What Experts Are Learning About the Hereditary Risk of Myeloma

What Experts Are Learning About the Hereditary Risk of Myeloma from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma experts Dr. Irene Ghobrial and Dr. Betsy O’Donnell share research updates on predicting the risk of developing myeloma, both from inherited genetics as well as environmental factors.

Dr. Irene Ghobrial is Director of the Clinical Investigator Research Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Learn more about Dr. Ghobrial.

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell is Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute specializing in Plasma Cell Disorders.

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How Do Test Results Impact Myeloma Treatment Options


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Is there any research on predicting hereditary risk of myeloma? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

Yes, so part of the PROMISE study is trying to understand what is the risk of developing myeloma? So, we’re recruiting people who are either African American, because they have a three times higher chance of developing myeloma compared to the white population, as well as people who have a first degree family member with a plasma cell disorder. 

Or even any blood cancer because now we see that CLL and lymphoma and myeloma can actually come together. And we’re now doing something called whole genome sequencing of all of the DNA that you inherit from Mom or Dad called the germ line. Basically, we try to see did you inherit the gene from Mom or Dad that increases your risk to myeloma? 

Now, it’s not as high as something like BRCA1 mutation or 2 mutation, where if you have that, you’re high, high chance of developing breast cancer or ovarian cancer and so on. We probably have several factors that need to be put together. You inherit something and then the environment adds something, and then as we get older, we get the hit. 

Or you inherit something that changes your immune system, and that allows the plasma cells to start proliferating faster because they are reacting as an immune cell, and that allows the hit of myeloma to happen. And we’re working on that, and we would really encourage everyone who has a relative with myeloma, sign up on PROMISE study. 

Because that’s how we can get the answer. That’s how we can say it’s not because you are an African American or you’re white. It’s not because you have a first-degree family member or not. It’s because of this gene. So, taking away race, taking away all of those factors, taking away age and trying to go back to the biology. Is it a certain gene, is it the certain immune cell that makes us go to that risk? 

And then Dr. O’Donnell is really taking it to the next level. Now what is in the macro environment? So, we talked about what we inherit, but it’s like nurture and nature, right? So, nature is the genetics and then nurture, what do we eat? What do we change? Obesity, health, all of those things change our inflammation level and change our ability to basically prevent those myeloma cells from starting or from continuing to progress. And she can potentially talk about her work on microbiome, on the tiny bacteria that are in our body from what we eat. So, maybe, Betsy? 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay.  

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

Absolutely. Yes, so one of the things that particularly interests me is the effect of lifestyle on our risk of getting cancer. 

And specifically within plasma cell disorders, and I think there have been other cancers, breast cancer and colon cancer, where they’re a couple steps ahead of us just in understanding the influence of things like obesity and the gut microbiome. So, the specific bacteria that are within your intestinal tract. It makes a lot of sense in colon cancer, but we think that that’s not limited to diseases like that. We actually think that these microbiomes, which are influenced by the foods that you eat, may have a relationship with your immune system. And remember, myeloma is a cancer of the immune system. 

So, we’re all working together on our team here on a very scientific level to understand lifestyle influences and how they may cause or potentiate multiple myeloma. And so we’re excited to kind of bring this piece together. When you think about the spectrum of plasma cell disorders, not everybody goes on to myeloma, but a lot of people sit in these early precursor diseases, MGUS and early smoldering.  

And so are there things that people can do for themselves that might influence their gut microbiome, or if it’s the amount of body fat that we have that’s very involved in cell signaling? Can we modify those things, exercise more potentially, that will decrease our body inflammation levels or alter those pathways that have been set in process that, by altering them, may decrease the risk of going on to more advanced plasma cell disorders? 

Katherine Banwell:

That’s such great information.  

How Is Myeloma Treatment Response Measured?

How Is Myeloma Treatment Response Measured? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma expert Dr. Betsy O’Donnell reviews the terms that define myeloma treatment response, such as complete remission (CR) and partial remission (PR). Dr. O’Donnell goes on to discuss the new tools that are being used to monitor treatment effectiveness, including MRD (minimal residual disease).

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell is Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute specializing in Plasma Cell Disorders.

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Understanding MRD and What It Means for Myeloma Patients


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. O’Donnell, Alex wrote in with this question. “What is the difference between a complete response, VGPR, and PR as it applies to prognosis and maintenance after an autologous stem cell transplant?” And before you answer the question, would you define VGPR and PR for us?   

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

Sure. So, we have different criteria that help us understand how well a drug is working, and they’re uniformly used across clinical trials so that we’re all speaking the same language. And so we talk about a PR, a VGPR, and a CR. So, a CR is a complete response, which is 100 percent of that monoclonal protein that we initially detected is gone. We can’t measure it. Or if you have an elevated light chain, which is another piece of the protein, that has gone back down to normal. 

Taking that a step further, astringent CR is if we do a bone marrow biopsy and we can’t find any cancer plasma cells in there. A VGPR is where we see a 90 percent reduction in the amount of protein we can measure, and a PR is anything over – a partial response is anything over 50 percent. 

So, that’s a language we speak really just so that when we’re interpreting clinical trials, we all are using the same criteria. 

And so these are different terms that classify it. If the example that you gave, someone’s had a transplant, what would typically happen 100 days after that transplant is a patient would restart maintenance therapy.   

The classic maintenance is just lenalidomide (Revlimid), which is the pill that they were probably taking before that. And there’s a lot of controversy now but no good answers about changing therapy after a transplant, if you haven’t received a deep response. 

What we do know is that after a transplant, when someone goes on lenalidomide maintenance, they continue to respond. So, the greatest depth of response is not necessarily achieved in the induction phase or right immediately after transplant, but over time on maintenance. 

There’s another tool that we’re now using and incorporating, both in terms of how we assess treatment but also potentially in how we modify treatment, which is something called minimal residual disease, MRD, which goes a step beyond. When people have astringent CR, a CR, looking for really just traces of the disease on a molecular level.  

And all of those help us understand how well the patient has responded and how long that remission might last, but they’re not definitive in terms of how we should adjust treatment based on those right now. 

How Are Patients on Myeloma Maintenance Therapy Monitored?

How Are Patients on Myeloma Maintenance Therapy Monitored? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma specialist Dr. Omar Nadeem explains how a follow-up care and monitoring plan for patients on maintenance therapy is determined.

Dr. Omar Nadeem is the Clinical Director of the Myeloma Immune Effector Cell Therapy Program and Associate Director of the Multiple Myeloma Clinical Research Program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Nadeem.

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How Is Relapsed or Refractory Myeloma Managed?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Nadeem, many patients are on maintenance therapy following active treatment. So, how is a patient on maintenance therapy monitored? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Yes, so, majority of the time just with blood work. We don’t necessarily need to do a lot of bone marrow biopsies and PET scans for a majority of patients that are on maintenance therapy unless we’re either worried about their blood markers or some symptoms. Generally speaking, any time – it depends on what maintenance therapy they’re on, of course. If they’re just on lenalidomide (Revlimid), which is the most commonly used maintenance therapy, a lot of times we check in with them every one to three months. 

Depending on how their disease status is and how they’ve been doing and whether there’s any side effects that we need to worry about. So, they still have to see their doctors, still have to get the blood work. Usually you can get away with having it done no more than once a month or so, unless they are on other medications along with Revlimid, where we then have to check in with them a little bit more frequently. 

And some of that changes, so patients can be on maintenance therapy for five plus years, and we get a very good sense of how they are doing and kind of how their disease is doing, and we can kind of be a moving target in terms of the frequency of the follow-ups. 

How Is MGUS Monitored?

How Is MGUS Monitored? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma expert Dr. Irene Ghobrial discusses how patients with monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) are monitored over time and shares an update on research being conducted to learn more about this myeloma precursor condition.

Dr. Irene Ghobrial is Director of the Clinical Investigator Research Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Learn more about Dr. Ghobrial.

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Understanding MGUS & Smoldering Myeloma: What’s the Difference?

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What Should Patients Know About Myeloma Testing?

What Experts Are Learning About the Hereditary Risk of Myeloma

What Experts Are Learning About the Hereditary Risk of Myeloma


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Ghobrial, how are people with MGUS monitored? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

Yes, so how do we even diagnose them, right? It’s a big question because it’s incidentally found. Someone will go to their primary care doctor and have a little bit of a high protein or slight anemia, and it may not be related, and then their doctor will check for serum protein electrophoresis, and that’s pure luck. We want to take away luck from this equation. We want to take away chance from this equation. 

And we want to start screening people who are at risk, and we are doing that with the PROMISE study. It’s online available to everyone nationwide, international now, where you can sign up on promisestudy.org and try to ask the question that we do for you research level, the serum protein electrophoresis, and a new test called mass spectrometry that is much more sensitive than SPEP to find it. 

Now, once we find MGUS, we want to know what is my own personal risk of progressing to myeloma? Because I could be 30 years old with MGUS, and likely I will progress to myeloma in the next 10 years, 20 years, and by the time I’m age 60, I would have been diagnosed with myeloma. Just a true case in many, many people. If people are diagnosed today with myeloma, they are going to their doctor because they had back pain or anemia, and they are diagnosed with myeloma. In almost all of the cases, they would have had MGUS and smoldering, but they didn’t know about it three years ago, four years ago because they never got tested for it. 

So, we want to change that completely and become proactive rather than being reactive and waiting for symptoms to happen. Once you have MGUS or smoldering, because we don’t know, we start looking for all of the things to help us identify your risk of progression. So, we look at the height of your M-spike. Is it small or big? And then we in many cases say okay, maybe you need a bone marrow biopsy if your M-spike is a little bit on the higher side because we don’t want to miss smoldering myeloma, which will change the prognosis. 

And then we start looking at do you have anemia? Do you have kidney failure? Do you have any of the other things that may predict that you may be actually going into myeloma? 

We also look at it more as a movie rather than as a snapshot, rather than a picture. If your M-spike is changing or your light chain is changing every three months, every six months, that’s an indicator that the cancer cells are doing something. They’re working in there and growing, and that’s why they’re increasing the M-spike and the light chain. 

And that evolving number is actually a very big predictor of telling us that there is a risk of progressing. Those are all clinical markers that we can do. When we look at the FISH, which we talked about, we can tell the certain markers are chromosomal changes that tell you that those cancer cells want to grow a little bit faster. So, 1q abnormality, 4;14, 14;16, 17p, all of those have been shown that when you have them, the cancer cells are not just sitting around and doing nothing. They’re actually starting to grow, and we want to catch them and understand what is the biology of the disease rather than just how many cancer cells you have. 

We do a lot of research level, and potentially now we’re going to give them back to the patients as clinical level, where we can give you more information about that prediction of your risk of progression. One of my colleagues calls it predicting the hurricane. We know that the hurricane will happen, and it’s a question of how precise could you be? We’re the Weather Channel men here.  

And we could be very precise and tell you it’s going to hit Miami at 2:00 in the afternoon tomorrow, and you could be prepared for it and get out of there. Or, you could be completely unprepared because we were not very accurate in our prediction and tell you it may hit the whole East Coast in the next two weeks. That’s not accuracy. So, we want to be more accurate in our prediction of myeloma because one person will never develop myeloma and can go have fun and enjoy life and not be worried and anxious about their risk, and another person we might say let’s watch you more carefully, or let’s think of interception preventing things. 

So, we do things called next-generation sequencing, taking all of those small numbers of cancer cells, even as little as single cells, and we can do whole genome sequencing and give back that information.  

We look at the immune cells and give back that information. We can do mass spectrometry. And with Betsy and Omar, we’re doing more and more tests so that when we have this prediction model, circulating tumor cells and so on, we can be more accurate in giving you that prediction. 

And help you make the next decision of are we watching carefully, are we preventing and intervening with behavior modification with other things? Are we intervening with therapy to intercept the disease? 

Katherine Banwell:

When are more in-depth tests necessary?  

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

It depends, of course, on everything. I would probably say for every patient, it is a unique discussion. Some patients will tell me, “Let’s watch again in three to six months, and then I will do more testing,” and some patients want to know everything immediately. And we have those discussions with every patient, and we tailor our therapy as well as our diagnostics workup with every patient, depending on how much they want to know, how much their risk is, and how much they want to be involved in that discussion of how much to prevent myeloma. 

What Should Patients Know About Myeloma Testing?

What Should Patients Know About Myeloma Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Testing following a myeloma diagnosis, or relapse, can impact care and treatment decisions. Drs. Betsy O’Donnell and Omar Nadeem provide an overview of essential myeloma testing, how the test results impact staging, and discuss recent advances in testing that have changed myeloma care.

Dr. Omar Nadeem is the Clinical Director of the Myeloma Immune Effector Cell Therapy Program and Associate Director of the Multiple Myeloma Clinical Research Program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Nadeem.

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell is Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute specializing in Plasma Cell Disorders.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. O’Donnell, let’s move on to testing. What tests are necessary to help understand a patient’s specific disease? 

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

Absolutely. So, testing really does depend a little bit on the stage at which your disease is found. In general, we use a very specific blood test that lets us know that there is clonal protein present. Remember, plasma cells are a type of white blood cell, and they make something called antibodies. We use a test called a serum protein electrophoresis, which is a blood test – an SPEP, we call it – that can tell us the difference between normal, healthy antibody and clone that are made from the plasma cells that we see in MGUS, smoldering, and multiple myeloma. 

So, that’s a very important test, and sometimes your primary care doctor may notice that your total protein is elevated and send that test. 

Or there may be other things that tip them off. Perhaps the kidneys are not where they used to be. And so that test is sent, and that’s the first tip-off that someone might have a plasma cell disorder.  

Once we identify that there’s a plasma cell disorder, then that can set in place a workup, depending on the amount of clonal, monoclonal, M-protein that we see. So, sometimes that involves bone imaging. Historically that was a skeletal survey where we took lots of X-rays of your body. Now we have other tests we use. PET scans, CT scans, whole body MRIs. Sometimes it depends where you’re getting your treatment, and also it depends a little bit on your doctor’s degree of suspicion.  

Bone marrow biopsies are a procedure that we sometimes do. We use a thin, hollow needle to take out just a little piece of bone, about the size of an inchworm, and take some fluid with it. There’s actually fluid inside the bone marrow.  

And that can tell us, just as Dr. Ghobrial was defining the spectrum of plasma cell disorders, based on the percent of plasma cells, that can tell us where somebody belongs, which group they might belong in. So, we can use all of these tests to help give us a good sense of how much disease someone has and where in the spectrum or continuum a person is – MGUS, smoldering, or multiple myeloma. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay, great. Thank you. I’m assuming these tests can help with understanding the stage of a patient’s myeloma. So, Dr. Nadeem, how is myeloma staged? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Yes. So, myeloma is staged very differently than traditional cancers. Because this is a blood disease, we don’t really think about it like we may in other solid tumor cancers, where if it’s spread to multiple locations it’s IV, etcetera. That doesn’t apply to multiple myeloma. It’s actually staged out of three stages, and uses your blood work for the most part, some blood tests, to help identify which stage you are. Historically, that has correlated with how you may do. 

However, now we are learning that it’s far more to this story than just the blood work. So, we’re now using our bone marrow test results, particularly a test called a FISH test, which looks at the mutations that are present in examinable plasma cells, and if you have presence of some of these high-risk markers, that can actually either upstage you or downstage you if you don’t.  

So, we’re now I think becoming a little bit smarter how we think about this disease. It’s not just based on some blood test. We’re actually looking at the biology of some of these cells and the amount in the bone marrow. A lot of times patients ask, “Well, if I have 50 percent, 60 percent, or 80 percent involvement of the bone marrow, that actually does not have anything to do with staging, right?” So, I think it’s important to know that it’s actually a very unique staging system in multiple myeloma.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Dr. O’Donnell, the landscape of myeloma has changed significantly in recent years. How have advances in testing changed care from myeloma patients?

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

So, I mean, the landscape has changed incredibly just in terms of the treatments we have, and I think that Dr. Nadeem was talking about something really important. 

In that when we look at FISH, which allows us to know the biology a little bit more, sometimes it helps us to decide kind of the risk that a patient is. We aren’t really at the point now where we do truly tailored therapies, like you see in some cancers, where we can detect specific mutations and pick drugs that align with that, but there are some that we do use. An example would be a drug called venetoclax (Venclexta), which works very well in patients who have a specific translocation, 11;14. 

So, there is some degree in which we use that FISH and those cytogenetics to help define our treatments, but also really we’re just fortunate that we have new and evolving therapies. We’ve changed how we treat myeloma in the up-front setting, and then at the back end we have an exploding field of immunotherapies, CAR-T cells, bispecific antibody that we’re now using that really have tremendously benefited our patients.  

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. O’Donnell, should all patients undergo in-depth testing, like cytogenetics?  

Dr. Betsy O’Donnell:

Yes, so if you’re doing a bone marrow biopsy, absolutely. The question in terms of who needs bone marrow biopsies, if someone has a low risk MGUS, those patients don’t necessarily require a bone marrow biopsy. It’s an invasive procedure, it’s an uncomfortable procedure. But if we’re doing a workup for multiple myeloma or smoldering myeloma that includes a bone marrow biopsy, then absolutely. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Dr. Nadeem, what are you looking for with cytogenetics, and how might test results affect prognosis and treatment? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Yes, so as mentioned earlier, there are some mutations that are considered high risk, I will say with the caveat that we don’t fully understand every single mutation yet or have identified every single mutation yet that may be high risk or low risk.  

But there are roughly five that we have identified that if a patient has one or two or several of those abnormalities, then their disease may behave a little bit more aggressively or may not respond as well to treatment. 

However, I think myeloma is just very complicated, so we look at a lot of these results in the beginning, both whether they may be good or bad. But I think, ultimately, we have to see how patients do, and that by far is the most important prognostic factor, in my opinion. So, if we look at some of these tools, including staging, some of the bone marrow results and cytogenetics, and try to give some prediction in terms of what we may see from this person’s disease, but ultimately the treatments that are so effective now really dictate the course for the majority of the patients. 

Katherine Banwell:

Are there specific tests that patients should ask for that could impact their care decisions? 

Dr. Omar Nadeem:

Yes, I think it depends on where they are in their disease state. So, if we’re looking at whether a patient has a precursor or plasma cell disorder or multiple myeloma, then they need all the testing to help us figure that out. 

So, that includes a bone marrow biopsy, the FISH testing as we just talked about. Advanced imaging like a PET scan or an MRI is now critical to identify patients that may have multiple myeloma versus those that have a precursor condition. So, we used to count on X-rays, as Dr. O’Donnell mentioned, but now really we do prefer one of those advanced imaging techniques for patients to undergo so that we can know. 

So, I think if they have basically those tests completed, that gives us most of the information that we need. 

Understanding MGUS & Smoldering Myeloma: What’s the Difference?

Understanding MGUS & Smoldering Myeloma: What’s the Difference? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma expert Dr. Irene Ghobrial explains the difference between the precursor conditions, MGUS (monocloncal gammopathy of undetermined significance) and smoldering myeloma, including how these conditions are detected.

Dr. Irene Ghobrial is Director of the Clinical Investigator Research Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Learn more about Dr. Ghobrial.

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What Experts Are Learning About the Hereditary Risk of Myeloma


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Ghobrial, what is MGUS? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

So MGUS, or monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance, is a precursor or the stage before myeloma happens, and it’s actually a very common disease or entity in many, many of us as we get older. In fact, maybe 5 percent of the population over the age of 50 would have this early MGUS. 

It doesn’t mean that it’s cancer. It’s a precursor to cancer, and we can talk more about it as we go on. 

Katherine Banwell:

All right. Is it the same as smoldering myeloma, or is that something different? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

It’s not. It’s an earlier stage than smoldering myeloma, and it’s hard to actually make the right definitions. But currently what we say is if you have more than 10 percent cancer cells or plasma cells in your bone marrow, then it’s smoldering myeloma. And by the name, smoldering, it’s almost myeloma. It’s ready to go on fire, but it’s not there yet.  

MGUS is before that, and the difference is that the chance of progression from MGUS to myeloma is only 1 percent per year, so many, many people will never progress to myeloma. While smoldering myeloma, just because there are more cancer cells in the bone marrow, has a higher chance of progressing, which is 10 percent per year. And in some people, a very high chance of progression of 50 percent in two years. 

And we want to make sure that we catch those cases early and not wait for myeloma to happen. 

Katherine Banwell:

How would you define myeloma? 

Dr. Irene Ghobrial:

So, myeloma is currently defined as the same thing. The number of plasma cells in the bone marrow could be above 10 percent or more, or you have a protein in the blood. But the problem is that you’ve already had problems. You’ve had symptoms of end organ damage, so we have either high calcium, bone lesions, or bone fractures, anemia, kidney failure.  

And then now or more recently, we added a few more things to tell us these people are going to really develop myeloma soon. So, it used to be part of smoldering myeloma, now it’s part of the definition of myeloma, so that we can treat patients earlier, which is if your light chain level is very high, above 100 for a ratio, or if you have multiple lesions by something called an MRI or a PET CT scan instead of the traditional X-rays, or if your bone marrow has a lot of the plasma cells, more than 60 percent. 

And these were new definitions to make sure we don’t wait too much until people have an organ damage or symptoms and then we treat them. And you’ll hear from us that we think we should be treating people even earlier than that. 

Advances in Myeloma Molecular Testing

Advances in Myeloma Molecular Testing from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is molecular testing, and how does it impact myeloma care? Dr. Abdullah Khan from the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James discusses the specific markers found in cytogenetic analysis that determine a patient’s risk and may impact treatment choices.

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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How Do Test Results Impact Myeloma Treatment Options?


Transcript:

Katherine:

Have there been advances in molecular testing for myeloma patients?  

Dr. Khan:

Molecular testing is a broad term and can indicate checking genes, proteins, and other molecules. Even let’s say speaking outside of the world of myeloma, molecular testing can be used to determine in individuals if they have a high chance of developing cancers or other diseases.  

It can be done to confirm so cancer diagnoses using the tissue biopsy specimens. It can also be used to help plan treatment, find out how well the treatment is working, provide prognosis information, and other information. In the world of myeloma, there are – in the world of myeloma, there are researchers looking at all of these molecular changes that can happen with disease.  

Katherine:

So, how do the results of these tests affect treatment?  

Dr. Khan:

There’s a particular cytogenetic change called translocation 11;14 that’s found in maybe a quarter of all patients with newly diagnosed myeloma, and it predicts a high likelihood of responding to a new drug called venetoclax.  

In the clinical trial of venetoclax, when it was given to all patients with multiple myeloma, there was actually higher mortality in patients when given venetoclax in combination with bortezomib and dexamethasone. And this is despite a higher response rate by adding the venetoclax.  

The thought process was maybe those patients were not doing well because of higher chances of serious infections. But when they took the data and they looked at that subgroup of patients with the translocation 11;14, there was no such concern in that subgroup. So, in this case of having translocation 11;14, it actually giving you a new treatment option based on the findings of the molecular testing. 

We participate in a national clinical trial called MyDRUG, and that’s looking at other molecular changes to see if a more targeted treatment when added to the backbone of myeloma therapies translates to better outcomes.  

Another recent development in molecular testing is diagnostic testing for minimal residual disease, and that’s from the bone marrow in patients with multiple myeloma.  

The most commonly used test in clinical trials is the clonoSEQ test; it’s an FDA-cleared diagnostic test. The way it works it looks for specific DNA sequences on the receptors of the cancer cells. So, each cancer cell has like a genetic barcode.  

Using the liquid part of the marrow, we can look for those cells that harbor that genetic barcode. 

And the test is so sensitive, we can find one in a million cells in a patient’s bone marrow aspirate. So, it’s a very sensitive test, but it is not yet approved for making treatment decisions. One way we can use it though is for prognostic information. So, a patient attaining minimal residual disease-negative status or MRD-negativity, probably will do better than someone who has MRD-positive disease.  

And there’s an emerging concept called sustained MRD negativity. So, let’s take an example of someone getting MRD testing at one year and two years after their stem cell transplant. The patient who is MRD-negative at both the one-year and two-year marks will likely do better than the one who is MRD-negative at one year but turns positive at the two-year mark. 

So, these are some of the new developments in molecular testing in multiple myeloma.  

Understanding MRD and What It Means for Myeloma Patients

Understanding MRD and What It Means for Myeloma Patients  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma expert Dr. Melissa Alsina, of Moffitt Cancer Center, provides an explanation of minimal residual disease (MRD) and how she uses MRD in patient care.

Dr. Melissa Alsina is an associate professor of medicine in the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida where she also serves as head of the Multiple Myeloma Transplant Program. Learn more about Dr. Alsina, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

What is MRD, and what does it mean for patients? 

Dr. Alsina:

So, MRD stands for minimal residual disease. So, it means that if a patient is in complete remission, what it would mean is that I don’t see any myeloma cells in the bone marrow and I don’t see an M spike. The M-spike is zero in the blood and in the urine, and the light chains are fine.  

But even with that, there maybe be some disease that is residual that I can’t see by conventional methods, so there’s two methods that have been developed that are able to detect one cancer cell in a million cells. 

Katherine:

Wow. 

Dr. Alsina:

So, if I have a patient that is in complete remission, I can use one of those methods to look, and that will tell me if the patient still has minimal residual disease or not. 

So, the reason why it is important is because there are many studies that have shown that if I can get a patient to be minimal-residual-disease-negative, no evidence of disease by those two tests – that I can explain a little bit more if you want – then those patients are going to do better, their response is going to last longer, and the patients are going to live longer. 

So, nowadays, with our better treatments, we use also that as a goal. We say okay, I not only want to get a patient in a complete remission, I want to get that patient to MRD negativity.  

And we do adjust our therapy to get there. As an example, I can do a transplant in a patient, and three months after transplant, I look at that minimal residual disease. If it’s negative, then I do Revlimid (lenalidomide) maintenance, which would be standard of care. If it’s positive, I use two drugs to try to get that patient to that MRD-negativity level, and there are many studies right now looking at how to adjust our treatment based on response. 

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Essential Myeloma Testing

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Essential Myeloma Testing from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Being empowered to speak up about your myeloma care is not only important but essential. Dr. Saad Usmani, a myeloma expert, shares advice for partnering with your doctor and provides key questions to ask about myeloma test results.

Dr. Saad Usmani is the Chief of Myeloma Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Learn more about Dr. Usmani, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

If patients are concerned about voicing their concerns and I think many of us are, why should they feel like they’re a partner in their care?

Dr. Usmani:

Well, that’s the only way that they will feel empowered. And we have to remember why we’re doing this, right? So, we’re doing this so that we can alleviate the burden of this disease from our patients and give them as good of quality of life as possible. And it’s a partnership. And in that partnership, the patient is the most important partner. Everyone else – it’s like you’re the main character.

The patient’s the main character in the movie. And all of us are supporting cast around them. I think that’s how you have to approach it. That’s how – that’s why it’s very important. And of course, patients – we’re not expecting our patients to read the papers and be knowledgeable about everything. But have a general sense of what to expect and it will be – so, having a more educated patient helps them deal with treatments better and have realistic expectations of what’s to come.

Katherine Banwell:

Right. As I mentioned at the start of this program, Dr. Usmani, patients should insist on essential myeloma testing prior to choosing a treatment. As we conclude, I think it’s important to point out that some patients may not know if that can even receive these important tests. So, what key question should they ask their physician about them?

Dr. Usmani:

So, you should be asking your physician about what kind of myeloma you have? What stage of myeloma you have? How much involvement in the bones you have? Do you have any chromosome abnormalities or any features of disease that put you at a higher chance of the myeloma coming back?

As you ask these questions, your physician will be prompted to think about “Okay. Am I missing something in my work?” And you can always ask is there anything else you need to do in terms of testing to give you a better idea of how best to approach my treatment and follow-up. 

How Should MGUS Be Monitored Over Time?

How Should MGUS Be Monitored Over Time? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma expert, Dr. Saad Usmani, discusses the diagnosis of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) and how patients are monitored, including key lab values that should be followed.

Dr. Saad Usmani is the Chief of Myeloma Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Learn more about Dr. Usmani, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Here’s a question we received from a viewer before the program. Mary writes: “I was just diagnosed with MGUS, and I’m obviously very concerned. What should I be looking for, and how often should I check in with my doctor?”

Dr. Usmani:

That is a very good question. MGUS is a precursor disease to myeloma and other class cell muscle disorders. And based on the original homestead county data from the Mayo Clinic, if there were 100 folks who had MGUS, one out of 100 every year would – there’d be one percent likelihood of them progressing to myeloma or some other plasma cell disorder.

So, the overall risk say in the next 20 years for a given patient is fairly low. And what we look at when we’re determining how frequently to check the blood or see the patient is the value of that M-spike.

If it’s a high value, if it’s two or three, we’ll be checking the labs more frequently every three months or so. Maybe seeing them every six months for the first year or two. If the M-Spike value is very low, it’s one gram or less, we might be just checking labs once or twice a year and seeing patients once a year. But I would highly recommend in addition to seeing your regular hematologist who diagnosed you with this MGUS to do seek an opinion at a myeloma center of excellence. 

How Is Myeloma Treatment Effectiveness Monitored?

How Is Myeloma Treatment Effectiveness Monitored? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Once you begin myeloma therapy, how do you know if it’s working? Dr. Saad Usmani, a myeloma expert, shares how patients are monitored via various tests and reviews how minimal residual disease (MRD) testing plays a role in myeloma care.

Dr. Saad Usmani is the Chief of Myeloma Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Learn more about Dr. Usmani, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Once a patient begins therapy, how do you monitor whether a treatment is working?

Dr. Usmani:

So, as part of the diagnostic work-up, we typically have identified in the blood using serum protein electrophoresis and serum free light chains. What kind of myeloma proteins these – that particular patient’s myeloma cells are making. And we can monitor them every cycle of treatment. So, every three or four weeks.

And that’s the most noninvasive way of seeing if the treatment is working. The second obviously important thing is if someone has symptoms. If they have kidney damage, if they have bone pain, all of those things start improving as you’re getting treatment. And then in some patients, we’re also looking at imaging like PET CT scans at certain time points. And at some point, we do also look at the bone marrow biopsies to see what’s really going on in the factory.

Katherine Banwell:

We often hear the term MRD, or minimal residual disease used in the myeloma space. So, what is it exactly and how is it used in patient care?

Dr. Usmani:

So, minimal residual disease is a way to measure how much myeloma is left over in a given patient.

And historically, we were simply looking at the serum proteins and the light chain levels along with just the morphology of the bone marrow to see if – kind of determine a response. But we can have a much deeper assessment of how many cancer cells as a leftover from a bone marrow biopsy by different measurements. Someone can be in a complete response with M-Spike is gone. The light chains have normalized.

Yet they can still have 10,000 – 100,000 myeloma cells still in the bone marrow. And just using the bone marrow biopsy the way that we used to, we won’t be able to see them. We’ll just see, “Oh, these look like normal plasma cells.” So, using next-generation sequencing and flow cytometry, we can look at normal myeloma cells at a very deep level – one out of one million.

But these tests are highly specialized. And especially the flow cytometry requires a lot of expertise. The NGS requires good sampling at the time of diagnosis as well as subsequent specimen 

Which Tests Are Essential to Diagnose and Treat Myeloma?

Which Tests Are Essential to Diagnose and Treat Myeloma? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Several tests follow a myeloma diagnosis and continue throughout one’s care. Myeloma expert Dr. Saad Usmani provides an overview of these essential tests, including blood tests and cytogenetics, and how the results impact overall treatment options.

Dr. Saad Usmani is the Chief of Myeloma Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Learn more about Dr. Usmani, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

What tests are necessary to help understand a patient’s specific disease both at diagnosis and prior to treatment?

Dr. Usmani:

So, the testing includes – what’s the objective of testing – we do tests to help diagnosis to assess how much of cancer we’re dealing with and then what kind of cancer we’re dealing with. Even within a given cancer, how much cancer you have and what kind you have is important. Folks can have a little bit of cancer in terms of burden. But it can be aggressive in its nature. So, you can have King Kong at your door, or it could be the green giant just trying to serve up veggies. Whereas King Kong will bite your head off.

So, with that in mind, there are things that we do such as blood tests to see effects on blood counts, kidneys, liver. We also do certain blood tests to identify what kind of multiple myeloma a patient may have as an example. So, the kind of myeloma protein they’re secreting. The kind of light chain they’re secreting. Then urine tests are done to see if there are any proteins that are leaking through the kidneys if there is kidney damage. Then bone marrow biopsy to a) look at how much myeloma and b) what kind by specific testing that we do on the bone marrow biopsy. And then imaging to see what parts of the bone’s affected.

Katherine Banwell:

Great. I’m assuming that these tests will help with the opening of the stages of myeloma.

So, how is myeloma staged?

Dr. Usmani:

So, the staging of myeloma is still a work in progress. The reason why I say that is we have a good way of accessing how much myeloma a patient may have. But if we don’t combine it well with what kind or how aggressive it may be. So, staging in myeloma relies on two blood tests that are serum albumin and serum beta-2 macroglobulin.

And they help us give a good assessment of how much myeloma patients have. And maybe a little bit of information about whether patients may have a bit more aggressive kind. But then you overlay that with cytogenetic information from the myeloma cells that are from the biopsy as well as another blood test called LDH.

If patients have any of the quote unquote high-risk features, they are – along with a high level of beta-2 microglobulin, you stage them as stage 3. If they don’t have them, they’re stage 1. If they have some of the features, they’re kind of in between in stage 2. And that’s how we stage multiple myeloma.

Katherine Banwell:

You mentioned cytogenetics. What testing is involved in that?

Dr. Usmani:

So, bone marrow biopsy – it’s very broad. But there are two parts to it.

One part is getting the bone marrow aspirated where we insert a needle into the pelvic bone and get parts of the bone marrow – the blood inside the bones out. And look at how much percentage of plasma cells are there. What kind of surface markers or features they have.

And then we look at if those cancer cells have any chromosome abnormalities that are unique to myeloma. And some chromosome abnormalities can be high-risk.

What does high-risk mean? High-risk means if you treat patients in a certain fashion, they have a higher chance of relapsing or a higher chance of the myeloma coming back out of remission. So, we identify those features by way of looking at cytogenetics. And there are different techniques in which we can take a look at that.

Katherine Banwell:

And what are those techniques? There’s something called FISH, right?

Dr. Usmani:

Yes.

Katherine Banwell:

And flow cytometry and also next generation sequencing?

Dr. Usmani:

Yes. So, and there is also conventional cytogenetics. So, flow cytometry looks at the different proteins that are part of the surface of any cell – any blood cell for that matter. It could also be any other cell as well, not just blood cells.

But in this particular case when we do flow on the blood marrow aspirate, we’re looking for unique features of those myeloma cells. But that does not tell us anything about the chromosomes. Conventional cytogenetics is the old fashion way. It’s a 40 – 50-year-old technique in which you make the cells in a test tube. You make those cells go through cell division. Each human cell has 46 chromosomes or 23 pairs. And when the cells are dividing, those chromosomes kind of line up in the center.

And the old fashion technique of conventional cytogenetics was take a look at the cells when those cells – when the chromosomes are aligned, and see if some parts of the chromosomes are missing or one chunk of one chromosome has attached to the other. That’s the old fashion way. The FISH technique, what it does is it’s geared toward identifying specific abnormalities.

And one part of that particular protein or molecule that goes and attaches to that chromosome has a color-coded probe. So, you can see within a cell different colors light up. And based on those unique features, you can identify “Okay. This cell over here is missing a part of chromosome 17. Or this part of chromosome 14 is attached to chromosome 4.” That’s FISH. So, FISH is very specific. Conventional cytogenetics is not. Next-generation sequencing, there are – that’s a broad term.

You can measure different types of nucleic acids: RNA versus DNA. And those different techniques identify specific – they can identify specific mutations in a cancer cell.

So, each of these techniques provide different layers of information for our myeloma patients. 

How Does Essential Testing Affect Myeloma Care and Treatment?

How Does Essential Testing Affect Myeloma Care and Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Why is it important to ask about essential testing for your myeloma? Find out how test results could reveal more about your myeloma and may help determine the most effective care for your individual disease.

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Transcript:

Why should you ask your doctor about essential myeloma testing?

When a patient is diagnosed with myeloma, they typically undergo a series of tests that aid in diagnosing and staging their individual disease. The standard tests include:

  • Blood Test
  • Urine Test
  • Bone Marrow Biopsy, and
  • Imaging

As research in the field evolves, genetic profiling via more in-depth cytogenetic testing is increasingly common to further classify your myeloma. This testing often identifies unique biomarkers of the myeloma, such as translocations or changes in chromosomes.

So why do the results of these tests matter?

  • The presence of certain biomarkers can indicate a patient is low-risk, which can suggest a more positive prognosis.
  • There are certain biomarkers that indicate high-risk myeloma, meaning an aggressive treatment approach may be more effective.

Knowing your risk in myeloma is useful to your healthcare team when choosing a treatment approach or may help in determining if a clinical trial might be right for you.

How can you Insist on the best care for YOUR myeloma?

  • First, always speak up and ask questions. Remember, you have a voice in YOUR myeloma care. Your doctor is expecting you to ask questions and should be able to answer them.
  • Ask your doctor if you have had or will receive genetic testing for risk stratification and how the results may impact your care and treatment plan. Be sure to ask for paper or electronic copies of your important test results.
  • And finally, bring a friend or a loved one to your appointments to help you process information and to take notes.

To learn more about your myeloma and access tools for self-advocacy, visit powerfulpatients.org/myeloma 

What Should You Ask Your Doctor About Myeloma Testing?

What Should You Ask Your Doctor About Myeloma Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Testing and test results may affect your myeloma care and treatment. Dr. Nina Shah, a myeloma expert, shares key questions to ask your doctor about testing and reviews testing techniques for myeloma. 

Dr. Nina Shah is Associate Professor of Medicine in the Fepartment of Medicine at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and treats patients at the Hematology and Blood and Marrow Transplant Clinic at UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Shah, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

If a patient wants testing beyond the standard, what should they be asking their doctors for?

Dr. Shah:

Well, thankfully a lot of these tests can be done as a standard. We actually have some approved testing for it. So, the most important thing is to ask the doctor at all. For example, the patient may ask, 1.) “When will my next bone marrow biopsy be?” and 2.) “When I get that bone marrow biopsy, will you be looking at cytogenetics and FISH?” and 3.) “When you get the bone marrow biopsy, will you be also looking for minimal residual disease?” And finally, “What technique will you use to look for that minimal residual disease?” There are different ones that the patients might find useful to know about.

Katherine Banwell:

What are some of the different techniques?

Dr. Shah:

There are a variety of ways that we can look for minimal residual disease. One of them is called flow cytometry. What that is is you send all the cells that are in the bone marrow through a chute, and in that chute you can sort of detect one or however many cells that are – that have a specific characteristic on their cell surface.

You think of it as a bunch of balls with lollipops sticking out of it. And based on the characteristics of those lollipops, you can tell if there are any plasma cells or myeloma cells. Another thing we do with minimal residual disease, another technique, is called the next-gen sequencing or NGS.

And for that, we need to know the specific DNA sequence that is very personal to your myeloma cells. So, your particular plasma cell or the cancer cell will have a sort of sequence, a specific sequence that can be identified when you’re first diagnosed. And if you have access to that tissue, that can be sent off to the company, and they use that as sort of a template or a measure – an individual identification. And then, they scan the subsequent bone marrow samples against that to see if there’s any sequence that matches that original one, and that’s the way you can detect one in a million positive cells, if there are any. 

How Is Minimal Residual Disease (MRD) Testing Used in Myeloma Care?

How Is Minimal Residual Disease (MRD) Testing Used in Myeloma Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma expert Dr. Nina Shah explains minimal residual disease (MRD) and how the results of this test may impact patient care and treatment.

Dr. Nina Shah is Associate Professor of Medicine in the Fepartment of Medicine at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and treats patients at the Hematology and Blood and Marrow Transplant Clinic at UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Shah, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

What is minimal residual disease testing, and when should it take place?

Dr. Shah:

Minimal residual disease is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the disease that you can’t see under the microscope, but it’s still there.

And I sort of equate it to the little deep food particles that are in a pot after you clean it and really, really scrub it, but still, something is in there. And that’s what it is for myeloma. And really, that depends on how sensitive your test is. We now know we can test for at least one in a million cells by some advanced techniques, and we like to test to see if there’s any disease left after certain treatments are done – for example, after a patient undergoes an autologous stem cell transplant.

Katherine Banwell:

What impact do results have on care decisions?

Dr. Shah:

Minimal residual disease testing can be useful for patients to understand the true burden of their disease. For example, it may be that there’s no more M-protein in the blood, or the light chains are normal, or even the bone marrow showed no plasma cells. But the minimal residual disease testing may show that, in fact, there are a few cells still in there, and that can help patients to decide, “Yes, I want proceed with maintenance therapy,” for example, or “No, I would not like to.” Although, we generally recommend it, patients like to have as much information as possible to make their decisions.