Multiple Myeloma Clinical Trials: Which Patients Should Participate?

Multiple Myeloma Clinical Trials: Which Patients Should Participate?  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When is the right time to consider a myeloma clinical trial? Dr. Mark Schroeder discusses when this may be an appropriate myeloma treatment option and shares patient resources for accessing and identifying clinical trials.

Dr. Mark Schroeder is a hematologist at Siteman Cancer Center of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Dr. Schroeder serves as Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Schroeder.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

PEN community member, Mark, sent in this question prior to the program, “When is the right time for a clinical trial? When everything else is refractory?” 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

No, I think clinical trials should be – you should engage your oncologist to talk about clinical trials right from the beginning. We typically think about clinical studies – they could be interventional where we’re actually giving a treatment. Some clinical trials are observational where we’re trying to learn about disease course in response to traditional therapies. Either of those may have direct benefit to the patient, or maybe it doesn’t affect the patient, but it affects future patients with myeloma.  

There are clinical studies like I mentioned that are moving therapies that are approved, but they’re approved after patients have been treated four or five times for their myeloma, and they’re now being moved earlier in the treatment. Some of those are at the initial treatment of myeloma in that induction phase. And so, we think that maybe by using some of these newer therapies or that immunotherapy class earlier on in the treatment of myeloma could result in deeper responses.  

We don’t know if it’s going to result in cures or that long remission beyond five or 10 years, but that’s the hope. If we can move the therapies earlier and prevent the cancer from becoming resistant to multiple treatments, maybe we can lead to longer remissions and longer survival of cancer patients. So, engage with your oncologist from the beginning through all of your treatment lines about clinical trials, is what I would say. 

Katherine Banwell:

Well, how can patients find out about clinical trials and what might be right for them? Where should they start? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

I mean, starting with your physician and having that conversation is a good start, but there are resources for patients. The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation MMRF has good resources. There is a – called Myeloma Crowd that also has resources for patients with myeloma and social support for patients with myeloma to try to find and match you with a clinical trial. And then if you’re really academic and interested in doing your own homework online, all clinical studies in the United States, even internationally, are registered on a website called clinicaltrials.gov. Clinicaltrials.gov is – it can be searched, so you can search for myeloma; you can search for a specific drug.  

That will tell you, where are the studies being done, who are the study personnel, who should I contact to find out about the study? Unfortunately, not everybody can travel for treatment for their myeloma, and the best chance of potentially participating in a research study is to initially talk with your oncologist about it. There may be a larger center nearby that you can visit to consider clinical trials.  

Clinical trials that are trying to use the new immunotherapies would be a great option, but they may not be offered in, say, a community oncology practice. You have to have the infrastructure to conduct those studies. And if you have the resources to be able to travel, then finding something on clinicaltrials.gov and – I’ve had patients do the legwork and talk with their local oncologist and get referred to a center that actually has a study that they’re interested in participating.  

But a lot of times, studies are going to have you visit the center for all the screening tests and all the procedures for study. 

Katherine Banwell:

Right, so you have to know that you have the time available as well as the resources. 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Right, and the resources to do it. Yeah. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. Trevor had this question, Dr. Schroeder, “My myeloma is considered high-risk. What treatment options are available to me, and are there clinical trials specifically for high-risk disease?” 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Yeah, great question. High-risk myeloma happens in about a quarter of patients, so one in four patients will have high-risk myeloma at the diagnosis. And it’s important because we know that when we say high-risk, that means that the myeloma is going to potentially come back sooner after treatments. It doesn’t mean that the treatment you’re going to be given is less effective, but it has a high propensity to come back sooner.  

Those patients with high-risk myeloma still benefit from a lot of treatments that we have for myeloma, but there are clinical trials geared to try and increase treatment in patients with high-risk myeloma to try to change the fact that their cancer comes back sooner than somebody who doesn’t have the high-risk features by using a novel chemotherapies or novel drugs to try to improve responses. So, there are for sure clinical studies, either at – potentially at initial diagnosis or at the time of relapse that could be entertained for patients with high-risk myeloma. And I would encourage you to seek those out for sure. 

Katherine Banwell:

Great. Thank you.  

Understanding Relapse in Myeloma

Understanding Relapse in Myeloma  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are indicators that a myeloma patient has relapsed? Dr. Mark Schroeder explains how relapsed and refractory myeloma are monitored and treated. 

Dr. Mark Schroeder is a hematologist at Siteman Cancer Center of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Dr. Schroeder serves as Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Schroeder.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

What are the indicators that a patient’s disease may have relapsed?  

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Yeah, so we would typically be following a patient about every three months. Somebody that has gone through the initial induction, consolidation, maybe they’re on maintenance therapy, or maybe they’re on active therapy for after they have relapsed from a myeloma.  

Each of those visits every three months, we are monitoring bloodwork, we’re monitoring the monoclonal protein that the myeloma produces.  

Or if it doesn’t produce much of that protein, we’re monitoring other parameters, so urine testing or maybe even imaging like a PET scan. And we’re looking for consistent rises in that number, and we’re looking for, not necessarily a little rise in the protein, but incremental continuous rise – that suggests that the myeloma is starting to grow again, and it’s growing on the current treatment, and we need to switch gears and try a different treatment. There are some patients who – that protein, the myeloma or the myeloma cancer doesn’t die to treatments – that’s refractory. So, we try a treatment, and there’s just no response. We don’t see a drop in the protein in the blood, we still see a good burden of the myeloma in the bone marrow biopsy. And those patients, that’s also an indication to try a different treatment.  

Katherine Banwell:

You mentioned that myeloma often returns, so how typical is it for a patient to relapse? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Yeah, I would say that’s the norm for patients with myeloma. There are reports in patients who undergo things like stem cell transplant, that maybe 10 percent of patients might be out 10 years without detection of their myeloma, but that’s not the norm. So, most patients who are diagnosed with myeloma will go through periods of treatment and hopefully periods of remission – the majority go into periods of remission to myeloma where it’s not very active, but the myeloma tends to come back. 

Katherine Banwell:

I think you’ve already answered this, but I’m going to ask you in case you give different or more information. If a person is relapsed or refractory, how are they typically treated? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

So, when they relapse, it depends on their prior treatment. So, if the myeloma is not responding to a drug, then it is, from the physician’s perspective that’s treating you, a good idea to change the type of chemotherapy drug that you’re on. Any time, whether it’s diagnosis or relapse, clinical trials are appropriate to engage with and potentially even use as primary treatment. All clinical studies in myeloma or for cancer in general are typically engineered around active treatments for the cancer. And so, those studies in myeloma when you’re having the cancer relapse, say, early in the course of your cancer, those studies typically are geared to use drugs that are approved by the FDA. Later in the lines of treatment, maybe you’ve had to progress after four lines of treatment, but trying to move them earlier, and they’re very active in the fourth line.  

So, you could potentially have access to an active treatment moved earlier in the treatment through a clinical trial. There is also a long list of other approved myeloma therapies. There is a good handout, I think, through the NCCN for patients for myeloma that lists a lot of the approved myeloma therapies and kind of guides patients. It’s a good resource book that I would point any of the listeners to. 

Understanding MGUS, Smoldering and Multiple Myeloma

Understanding MGUS, Smoldering and Multiple Myeloma  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is the difference between smoldering myeloma and monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS)? Dr. Mark Schroeder defines these diagnoses and discusses how asymptomatic myeloma is monitored.

Dr. Mark Schroeder is a hematologist at Siteman Cancer Center of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Dr. Schroeder serves as Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Schroeder.

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Expert Perspective Advances in Treating Relapsed and Refractory Myeloma

Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed Myeloma Patients

Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

As a patient, engaging in your care starts with understanding your diagnosis, so I’d like to go through some definitions. What is multiple myeloma? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer. It’s a cancer in particular of a blood cell called a plasma cell. Everybody has normal plasma cells in their body. It’s part of your immune system that responds to infections; they are also cells that respond to vaccinations.  

And when a plasma cell becomes a cancer, it often forms a cancer called multiple myeloma. And that cancer results oftentimes in damage to bones, low blood counts or anemia, potentially kidney problems, or possibly seeing high levels of calcium.  

Katherine Banwell:

What about smoldering myeloma? What is that? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

So, smoldering myeloma is a stage that happens prior to the development of myeloma that is causing organ damage. I talked about the damage to bones, kidneys, blood cells – that is called the CRAB criteria. The C stands for calcium, the R renal, A anemia, and B bones. We define myeloma by having damage to one of those four essential systems.  

Smoldering myeloma can happen when we actually see plasma cells that look like myeloma – that look like cancer cells, but they’re not causing the CRAB features of multiple myeloma. And there is a chance that sometimes that smoldering form of myeloma, it’s not causing any damage, but it can evolve and change into myeloma. 

Katherine Banwell:

What is MGUS? 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

MGUS is a stage that happens prior to smoldering myeloma. We know that MGUS which stands for monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance – it’s a mouthful. That’s why we like to say MGUS.  

Katherine Banwell:

Yes. 

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

But it’s a protein that can be detected in your blood. Sometimes that protein does not mean you have a cancer. We can detect proteins like that in blood in patients who have, say, autoimmune diseases, and they’re at low levels. It’s just an immune response; it’s produced by those plasma cells that can be cancerous, but sometimes plasma cells grow because they’re stimulated – they’re overstimulated.  

And so, that monoclonal protein of MGUS can be detected in the blood, but we don’t see an increase in the number of cells in the bones that are classic for myeloma. But we know that about 1 percent of patients who have MGUS, every year, 1 percent might progress on to develop multiply myeloma. So, it’s a risk factor; it’s on the spectrum of disease from MGUS to smoldering myeloma to myeloma.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. And how is asymptomatic myeloma monitored?  

Dr. Mark Schroeder:

So, asymptomatic patients, I would consider those are the patients who have smoldering myeloma, so they don’t have the high calcium, the renal issues, anemia, or bone problems. And typically, those patients are followed up about every three to six months, depending on where they fit in kind of that spectrum of MGUS to smoldering myeloma to myeloma.  

Sometimes patients who have clinically identified myeloma and it presents very heterogeneous sometimes. They may not have a lot of organ involvement or organ damage, and maybe they’re frail, they’re elderly. And it may be appropriate also to observe patients who actually have some of the findings of myeloma, but the disease doesn’t seem to be as aggressive. 

Expert Perspective: Why Myeloma Patients Should Weigh in on Their Care Decisions

Expert Perspective: Why Myeloma Patients Should Weigh in on Their Care Decisions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma specialist Dr. Abdullah Khan shares key advice encouraging patients to participate in care and treatment decisions and discusses the importance of communicating symptoms and side effects to your healthcare team.

Dr. Abdullah Khan is a hematologist specializing in multiple myeloma and plasma cell disorders at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Dr. Khan is also an assistant professor in the Division of Hematology at The Ohio State University. Learn more about Dr. Khan.

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Expert Perspective Advances in Treating Relapsed and Refractory Myeloma

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Let’s turn to decision-making, Dr. Khan. What is the role of the myeloma patient when making care and treatment decisions?  

Dr. Khan:

As a provider, my role is to inform the patient of the facts and the need for a decision. The purpose of the discussions is to determine the patient’s goals and preferences, because it’s essential the patient’s values of respected. The best outcomes occur when the medical facts align with the patient’s preferences. And this is a multi-disciplinary team approach.  

Katherine:

Why is it so important for patients to share any symptoms and side effects they’re having with their healthcare team?   

Dr. Khan:

I read something recently on an NIH website titled “What Do I Need To Tell the Doctor?” that I think answers this question well. And I’m quoting the article. “Talking about your health means sharing information about how you feel physically, emotionally, and mentally. Knowing how to describe your symptoms and bringing up other concerns will help you become a partner in your healthcare.”  

I think I really like that end, “partner in your healthcare.” The patient’s symptoms and suggest disease or disorder in the body. If there are concerns, this may prompt a clinic visit or the patient may be advised to go to the closest ER or urgent care depending on the urgency of the situation. But in other cases, the healthcare team may help provide reassurance that the symptom can be continued to be monitored more resolution, or it can be evaluated in more detail if it persists or worsens.  

Katherine:

What about side effects? Why is that important for patients to share any side effects they may be having?  

Dr. Khan:

Side effects may be a result of the disease itself. It might be a marker of the side effects from the treatment. Or I’m focused on the multiple myeloma, but there’s every other organ system in the body that also needs help. So, the myeloma might be doing okay. The treatment might be doing okay. But, for example, we might have a lung toxicity from their pre-existing COPD or a heart toxicity from their pre-existing coronary artery disease. So, it’s very important to share all symptoms So, we can see how to properly assess it.   

Katherine:

And better care for the patient.  

Dr. Khan:

Right.  

The Role of a Myeloma Specialist on Your Care Team

The Role of a Myeloma Specialist on Your Care Team from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Why should you seek a consultation with a myeloma expert? Dr. Krina Patel discusses the important roles a specialist can play in your myeloma care, even from a distance.

Dr. Krina Patel is an Associate Professor in the Department of Lymphoma/Myeloma at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Dr. Patel is involved in research and cares for patients with multiple myeloma. Learn more about Dr. Patel, here.

Related Resources:

Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed Myeloma Patients

Relapsed and Refractory Myeloma Defined

Myeloma Induction and Consolidation Therapy Defined

Transcript:

Katherine:  

You mentioned the healthcare team. Dr. Patel. How does a myeloma specialist fit into that care team?

Dr. Patel:

So, I will say, as a myeloma specialist, I probably have three different ways that I am involved in different patient’s care. So, I have patients who are from Houston, where I’m at, that come to MD Anderson for their treatment. So, I see them on a regular basis if they’re on treatment, or I’m following them to make sure their disease is stable, what’s going on. So, I see them regularly, and I’m their main doctor for their cancer. And then, I have patients who are maybe a little bit farther away, and I see them as part of the team.

So, they have their own oncologist in their community that they’re seeing and they come see me either virtually or in person every few months, or if something’s happening; if their myeloma’s returning or they’re having toxicity, then they reach out to me so I can talk about different ways we can change therapy. And then, the third really is for second opinions where patients don’t necessarily  want to come see me all the time but they might want to be on a clinical trial that we might have at MD Anderson. So, they come just for that trial and then they go back to their doctors again. So, we sort of do whatever works best for the patient.

Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed Myeloma Patients

Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed Myeloma Patients from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma expert and researcher Dr. Krina Patel shares key advice for patients newly diagnosed with myeloma, encouraging patients to take an active role in their care.

Dr. Krina Patel is an Associate Professor in the Department of Lymphoma/Myeloma at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Dr. Patel is involved in research and cares for patients with multiple myeloma. Learn more about Dr. Patel, here.

Related Resources:

The Role of a Myeloma Specialist on Your Care Team

Relapsed and Refractory Myeloma Defined

Myeloma Induction and Consolidation Therapy Defined

Transcript:

Katherine:  

Myeloma can be a complex diagnosis. What are three key pieces of advice for patients who has just been diagnosed with myeloma?

Dr. Patel: 

I think any diagnosis of cancer, of course, is really hard, but multiple myeloma is so rare in the sense that people don’t know about it; that sometimes it’s the first time they’ve heard of it, when they’re diagnosed. And so, I think the biggest thing about more rare diseases in general, the best advice I could give is getting a myeloma specialist as part of your team. That doesn’t mean they have to treat you, but having them as part of your team. And we can talk about that in more detail. But the second part is really learning as much as you can and not necessarily all on the Internet.

Not everything on the Internet is correct. But really asking questions to your doctors, your nurse practitioners, your nurses, they all have different perspectives that asking questions for all of them is really worthwhile to kind of understand what you’re going through and what’s to be expected. And then, the last piece. I think with multiple myeloma patients, there are so many amazing patient support systems, especially after COVID but even before COVID, in terms of different groups that are sponsored by patients where you can listen when people come to give talks, et cetera. I think those are all phenomenal resources for patients.

Katherine: 

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

Dr. Patel:     

So, gone are the days of paternalistic medicine, especially in the U.S. My job is not to tell you what to do, but my job is to really give you options as to what is the best possible therapy for you at that time. And really, your job is, as a patient, to make sure that they tell me all the information that’s important for them. So, for instance, if they can’t come to chemo every week because they just don’t have a ride or they have some other medical problems that maybe I didn’t know about, those types of things. We just have to have that open communication, so we can come to that best next therapy together with those decisions.