

This is a good question and it’s an evolving question. In general, I strongly advocate that patients who are on targeted therapies obtain additional molecular testing after they’ve progressed, and the reason is the following. Cancer cells evolve resistance mechanisms to overcome targeted therapies and understanding these resistance mechanisms can be quite helpful in designing next lines of treatments.

A very good example of this is in EGFR lung cancer. The very first type of targeted therapy for EGFR positive lung cancer was a drug called Erlotinib. What we had seen was that when patients were on this drug, Erlotinib, they would respond, and they would do really well for a period of time.

But after a period of time, patients would progress on this therapy, and a very common mutation that we would find, once they progressed was a mutation called T790M. By biopsying this patient and finding this mutation, it was very helpful because it allowed the medical community and researchers to investigate a new drug called Osimertinib, which can overcome that resistance mutation.

And we’re learning a lot about resistance pathways and resistance mutations in lung cancer, so I think it’s very important that patients who are on targeted therapies specifically get retested and re-biopsied.

Katherine:

Let’s move on then. Dr. Patil, what are you excited about in lung cancer research right now?

Dr. Patil:                     

I thought ASCO 2020 this year was a very exciting cancer conference, and I’m very excited about where lung cancer research is going. I think there are two areas to be very hopeful about.

First, is that there have been several oncogenes or mutations that we had known about for a very long time, but there was just no targeted therapy available. I think in the next several years, you’re going to start to see more and more targeted therapies available for patients who have otherwise rare mutations.

And examples of this would include KRAS G12C, RET, Met and HER2, so this is very exciting because these were mutations that we had known about for a long time, but just until more recently really haven’t had any successful therapy for.

The other area that’s very exciting is that we’re starting to see the use of targeted therapy and immunotherapy in patients who have earlier stage cancer. So, there was a lot of talk this ASCO about using targeted therapies in patients who have, for example, Stage 3 lung cancer, and is there a benefit in doing that? I think that’s going to be a very interesting development of patients who have Stage 1 to 3, which we typically treat with curative intent, how do we make sure that they improve their outcomes and really stay cured?

Katherine:                  

Right. What would you say to patients who are nervous about participating in a clinical trial?

Dr. Patil:                     

That’s a great question. I really appreciate you asking that. In general, I would highly recommend patients consider clinical trials. I think there’s a couple of things to point out. It’s very important to remember that clinical trials are evaluating novel therapies as compared to current standard best practice. So, placebos are rarely used in cancer research unless there’s no known effective therapy. It’s important to remember, it’s not ethical to have someone take placebo if there’s known treatment that work, so when a patient enrolls in a clinical trial, sometimes they don’t know which treatment they’re getting, but at least they will know that whatever treatment they’re getting is the best current standard of care.

I want to also point out that clinical trials really answer, in my mind, two important questions. The first question is, is the new treatment safe? And does the new treatment work better than current standard of care? These are really important questions for advancing the field, especially in cancer research. Clinical trials are a small part of the research. I mean, when a drug that’s getting introduced into a clinical trial, it’s sometimes helpful to think about all the investment that has gone in before them. The drug has to be discovered, created.

It has to be purified, tested in animal studies, before it ever reaches human studies. And so, there’s only the most promising agents are actually ever introduced at clinical trials, and there’s a lot of data to show that the biggest barrier for completing clinical trials, and therefore understanding which treatments are effective, is really participant enrollment.

I think there was a recent study that showed that about, I think less than five percent of patients, less than 1 in 20, with cancer will ever take part in a clinical trial, Therefore, if a patient has that opportunity, I would strongly encourage them to consider it.  

Katherine:                  

Do you think a second opinion is necessary? Would you encourage patients to consult with another specialist?

Dr. Patil:                     

In general, I’m a big advocate that patients should get all the information they need to make informed treatment decisions, and if that involves getting second opinions, I welcome that.

 I think that a knowledgeable patient is an empowered patient, and certainly a knowledgeable patient is one that I think will be able to guide themselves through a very complex medical journey. So, in general my philosophy is I’m always encouraging of second opinions if the patient feels that they need more information to make a best decision.    

Katherine:                  

What advice do you have for patients who may be hesitant to speak up and advocate for themselves when it comes to their care and treatment?

Dr. Patil:                     

Great question. In general, I’m a big believer that an empowered patient is a patient that can make really good medical decisions as they navigate their own medical journey. Ultimately, it’s important for patients to be knowledgeable and seek multiple opinions. Really get the best advice, so that they make the best decisions. Oncology is a very complicated field. The treatment options can be very nuanced.

Therefore, it’s important to know that when a decision is presented to a patient, that it is a decision that is made with the knowledge of what is the best standard of care. But if the patient doesn’t feel like they have the most informed data to guide their own medical decision making, then it’s really important for them to advocate for themselves.

To that point, especially for some of these rarer mutations, there are many social media patient advocacy groups that are very, very, very well organized, very effective, and have a list of really useful questions. Some examples of that are the ALK Positives and the EGFR Resisters.

Katherine:                  

Okay. I would be remiss if we didn’t discuss COVID-19 to some extent. What should lung cancer patients be considering at this time?

Dr. Patil:                     

This is also a very important and timely question. lung cancer patients are certainly at very high risk of complications from COVID-19. And it’s understandable, especially given the kinds of treatments that patients with lung cancer receive, that there’s a lot of them will wind up having compromised immunity which makes them at increased risk for adverse outcomes from COVID-19. That being said, I think it’s really important that this be balanced with the actual risk of untreated or inadequately treated lung cancer, which is also a major medical concern. What I tell patients is that, at least at our institution, we do everything we can to create an environment that is as safe as possible from a COVID mitigation standpoint.

But at the end of the day, untreated lung cancer can have a very aggressive course, and so making sure that patients understand that as we try to move things to a more telemedicine type approach, that there are some things where you really just have to come and see your doctor. Not everything can be done virtually.

Katherine:                  

Right, and my next question was is telemedicine the best approach right now?

Dr. Patil:                     

Well, that’s also, I’m going to answer that in a somewhat frustrating way, which is that there’s – yes and no. I think telemedicine is helpful for patients who have very stable disease and are on anti-cancer treatment, so specifically a patient on targeted therapy, for example.

A pill once a day. Their last scans show that they’re doing really well. They feel well. They’re exercising every day. That patient, probably we can do a visit virtually and just make sure and check in that there’s nothing new or concerning that’s come up.

The other patient that probably I can see a role for telemedicine is someone who had, let’s say, a Stage 1 lung cancer that was treated with surgery, and we’re just monitoring them on surveillance. That patient probably doesn’t have to come into the clinic to see us. But in general, the thing about lung cancer is that most patients are getting some kind of chemotherapy or immunotherapy and will be coming into an infusion center, and so what I would tell patients is if there’s any new or concerning symptoms, to a very low threshold for seeking an in-person evaluation.

Katherine:                  

As a researcher in this field, Dr. Patil, what do you want to leave the audience with? Are you hopeful?

Dr. Patil:                     

I’m very hopeful. I think, it’s kind of amazing when I look at the history of lung cancer and where the field was in the 2000s, now that we’re in 2020, and what remarkable advances have been made in 20 years. It’s worth reminding patients that in 2000, there was, platinum chemotherapy was the first line for metastatic lung cancer, and then there was a second line chemotherapy and that was basically it. Now we’re in an era where we have extensive molecular testing of lung cancer. We’re identifying new mutations that can be targeted with very sophisticated pill-based therapies. We have immunotherapy. We’re learning about how these combine with each other to produce the most optimal outcomes, so I think in 20 years a lot has been achieved, and I’m really excited to see where we go from here.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Patil, thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. Patil:                     

Thank you. Thank you for inviting me. This was wonderful.

Katherine:

And thank you to all of our partners.

To learn more about lung cancer, and to access tools to help you become a more proactive patient, visit www.powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell.  

Key Next Steps After a Lung Cancer Diagnosis: Expert Advice

Key Next Steps After a Lung Cancer Diagnosis: Expert Advice from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Following a lung cancer diagnosis, the actions that a patient takes may impact their long-term care and treatment options. Dr. Erin Schenk, a lung cancer specialist, lists key steps a patient should consider post-diagnosis.

Dr. Erin Schenk is an assistant professor in the division of medical oncology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Schenk and her lung cancer research here.

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Why You Should Consider a Clinical Trial for Lung Cancer Treatment

Diagnosed with Lung Cancer? An Expert Outlines Key Steps


Transcript:

Dr. Erin Schenk:

As a medical oncologist who takes care of lung cancer patients, I would recommend that if you or a loved one are diagnosed with lung cancer, going to your meeting with the cancer doctor report the surgeon or the radiation doctor with a couple of main questions to ask in order to better understand your diagnosis and the treatment options.

So, the first one is what stage and stage is a descriptor that we use that talks about how far the lung cancer has spread if it’s spread at all. And sometimes, this involves additional testing to give you the best, most accurate answer. Oftentimes, patients are diagnosed with scans, but what’s also – excuse me, scans of the chest, but what’s also really important is better understanding whether or not lymph nodes in the middle of the chest are also involved.

This can require either a PET scan or occasionally procedures where tissue, the lymph nodes biopsied, and tissue samples are taken to see if the lung cancer has spread to those lymph nodes. PET scans are also able to better tell us whether or not lung cancer has spread outside of the lungs. And additionally, and MRI of the head can often be a really critical piece of information to better understand whether or not the lung cancer has spread to the brain. Unfortunately, lung cancer is one of those cancers that can spread to the brain tissue.

So, the first piece of information and more tests might be needed, is stage.

The second piece of information that’s very important is what type of lung cancer, and sometimes, this occurs hand-in-hand with better understanding stage. Usually, this involves a biopsy, so a sample of the tissue needs to be taken and then looked at underneath a microscope by a pathologist who are doctors who help us identify which type of lung cancer it is that a patient has. And then the final thing to ask your care team or your doctor is do I need additional molecular testing?

Molecular testing is a critical piece of information in order for doctors like me to help take care of lung cancer patients. Molecular testing lets us know what role immunotherapy might play in your diagnosis. It also lets us know whether or not targeted therapy which are oral pills we sometimes call TKIs are appropriate for your disease and your stage. These pieces of information, so stage, what type of lung cancer, and if molecular testing is necessary, these are, I think, the three critical pieces that you need going forward to help your cancer doctor and team better formulate a plan that is right for you.

Finally, I’d like to add in that if you are in a situation where you would like a second opinion, or you would like to get more thorough answers, I would encourage you to look for an academic center or a large medical center that has specialists who focus in on lung cancer. We are often very happy to see patients and talk with them about their treatment plan if any other tests or evaluations are needed to help you feel confident in the plan that your doctors closer to home have put together. That’s it.

Why You Should Consider a Clinical Trial for Lung Cancer Treatment

Why You Should Consider a Clinical Trial for Lung Cancer Treatment from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Erin Schenk, a lung cancer expert and researcher, explains why patients with lung cancer should consider a clinical trial and the role trials plays in clinical care.

Dr. Erin Schenk is an assistant professor in the division of medical oncology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Schenk and her lung cancer research here.

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Lung Cancer Treatment: What Is Immunotherapy?

What You Need to Know About Lung Cancer Research

New and Improved Lung Cancer Treatment Options


Transcript:

Dr. Erin Schenk:

We have a very active clinical trial practice in the lung cancer world for one reason alone, and that’s that while our current therapies are good, we can still do better. Lung cancer accounts for significant cancer-related deaths in the United States and the world. And we wanna work to try and improve how well patients do and also improve how many patients we are able to cure. Clinical trials can be at any step of your workup or treatment.

So, even patients with earlier-stage disease meaning lung cancer where we can resect it with surgery, there are a number of clinical trials going on right now to try to better improve the outcomes we see with our normal standards of care. So, whether you are having a lung cancer removed by surgery whether you’re receiving chemotherapy and radiation and immunotherapy whether your lung cancer has happened to spread outside of the lungs, there are clinical trials available at every step in the game.

And I would really encourage you to ask your cancer care team or your doctor about whether or not clinical trials might be available in your area. Because often, they can help identify new targets or other ways of trying to attack the vulnerabilities of your lung cancer.

If you are considering a clinical trial, there are a number of important questions to find out from the clinical trial team as well as your cancer care team. Some of the things are really practical, logistical questions and one of those is, “How often do I need to come to clinic? How many more schedule visits do I need?”

Usually, with clinical trials, upfront so before you get on the clinical trial or once you start receiving the clinical trial medicine or therapy, often there are more frequent visits in that initial time period. But after things are – after you’ve had several treatments with the trial medicine, often it becomes more standard of care meaning visiting once every three weeks for blood work and a visit with your team and then infusion.

So, it’s often a little more work up front, and then it gets back to the usual expectations of how often you have to be in our offices. So, I think those logistical concerns are very real because especially for larger institutions, sometimes, coming to our campuses can be a bit of a challenge. So, that would be one. I would recommend discussing logistics. Discussing with your team as to why they think this would be a trial for you is important.

Occasionally, we are able to screen for certain markers or certain things that are expressed on the cancer cells and then match you with clinical trials that try to target those specific molecules or proteins or flags that are on the surface of the cancer cell. So, oftentimes, we try to match patients up to a specific clinical trial, so better understanding why that one was recommended. And then I would ask your team to also discuss what are the side effects that have been noticed.

Often with these clinical trial medicines, we don’t have a lot of experience with how well patients do on these therapies. But sometimes, we can give you an idea in terms of what we expect and what we will watch closely for. So, I think logistics are important, why your doctor or your cancer team thinks this is a good trial for you, and then finally, what sort of side effects have been noticed as best we can tell with this new trial medicine.

Lung Cancer Treatment Advances: What are Antibody Drug Conjugates?

Lung Cancer Treatment Advances: What are Antibody Drug Conjugates? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Dr. Erin Schenk, a lung cancer expert, discusses emerging research around antibody drug conjugates (ADC) and how this therapy works to treat patients with lung cancer.

Dr. Erin Schenk is an assistant professor in the division of medical oncology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Schenk and her lung cancer research here.

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Transcript:

Dr. Erin Schenk:

Some interesting research that’s coming to the forefront in the lung cancer field are using new medicines called antibody-drug conjugates. And so, these medicines, I think of as another type of targeted therapy. So, what happens is that cancer cells express certain proteins or certain flags on their surface that aren’t often found on other normal cells.

And what these ADC drugs are able to do is that they’re able to seek the cells that express certain flags, and then deliver a chemotherapy payload directly to those cancer cells. One trial from the recent ASCO annual meeting from this year, 2020, was looking at an ADC that targeted HER2 which can sometimes be over-expressed by lung cancer cells.

And they had good initial reports in terms of patients being able to have disease control for some time and minimal side effects.

So, I think in general the idea of ADCs or looking for surface markers on the cancer cells to try to in a more targeted fashion deliver the chemotherapy payload, I think this is a really exciting area of investigation as well as a new potential therapy for our patients with lung cancer.

Lung Cancer Treatment: What Is Immunotherapy?

Lung Cancer Treatment: What Is Immunotherapy? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Erin Schenk, a lung cancer specialist, provides an in-depth explanation of what immunotherapy is, and its role in treating lung cancer.

Dr. Erin Schenk is an assistant professor in the division of medical oncology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Schenk and her lung cancer research here.

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

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Lung Cancer Treatment Advances: What are Antibody Drug Conjugates?

Diagnosed with Lung Cancer? An Expert Outlines Key Steps

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Transcript:

Dr. Erin Schenk:

Immunotherapies are powerful new medicines that we available to us as medical oncologists and especially within patients with lung cancer. Immunotherapies are medicines that help to activate your body’s own defenses to go seek out and kill the cancer cells.

So, immunotherapies prevent stop signs on the cancer cells.

What happens is that as the cancer cells grow and as they become more resistant to your body’s natural defenses, it puts up certain stop signs. And these stop signs prevent your body’s immune system from attacking them. Immunotherapies, basically, it cuts off that stop sign so that your immune cells can go and attack the cancer cells.

Immunotherapies play a role in the treatment of many lung cancer patients, nearly all. So, immunotherapy has recently found a role in curative-intent therapy meaning we give these treatments to you to try and cure you of your cancer completely. And that’s in patients who have advanced lung cancer that they can’t surgically resect, or it’s not safe or feasible to cut out, but it hasn’t spread to anywhere else in the body.

So, often, those patients receive chemotherapy and radiation together, and then they receive immunotherapy for a year. So, that’s one set of patients we treat with immunotherapy. And then most other patients with lung cancers especially metastatic lung cancer or cancer that’s spread elsewhere in the body, immunotherapy plays a role in treatment regardless of what type of lung cancer that you have with a couple exceptions which I’ll get to.

So, first, if patients have small cell lung cancer that has spread in other parts of the body, immunotherapy’s an important part of the initial treatment regimen combined with chemotherapy. That’s one of the first advances in decades for patients with small-cell lung cancer. The other situation where we use immunotherapy in metastatic disease is with non-small cell lung cancer. And here we have data and studies to support the use of immunotherapy either alone or in combination with chemotherapy medicines.

And the determinate, there’s a number of factors we use to help determine whether a patient can get immunotherapy alone or immunotherapy in combination with chemotherapy, that’s based on PD-L1 status. So, that’s the immunotherapy marker that we look for on cancer cells. If the PD-L1 status is high enough on the cancer cells, we can discuss with our patients using immunotherapy alone.

If that PD-L1 marker on the cancer cells is not high, then we can use immunotherapy plus chemotherapy in our patients. One area where we’re still not quite sure how to best use immunotherapy are in patients with driver mutations or some of these mutations that we look for with special molecular testing like EGFR, ALK fusions, ROS1 fusions.

What we’ve been learning over time is that immunotherapy alone does not appear to help patients do better for longer. We’ve also been learning through clinical trials that immunotherapy combined with TKIs which is the targeted therapy patients receive if they have one of these driver mutations, that does not appear to be effective or safe from some of these early clinical trials.

There’s some debate right now amongst my national/international colleagues as to whether or not giving immunotherapy plus chemotherapy is the right choice for these patients after TKIs or targeted therapies stop working. It’s really up to the discussions that you have with your doctor and whether or not they think immunotherapy and chemotherapy could be right in that situation.

Should Lung Cancer Genetic Testing Be Repeated Over Time?

Should Lung Cancer Genetic Testing Be Repeated Over Time? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Schenk, a hematology and oncology specialist, provides insight into factors that may help doctors determine whether patients with lung cancer should be retested over the course of their disease.

Dr. Erin Schenk is an assistant professor in the division of medical oncology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Schenk and her lung cancer research, here.

See More From INSIST! Lung Cancer

Related Programs:

 

Could a Targeted Lung Cancer Treatment Be Right For You?

New and Improved Lung Cancer Treatment Options

Deciding on a Lung Cancer Treatment? Essential Testing for Optimal Care


Transcript:

Dr. Schenk:

In our practice here at the University of Colorado, we frequently re-biopsy patients who have a molecular abnormality within their cancer that we’ve been treating with a pill medicine. The reason we do that is it helps us better understand why the cancer cells became resistant to the targeted therapy we had been giving them.

And occasionally, we can do other targeted therapies or other pill medicines to target the cancer cells. So, it helps us get more information in terms of why the cancer became resistance, and occasionally, we’re able to use additional oral therapies to target the cancer cells and those mechanisms of resistance.

Deciding on a Lung Cancer Treatment? Essential Testing for Optimal Care

Deciding on a Lung Cancer Treatment? Essential Testing for Optimal Care from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Erin Schenk, a lung cancer specialist, discusses essential testing patients should undergo to help determine which treatment path may be right for them.

Dr. Erin Schenk is an assistant professor in the division of medical oncology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Schenk and her lung cancer research, here.

See More From INSIST! Lung Cancer

Related Programs:

 

Could a Targeted Lung Cancer Treatment Be Right For You?

New and Improved Lung Cancer Treatment Options

Should Lung Cancer Genetic Testing Be Repeated Over Time?


Transcript:

Dr. Schenk:

Surgery is often a consideration in patients where the cancer is still contained within the lung. Radiation therapy is also a possibility, and then therapies that I give as a medical oncologist include chemotherapy medicines, immunotherapy medicines, and occasionally targeted therapy medicines. A lot of the treatment decisions depend on where the lung cancer is in the lungs and if it’s spread anywhere else.

Whenever a patient is newly diagnosed with lung cancer, there are a number of pieces of information that are necessary to help us determine the best treatment plan for that patient. So, first is imaging. Often, it’s important to find out if they’re locations other than the lung that lung cancer might be located. This includes a CT scan, PET scans, and even MRIs of the head to better understand whether or not the cancer has spread elsewhere.

Oftentimes, imaging, and also biopsies go hand-in-hand. So, what’s very important is that we understand what type of lung cancer a patient is being diagnosed, and we better understand that by getting a tissue sample or a biopsy from a lesion within the body. After we get a biopsy, some of the testing can be done to understand what type of lung cancer a patient is diagnosed with. And in types, we can divide it up into three main types.

So, one is small cell lung cancer, and the other two are under the category of non-small cell lung cancer. And this includes patients who have adenocarcinoma or squamous cell. Both of those are types of non-small cell lung cancer

Genetic testing has become a key feature in the treatment of patients with lung cancer. Now, by and large, most of these are within patients with non-small cell lung cancer who have adenocarcinoma histology. One of the really important pieces of information for me as a medical oncologist are some of the genetic markers or abnormalities that are within the cancer cell. I like to describe this as better understanding the cancer cell’s vulnerabilities because we’re able to determine whether or not certain mutations or fusions which are abnormalities within the cancer cell that have caused them to grow or present.

So, some of the more common, some of the more readily recognized abnormalities we look for are EGFR mutations, ALK fusions, ROS1 fusions, and we also need to look for BRAF mutations as well as abnormalities in RET and MET. There’s a wide variety of different therapies that we can give based on the presence of one of these mutations or fusions. Additionally, now this is whether you have adenocarcinoma or squamous cell lung cancer, both non-small cell lung cancer types.

We also look for PD-L1 expression because the level of PD-L1 expression on cancer cells helps us better understand whether immunotherapy can be used alone or in combination with chemotherapy medicines.

And these tests for mutations, fusions, and PD-L1 status, are often done predominantly in patients who have metastatic disease or disease that has spread outside of the lung. That’s the scenario where we use these therapies.

Genetic testing is very critical in patients who have adenocarcinoma lung cancer that has spread outside of the lungs. What we understand about these mutations and fusion is that often they arise in patients who have never smoked or smoked a very small amount in the distant past and tend to be younger on average. So, usually, the average patient with lung cancer is in their 70s, patients who have a mutation or fusion often are in their 40s or 50s.

And so, getting this additional testing is really important because it can help your cancer doctor and team determine whether or not you’re eligible for targeted therapies which are pill medicines that we can give to help control the cancer that targets your specific cancer vulnerability. I think sometimes the full gamut or the full range of different molecular abnormalities that are tested for occasionally are missed.

And I think if you ask your doctor or your team why only a certain set of mutations or fusions were tested for, I think that would help prompt any discussion with your doctor and cancer team. Sometimes there are technical issues that we run into doing any test. And occasionally it might happen that the biopsy we were able to or your team was able to get on you, wasn’t enough tissue. There’s a significant amount of tissue that’s needed to do all of the necessary molecular testing

So, sometimes, complete molecular testing isn’t done on patients’ samples because there just isn’t enough tissue.

Occasionally, patients will need to get another biopsy to better understand the full range of molecular abnormalities within the cancer cell. Sometimes, we can also do tissue – or excuse me, blood biopsies, so liquid biopsies, that help to look for some of the cancer abnormalities.

Occasionally, we can see them in the blood, and that can give us information as well. And sometimes, there are other more technical reasons as to why your doctor or team did not pursue further testing. I wanna encourage you to ask to better understand why additional testing wasn’t done.

Learning About Lung Cancer

When it comes to lung cancer, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t know that it is linked to smoking. If you don’t want lung cancer, you don’t smoke. It’s as simple as that. Or, is it? Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, but it is not the only cause. Lung cancer is not a simple disease. Lung cancer is complex and misunderstood and underfunded, and it continues to be the leading cause of cancer death. With the number of lung cancer cases on the rise among people who have never smoked, it’s about time we really get to know lung cancer.

Lung Cancer Overview

Lung cancer is the result of abnormal cells growing out of control in the lungs. It is most often caused by smoking, but it can and does occur in people who have never smoked. People of any age can get lung cancer, but it is most likely to occur in adults in their 60s and 70s. Lung cancer is most successfully treated when found early, but because lungs are large, tumors can grow in them for a long time without being detected. Lung cancer can spread and metastasize to other parts of the body, and once lung cancer has spread, it becomes harder to treat. Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and blood. If the cancer spreads through tissue it moves to nearby areas. If the cancer spreads through the lymph system and the blood, it metastasizes, forming a tumor (metastatic tumor) in another part of the body. The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the original tumor. So if lung cancer spreads to the liver, it is still lung cancer, not liver cancer, and needs to be treated as such. 

There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell and non-small cell. They are defined by the size of the cells when viewed under a microscope. The two types grow differently and are treated differently. Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common lung cancer, making up 85 percent of lung cancers. Small cell lung cancer makes up the other 15 percent, and it grows quickly. Usually by the time it is diagnosed, it has already spread to other areas of the body.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

There are several types of non-small cell lung cancer, but the three that are most common are adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma. The most common in the United States is adenocarcinoma. This cancer starts in the cells that line the part of the lung called the alveoli. The alveoli are very small air sacs that are at the end of the respiratory system, where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged in the bloodstream. The alveoli are balloon-shaped and are in clusters throughout the lungs. There are millions of them in the lungs. Squamous cell carcinoma (also called epidermoid carcinoma) makes up about 25 percent of all lung cancers. It forms in the thin, flat cells that line the inside of the lungs. Large cell carcinoma makes up about 10 percent of lung cancer cases, and it can form in any large cells in the lungs.

The less common types of non-small cell lung cancer are: pleomorphic, which is a rare malignant tumor; carcinoid tumor, a slow growing tumor usually found in the gastrointestinal system, but sometimes found in the lungs; salivary gland carcinoma, a rare cancer that forms in the salivary glands, mostly in older people; and unclassified carcinoma, a tumor that can’t be specified because of an insufficient sample or some other reason.

Non-small cell lung cancer has several stages. The stages are determined by the size of the tumor and whether or not the tumor has spread. Non-small cell lung cancer can also come back after it’s been treated. It can come back in the lungs, but can also recur in other parts of the body. The five-year survival rate for people with non-small cell lung cancer is usually between 11 and 17 percent. 

Small Cell Lung Cancer

The two types of small cell lung cancers are small cell carcinoma, called oat cell cancer, and combined small cell carcinoma. Small cell lung cancers usually grow quickly and are very likely to spread, most often to the liver, brain, bones, and adrenal glands. After diagnosis, most people live for up to one year. Less than seven percent survive five years.

Lung Cancer Risk Factors

Risk factors are things that increase your chances of getting cancer. Some risk factors are things you can control and others are not, but it is important to know your risk so you can help prevent the occurrence of cancer or know if you should be screened. The risk factors for lung cancer are:

Smoking

Most, but not all, cases of lung cancer are caused by cigarette smoking. It is the number one risk factor and when combined with other risk factors, it tends to magnify the risk. Using other tobacco products, such as cigars and pipes, also increases your risk. People who smoke tobacco products are about 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer. Smoking occasionally or a few cigarettes a day also increases the risk. The risk increases the more years you smoke and the more cigarettes smoked each day. Using low-tar or low-nicotine cigarettes does not decrease the risk of lung cancer, but quitting smoking does. People who have quit smoking have a lower risk than if they had continued to smoke, but they still have an increased risk over those who never smoke.

Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke can be just as dangerous as smoking when it comes to lung cancer risk. When you breathe secondhand smoke into your lungs it is just like you are smoking. While the doses are smaller, you are exposed to the same cancer-causing toxins as if you were smoking. 

Radon Gas and Other Substances

Radon is a radioactive, naturally-occurring, colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that causes approximately 20,000 cases of lung cancer each year. Radon often gets trapped in houses and can build up over time. There are other substances, often found in workplaces, that when exposed to them, also put people at risk for lung cancer, including asbestos, arsenic, diesel exhaust, tar and soot, nickel, beryllium, cadmium, and some silicas and chromiums. While these substances can cause lung cancer in those who have never smoked, the risk of lung cancer is higher for people who smoke in addition to being exposed to the substances. Exposure to radiation after an atomic bomb explosion also increases lung cancer risk.

Personal or Family History

People who have a personal or family history of lung cancer are at increased risk. If you have already had lung cancer you are at risk of developing another lung cancer. If you have a close family member with lung cancer, your risk of getting lung cancer is also increased, but that is largely because smoking tends to run in families. Even if you don’t smoke, but live in a home with a smoker, your risk is increased due to secondhand smoke exposure. There is also growing research that shows that genetics could play a role through inherited gene mutations (more about that later).

Radiation Therapy

Patients who have had radiation therapy in their chest to treat certain cancers, such as breast cancer and Hodgkin’s lymphoma, are at higher risk for lung cancer: the higher the dose, the higher the risk. Patients who have received radiation therapy, and who also smoke, have a higher risk than non-smokers. Imaging tests, such as CT scans, also expose patients to radiation and can increase lung cancer risk.

Air Pollution

People who live in areas with higher levels of air pollution have a higher risk of lung cancer. The quality of the air you breathe matters.

Diet

There is not a lot known about how diet affects lung cancer risk, but scientists do know that smokers who take beta-carotene supplements have an increased risk of cancer. Also, people exposed to arsenic in drinking water, often from private wells, have an increased risk of cancer.

HIV

People who have the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may have twice the risk of lung cancer than those without HIV. However, because people with HIV have higher smoking rates than people without HIV, it is hard to know whether the increased risk is from the HIV infection or the cigarette exposure.

Preventing Lung Cancer

It is possible to reduce your risk of lung cancer through prevention because so many of the risk factors for lung cancer are environmental or lifestyle-related. The best ways to reduce your lung cancer risk are:

No Smoking

Not smoking is the number one way to prevent lung cancer. People who already smoke can lower their risk by quitting smoking, and smokers who have been treated for lung cancer can reduce their risk of another lung cancer by quitting smoking. The amount your risk lowers when you quit smoking depends on how long and how much you smoked, and the number of years since you quit. The risk of lung cancer decreases 30 to 60 percent after someone has quit for ten years. However, the risk will never be as low as if you had never smoked in the first place.

Reduce Environmental and Workplace Exposure

Laws that help protect workers from exposure to lung cancer causing substances in the workplace can help reduce the risk of lung cancer. In addition, laws that prevent secondhand smoke help lower lung cancer risk. Reducing exposure to radon gas can also reduce the risk of lung cancer. Reducing radon in homes can be done by taking such measures as sealing basements.

There are other means of possibly preventing lung cancer, though there is no clear evidence that they will specifically decrease the occurrence of lung cancer. They include:

Diet

There are studies that show that people who eat large amounts of fruits and vegetables are less likely to get lung cancer than people who eat small quantities. However, studies also show that people who are inclined to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables are less likely to smoke, so it is not known whether the reduced cancer risk is from eating fruits and vegetables or from not smoking. 

Physical Activity

The same is true with physical activity. Studies show that more physically active people are less likely to get lung cancer. However, non-smokers tend to be more physically active than smokers, so it’s hard to tell whether the cancer risk is from the physical activity or from not smoking.

The Role of Genetics

Aside from the environmental risk factors, how can we account for the roughly 20 percent of people who die from lung cancer who are never smokers? Lung cancer in never smokers is on the rise in both the United States and Europe so researchers have started looking more closely at a genetic link to lung cancer. It’s estimated that about eight percent of lung cancers are hereditary. You can’t inherit cancer, but you can inherit a likelihood to get cancer based on the make up of your genes. Most lung cancers occur because of gene mutations that happen during a person’s lifetime, like when they are exposed to carcinogens, such as tobacco smoke or radiation. These are called somatic, and they can’t be passed down through families. However, there are hereditary mutations passed down through families called germline, and having these can increase your risk of getting cancer. Scientists have begun to identify the link between some of the mutations and lung cancer. There is a lot more to learn about the role of genetics in lung cancer, but researchers do know that young women never smokers are the most likely to have lung cancer caused by a genetic predisposition. They also know that people that get cancer as a result of a hereditary mutation are more likely to get non-small cell lung cancer.

Lung Cancer Screening

The best chances of treating many cancers come from early diagnosis and treatment. That is why it is important for people with the highest risk factors to be screened before they have symptoms. People who should be screened for lung cancer are between 55 and 80 years old, currently smoke or quit within the last 15 years, and have a 30 pack year history of smoking. A 30 pack year history means they smoked one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years. Often, by the time someone has lung cancer symptoms, the cancer has already spread. There are three types of screening tests for lung cancer: the low-dose spiral CT scan (LDCT), also called a low-dose helical CT scan, chest X-ray and, sputum cytology, which examines the mucus from the lungs.

Of the three screenings, only the LDCT has shown in a trial that it can decrease the risk of dying from lung cancer. The trial studied heavy smokers, aged 55-74 years, who had smoked at least one pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years or more, and heavy smokers who had quit smoking within the past 15 years. The study found that LDCT screenings were better than chest x-rays at detecting lung cancer in the early stages. The study also showed that LDCT screenings reduced the risk of dying from lung cancer. The study did not find that chest x-ray and sputum cytology screenings decreased the risk of dying from lung cancer. 

While screenings can save lives, there are some risks. It is important to remember that there is no guarantee that finding lung cancer will improve your health or help you live longer. Also, the tests can be wrong. Sometimes cancer that is there won’t be detected; other times screenings can lead to a false alarm that could result in an unnecessary, invasive procedure. Or, screenings can lead to overdiagnosis, which means that cancer cells that may never cause harm to your body and don’t require treatment, get detected. The LDCT scans also expose the patient to radiation. The risks of screening should be considered and discussed with your doctor. Hopefully, in the future there will be better screening methods for lung cancer. There are researchers looking into more effective, less invasive, and less expensive screenings, such as breath and saliva analysis.

Signs and Symptoms

Lung cancer does not always have symptoms and when it does, the symptoms are often very general and similar to things like a respiratory infection, that don’t seem serious. Often, by the time someone has gone to the doctor the cancer has already spread. When this happens, other symptoms beyond what are listed here could be present. However, any symptoms should be checked with your doctor. Lung cancer symptoms include:

  • A cough that doesn’t go away or worsens
  • Chest pain, discomfort
  • Frequent chest infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia
  • Unexplained headaches
  • Trouble breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarseness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Feeling very tired
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Swelling in the face or the veins in the neck
  • Bone pain
  • Coughing up blood

Lung Cancer Diagnosis

There are several test options used to diagnose lung cancer. Tests can include a physical exam and patient history, lab tests, chest x-ray, CT scan, examination of mucus from the lungs, and thoracentesis, which involves checking for cancer in fluid removed from the lungs.

After initial testing, if cancer is suspected, a biopsy is done. There are several possible types of biopsy, and each individual case will determine which type of biopsy is necessary. The biopsies range in level of invasiveness from insertion of a needle or a scope to surgical procedures and lymph node removal. There are also lab tests used to test for lung cancer. Some lab tests check sample tissue, blood, or body fluids for indications of cancer while others look for cancer markers, called antigens. The markers can sometimes help determine the type of cancer.

Staging Lung Cancer

When lung cancer is diagnosed, then the stage of cancer is determined. The stage is the size of the tumor, and whether the cancer has spread within the lung or in other parts of the body. Sometimes the staging is done during diagnosis, but if not, other tests are used to identify what stage the cancer is in, which helps determine a treatment method. 

Stages of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer staging is very complex, and many of the stages have several subgroups with specific conditions based on the size of the tumor, whether or not the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, whether the cancer has spread to the opposite side of the chest from the original tumor, whether or not there are additional tumors, and whether or not the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. A very simplified version of non-small cell lung cancer staging looks like this:

Stage I: The cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage II: The cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.

Stage III: The cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the surrounding area.

Stage IV: The cancer has spread to other parts of the body. 

Stages of Small Cell Lung Cancer

Small cell lung cancer has two stages:

Limited Stage Small Cell Lung Cancer: The cancer is in the lung but may have spread to the area between the lungs or to the lymph nodes above the collarbone. 

Extensive-Stage Small Cell Lung Cancer: – The cancer has spread beyond the lungs to other areas of the body.

Treatment

As with other cancers, lung cancer is often treated with a combination of procedures. There are ten types of standard treatment for non-small cell lung cancer. They include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, laser therapy, photodynamic therapy (PDT), cryosurgery, electrocautery, and watchful waiting. Small-cell lung cancer is treated with 

surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, laser therapy and endoscopic stent placement. Several different treatment options may be used depending on the type and stage of the cancer. There are four types of surgery used to treat lung cancer. They range from removing a small section of the lung lobe to removing one whole lung. There are, of course, risks and side effects to treatment options that patients should discuss with their doctors, and patients should also be aware of the latest treatment options available. Researchers are always looking for new, more effective treatment options through things like studies and clinical trials.

Clinical Trials

If you are diagnosed with lung cancer, you might want to consider participating in a clinical trial. There are trials available all over the country. Clinical trials help determine whether new treatments may be better than the standard treatments. The trials help to advance the treatment of cancer. Each clinical trial will have its own requirements. There are usually trials available to patients in any stage of treatment. Information about available trials can be found on the National Cancer Institute website, cancer.gov.

Recovery and Survival

The chance of recovery from lung cancer depends on several factors, including the type of cancer, the stage the cancer is in, whether the cancer has spread, whether the patient has signs or symptoms, and the patient’s overall health. However, more than half of people with lung cancer die within a year of diagnosis. This is likely because only 16 percent of lung cancers are diagnosed at an early stage. The lung cancer five-year survival rate is 18.6 percent, which is much, much lower than other cancers, such as colorectal cancer, which has a five-year survival rate of 64.5 percent. The breast and prostate cancer survival rates are even higher.

Lung Cancer Stigma

There are some that believe that lung cancer survival rates are so much lower than other cancers because of a stigma attached to the disease. When it comes to lung cancer, people tend to assume that it is a self-inflicted disease. The stigma can affect patient care and funding which could lead to advances in research. Some patients have reported feeling guilt and shame for having lung cancer, and some said that they delayed seeing their doctor about their lung cancer symptoms because of the stigma attached. Other research has shown that when patients do seek treatment, some doctors were less likely to refer the patients for further treatment if they had lung cancer rather than another cancer. Funding is also negatively affected by the stigma. Despite lung cancer killing more people than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined, federal and private funding are both way behind what other cancers receive for research. Only six percent of the federal money spent on cancer research is spent on lung cancer.

There is evidence that the lung cancer stigma is starting to change, as are the cases of lung cancer. With 60 to 65 percent of all new lung cancer cases being diagnosed in people who have never smoked or are former smokers, lung cancer can no longer be considered a simply a smoker’s disease.


Sources

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“Patient and Physician Guide: National Lung Screening Trial (NLST)” National Cancer Institutehttps://www.cancer.gov/types/lung/research/nlststudyguidepatientsphysicians.pdf. Accessed February 26, 2020.

Eldridge, Lynne. “Function and Disorders of the Alveoli: Minute Structures of the Lung Vital to Respiration” Verywell Healthhttps://www.verywellhealth.com/what-are-alveoli-2249043. Accessed February 26, 2020.

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Nall, Rachel. “What to Know About Lung Cancer” Medical News Today, November 16, 2018, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323701#what-is-lung-cancer. Accessed February 26, 2020.

Eldridge, Lynne. “Relation, Heredity, and Other Genetic Factors for Lung Cancer: How Family History Affects Lung Cancer Risk” Verywell Health, updated September 23, 2019, https://www.verywellhealth.com/is-lung-cancer-inherited-2248975. Accessed February 26, 2020.

Kanwal, Madiha, Ding, Xiao-Ji, Cao, Yi. “Familial Risk for Lung Cancer (Review)” Spandidos Publications, December 20, 2016, https://www.spandidos-publications.com/10.3892/ol.2016.5518. Accessed February 26, 2020.

“Lung Cancer” American Lung Association, updated September 25, 2019, https://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/lung-cancer/resource-library/lung-cancer-fact-sheet.html. Accessed February 26, 2020.

“Types and Staging of Lung Cancer” Cancer Care, https://www.lungcancer.org/find_information/publications/163-lung_cancer_101/268-types_and_staging. Accessed February 26, 2020.

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Confused About Immunotherapy and Its Side Effects? You Aren’t Alone

“You don’t look like you have cancer.”

More than one patient undergoing immunotherapy to treat cancer has reported hearing statements like that. Immunotherapy is one of the recent advances in cancer treatment that belie the stereotypes about the effects of cancer treatment. 

The side effects of immunotherapy are different from those associated with chemotherapy and radiation. However, that does not mean immunotherapy does not have side effects. Patients and care partners need to be aware of these potential side effects and to be vigilant in addressing them with their oncologists because they can signal more serious complications if left untreated.

What is Immunotherapy?

Despite the increase of immunotherapy treatment options in recent years and considerable media attention paid to advancements in this field, there remains confusion about immunotherapy and its side effects. Many cancer patients are unaware of whether immunotherapy treatments are available for their specific diagnosis. Others don’t know that genetic profiling of their tumors is usually required to determine if immunotherapy is an option and not all treatment centers routinely conduct genetic profiles of tumors. A  survey by The Cancer Support Community found that the majority of patients who received immunotherapy knew little to nothing about it prior to treatment and were unfamiliar with what to expect.

Immunotherapy works by manipulating the patient’s immune system to attack cancer cells. It is perceived as gentler and more natural than chemotherapy and radiation, without the same destructive effect on the body’s healthy tissues.  This, combined with a lack of prior understanding of immunotherapy, can lead patients and care partners ill-prepared for possible side effects.

Furthermore, immunotherapy is a category of therapies, not a single type of treatment. There are a variety of immunotherapy drugs, most of which are administered via infusion.  Side effects will vary by drug, the cancer and its location, treatment dose, and the patient’s overall health.

The following are the most common types of immunotherapy.

  • Checkpoint inhibitors use drugs to block proteins in the patient’s immune system that would otherwise restrain the immune system, often referred to as taking the “brakes” off the immune system.
  • CAR-T therapy modifies the patient’s T-cells in a lab to enhance their ability to bind to cancer cells and attack and kill them.
  • Oncolytic virus therapy uses genetically modified viruses to kill cancer cells.
  • Another therapy uses cytokines (small proteins that carry messages between cells) to stimulate the immune cells to attack cancer.

Immunotherapy can be part of combination therapy. It might be combined with chemotherapy. It might be used to shrink a tumor that is then surgically removed.  Or multiple immunotherapy drugs might be used simultaneously.

What Are The Side Effects?

With immunotherapies, side effects typically occur when the immune system gets too revved up from the treatment. The most common side effects for immunotherapy treatments are fatigue, headache, and fever with flu-like symptoms. Some people also experience general inflammation often in the form of a rash. Many melanoma patients report blotchy skin discoloration, called vitiligo, during treatment. These milder side effects can usually be managed with over-the-counter remedies and adjustments to daily activities.

For checkpoint inhibitors, the fastest growing segment of immunotherapy treatments, mild side effects occur in 30% – 50% of patients. Serious side effects typically occur in less than 5% of patients. (See “Understanding Immunotherapy Side Effects” from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and the American Society of Clinical Oncology.)

Less common side effects are blisters, joint pain, thyroid inflammation, and colitis (inflamed colon resulting in diarrhea with cramping). Some patients who receive CAR T-cell therapy develop a condition known as cytokine release syndrome, which causes fever, elevated heart rate, low blood pressure, and rash. 

In rare cases, immunotherapy has resulted in lung inflammation, hepatitis, inflammation of the pituitary, and detrimental effects on the nervous and endocrine systems. In most cases, the conditions clear up when treatment ends.  However, there have been outcomes in which immunotherapy caused diabetes or tuberculosis.

“Overall there are fewer side effects [with immunotherapy],” explained Dr. Justin Gainor, a lung and esophageal cancer specialist at Mass General during an Immunotherapy Patient Summit hosted by the Cancer Research Institute. “But the immune system can affect anything from the top of the head down to the toes. Any organ has the potential to be affected.”

As the application of immunotherapy has expanded, so has our understanding of the potential side effects. Like most medical treatments, how one person responds to immunotherapy can be different from another even when the cancer diagnosis and drug therapy are the same.

The essential thing patients and care partners need to know about side effects is they should always be reported to their oncologist or nurse oncologist.

Why Patients Should Talk to Their Provider About Immunotherapy Side Effects

Because immunotherapy has created newer therapy options, there isn’t the volume of experiences as with older treatments. The infinite number of variables that patients provide once a treatment moves beyond clinical trials and into the general patient population generate more diverse outcomes.  And, as most therapies are less than 10 years old, there hasn’t been an opportunity to study the long-term effect of these therapies. This is why oncologists advise patients and their caregivers to be extra vigilant in noting any changes experienced during and after treatment.

Many side effects are easy to treat but medical providers want patients to be forthcoming in discussing any and all side effects. This is in part to improve understanding of side effects, but also because a mild cough or a case of diarrhea might be harbingers of a more systemic issue that will grow worse if left untreated.

Patients should not be hesitant to discuss side effects because they fear they will be taken off immunotherapy.  Sometimes a pause in treatment might be necessary, but the earlier the oncologist is made aware of a side effect, the less likely that will be necessary.

In addition, patients undergoing immunotherapy should always take the name(s) of their immunotherapy drugs and the name of their oncologist when seeing medical professionals outside of their cancer treatment team. This is especially important when visiting the ER.  Because immunotherapy drugs are newer and highly targeted to certain cancers, many medical professionals remain unfamiliar with drug interactions and treating related side effects.

Immunotherapy On The Rise

Immunotherapy treatments have resulted in reports of remission in cases that would’ve been deemed hopeless just five or 10 years ago.  The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has approved various immunotherapy treatments for melanoma, lung cancer, head and neck cancer, bladder cancer, cervical cancer, liver cancer, stomach cancer, lymphoma, breast cancer, and most recently bladder cancer.  (Here is a list of  immunotherapies by cancer type from the Cancer Research Institute.)

“It’s revolutionized how we treat our patients,” says Dr. Gainor of Mass General about immunotherapy’s impact on lung and esophageal cancer.

Advances in immunotherapy research and trials continue to generate optimism and excitement. A clinical study in Houston is looking at using immunotherapy to prevent a recurrence. Researchers in Britain recently announced a discovery that might lead to advances in immunotherapy treatments to a much broader array of cancers.

While there is excitement around the field of immunotherapy and it has resulted in unprecedented success in treating some previously hard-to-treat cancers, it remains an option for a minority of cancer diagnoses.  It works best on solid tumors with more mutations, often referred to as having a high-mutational load or microsatellite instability (MSI) high. And it is not universally successful for every patient.

With hundreds of clinical trials involving immunotherapy alone or in combination with other therapies, it is certain more treatment options are on the horizon. As more therapies are developed and more patients with a greater variety of conditions undergo immunotherapy, we will also increase our understanding of potential side effects.

Side effects should not dissuade patients and care partners from considering immunotherapy if it is available or from advocating for genetic tests to deteimine if it is an option. Many patients undergoing immunotherapy have previously undergone chemotherapy and report that the side effects are fewer and milder by comparison.  The important thing is that patients and their partners know what to expect and communicate with their treatment team.

If the next 10 years in immunotherapy research and development are anything link eth elast 10, we can expect more exciting advancements in the battle against cancer. For more perspective on what’s ahead for immunotherapy see the Cancer Research Institute’s article: Cancer Immunotherapy in 2020 and Beyond.

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.

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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. Looking for more information? Download the Find Your Voice Resource Guide here.

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, 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. Find your voice with the Pro-Active Patient Toolkit Resource Guide, available here.

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.

Are Clinical Trials Too Risky? A Lung Cancer Expert Reviews the Facts.

Are Clinical Trials Too Risky? A Lung Cancer Expert Reviews the Facts. from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Some patients fear that clinical trials may be too experimental and risky. Dr. Martin Edelman outlines the clinical trial process and addresses myths surrounding trials. Want to learn more? Download the Program Resource Guide here.

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:

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.

The Truth About Managing Lung Cancer Treatment Side Effects

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

Are lung cancer treatment side effects avoidable? Dr. Martin Edelman reviews effective management strategies. Want to learn more? Download the Program Resource Guide here.

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 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.

Is Lung Cancer Treatment Effective in Older Patients?

Is Lung Cancer Treatment Effective in Older Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lung cancer expert Dr. Martin Edelman tackles common misconceptions about the effectiveness of lung cancer treatment in elderly patients. Want to learn more? Download the Program Resource Guide here.

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Transcript:

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.