Lung Cancer Treatment Decisions: What’s Right for You?

Lung Cancer Treatment Decisions: What’s Right for You? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When choosing an lung cancer treatment, what should be considered? Dr. Jessica Bauman, a lung cancer specialist, reviews treatment types and key decision-making factors, including how test results influence options, and provides advice to help you advocate for better care.

Dr. Jessica Bauman is assistant professor in the department of hematology/oncology and as associate program director of the hematology/oncology fellowship training program at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. Learn more about Dr. Bauman here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Hello and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today we’ll discuss how you can be proactive in your lung cancer care to partner with your healthcare team to make the best care and treatment decisions for you. Joining us today is Dr. Jessica Bauman. Welcome, Dr. Bauman. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Bauman:              

Absolutely, thank you so much for inviting me here today. My name is Jessica Bauman, and I am a thoracic and head and neck oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Here I am also the associate program director for our hematology/oncology fellowship program as well as one of the disease site leaders of one of our research teams.

Katherine:                  

Excellent, thank you. A reminder that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you.

Dr. Bauman, from my understanding, there are two main types of lung cancer – small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. Would you provide a brief overview of how these two types of lung cancer differ?

Dr. Bauman:             

Absolutely. So, I think it’s important for any new patient who’s coming in, to see me or any medical provider. The first thing we need to establish when we are thinking about a lung cancer diagnosis is what the cells look like under the microscope. And the simplest way to think about this is either they look like small cell lung cancer, or they look like non-small cell lung cancer.

And that really can decide what kind of treatment we need to pursue. For small cell lung cancer – small cell lung cancer can be a more aggressive lung cancer that certainly can spread throughout the body and requires more urgent treatment in general when we’re thinking about the speed in which we need to start to treat patients for this cancer. For non-small cell lung cancer, in general, we don’t have to start treatment as quickly as we need to for small cell. And there is a lot more information right now that we need other than just the simple non-small cell lung cancer diagnosis. We need to know whether it is adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, which are further subdivided.

And then we often need even more information about those subtypes to be able to decide ultimately what the best treatment plan is.

Overall, I would say about 15% of lung cancers are small cell. So, they’re more rare. And about 80% to 85% of lung cancers are non-small cell. And the most frequent kind of non-small cell lung cancer right now is adenocarcinoma. It didn’t used to be that way. Squamous cell carcinoma actually used to be more common, but in more recent years, adenocarcinoma is becoming more common. And interestingly, it’s also becoming more common in women.

Katherine:                  

Why is it becoming more common?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, part of that is we think that the demographics are changing somewhat in terms of lung cancers. So, the traditional risk factor, of course, of lung cancer is smoking, however, not all patients who have lung cancer were smokers. And we are seeing, in fact, more people being diagnosed with lung cancer who have never smoked or, in fact, are light smokers. And so, we think that that is likely playing a role.

Katherine:                  

Before we move into testing and staging, are there any common misconceptions you hear when you see new lung cancer patients for the first time?

Dr. Bauman:              

Sometimes I see people think, “Oh, lung cancer is a death sentence.” I certainly see people say that. But I think that one of the wonderful parts about being a lung cancer oncologist right now is our treatment options have really been revolutionized in the last 10 to 20 years. And we have more options right now, and we have a better understanding of this cancer, then we ever have had.

And so, I do think that I look with more optimism at this diagnosis, obviously, which is still quite devasting to patients and their families.

Katherine:                  

Right. Dr. Bauman, what testing should take place following a lung cancer diagnosis?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, this very much depends on how the cancer was diagnosed initially. So, some cancers are diagnosed on screening – lung cancer CTs right now – but other cancers are found incidentally, for other reasons. Or there are some that are diagnosed with a scan because somebody’s developing a symptom. So, in general, what I would say is that we always need good imaging essentially of the entire body when a lung cancer is suspected. Often this includes CAT scans, but this very commonly also includes a PET scan. And it will often include a brain MRI as well because the best way to the look at the brain is with an MRI.

Obviously, that can vary a little bit depending on what studies people have already had and what radiologic techniques are most accessible.

Katherine:                  

What about molecular testing and biopsies?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, sorry, I was sort of going on the imaging. But so, of course, you need full imaging. But the first thing you need to do that is paramount is establishing a histologic diagnosis, which goes to this initial thought of, “Is this small cell? Is this non-small cell? What is it?” So, if there is a lung mass that is suspected to be lung cancer, the first thing that happens is a biopsy as well as imaging. The imaging helps us establish, “Has this gone anywhere else? Does it involve the lymph nodes?” and helps us with the initial staging workup. Often there is a biopsy of the mass itself.

But there are often biopsies as well as the lymph nodes that are involved, in particular in the center of the chest called the mediastinum, because that also helps us establish the stage of the cancer.

And then if the cancer does look to have spread to somewhere else, we sometimes biopsy only that area or that area in addition to establish that it, in fact, has spread to a different place such as the liver or the bone. Once that biopsy is done, and once we know what type of lung cancer it is, then we also send more studies on the biopsy itself that help us determine what the best treatments are, in particular when we’re talking about what I call “systemic treatments.”

So, treatments that are going into the body and all over the body that involved immune therapies, chemotherapies, or targeted therapies. So, that extra testing that we do is something that’s called molecular testing.

It’s also called next generation sequencing. There are a bunch of different terminology that we use.

Katherine:                  

Okay. Dr. Bauman, would you walk us through how lung cancer is staged? And is it different for small cell vs. non-small cell lung cancer?

Dr. Bauman:              

Absolutely. So, as we talked about, the first thing that we do is we do get a biopsy to establish the diagnosis. The second piece is often if it looks to be a cancer that is only limited to the chest – so there is a mass and maybe some activities in lymph nodes that we’re concerned about but nowhere else – not only do we want to biopsy the mass itself, but we also want to know whether those lymph nodes are involved. So, those are biopsied because that will tell us the stage of the cancer. Staging very much depends on the size of the tumor itself, and then it also depends on, “Has it spread to lymph nodes in the center of the chest, and has it spread outside of the chest to other places?”

And so, early-stage lung cancers are just the primary cancer itself that has not spread anywhere else. More advanced stage lung cancers – things like Stage IIs and Stage III lung cancers – are ones that also involve the lymph nodes. And then a Stage IV lung cancer involves a lung cancer that has spread to somewhere outside of the body. And depending on the stage is really what determines the way we approach treatment for these patients.

Katherine:                  

And that is actually my next question. What do the results of these tests tell us about prognosis and treatment choices?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, they tell us stage, and, ultimately, prognosis and treatment choices are completely linked to the stage of a cancer. So, an early-stage lung cancer, often a Stage I or Stage II lung cancer, primarily our first choice of treatment is surgery. And if surgery is feasible for the patient – because, of course, it also depends on their other medical comorbidities and whether they can withstand a surgical resection of the cancer.

But usually, early-stage lung cancers we start with surgery. And then depending on what the pathology shows us, we sometimes include a course of chemotherapy afterwards to decrease the risk of the cancer coming back. More advanced lung cancers, so Stage III lung cancers, often involved what we call “multiple modalities.” So, for some patients we do a combination of chemotherapy and radiation in an attempt to cure the cancer. Often that is followed by immunotherapy. There are other patients who have Stage III lung cancer where we do chemotherapy and radiation and follow that with surgery.

So, it’s a very case-dependent decision algorithm, where it really depends on where the tumor is, the type of tumor, what the surgery would be, what the patient’s underlying health status is, etc.

And then if it is a Stage IV cancer, often we are really approaching this with systemic therapies. So, once a cancer has spread outside the lung, we traditionally think of this often as an incurable cancer. And there is a much more limited role of surgery and radiation, though I wouldn’t say that they’re absolutely off the table. Again, we sometimes think of these in sort of a case-by-case scenario. But in general, our approach for a Stage IV cancer is with some kind of systemic therapy. And that completely depends on all those special tests that we do that we were talking about that we send on that initial biopsy.

Katherine:                  

What about the significance of chromosomal abnormalities?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, what I would say is, what we do for, in particular, in the setting of a Stage IV lung cancer diagnosis right now, is we send molecular testing on the biopsy samples of these patients, in particular if they have adenocarcinoma.

And the reason we do this, what this gives us, is it tells us about the DNA of the tumor, and whether there are genes in the tumor that are changed in some way that are affecting the cancer’s ability to grow. And the reason that’s so important, is there are new treatments that really capitalize on those changes in the tumor to be able to stop the cancer from growing. The best example of this is for people who have something called an EGFR mutation.

And there are multiple different kinds of mutations. I call it “alphabet soup” because there are so many different letters and numbers.

But if people have an EGFR mutation that we think is one of the primary reasons they have this cancer growing, there are pills that target that EGFR protein that stop the cancer from growing. But if they don’t have that mutation, then those pills are not gonna do them any good.

And so, that is really where lung cancer treatment and diagnosis has become so personalized based on, of course the person itself, but also the characteristics of their tumor.

Katherine:                  

How can patients advocate for a precise lung cancer diagnosis, and why is that important?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, it’s, of course, important because it changes everything that they would be able to be offered in terms of treatment. And so, I think that it is important to, one, really understand what your lung cancer is. Right? What is the stage? What are the treatment options? And if there are treatment options that are not options for you, why is that? And is that because of special testing that has been done? So, I think it’s always important to ask, “Are there other special tests that I need to have on my tumor or on the biopsy?”

And if patients have questions about what options that they have, I think it’s important for them to understand why some options are theirs, and why other options may not be good options for them, and how their physician is making those decisions. Because I do think the more you understand about this, the better you can advocate for the types of treatments you can access.

Katherine:                  

Absolutely. We just covered some of this, but when deciding on a treatment approach with a patient, what do you take into account when making the decision?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, we take into account all of the things that we’ve been talking about. Of course, the No. 1 most important part is the histology, so what the kind of cancer is. No. 2 is what the stage is. And then No. 3 is the health characteristics of that patient.

Do they have underlying health problems that would impact the types of treatment that we would consider? And then ultimately, what are the goals of the patient? Right? So, of course, we have lots of different options, but it’s going to be important to partner with the patient and their family to understand where they are in their life and what kinds of treatments are feasible and acceptable to them.

Katherine:

What about treatment side effects? Do you take that into consideration?

Dr. Bauman:              

Absolutely. So, I always talk about my two primary goals for when I’m treating a patient is 1.) is to help them live as long as they can, and No. 2 is to help them live as well as they can. And I do think it is critical to understand the side effects of our treatments and how that may impact the patient and what their underlying issues are. So, for example, if I have a patient who comes to me who already has significant neuropathy because of a prior diagnosis of some kind, we need to strongly consider the types of treatments we’re using to consider one that doesn’t cause neuropathy.

Right? And often there are different treatments that we have where we can really consider the side effects and quality of life for patients in terms of what we have. I’ll also say that treatments and the supportive care that we have to offer have become better over time. So, yes, of course, we give toxic treatments, but we definitely are able to support people better with the side effects that they have to try to minimize those and make it as tolerable as we can.

Katherine:                  

What do you feel is the patient’s role in this decision, and how does shared decision making come into play?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, I think the patient’s role is, of course, this is their body and their lives. Right? I think that it very much is a decision that we make together. And of course, as a lung cancer expert, yes, we’re gonna talk about what we recommend as what we think is, sort of, the gold standard treatment.

But you can’t make anybody do anything. Right? You want people to be their own advocate in terms of their health. And so, I need to know how someone is feeling. I need to know if they’re having significant side effects from treatment. And so, I think the more they can tell me, the more they can ask questions, the more they can understand their illness, the better we can partner to be able to face it together.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Bauman, now that we’ve discussed factors that go into the treatment choice, would you walk us through the currently available lung cancer treatment approaches and who they might be right for?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, we talked about this a little bit, but I would say, so, certainly, the different types of lung cancer treatment depends on the stage of the cancer.

But in general, I’m thinking about the broad categories that we have. So, number 1 being surgery. So, surgery is absolutely one of the most important aspects of lung cancer treatment that we have and is one of the ways in which it is possible to cure lung cancer. So, surgery can happen both as an open surgery, but there are also more minimally invasive surgeries now that have also revolutionized the way they can do surgery in lung cancer. And so, that absolutely plays a very significant role in the treatment of lung cancer.

The second broad approach that I would say is that of radiation.  So, radiation also plays a very critical role in lung cancer, often more in advanced-stage disease for patients who have, for example, Stage III disease, where the treatment that we consider is a combination of chemotherapy and radiation also with curative intent.

So, the idea behind this is that it’s cancer that is still in the chest, but it has spread to the lymph nodes in the chest, and a combination of chemotherapy and radiation may still be able to cure patients of this cancer. And so, radiation also can play a critical role. And interestingly, in small cell – which we’ve spoken a little bit less about – radiation and chemotherapy play a very important role in small cell, and often surgery plays less of a roll in small cell. And so, our treatment approach using radiation is in both of these kinds of cancers, and often we’re doing a full course of radiation also in an attempt to cure the cancer for the patient.

The last, sort of, broad category of treatment that I would say is what I call “systemic treatments.” So, that is targeted treatment. That is chemotherapy. And that is immune therapy.

And what we use of those three types of treatments completely depends on the patient’s stage and more information about that patient’s tumor, in particular, the molecular testing as well as what we say is called PD-L1, which is a marker on the tumor that tells me about the responsiveness to immunotherapy.

Often, we use a combination of many of these treatments. So, there are patients who get surgery and then chemotherapy. There are patients who get chemotherapy and radiation and then surgery. And there are patients who get only what we call systemic therapies.

I will also say it’s important to note that for radiation, although there’s a proportion of people that we use radiation with curative intent for a long period of time – so, a six-week course of radiation – we also use radiation to help with symptom management if someone’s having a specific problem that’s causing them a symptom where radiation may help.

The classic example of that is pain. So, if they have a spot in the bone that is causing them a lot of pain, a short course of radiation to shrink that tumor where that is, can be very helpful. And so, radiation we can also use to help with palliation of symptoms. The other things that I’m not getting into significantly today, but are also there, are there are other types of procedures that have become more common where you can go in, for example, with an interventional radiologist and do an ablation of a tumor.

Our interventional pulmonologists also do significant amount of ability to access the lungs and the lymph nodes to be able to help with diagnosis, but they can also do something like a debulking procedure where they can get rid of some of the cancer to stop it from bleeding.

They can also stent open the cancer to help people breathe better. So, there are multiple different other team members who also are really critical to our patient’s care.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. How do clinical trials fit into the treatment plan?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, clinical trials are very important in all of our decision making. So, there are many different kinds of clinical trials, but clinical trials are where we are offering the newest potential treatment options for patients. And there are some clinical trials where it’s a brand-new drug that’s never been in a person before, but there are also clinical trials of drugs that we use from a different disease that has been effective, and now it has good evidence, potentially, in lung cancer, and so it’s being used in lung cancer. There are also trials of new combinations of treatments.

So, for example, one of the most recent, sort of, classic treatment-changing trials was a large trial where everybody who had chemotherapy and radiation for Stage III lung cancer, then received a year of immune therapy vs. not receiving immune therapy to see if that new treatment would help them live longer or would prolong their survival.

And in fact, that trial was very positive, and so it changed the way we treat Stage III lung cancer. So, again, these are just examples of types of clinical trials. But clinical trials are where we are finding out what may be the next best treatments for patients.

And so, when I’m thinking about a treatment approach to a patient, I’m incorporating all of the things that we talked about, but I’m also then thinking about, “Are there clinical trials that may also be relevant to them for their specific situation?” whether that is a clinical trial that involves surgery in some way, or whether that’s a clinical trial that involves a new drug, whether it’s a clinical trial that’s offering a new kind of supportive care.

So, there are lots of different kinds of clinical trials that may be relevant to patients.

Katherine:                  

Are there emerging approaches for treating lung cancer that patients should know about?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, absolutely. I think that there are so many clinical trials that are going on right now for all sorts of different lung cancers.

I think one of the amazing parts about lung cancer right now is how, as I said before, how personalized it has become, and how each individual, depending all of the different factors we talked about, what treatments are best for them. But it also depends on there also may be clinical trials that are specific for that person. And so, for example, if you have a new diagnosis of Stage IV cancer, and you have an EGFR mutation or an ALK mutation, you want to know about clinical trials that are specific to that population because for you, those are what are most relevant for you.

If you have a new diagnosis of a Stage III lung cancer, then you wanna know, “What are the clinical trial options for patients who have Stage III lung cancer?” And so, there are many clinical trials that are asking, sort of, the next best question of, “How can we improve the current standard of care?” And often there really are trials in each of these different areas. So, it’s not just a one-size-fits-all.

Katherine:                  

Some patients can be fearful when it comes to clinical trials. What would you say to someone who might be hesitant in participating in one?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, I very much understand that. I think any kind of treatment can be a scary thing. But I think, as I said before, I think the more that you can understand about your cancer and understand about the science and the research, it helps you then understand where the trial fits in terms of your treatment options.

I think that if you understand what to expect from the treatment that you’re getting, and then what the plan B and plan C could look like, I think that piece of it is also important. And you know, I think that one of the hardest parts about lung cancer right now is even though we have all of these new promising therapies and multiple new approved drugs, with a diagnosis of Stage IV lung cancer, most of the time the cancer learns to grow. And so, even though we have treatments that work really well, there will be a time for most people where the cancer starts to grow, and we need to think about, “Well, why is the cancer growing?”

And often, that is the setting where clinical trials are very relevant because clinical trials are often thinking about just that, “Well, why is the cancer becoming resistant? What is different about the cancer now? And is there some change that would make it relevant for you to do one specific trial over another specific trial?”

Katherine:                  

Well, and that leads us to treatment monitoring. Once a patient has started treatment, how do you know if it’s working?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, we do regular imaging. So, once you have a diagnosis of lung cancer, a CAT scanner will become your friend. In general, depending on what stage of lung cancer you have, you will have a bunch of imaging up front, and then once a treatment plan is put into place, after that treatment has either been completed or started, you will be monitored, in general, regularly for the lung cancer diagnosis. Now, after surgery, that will be for more for surveillance to make sure that the lung cancer doesn’t come back. But if it is more in the setting of a Stage IV lung cancer, then the imaging really helps us determine, “Is the treatment working or not?”

And so, after we start a treatment, usually anywhere between six and eight weeks, we repeat imaging to see, “Is this working? Is it smaller? Is it the same? Has it grown?”

And based on that imaging, and based on how the patient is doing with the treatment, we then decide, “Do we continue this treatment, or do we need to change to a new treatment?” And so, we regularly monitor the patient’s cancer through regular imaging.

Katherine:                  

Let’s talk about patient self-advocacy. Patients can sometimes feel like they’re bothering their healthcare team with their comments and questions. But why is it important for patients to speak up when it comes to their symptoms and their side effects?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, this, I would say, it’s a partnership. The bottom line is, and if I don’t know that something is going on, I can’t help to solve the problem. And if I don’t know about something, a new symptom that could be, potentially, majorly concerning, patients can also get really sick or even end up in life-threatening situations. And so, ignoring things or just hoping things will go away is not in a patient’s best interest.

I think that it is critical that patients are their own self-advocate. I think that I say that often, and I’ve already said that a couple of times on this, but we don’t know unless we’re hearing from them what’s going on. And so, it is so important for patients to keep us updated if they’re worried about something. Certainly, we see them very frequently, and so they can often tell us at their visits what’s going on. But overall, the in-between time is just as critical because it is often the treatments that we give can cause side effects at any time. And so, it is really important that we know about anything that’s going on and for patients to always give us a call.

I mean, that’s the bottom line is, is that if they’re worried about something, we need to know about it.

Katherine:                 

What supportive care options are there for patients who may have pain management difficulties or even emotional support?  Where do they start?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, there are often many different kinds of supportive care for patients. I would say that oncologists, of course, are one layer of supportive care. We do a lot of help with symptom management and often even pain management as well as coping and emotional support. However, there are also other people often within cancer centers that are also available to help. And this includes social workers. It also includes psychologists and psychiatrists.

And then the other thing that I think is really important to mention is that we know for patients who have lung cancer or an advanced lung cancer diagnosis, that integrating a palliative care team – a supportive and palliative care team – early into their diagnosis actually helps them live longer as well as better. They have better quality of life, and they have decreased problems with mood.

And so, we know that supportive care and palliative care, specifically in lung cancer, is particularly helpful for both patients and their caregivers. And so, it’s important for patients to also know that there is a whole team, that I think of as, sort of, an extra layer of support, that can help them with symptom management as well as with coping with the day-to-day of what can be a devastating diagnosis.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. That’s really great advice. To close, what would you like to leave patients with? Are you hopeful?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, I would say I am absolutely hopeful. I think that it is so important to know how many changes have happened in lung cancer in the last decades and how much more research is going on everyday to try to improve the care that we can deliver. And so, it’s a great time to be a lung cancer oncologist.

But we also have so much more work to be done.

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Bauman:              

Absolutely, my pleasure.

Katherine:                  

And thank you to our audience for joining us as well. Please fill out the survey that you’ll receive following the program. It helps us to plan future lung cancer programming. 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 PowerfulPatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for joining us.

 

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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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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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.

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

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Why You Should Consider a Clinical Trial for Lung Cancer Treatment

New and Improved Lung Cancer Treatment Options


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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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.

Take Care of Yourself and Your Family’s Health

Building Resilience and Boosting Immunity

At a time when health is top of mind for everyone, despite the stressors, how can we ensure to emerge emotionally, physically and mentally resilient? Patient Empowerment Network Care Partner Manager, Sherea Cary sits down with distinguished guests, Sara Goldberger and Dr. Shivdev Rao to discuss building resilience and boosting immunity. Both experts define resilience, provide tips for boosting heart-lung health and provide useful tools for cultivating resilience.

Defining Resilience

Defining Resilience from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Tips for Boosting Heart and Lung Health

Tips for Boosting Heart and Lung Health from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Community Resources & Tools for Cultivating Resilience

Community Resources and Tools for Cultivating Resilience from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Oncology Social Worker Checklist

Resiliency Checklist During the Time of COVID-19


Sara Goldberger, MSSW, LCSW-R, has been an oncology social worker for 30 years. Currently she is the Senior Director, Program for the Cancer Support Community Headquarters. She has also worked in hospitals and community NFP settings. She is a member of several Advisory Boards is a frequent presenter and author. As AOSW strives to continue to advance excellence in psychosocial oncology, Sara hopes to play a part in efforts to educate, advocate, develop resources, expand on research initiatives, and create networking opportunities so that AOSW can improve the care of people impacted by a cancer diagnosis.

Turning Your Home Into a Sanctuary

In Five Simple Steps

These days, whether you’re spending more time there or you need a place to unwind after a long day, you need to feel like your home is your happy place. With the help of a few simple tips you can turn your home into your very own sanctuary.

1. Define your sanctuary

Think about where and when you feel the most comfortable and happy; then bring elements of that into your space. Whether you feel your best reading under a cozy blanket and low lighting, or painting in a sunlit room, consider your needs for the space. It doesn’t have to be complicated, says Professional Organizer Kristy Potgieter at KLP Organizing, LLC. Her philosophy is: simple is better.

2. Appeal to the senses

Sound, smell, and color can all evoke emotions. Play music that soothes you or makes you happy, use candles, oils, or incense to fill your space with your favorite scents, and paint your walls with neutral or calming colors. Even changing out your light bulbs can make a difference. Pink light bulbs give a warm, calm glow to your space.

3. Ditch the clutter

Clutter causes anxiety and stress so your best bet is to get rid of it. While clutter looks different to everyone, a good rule of thumb is to remove anything that doesn’t serve a purpose or make you happy. For the things you use on a regular basis, Potgieter recommends storing them in baskets and bins, which can be both decorative and functional. She also says keeping your kitchen counters clear is a simple way to make your home appear clutter-free.

4. Bring nature inside

You can place a vase of fresh-cut flowers on your table or bring in some house plants. If you don’t have a green thumb, a photo of the ocean, a wall painted green, a water fountain, some seashells, or a piece of wood are all okay ways to incorporate nature into your home. It can be as simple as opening a window and letting in the sunlight, which is a known mood booster.

5. Unplug from technology

You don’t have to ban technology altogether, but pick times, such as during meals and the hour before bed, to not use technology at all. Spend less time on social media platforms by deleting the apps on your phone and only using your computer to log onto those sites. You can also use the “do not disturb” settings on your devices to allow yourself some down time.

 

Whatever you do, remember Potgieter’s philosophy and keep it simple. Address the things that are most important to you and let the other stuff go. “The first thing I think of when making a home a sanctuary is really taking a look around and making sure all the things you see are things you love,” she says.

Understanding Patient-Centered Care via Alliance for Patient Access

The Alliance for Patient Access created a video to help you understand patient-centered care.

What You Need to Know About Lung Cancer Research

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

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

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

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

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New and Improved Lung Cancer Treatment  Options

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


Subscribe to stay up-to-date in the latest information in Lung Cancer research

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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.

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

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Critical Questions to Ask Your Lung Cancer Doctor


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.

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

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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.

Lung Cancer: Coping With Unexpected Challenges

This video was originally published by Cancer Support Community on August 13, 2015, here.

A Yoga Technique to Increase Relaxation and Reduce Anxiety

Certified Yoga Therapist Raquel Jex Forsgren shares a short yoga and breathing technique to help you reduce anxiety and increase relaxation. You can refer back to these practices in stressful situations to help control your mind and breath.

You can check out more of Raquel’s videos on her YouTube channel, Yoga With Raquel.


Transcript:

Raquel Forsgren:

So what I’ll ask all of you to do, even those of you that are on‑‑joining us with Andrew‑‑and Dr. Subbiah, you can do it as well‑‑I’d like all of you to feel really comfortable, just to sit in your chair or if you’re watching this in your bed lying on your back, just wherever you are I want you to just simply close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing that.  And immediately feel the surface of whatever it is that’s supporting you, the chair, the bed, see if you can sink into it, even 5 percent more than you were initially.

Wherever your hands are, feel the bottoms of your hands, maybe the bottoms of your feet, your toes, your heels.  Just feel the body itself.  Now notice your breathing and don’t judge it, just notice what it’s doing, if it’s nice and slow and fluid as you inhale and exhale or shorter little breaths or sticky or clunky in any way.  Don’t analyze it.  Don’t go into any thinking other than just noticing.

Begin to expand your muscles in your ribs as you take your next inhale.  Just think about expanding your ribs out just a little bit more, taking two more nice, slow inhales and exhales.  And I want you to bring to mind one thing you’re really grateful for today.  One thing.  The next before we move on, bring to mind a goal, an intention.  It could be how you want to feel for the rest of the day, emotionally or physically.  How do you want to feel or what do you need?  Beautiful.

Softly begin to open your eyes and bring your hands right in front of your heart with your palms placed together.  We’re going to do just a few movements of our arms so that you can see what it’s like to connect movement, your body and mind and breath together, and also thinking about lung cancer just something that helps expand the lungs and just activate all of those muscles themselves that need to be nourished.

So as you inhale just open your arms like an (? cast) or goal post.  And you’ll need to adjust this.  If you have had surgery along the central plate, take it nice and easy, just open, inhaling.  As you exhale bring your arms together, touching your palms together, elbows and forearms.  Inhale, open the arms again.  Exhale, closing the arms together.  Just take two more only moving with your own breath.  And closing.  One more time just like that, beautifully opening and relaxing.  And releasing the palms back down on your hands.

Close your eyes one more time.  I want you to notice if anything has changed within your body, your mind or your emotions, and there’s nothing wrong if nothing’s shifted.  I just want you to notice.  And softly blink open your eyes again because I want to show you and have you go through with me one of the best anxiety reducing breathing techniques that can be done.  It’s published in the literature.

It’s called alternate nostril breathing.  You can do this while you’re waiting at the doctor’s office for results, if you starting to feel panicky or anxious, when you’re inside an MRI machine or a CT scan, when you are just waking up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts and you can’t seem to shut them off.  So you’ll take two fingers, sometimes it’s the outer fingers but sometimes with arthritis in older hands it’s a little tougher, so I like to use two fingers, you’re going to bring them up to your nose, and you’ll be closing off one nostril at a time.  And I want you to breathe normally and naturally, okay.  So this isn’t anything forced.

Close off the right nostril first, and just delicately push it.  You don’t have to push it clear into your nose.  Just delicately push it.  Exhale all the way out the left side of the nostril.  Then inhale through the left nostril, exhale out the right nostril.  Inhale through the right nostril, exhale out the right nostril.  We’re going to do three more of these.  Inhale through the left, exhale out the right.  Inhale through the right and exhale a little longer out the left.  One last time.  Inhale through the left and exhale longer out the right side.

Bring your hands back down to your lap and close your eyes again.  Take a nice normal, natural breath.  And I want you to notice what’s different in your breathing, if anything.  Just notice it.  Notice your heart beating.  Come back to that intention or that goal you set for yourself.  And softly blink open your eyes with a smile.  I’m expecting all of you watching to be smiling even though I can’t see you.  And Namaste.

Living Well with Lung Cancer: Mind-Body Medicine

Mind-Body Medicine: How Can Cancer Patients Utilize Supportive Care Therapy Tools?

Recent studies support mind-body interventions, like yoga and mindfulness, as being responsible for helping to stabilize and manage symptoms and side effects of treatment. Preliminary studies show that mind-body medicine has the ability to lessen fatigue, anxiety, respiratory toxicities, sleep disturbance and emotional distress for not only patients, but care partners. Watch along as Certified Yoga Therapist Raquel Jex Forsgren and Dr. Ishwaria M. Subbiah explore mindfulness.

To see all our Lung Cancer programs, please visit our Lung Cancer page.

Downloadable Program Guide


Transcript:

Andrew Schorr:

And hello.  I’m Andrew Schorr with Patient Power.  And (? Inaudible).  We’re going to help you be more in control of your cancer journey, you as a patient or you as a care partner.  And I want to thank our sponsors for the program, Celgene Corporation, Genentech, Helsinn and Novartis for their financial support.

Now, you can send in questions if you haven’t already.  Send them to questions at patientpower.info, questions@patientpower.info, and we’ll take your questions later on with our experts.  Okay.

What are we discussing today?  Well, think about it.  If you have lung cancer or, like me, chronic lymphocytic leukemia‑‑I have another cancer too, 22 years I’ve been dealing with this, some of it‑‑myelofibrosis, a myeloproliferative condition, if you have multiple myeloma or pancreatic cancer, whatever it may be, you may get hit with heavy duty treatment, and that has side effects.  How do you cope with that?  And then you have all the issues that go with your diet, if you feel like eating, your mental health, your physical health.  Are you moving?  What are you doing?  The same for your care partner as well because they’re there along the way.

We’re going to be discussing all that, and we have some leading experts and I want to introduce them.  First of all, I want to start with my wife, Esther Schorr, who has been on this journey with me for 22 years.  Esther, welcome to the program and being my partner in life and on this.  Hi, Esther

Esther Schorr:

Oh, I can’t say that it’s been easy being your partner all these years, but it’s my pleasure to be here, and it’s been a pleasure to go along on this‑‑not a pleasure, but I’m happy to go along on this journey (? Inaudible).

Andrew Schorr:

Right.  In a minute we’re going to talk about some of our coping strategies, but I want to introduce you to our two other experts on this.  First of all, let’s go to Houston, Texas, to the MD Anderson Cancer Center where we’re joined again, because she’s been with us before, Dr. Ishwaria Subbiah, who is assistant professor of palliative, rehabilitation and integrative medicine.  Dr. Subbiah, welcome back.

Dr. Subbiah:

Thank you so much for having me.  It’s a pleasure to be here.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  We’ve got a lot to talk about.  And now let’s go up to Chicago where we’re joined by an expert in yoga, a certified yoga therapist, and that’s Raquel Forsgren who is an expert in yoga as it applies to cancer.  Raquel, welcome to the program.

Raquel Forsgren:

Thanks, Esther.  Thanks Andrew.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Let’s go back to Esther for a minute, and we’re going to catch up with you two in just a minute.  So, Esther, a little about our story, when I was diagnosed with leukemia, when we were diagnosed, if you will, 22 years ago with chronic lymphocytic leukemia I didn’t say this to you, but I thought I’d be dead in short order.

Esther Schorr:

Well, I didn’t say it to you, but I was concerned the same way, Andrew.  It was very, very frightening.

Andrew Schorr:

So the diagnosis sends any of us reeling, and the care partner as well.  So let’s talk about that.  Esther, you had me getting distilled water for the house.

Esther Schorr:

Distilled water for the house‑‑

Andrew Schorr:

Wondering if we should move away.

Esther Schorr:

Yeah.  We wanted to move away from power lines and went to an energy therapist.  I think you even had hot stone therapy.  I can’t remember all of the things.  We were juicing at the time Andrew Weill had his‑‑

Andrew Schorr:

He had me stop drinking coffee because you saw a program with Dr. Weill from University of Arizona, an integrated medicine expert, and he said, well, maybe you shouldn’t drink coffee.  We lived in Seattle where there’s a Starbucks on every corner‑‑

Esther Schorr:

It was really hard.

Andrew Schorr:

And expanding, so.

Esther Schorr:

Yeah, but there were other things, Andrew, really more relevant.  I mean, those are the things that I think you and I thought, well, maybe we can get some control over what’s going on.  But really at the root of some of this is the things that really helped us, at least I can talk for myself.  I know you and I went into counseling to try to figure out how to cope together, and for me knowing that I had to be your care partner‑‑and we also had two small children at the time‑‑I’m a very anxious person by nature, and I found, and it may not be right for everybody, but I found that medication really helped me.

And that started about the time that‑‑it started at the time when you were diagnosed and to this day it’s really been helpful to me and I can’t wait to talk to Raquel because I now do yoga, and we’ll talk about that.  Yoga has helped me tremendously along the way.

Andrew Schorr:

And we did continue to exercise.  Esther and I have been joggers, if you will, and so we did that, and we continued that as I got chemo and other treatments.  Maybe we couldn’t run as far or I didn’t run as far or as fast, but we’re big believers in exercise to this day.  And it’s helped.  And the one other thing I would say is the religious component, we’re Jewish, so we would consult with our clergy and trying to get my head on straight related to our faith.  And if life would be shorter, how did we live our life, what would we say to our children or whoever would follow about what our life was.  So religious, psychological, exercise, medication support, right, Esther, related to anxiety.

Esther Schorr:

And leaning on community.  You know, I know for some people it’s hard to ask for help, but if you can find it in yourself to let go a little bit of your ego and pride.  I know for me and I think for you too, Andrew, just reaching out to our closest friends and family and saying, hey, we need some extra support.  Give us what you can, was really, really helpful.

Andrew Schorr:

Right.  All right.  Dr. Subbiah, let’s have some terms that we understand as we begin.  So, first of all, your palliative care, you’ve explained this to us in other programs, it’s not about necessarily you’re near death.  It’s about helping support you on your cancer journey.  Supportive care, what does that mean?  Mind‑body medicine, what does that mean?  So maybe you can define some of this for us today so we all have a common lexicon, if you will.

Dr. Subbiah:

Absolutely.  And so when you hear the terms “palliative care” most people, the first thing they think of is hospice care.  So something that, a service that’s engaged towards the end of life.  But the reality is that palliative care is symptom management.  It’s been taking care of that whole person and the people around them who matter to them as they go through the treatment for cancer.

So palliative care, we’re involved more and more, really from the time of diagnosis because most people feel the burden of this diagnosis, sometimes even before because you know that something is wrong leading up to the diagnosis for many people.  And so a bulk of my practice is taking care of a person as they go through cancer treatment.  So we refer to that as supportive care.  We’re supporting you through (? Inaudible).

So things that may come up, cancer pain, nausea, trouble breathing, depression, anxiety, distress, spiritual distress, spiritual pain.  So there are many elements that go with this diagnosis of cancer.  So our multidisciplinary team helps with managing that in the supportive care realm.

Palliative‑‑supportive care falls under palliative care, and so there is a component that is closer towards the end of life where the‑‑your body is going through the changes that are very natural.  And we want to make sure that the suffering that you’re afraid of or somebody who cares about you is afraid of, we can minimize that to a great extent.  The pain of that moment of life may not change, but the suffering that we associate with our passing from any reason doesn’t have to be there with the engagement of a palliative care physician.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  I want to get to mind‑body connection.  So this has been a debate in the medical profession for years, both for you and maybe your care partner.  So do we have like some control with the way we live our life or think about things that affect cancer?

Dr. Subbiah:

So mind‑body, there are many schools of thought on what it is, but if you put all the academic aside the meaning comes down to exactly what’s words are.  Your mind is very closely related to your body, and your body function is very closely related to your mind.

So what it means for us in the realm of cancer care either as a provider or as a patient is there is a component of everything that you’re feeling that can potentially be modified by mindful practices.  It may not change it altogether, it may not make it go away altogether, but there’s a component of symptom management that is beyond medications, that’s beyond a pill that involves practices that are what fall under the realm of mind‑body practice.  And so some of these are ones you’re heard of, acupuncture, massage therapy, guided imagery, music therapy and certainly yoga as well.

Andrew Schorr:

Yeah, and generally exercise.  Okay.  So you mentioned yoga.  So, first of all, there has been a study to show I think preliminarily that yoga, and I’m not sure if it was done at MD Anderson or where it was done, where there was a benefit they said for yoga, for yoga participation, both for the patient and especially the care partner, right?

Dr. Subbiah:

Absolutely.  And so that study was done at MD Anderson, and it was spearheaded by our department.  So what we wanted to show is that for a person who is going through chemotherapy and radiation for their lung cancer, that would a structured yoga intervention help them as well as their caregivers.  So what you’re looking at is an intersection where we not only acknowledge the distress of the person with the cancer and going through treatment but also of the person who is going with them on that journey.

And so this yoga intervention was structured to be given to both‑‑to be practiced by both the patient as well as their caregiver.  And so it was done for a 12‑week period with follow‑ups subsequently.  And we were able to show that there was a statistically significant and clinically meaningful difference improvement in the level of fatigue, in the level of activity in that person, which we measured by a six‑minute walk test.

So if the person was able to do a bit more physically as a consequence of participating in this program when compared to the control arm, which did not receive this structured yoga intervention.  And so there are implications on your functional standards, your mood, your energy level of adopting mind‑body practices.

Andrew Schorr:

And this was done for the caregivers as well, wasn’t it?

Dr. Subbiah:

Absolutely.  And so the caregivers also reported an improvement in their overall mood as a consequence of this.

Esther Schorr:

(? Inaudible) I’d just like to interject as a caregiver, a care partner, and I know that Raquel probably will mention this, but I know that there’s a whole range of things that fall into the category of yoga and mindfulness, and again people talk about that, but I know for sure that I have experienced the mind‑body connection in controlling anxiety.  The anxiety thoughts about what‑if in the future for you, what if for user family, that in the mindfulness and the breathing and the things that come with yoga, not just the positions that you do, and I know we’ll talk about that, but it’s more about centering your thinking more positively and turning inward and visualizing good instead of bad scenarios was tremendously helpful.  So (? Inaudible).

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  All right.  So, Raquel, I’ve got some questions for you.  So you have a background related to yoga and cancer and sort of yoga tied in with cancer.  Tell us what that means and how you got involved in that because normally you wouldn’t think of that.

Raquel Forsgren:

Yeah, how it came to be.  Well, I started researching breast cancer on the bench about 28 years ago and into the pharmaceutical side, on the drug development with side as a pharmacologist, and obviously it worked with a multitude of different types of cancer, and it’s been my passion my whole entire adult life.  And I’ve also had several family members that have gone through the battle, some have won, some have lost, and so it’s very personal for me.

And then on the flip side with yoga therapy, just as Dr. Subbiah was talking, I like to see the entire person, the whole person be addressed.  And we need the oncologist to focus on the treatment and doing all they can to really fight at the disease level, but I think, as all three of you a have just mentioned, a yoga therapist comes in on the other side with what else can you do to help empower the person to actually take control over what they can.  Because there’s so much of a loss of control.  So I’m inspired by that.

And then I work with a lot of the other tools that we’ll talk about in a minute to just help that person control their mind, their breath, their thoughts, their rituals, all positive things that Esther was just talking about.  So that’s sort of my background and my interest in how it became to be working with cancer patients.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  So Esther is into yoga.  Esther, you started doing that what about four or five months ago, and now you do it two, three times a week.

Esther Schorr:

Right.  And actually I’m kind of sad I didn’t do it sooner.  But I will say I came into it because I was transitioning to much more let’s say aggressive exercise, running, some weight lifting.  But I found that the combination of yoga‑‑you know, a combination of yoga and the mindfulness and (? Inaudible) somewhat medication is really not hard on my body and really good for attitude.  So, yeah, I mean, I’m a big advocate.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  So, Raquel, so yoga might be foreign to people.  I mean, I knew‑‑I learned how to run and jog, but if you had asked me until Esther has been exposed to yoga I’d say that’s foreign.  So maybe you could ease us into it.  Maybe there’s some simple things you could show Esther or you two could demonstrate together that would be helpful for maybe the bulk of us who have never gone near any of this stuff but we do want to feel more in control.

Raquel Forsgren:

Yeah, I definitely will.  First of all, I will say that’s a myth.  There’s a lot of myths around yoga with not being able to do it because it’s too rigorous.  You mentioned Esther kind of coming from a rigorous running, jogging.  A lot of people think of yoga and they think of the postures that they see on social media or in magazines or TV or whatever, and they’re upside down where they’re doing different things, and that’s a beautiful aspect of yoga, but it’s only one.

There are so many different things we can do with yoga, the postures, the breathing, the imagery, as Dr. Subbiah talked about, and deep relaxation, which multiple studies have shown that can actually reset and rebalance someone’s nervous system.  So talk about mind‑body and being able to control that yourself.

So if you’d like to go you through a few techniques now we can do that.  What I would do is invite all of you who are viewing the program to do it with us and see if you can sense the difference in just a few minutes of doing some of these very simple practices, and then what you can do after this is recorded come back to this video and watch the practice again and just implement these, like Andrew said, a little bit on your own.

So what I’ll ask all of you to do, even those of you that are on‑‑joining us with Andrew‑‑and Dr. Subbiah, you can do it as well‑‑I’d like all of you to feel really comfortable, just to sit in your chair or if you’re watching this in your bed lying on your back, just wherever you are I want you to just simply close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing that.  And immediately feel the surface of whatever it is that’s supporting you, the chair, the bed, see if you can sink into it, even 5 percent more than you were initially.

Wherever your hands are, feel the bottoms of your hands, maybe the bottoms of your feet, your toes, your heels.  Just feel the body itself.  Now notice your breathing and don’t judge it, just notice what it’s doing, if it’s nice and slow and fluid as you inhale and exhale or shorter little breaths or sticky or clunky in any way.  Don’t analyze it.  Don’t go into any thinking other than just noticing.

Begin to expand your muscles in your ribs as you take your next inhale.  Just think about expanding your ribs out just a little bit more, taking two more nice, slow inhales and exhales.  And I want you to bring to mind one thing you’re really grateful for today.  One thing.  The next before we move on, bring to mind a goal, an intention.  It could be how you want to feel for the rest of the day, emotionally or physically.  How do you want to feel or what do you need?  Beautiful.

Softly begin to open your eyes and bring your hands right in front of your heart with your palms placed together.  We’re going to do just a few movements of our arms so that you can see what it’s like to connect movement, your body and mind and breath together, and also thinking about lung cancer just something that helps expand the lungs and just activate all of those muscles themselves that need to be nourished.

So as you inhale just open your arms like an (? cast) or goal post.  And you’ll need to adjust this.  If you have had surgery along the central plate, take it nice and easy, just open, inhaling.  As you exhale bring your arms together, touching your palms together, elbows and forearms.  Inhale, open the arms again.  Exhale, closing the arms together.  Just take two more only moving with your own breath.  And closing.  One more time just like that, beautifully opening and relaxing.  And releasing the palms back down on your hands.

Close your eyes one more time.  I want you to notice if anything has changed within your body, your mind or your emotions, and there’s nothing wrong if nothing’s shifted.  I just want you to notice.  And softly blink open your eyes again because I want to show you and have you go through with me one of the best anxiety reducing breathing techniques that can be done.  It’s published in the literature.

It’s called alternate nostril breathing.  You can do this while you’re waiting at the doctor’s office for results, if you starting to feel panicky or anxious, when you’re inside an MRI machine or a CT scan, when you are just waking up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts and you can’t seem to shut them off.  So you’ll take two fingers, sometimes it’s the outer fingers but sometimes with arthritis in older hands it’s a little tougher, so I like to use two fingers, you’re going to bring them up to your nose, and you’ll be closing off one nostril at a time.  And I want you to breathe normally and naturally, okay.  So this isn’t anything forced.

Close off the right nostril first, and just delicately push it.  You don’t have to push it clear into your nose.  Just delicately push it.  Exhale all the way out the left side of the nostril.  Then inhale through the left nostril, exhale out the right nostril.  Inhale through the right nostril, exhale out the right nostril.  We’re going to do three more of these.  Inhale through the left, exhale out the right.  Inhale through the right and exhale a little longer out the left.  One last time.  Inhale through the left and exhale longer out the right side.

Bring your hands back down to your lap and close your eyes again.  Take a nice normal, natural breath.  And I want you to notice what’s different in your breathing, if anything.  Just notice it.  Notice your heart beating.  Come back to that intention or that goal you set for yourself.  And softly blink open your eyes with a smile.  I’m expecting all of you watching to be smiling even though I can’t see you.  And Namaste.

That’s in a nutshell what I would say.  So that was about five minutes.  You tell me what you noticed.  How did you feel after doing it?

Andrew Schorr:

Well, as a patient I’m more relaxed.  I think I need a nap.  I’m worried about‑‑Dr. Subbiah has probably got (? Inaudible).

Dr. Subbiah:

Oh, I’m in a good place, so thank you.

Esther Schorr:

I can tell you that it steadied my breathing.  It’s deeper.  And my heart rate just calmed.  It just calmed.  I mean, it wasn’t super agitated before, but as we went through that exercise it’s just, I’m like even.  I’m like even.  That’s the only way I can explain it.

Raquel Forsgren:

Yes, that’s the most common description.  Thank you.

Andrew Schorr:

So, Raquel, a few questions.  Okay.  So let’s say we have 100 people here who are more relaxed, and they say, well, okay, I get it.  How can I be trained to do this again, either alone with others?  How does that happen?  So wherever people are, and they could be all over the world watching, how do they seek out resources to do this?

Raquel Forsgren:

Oh, it’s such a great question.  I would say across the country, particularly in cancer centers now, especially like MD Anderson and even the clinics.  It doesn’t have to be within the context of a big academic institutions, just ask.  Ask the nurse.  Ask your social worker.  I’m working with a lot of social workers now within the context of support (? Inaudible) support groups, so we’re mixing talk therapy with mind‑body.  So just ask your nurse navigator or any of them.  So that’s number one.

Number two, it is important to look for someone that is certified as a yoga therapist because we’re trained as a subspecialty in trauma, in serious disease, in cancer.  So that helps.  And you can go to the International Association of Yoga Therapy.  Go to their website and type in your zip code, and any number of certified therapists will come up with that information.  So those are two simple ways to find it.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Dr. Subbiah, okay.  So‑‑and you all picked yoga as the modality you were testing as well.  So, first of all, what’s your take on what we just did, and what would you say to our folks as far as making use of that along with other approaches?

Dr. Subbiah:

So I went along with all of you and did this myself, and so everything regarding the heart rate, breathing, I’ve experienced it, and I noticed that my shoulders are much less tense.  So that’s always something that I notice when I do this in my office.

So yoga can be intimidating in that some people think that you need to set aside 40 minutes, an hour to do this.  The reality is you can gain benefits really in a very short period of time, and that’s one of the elements that we’re testing.  Is initially if an intervention, a yoga‑based intervention is a 45‑minute session, do we still have the same effect when we do a 30‑minute session, a 20‑minute session?  And we’re working on one now that’s an 11‑minute session.  So we want to see if the beneficial effects in people going through cancer treatment and their caregivers can be experienced by shorter and shorter time sessions.  And so we’ll put that data out once we get it.

Now, the two ways, the easiest ways to access it, are like what was said, which is engage your healthcare team and ask them about resources with integrated medicine within their practice, within their nearby hospital, within the city.  And so at MD Anderson we have a separate department of integrated medicine that’s devoted to the alternative and complementary aspects of care of someone with cancer.

And so the integrative center has classes every day in tai chi, Qigong, multiple‑‑every day that’s open to anybody, and so the patients, caregivers, whomever comes with them.  And so we would encourage our patients to take advantage of that, especially if you have an appointment in the morning and maybe an infusion in the afternoon and there’s some time in between the day is to go and spend that time in the integrative medicine center.

The other resource that I use is the integrative medicine center’s web page within MD Anderson.  And so you can access it from anywhere in the world.  Just Google integrative medicine at MD Anderson.  It will come up.  And there we have several videos there with our yoga expert here.  Dr. Alejandro Chaoul is one of the world leaders in yoga in the context of cancer therapy.  And so (? Ali) has several videos where he guides you through this.  So I’ve done this at home.  I’ve done this in the office.

And so you can open it up, do it on your smartphone and try it out.  And you can go back to it as many times as you want.  And don’t forgot to go back to it.  It’s not a one‑time.  The benefit comes from doing it repeatedly over the course of‑‑really it’s a lifestyle modification, so.

Andrew Schorr:

Esther, so you’ve made this part of your life now.  So I did feel a benefit just doing this.  And I did go to one class with you, so I’ve got to go again.  But as a caregiver, what do you see?  What change have you seen?

Esther Schorr:

Well, you know, other than what Raquel pointed out in that demonstration, for me, I’ve seen myself become physically stronger now, and I’m well aware that (? Inaudible) cancer patients some of the more advanced parts of yoga, the physicality of it may or may not be appropriate given what your mobility is and your physical being.

But if it is, whether it’s a caregiver or a patient, the really good thing about yoga that I found is it’s not a competitive sport.  It is a practice, and it’s very individual.  So you can do as much or as little as you want.  The mindfulness part, the breathing, what we just did, everybody can do.  And then you can build on that if for example you’ve gone through treatment and there are parts of your body that you have strength or you want to build strength yoga is very‑‑it builds on itself, so you can just build it at your own speed.

And so, for me, I found it’s not tough on my body like running was.  It accomplishes to lower anxiety, etc., and at the same time what I found is it strengthened my physical body and my ability to tolerate other stressors.

Andrew Schorr:

Right.  And as a patient I have definitely seen a change in Esther, which has helped me be calmer as well.

Esther Schorr:

Oh, I’m glad there’s that by product.  That’s great.

Andrew Schorr:

So Raquel, are there video you’re‑‑so great.  Are there videos that you’re in as well that we can link to that would be helpful?  I’d love to see again.

Raquel Forsgren:

I do.  Actually, I have a YouTube channel that has just a couple on there that I focused around, a long, deep relaxation, and this is one we didn’t talk about today much.  It’s about a 25‑ to 30‑minute deep relaxation, and it works through progressive muscle relaxation, body sensing, using the breath, and also really gets into the subtleties of the mind and what you’re starting to think about and process emotionally while you’re relaxed.  So that’s number one, and it’s on there.  It’s Yoga With Raquel.  That’s the name of it.

The other two that I have put on there were related to anger, grief, and dealing with difficult emotions and how do you welcome those and deal with them and process them.  And some of those I put on because of some people I was working with, was working with at the time, who were just diagnosed, and they had that swarm of emotions and they didn’t know what to think about what the oncologist had even told them.  They were angry.  They were sad.  It was just a mix.

So I created those just off of training I’ve had with Richard Miller and others to build those and put those out there for people.  And they’re free resources that anybody can tap into.  And they’re six and seven minutes long, but I would highly encourage anybody, especially I think for care partners, Esther like you and I have talked, you know, you’re wanting to be strong and be there for the person, for the loved one.  You don’t want them to see you falling apart inside or being afraid, and I think you need an outlet to feel what you’re feeling and then be able to go back and be present for the loved one.  And so that’s also been behind, in my mind, in creating a lot of these things now for that.  But, yeah, check those out for sure.

Esther Schorr:

Well, and yoga can be done together, too.

Raquel Forsgren:

Absolutely.  Absolutely.

Andrew Schorr:

So, Dr. Subbiah and Raquel and Esther and me, we’re getting questions, and if you have a question the best way to do it is to send it to questions@patientpower.info, and Tamara Lobban‑Jones, our wonderful producer, will help forward those to us.

Dr. Subbiah, I just saw a quick question that came in from Canada where someone asked, well, can yoga help with peripheral neuropathy pain?  So, for instance, our myeloma folks, some others, have medicines, and I think of those but there may be others across cancer, where you developed neuropathy in full or numbness, so what about that?  Or are there other ways to manage it, and that’s part of your discussion with your palliative care specialist?

Dr. Subbiah:

Absolutely.  Now, that’s a great question, and peripheral neuropathy, it can be anything from a nuisance to debilitating, and so it’s‑‑and it’s experienced by so many as a side effect of so many different cancer medications and so many of the other medical problems, like diabetes.  And so the impact on lifestyle can be tremendous.

And so we look at the pharmacological interventions that are out there that you may have worked with with your doctor, whether it’s the gabapentin or pregabalin or duloxetine.  These words may all ring a bell to some of you who are suffering from peripheral neuropathy.

The mind‑body realm just has some options for peripheral neuropathy, and these work in the same way that most mind‑body techniques work, which is in conjunction with (? Inaudible).  And so one of the interventions that we have data for to support its use in peripheral neuropathy, the primary one that comes to mind is acupuncture.

And so acupuncture, we have small trials that shows an improvement in the pain when compared to those who don’t receive acupuncture in their peripheral neuropathy.  So it does have a role when you use it for the management, and it may be that you use it in addition to a medication that you may have been taking that may have helped but not to the extent that you want it to.  So acupuncture has a tremendous role in the management of peripheral neuropathy.

The remainder of the techniques have a role in anxiety management, and even the distress that goes with having a peripheral neuropathy, so it’s not to say that there isn’t a role.  The whole concept of this is you have to take care of the whole person, so it’s not just about the pain in your left foot.  It’s the left foot that’s attached to that person who’s having to stop running because their left foot is bothering them.

So mind‑body techniques have a very important role, especially as you go later on in your treatment or as a survivor.  Some of these side effects stick around with you for a very long time.  So these mind‑body practices, you can take them with you for life.

Andrew Schorr:

We talked about anxiety, and Esther referred to that as a caregiver.  Previously and at other times we always talked about medication for that or depression as well.  What about some other things that come up?  I know when I went through chemo Esther had me taking ginger.  And I even had one of these little zappers like some pregnant women use for nausea, and that happened me, right?  But there were things like that.  And then I think I was an MD Anderson patient at the time, they even did have some other medicines, even suppositories I used because I couldn’t take anything by mouth.  I couldn’t keep it down.  And that helped me a lot.

So but that was in communication with my healthcare team.  So nausea, sleeplessness, anxiety, and even diet generally.  I know some people particularly with lung cancer have I think you’d call it cachexia or even myelofibrosis, which I have, where people just are like wasting away, right?  They’re not eating at all.

Dr. Subbiah:

Absolutely.  So this concept of cancer cachexia is very complex.  So from a medical standpoint it’s the loss of good muscle in your body and fat, and the reasons are not clear because you’re eating but you’re going through active treatment for cancer.  And what we attribute it to is the cancer itself, the chemicals, the cytokines that the cancer releases, the changes that it has on the body causing it to break down good muscle.

And so that has tremendous implications on body image.  If you don’t look the way you used to and you feel your appearance, your identity changing on a weekly basis, that can have a tremendous impact on your whole person well‑being.  And so at the moment there are really no effective treatments to stop cancer cachexia or even reverse it.  There are ways to potentially slow it down, and that may well mean meeting with the dietician to optimize the food that you take to make sure that you are getting enough calories, the right kind of calories.

Working with physical therapy on strength building, not necessarily to run a marathon but to have enough strength to go about your daily activities around the home, be able to walk and do things here.  These are ways to try to combat the physical changes that you feel.  So we brought up the anxiety as well.  So it’s‑‑mind‑body practices have a very important role in anxiety management.  And in fact I would say that the most robust data for mind‑body interventions, be it yoga, or massage therapy, meditation, guided imagery, is the management of mood and anxiety.

Andrew Schorr:

Right.  You talked about body image.  It’s all tied together in how you feel, how worried you are about the future, etc., so anything like Raquel was demonstrating to us is so important.

Here’s a question we got in from Pam.  I’m willing to bet she may be dealing with multiple myeloma, I’m not sure, but she says, what effect, if any, does high calcium levels have on the ability to exercise?  So anything‑‑I don’t know whether Raquel, you would comment or Dr. Subbiah, let’s start with you.  Calcium, you know, you have all these bone lesions and stuff like that, you can have this calcium problem but yet you want to do this stuff.  Any thought there, Dr. Subbiah?

Dr. Subbiah:

Sure.  And so hypercalcemia, it’s a very real medical entity, so you have to work very closely with your oncologist, with your physician, the provider team to make sure that the calcium is kept at a reasonably safe level.  What your body experiences as a result of hypercalcemia is real.  There is changes in energy pattern, changes in the strength, changes in your bowel function, changes in your mind and mood.  So hypercalcemia has real implications on really the whole body experience.

So it’s one of the electrolytes imbalances.  You know, you have‑‑I’m sure people listening to this have their potassium checked, their magnesium checked, the phosphorus checked among all other things at some point time during this journey.  Hypercalcemia is one where the person feels it a lot more than maybe another electrolyte that may be low or high.  So it’s very important to work with the provider team to get it down to a reasonable level, and know that some of what you’re feeling may be not necessarily the cancer per se or the treatment for the cancer.  It may be because of the electrolyte imbalances.

Andrew Schorr:

Wow.  Okay.  Raquel, go ahead.  You’re muted, so‑‑there you go.

Raquel Forsgren:

Yeah.  I think the one thing that I also would add to that too, Dr. Subbiah’s point about it affecting‑‑hypercalcemia affecting the whole body, the deep relaxation that I spoke about earlier, the way that that works specifically is around turning off that fight or flight mechanism in that part of our nervous system that kicks in when our body is in a state of trauma, which is kind of what’s happening in hypercalcemia from a just simplistic perspective.

And so when you’re in that deep relaxation state and leveraging the breathing, you’re reducing cortisol levels that are pumped out from your adrenal glands, and that entire cascade that happens in your body just starts to slow and relax.  And the neurotransmitters, the chemicals in the brain that are released, it’s just a cyclic event.

And so even though one might not be able to do any particular movements even, the breathing, the imagery and those deep relaxations shouldn’t be underestimated for the role they play in boosting the overall health of the inside off the body and all of the other mental components with it.  So I just wanted to add that little spin on what those do even if you feel like you can’t move out of your bed.

Andrew Schorr:

Well, thank you.  Here’s a question we got from Susan.  Susan wants to know, how can I protect myself from the effects of chemo outside of massage and meditation?  So chemo and even some of the non so‑called chemo drugs are very powerful and they have effects.  So, Dr. Subbiah, what about protecting yourself?  What can you do?

Dr. Subbiah:

So it’s‑‑there are added effects that one experiences.  That’s very different from therapy to therapy.  And so the interventions are, what you would do is dependent on the side effects of what you are taking at the moment.  So it starts with that discussion with your provider team.  What are the most common side effects, and what are some of the more rare side effects?  So it gives you a sense of what you’re most likely to experience and also to be on alert in case you happen to be that person who has a rare side effect as a consequence of the therapy.

Now, there are side effects from chemotherapy and targeted therapy and immunotherapy and cell therapy (? if anyone is on CAR‑T).  There’s only so much that can be done to protect yourself from this.  So the preventative aspects of the side effects is not there yet.  That is something that we work towards.  That’s something we hope to have so that the person doesn’t have the side effect to begin with.

So at the moment the way symptom management is is we have to‑‑we address the side effect after it happens.  And so the approach‑‑some of the most common side effects that are fatigue, nausea.  (? Inaudible) there are medications there.  You can talk to your medical provider about if there’s a role for a small, lower dose of steroids to help with fatigue.  If there’s a role for a lower dose of methylphenidate to help with fatigue, which is a stimulant.  So there are some data to support these in smaller trials.

There’s‑‑as with many medication interventions for fatigue management, the data is always mixed, and so there are some trials that think it’s important, others that don’t, and so at the end of the day my approach to it is if somebody’s having severe fatigue and they’re on a treatment that’s helping their cancer, treating their cancer, keeping it under control‑‑and we have a lot to gain from having the cancer under control‑‑let’s try a medication or two for the fatigue and see if it helps.  If it doesn’t help you, then stop it and move on.

But there’s so much variation from person to person, how you respond to a medication that’s there for supportive care and the side effects of the original cancer treatment.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Raquel, here’s a question we got in from India.  I’m going to read that in a minute.  I just want to mention, if you have a question‑‑we have a few more minutes‑‑send them to questions@patientpower.info.  So this one is from India, and they didn’t give their name, but they said, how helpful is yoga for interstitial cystitis and with pelvic discomfort for a cancer patient?

So here’s somebody with that problem or I don’t know what the gynecologic cancer is, well, can yoga help at all just for the pain?

Raquel Forsgren:

Interstitial cystitis is a complex condition.

Andrew Schorr:

Amen.  It is.

Raquel Forsgren:

Even aside from the cancer component.  I see Dr. Subbiah smiling and nodding.  It would be kind of similar to the other mind‑body practices we talked about.  So the number one thing is relaxing the body.  It’s just relaxing the muscles.  Your pelvic floor and everything around it will tighten just as much as your shoulders or the other parts of your muscles, and the more you can relax them the better.

The more you can defocus away from that pain with guided imagery, that has also been known to help.  I don’t know specifically for interstitial cystitis, but I’m just talking about other types of internal pain, bone metastases, things that very‑‑you some things that are not on the outside of the body.  So I would say deep relaxation for sure.

Dr. Subbiah, for you, do you believe that pelvic floor postures could benefit someone in that way, or do you think that it could potentially aggravate the pain?  That could be kind of a follow‑on question because making posture is in really pulling the bellybutton in towards the spine and engaging that pelvic floor.  What do you think?

Dr. Subbiah:

So that’s along the lines of what I was thinking because you’re asking‑‑the person who asked the question is asking about a very specific condition, and so to my knowledge I’m not aware of any particular trials for mind‑body interventions for the purpose of interstitial cystitis.  And so then you start to think about, okay, what are‑‑what do we have data for where the symptoms may be similar and in a similar part of the body?  And so you immediately think of the gynecologic cancers where a person may have had surgery or radiation in that area of the body and causing over time that inflammation turns into a fibrosis.

And so I’m thinking of a woman who may have had a gynecologic cancer and having discomfort and pain, frankly, in that area and a pain that’s probably not going to go away because it’s a sequela, a consequence of the treatment.  And so in those contexts there is some support for mind‑body interventions.

The pelvic floor exercises are one that we do suggest, and so would it help with particularly interstitial cystitis?  I’m not quite sure simply because I can’t think of any data or a study where a person has asked that question.  And so my recommendation, as with all of these interventions, is to, number one, speak with the physician or provider who knows you the best, and have this discussion on, number one, do you think there is data, number two, do you think it will help, and number three, do you think it’s okay if I try it.

And then you take that information, you absorb it, as with all (? Inaudible), and then you make an informed judgment for yourself.  Okay, do I want to try this mind‑body practice?  I know that there isn’t a big randomized trial to show its benefit, but my doctor said it may not necessarily hurt me to try it, and so should I go ahead and make that attempt to see if this mind‑body practice will help me in any symptom that you could be feeling.

Andrew Schorr:

I want to ask about trying.  So we have women probably watching and some of them have had maybe lymph node surgery and maybe even dealing with lymphedema and may even wear (? sleeve) and things like that for breast cancer.  We have people who’ve had debilitating treatment for lung cancer.  We have people going through or have gone through transplant of various kinds, things like that.  So you see it, Dr. Subbiah, Raquel probably as well.

So you say, well, okay.  Do I‑‑how do I assess what I can do?  I can’t, you know I can’t‑‑maybe I can’t go to a class and Esther goes to classes and there are like 20 people in there and they do these different positions, and that’s a little a daunting to me, right?  So how do I celebrate what I can do and maybe increase that over time but at least I start.  So, Raquel, let’s start with you.  The whole idea of starting or trying even if it’s just like that, you know?

Raquel Forsgren:

Yeah, and I think that is one of the biggest things that stops people from trying, from thinking there’s something else they could do to help take control of what they’re going through.  It’s the daunting task of do I go to the yoga studio on the corner that I see people going in in these outfits and doing different things.  Like, I’m not that person.  And that’s the most important take‑home message I know I could give as I educate oncologists and nurses and people that are diagnosed with cancer to do is to do the research, do what Dr. Subbiah talked about, speak to the nurse, talk to the nurse navigator.

Look for classes within a hospital, number one.  Because they will be modified and tailored to people that are going through what you are.  And I know from a yoga therapist’s perspective I tailor yoga therapy sessions based upon the type of cancer, the stage of disease, even the types of treatment that the person’s going through.  I will tailor the entire practice around that with modifications.  And it changes.  It changes from at diagnosis maybe at second round of chemo to tenth round of chemo to post chemo, it all changes.

And so I would just be open, step through the fear, use this as a way to take control where you have the control.  You can’t control what the cancer’s doing, you can’t control the treatments the oncologist is giving you, but you can control your own lifestyle changes and your own quality of life.  And that’s what I love about yoga therapy is because it really does empower you because, as you all saw from just the small five minutes, you felt something.  You felt something shift, and that’s what will happen even if you do it for six minutes or 12 minutes.

And you do not have to be in a class at a studio.  You can do it within the context of even your own home.  And after you do some research you’ll find there’s a lot of online options.  You’re more than welcome to send questions in to Patient Power, and they can forward them to me.  I’m happy to try to help you find somebody in your local community that could even help you from a yoga perspective.  And I so I’m more than happy to help you as much as I can as well.

Andrew Schorr:

Wow.  You’re so devoted.  Thank you.

So, Dr. Subbiah, part of this is communication.  I think Raquel really explained about putting it in context and resources for people to start.  But there you are in your white coat.  All of us have doctors and be maybe we have multidisciplinary teams.  We have nurses and sometimes other kinds of therapists that we can draw on, but we’ve got to speak up, right?  So what would you say about whether it’s the patient themselves or the care partner, like Esther, to advocate so that we get these approaches brought to bear, whether we need training or medication in concert so that we get what we deserve?

Dr. Subbiah:

Sure.  So the field of complementary medicine, integrative medicine, it’s coming more and more to the forefront, but the reality is it’s always been on the periphery for really decades.  And so when you present a‑‑when you bring up an option of a particular mind‑body practice that you may want to try, the person listening to it on the other end, whether it’s your nurse, your nurse navigator, whether it’s your nurse practitioner, your physician or whomever it may be, they may not have been exposed to that in the course of their training and their years of experience.

And a person responds to that in different ways.  Sometimes if they don’t know about it they may dismiss it.  Other times they may be more supportive to say, okay, let’s look into it a little bit more.  But if they don’t have that background experience with it‑‑and that’s the way medicine has been for decades, so it’s not so much a fault of their own.  They just haven’t been exposed to it as much.

Then ask them is it okay if I pursue it a little more, do some more research and bring some information to you to help me interpret it.  And so I think we‑‑when we‑‑when you as the patient and the caregiver are gathering the information, just be aware that the person reading it may already be familiar with it or may not.  And then based on their level of comfort with it go forward in that discussion.

If they have recommendations that’s great.  If they don’t, we mentioned some of the resources where you can search online to find appropriately certified and trained personnel to deliver these mind‑body practices.  And so if you happen to be in a smaller area of the country or even in the larger area but don’t have immediate access to an integrative medicine center to at least get you started, then it’s a great way to‑‑it’s a great opportunity to do some of the leg work yourself and then work with your care team to find what’s right for you.

And you’re right.  The circumstances are that you may end up having‑‑when you end up doing your research you may actually know more than the persons in your (? Inaudible) just because of the way medicine has been but not where medicine is going, which is we’re all becoming much more cognizant.

Andrew Schorr:

Well said.  Esther, I want to get a final comment from you.  When I was diagnosed 22 years ago with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, we were in tears.  I felt like a victim, maybe you did too.  This came out of totally left field.  And I think our whole time with this has been what Raquel and Dr. Subbiah have been saying, trying to take back control.  And we’ve had providers along the way.  Some have been knowledgeable and some have not, but we’ve been trying to be advocates in doing what we can do, right?

Esther Schorr:

Right.  And what rings very true for me and our experience is Andrew shared and I guess I did too in a sense, some of these supplementary things that we researched and tried and it was always is this all right.  Let’s talk about this with his oncologists, his medical team.  And in one instance, I don’t know if you remember, Andrew, in one instance there we had read and done some research about accelerating the amount of a certain vitamin to help you when you were diagnosed with leukemia.

And we had the conversation with your oncologist at the time and he said, what vitamin supplement are you taking.  And when we told him, he said, I think you should probably not do that because in your particular case, in your particular kind of cancer there are studies that say that’s not a good idea.  So I bring that up in that this dialogue has always been really important for us, and I would think that that’s really what you both have been saying is research it, but before you dig in whole hog with some of these other complementary and supplementary things, have the dialogue with your medical team because some may be really helpful and some of it, there may be evidence that it’s not.  So, you know.

Andrew Schorr:

Well, you can see that Esther and I have been on a long journey together and just‑‑for those of you watching (? look), not always, but there are people living longer with lung cancer now.  There are people living longer with advanced prostate cancer, with advanced breast cancer.  We have a long way to go with a lot of the cancers, but we have are making progress with some of them, the blood cancers that I’ve been affected with.  Twenty‑two years ago I didn’t know I’d be there for the next month or the next year, and you’re stuck with me.  Here I am, and I hope Esther and I are going to be together for many, many years with our 33rd wedding anniversary coming up.

So then you say, well, how can I take control back from this where I started maybe feeling like a victim.  And that’s what we’re talking about here.  So this field that Dr. Subbiah talks about and now Raquel is very involved in on her end, these are relatively new and not having proliferated everywhere.  But you have the benefit here.  Take this into your life, we hope.  Have conversations with people like this or seek them out, seek the online resources.  All right.  I’m not going to preach anymore.  I just hope this program has been helpful.

I want to thank our guests.  Dr. Subbiah, thank you for being with us once again from MD Anderson and your work in integrative medicine.  Thank you so much.

Dr. Subbiah:

Absolutely.  Thank you so much for having me and this opportunity to talk with all of you.

Andrew Schorr:

Well, we’ll do it again.  And Raquel Forsgren joining us from Chicago and taking us through a guided program.  I’m going to look up those videos.  Thank you so much.

Raquel Forsgren:

Thank you.

Andrew Schorr:

Esther, here’s a big hug and kiss.  Thank you for being with us.

And one other thing is we’re going to have some resources for you that we’ll put with this program on the Patient Power website.  It will have links to all the things we’re talking about.  So be sure to look out for that.  We’ll be sending you e‑mails with alerts.  Tell others about this.  Have them sign up with Patient Power so they always are in the know as we do more programs.  And let and Esther and Tamara, our producer, know.  You can always send a comment to questions@patientpower.info.  Let us know if this was helpful.  Okay?

I want to thank the Patient Empowerment Network for this program and achieving wonderful support from Celgene and from Genentech and Helsinn and Novartis, and we really appreciate them being part of the cancer community, not just developing drugs but supporting our discussions like this one.  I’m in California.  We have our guests around the country and Esther upstairs where we live here.  I’m Andrew Schorr.  Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.  Thanks for joining us.


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