MM Treatments and Clinical Trials Archives

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

More resources for Multiple Myeloma Treatments and Clinical Trials from Patient Empowerment Network.

What Are the Risks of CAR T-Cell Therapy?

What Are the Risks of CAR T-Cell Therapy?  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Melissa Alsina, a myeloma expert from Moffitt Cancer Center, reviews the potential side effects of CAR T-cell therapy for myeloma patients, and discusses how these side effects may be managed.

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.

See More from Innovative Myeloma Therapies

Related Resources:

Myeloma Research | CAR-T Cell & Bispecifics Study Updates

Myeloma Research | CAR-T Cell & Bispecifics Study Updates

How Is CAR T-Cell Therapy Changing the Myeloma Treatment Landscape?

How Is CAR T-Cell Therapy Changing the Myeloma Treatment Landscape?

What Are Common Myeloma Treatment Side Effects?

Transcript:

Katherine:

What are the risks of CAR T-cell therapy? 

Dr. Alsina:

So, in myeloma, it is, in general, pretty safe. There are two main – well, actually, I would say three main side effects that we can see with CAR-T. Number one is called cytokine release syndrome, and we are getting these cells from the patient’s immune systems, sending them a lab to be manufactured so that they can recognize this protein, BCMA, in the myeloma cells. 

And then, those cells are grown, so essentially, what we’re doing is that we’re taking the immune system of the patient, and we’re making it very specific against the myeloma cell. And then we’re growing it, so we’re making a hyperactive immune system, and then giving it back to the patient. And then, those cells, they are going to go ahead and react against the myeloma cells and start killing the myeloma cells, and in doing that, that reaction, that immune reaction will elicit release of a lot of proteins – cytokines – and that can cause side effects. 

When that happens, that is called cytokine release syndrome, and the most common finding with that is a fever. Patients can have a high fever. And then, it varies depending on the CAR-T that the patients are getting. So, for example, with this Abecma, usually, the reaction happens right away after you get the cells – the next day, so that’s why these patients, we admit them to the hospital because we know that this cytokine release syndrome is going to happen right away.  

And, it could be just a fever. In the majority of the patients, it happens like this, is just a fever, but it may be about 20 percent of the patients, that reaction can be more severe, and it could be a fever with low blood pressure or shortness of breath, and it could be a fatal complication, but that’s very, very rare.  

And we know – we can identify, obviously, when it’s happening, and there’s a medication that we can give to actually sort of counteract that reaction and don’t let it progress, and in the majority of the patients, that works quite well.  

Katherine:

What other side effects are there for CAR T-cell therapy? 

Dr. Alsina:

Yeah, so besides the main one that I discussed, cytokine release syndrome, the other thing that could happen is neurotoxicity, meaning that T cells can actually cross to the brain and cause toxicity in the brain, and depending on the type of CAR-T that the patient is getting, it could be less or more risk.  

But essentially, what could happen is that the patient could have some aphasia, like for example, difficulty finding words. It could also be just a headache. Patients could have seizures, so we do give the patients medication to prevent seizures while they are undergoing CAR-T. 

They can have difficulty writing, so we make every patient write a sentence every day to make sure that’s not being affected. And we do a mini mental status every day. Every day, we’ll go see the patient and ask them 10 different questions, like “Where are you? What day is it? Who’s the president?”, we show them an object, and so on so we can monitor these things very closely. If we see any changes, then we can intervene. Usually, for neurotoxicity, we give steroids. 

The good news, though, is that this is very rare. With Abecma, it’s very rare that a patient would have severe neurotoxicity. With ciltacabtagene autoleucel (Carvykti), which is the one that was approved more recently, from 100 patients that were treated, there were five patients that had this delayed neurotoxicity, some of them with movement disorders, like Parkinson’s-like systems, and these were delayed. These didn’t happen in the first few weeks. 

But we learned what are the risks associated with these, the majority of the patients that have very high tumor burden, so what we do is that we monitor the patients very closely, especially the patients with high tumor burden. The ideal situation is that we can control the disease a little bit better before taking them to CAR-T, but even when that’s not possible, what we do is that we intervene early on if we see that these patients are getting any side effects and being more aggressive with the intervention. 

And then, the third, more important side effect is these CAR-T cells can prevent blood counts to recover. For CAR-T, we give chemotherapy.  

That would allow the T cells to expand, and this chemotherapy can drop the blood counts, but usually, they recover quickly, but in some patients, this recovery doesn’t happen quickly, and patients can have low counts for months, and obviously, that would bring increased risk of infection. 

So, that is a potential complication, especially in patients that have received a lot of prior therapies, and it’s not common that a patient would take a long time, but it could happen, and sometimes, occasionally, we’ve had to give these patients a stem cell boost from stem cells that we have stored to actually make their counts recover. So, those are essentially the three most common complications, but in general, it’s a treatment that is well tolerated and very manageable, and I can tell you the majority of the patients that I’ve treated, they’ve said this is easier than a transplant.  

How Is CAR T-Cell Therapy Changing the Myeloma Treatment Landscape?

How Is CAR T-Cell Therapy Changing the Myeloma Treatment Landscape?  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma expert Dr. Melissa Alsina discusses the evolution of myeloma treatment over the past several years, including an explanation of the two FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapies available for myeloma patients.

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.

See More from Innovative Myeloma Therapies

Related Resources:

What Are the Risks of CAR T-Cell Therapy?

Is It Too Late for a Myeloma Second Opinion?

Is It Too Late for a Myeloma Second Opinion?

 
How Long Will Myeloma Maintenance Therapy Last?

Transcript:

Katherine:

I’d like to start by talking about innovations in myeloma therapy. How have treatment options for myeloma evolved over the past several years? 

Dr. Alsina:

Yeah, well, the easy answer to that is dramatically. It’s really amazing, the number of advances that we’ve had in the treatment. When I think 20 to 25 years ago, we had two drugs for myeloma, rare opportunity to get any patient in complete remission. 

And now, we have many, many drugs, we continue to have bone marrow transplants, now we have CAR-T cellular immunotherapies, and able to get patients – over 80 percent of the patients in remission up front, and even in the relapse setting, many of them with CAR-T, for example. One of the CAR-Ts is able to get 80 percent of the patients in remission, so it’s really incredible, the amount of advances. 

Katherine:

Yeah. How is CAR T-cell therapy changing the field? 

Dr. Alsina:

So, we – probably everyone knows that there have been two CAR-T products approved for myeloma in the past year. We’re not doing as good as the lymphoma group. Those were the first CAR-T cells, were approved for lymphoma/leukemia, and for those patients with lymphoma and leukemia, there’s an opportunity for a cure, whereas in myeloma, in the setting that we’re using CAR-T right now, which is for patients that have failed multiple lines of therapy, at least four prior lines of therapy, those patients are not cured.   

Katherine:

Yeah. You mentioned that there are two CAR T-cell therapies available right now for myeloma patients. What are they? 

Dr. Alsina:

So, the first one, that was approved in March of last year the commercial name is Abecma. This is made by a company that is called BMS. It targets BCMA, which is B-cell maturation antigen, which is the protein that is preferentially expressed in the myeloma cells, so it’s a really good target for myeloma, and this is the one that studies show that we get response rates at about 75 to 80 percent with remission rates about 40 percent, and in the real world, since Abecma was approved, we’ve treated many patients – at Moffitt, actually, I think we have the largest number in the whole United States, close to 60 patients, and we’re seeing the same.  

So, really, when we translate that to the real world, we’re seeing the same results, and I would argue that perhaps better because the patients that go on trial are very selective patients – they need to have good counts, they cannot have renal insufficiency, all this different criteria, and actually, when we looked at it, we found that 71 percent of the patients that we treated in the real world with Abecma would not have been eligible for trial, but yet, we’re getting the same results – the same results in terms of efficacy and the same results in terms of safety.  

Katherine:

What is the second CAR T-cell therapy available? 

Dr. Alsina:

The second CAR-T was approved just recently, in February of this year, and that is cilta-cel. The commercial name for this is Carvykti, and this one, we do not have a lot of real-world experience because the manufacture and availability of the product is still very limited, so we only have been able to do two patients per month with Carvykti. However, the studies show this agent to be extremely effective, with response rates close to 100 percent and a complete remission rate of 80 percent, which is… 

Katherine:

That’s phenomenal. 

Dr. Alsina:

Right? It’s phenomenal for this patient population. So, we’re definitely very excited with this. I think a major issue with CAR-T that you may or may not have heard – I’m pretty sure all the patients are aware of this, but it’s the availability. When these products are approved, because these products have to be manufactured from the patient cells, the companies cannot release – cannot meet the demand, so there are a lot more patients that need CAR-T than product availability.  

So, we have a waiting list, and this is true for all centers. With the first product, with ide-cel/Abecma, now, at least, in our center, we have been able to catch up a little bit. We’re getting about eight slots per month, so it’s a significant amount. We still are not able to offer it to every single patient that needs it at the moment, but we’re doing much better than the beginning. 

As I mentioned before, with Carvykti, it’s still a significant challenge, and again, we’re getting maybe one or two slots per month. Talking with these companies, they expect that is going to improve by early next year, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed because right now – and this is true for us and many myeloma centers – we have over 100 patients in the waiting list. 

But in any case, even with that, I would encourage any patient that needs CAR-T to go to a center because even though we have a long list, for example, some of those patients that are on the list, they don’t need CAR-T right now, so it doesn’t mean that 120 patients on the list need CAR-T at the moment. So, we normally would go down the list according to when we saw the patient, and then the needs of the patient at the moment that we have a slot, and that’s how we make our selection. 

So, the ideal situation is the patient seeks a CAR-T consult early on. Don’t wait until you have failed four therapies to go. When you start your third line of therapy, go, because then you get on the list. By the time you really need it and are eligible to get it, then it might be accessible to you. 

Considering Joining a Myeloma Clinical Trial? Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Team.

Considering Joining a Myeloma Clinical Trial? Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Team.  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Considering participation in a clinical trial can bring up a lot of questions. Myeloma expert Dr. Melissa Alsina shares advice and key questions patients should ask their healthcare team before joining a myeloma clinical trial.

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.

See More from Myeloma Clinical Trials 201

Related Programs:

 
Understanding the Role of Clinical Trials As a Myeloma Treatment Option

Understanding the Role of Clinical Trials As a Myeloma Treatment Option

Defining the Myeloma Patient Role in Their Care

Defining the Myeloma Patient Role in Their Care

Myeloma Treatment & Research Updates From 2022 ASCO and EHA Meetings

Myeloma Treatment & Research Updates From 2022 ASCO and EHA Meetings 


Transcript:

Katherine:

When a patient is considering participating in a clinical trial, what sorts of questions should they ask their healthcare team? 

Dr. Alsina:

I think the number one thing is “How can this help me? What is the potential for this treatment?” The other very important thing is “What are the potential side effects? Has this been done before in other patients? Do you have any experience? What do you think are going to be the side effects or additional risk compared to getting the standard of care?” 

And then, I think the third thing is “How much commitment do you need from me?” Because there is no doubt that clinical trials require a lot of commitment. When we are doing a clinical trial, we, for example, have to give all the drugs in the center, usually. Let’s say I’m testing Revlimid (lenalidomide), Velcade (bortezomib), and dexamethasone (Decadron) followed by CAR-T, for example in patients with high-risk myeloma. That’s one of the studies. 

Yeah, you could get Revlimid, Velcade, and dexamethasone anywhere. Those are approved drugs. But if you are participating in a clinical trial, you have to get it at Moffitt or at the center, which means patients traveling back and forth, so that is very important because it requires a lot of commitment from the patients. And I think, on that line also, you can ask as a patient, “Well, what are the resources there in the clinical trial that can help me make that commitment?” 

Frequently, clinical trials help patients by paying for their transportation, their gas, their accommodations if they have to stay overnight, to be able to comply and meet all those different visits.  

Understanding the Role of Clinical Trials As a Myeloma Treatment Option

Understanding the Role of Clinical Trials As a Myeloma Treatment Option from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When it comes to myeloma treatment options, where do clinical trials fit in? Dr. Melissa Alsina of Moffitt Cancer Center discusses the role of clinical trials in a myeloma treatment plan at every stage of a patient’s 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.

See More from Myeloma Clinical Trials 201

Related Programs:

 
Considering Joining a Myeloma Clinical Trial? Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Team.

Considering Joining a Myeloma Clinical Trial? Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Team.

Is It Too Late for a Myeloma Second Opinion?

Is It Too Late for a Myeloma Second Opinion?

Myeloma Treatment & Research Updates From 2022 ASCO and EHA Meetings

Myeloma Treatment & Research Updates From 2022 ASCO and EHA Meetings 


Transcript:

Katherine:

When it comes to myeloma treatment options, where do clinical trials fit in? 

Dr. Alsina:

They fit everywhere, essentially. They fit everywhere because myeloma – even though we have many, many advances, it’s a disease that we cannot cure, so there’s still a lot, a lot of work to do, so we have trials for newly diagnosed patients, improving what we do at newly diagnosed, bringing in some of those therapies, for example, like CAR-T up front, and then we have trials for early relapse/late relapse, because again, yeah, we’ve done a lot and we feel very encouraged by that, but we’re short because we have not been able to cure myeloma. 

So, it’s super important, and it’s super important that patients reach out to myeloma centers to see what is available for them because participating in a clinical trial, number one, gives a patient a unique opportunity to get something more than standard of care, something that might make their response better or their survival better.  

That’s one thing, and the other thing is the only way we’re able to move the field forward is doing clinical trials and having patients participating in clinical trials, and the reason today I can sit here and tell you that the treatment of myeloma has evolved dramatically in the last 20 years, and now we have these responses that are amazing that were unheard of, is thanks to the many patients that have participated in clinical trials. 

Without that, obviously, we would not be here with these results. But that needs to continue. I think we cannot rest because there are still patients that die from myeloma. We cannot lose the perspective that this is still an incurable disease and there’s still a lot of work to do, and the only way to get there is to continue doing the research. 

Katherine:

It sounds like clinical trials are also available for patients who have already been treated with another therapy. Is that right? 

Dr. Alsina:

Absolutely. Clinical trials are available for all the different stages of the disease – when you are newly diagnosed, when you have your first relapse, when you have your second relapse.  

Katherine:

Anytime through the process. 

Dr. Alsina:

Anytime, anytime, and there are clinical trials – the clinical trials not only help us test new drugs or new combinations of drugs, but it also helped us understand the disease better. The majority of clinical trials, we do what we call correlative studies, where we get a sample of the patient, the bone marrow of the patient, for example, before and after therapy, and we see what are the changes that we see there and what are the genes that dictate that response or lack of response. 

So, clinical trials not only help us improve outcomes in patients, but it also helps us understand the disease better that leads to other new therapies and other clinical advances. This can translate into new clinical advances 

Myeloma Patient Profile: Sharing My Cancer Journey with My Daughter

Part 1

Myeloma Patient Profile: Sharing My Cancer Journey with My Daughter Part I from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

In this part one of three, Lori Sackett shares the journey of her multiple myeloma. She explains some of the symptoms she was facing before diagnosis to having to advocate to receive next-generation sequencing testing.

Part 2

Myeloma Patient Profile: Sharing My Cancer Journey with My Daughter Part II from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 In this segment of Lori’s story, Lori and her daughter discuss the importance of seeing a myeloma specialist, having a good support network, and the role her daughter played in Lori’s care.

Part 3

Myeloma Patient Profile: Sharing My Cancer Journey with My Daughter Part III from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lori and her daughter share their biggest takeaways and pieces of advice for other newly diagnosed myeloma patients and their care parters/advocates.

Myeloma patient, Lori’s advice:

  1. Insist on seeing a myeloma specialist
  2. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally
  3. Look for people/support and allow them to help you
  4. Live for now

Myeloma care partner and advocate, Carleigh’s advice:

  1. During every appointment have at least one note taker
  2. Ask for a hard copy or print out of everything
  3. Create a way to stay organized
  4. Keep a list of questions
  5. Have a mindset of persistence and perseverance, and to maintain hope

My Self-Advocacy Journey With Ultra High-Risk Multiple Myeloma

My Self Advocacy Journey with Ultra High-Risk Multiple Myeloma from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Multiple myeloma patient Lori shares her journey to diagnosis and treatment. Watch as she explains the varied symptoms that she experienced, the benefits of a second opinion and clinical trials, and her  advice to other patients.

Related Resources:

How to Thrive and Set Myeloma Treatment Goals

Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed Myeloma Patients

Multiple Myeloma Danielle’s Clinical Trial Profile


Transcript:

Lori:

My name is Lori, I’m from Portland, Oregon. I was diagnosed at age 60 in June 2019 with ultra high-risk multiple myeloma. The road to my diagnosis was long and regrettably all too common.

I have always been very healthy and active. I believe my healthy history clouded my doctor’s ability to connect my symptoms to anything serious.

My journey started with chronic fatigue and needing extra sleep. Then came horrible headaches followed by shoulder and back pain, frequent infections that didn’t clear with antibiotics, and severe nose bleeds. 

In May 2019, I had my annual exam that included a blood draw. I later learned I was tested for diabetes and cholesterol but none of the basic blood panels that flag abnormal values. I went into my exam with my laundry list of issues, but was given a clean bill of health.

Four weeks after this exam I was traveling in Kenya on a safari.  I felt very sick during the trip, but I assumed I had picked up something on the long flight.  When I returned  home I could barely get out of bed. I collapsed in the middle of a dinner with some doctor friends who insisted I go to the ER where they held me overnight to perform additional testing. They discovered severe anemia and that my basic blood panels hadn’t been ordered for a number of years. I continued to think it was some odd African bug until the doctors arrived the next day to share the suspected diagnosis of multiple myeloma. I was in shock and very afraid.

I sought a second opinion and I was extremely fortunate to begin my treatment at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. In July 2019, I was started on KRD induction therapy. Our journey was further rocked when our insurance declined coverage for carfilzomib, which was nearly $20,000 for two infusions each week. The insurer insisted I fail on the standard treatment before I could be approved.  I knew from reading how essential the first line of therapy is.  With Seattle Cancer Care Alliance’s help, I was finally approved due to my high-risk status. However, it took months to finally receive approval, and I had to take care of stressful, expensive bills while also completing my treatment.

Treatment was exhausting and required me to drive 3 hours each way each week from Portland to Seattle.  We needed to spend at least one night each week in a hotel. By October 2019, a bone marrow biopsy analysis showed no myeloma cells. I was reminded of the spotty nature of myeloma and the limits of biopsy testing, but I was extremely encouraged. 

At diagnosis, I was given a 20 percent chance of a 5-year survival. I am now 3 years post-diagnosis, and I am in remission.

Some of the things I have learned during my multiple myeloma journey are:

  • Ask your primary care doctor what tests have been ordered and request a comprehensive blood panel if you suspect something is wrong and not being adequately addressed.
  • Seek a second opinion at a cancer center that combines patient treatment and research. 
  • Clinical trials and new treatment combinations can be effective even for high-risk disease. 
  • Work with your doctors to get insurance approval for the protocols they recommend.
  • Empower yourself by learning about treatment options and new therapies.  
  • Be encouraged that there are so many positive advancements happening in multiple myeloma.

These actions are key to staying on your path to empowerment.

Myeloma Patient Profile: Jeff Boero

When Jeff Boero shares his multiple myeloma patient journey, it’s clear that self-education has been a vital part of his experience. He was first diagnosed through his primary care physician who referred him to a general oncology group in the San Francisco area. They confirmed it was multiple myeloma. It soon became clear to Jeff and his wife that he perhaps needed a second opinion, and he was connected with the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) to their multiple myeloma specialist. 

The second opinion changed the approach to Jeff’s care rather dramatically. He was quickly scheduled for a stem cell transplant and subsequent maintenance after that. As Jeff recalls, “Through UCSF, I became eligible for a CAR T-cell immunotherapy trial in 2017. That was very successful and kept me disease-free and medication-free for about 2-1/2 years. And then I relapsed and went on another maintenance program. I became eligible for another clinical trial for a bi-specific T-cell engager (BiTE) that I’m on now and am having good results.”

Jeff was almost in complete denial about his diagnosis for the first 6 months. The diagnosis threw him into a world of terminology and treatment that was completely foreign to him. That sense of his diagnosis feeling foreign also started to lead into a certain level of depression — just not knowing what it is, how is it going to be treated, what it meant to his long-term survival. Jeff remembers, “So, with the encouragement of my wife as caregiver, I became more educated as I engaged in various conversations with specialists and participated in some of the PEN webinars. It  became clearer to me about what some of the options are and what they can be. Being engaged with UCSF really opened up the treatment options. With me becoming more educated and able to speak the language of myeloma, I was starting to understand the diagnosis as it was presented by UCSF. And it led to a much richer engagement in conversation with the oncologist and with the nurse practitioners.” 

As a cancer patient, Jeff views self-education as the key to empowering patients toward better care. It was through self-education that he learned about other options. Before becoming more educated, Jeff was mostly just listening and trying to absorb as much as he could and seemed to remember mostly bad news. According to Jeff, “There’s so much good news around myeloma treatment and available therapies. It was through self-educating and those conversations that my outlook brightened too.”

By patients educating themselves, they can start to ask questions about the clinical trial like: “What is it, and why is it going to show better results than my maintenance therapy?” And in conversation, patients can start to better understand the purpose of the clinical trial. “I think it’s important for patients to understand what they’re trying to accomplish through the clinical trial that wasn’t through their maintenance therapy. What is it about this trial that’s different that we haven’t addressed previously?” But patients can’t ask those questions unless they have at least a basic understanding of their cancer and how the various therapies approach the cancer cell. “But if you listen to webinars and things like that, you’re better able to have those conversations. As a matter of education as these opportunities arise, you’re able to have a much richer conversation with your oncologist and your care team about the benefits that could potentially be derived from the clinical trial.” 

Clinical trials have benefitted Jeff, and he recommends seeking an opinion that is dedicated to research of your specific cancer. Learning institutions have more access to emerging research and treatments that likely won’t be FDA-approved until 2 or 3 years later. “So if you as a patient can be at the forefront of some of these trials, that can be tremendous. I’m on therapies now that didn’t even exist when I was diagnosed. Research is moving quickly.”

Jeff senses some hesitancy among patients about clinical trials. “There’s this misconception that if you join a clinical trial, one group is getting the real stuff, and one group is getting the placebo. And the trials that I’ve been in, everybody gets the real thing, and everybody’s progress is tracked on their response to the real thing.” He knows trials can seem intimidating. Jeff went through his initial clinical trial, because he was almost out of options for conventional maintenance therapy. His cancer burden continued to increase, and he’d been through a number of different treatments. “The CAR T-cell program came up and seemed to be a perfect fit for me. So I did the clinical trial partially out of necessity, but I also had extreme confidence in my oncologist that he was promoting something that he thought would be most beneficial for me. I think it’s a matter of putting trust in your oncologist. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I’ve had good results and good response to both clinical trials.” He also feels that the sponsoring institution will give an honest appraisal of where the program stands and what the progress and success has been up to that point. 

Reflecting on the value of Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) and other resources, Jeff says, “I’ve gotten so much out of the PEN webinars that are provided and some other organizations. I’m a slow learner in this area but am absorbing as much as I can. I need to hear the same thing a few times before I start to absorb it and fully understand it. So I rewatch the PEN webinars, and it works for me.” He also suggests learning as much as one can but was advised early on to stay away from Google. “There’s so much out-of-date information. Whereas websites like Patient Empowerment Network’s and others have updated information that’s far more relevant. And I also find the navigation on the PEN website very easy to use.”

After meeting patients who don’t have the same level of health insurance benefits, Jeff feels a sense of gratitude. “I had tremendous support from my employer who in essence said take the time you need to get yourself well again. So I have a lot of gratitude for that support, my wife as caregiver, family, social support, my faith community, and for my proximity to UCSF that makes treatment very practical and very possible.” It’s opened his eyes in that regard. There are so many benefits that he has that others don’t have. “I’ve joined various support groups initially to gain support. Now things have come full circle, and I find that I’m at the other end of the conversation to give people comfort in what they could possibly be doing to improve their situation.”


Support Resources

Financial Assistance Programs

Financial Resources for Patients and Families

Health & Disability Insurance

Federal & State Benefit Plans

Is It Too Late for a Myeloma Second Opinion?

A Patient’s Perspective | Participating in a Clinical Trial

A Patient’s Perspective | Participating in a Clinical Trial from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Colorectal cancer survivor Cindi Terwoord recounts her clinical trial experience and explains why she believes patients should consider trial participation.

Dr. Pauline Funchain is a medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Funchain serves as Director of the Melanoma Oncology Program, co-Director of the Comprehensive Melanoma Program, and is also Director of the Genomics Program at the Taussig Cancer Institute of the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Funchain, here.

Cindi Terwoord is a colorectal cancer survivor and patient advocate. Learn more about Cindi, here.

See More from Clinical Trials 101

Related Resources:

A Patient Shares Her Clinical Trial Experience

If I Participate in a Clinical Trial, Will I Be a Guinea Pig?

Are Clinical Trials a Logistical Nightmare?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:    

Cindi, you were diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer, and decided to participate in a clinic trial. Can you tell us about what it was like when you were diagnosed?

Cindi Terwoord:        

Yeah. That was in September of 2019, and I had had some problems; bloody diarrhea one evening, and then the next morning the same thing. So, I called my husband at work, I said, “Things aren’t looking right. I think I’d better go to the emergency room.”

And so, we went there, they took blood work – so I think they knew something was going on – and said, “We’re going to keep you for observation.” So, then I knew it must’ve been something bad. And so, two days later, then I had a colonoscopy, and that’s when they found the tumor, and so that was the beginning of my journey.

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. Had you had a colonoscopy before, or was that your first one?

Cindi Terwoord:        

No, I had screenings, I would get screenings. I had heard a lot of bad things about colonoscopies, and complications and that, so I was always very leery of doing that. Shame on me. I go for my other screenings, but I didn’t like to do that one. I have those down pat now, I’m very good at those.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah, I’m sure you do. So, Cindi, what helped guide your decision to join a clinical trial?

Cindi Terwoord:        

Well, I have a friend – it was very interesting.

He was probably one of the first people we told, because he had all sorts of cancer, and he was, I believe, one of the first patients in the nation to take part in this trial. It’s nivolumab (Opdivo), and he’s been on it for about seven years. And he had had various cancers would crop up, but it was keeping him alive.

And so, frankly, I didn’t know I was going to have the option of a trial, but he told me run straight to Cleveland Clinic, it’s one of the best hospitals. So, I took his advice. And the first day the doctor walked in, and then all these people walked in, and I’m like, “Why do I have so many people in here?” Not just a doctor and a nurse. There was like a whole – this is interesting.

And so, then they said, “Well, we have something to offer you. And we have this immunotherapy trial, and you would be one of the first patients to try this.”

Now, when they said first patient, I’m not quite sure if they meant the first colon cancer patient, I’m not sure. But they told me the name of it, and I said, “I’m in. I’m in.” Because I knew my friend had survived all these years, and I thought, “Well, I’ve gotten the worst diagnosis I can have, what do I have to lose?” So, I said, “I’m on board, I’m on board.”

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. Did you have any hesitations?

Cindi Terwoord:        

Nope. No, I’m an optimistic person, and what they assured me was that I could drop out at any time, which I liked that option.

Because I go, “Well, if I’m not feeling well, and it’s not working, I’ll get out.” So, I liked that part of it. I also liked, as Dr. Funchain had said, you go in for more visits. And I like being closely monitored, I felt that was very good.

I’ve always kept very good track of my health. I get my records, I get my office notes from my doctor. I’m one of those people. I probably know the results of blood tests before the doctor does because I’m looking them up. So, I felt very confident in their care. They watched me like a hawk. I kept a diary because they were asking me so many questions.

Katherine Banwell:    

Oh, good for you.

Cindi Terwoord:        

I’m a transcriptionist, so I just typed out all my notes, and I’d hand it to them.

Katherine Banwell:    

That’s a great idea.

Cindi Terwoord:        

Here’s how I’m feeling, here’s…And I was very lucky I didn’t have many side effects.

Katherine Banwell:    

In your conversations with your doctor, did you weigh the pros and cons about joining a trial? Or had you already made up your mind that yes, indeed, you were going for it?

Cindi Terwoord:        

Yeah, I already said, “I’m in, I’m in.” Like I said, it had kept my friend alive for these many years, he’s still on it, and I had no hesitation whatsoever.

I wish more people – I wanted to get out there and talk to every patient in the waiting room and say, “Do it, do it.”

I mean, you can’t start chemotherapy then get in the trial. And if I ever hear of someone that has cancer, I ask them, “Well, were you given the option to get into a trial?” Well, and then some of them had started the chemo before they even thought of that.

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. So, how are you doing now, Cindi? How are you feeling?

Cindi Terwoord:        

Good, good, I’m doing fantastic, thank goodness, and staying healthy. I’m big into herbal supplements, always was, so I keep those up, and I’m exercising. I’m pretty much back to normal –

Katherine Banwell:

Cindi, what advice do you have for patients who may be considering participating in a trial? 

Cindi Terwoord:

Do it. Like I said, I don’t see any downside to it. You want to get better as quickly as possible, and this could help accelerate your recovery. And everything Dr. Funchain mentioned, as far as – I really never brought up any questions about whether it would be covered. 

And then somewhere along the line, one of the research people said, “Well, anything the trial research group needs done – like the blood draws – that’s not charged to your insurance.” So, that was nice, that was very encouraging, because I think everybody’s afraid your insurance is going to drop you or something.  

And then the first day I was in there for treatment, a social worker came in, and they talked to you. “Do you need financial help? We also have art therapy, music therapy,” so that was very helpful. I mean, she came in and said, “I’m a social worker,” and I’m like, “Oh, okay. I didn’t know somebody was coming in here to talk to me.” 

But that was all very helpful, and I did get free parking for a few weeks. I mean, sometimes I’d have to remind them. I’d say, “It’s costing me more to park than to get treated.” But, yeah, like I said, I’m a big advocate for it, because you hear so many positive outcomes from immunotherapy trials, and boy, I’d say if you’re a candidate, do it. 

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Funchain, do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to leave the audience with? 

Dr. Pauline Funchain:

First, Cindi, I have to say thank you. I say thank you to every clinical trial participant, everybody who participates in the science. Because honestly, whether you give blood, or you try a new drug, I think people don’t understand how many other lives they touch when they do that.  

It’s really incredible. Coming into clinic day in and day out, we get to see – I mean, really, even within a year or two years, there are people that we’ve seen on clinical trial that we’re now treating normally, standardly, insurance is paying for it, it’s all standard of care. And those are even the people we can see, and there are so many people we can’t see in other centers all over the world, and people who will go on after us, right?  

 So, it’s an amazing – I wouldn’t even consider most of the time that it’s a personal sacrifice. There are a couple more visits and things like that, but it is an incredible gift that people do, in terms of getting trials. And then for some of those trials, people have some amazing results. 

And so, just the opportunity to have patients get an outcome that wouldn’t have existed without that trial, like Cindi, is incredible, incredible. 

What Are the Risks and Benefits of Joining a Clinical Trial?

What Are the Risks and Benefits of Joining a Clinical Trial? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Why should a cancer patient consider a clinical trial? Dr. Pauline Funchain of the Cleveland Clinic explains the advantages of clinical trial participation.

Dr. Pauline Funchain is a medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Funchain serves as Director of the Melanoma Oncology Program, co-Director of the Comprehensive Melanoma Program, and is also Director of the Genomics Program at the Taussig Cancer Institute of the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Funchain, here.

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Understanding Common Clinical Trial Terminology

How to Find A Clinical Trial That’s Right for You


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Why would a cancer patient consider participating in a clinical trial? What are the benefits? 

Dr. Pauline Funchain:

So, I mean, the number one benefit, I think, for everyone, including the cancer patient, is really clinical trials help us help the patient, and help us help future patients, really.  

We learn more about what good practices are in the future, what better drugs there are for us, what better regimens there are for us, by doing these trials. And ideally, everyone would participate in a trial, but it’s a very personal decision, so we weigh all the risks and benefits. I think that is the main reason.  

I think a couple of other good reasons to consider a trial would be the chance to see a drug that a person might not otherwise have access to. So, a lot of the drugs in clinical trials are brand new, or the way they’re sequenced are brand new. And so, this is a chance to be able to have a body, or a cancer, see something else that wouldn’t otherwise be available.  

And I think the last thing – and this is sort of the thing we don’t talk about as much – but really, because clinical trials are designed to be as safe as possible, and because they are new procedures, there’s a lot of safety protocols that are involved with them, which means a lot of eyes are on somebody going through a clinical trial.  

Which actually to me means a little bit sort of more love and care from a lot more people. It’s not that the standard of care – there’s plenty of love and care and plenty of people, but this doubles or triples the amount of eyes on a person going through a trial. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. When it comes to having a conversation with their doctor, how can a patient best weigh the risks and benefits to determine whether a trial is right for them? 

Dr. Pauline Funchain:

Right. So, I think that’s a very personal decision, and that’s something that a person with cancer would be talking to their physician about very carefully to really understand what the risks are for them, what the benefits are for them. Because for everybody, risks and benefits are totally different. So, I think it’s really important to sort of understand the general concept. It’s a new drug, we don’t always know whether it will or will not work. And there tend to be more visits, just because people are under more surveillance in a trial.  

So, sort of getting all the subtleties of what those risks and benefits are, I think, are really important. 

Katherine Banwell:

Mm-hmm. What are some key questions that patients should ask? 

Dr. Pauline Funchain:

Well, I think the first question that any patient should ask is, “Is there a trial for me?” I think that every patient needs to know is that an option. It isn’t an option for everyone. And if it is, I think it’s – everybody wants that Plan A, B, and C, right? You want to know what your Plan A, B, and C are. If one of them includes a trial, and what the order might be for the particular person, in terms of whether a trial is Plan A, B, or C. 

Participating in a Clinical Trial: What You Need to Know Resource Guide

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How Long Will Myeloma Maintenance Therapy Last?

How Long Will Myeloma Maintenance Therapy Last? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Joshua Richter, a myeloma specialist, reviews the goals of maintenance therapy and discusses the timeline for this type of 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.

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What Myeloma Patients Should Know About Treatment Monitoring


Transcript:

Katherine:

Isaac sent us this question. How long does the average myeloma patient remain on Revlimid? And is there a suggested time period? 

Dr. Richter:

Really great question. It depends upon the setting we’re looking at, and for the most part, a lot of people are probably asking about the maintenance setting. So, after initial therapy or after transplant, we put you on Revlimid. How long do we keep you on? The American adage has always been, “More is better,” so as long as you tolerate it and as long as it works. Outside of the U.S., they’ve done a couple of studies looking at one year and then stopping, or two years and then stopping.  

And in a big trial that got presented a year or so ago, they compared the two years then stopping versus just staying on, and the people who just stay on do better.  

So, now the current thinking is just keep you on long-term. What’s going to change that in the long term is we’re starting to use a technology called MRD, minimal residual disease, so, doing a marrow and trying to find one in a million or one in 10 million cancer cells.   

And then, there’s something called sustained MRD meaning if you do two MRD analyses at least 12 months apart and they’re both negative, we call that sustained MRD-negative.   

And, there’s a hint that some people on maintenance Revlimid who have sustained their MRD negativity, they may do just as well stopping versus staying on it. We don’t know exactly who that is yet, but that’s going to be better understood in the next few years.  

What Myeloma Patients Should Know About Treatment Monitoring

What Myeloma Patients Should Know About Treatment Monitoring from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How do you know if your myeloma treatment is working? Dr. Joshua Richter, a myeloma specialist, reviews how treatment response is measured in myeloma and why it’s important to share any symptoms or side effects with the healthcare team.

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.

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How Long Will Myeloma Maintenance Therapy Last?


Transcript:

Katherine:

So, once treatment has begun, how do you know if it’s working? 

Dr. Richter:

Absolutely. So, the majority of myeloma patients are what we call “secretory.” And by “secretory,” it means that the cancer cells secrete a protein that we can measure in the blood either an M-spike, which is an intact immunoglobulin like IgG and kappa, or a free light chain. It doesn’t make that IgG part, just a free kappa or free lambda. And basically, when these protein levels go up, we know the cancer cells are growing. When these go down, we know we’re killing the cancer cells. And we actually call your remission based on how much we lower it.  

If we lower it 25 to 49 percent, that’s an MR or minor response, or minor remission. 50 to 89 percent is a PR, partial response, partial remission. 90 to 99 percent is a VGPR, a very good partial remission, and then all gone in the blood and then we do a bone marrow is a CR or complete remission.  

For some people, their disease can be non-secretory where the cancer cells don’t make that protein anymore.  

And for those people, we need to do regular imaging to see if they have growths of myeloma we call plasmacytomas, or unfortunately, we need to do regular bone marrow biopsies to see how much of the bad cells are growing inside the marrow. 

Katherine:

All right. How do you know when it’s time to switch treatment? 

Dr. Richter:

So, in general, when patients fulfill the criteria for what we call “progressive disease” or PD, that’s the time to change, or intolerance that regardless of how we dose adjust, dose hold or add supportive care, it’s not tolerable for a patient to continue.  

Intolerance is a very personal thing. There are things that certain people are willing to tolerate and others not. So, we try to adjust that. Just like we have criteria for response, PR, VGPR, we have criteria for progression. And in general, it’s a 25 percent increase from your baseline and 0.5 increase in your M-spike or 100 increase in your light chains. So, when the disease numbers are going up, we tend to switch.  

Now, people may say, “But I feel fine,” and a lot of this is because you’re diagnosed with an amount of disease up here. We get you in remission, you’re down here. And once you go like this, we can see the writing on the wall and we’d rather be proactive than reactive. So, instead of waiting until the numbers get up here to cause trouble, once it goes from there to there, we intervene, change therapy to bring it back down. 

Katherine:

Dr. Richter, why is it essential for patients to share any issues they may be having with their healthcare team?  

Dr. Richter:

It is absolutely crucial because some things that may be very, very minor to them may be the tip of the iceberg of something very, very worrisome that we really need to investigate because sometimes, little problems are little now, and over time, they can become problems that we can’t so easily reverse. So, things like neuropathy, fatigue, or actually better yet, what I tell my patients is, “You know your body. If there is something out of the ordinary, big or small, let us know.”  

And I would way rather a patient tell me 10 things in a row that mean nothing than not tell me about that one thing that means something.  

So, for example, one of the disorders that’s associated with myeloma is called amyloidosis.  

And when amyloid attacks the kidneys, you start to have protein in the urine, and this looks like bubbles, like foam in the urine. So, if someone has no foam when they urinate, and then over a period of months to years, they’re starting to notice lots of foam, tell me because that means we may need to look for things like amyloid.  

So, really any time something changes.  

How Can Myeloma Treatment Impact Kidney Health?

How Can Myeloma Treatment Impact Kidney Health? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Joshua Richter discusses the impact of myeloma treatment on the kidneys and provides key advice for optimal kidney health.

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.

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How Long Will Myeloma Maintenance Therapy Last?


Transcript:

Katherine:

Are kidneys impacted by any of the medications that patients take? 

Dr. Richter:

So, kidneys are an excruciatingly important part of myeloma, and in my mind, one of the keys to long-term survival and outcome. So, there are three things that I tell all of my patients to help preserve long-term kidney health. Two of them are easy to wrap the head around. One is a little bit harder. Number one, keep yourself well hydrated. The kidneys are like a filter. Think, like, the filter for your car. If you drove 100,000 miles in the desert and didn’t change your oil, there’d be problems. So, especially now that there’s warmer weather, by the time you already feel yourself dehydrated, you’re about 10 to 15 percent low on the total amount of body water you need.  

So, especially if you’re going out there doing yard work, playing with the kids or grandkids, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water. Two, avoid NSAIDs. Drugs like Aleve, or naproxen, or Advil, or ibuprofen can be harmful to the kidneys. So again, please discuss with your care team. There may be better alternatives to treat your pain without hurting the kidneys. And the third is when all else possible, avoid intravenous contrasts for CAT scans. Now, the IV contrast you get for MRIs is called gadolinium. It’s not harmful to the kidneys. But the contrast for CAT scans is iodine-based, and although the newer formulations are better, it can still hurt the kidneys.   

So, my advice is the following. If you’re in the ER at 2:00 a.m. in the morning and they want to do an urgent CAT scan with IV contrast, let them do it. It’s likely not going to be an issue. If you go to see an orthopedist and they say, “I want to get a better look at that leg that’s bothering you. I’m going to get a CAT scan with IV contrast,” tell them to call me. We’ll find an alternative. 

What Are Common Myeloma Treatment Side Effects?

What Are Common Myeloma Treatment Side Effects? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma specialist Dr. Joshua Richter reviews common side effects of myeloma treatment and strategies for managing them. 

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.

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How Long Will Myeloma Maintenance Therapy Last?


Transcript:

Katherine:

Can you help us understand some of the common issues that myeloma patients experience and how they might be managed? 

Dr. Richter:

Sure. So, fatigue is an absolutely huge one. And fatigue can come from a lot of different things. One, fatigue can come from other medicines. A lot of patients have cardiac issues and may be on other medicines causing fatigue. So, optimizing your other clinical status is important. Anemia can lead to fatigue, so we monitor your blood counts very closely, and if they drop, can we provide medicines to boost them up? Drugs. Some of the therapies we have can cause fatigue, and one of the biggest ones is Revlimid.  

And I tell people what actually tends to help is you take the Revlimid at night instead of the morning because if you take it at night, it tends to maximize the fatigue while you’re already sleeping. If you take it in the morning, it tends to maximize at that horrible, coffee-needing hour of 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., or 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. where you’re like, “Oh, I’ve gotta lie down.” So, fatigue is a really big one. Neuropathy. Neuropathy is really getting less and less in our new patients because more of our modern drugs don’t cause it, but unfortunately, some patients still have neuropathy, and they may be using drugs like gabapentin or Lyrica.  

There’s some other really old drugs and new drugs that can help. Drugs like Pamelor, which is nortriptyline, or Cymbalta may help quite a bit, or another drug called Effexor. And many of these drugs may be used for anxiety and depression, but also work for neuropathy. And then, even going to things like the cannabinoids; things like marijuana derivatives may actually be able to help both in salves or even edibles may actually help some of the neuropathy issues. And then, we get into some kind of out there stuff like compounding ketamine to help with some of these salves or oral combinations. So again, a little bit of neuropathy, let us know because there may be some ways to help.  

Key Factors That Guide Myeloma Treatment Decisions

Key Factors That Guide Myeloma Treatment Decisions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Treatment for myeloma varies from one patient to the next. Dr. Joshua Richter, a myeloma specialist, reviews the factors that are considered when choosing a treatment approach.

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.

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What Are Common Myeloma Treatment Side Effects?


Transcript:

Katherine:

What I would like to look at is because everyone’s different, what’s going to work for one patient might not work for another. So, how do you choose which treatment is right for a patient? 

Dr. Richter:

Really great question. So, unfortunately, myeloma, we don’t have the granularity just yet to say exactly what’s going to work for everyone. Our goal is to kind of be what I like to think of as urinary tract infections. You have a UTI, you pee on a dish, we put little discs of antibiotics and a couple of days later, we’re like, “You have an E. coli and Cipro will work.” You get the Cipro, and it goes way. We don’t really have that outside of a few drugs. We do know that the drug venetoclax works really well in people who have a very specific type of translocation in their myeloma cells, something we call translocation (11;14).  

But for the most part, we don’t know, and we have lots of options and we decide what drugs to use based on three factors: disease-related factors, treatment-related factors, patient-related factors. So, patient-related factors. Are you older or younger? Fit or frail? Do you have comorbidities? If you have a lot of neuropathy from diabetes, I don’t want to give you a drug that’s going to cause more neuropathy. If you have a lot of cardiac issues, I’m not going to give you a cardiac drug. Disease-related factors. Is your disease growing fast or slow? Can I give you some pills or do I need to give you intravenous immediately to stop it? Is it pressing on a nerve? Do I need to add radiation?  

So, those are some of the big factors. And then, treatment related factors. Have you had certain other drugs? So, if you’re refractory to Revlimid, I may not want to give you Revlimid again. 

If you have a lot of side effects or didn’t respond well to Revlimid, I may not want to use another drug similar to Revlimid like Pomalyst.  

I may want to choose another class. So, that’s kind of putting all of that together to come up with a treatment choice because there’s no clear guideline.