How to Make an Informed Myeloma Treatment Decision

How to Make an Informed Myeloma Treatment Decision from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When faced with several treatment options, how can you decide on the best therapy for your myeloma? In this explainer video, Sandra and her doctor walk through important considerations when choosing a plan, and provide advice for partnering with your healthcare team.

Download our Myeloma Office Visit Planner to help you have productive conversations with your healthcare team, here.

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Transcript:

Sandra:

Hi, I’m Sandra. Nice to meet you!

Several years ago, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. I had bone pain and felt very tried so I went to see my doctor – my bloodwork indicated that it may be multiple myeloma and I was referred to a hematologist.

After a series of tests, my diagnosis was confirmed. I was overwhelmed when I learned that I had a blood cancer, but my hematologist, Dr. Reynolds, told me more about the condition and how it’s managed.

Here’s Dr. Reynolds – she can explain it further.

Dr. Reynolds:

Hi! I’m Dr. Reynolds, and I’m a hematologist specializing in the care and treatment of people with myeloma. The different types of myeloma are:

Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance or MGUS (pronounced em-gus or M-Gus). MGUS typically has no signs or symptoms and is characterized by an abnormal protein in the blood or urine.

And, smoldering myeloma, which is a very slow-growing type of myeloma. It also does not present with symptoms. Patients with smoldering myeloma have a higher chance of needing treatment, so blood and urine studies are ordered regularly.

Last is multiple myeloma. Multiple myeloma is a buildup of plasma cells in the bone marrow that crowds out healthy cells, causing symptoms and other problems in the body.

Sandra:

As part of my diagnosis, Dr. Reynolds ordered a series of tests that included a blood test, bone marrow biopsy, urine test, and imaging.

Dr. Reynolds:

That’s right. We also did additional testing to identify any specific chromosomal or DNA abnormalities to get a better understanding of the genetic nature of the myeloma cells. The results of these tests helped us learn more about the extent of Sandra’s myeloma, her prognosis, and which treatment plan could be most effective.

Sandra:

After I was diagnosed and we had all of my test results, I met with Dr. Reynolds, and she walked me through the goals of treatment for my myeloma.

Dr. Reynolds:

Right! First, we talked about the clinical goals of treatment, which are to slow the progression of the disease and to induce remission.

And, it’s important to note that because each person’s myeloma is different, they are treated differently – be sure to discuss the specific goals of YOUR myeloma with your doctor.

Sandra and I reviewed the effectiveness of each treatment option, including how treatment would be administered, and took all of her test results into consideration to make sure we found the best, most personalized treatment option for her myeloma.

Sandra:

Next, we talked about another key treatment goal: symptom management. Dr. Reynolds asked me to let her know about any symptoms that I experience.

Dr. Reynolds:

Exactly, Sandra. A significant change in symptoms can indicate that it may be time to adjust treatment, if the symptoms are due to the prescribed medication, or that the disease might be changing.

Common symptoms may include fatigue or weakness, loss of appetite, excessive thirst, and weight loss, among others. This is why it’s important to not only have lab work and regular visits with your hematologist, but it’s essential to share about any symptoms you may be having, even if you don’t think it’s related to your myeloma.

And, last but not least, we discussed the most important treatment goal: Sandra’s goals. Sandra let me know that she’s very social and enjoys traveling and spending time with her family – we wanted to make sure she could continue doing the activities she loves.

Sandra:

Then, Dr. Reynolds reviewed each of the treatment approaches with me, including potential side effects and how it may impact my lifestyle. We discussed the pros and cons of each option, and we went over what our next steps would be if the treatment plan needed to be adjusted.

Dr. Reynolds:

Exactly! When deciding on therapy, you and your doctor may also consider:

  • Your age and overall health,
  • Any presence or history of other medical problems, and
  • The financial impact of a treatment plan.

Sandra:

In addition to asking questions, my sister, Beth, took notes during our appointments, since it was often hard for me to absorb everything at once.

We also made sure to talk about the appointment on our way home, while the information was fresh on our minds. And we did our part by researching myeloma and bringing a list of questions to each appointment.

Beth found an office visit planner on the Patient Empowerment Network website that helped me organize my health info and questions.

Dr. Reynolds:

As you can see, Sandra and her sister were actively engaged in each care decision. It’s vital that patients feel empowered to speak up. If you can, bring a friend or loved one along to your appointment.

And, if you are able, it’s a good idea to seek a second opinion or a consultation with a myeloma specialist to help you feel confident in your care decisions.

Sandra:

Dr. Reynolds let me know that she would monitor my condition through regular physical exams, blood work and frequent communication. She made Beth and I feel included in the decision-making process, as if it were a collaboration.

Dr. Reynolds:

That’s right! This is a partnership. So, what steps can you take to be more engaged in your care?

  • Bring a friend or loved one to your appointments.
  • Understand and articulate the goals of your treatment plan.
  • Ask about relevant myeloma testing.
  • Learn about your options and weigh the pros and cons of each approach.
  • And, consider a second opinion or a consult with a specialist.

Sandra:

That’s great advice, Dr. Reynolds. To learn more, visit powerfulpatients.org/myeloma to access a library of tools.

Thanks for joining us!

Guide: How to Play an Active Role in Your Myeloma Treatment and Care Decisions

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NCCN Guidance on Safety and Effectiveness of COVID-19 Vaccines for Cancer Patients

NCCN Guidance on Safety and Effectiveness of COVID-19 Vaccines for Cancer Patients from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine recommended for people living with cancer? Dr. Erin Roesch shares recommendations from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) for those undergoing cancer treatment, including guidance on mask wearing and advice for family members.

Dr. Erin Roesch is a breast medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Roesch here.


Transcript:

Katherine: 

Many cancer patients have questions about the COVID vaccine. Is it safe? Do we need to continue wearing masks? Here to address these questions is cancer expert, Dr. Erin Roesch. Dr. Roesch, would you introduce yourself?

Dr. Roesch: 

Hello. And thank you for inviting me to participate in this very important conversation. My name is Erin Roesch. I am a breast medical oncologist at Cleveland Clinic.

Katherine: 

Excellent. Thank you so much for joining us today. I’d like to run through a list of concerns that cancer patients have about vaccines in general and the COVID vaccine specifically.

So, let’s start with a basic question. Should people get vaccinated if they have cancer?

Dr. Roesch: 

Yes. All individuals diagnosed with cancer should get the COVID-19 vaccine as recommended by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network or NCCN.

An immunocompromised state makes many people with cancer at higher risk of serious COVID-19 illness. Those who are vaccinated are less likely to become sick with COVID-19. And, also, vaccinated people who do get COVID-19 are much less likely to become seriously ill.

I would also mention that those living in the same household as a person diagnosed with cancer and caregivers or other close contacts should also get vaccinated.

Katherine: 

Another common question is whether people with cancer should wait for any reason to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Roesch: 

Most people with cancer should get the vaccine as soon as they can with a few exceptions according to NCCN.

People in the process of receiving stem cell transplant or cellular therapy should wait at least three months after they finish treatment to get vaccinated.

Those diagnosed with certain forms of leukemia should also wait a few weeks after receiving treatment to allow their immune system to recover so the vaccine can be effective.

It’s not been clearly defined exactly how chemotherapy affects responses to COVID-19 vaccines. But some data suggests that immune responses may not be as robust. However, it is still recommended that those receiving chemotherapy and also immunotherapy and radiation should get vaccinated whenever they can.

Katherine:

I think a lot of people are concerned too about whether one vaccine is better than another. What would you say to them?

Dr. Roesch:

And that is a common question that I often get in my clinic. And I advise my patients to receive or take whatever vaccine they are offered.

We don’t really have any studies or data at this point suggesting one being better than another in cancer patients.

Katherine: 

Some people are wondering if the vaccine can give a person COVID-19. How would you address that?

Dr. Roesch: 

I would say that as none of the currently available vaccines are made with a live virus, the vaccine itself can’t give a person COVID-19. By getting vaccinated, actually, those who are immunocompromised are really helping society to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Immunocompromised people who get COVID-19 may be more likely to infect others due to prolonged shedding of the virus after infection.

Katherine:

What about side effects? Are the vaccine’s side effects worse for people with cancer?

Dr. Roesch:  

No. Side effects do not appear to be worse for those diagnosed with cancer. Results to date suggest that the vaccine’s side effects in people with and without cancer are really no different.

These side effects, as we have seen, may include arm soreness, rash, fatigue, chills, fever, headache, for example.

Katherine: 

And, finally, can cancer patients stop wearing a mask after they’ve been vaccinated?

Dr. Roesch:

Cancer patients should continue to wear a mask post-vaccination. Many people with cancer may have a harder time actually fighting infections and may not respond as well to vaccines. So, people diagnosed with cancer and their close contacts should get vaccinated and then continue to follow precautions, which include wearing masks, social distancing, hand hygiene.

Katherine:

Is there a certain length of time that people need to continue wearing a mask after being vaccinated?

Dr. Roesch:  

At this time, I would recommend patients continue to follow the CDC guidelines that are currently in place. And at this point, I don’t think we have a projected end time for that yet.

Katherine:    

Is there anything else you’d like to share with cancer patients who may be concerned about vaccinations?

Dr. Roesch:    

I would encourage those diagnosed with cancer to not only themselves get vaccinated but to also really voice and stress the importance of vaccination to those that surround them, including, again, members of their household, close contacts, and even beyond their inner circle.

I would also advise people to try and avoid letting the concern of possible side effects related to the shot deter them from getting it. The symptoms of COVID-19 can be much worse and potentially serious for some compared with the relatively minor side effects that we’ve seen with the vaccine itself.

I also would mention I’ve had personal patients that have expressed concern about functioning of their immune system while receiving chemotherapy and how this might affect their response to the vaccine. I do emphasize to them that even though responses might not be as strong as they may be in the absence of active treatment, I feel like the potential benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks in my mind.

Katherine:   

Thanks so much for joining us today, Dr. Roesch.

Dr. Roesch:

Thank you for having me.

How to Play an Active Role in Your Myeloma Treatment and Care Decisions

How to Play an Active Role in Your Myeloma Treatment and Care Decisions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can you actively participate in your myeloma care and treatment decisions? Engaging with your healthcare team is essential and may lead to better overall outcomes. In this program, Dr. Rafael Fonseca provides tips for how best to advocate for yourself or a loved one, as well as tools for making treatment and care decisions.

Dr. Rafael Fonseca is the interim director of Mayo Clinic Cancer Center and serves as the director for Innovation and Transformational Relationships at Mayo Clinic in Arizona. Learn more about Dr. Fonseca here.

See More From Engage Myeloma

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Related Programs:

Myeloma Treatment Decisions: What Should Be Considered?

What Standard Testing Follows a Myeloma Diagnosis?

Which Myeloma Patients Should Consider a Stem Cell Transplant?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:    

Hello and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today we’re going to explore how to engage with your healthcare team when diagnosed with myeloma, and we’ll discuss the patient’s role in care decisions. Before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you. Let’s meet our guest today. Joining me is Dr. Rafael Fonseca. Dr. Fonseca, welcome, and would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Rafael Fonseca:   

Yes, of course. Happy to do that. Thank you very much, Katherine.  

I am a hematologist/oncologist, but I specialize in the area of multiple myeloma. I work at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. I currently serve also as interim executive director for the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center that is at large across the Mayo Clinic enterprise. But at heart, I’m a myeloma doctor and I love to take care of myeloma patients. I devote my research and the rest of my academic activities to the field of myeloma.

Katherine:                  

Excellent. Thank you so much for joining us today. Let’s start with a question that’s on the mind of many of our audience members. We’re hearing that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe, but how effective is it for myeloma patients?

Dr. Fonseca:               

Thank you. I think that’s a fundamental question. It’s hard to know precisely how to gauge effectiveness when it comes to vaccination because historically, we know that is done by measuring antibodies and there’s a number of publications that are addressing this.

The concern has been two-fold. One is that because the disease itself is something that starts from the person’s immune cells become cancerous, that perhaps that would prevent them from having a very good response. Number two, and perhaps more importantly, will the treatments that are used for myeloma, etc. or lymphoma, can they interfere with our ability to mount an effective immune response? I think the response is mixed right now. I think I tell all my patients the upside is much better than the downside. I think we have a good record now of the safety of this product. I encourage everyone to get their vaccination.

I think it’s important to discuss this with your healthcare provider because sometimes people say, “Should I stop a little bit so that I can get a better response?” While it’s theoretically possible, we don’t want people to stop treatment if they don’t have to do that. Just my very last quick comment, the good news is that the community transmission is clearly going down as more and more people have participated in the vaccination.

We have more people who now have participated in this level of immunity that we have in the community. Hopefully, for patients as well as for their families, the risk of contracting this will continue to decrease.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. We can only hope. Well, let’s learn a little bit more about the disease itself. Dr. Fonseca, to level set with our audience, can you help us understand myeloma?

Dr. Fonseca:               

I’m happy to do so. Multiple myeloma is a cancer form of the bone marrow that arises when the cells that under normal circumstances protect us by the formation of antibodies. These are called the plasma cells. They become malignant. Myeloma is the last stage of a process where a plasma cell can go through a benign tumor or benign phase, if you may, something we call the monoclonal gammopathy, which by the way is quite common. About two percent of people over the age of 50 have this abnormality. Think of it like the colon polyp, a precursor condition.

There’s an intermediate stage that we call smoldering multiple myeloma, which is just more growth, but not quite at the level that it creates problems for the individual.

Then lastly, what we just simply call multiple myeloma, and that is when the growth of those cells becomes of such magnitude that a person starts having problems or starts having symptoms related to that. These cells live predominantly inside the bones in the space we call the bone marrow. They can do a number of things that actually lead to the symptoms and to the clinical presentation. As they grow in the bone marrow, they take some of that real estate.

A person may experience fatigue and that is because they have anemia.

The myeloma cells are also very characteristic because they can erode into the structure of bones, so destruction of bone is another feature that we see in patients with myeloma. That can be either seen on x-rays or sometimes people will present with symptoms related to bone pain or discomfort with movement or weight bearing. Those are signs that we look for.

Lastly, the myeloma cells product proteins and some of the fragments of those proteins can be damaging to the kidneys. Occasionally, people will present with decreased kidney function and sometimes outright failure of the kidneys. Those are the common presentations. It is a disease that mostly affects people in their 70s. It is not something that you can detect through routine testing; it’s just indirectly we start seeing abnormalities and then we do the right testing. If anyone is hearing this, of course, they need to have a detailed discussion with their own provider.

Katherine:                  

Of course, yeah. When a person is diagnosed with myeloma, they usually have a whole healthcare team. Who is typically on that team?

Dr. Fonseca:               

Absolutely. Let me start by saying the key to the successful management of myeloma is to have a well-organized team. It’s a disease that requires an integrated approach that usually brings around the patient a physician.

As part of my team, we also have advanced practice providers. We work with nurse practitioners that help us do the longitudinal care of patients. We have the nursing team. Every time I meet a new patient, I make it a point to bring my nursing team into the room so they can put a name and a face together, as patients will be interacting, of course, with a nursing team through the portal and the various visits. We have a team that is in charge of the chemotherapy administration. That is usually a separate a nursing team that is in charge of the administration of the medications. But we really don’t stop there.

We have pharmacists who help us review the medications for our patients. Very importantly, we have social workers that help us address psychosocial needs, as well as some of the practicalities that become inevitable when one deals with a serious diagnosis like multiple myeloma.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. Lately, we’ve been hearing this term, “shared decision making,” which basically means that patients and clinicians collaborate to make healthcare decisions, and it can help patients to take a more active role in their care.

I’d like to get your thoughts, Dr. Fonseca, on how best to make this process work.

Dr. Fonseca:               

We are very fortunate to live in this time of medicine, where ultimately, we recognize that the patient is the person expert. It is the patient decisions that should drive what is to be done in a situation. Whenever I interact with patients, I tell them, “Listen, I’m going to be like your counselor. I will provide you with options of what I think is reasonable. I will go to different degrees of effort in trying to convince you one way or another for a particular intervention. But at the end of the day, I only do a good job if I present you with the options and the pros and cons of those various approaches.”

I weave that into my language on every single conversation we have with patients. I think we’re way past the time where a physician would come and say, “This is what you’re going to do,” or “This is what will happen.” My language always includes, “I would recommend this.”

“I think the next best step for you to consider would be X, Y, or Z.” But ultimately, I look at patients and not infrequently at the person next to them, a family member or a close friend, and I say, “You’re the boss and with the person next to you providing additional support, comment, and guidance, we can together reach the best decision of what should proceed.” I think we’re incredibly fortunate because patients have access to sophisticated information, especially patients that have serious conditions such as would be cancer and, in my case, myeloma.

As an example, when I work with general internal medicine residents that work with me learning about hematology, I sometimes tell them, “You’re gonna walk into a room. Are you gonna be seeing what I say, this is like a tennis match between professionals. Are you gonna see the level of questions that patients are going to be asking me? They’re going to be asking me about the latest study that was presented at this meeting and the P value and this and that.”

“I can guarantee you that you would not have the tools to be able to address all those questions, simply because there’s such an in-depth understanding of the disease.” I realize this is not everyone. I’m giving you an extreme example. There are individuals that need additional support, more resources. But just to interact with someone who has such commitment to understand their disease and to help us by that understanding make the right decision makes my job so much more rewarding.

Katherine:                  

What do you think is the role of a patient then in their care?

Dr. Fonseca:               

I think it needs to be … I’m describing in some detail and there’s a lot to unpack there. Of course, patients are dealing with a very serious diagnosis. It’s okay to have periods where they are in a pause moment and they’re reflecting of what their facing, and that they can gather information from close family members.

I think we, as providers and the medical team, need to deliver a message that provides clear options for them as far as what the best next phase of their treatment or their management might be, including observations or supportive care. But the patient ultimately is a person who has to make that decision. I frequently get the question, and this is not surprising, and it happens all the time. A patient tells me, “What would you do if this was a family member?” I always tell them, “I always talk to you as if you were my family member, as if you were my brother, my mother, my father.

So, I try to live deeply to that fiduciary responsibility I have to your well-being. I recognize that there are circumstances, and that’s part of the finesse and the art of medicine, that I have to help a little bit more walk you through that step. Sometimes, it’s just human that one may want to say, I just want to disconnect. Maybe I’m not the person that wants to go and read in detail. But perhaps I have my daughter or my son who are helping me and understand better where things are.”

I think one of the key aspects of my role is to make sure that I have a sense that the person has a good understanding to be able to make an informed decision. At the end of it all, if the person decides to proceed in such way that doesn’t necessarily align with what I’m trying to do, I’m deeply respectful of that choice. I will go to extra lengths. So, if someone is foregoing treatment, when I know their treatment has a high likelihood of improving their quality of life, relieve a symptom, or improve survival, I don’t think I would do a good job if I don’t present why that’s so important. But ultimately, it is the patient’s decision.

Katherine:                  

Related to what you’ve just been speaking about, we have a question from the audience. This one is from Sarah. Her question is, “What advice do you have for caregivers? How can I be supportive during appointments?”

Dr. Fonseca:               

That’s a great question.

I have experienced this both as a physician, as well as a caregiver myself to someone who has had a cancer. I think I’m gonna say that there are several roles that caregivers play. Some of them are obvious and I’m gonna call them practical or perhaps even pedestrian, you know, organizing the activities of every day. That’s important, but a lot of people can do that. The second role is to be in assistance for the knowledge that is needed for some of this decision making. Sometimes patients can be overwhelmed, and we need some support and some vetting and peer process from a trusted and loved person so you can go through that.

That is very helpful, but what is essential, and the number one thing is you are first and foremost the loving family member or friend of that individual who is living through a very profound human experience. I think the first role of a caregiver has to be to express that role.

I, myself, reflect on moments where perhaps in a quick, reactive way I wanted to solve some of the immediate practicalities and what was needed most was a direct support. Even if I face a situation today, if I was, again, a caregiver for someone with a serious diagnosis with cancer, I would start with that priority. Number one, you are the support and the loving person. Number two is I will try to provide information. And number three, hopefully you can help with meals and the driving and what have you. But there’s many more people who can come and help in that regard. Not a lot can do the first part.

Katherine:                  

Right, absolutely. Yeah, those are excellent points. Let’s talk about treatment goals. What are the goals of myeloma treatment from a clinical perspective?

Dr. Fonseca:               

I’ve been very fortunate, also, to live through this era when we have seen a plethora of studies and new drugs being approved for the treatment of myeloma.

When I first started, I used to say no one wanted to do myeloma because we didn’t have good treatments. People wanted to study leukemia, lymphoma. It just turns out that this is probably one of the most vibrant areas of hematology from a science and from a clinical research perspective, of course. If I see young patients who have multiple myeloma, I have essentially two goals. The first one is to induce the deepest possible response I can do so in a safe manner. I also repeat, “in a safe manner.” But I really have the goal to try to induce the deepest response possible because that has translated and continues to translate, and in many ways proven to be associated with an improvement on their longevity and the time we can control the disease.

And it leads me to second goal, and that is that I firmly believe there is a subset of myeloma patients that are cured from their disease.

Now, this is possible because of the availability of these new treatments. I will only be able to say that in 10 and 15 years from now, when we have monitored patients for a long period of time, and we have been able to see that became true. But by all indicators, we have patients that are living many, many years without the disease coming back. I think that would be important. Now, we have patients that with more advanced age sometimes it’s difficult to propose some of the most intense form of treatments like stem-cell transplants.

We don’t do a lot of that in individuals over the age of 72 just because the toll that it takes on a person is very high, and the risks become higher. But still, in that population, providing the best treatment possible becomes a goal because I think more and more, we’re seeing patients in that age category that can start to get close to what normal life expectancy would be. It’s not there. It’s not perfect, but you start to get close. Lastly, if someone asked me, I have that balance between quantity and quality, the good news in myeloma, if you do it right, quantity and quality go hand in hand.

So, effective treatment provides symptom relief and provides durability of responses.

Katherine:                  

That’s excellent. What other factors do you consider when determining a treatment approach?

Dr. Fonseca:               

The human experience that comes to the bedside as we consider treatments is so multi-factorial and multi-complex that all that needs to be brought into consideration. Whenever I walk into the room, I tell residents usually the medical part can be resolved pretty quick, but we’re reading how much we can communicate? What’s the level of understanding? What do I understand about the support system for this person? Is there someone who can drive to the treatment center? Is there someone perhaps whose other medical conditions would create certain challenges in how they’re gonna be treated?

This person is telling me they do daily hikes for four miles. Well, that’s different from someone who I see comes into the clinic and has to use a cane. We try to integrate all of that information to make the right decisions. I’ve made a lot of my career in the early years working and showing how, for instance, genetic factors are important. I’ve come to realize later in my career and through some of the very elegant work that other colleagues have done, that these factors are just as important in determining the ultimate outcome of patients. Whenever I talk about that clinical experience, there’s two things I always tell the residents.

I use the residents a lot because I think it’s a good example of how we aspire to interact with patients. Number one is every single encounter is a final exam. You have to put your best foot forward. Every single encounter should be considered a final exam. Number two is when I walk into that room, there are three things I do, particularly the first time I meet a person.

Number one is connect, right? We cannot have a conversation and I’m not gonna be able to move forward unless we have a human connection and I have gained the trust of the patient and the family members that are there. That’s number one. The second point is decide. That is usually okay, we’re gonna do this treatment or that. That is a small part. Most of the time for me, that’s a very small fraction of the time and of the mental energy that I consume. There’s cases that are more complicated, but most of the time it’s pretty straightforward. So, it’s connect, decide do very small, and then on the other end is explain.

So, that’s how I can connect. I propose we do this, and then why we are gonna do it and what can you expect. If you can do those three things, I think that goes a long way in establishing a fruitful and a productive relationship with a patient and their families.

Katherine:                  

I would suspect that you also take into consideration the patient’s health, their age, maybe test results, side effects, things like that?   

Dr. Fonseca:               

Of course. So, we look at the medical record and with the advent, of course, of the electronic record and all the tests that we do, our consideration is quite complex. We have to look at all those factors, and the age, and comorbidities. It’s rare that we would take one factor alone that would trump everything else. We usually have to integrate the information. The same is true when we manage myeloma patients and we’re monitoring their protein levels and their response to treatment. I tell patients, they ask me, “What would you do? What’s the magic number for this or that?”

I say, “It’s a little bit like you’re flying a Cessna plane and you have all these dials in your dashboard, and that’s how we manage the situation is the integration of all of that information.”

Katherine:                  

Right. Can you help us understand, Dr. Fonseca, how test results may affect treatment options?

Dr. Fonseca:               

Sure. Happy to do that. In myeloma, we are very fortunate in that we have, and it’s not the topic for today, but we have the best biomarker that exists for any cancer. That is that we can measure the proteins that are associated with the growth of the cells. We have multiple tests that we can do. We do them in the blood and we do them in the urine. They’re simple tests that have been done for decades now that allow us to monitor how a person is doing with regards to their disease. I use the following analogy. Myeloma cells live inside the bones, as I mentioned, in the bone marrow.

They don’t come out into the blood. So, we cannot measure them. Indirectly, we can measure how many they are and how they are behaving by measuring this protein. I use an analogy of imagine you’re walking in a street, and you see smoke coming out of a building. There are two things you can do. First is you diagnose that there is a fire inside the building, right? We see that with myeloma by measuring these abnormal proteins.

Then as a firefighting team comes on, you can gauge whether they’re making progress or not by the amount of smoke that comes out. That’s exactly what we do when we monitor myeloma. We monitor the M-Spike, the serum free light chain, the urinary proteins. That’s how we make those determinations.

At the same time, we do that, we have to look indirectly at the rest of the body. We have to look at the kidney function. We have to look at the blood counts. We have to look at the hemoglobin and the red cell count because that can (A) start on the wrong foot because of the myeloma itself, but (B) can also suffer as a consequence of our treatment.

It is, again, that idea of having the multiple dials in the dashboard that allow us to reach our practice. We have to be adjusting. So, if we measure the proteins and we’re doing great, but then at the same time we see we’re suffering in blood counts, and we may need to adjust those as we provide supportive treatment. If we don’t see the proteins go down, then that may mean we need to change to a different form of treatment or that the person is unfortunately a refractory or relapsing to something.

So, that’s how we integrate the test results into our management.

Katherine:                  

What sort of questions should patients consider asking about their treatment plan?

Dr. Fonseca:               

I think it’s important that patients understand a few things. They can be described in multiple ways. Number one is, of course, what? What is it that is being used? I think that includes a description of what to expect, the practicalities, the names of the medications, their side effect profile, and what to report when you use those medicines. I think that’s very important because if you’re empowered with that information, you’re gonna be better off as you react for symptoms that may come along. I always tell patients when you have a cancer diagnosis, your self-awareness goes through the roof because we’re gonna be paying attention to everything, every skin change, every pain we have.

So, I think having a bit of that proactive discussion becomes important as they think about the treatments that they want. I think the how-to on the practicalities are very important. The best where the nursing team and the pharmacists help us a lot too. Do you take the medicines at night? Do you take them with meals? Is there something that you shouldn’t be mixing? How much time would it take for me to get a refill? It’s different to get a medication from a specialty pharmacy versus your down-the-street Walgreens. So, all of those things are important that patients, again, participate in the understanding.

If not them, at least the caregivers that are a part of this team. I think it’s important that patients ask also some brief descriptions of (A) the biology of the disease. If I have myeloma, what type of myeloma do I have? Does that matter as far as what treatments I’m going to be using? What treatment options may be available to me because of my specific subtype? We have subsets of myeloma that have options that are not available to others.

Also, I think it’s important that patients also ask a sense from the physicians as to where they are. I’d like to describe this a little bit more. Sometimes, patients ask us specific questions about, am I in a complete response? Am I in a very good partial response? What is a PFS? Those terms work very well when we talk about clinical trials, but they don’t necessarily describe in a great way the situation for an individual patient. I’d use a lot more objectives than I’d use technical terms when I describe where patients are. I say, “You have an excellent response. You have a very deep response.”

Then I’d provide more details if they want. “Yes, you’re MRD-negative at 10 to the -6.” But sometimes I find that it’s harder for patients to understand where they are if they completely focus on the staging system or the response criteria, etc. Because maybe a VGPR, a very good partial response, doesn’t sound very good.

But then you can be in a very good partial response for 15 years and it doesn’t matter. You my want to be in an MRD-negative status, but you still have a good outcome. That’s why the general description of the status by a physician becomes important.

Katherine:                  

Do you think patients should get a second opinion consult with a specialist?

Dr. Fonseca:               

In general, my answer is going to be yes. This is not self-serving. I think myeloma has become so complex that trying to integrate at least once, or if not, in some infrequent basis, an opinion of a myeloma specialist becomes important. This is no one’s fault. If you’re a community oncologist somewhere where myeloma represents only a small fraction of your practice, I can guarantee you, you cannot stay on top of the literature. I cannot stay up with everything that goes on with myeloma, even though that’s what I do 100% of the time.

I get an email every week with all the articles, all the publications, and I have to integrate that. I have to think, okay, does this matter or not? I go to the professional meetings. I see all the abstracts and I still feel like I’m missing out. How could you do that if that is only a small fraction of your practice? I’m sure that the same applies for other cancers, breast and colon. You can’t move. You cannot uproot yourself and leave your community and your family, but I think there should be ways by which patients at least have an opinion from someone who has more expertise. Fortunately, there are many centers across the nation now that have that expertise for the management of myeloma.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Fonseca, we have a question from a newly diagnosed myeloma patient. Barbara says, “I am just about to begin my first myeloma treatment. What can I expect?”

Dr. Fonseca:

Thank you, Barbara, for the question. I think if you start on treatment, first of all I hope they already went through a good description of what the treatments are, the frequency by which you’re gonna have to go to the center, and also what are the toxicities to look out for.

One of the most common toxicities that we face and one of the most challenging parts of initial treatment is the use of steroids. So, we use dexamethasone as part of every single regimen we use for myeloma. I tell patients, “Dexamethasone is a simple drug at first glance, but it’s oftentimes the most complicated part of treatment.”

The human brain works at triple speed when you’re on dexamethasone. So, it’s hard to sometimes be able to sleep properly. People can become anxious and even the sweetest person in the world can become a little bit edgy on dexamethasone.

I always say Mother Teresa on dexamethasone would be an edgy person. Just be patient. Work with the team. Just know that on the other side of treatment there is a return to normal life.

Our goal as we embark on treatments and, for instance, is I see patients that are going to go through transplant, I tell them, “Our goal is you finish, you recover, and you go back to your life. You back to work. You go back to your family, your kids, your sports.” That’s really what we strive for when we treat patients with myeloma.  

Katherine:                  

Yeah. Once on therapy, how is the disease monitored and how do you know if the treatment is working?

Dr. Fonseca:               

Well, fortunately, we use the same markers. Once a person is in therapy, we will be monitoring. We monitor at least on a monthly basis of those myeloma protein markers. Once a person reaches a great level of response, sometimes we complement that with an analysis of the bone marrow. Of course, it’s more invasive, so we don’t like to do a lot of them, but we do them as needed. As we go forward and monitor patients, we will be looking for signs that those proteins remain in a low level as stable as an indicator that the disease is under control.

Now, if I saw someone and then I start seeing that there’s an increased concentration of those proteins or we see something else clinical, we might need to do a little bit of a regrouping and test again in great detail to determine if the person is experiencing regrowth and the disease is so-called relapsed.           

Katherine:                  

Why is it so important for patients to speak up when it comes to symptoms or treatment side effects?

Dr. Fonseca:               

Well, that’s a great question. If you don’t speak about them, we don’t know about them. It seems very obvious, but then we cannot make the proper adjustments. I’ll give you a couple of examples. I already talked about dexamethasone, but a common drug we use is something called bortezomib. Bortezomib is a proteasome inhibitor.

That’s a mouthful, but it’s one of the key type of drugs we use. It’s given as an injection under the skin. Not to be confused, by the way, with daratumumab. Faspro is the name of that medication, so not to be confused with that is bortezomib, which we have been using for many years.

Bortezomib has a potential toxicity that is called peripheral neuropathy. If patients have peripheral neuropathy, that can go from very mild where you have some numbness and tingling, to the more extreme cases that it’s associated with pain, discomfort, even weakness and disability.

Well, if we don’t know that’s happening, then we can’t react to it and we can’t adjust doses or switch to something different altogether. You can imagine now we have more options, but in the old days, I always tell patients, “You might be tempted not to say anything about this because you might be thinking, boy, this is working. I don’t want to interfere with my treatment. I can live with the peripheral neuropathy.” But if it gets worse, despite the fact that the treatment is working, the person might have a very significant impingement on their quality of life.

More so now that we have so many alternatives, it’s important not to get us into a path that we might reach a point of an irreversible chronic complication from treatment.

Katherine:                  

No, and that would be awful.

Dr. Fonseca:               

Absolutely.

Katherine:                  

Before we end the program, Dr. Fonseca, have there been any recent developments in myeloma treatment in research that make you hopeful? 

Dr. Fonseca:               

Absolutely. I would say that the one area of work that makes me most hopeful is what we’re seeing with immunotherapy. We have seen that both as the ASH meeting, as well as the ASCO meeting in this year, where people are presenting updates with the various clinical trials with either bi-specific antibodies or CAR T cell therapy as a new avenue for the treatment of myeloma.

In fact, at the last ASH meeting, we had 14 presentations of different compounds or different constructs that are active. I think the future is bright in that regard. We’re seeing their application right now. A lot of these updates have also been made as ASCO.

We’re seeing the update of the treatment of treatments with fairly advanced and aggressive disease where we can still show very significant responses. I participate in some of these trials. I can tell you in my institution, using some of the bi-specifics, I see patients who have previously exhausted all of their options and now are MRD negative at 10 to the -6.

If we’re seeing that in the very advanced disease, I cannot wait to see what happens when we start using these treatments in either early relapse and why not in the near future as frontline part of our therapy? I think to me, that whole field of T-cell engagers, where there’s bi-specifics or the CAR T cells remains one of the most exciting areas for future research.

Katherine:                  

How can patients stay up to date on information like this?

Dr. Fonseca:               

I think what we alluded to before is very important to work with groups like yours and other patient support organizations that can keep them up to date. I think they’re doing a very good job at also providing updates post some of the large meetings. I know there’s a lot of patients out there that are very sophisticated that will even join the medical meetings. That happens with some frequency; that they want to learn, and patients that go and ask me details about the statistics of the trial. That’s a whole spectrum, right?

But at the minimum, I would say a strong connection with a support group, or a patient support organization becomes an imperative as you deal with this. Also, that would help you because with this whole concept of the information not always being complete and truthful, that can be scary as well, too.

If someone goes and just looks for, I would say even some of the resources that are out there in a textbook today, just keep in mind that textbook was probably written five years ago, and it represents the studies of about 10 or 15 years ago. How that relates to you, it’s very distant. So, it is because of this continuous process of research that we know better what’s going on at the present time.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Fonseca, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.

Dr. Fonseca:               

Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity.

Katherine:                  

And thank you to all of our partners. To learn more about myeloma, and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for joining us.

How Can We Address Noted Disparities in Multiple Myeloma?

How Can We Address Noted Disparities in Multiple Myeloma? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What can patients and healthcare providers do to improve health disparities for myeloma patients? Expert Dr. Joseph Mikhael explains the communities that need more outreach about myeloma and those he views as vital to educating about myeloma risk and symptoms for earlier diagnosis and better health outcomes.

See More From the Myeloma TelemEDucation Empowerment Resource Center

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How Can Myeloma Patients Take Disease Ownership and Connect With Resources?

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Will Telemedicine Be a Mainstay for Myeloma Patients After the Pandemic?

Will Telemedicine Be a Mainstay for Myeloma Patients After the Pandemic?

 

Transcript:

Dr. Joseph Mikhael:

Well, I have to tell you, this is a very personal issue for me, disparities in multiple myeloma, and I have the privilege of being involved in many programs and platforms to try and address this. And like with any major consideration, there isn’t a simple solution, it is going to take a multi-fold solution that has many parts. The first part that I think is critical is engagement of our communities, whether it is the Black community, the Hispanic community, even though in more rural areas or patients uninsured, we really require a kind of an engagement that’s real to build trust, to build confidence, this is stemmed from years of mistrust and understandably, so that we have to re-build.

I try to do that personally in my practice, but advocate for it on a larger sphere. Secondly, I want to empower my patients to learn and for communities to learn, whether someone has myeloma might have my load or as already myeloma, and I don’t have it might have it, or do you have it? Those patients need to be educated about myeloma so that they can understand who’s at risk and facilitate a more early and a more accurate diagnosis. Thirdly, I believe very much so, in educating the primary care world, the majority of patients with myeloma are still diagnosed by a primary care physician. They may ultimately see a hematologist-oncologist to confirm that, but the suspicion comes at the primary care level. And so I’m involved in multiple programs to educate primary care docs to think about myeloma, as I like to say, “If you don’t take a temperature, a patient won’t have a fever, you need to look for it.” And so if there are certain signs or symptoms that may include bone pain, significant fatigue, signs that we see like protein in the urine or a low hemoglobin or kidney dysfunction, these things need to push us to look for multiple myeloma. And then lastly, to look at disparity as an important area of work across the whole board that we need to better access to have better access for clinical trials and for the therapies that we know will benefit our patients, and that’s on us as physicians. But it’s also on the community at large, our regulators, our insurance companies.

Those are the kinds of things that I’m working on so that we can make a long-standing difference and really start to reduce this currently awful disparity in multiple myeloma.

 

How Can Myeloma Patients Take Disease Ownership and Connect With Resources?

How Can Myeloma Patients Take Disease Ownership and Connect With Resources? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What actions can multiple myeloma patients take to ensure the best care? Expert Dr. Joseph Mikhael shares his perspective on how patients can take ownership towards optimal myeloma care.

See More From the Myeloma TelemEDucation Empowerment Resource Center

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Why Is Multiple Myeloma Nearly Twice As Common in BIPOC Communities?

Why Is Multiple Myeloma Nearly Twice As Common in BIPOC Communities?

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Will Telemedicine Mitigate Financial Toxicity for Myeloma Patients?

What Are the Benefits of Telemedicine for Myeloma Patients?

 

Transcript:

Dr. Joseph Mikhael:

I have long believed in patient advocacy, that we need to make systemic changes, we need to make changes within the healthcare system. But our patients are partners alongside of that, and there are many ways in which patients can be empowered to ensure that they have access to the best treatment possible, and this really begins with their own belief and understanding that they are part of that solution. This is…as one of my patients always used to tell me, I am taking ownership of this disease, I don’t want to own it, but I’m taking ownership of this disease. And that initial thought process, I think is important, secondly, to educate oneself about it, there is so much to learn, and there are a lot of difficult ways that it can be difficult to navigate resources. But there are great resources available because patients who are informed and understand their condition more can definitely facilitate the process to their best care. Thirdly, we’ve come to appreciate that having access to a specialist is very important, multiple myeloma may account for only 1 to 2 percent of all malignancies, and so very often, it may be difficult for a community oncologist to keep up with all of the details, and so…

Now, perhaps more than ever through the pandemic with access to telemedicine, patients can seek out an expert opinion. I prefer to call it an expert opinion over a second opinion because it doesn’t mean the first opinion is wrong, it just allows further education, further understanding to enhance one’s care. And then, of course, lastly, to be involved in community and other efforts that really push us towards better access for treatments for patients and better education are reducing the stage of this disease, so we can all provide the best care possible for our patients. 

Why Is Multiple Myeloma Diagnosed Much Later in BIPOC Patients?

Why is Multiple Myeloma Diagnosed Much Later in BIPOC Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

How do multiple myeloma diagnosis and treatment differ in BIPOC communities? Expert Dr. Joseph Mikhael details some statistics on BIPOC myeloma patients, factors that can impact myeloma survival rates, and myeloma clinical trial participation rates of African Americans.

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Will Telemedicine Mitigate Financial Toxicity for Myeloma Patients?

Will Telemedicine Mitigate Financial Toxicity for Myeloma Patients?

How Can We Address Noted Disparities in Multiple Myeloma?

How Can We Address Noted Disparities in Multiple Myeloma?

 

Transcript:

Dr. Joseph Mikhael:

We know that multiple myeloma is a unique disease in the African American, in the Black community, really for many reasons, primarily the disease is twice as common in Blacks than it is in Caucasians, we don’t fully understand all of the rationale and the understanding of that, the science behind that, but we know it’s just twice as prevalent.  What’s perhaps most disturbing is that despite knowing that it is twice as common, it is often not recognized and not recognized in time. The average time to diagnosis from the onset of symptoms to an accurate diagnosis is significantly longer in the African American community than it would be in the Caucasian community, and that’s an unfortunate reality. And that along with the treatment that individuals have access to, we’ve learned, unfortunately, that African Americans are less likely to receive triplet therapies or the combinations of chemotherapy that are so important, transplant that we know is stem cell transplants are very important in the treatment of myeloma, and access to clinical trials. African Americans constitute somewhere between 17 percent to 20 percent of all myeloma patients in this country, but actually, only reflect about 5 percent to 6 percent of clinical trial participation, and all of that has led unfortunately to an inferior survival rate in African Americans compared to Caucasians.

We’ve seen huge advances in survival in myeloma over the last decade, but for every 1.3 years gained by Caucasian patients, we’ve only seen 0.8 years gained in Black patients, so this is a disparity that is disturbing and that we need to address.

The disparity in multiple myeloma is honestly, not only confined to the African American community, we see this in many other vulnerable communities, in particular, the Hispanic community, where we know that the disease is diagnosed at a younger age than we would typically see in the Caucasian community. Also reflective of the healthcare system in our country where many patients of the Hispanic background have less access to healthcare, and this clearly influences outcomes, and so as we study this more and appreciate it more, we come to understand that there are many vulnerable populations by virtue of race, by virtue of insurance status, by virtue of a documented status, all of these things, unfortunately, have a significant impact in a patient’s survival with multiple myeloma. COVID-19 has really affected so many things in the medical community. But thankfully, one of the things that we have not significantly seen, apart from for a period of time, reduced access to clinical trials, we have been able to maintain the supply of our key agents and treatments that we use in multiple myeloma. So I’m very thankful that I have not had to delay or cancel my patients’ treatments by virtue of a supply chain issue, we’re very grateful that that supply chain has pretty well been maintained after out the pandemic, and we trust will continue to be maintained.

Why Is Multiple Myeloma Nearly Twice As Common in BIPOC Communities?

Why Is Multiple Myeloma Nearly Twice As Common in BIPOC Communities? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Why does multiple myeloma impact some BIPOC communities nearly twice as often compared to white Americans? Expert Dr. Joseph Mikhael shares factors that affect diagnosis and treatment of African American and Hispanic American patients — and how to improve health outcomes for BIPOC myeloma patients.

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Will Telemedicine Mitigate Financial Toxicity for Myeloma Patients?

Why is Multiple Myeloma Diagnosed Much Later in BIPOC Patients?

Why is Multiple Myeloma Diagnosed Much Later in BIPOC Patients?

 

 

Transcript:

Dr. Joseph Mikhael:

Almost twice as common in the African American population, it’s diagnosed younger, and the African American population is actually also diagnosed younger in the Hispanic population. And then even though we tell myeloma is having this amazing survival advantage over the last decade, which is true, that advantage has not been seen in the African American population as much as we have seen in the Caucasian population, similarly not as much in the Hispanic population as well. So those are the key highlights. When people have access to those treatments, when there is that kind of equity, we actually see the outcomes, if not the same, are actually better for African American patients. So it highlights, what I often call the three T’s that are not accessed as well in the African American population, triplets, transplant, and trials. So those are some of the key things I like to say. And then when we talk about how we correct this.

I think there was a question about how are we going to do it, that could be a 20-minute answer, but it’s not just a function of having more transplants, triplets, or trials, it is really engaging the community to change this course of my alumni really is an issue of trust and of long-term strategies that engage people in a way that resonates with them, to be able to trust their institution in their hospital or their physician or within their community.

Number one, we know even from studies that we’ve done in Africa and gone on in other countries that, for reasons we don’t really understand the disease is twice as common from its early stage from MGUS right through to myeloma. It’s not an environmental factor, it’s not a later acquired phenomenon, so the baseline risk is significantly higher. But that’s secondly experiencing myeloma, having it has a lot to do with the whole experience that patients have with myeloma from diagnosis through treatment. And we know that, unfortunately, along the way, there’s a significantly longer time to diagnosis, in the African American population which has multiple reasons. Some of it is a lack of understanding, a lack of trust, a lack of education in the physician community. As part of one, the big projects that I’m working on later this year is to educate primary care doctors in primarily African American communities, so that when that man comes in with symptoms that I think of myeloma, they think of diabetes, diabetes, diabetes.

And I want them to think diabetes, diabetes, myeloma. I want it to be added to that differential diagnosis, so it’s a multi-headed beast for the diagnosis. But also as I mentioned before, access and so on all the way through, so it’s a complex problem. We do know that certain side genetic features are more common in African Americans, namely what’s called the translocation t(11;14), which with the right treatment actually can have a better outcome. So it tells us that there is a goal line that we can reach, that can actually get superior outcomes, and yet we’re now in inferior outcomes.

Is MGUS More Prevalent in BIPOC Communities?

Is MGUS More Prevalent in BIPOC Communities? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Does the multiple myeloma precursor of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) occur more frequently in minority (BIPOC) patients? Expert Dr. Sarah Holstein from the University of Nebraska Medical Center shares information that myeloma studies are researching on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color patients and how to improve myeloma awareness and care.

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What Are the Benefits of Telemedicine for Myeloma Patients?

 

Transcript:

Dr. Sarah Holstein:

:  When we look at data sources like the SEER (The Surveillance Epidemiology, and End Results) data source, it’s not necessarily so granular that we can always distinguish whether the population is Black/Hispanic, Black/non-Hispanic, but really where I’ve seen the increased risk is whenever there are population-based studies and they describe the population at least in the U.S. as Black. I will admit I don’t know the details as to further sub-division amongst the category of Black and whether or not it’s appropriate to use the term BIPOC in this setting with respect to why do Black Americans have higher risk of plasma cell disorders than white Americans? I think that’s still a question that we can’t completely answer. There are a lot of really good research teams in this country and really worldwide that are trying to understand the different genetic-based risks, and it’s clear based on some studies that there’s some differential with respect to for example, what the frequency is of particular genetic abnormalities that happen in the plasma cells as they go from normal to abnormal. So, one example that I’ve seen is a higher frequency of translocation 11;14 in patients who are Black compared to patients who are white, but ultimately, I don’t think there’s an easy, easily understood answer to that very complex question right now with respect to why the risk is two to three-fold higher in Black individuals compared to white individuals. 

And then that’s a little bit of a separate—I mean it’s related, but in some ways, and that’s somewhat separate from the issue of when Black individuals actually get diagnosed with myeloma, whether that’s at a more advanced state of the disease than in white people that I think is a little bit more dependent on access to care as well, as knowledge of the disease. I would say that in general, myeloma is not a cancer that most Americans are actually that familiar with, and that’s regardless of white, Black, race or ethnicity, it’s still a relatively rare cancer and most people have never heard of it and don’t know other people who’ve had it. But I think what is key in the Black community is to really increase awareness of not only myeloma, but the precursor condition MGUS just like there have been enormous efforts to increase awareness of the risks of high blood pressure and diabetes, and how that can affect health later on, there’s also… I think sometimes a decreased frequency of access to primary care, sometimes myeloma is picked up just because of routine blood work, and that can be done sometimes on an annual basis by a primary care provider. And if individuals aren’t getting their annual physical and annual labs drawn, then by the time myeloma presents itself, sometimes it’s at the point where it’s presenting, because bad things have happened, like bones are breaking, or patients are very anemic, or there are serious infections, etcetera, as opposed to being found in a more asymptomatic stage when abnormalities such as high protein levels in the blood are noted that patients are otherwise feeling well. So I think you raise some really excellent questions, and I think there’s a lot of room for improvement in this country for not only improving the research so that we understand what the genetic bases are for developing plasma cell disorders, but also increasing education throughout this country, but specifically in the Black population, and then making sure that everybody has access to care.

Tips for Myeloma Patients Deciphering Between In-Person or a Telemedicine Visit

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Tips for Myeloma Patients Deciphering Between In-Person or a Telemedicine Visit

Download Guide

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Telemedicine Visit Preparation Tips From Myeloma Patients to Myeloma Patients

Telemedicine Visit Preparation Tips From Myeloma Patients to Myeloma Patients from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

With the pandemic altering our conventional communication methods, how can myeloma patients be prepared for upcoming telehealth appointments? Myeloma patients Barry Marcus and Honora Miller share their top tips for being as prepared as possible for a telemedicine visit.

See More From the Myeloma TelemEDucation Resource Center

Transcript:

Barry Marcus:

One of the virtues of it is that you can seek opinions from a wide geographic area, you don’t have to travel, some opinions that you might want to get could be thousands of miles away, and I didn’t feel when I had a telemedicine visit that was really much different than an in-person visit, we talked about the same things we would have had we been face-to-face, and I was very happy with it.

Honora Miller:

I’ve had quite a few telemedicine visits since the beginning of COVID, almost the entirety of my myeloma specialist visits have been via telemedicine. And I don’t have to drive an hour and a half to get there. My doctor is on time. We have the same conversation we would have had in person, and it’s very efficient, I come with my list, and it’s very efficient. I do see my local oncologist via in-person every other month so that they can lay their hands on me, and that seems to be sufficient, but every other month, just before my infusion, I’ll have a telemedicine visit with the oncologist and that’ll be sufficient and it’s cut down on a lot of anxiety around COVID.

Barry Marcus:

I would definitely recommend having, as you mentioned, a list of questions before you initiate the meeting, and think about what you really want to get from the meeting, and then review your list maybe towards the end and make sure that you have gone over the things that you wanted to talk about.

Honora Miller:

Agreed, I feel that it helps focus the conversation, and then you just know you’ve covered everything that’s concerned to you.

Will Telemedicine Be a Mainstay for Myeloma Patients After the Pandemic?

The Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) is fostering change toward achieving equitable healthcare for all. One resource, the Myeloma TelemEDucation Empowerment Resource Center is to significantly improve multiple myeloma patients’ and caregivers’ familiarity with remote access to healthcare, and thus increase quality of care regardless of geographical location. This one-of-a-kind resource center is intended to educate the myeloma community on the practical usage of telemedicine tools, to humanize patient and provider experiences.

Here’s a summary view of the knowledge gained about telemedicine to help provide optimal care to myeloma patients and to aid in receiving optimal care no matter virus limitations, where patients live, and other factors.

Benefits and Limitations of Telemedicine Visits

There are both benefits and limitations of telemedicine visits. Some benefits of telehealth include:

  • Telemedicine allows care providers the opportunity to determine when myeloma patients really need to be seen in-person.
  • Standard of care and maintenance treatment are usually a good fit for using some telemedicine visits in clinical trials.
  • The option to get laboratory work done closer to home is a benefit for saving travel time and from taking time off of work and also lessens patient exposure to viruses.
  • Telehealth allows care providers the opportunity to meet family members of some patients who can’t make it to in-person visits and to get to know their patients on a more personal level.
  • Care providers are now able to provide second opinions to patients in other parts of their state and even to some patients across the country.

Unfortunately, some limitations of telehealth include:

  • Gauging toxicity and other things with new treatments are usually best done along with performing a physical exam.
  • Some patients only have technology access to talk over the phone and don’t have access to use video due to their device or due to lack of Wi-Fi bandwidth.
  • Physical examinations cannot be performed via telehealth visits.
  • Some providers feel it’s more difficult to establish a bond with some patients and to have considerable discussions with then over telemedicine.
  • Open and honest communication between patients and care providers is sometimes better served in-person.

How to Optimize a Telemedicine Visit

 Just like in-person care visits, telemedicine visits are scheduled with a time limit in mind. Some things to remember about telemedicine visits are:

  • Try to write down your questions for your doctor or care provider before your appointment to keep on track. Keep it next to you for easy access during your visit.
  • If patients normally have a friend or loved one join or doctors have a nurse or pharmacist join for in-person visits, have them join your telemedicine visits to help take notes, to ask questions, and/or to provide answers or additional information.
  • If a video conferencing tool is needed for your visit, install the tool on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone ahead of time to prevent rushing before your appointment. If possible, try to test the video conferencing tool with a friend or loved one a day or so ahead of your appointment.
  • If there’s anything you don’t understand during the appointment, ask your doctor to explain it again – whether it’s medication instructions, test results, a new medical term, or anything else.
  • If you feel like a treatment isn’t working well for you, ask your doctor about possible medication or dosage changes.
  • Just like in-person doctor visits, your doctor or care provider may run a few minutes late. Try your best to remain flexible and to be patient.

Telemedicine and Multiple Myeloma Clinical Trials

To the surprise of some, telemedicine has taken a role in multiple myeloma clinical trials. Currently, and looking to the future, patients can expect:

  • Telemedicine to continue as an option for follow-up visits along with in-person visits in clinical trials.
  • Paperwork for clinical trials to be available to complete online for an easier process for joining clinical trials.
  • Multiple myeloma clinical trials to provide optimal care through the use of both telemedicine and in-person visits.
  • Telemedicine to provide more options for clinical trial access for those who live in remote areas.
  • Multiple myeloma clinical trials for quality-of-life studies, engagement studies, educational studies, and possibly others to be available via telemedicine. 

Financial Benefits of Telemedicine 

Telemedicine has brought some financial benefits for multiple myeloma patients, including:

  • Telemedicine saves the time and costs of traveling to appointments and can reduce or sometimes eliminate the need to take time off from work for an appointment.
  • The option of connecting with your doctor via telemedicine can sometimes eliminate the need for costly urgent care visits.
  • The use of telemedicine eliminates the need to find child care for patients and care partners with young children who couldn’t take them along to in-person doctor appointments.

Telemedicine Glossary

Here are some helpful telemedicine terms to know:

  • HIPAA – HIPAA, or the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, is a healthcare compliance law providing data security and privacy for the safeguarding of patient medical information. In telemedicine, provider-patient communication must take place through HIPAA-compliant secure platforms.
  • Patient portal – a secure Internet sign-on that allows patients to contact their provider, review medical tests and records, access health education materials, and seek appointments. Most provider networks develop a patient portal before they move to full video appointments.
  • Remote monitoring – type of ambulatory healthcare where patients use mobile medical devices to perform a routine test and send the test data to a healthcare professional in real-time.
  • VPN – a VPN, or virtual private network, is a secure and private way to connect to the Internet over public wireless connections. VPNs are particularly important for those living the digital nomad lifestyle and connecting in foreign countries where networks may be more vulnerable to communication transmission interference.

Now that telemedicine tools continue to increase in use and to be refined, multiple myeloma patients can feel hopeful about improved care and treatment ahead for patients. As a step in that direction, take advantage of the resources below and continue to visit the Myeloma TelemEDucation Empowerment Resource Center for informative content about multiple myeloma and telemedicine.


Resources for Telemedicine and Multiple Myeloma

Are There Limitations of Telemedicine for Multiple Myeloma Patients?

How Will the Pandemic Impact Multiple Myeloma Trials?

Is Telemedicine Here to Stay for Multiple Myeloma Care?

 What Are the Benefits of Telemedicine for Myeloma Patients?

How to Make the Most of a Virtual Visit

Telemedicine & Second Opinion Options

What Are Best Practices for Multiple Myeloma Patients Utilizing Telemedicine?

How Can Myeloma Patients Reduce Infection Risks During Medical Appointments?

Financial Resources for Patients and Families

 Will Telemedicine Mitigate Financial Toxicity for Myeloma Patients?

 Will Telemedicine Be a Long-Term Survival Tool for Myeloma Patients?

Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe for Myeloma Patients?

Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe for Myeloma Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Should myeloma patients get the COVID-19 Vaccine? Dr. Joshua Richter encourages all patients to get the vaccine but notes important considerations around treatment.

Dr. Joshua Richter is director of Multiple Myeloma at the Blavatnik Family – Chelsea Medical Center at Mount Sinai. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Medicine in The Tisch Cancer Institute, Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology. Learn more about Dr. Richter, here.

See More From Engage Myeloma


Related Programs:

Myeloma Treatment Decisions: What Should Be Considered?

What Standard Testing Follows a Myeloma Diagnosis?

An Expert’s Take on Promising Myeloma Treatment and Research


Transcript:

Katherine:

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for patients with myeloma?

Dr. Richter:

Absolutely, 100 percent yes. Everybody with myeloma should absolutely get the vaccine. What’s a little more complicated is the timing of it. So, one is in relation to stem cell transplant or CAR T-cell therapy. If you’ve had one of these, obviously, consult with your provider. But the general recommendation is to wait about 60 to 90 days after a high-dose therapy like that. And it’s not a question of safety, it’s a question of efficacy. Vaccines are like vegetables, seeds, you have to put them in the ground to grow. If you give yourself a vaccine right after a stem cell transplant, well, your bone marrow is not ready to work with it. It’s like planting a seed in the desert.

You want to make sure your immune system can take in that vaccine and give you immunity. So, you have to wait at least 60 to 90 days. The other question is, what happens if you’re getting continual therapy? And we don’t know the answer for most of these drugs, but one of the things is dexamethasone (Decadron), which is a steroid. Almost all myeloma therapy comes with some steroids. And we like to separate the vaccine from the steroid dose by a little bit if we can. Again, always important to talk with your care team as to risk/benefit about holding certain treatments.

An Expert’s Take on Promising Myeloma Treatment and Research

An Expert’s Take on Promising Myeloma Treatment and Research from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Myeloma research is advancing quickly. Dr. Joshua Richter, a myeloma expert, shares his excitement about emerging treatments in development.

Dr. Joshua Richter is director of Multiple Myeloma at the Blavatnik Family – Chelsea Medical Center at Mount Sinai. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Medicine in The Tisch Cancer Institute, Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology. Learn more about Dr. Richter, here.

See More From Engage Myeloma


Related Programs:

Myeloma Treatment Decisions: What Should Be Considered?

Myeloma Treatment: When Should a Clinical Trial Be Considered?

What Standard Testing Follows a Myeloma Diagnosis?


Transcript:

Katherine:

When it comes to myeloma research and emerging treatment options, what are you most excited about, specifically?

Dr. Richter:

So, I think the big thing that I’m excited about from myeloma that we’re on the cusp of is T-cell engagers and T-cell based therapies. And, essentially, we all have T cells in our body, and T cells are a part of our immune system. They attack bacteria, viruses, and cancer.

And one of the best cancer fighters that exists is our own immune system. And the old way of treating cancer and blood cancers like myeloma was just to give medicines that suppressed all of the immune system, the good and the bad. Now, we’re trying to be more precise, and there’s certain parts of the immune system that we don’t want down, we want up. So, they help attack the cancer.

And the two biggest technologies are something called CAR T and something called bispecific antibodies. CAR T stands for chimeric antigen receptor T cells.

And, basically, what that is is we collect your T cells, we engineer them in the lab to rev them up and target the cancer. And we can put them back into you and they attack the cancer, very exciting. And then we have something called a bispecific antibody that has two arms. And as we infuse this medicine into you, one arm grabs onto the cancer cell, the other arm grabs onto your T cell and makes that T cell activate and attack the cancer cell.

And a lot of these drugs are in clinical trials as well. So, we’re very excited about moving from, you know, just lowering everything, the good and the bad, to being more precise and saying, no, no, no. There are some cells that we want way, way up.

Katherine:

Right. Right. So, you’re – you’re being much more specific now.

Dr. Richter:

Mm-hmm.

Myeloma Treatment: When Should a Clinical Trial Be Considered?

Myeloma Treatment: When Should a Clinical Trial Be Considered? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 At what point should a clinical trial be an option for myeloma treatment? Dr. Joshua Richter shares his perspective on the appropriate time to weigh clinical trial participation and the potential benefits.

Dr. Joshua Richter is director of Multiple Myeloma at the Blavatnik Family – Chelsea Medical Center at Mount Sinai. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Medicine in The Tisch Cancer Institute, Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology. Learn more about Dr. Richter, here.

See More From Engage Myeloma


Related Programs:

Myeloma Treatment Decisions: What Should Be Considered?

Which Myeloma Patients Should Consider Stem Cell Transplant?

Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe for Myeloma Patients?


Transcript:

Katherine:

When should a clinical trial be considered for myeloma treatment?

Dr. Richter:

So, clinical trials are an extremely important component of how we manage myeloma. And I think there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about trials. Trials are not always things to do after everything else failed. From my standpoint, at every point along the way, we should always consider clinical trials, because they offer something really amazing. They offer us access to drugs way before they’re approved.

And the benefit of not waiting until the end, after you’ve been through everything else, is two-fold. One, in order to get on a trial, you need to fit certain criteria, inclusion, and exclusion criteria. You need to have myeloma, but you can’t be so sick from other medical problems that you’re not going to tolerate that treatment well. As such, unfortunately, some patients after they’ve been through all the other therapies may not qualify for a clinical trial, and that can be really upsetting.

The other benefit of doing a clinical trial early on is if you go on a new drug and it doesn’t work, you have all of the other standard of care options available at a moment’s notice. But if it does work and you gain access to a drug way before it’s approved, and it happens to work extremely well in you, you can have an unbelievably long remission and still have all of the drugs that are available. And, potentially, in that time on the drug, new standard of care drugs are approved. It even deepens the well that you can reach into to grab more options. So, at all times along the way, it’s always important to weigh the risks and benefits of what we call standard of care treatment versus clinical trial options.