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.

Confused About Immunotherapy and Its Side Effects? You Aren’t Alone

“You don’t look like you have cancer.”

More than one patient undergoing immunotherapy to treat cancer has reported hearing statements like that. Immunotherapy is one of the recent advances in cancer treatment that belie the stereotypes about the effects of cancer treatment. 

The side effects of immunotherapy are different from those associated with chemotherapy and radiation. However, that does not mean immunotherapy does not have side effects. Patients and care partners need to be aware of these potential side effects and to be vigilant in addressing them with their oncologists because they can signal more serious complications if left untreated.

What is Immunotherapy?

Despite the increase of immunotherapy treatment options in recent years and considerble media attention paid to advancements in this field, there remains confusion about immunotherapy and its side effects. Many cancer patients are unaware of whether immunotherapy treatments are available for their specific diagnosis. Others don’t know that genetic profiling of their tumors is usually required to determine if immunotherapy is an option and not all treatment centers routinely conduct genetic profiles of tumors. A  survey by The Cancer Support Community found that the majority of patients who received immunotherapy knew little to nothing about it prior to treatment and were unfamiliar with what to expect.

Immunotherapy works by manipulating the patient’s immune system to attack cancer cells. It is perceived as gentler and more natural than chemotherapy and radiation, without the same destructive effect on the body’s healthy tissues.  This, combined with a lack of prior understanding of immunotherapy, can lead patients and care partners ill-prepared for possible side effects.

Furthermore, immunotherapy is a category of therapies, not a single type of treatment. There are a variety of immunotherapy drugs, most of which are administered via infusion.  Side effects will vary by drug, the cancer and its location, treatment dose, and the patient’s overall health.

The following are the most common types of immunotherapy.

  • Checkpoint inhibitors use drugs to block proteins in the patient’s immune system that would otherwise restrain the immune system, often referred to as taking the “brakes” off the immune system.
  • CAR-T therapy modifies the patient’s T-cells in a lab to enhance their ability to bind to cancer cells and attack and kill them.
  • Oncolytic virus therapy uses genetically modified viruses to kill cancer cells.
  • Another therapy uses cytokines (small proteins that carry messages between cells) to stimulate the immune cells to attack cancer.

Immunotherapy can be part of combination therapy. It might be combined with chemotherapy. It might be used to shrink a tumor that is then surgically removed.  Or multiple immunotherapy drugs might be used simultaneously.

What Are The Side Effects?

With immunotherapies, side effects typically occur when the immune system gets too revved up from the treatment. The most common side effects for immunotherapy treatments are fatigue, headache, and fever with flu-like symptoms. Some people also experience general inflammation often in the form of a rash. Many melanoma patients report blotchy skin discoloration, called vitiligo, during treatment. These milder side effects can usually be managed with over-the-counter remedies and adjustments to daily activities.

For checkpoint inhibitors, the fastest growing segment of immunotherapy treatments, mild side effects occur in 30% – 50% of patients. Serious side effects typically occur in less than 5% of patients. (See “Understanding Immunotherapy Side Effects” from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and the American Society of Clinical Oncology.)

Less common side effects are blisters, joint pain, thyroid inflammation, and colitis (inflamed colon resulting in diarrhea with cramping). Some patients who receive CAR T-cell therapy develop a condition known as cytokine release syndrome, which causes fever, elevated heart rate, low blood pressure, and rash. 

In rare cases, immunotherapy has resulted in lung inflammation, hepatitis, inflammation of the pituitary, and detrimental effects on the nervous and endocrine systems. In most cases, the conditions clear up when treatment ends.  However, there have been outcomes in which immunotherapy caused diabetes or tuberculosis.

“Overall there are fewer side effects [with immunotherapy],” explained Dr. Justin Gainor, a lung and esophageal cancer specialist at Mass General during an Immunotherapy Patient Summit hosted by the Cancer Research Institute. “But the immune system can affect anything from the top of the head down to the toes. Any organ has the potential to be affected.”

As the application of immunotherapy has expanded, so has our understanding of the potential side effects. Like most medical treatments, how one person responds to immunotherapy can be different from another even when the cancer diagnosis and drug therapy are the same.

The essential thing patients and care partners need to know about side effects is they should always be reported to their oncologist or nurse oncologist.

Why Patients Should Talk to Their Provider About Immunotherapy Side Effects

Because immunotherapy has created newer therapy options, there isn’t the volume of experiences as with older treatments. The infinite number of variables that patients provide once a treatment moves beyond clinical trials and into the general patient population generate more diverse outcomes.  And, as most therapies are less than 10 years old, there hasn’t been an opportunity to study the long-term effect of these therapies. This is why oncologists advise patients and their caregivers to be extra vigilant in noting any changes experienced during and after treatment.

Many side effects are easy to treat but medical providers want patients to be forthcoming in discussing any and all side effects. This is in part to improve understanding of side effects, but also because a mild cough or a case of diarrhea might be harbingers of a more systemic issue that will grow worse if left untreated.

Patients should not be hesitant to discuss side effects because they fear they will be taken off immunotherapy.  Sometimes a pause in treatment might be necessary, but the earlier the oncologist is made aware of a side effect, the less likely that will be necessary.

In addition, patients undergoing immunotherapy should always take the name(s) of their immunotherapy drugs and the name of their oncologist when seeing medical professionals outside of their cancer treatment team. This is especially important when visiting the ER.  Because immunotherapy drugs are newer and highly targeted to certain cancers, many medical professionals remain unfamiliar with drug interactions and treating related side effects.

Immunotherapy On The Rise

Immunotherapy treatments have resulted in reports of remission in cases that would’ve been deemed hopeless just five or 10 years ago.  The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has approved various immunotherapy treatments for melanoma, lung cancer, head and neck cancer, bladder cancer, cervical cancer, liver cancer, stomach cancer, lymphoma, breast cancer, and most recently bladder cancer.  (Here is a list of  immunotherapies by cancer type from the Cancer Research Institute.)

“It’s revolutionized how we treat our patients,” says Dr. Gainor of Mass General about immunotherapy’s impact on lung and esophageal cancer.

Advances in immunotherapy research and trials continue to generate optimism and excitement. A clinical study in Houston is looking at using immunotherapy to prevent a recurrence. Researchers in Britain recently announced a discovery that might lead to advances in immunotherapy treatments to a much broader array of cancers.

While there is excitement around the field of immunotherapy and it has resulted in unprecedented success in treating some previously hard-to-treat cancers, it remains an option for a minority of cancer diagnoses.  It works best on solid tumors with more mutations, often referred to as having a high-mutational load or microsatellite instability (MSI) high. And it is not universally successful for every patient.

With hundreds of clinical trials involving immunotherapy alone or in combination with other therapies, it is certain more treatment options are on the horizon. As more therapies are developed and more patients with a greater variety of conditions undergo immunotherapy, we will also increase our understanding of potential side effects.

Side effects should not dissuade patients and care partners from considering immunotherapy if it is available or from advocating for genetic tests to deteimine if it is an option. Many patients undergoing immunotherapy have previously undergone chemotherapy and report that the side effects are fewer and milder by comparison.  The important thing is that patients and their partners know what to expect and communicate with their treatment team.

If the next 10 years in immunotherapy research and development are anything link eth elast 10, we can expect more exciting advancements in the battle against cancer. For more perspective on what’s ahead for immunotherapy see the Cancer Research Institute’s article: Cancer Immunotherapy in 2020 and Beyond.

Is Treatment Adherence & Socioeconomic Disparities in Myeloma Creating Roadblocks to Best Care?

A Diverse Health Hub #NewsyNugget

How Can Myeloma Patients Facing Disparities Be More Proactive in Their Care?

Dr. Victoria Vardell of Huntsman Cancer Institute discusses her study where key findings reveal underserved myeloma patient populations are less likely to receive a stem cell transplant (SCT). Vardell encourages patients to ask questions of their providers until they have a complete understanding so they can make the most informed decisions in their myeloma care. Watch the complete interview below.

Myeloma Treatment: Black patients less likely to receive SCT

ASH 2019 Study: Here

Speak Up: Patients should ask questions until they understand in order to make more informed treatment decisions

Does Treatment Adherence in Myeloma Impact Outcomes?

Myeloma expert Dr. Sikander Ailawadhi of Mayo Clinic breaks down the importance of treatment adherence and disease management in multiple myeloma in order to get the maximum benefit. In Dr. Ailawadhi’s own words: “In myeloma it has been shown again and again, if you use the right treatment for the right duration and you get a deep response, you are more likely to do better.” Watch the complete interview below.

Myeloma Treatment: staying on regimen long enough for deepest response is important

Treatment Adherence: a known issue in multiple myeloma and many cancers

Treatment Duration: staying on the right treatment for full duration coupled with deep response is key


Diverse Health Hub and the Patient Empowerment Network will partner to produce ongoing educational programs in 2020. 

Fact or Fiction? Myeloma Treatment & Side Effects Resource Guide

Download This Guide

Fact or Fiction? Myeloma Treatment & Side Effects Guide

Download This Guide

 

Is Myeloma Hereditary? The Facts.

Is Myeloma Hereditary? The Facts. from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Can myeloma be inherited? Dr. Irene Ghobrial, a myeloma expert and researcher, explains whether myeloma is hereditary.

Dr. Irene Ghobrial is Director of the Clinical Investigator Research Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ghobrial specializes in multiple myeloma (MM) and Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM), focusing on the precursor conditions of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) and smoldering myeloma. More about this expert here.

See More From Fact of Fiction? Myeloma

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Why Should Myeloma Patients Visit the Dentist Frequently?

The Truth About MGUS

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Transcript:

Patricia:

How about this one? “Myeloma is hereditary.”

Dr. Ghobrial:

It’s a very good question. So, it’s not hereditary specifically. However, there is a 2x increased risk in family members, and that goes back to that PROMISE study.

We are screening people who have first-degree relatives with myeloma. So, what does it mean? Why do I have a higher risk if I have a family member with myeloma? I recently saw a patient who – the patient had myeloma, the mother had myeloma, and the grandmother had myeloma, and you’re thinking, “Okay, there is something we’re inheriting.”

So, we don’t know. There are some susceptibility genes that we could potentially be inheriting, germ line, and we’ve done something called “germ line,” which means you have it from Mom and Dad, that can increase your risk. It could be other factors come in and we’re still trying to understand all of these factors. What are the genes that can increase your risk? Is there an immune factor that can increase your risk, and can we identify those early in the family members?

The Truth About MGUS

The Truth About MGUS from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is MGUS the same as smoldering myeloma? Myeloma expert, Dr. Irene Ghobrial, provides a detailed overview of MGUS, including the risk of progression.

Dr. Irene Ghobrial is Director of the Clinical Investigator Research Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ghobrial specializes in multiple myeloma (MM) and Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM), focusing on the precursor conditions of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) and smoldering myeloma. More about this expert here.

See More From Fact of Fiction? Myeloma

Related Resources

Why Should Myeloma Patients Visit the Dentist Frequently?

Myeloma Treatment Options: What’s Available?

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Transcript:

Patricia:

What about this one? “An MGUS diagnosis will lead to myeloma.”

Dr. Ghobrial:

Great question. So, let’s talk about MGUS in general. In the general population, once you’re over the age of 50, there’s a three percent change of having MGUS incidentally found, and that’s known from the big studies from Dr. Robert Kyle. Any of us walking around probably may have MGUS, and we don’t know.

We started recently a big study called the PROMISE study where we actually screen for the first time to look for myeloma – or, for MGUS – and the reason for that is we said, “You go screening for mammography with breast cancer, you go screening with a colonoscopy for colon cancer; we don’t screen for myeloma, which is an easy blood cancer with a blood test. Let’s screen for it.” So, that’s available online – promisestudy.org.

The other thing that we said is if you have MGUS, your chance of progression is only one percent per year. That’s very important to know. So, that means that in 10 years, you have a 10% chance of progression to myeloma. In 20 years, you have a 20% chance. So, if you’re 70 or 80, you may have something else that happens before you even develop myeloma or before you are at risk of myeloma.

However, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have the chance. You have a very small chance; it’s a precursor to myeloma, but it’s one of the biggest precursors to myeloma, so we always tell you, “Please go see your doctor, please do follow up with us because the one thing that’s important is we catch it early before it happens.” So, it does not always go to myeloma, but if we live for another 100 years, it may actually progress to myeloma because of the 1% chance per year.

Patricia:

How about this one? “MGUS and smoldering myeloma are the same.”

Dr. Ghobrial:

That’s not true. That’s a very important question. So, in general, MGUS is diagnosed as having less than 10% plasma cells and a small monoclonal protein, less than 3 grams, and you don’t have any organ damage.

Smoldering myeloma – and, the name says it; it’s almost myeloma, it has a higher chance of progressing to myeloma – in general, it’s about 10% per year, and usually, the bone marrow has more than 10% plasma cells. Now, you start telling me as a patient, “Well, if my bone marrow is nine percent, I’m MGUS, and if it’s 11%, I’m smoldering myeloma, that doesn’t make sense.” So, it’s correct. In general, those demarcations or numbers are more for us as physicians to talk to each other about what we’re calling rather than the patient themselves. The patient is a continuum.

So, you may move from MGUS to smoldering at a certain point, and it’s not really that extra percentage of bone marrow that moves you into the 10% risk. In general, again, smoldering myeloma, you have a higher chance of going to myeloma. So, I saw a patient recently who’s 30 who has smoldering myeloma. The chances of progressing to myeloma is 10% per year. In five years, you have a 50% chance.

You want to make sure that patient is followed up carefully, and you want to offer, potentially, clinical trials because we want to prevent progression. The hope in the future is you don’t want until you have lytic lesions, fractures in your bones, kidney failure, and then we treat. The hope is we treat you earlier and we can make a huge difference in that early intersection for myeloma.

Patricia:

It sounds like staying engaged with your care team is critical.

Dr. Ghobrial:

Absolutely, and I would say myeloma is a specialty field. Come and see a myeloma expert, wherever it is, even for a one-time consult, because it’s really complicated and it’s not a common disease, so it’s not something easy for everyone to know what to do with MGUS, what to do with smoldering, what to do with overt myeloma. I relax for the first time. All of these things are important, and just like you go and see the best specialist in anything, I would say care about your myeloma in a very specific way, ask your doctor questions, go online and look it up, and always ask an expert if you want to have a second opinion.

Why Should Myeloma Patients Visit the Dentist Frequently?

Why Should Myeloma Patients Visit the Dentist Frequently? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Dr. Irene Ghobrial, a renowned myeloma specialist, explains why myeloma patients should be more vigilant about visiting the dentist.

Dr. Irene Ghobrial is Director of the Clinical Investigator Research Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ghobrial specializes in multiple myeloma (MM) and Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM), focusing on the precursor conditions of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) and smoldering myeloma. More about this expert here.

See More From Fact of Fiction? Myeloma

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Transcript:

Patricia:

Dr. Ghobrial, let’s talk about some of the things that patients are concerned about when they come in about treatment side effects, and maybe some of those things aren’t true. Myeloma patients should visit the dentist more frequently.”

Dr. Ghobrial:

So, there is something about the bisphosphonates that we give patients, and they can cause – in a very rare number of patients – something called osteonecrosis of the jaw.

In the old days, when we didn’t know about that side effect, people would go get a root canal, come back, and have a big problem of osteonecrosis of the jaw with severe pain, and it doesn’t recover.

So, we’ve learned our lesson. We know very well that we hold Zometa or zoledronic acid if they’re getting any procedures. We make sure they don’t get surgical procedures – it doesn’t mean don’t get dental cleaning, please do the usual things for dental health, but don’t go into surgical procedures when you’re getting zoledronic acid – and we’re very careful with that.

We talk to our patients. Most dentists know about it, so I think this is something that in the old days, it was a problem. Now, we know how to medicate that.

The Truth About Myeloma Treatment Side Effects

The Truth About Myeloma Treatment Side Effects from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Managing myeloma treatment side effects can be overwhelming. Dr. Irene Ghobrial reviews common side effects and shares how life can go on, even while undergoing treatment for myeloma. Download the Program Resource Guide, here

Dr. Irene Ghobrial is Director of the Clinical Investigator Research Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ghobrial specializes in multiple myeloma (MM) and Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM), focusing on the precursor conditions of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) and smoldering myeloma. More about this expert here.

See More From Fact of Fiction? Myeloma

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Why Should Myeloma Patients Visit the Dentist Frequently?

Myeloma Treatment Options: What’s Available?

Hesitant to Join a Support Group? Encouraging Advice From an Advocate

Transcript:

Patricia:                      

What are the common myeloma misconceptions about treatment side effects?

Dr. Ghobrial:              

I think the biggest thing is the loss of hair, the nausea, and fatigue, and to the point that I cannot travel, I cannot see my family, I’m gonna be so immunosuppressed. And again, that’s a huge misconception. Yes, there is toxicity for every drug. Even if you take aspirin, you have toxicity from it.

But, every drug has risks and benefits, and currently, the combinations we have are just impressive that they are well tolerated in general. I’m not saying there is no side effect – there is, for every different class of agents, there are, and you will go through those side effects with your doctor in detail – but in general, yes, you’re slightly immunosuppressed, you have to take care of it, and I said it yesterday to one of my patients – if someone is looking very sick in front of you, don’t go and hug them.

Christmas is around the corner, and we want to make sure people celebrate and enjoy life and enjoy the holidays with their family members.

Patricia:                      

Dr. Ghobrial, let’s talk about some of the things that patients are concerned about when they come in about treatment side effects, and maybe some of those things aren’t true. You tell me. Treatment side effects are unavoidable – we already talked a little bit about that. How about this one? “Myeloma patients should visit the dentist more frequently.”

Dr. Ghobrial:              

So, there is something about the bisphosphonates that we give patients, and they can cause – in a very rare number of patients – something called osteonecrosis of the jaw.

In the old days, when we didn’t know about that side effect, people would go get a root canal, come back, and have a big problem of osteonecrosis of the jaw with severe pain, and it doesn’t recover.

So, we’ve learned our lesson. We know very well that we hold Zometa or zoledronic acid if they’re getting any procedures. We make sure they don’t get surgical procedures – it doesn’t mean don’t get dental cleaning, please do the usual things for dental health, but don’t go into surgical procedures when you’re getting zoledronic acid – and we’re very careful with that.

We talk to our patients. Most dentists know about it, so I think this is something that in the old days, it was a problem. Now, we know how to medicate that.

Patricia:                      

Sure. How about this one? “Treatment causes increased risk for blood clots.”

Dr. Ghobrial:              

So, a couple of the drugs that we have – especially immunomodulators – can increase your risk for DVTs, blood clots, or pulmonary embolism, PE. So, the first thing we say is, “Let’s assess your baseline risk.

Are you someone who is at risk of clotting anyways?” Remember, myeloma also increases your risk of clotting, so you’re double. So, if you are at a high risk of clotting, then we would give the full anticoagulation. If you are not, then we would say aspirin is good enough to control that inflammation and endothelial damage that happens early on with therapy, and that can take care of it.

Patricia:                      

How about this one? “Side effects can be managed by diet and lifestyle.”

Dr. Ghobrial:              

So, I am a big believer that exercise and good, healthy living helps you in general. It makes your mood better, it makes you feel stronger, it gives you that energy because of the fatigue from the side effects, it helps with the dexamethasone because dex is a steroid, so you’re gonna be hungry, you’re gonna be eating more, and the on-and-off makes you fatigued and tired.

So, absolutely, diet and good healthy living – I’m not saying you have to go into extreme starvation and things like that. We say in general, be good, healthy living; exercise if you can.

Patricia:                      

What do you hear from your patients about side effects and treatments that they may think is true?

Dr. Ghobrial:              

I think neuropathy is very important, and we underestimate the neuropathy, so if you have numbness or tingling, tell your doctor.

That comes from Velcade; it comes from thalidomide when we used to use thalidomide, but it can happen in many patients who have an underlying amyloidosis and we did not diagnose it yet, or it can just happen as you go on from myeloma, rarely. So, tell your doctor about this.

I think the fatigue is very important to know about it because people suddenly change their life, and they want to know about that. I think the rashes that can happen with many of the drugs are very important to know about so that you’re not surprised when you get the rash. We know, for example, Revlimid can cause itching of the scalp, and that’s something that if we don’t tell the patients and they start going like this, then there is a problem.

So, it’s small things, but we want to let them know. We usually tell the patients everything, to a point of just going through all the side effects. It’s better to be aware of it, and then, if you get or not, at least you were aware.

Patricia:                      

Sure. How does one distinguish treatment side effects from comorbidities like fatigue?

Dr. Ghobrial:              

I think that’s important, and again, talking to your doctor is very important. Keeping a diary on the side is very important because you may have had some of those problems, and that could be from myeloma before you even started the drugs, and making sure that we know what’s from myeloma, what’s from your thyroid issue, what’s from your lung problems if you have asthma or COPD, what’s your diabetes if you have that or your other medications, from what are you doing with those medications.

I think that’s why when you start therapy, we tell you, “Try not to take too many other medications that we don’t know about, herbal medicines and other things, because then we don’t know what are the side effects and what’s causing what.”

Patricia:                      

Sure. You mentioned neuropathy. Let’s talk a little bit about what that is.

Dr. Ghobrial:              

So, neuropathy can come in different ways, but the most common one is numbness and tingling that you have in your tips of toes and tips of your fingers, and that can happen from medications, as we said, or from the underlying myeloma or amyloidosis. It can be painful, and we’re careful that if you have this, tell your doctor because if it get worse and worse, it’s very hard for us to reverse neuropathy, so just always tell us because we can stop the drug, we can decrease the dose rather than having you go through it.

Addressing Clinical Trial Misconceptions: The Facts

Addressing Clinical Trial Misconceptions: The Facts. from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Irene Ghobrial, a myeloma specialist and researcher, dispels common myths associated with clinical trials, including a review of each phase of the clinical trial process.

Dr. Irene Ghobrial is Director of the Clinical Investigator Research Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ghobrial specializes in multiple myeloma (MM) and Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM), focusing on the precursor conditions of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) and smoldering myeloma. More about this expert here.

See More From Fact of Fiction? Myeloma

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Transcript:

Patricia:

Sure. What about clinical trials? What common misconceptions do you hear from patients enrolling in trials?

Dr. Ghobrial:

There’s a lot of misconceptions, and it’s unfortunate. I would say I would absolutely go on a trial if I can. I’m a believer in clinical trials because they’re the way forward to bring in new therapies and new options. I think a lot of people think that we’re experimenting on them when we’re doing clinical trials, meaning that it’s first in human, meaning it’s the first time we try this drug, and I would say that most of our clinical trials are not first in human.

They’re not the very first time we’ve tried them. Likely, those are drugs we’ve tried, we know the side effects, we know the toxicity, but it’s the first time we’ve put it in a different combination or it’s the first time we’ve put it in a specific subset of patients to look at response or at overall survival.

Most of the trials – so, before you decide “Oh, it’s a trial,” just think – is this a phase 1, a phase 2, or a phase 3? Phase 1 are usually that first time that we try in a population. Phase 2 are usually we know already what happens, we know the toxicity, we’re bringing it to look at the response rate in general or the survival, and then, phase 3s are the bigger studies, going to the FDA for approval.

The second thing is you want to think about is there a placebo arm in it. Most of my patients really worry about “Oh my God, you’re gonna give me the placebo,” and I’m like, “No, we don’t have a placebo arm in this trial. You’re taking the drug that we tell you about.” So again, depending on the trial – read it carefully – there may be a placebo arm, but in most of them, it’s not a placebo arm.

So, I would personally go ask the doctor every time, “So, you’re talking about standard of care. What else do you have? Do you have clinical trial options or not? What’s new?” Almost every single new drug that we’re gonna get approved in the next 5-10 years from now is what we have today in clinical trials. It would be cool to try and get access to those earlier.

Patricia:

So, there’s a significant amount of vetting that goes on before clinical trials are actually in process on humans.

Dr. Ghobrial:              

Oh, absolutely.

Myeloma Treatment Options: What’s Available?

Myeloma Treatment Options: What’s Available? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Renowned myeloma researcher, Dr. Irene Ghobrial, provides an overview of current treatment options for myeloma, including an explanation of the now commonly used four-drug regimen.

Dr. Irene Ghobrial is Director of the Clinical Investigator Research Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ghobrial specializes in multiple myeloma (MM) and Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM), focusing on the precursor conditions of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) and smoldering myeloma. More about this expert here.

See More From Fact of Fiction? Myeloma

Related Resources

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Office Visit Planner

Transcript:

Patricia:

Let’s get an overview of available myeloma treatments.

Dr. Ghobrial:

Oh, boy. Okay, how long do we have here? It depends. The moment I see a patient – and again, maybe we can start with smoldering myeloma because that’s an area I’m really excited about.

If you have asymptomatic disease, it does not mean you have to watch and wait until you fall apart, until you have bone lesions, until you have anemia. We want to see those patients early because we have a lot of clinical trials, and potentially, the cure may actually be in an earlier precursor session when we treat you earlier before you have the disease.

But, the standard of care is when you have symptoms – anemia, hypercalcemia, lytic lesions, and renal failure, or other things like 60% plasma cells – we say you have active multiple myeloma, and in that case, we start saying, “Well, are you a transplant candidate or not?” In the old days, it used to be by age, but now, we say age is just a number, so it really depends on if you have good organ function, are you in an active good state, do you have good lungs, good heart, are you willing to take the transplant, because now, there’s a big discussion whether we should transplant patients or not.

And then, at the end of the day, we’re starting to actually blur that, saying that most of our treatments are almost identical, whether you are old or young, whether you’re a transplant candidate or not. It depends on frailty. Can you tolerate this treatment or not? Maybe a few years ago, we used to say a three-drug regimen is the best way to go.

Now, most of us are starting to say four-drug regimen up front is the way to go, which is an antibody – currently, it’s daratumumab – a proteasome inhibitor – it could be bortezomib or carfilzomib – an immunomodulator – likely, this is lenalidomide – and then, dexamethasone. That’s sort of the option that we have right now, at least in the U.S.

If you go to Europe, you’ll find us using different drugs, like thalidomide or other things, but most of us are thinking of a four-drug regimen to think of our up-front myeloma treatment to get you the best remission, eventually MRD-negative disease, and then we talk about transplant or no transplant, and then, of course, we talk about maintenance.

We want to keep everyone on maintenance therapy; the question is how long, which maintenance, do we use one drug or not? So, there is a lot to be discussed in treatment of myeloma, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s truly an art and science together. It’s not just “Here’s a combination because you have this treatment.” We really personalize therapy for you.

We look at your cytogenetics, your FISH. We say you have high-risk cytogenetics or not, you’re young or not, you have good organ function or not.

There are so many things that we put in consideration when we come up with a treatment plan for a patient.

Fact or Fiction? Myeloma Treatment & Side Effects

Fact or Fiction? Myeloma Treatment & Side Effects from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When it comes to online myeloma information, how do you separate fact from fiction? Dr. Irene Ghobrial shares facts about current myeloma treatments, common side effects and emerging research. Download the Program Resource Guide, here

Dr. Irene Ghobrial is Director of the Clinical Investigator Research Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ghobrial specializes in multiple myeloma (MM) and Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM), focusing on the precursor conditions of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) and smoldering myeloma. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Patricia:

Welcome to Fact or Fiction: Multiple Myeloma Treatment and Side Effects. Today, we’ll review common misconceptions about myeloma. I’m Patricia Murphy, your host for today’s program. Joining me is Dr. Irene Ghobrial. Dr. Ghobrial, why don’t you introduce yourself?

Dr. Ghobrial:

My name is Irene Ghobrial. I’m a professor of medicine at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School.

Patricia:

Great, thanks so much. Before we get started, just a reminder: This program is not a substitute for medical advice, so please consult your care team before making any treatment decisions. Okay, Dr. Ghobrial, let’s get started.

Let’s talk about some of the things, first, that we hear from patients. You tell me whether or not this is fact or fiction. Here’s one: “There are a number of treatment options for myeloma.”

Dr. Ghobrial:

Fact. It’s amazing because I trained in the old days – and, this shows you how old I am – when we only had bad chemotherapy: Vincristine, Adriamycin, and dex. None of you would even know about it.

Then, we had had high-dose dexamethasone, and that was it, and then we had stem cell transplant, and that’s all we had until suddenly, we had thalidomide, lenalidomide, bortezomib, carfilzomib, ixazomib, and you think about it, we are now in an era where we have 15-20 new drugs, we have another 15-20 coming up, we have an amazing time to completely cure myeloma in the future, and that’s just an exciting time to see that happening in the last 15 years of our lifetime, when patients were living three years, when we had – I remember five percent complete remission rate.

Now, we expect that all of our patients should get into a deep remission into potentially MRD-negative disease, and that’s just the beauty of how myeloma has changed completely.

Patricia:

Well, you’ve already busted our second myth, I guess, that there is no cure for myeloma.

Dr. Ghobrial:

That’s correct. There is no cure for myeloma, but there is a long remission, and the question is if someone lives for 20, 25, 30 years without evidence of myeloma and they die from something else, it’s a step forward. I would love to see us say to a patient, “You are cured,” but until then, we’re getting longer and longer remissions.

Patricia:

How about this one? “Only blood relatives can be donors for bone marrow or stem cell transplant.”

Dr. Ghobrial:

That’s not correct at all. If we think about it, what is stem cell transplant? There are two types. There’s something called autologous stem cell transplant, meaning it’s from myself, so that means that I’m taking my own stem cells, and the whole idea of that autologous transplant is basically high-dose chemotherapy.

So let’s take your own cells before we give you that high-dose melphalan, give the chemo, and then give them back to you, so that you’re not with low blood counts for two weeks, four weeks, you’re only with low blood counts for a couple of weeks. So, that’s autologous transplant; that means I’m giving my own stem cells to myself.

Allogeneic stem cell transplant, which we rarely do now in myeloma, is from another person, and that could be from a relative, but also can be from unrelated donors if they are matching us, but that’s very few cases.

Patricia:

Let’s get an overview of available myeloma treatments.

Dr. Ghobrial:

Oh, boy. Okay, how long do we have here? It depends. The moment I see a patient – and again, maybe we can start with smoldering myeloma because that’s an area I’m really excited about.

If you have asymptomatic disease, it does not mean you have to watch and wait until you fall apart, until you have bone lesions, until you have anemia. We want to see those patients early because we have a lot of clinical trials, and potentially, the cure may actually be in an earlier precursor session when we treat you earlier before you have the disease.

But, the standard of care is when you have symptoms – anemia, hypercalcemia, lytic lesions, and renal failure, or other things like 60% plasma cells – we say you have active multiple myeloma, and in that case, we start saying, “Well, are you a transplant candidate or not?” In the old days, it used to be by age, but now, we say age is just a number, so it really depends on if you have good organ function, are you in an active good state, do you have good lungs, good heart, are you willing to take the transplant, because now, there’s a big discussion whether we should transplant patients or not.

And then, at the end of the day, we’re starting to actually blur that, saying that most of our treatments are almost identical, whether you are old or young, whether you’re a transplant candidate or not. It depends on frailty. Can you tolerate this treatment or not? Maybe a few years ago, we used to say a three-drug regimen is the best way to go.

Now, most of us are starting to say four-drug regimen up front is the way to go, which is an antibody – currently, it’s daratumumab – a proteasome inhibitor – it could be bortezomib or carfilzomib – an immunomodulator – likely, this is lenalidomide – and then, dexamethasone. That’s sort of the option that we have right now, at least in the U.S.

If you go to Europe, you’ll find us using different drugs, like thalidomide or other things, but most of us are thinking of a four-drug regimen to think of our up-front myeloma treatment to get you the best remission, eventually MRD-negative disease, and then we talk about transplant or no transplant, and then, of course, we talk about maintenance.

We want to keep everyone on maintenance therapy; the question is how long, which maintenance, do we use one drug or not? So, there is a lot to be discussed in treatment of myeloma, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s truly an art and science together. It’s not just “Here’s a combination because you have this treatment.” We really personalize therapy for you.

We look at your cytogenetics, your FISH. We say you have high-risk cytogenetics or not, you’re young or not, you have good organ function or not.

There are so many things that we put in consideration when we come up with a treatment plan for a patient.

Patricia:

We’ve been talking a little bit about what patients believe when they come in, some of the things they’re thinking about. What else do you hear from patients that you either have to correct or affirm when they come into your office?

Dr. Ghobrial:

A lot of things. I think the first thing is, of course, they say myeloma is fatal, and they’re so scared, and absolutely, I understand that, but the median survival has become so much better, so much longer. There is a lot of hope, enthusiasm, and excitement right now with the treatments we have. The second thing is most of our treatments are not your typical chemotherapy, so unlike breast cancer or other cancers where you lose your hair, you’re throwing up, you cannot work, you have to take time off, most of our drugs now, people are working full-time, they’re active, you don’t lose your hair, so probably, no one has to know unless you tell them.

And, I think that’s something important for a patient to think about. It’s their own personal life, and not having to interrupt that. I think that’s very unique. So, these are a couple things that, as they come in, that anxiety of “Oh my God, I have cancer,” and then, taking a deep breath and saying, “Now, how do I handle this situation?”

Patricia:

Sure. What about clinical trials? What common misconceptions do you hear from patients enrolling in trials?

Dr. Ghobrial:

There’s a lot of misconceptions, and it’s unfortunate. I would say I would absolutely go on a trial if I can. I’m a believer in clinical trials because they’re the way forward to bring in new therapies and new options. I think a lot of people think that we’re experimenting on them when we’re doing clinical trials, meaning that it’s first in human, meaning it’s the first time we try this drug, and I would say that most of our clinical trials are not first in human.

They’re not the very first time we’ve tried them. Likely, those are drugs we’ve tried, we know the side effects, we know the toxicity, but it’s the first time we’ve put it in a different combination or it’s the first time we’ve put it in a specific subset of patients to look at response or at overall survival.

Most of the trials – so, before you decide “Oh, it’s a trial,” just think – is this a phase 1, a phase 2, or a phase 3? Phase 1 are usually that first time that we try in a population. Phase 2 are usually we know already what happens, we know the toxicity, we’re bringing it to look at the response rate in general or the survival, and then, phase 3s are the bigger studies, going to the FDA for approval.

The second thing is you want to think about is there a placebo arm in it. Most of my patients really worry about “Oh my God, you’re gonna give me the placebo,” and I’m like, “No, we don’t have a placebo arm in this trial. You’re taking the drug that we tell you about.” So again, depending on the trial – read it carefully – there may be a placebo arm, but in most of them, it’s not a placebo arm.

So, I would personally go ask the doctor every time, “So, you’re talking about standard of care. What else do you have? Do you have clinical trial options or not? What’s new?” Almost every single new drug that we’re gonna get approved in the next 5-10 years from now is what we have today in clinical trials. It would be cool to try and get access to those earlier.

Patricia:

So, there’s a significant amount of vetting that goes on before clinical trials are actually in process on humans.

Dr. Ghobrial:              

Oh, absolutely.

Patricia:                      

What are the common myeloma misconceptions about treatment side effects?

Dr. Ghobrial:              

I think the biggest thing is the loss of hair, the nausea, and fatigue, and to the point that I cannot travel, I cannot see my family, I’m gonna be so immunosuppressed. And again, that’s a huge misconception. Yes, there is toxicity for every drug. Even if you take aspirin, you have toxicity from it.

But, every drug has risks and benefits, and currently, the combinations we have are just impressive that they are well tolerated in general. I’m not saying there is no side effect – there is, for every different class of agents, there are, and you will go through those side effects with your doctor in detail – but in general, yes, you’re slightly immunosuppressed, you have to take care of it, and I said it yesterday to one of my patients – if someone is looking very sick in front of you, don’t go and hug them.

Christmas is around the corner, and we want to make sure people celebrate and enjoy life and enjoy the holidays with their family members.

Patricia:                      

Dr. Ghobrial, let’s talk about some of the things that patients are concerned about when they come in about treatment side effects, and maybe some of those things aren’t true. You tell me. Treatment side effects are unavoidable – we already talked a little bit about that. How about this one? “Myeloma patients should visit the dentist more frequently.”

Dr. Ghobrial:              

So, there is something about the bisphosphonates that we give patients, and they can cause – in a very rare number of patients – something called osteonecrosis of the jaw.

In the old days, when we didn’t know about that side effect, people would go get a root canal, come back, and have a big problem of osteonecrosis of the jaw with severe pain, and it doesn’t recover.

So, we’ve learned our lesson. We know very well that we hold Zometa or zoledronic acid if they’re getting any procedures. We make sure they don’t get surgical procedures – it doesn’t mean don’t get dental cleaning, please do the usual things for dental health, but don’t go into surgical procedures when you’re getting zoledronic acid – and we’re very careful with that.

We talk to our patients. Most dentists know about it, so I think this is something that in the old days, it was a problem. Now, we know how to medicate that.

Patricia:                      

Sure. How about this one? “Treatment causes increased risk for blood clots.”

Dr. Ghobrial:              

So, a couple of the drugs that we have – especially immunomodulators – can increase your risk for DVTs, blood clots, or pulmonary embolism, PE. So, the first thing we say is, “Let’s assess your baseline risk.

Are you someone who is at risk of clotting anyways?” Remember, myeloma also increases your risk of clotting, so you’re double. So, if you are at a high risk of clotting, then we would give the full anticoagulation. If you are not, then we would say aspirin is good enough to control that inflammation and endothelial damage that happens early on with therapy, and that can take care of it.

Patricia:                      

How about this one? “Side effects can be managed by diet and lifestyle.”

Dr. Ghobrial:              

So, I am a big believer that exercise and good, healthy living helps you in general. It makes your mood better, it makes you feel stronger, it gives you that energy because of the fatigue from the side effects, it helps with the dexamethasone because dex is a steroid, so you’re gonna be hungry, you’re gonna be eating more, and the on-and-off makes you fatigued and tired.

So, absolutely, diet and good healthy living – I’m not saying you have to go into extreme starvation and things like that. We say in general, be good, healthy living; exercise if you can.

Patricia:                      

What do you hear from your patients about side effects and treatments that they may think is true?

Dr. Ghobrial:              

I think neuropathy is very important, and we underestimate the neuropathy, so if you have numbness or tingling, tell your doctor.

That comes from Velcade; it comes from thalidomide when we used to use thalidomide, but it can happen in many patients who have an underlying amyloidosis and we did not diagnose it yet, or it can just happen as you go on from myeloma, rarely. So, tell your doctor about this.

I think the fatigue is very important to know about it because people suddenly change their life, and they want to know about that. I think the rashes that can happen with many of the drugs are very important to know about so that you’re not surprised when you get the rash. We know, for example, Revlimid can cause itching of the scalp, and that’s something that if we don’t tell the patients and they start going like this, then there is a problem.

So, it’s small things, but we want to let them know. We usually tell the patients everything, to a point of just going through all the side effects. It’s better to be aware of it, and then, if you get or not, at least you were aware.

Patricia:                      

Sure. How does one distinguish treatment side effects from comorbidities like fatigue?

Dr. Ghobrial:              

I think that’s important, and again, talking to your doctor is very important. Keeping a diary on the side is very important because you may have had some of those problems, and that could be from myeloma before you even started the drugs, and making sure that we know what’s from myeloma, what’s from your thyroid issue, what’s from your lung problems if you have asthma or COPD, what’s your diabetes if you have that or your other medications, from what are you doing with those medications.

I think that’s why when you start therapy, we tell you, “Try not to take too many other medications that we don’t know about, herbal medicines and other things, because then we don’t know what are the side effects and what’s causing what.”

Patricia:                      

Sure. You mentioned neuropathy. Let’s talk a little bit about what that is.

Dr. Ghobrial:              

So, neuropathy can come in different ways, but the most common one is numbness and tingling that you have in your tips of toes and tips of your fingers, and that can happen from medications, as we said, or from the underlying myeloma or amyloidosis. It can be painful, and we’re careful that if you have this, tell your doctor because if it get worse and worse, it’s very hard for us to reverse neuropathy, so just always tell us because we can stop the drug, we can decrease the dose rather than having you go through it.

31:59

Patricia:                      

What about this one? “An MGUS diagnosis will lead to myeloma.”

Dr. Ghobrial:     

Great question. So, let’s talk about MGUS in general. In the general population, once you’re over the age of 50, there’s a three percent change of having MGUS incidentally found, and that’s known from the big studies from Dr. Robert Kyle. Any of us walking around probably may have MGUS, and we don’t know.

We started recently a big study called the PROMISE study where we actually screen for the first time to look for myeloma – or, for MGUS – and the reason for that is we said, “You go screening for mammography with breast cancer, you go screening with a colonoscopy for colon cancer; we don’t screen for myeloma, which is an easy blood cancer with a blood test. Let’s screen for it.” So, that’s available online – promisestudy.org.

The other thing that we said is if you have MGUS, your chance of progression is only one percent per year. That’s very important to know. So, that means that in 10 years, you have a 10% chance of progression to myeloma. In 20 years, you have a 20% chance. So, if you’re 70 or 80, you may have something else that happens before you even develop myeloma or before you are at risk of myeloma.

However, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have the chance. You have a very small chance; it’s a precursor to myeloma, but it’s one of the biggest precursors to myeloma, so we always tell you, “Please go see your doctor, please do follow up with us because the one thing that’s important is we catch it early before it happens.” So, it does not always go to myeloma, but if we live for another 100 years, it may actually progress to myeloma because of the 1% chance per year.

Patricia:                      

How about this one? “MGUS and smoldering myeloma are the same.”

Dr. Ghobrial:              

That’s not true. That’s a very important question. So, in general, MGUS is diagnosed as having less than 10% plasma cells and a small monoclonal protein, less than 3 grams, and you don’t have any organ damage.

Smoldering myeloma – and, the name says it; it’s almost myeloma, it has a higher chance of progressing to myeloma – in general, it’s about 10% per year, and usually, the bone marrow has more than 10% plasma cells. Now, you start telling me as a patient, “Well, if my bone marrow is nine percent, I’m MGUS, and if it’s 11%, I’m smoldering myeloma, that doesn’t make sense.” So, it’s correct. In general, those demarcations or numbers are more for us as physicians to talk to each other about what we’re calling rather than the patient themselves. The patient is a continuum.

So, you may move from MGUS to smoldering at a certain point, and it’s not really that extra percentage of bone marrow that moves you into the 10% risk. In general, again, smoldering myeloma, you have a higher chance of going to myeloma. So, I saw a patient recently who’s 30 who has smoldering myeloma. The chances of progressing to myeloma is 10% per year. In five years, you have a 50% chance.

You want to make sure that patient is followed up carefully, and you want to offer, potentially, clinical trials because we want to prevent progression. The hope in the future is you don’t want until you have lytic lesions, fractures in your bones, kidney failure, and then we treat. The hope is we treat you earlier and we can make a huge difference in that early intersection for myeloma.

Patricia:                      

It sounds like staying engaged with your care team is critical.

Dr. Ghobrial:              

Absolutely, and I would say myeloma is a specialty field. Come and see a myeloma expert, wherever it is, even for a one-time consult, because it’s really complicated and it’s not a common disease, so it’s not something easy for everyone to know what to do with MGUS, what to do with smoldering, what to do with overt myeloma. I relax for the first time. All of these things are important, and just like you go and see the best specialist in anything, I would say care about your myeloma in a very specific way, ask your doctor questions, go online and look it up, and always ask an expert if you want to have a second opinion.

Patricia:                      

Sure. How about this one? “Myeloma is hereditary.”

Dr. Ghobrial:              

It’s a very good question. So, it’s not hereditary specifically. However, there is a 2x increased risk in family members, and that goes back to that PROMISE study.

We are screening people who have first-degree relatives with myeloma. So, what does it mean? Why do I have a higher risk if I have a family member with myeloma? I recently saw a patient who – the patient had myeloma, the mother had myeloma, and the grandmother had myeloma, and you’re thinking, “Okay, there is something we’re inheriting.”

So, we don’t know. There are some susceptibility genes that we could potentially be inheriting, germ line, and we’ve done something called “germ line,” which means you have it from Mom and Dad, that can increase your risk. It could be other factors come in and we’re still trying to understand all of these factors. What are the genes that can increase your risk? Is there an immune factor that can increase your risk, and can we identify those early in the family members?

Patricia:                      

What about preventing progression from smoldering? Is there anything patients can do?

Dr. Ghobrial:              

I would say enroll on the PCROWD. Study PCROWD is empowering patients themselves to go online. You can look it up – PCrowd with Dana-Farber – so, precursor crowdsourcing.

This is a study where anyone who has MGUS or smoldering myeloma can tell us about their data – so, their clinical information – tell us about their samples – so, give us their samples whenever they’re going to get their peripheral blood or their bone marrow – and by doing that, we can look at 1,000-3,000 people, put it all together, and hopefully give you very soon the answer of what causes progression, what are the specific markers genomically and immune that can predict progression, and can we target them?

Can we develop therapy for you specifically as a smoldering patient and not use the same drugs as myeloma, but target it for one specific patient for one specific operation?

Patricia:                      

When patients come into your office, they’re learning a lot of new things. Are there terms that are confusing to patients that you need to define for them?

Dr. Ghobrial:              

Absolutely. I think a lot of those terms are very hard. The words “complete remission” – was that a cure or not? It’s not.

We decrease all of your M spike, we decrease your plasma cells to zero, but it doesn’t mean that we’ve cured you. I think progression is very important. We use certain numbers. A 25% increase in your M spike or a 0.5-gram increase – even monoclonal protein is important to understand, that that’s the antibody that your plasma cells are secreting.

So, absolutely, there are so many words that could be very daunting for any patient to go through all of this. I think having an advocate with you – don’t go on your own because there’s so much information you’re getting that first time. I personally think if patients are recording us or taking notes, that’s perfectly fine because you go back and think about it, and you want to make sure that the information is clear.

So, it’s a lot of information to take in, especially if you’re not in the medical field, and I would encourage patients to ask questions, take notes, think about it a lot.

Patricia:                      

Tell me what an M spike is.

Dr. Ghobrial:    

So, an M spike – a monoclonal spike – is the protein – the antibodies. So, plasma cells are actually antibody-secreting cells, so they secrete the antibody, it goes in the blood, and when you have a lot of it from the same type of cell, they’re monoclonal, so they’re all the same IgG kappa – IgG kappa because they came all from that same kind of plasma cells.

And, when we run a specific gel, called serum protein electrophoresis, all of those antibodies will run in one area, and they will do a spike instead of going into a bigger area, where we call it polyclonal. So, that tiny little spike, which is a very high level of all of them coming together, we can measure it, and we can say, “Your monoclonal spike is 3 grams per deciliter.” If you don’t have all of them the same type of protein, they will just go around in one big area – big lump, basically, on that electrophoresis, and they will not come out as a spike. So, that’s monoclonal spike. 40:44

Patricia:                      

And, what are some reliable source of information for myeloma? The world wide web is vast.

Dr. Ghobrial:              

Yeah, and it’s unfortunate. So, there is so much information, and you can get lost, and you can also get misinformation. I think some of the big foundations are very important So, I would say the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, the International Myeloma Foundation, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and of course, if you go to clinicaltrials.gov, you will find that information, and you’ll find a lot of the clinical trials. But again, ask your doctor. Ask the experts.

Patricia:

There are a lot of online forums – again, we talked about how vast the internet is. How can a patient identify misinformation online? What are some clues?

Dr. Ghobrial:              

That’s a hard one. I would say again, print it and take it to your doctor. Tell him, “Does that make sense? I’ve read this.” This is where you really need to do your research and go to the sites that you have confidence in so that you’re not lost in the middle of so much misinformation.

Patricia:                      

Do you have patients come in and say things to you that you just have to say, “Whoa, that’s just not accurate”?

Dr. Ghobrial:              

Yeah, but again, this is part of the discussion. I personally think every question is a good question. Even if it sounds completely ridiculous, ask it. That’s why we’re here. We’re here to tell you, “This is right, this is wrong, this one I don’t know, I’m not so sure,” and that’s okay. It’s part of the discussion.

Patricia:                      

Before we finish up, let’s get your take on the future of myeloma. What are you seeing on the horizon?

Dr. Ghobrial:              

Oh, a lot, and I hope I live long enough to see all of the amazing things. I truly think that we will cure myeloma. I think we should treat patients early. That’s an absolute change.

I think immunotherapy is coming in, CAR-T, bispecific antibodies. We will harness our immune system to kill myeloma, and I think there’s so much to be done there. I think precision medicine is very important. The first study is from MMRF [Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation] coming out now, genotyping, asking the questions “Which mutations do you have?”, and then putting them into different buckets so you can understand which disease should be treated with which drug.

We always say we know there is different subtypes of myeloma, then we treat you the same way, so let’s stop doing that, let’s do precision medicine, let’s individualize treatment specifically for you. So, I think that’s another big thing. So, in the future, there will be so many options. The hope is truly we’ll cure myeloma, we diagnose it early, we screen for it, we diagnose it early, and we prevent it from even causing one lytic lesion for a patient. 41:52

Patricia:                      

Dr. Ghobrial, let’s end by talking about why you’re so hopeful about the future of myeloma.

Dr. Ghobrial:              

Well, again, I trained – and, I said that 15 years ago – at Mayo Clinic, where we only had few drugs, when the survival of myeloma was three to five years, when we saw patients having severe fractures and severe pain, and now, we look at it, and it’s only 15 years in our lifetime, and we look at it that myeloma is a completely different disease.

We can diagnose it early – in fact, we’re thinking of screening them early – we can make a huge difference in all of the comorbidities, but the most important thing is we have so many amazing drugs that we’re using together to get an amazing, complete remission, MRD-negative disease, and then, in the next 5-10 years, I think we will change, again, immunotherapy with CAR-T. We will have precision medicine and immunotherapy to completely change how we treat myeloma. So, I am extremely hopeful and extremely excited for our patients.

Patricia:                      

So, how do you talk to your patients about this hope? I would imagine that when they come in, they’re pretty terrified about what’s going on.

Dr. Ghobrial:              

Absolutely. Again, the first thing is you want to say, “Yes, you have a cancer,” and that shocks you. That is a big thing. It makes a big difference in a patient. “I have cancer now” is an important part that you have to acknowledge.

And then, you go to the next step, and now, let’s talk about treatment. Let’s talk about survival. Let’s not say, “I will not see my kids grow up.” These are not things – again, we cannot predict. We’re not gonna play God, and we can never predict if someone will respond or not, but we know from the data that we have so far that we have amazing remissions and long-term survivors. I have many of my patients that I transplanted 15 years ago still alive, doing well. Again, I cannot say that myeloma is cured, but we have a good remission rate currently.

Patricia:                      

Dr. Ghobrial, thank you so much for taking the time today.

Dr. Ghobrial:              

Absolutely. Thank you.

Patricia:                      

And, thanks to our partners. To learn more about myeloma and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Patricia Murphy.

ASH 2019: Timely Myeloma Care Makes a World of Difference; Experts Prioritize Addressing Race-Associated Risks

Diverse Health Hub and the Patient Empowerment Network will partner to produce ongoing educational programs beginning in 2020. These programs identify demographic disparities found in existing diagnostic and treatment practices for multiple myeloma. Program content and educational resources will supply actionable and meaningful material tailored to healthcare providers, patients, and patient care teams. When patients feel heard and understood by their healthcare providers, they are more likely to participate in clinical trials and advocate confidently for treatment options. Our joint goal is to empower a targeted and unique population of myeloma patients to spark life-saving conversations with their providers. Be sure to sign up for PEN’s newsletters to learn more.


Onsite at ASH 2019, Diverse Health Hub interviewed prominent myeloma researchers, including questions from our members.

Is earlier effective treatment for a deeper response keeping myeloma at bay? Yes. According to new evidence around timing of treating myeloma presented at ASH 2019, immunotherapy drug daratumumab (DARZALEX) demonstrated it could repeatedly attack marker CD38 – a game changer. Dr. Sikander Ailawadhi sheds light on these new findings: “In the past the thought was that once the patient was treated by a drug that targets one particular marker that whole pathway or that mechanism of action is gone, but there was data presented at ASH, which we are all very encouraged about. Patients who have let’s say been treated with daratumumab (DARZALEX)—so one drug affecting that pathway – when they had disease progression at some point, they were treated with a brand-new drug going in for that pathway and the patients got very good deep responses.Watch the complete interview below.

  • Myeloma Treatment: Earlier effective treatment for a deeper response to keep disease quiet
  • New Drugs: 2020 to be a big year for myeloma, drug approval buzz
  • Encouraging Data: News at ASH 2019 reveals CD38 marker can be targeted repeatedly

Are disparities shortening the lifespan of a subset of myeloma patients? Yes. Several published papers indicate that the burden of disease was higher for a subset of myeloma patients as a result of socioeconomic status, age, race, lack of resources, access, and insurance type. Dr. Ailawadhi identifies the need for programs that educate both patients and providers to mitigate underlying disparities. Watch the complete interview below.

  • Access to Care: Significant number of minority patients unaware of medical record access
  • Burden of Disease: African Americans and Hispanics get treatment later than whites; costs tend to be higher for minority patients
  • Observation: More frequently diagnosed with myeloma later stage, at a younger age
  • Need: Educate patients, educate providers. Patients need to be their own advocates and direct the conversation with their providers in order to get to the right expert care

What role does education and awareness play in the diagnosis of ethnic myeloma patient populations? Despite advances in the treatment of multiple myeloma, Dr. Ajay Kumar Nooka identifies a gap between patient education and awareness of current therapeutic options. Dr. Nooka discusses how myeloma presents in various ethnic groups, and identifies disparities in access to initial treatment for African Americans and Hispanic populations. Nooka says, “education and awareness is the biggest gap we tend to see.” Watch the complete interview below.

  • Good news: “Really good time in myeloma, more therapeutic options”
  • Need Improvement: Education and awareness gaps still need to be filled; disparities among people of color, long road to diagnosis, delays and access to drugs
  • Clinical Trials: Lack of minority awareness and participation in clinical trials contributes to treatment disparity

About Diverse Health Hub:

Diverse Health Hub is a health equity education and awareness channel producing educational content for both patients and providers in order to bridge the gaps between healthcare practices and the needs of multicultural communities.  Diverse Health Hub works directly with a diverse patient and respected provider population in multiple therapeutic areas to promote cultural competence in healthcare. The organization believes access to these diverse perspectives cultivates culturally competent communities.

ASH 2019: Multiple Regimens, Deeper Responses in Multiple Myeloma Treatment

 

Dr. Sikander Ailawadhi of Mayo Clinic provides high-level highlights for multiple myeloma from the 61st American Society of Hematology (ASH) Meeting in Orlando, Florida.

About Diverse Health Hub:

Diverse Health Hub is a health equity education and awareness channel producing educational content for both patients and providers in order to bridge the gaps between healthcare practices and the needs of multicultural communities.  Diverse Health Hub works directly with a diverse patient and respected provider population in multiple therapeutic areas to promote cultural competence in healthcare. The organization believes access to these diverse perspectives cultivates culturally competent communities.

Related Programs:

Good News for Future of Myeloma Treatment, Still Addressing Race-Associated Risks

ASH 2019: Disparities Around Accessing Health Technology Revealed for a Subset of Myeloma Patients

Good News for Future of Myeloma Treatment, Still Addressing Race-Associated Risks

Respected myeloma expert, Dr. Ajay Kumar Nooka, provides an update from the 61st American Society of Hematology (ASH) meeting. Dr. Nooka shares why this is a good time in myeloma research and the important work that remains around myeloma treatment disparities for people of color.

About Diverse Health Hub:

Diverse Health Hub is a health equity education and awareness channel producing educational content for both patients and providers in order to bridge the gaps between healthcare practices and the needs of multicultural communities.  Diverse Health Hub works directly with a diverse patient and respected provider population in multiple therapeutic areas to promote cultural competence in healthcare. The organization believes access to these diverse perspectives cultivates culturally competent communities.

Related Programs:

ASH 2019: Disparities Around Accessing Health Technology Revealed for a Subset of Myeloma Patients

ASH 2019: Multiple Regimens, Deeper Responses in Multiple Myeloma Treatment

Understanding Clinical Trials: A Jargon Buster Guide

When it comes to cancer treatment you or a loved one may be considering participating in a clinical trial as a treatment option.  Clinical trials are designed to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of a treatment. They may involve researchers administering drugs, taking blood or tissue samples, or checking the progress of patients as they take a treatment according to a study’s protocol.

Learning about clinical trials can be a steep learning curve – not least because the process comes with a lot of new terms, acronyms and jargon.  To help you, I’ve put together this list of the most common terms you will find when you are researching clinical trial information. This is not an exhaustive list but it is a helpful starting point. At the end of this article you will see links to find more information.

Adverse Effects (AE)

Also called Adverse Events, or Adverse Drug Reaction, AEs are any harmful event experienced by a person while they are having a drug or any other treatment or intervention. In clinical trials, researchers must always report adverse events, regardless of whether or not the event is suspected to be related to or caused by the drug, treatment or intervention.

Arm

Subsection of people within a study who have a particular intervention.

Bias

Bias is an error that distorts the objectivity of a study. It can arise if a researcher doesn’t adhere to rigorous standards in designing the study, selecting the subjects, administering the treatments, analysing the data, or reporting and interpreting the study results. It can also result from circumstances beyond a researcher’s control, as when there is an uneven distribution of some characteristic between groups as a result of randomization.

Blinding

Blinding is a method of controlling for bias in a study by ensuring that those involved are unable to tell if they are in an intervention or control group so they cannot influence the results. In a single-blind study, patients do not know whether they are receiving the active drug or a placebo. In a double-blind study, neither the patients nor the persons administering the treatments know which patients are receiving the active drug. In a triple-blind study, the patients, clinicians/researchers and the persons evaluating the results do not know which treatment patients had. Whenever blinding is used, there will always be a method in which the treatment can be unblinded in the event that information is required for safety.

Comparator

When a treatment for a specific medical condition already exists, it would be unethical to do a randomized controlled trial that would require some participants to be given an ineffective substitute. In this case, new treatments are tested against the best existing treatment, (i.e. a comparator). The comparator can also be no intervention (for example, best supportive care).

Completed

A trial is considered completed when trial participants are no longer being examined or treated (i.e. no longer in follow-up); the database has been ‘locked’ and records have been archived.

Control

A group of people in a study who do not have the intervention or test being studied. Instead, they may have the standard intervention (sometimes called ‘usual care’) or a dummy intervention (placebo). The results for the control group are compared with those for a group having the intervention being tested. The aim is to check for any differences. The people in the control group should be as similar as possible to those in the intervention group, to make it as easy as possible to detect any effects due to the intervention.

Efficacy

How beneficial a treatment is under ideal conditions (for example, in a laboratory), compared with doing nothing or opting for another type of care. A drug passes efficacy trials if it is effective at the dose tested and against the illness for which it is prescribed.

Eligibility Criteria/ Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

Eligibility criteria ensures patients enrolling in a clinical trial share similar characteristics (e.g. gender, age, medications, disease type and status) so that the results of the study are more likely due to the treatment received rather than other factors.

Follow-up

Observation over a period of time of participants enrolled in a trial to observe changes in health status.

Informed Consent

A process (by means of a written informed consent form) by which a participant voluntarily agrees to take part in a trial, having been informed of the possible benefits, risks and side effects associated with participating in the study.

Intervention

The treatment (e.g., a drug, surgical procedure, or diagnostic test) being researched. The intervention group consists of the study participants that have been randomly assigned to receive the treatment.

Investigator

A person responsible for the conduct of the clinical trial at a trial site. If a trial is conducted by a team of individuals at a trial site, the investigator is the responsible leader of the team and may be called the principal investigator (PI).

Multicentre Trial

A clinical trial conducted according to a single protocol but at more than one site, and therefore, carried out by more than one investigator.

Number needed to treat (NNT)

The average number of patients who need to receive the treatment or other intervention for one of them to get the positive outcome in the time specified.

Outcome Measures

The impact that a test, treatment, or other intervention has on a person, group or population.

Phase I, II, III and IV Studies

Once the safety of a new drug has been demonstrated in tests on animals, it goes through a multi-phase testing process to determine its safety and efficacy in treating human patients. If a drug shows success in one phase, the evaluation moves to the next phase

  • Phase 1 tests a drug on a very small number of healthy volunteers to establish overall safety, identify side effects, and determine the dose levels that are safe and tolerable for humans.
  • Phase II trials test a drug on a small number of people who have the condition the drug is designed to treat. These trials are done to establish what dose range is most effective, and to observe any safety concerns that might arise.
  • Phase III trials test a drug on a large number of people who have the condition the drug is designed to treat. Successful completion of Phase III is the point where the drug is considered ready to be marketed.
  • Phase IV trials can investigate uses of the drug for other conditions, on a broader patient base or for longer term use.

Placebo

A fake (or dummy) treatment given to patients in the control group of a clinical trial.  Placebos are indistinguishable from the actual treatment and used so that the subjects in the control group are unable to tell who is receiving the active drug or treatment. Using placebos prevents bias in judging the effects of the medical intervention being tested.

Population

A group of people with a common link, such as the same medical condition or living in the same area or sharing the same characteristics. The population for a clinical trial is all the people the test or treatment is designed to help.

Protocol

A plan or set of steps that defines how something will be done. Before carrying out a research study, for example, the research protocol sets out what question is to be answered and how information will be collected and analysed.

Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT)

A study in which a number of similar people are randomly assigned to 2 (or more) groups to test a specific drug, treatment or other intervention. One group has the intervention being tested; the other (the comparison or control group) has an alternative intervention, a placebo, or no intervention at all. Participants are assigned to different groups without taking any similarities or differences between them into account. For example, it could involve using a computer-generated random sequence. RCTs are considered the most unbiased way of assessing the outcome of an intervention because each individual has the same chance of having the intervention.

Reliability

The ability to get the same or similar result each time a study is repeated with a different population or group.

Sample

People in a study recruited from part of the study’s target population. If they are recruited in an unbiased way, the results from the sample can be generalised to the target population as a whole.

Subjects

In clinical trials, the people selected to take part are called subjects. The term applies to both those participants receiving the treatment being investigated and to those receiving a placebo or alternate treatment.

Trial Site

The location where trial-related activities are conducted.


References

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)

TROG Cancer Research

ICH.org

NICE

Further Resources

American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Cancer.Net trials site

National Cancer Institute (NCI) Clinical Trials lists open and closed cancer clinical trials sponsored or supported by NCI. 

ClinicalTrials.gov database of privately and publicly funded clinical studies

CenterWatch Clinical Trials Listing

How to Make a Treatment Decision

Myeloma Patient Cafe®

Myeloma Patient Cafe® – How to Make a Treatment Decision from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Five myeloma patients from around the country sat down to discuss their disease and how to make the best treatment decision for them.

See More From the The Myeloma Patient Cafe®


Transcript:

Cindy:

Hello everyone and welcome to the Patient Empowerment Network’s Myeloma Patient Café. My name is Cindy Chmielewski, and I’ll be hosting the program today. I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma way back in 2008. The Myeloma Patient Café is an opportunity for myeloma patients to get together and discuss their disease and also to share tips and information about myeloma.

Today’s topic is going to be how to make a treatment decision. But before we get into that discussion, I think it’ll be nice if we all go around and take a few minutes to introduce ourselves. We could say our name, where we’re from, and just a short history of our treatment journey. I’ll go first.

As you know, my name is Cindy. And I’m from Lawrenceville, New Jersey, and I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma back in 2008. When I was diagnosed, my myeloma was really tricky to begin with. My induction therapy stopped working for me just after a few cycles, and a stem cell transplant failed to put my myeloma into remission. So, I was very, very scared back then, and I retired from teaching.

But fortunately, a combination therapy was able to put my myeloma in what’s called a very good partial remission. But it took almost three years to get that maximum response. And right now, I’m staying in that very good partial remission with maintenance therapy.

Mike:

I was diagnosed in 2013 after having MGUS in 2009 and smoldering myeloma in 2010. My initial treatment was part of a clinical trial, and I had Revlimid, Velcade, and dex for three cycles, then a stem cell transplant, and then two more cycles of RVD and then maintenance therapy on Revlimid until 2018. I was really fortunate. I went into stringent complete remission and MRD negative. But then in July 2018, I began to relapse. So, I’ve started another treatment with Elotuzumab, Revlimid, and dex, and that’s been working pretty well recently.

Cindy:

Good. Thanks for that introduction. And Alan, would you like to share a little bit about your story?

Alan:

Sure, I was diagnosed in 2016. I was very far along, and the myeloma was very advanced. And when I was first diagnosed, I was put in the hospital and nearly died in the hospital because of some pain meds they gave me. It just shut down my digestive system. But anyway, everything happened really fast because it was so advanced. I really didn’t have much time to make decisions. We found it because my L5 vertebra had collapsed. I found out I had fractures in every vertebra, clusters of fractures in my ribs, 147 lesions on my bones, and 60 percent of the cells in my marrow were cancerous.

Like I said, it was so advanced I really didn’t have much time to make plans, but I went through two rounds of VDT-PACE. I went to a myeloma clinic that specialized in multiple myeloma. I did two rounds of VDT-PACE, then tandem stem cell transplants, then 16 rounds of Darzalex or daratumumab. Then they told me I was in remission and then went on maintenance treatments. I did Ninlaro and dex and – oh, Revlimid. That’s what it was. I did that for about seven or eight months. And my blood counts were just staying so low that they finally took me off that. My white count would never get over about 1.5 to 2. So, then I went back on the Darzalex, and that’s what I’m on now. I’m in stringent remission.

Cindy:

Good to hear that. You had some journey there. And Connie, can you tell us a little about your story?

Connie:

I was diagnosed January 3rd of 2010 after I fractured my sternum in a race. A gal was pacing me, and I thought I had a sports injury and just had too much fun sprinting. But it took about nine months before they finally realized that I’d fractured my sternum that day, and then I got diagnosed with the multiple myeloma.

Cindy:

And Josine, how about you?

Josine:

Hi. I was diagnosed actually five years ago this past month, Columbus Day weekend 2014, with 32 compressed fractures in my spine and my ribs from – I thought it was from lifting a box of legal documents at work in Manhattan, but it wasn’t. It was the myeloma pushing out because I had – 95 percent of the plasma cells were cancerous. Fast forward three months later I had a stem cell transplant, never went into remission. I’m on a triplet now of Revlimid, Ninlaro, and dex, and it brought my M-spike down to 0.2, which when I started out, I was at 8.0. So, life is good.

Cindy:

So, now let’s talk about how we make treatment decisions. And Mike, I’m gonna go back to you. When you were in smoldering myeloma, you had that opportunity to either watch and wait or to go on a clinical trial. What made you decide clinical trial? What was part of that decision-making process?

Mike:

When I was in smoldering myeloma, I wasn’t really offered a clinical trial. It was when things switched from smoldering to active myeloma. And what made me decide to do the clinical trial is a couple of things. One, my background is that I am a scientist, an engineer. So, I’ve been interested in the science behind treating multiple myeloma and other cancers and wanting to do my little part to try to help advance the science through participating in a clinical trial. So, that was one factor.

The second factor is that I felt like I’d get really good treatment period, but I’d get the very best treatment if I was in a clinical trial. And it turns out that I was monitored much more frequently while I was in the clinical trial than I would’ve been otherwise. And that ended up over time giving me, I think, some peace of mind. So, I’m really glad that I did participate in the clinical trial.

Cindy:

Good. Anyone else participate in a clinical trial or had that option brought up to them? No?

Alan:

I did not.

Cindy:

No. Did your doctors ever ask if you were interested? Or was that never brought to your attention?

Alan:

It was never brought to my attention.

Cindy:

Josine, did the doctor ever ask you?

Josine:

No, no. I would definitely be up for it, but it never came up in conversation.

Cindy:

How about you Connie?

Connie:

My numbers are very, very gradually going up like myeloma likes to do. And so, we have – looking ahead to a relapse at some point, my specialist brought up clinical trials and that we could discuss them and look them over and decide at that point.

Cindy:

Good. And while I’m talking to you, I think I read in your biography that you chose not to go ahead and have a stem cell transplant. Is that correct?

Connie:

That’s correct.

Cindy:

And can you talk about – a little bit why – what went through your head to make that decision?

Connie:

I think at that particular time the result of quality of life or overall length of life were very similar in terms of whether you had a stem cell transplant or in my case with standard risk myeloma. And I might at that time could’ve – everything that we had talked about and looked at with the research – maybe buy six more months of overall life – of survival. And I have to admit I was a little bit skeptical about – I guess I’d say killing off your immune system and how that might come back or not come back. And with standard risk, I decided to go up to Mayo Clinic and have them collect my stem cells as an insurance policy of sorts and then see how my myeloma progressed.

Cindy:

And at that time, were you in a complete remission when you were making the choice of whether or not to have a stem cell transplant?

Connie:

No, I wasn’t. I know the standard of care, and that was explained to me – was to have a stem cell transplant. But when I looked at the numbers with my specialist and my local oncologist, Revlimid was seeing some very good results. So, it really looked very similar to me. I thought with a deeper response up front we might get an overall better response, but I decided to – at my age – just to see how it would progress.

Cindy:

And that’s why this is such a crazy disease because everyone has a different presentation and yeah. And, I think, Alan, you were a little bit different. You had double transplants? Was that tandem transplants?

Alan:

That’s correct, about 60 days apart.

Cindy:

Can you talk about how you decided and why you decided to have such an aggressive line of therapy?

Alan:

Well, I think part of it comes to my personality type. I’m a business owner, and I’ve been fairly successful in life by surrounding myself with people that know way more than I do and letting them do their jobs. As I said in the beginning, things happened so fast with us we didn’t have much time to make decisions. And we were sent to a myeloma center. They specialize in multiple myeloma, and I feel like it’s probably the best in the world. But, of course, I guess everybody feels that way about where they’re treated, but my doctor was one of the top people in the world that specialized in multiple myeloma. He’s a clinical research scientist. And he told me how bad it was, and he said we’ve gotta treat it aggressively. But if we do, we feel like we can get you in remission.

And, you know, I really – when I first met him, he introduced himself by his first name, and I liked him, and I trusted him. And I had done a little bit of research on him, and I had just decided to do what he said. And it really made it – in many ways, it was easier for me because my situation was so bad that – and I know there are people that have had way worse than I have. But it was urgent that we make decisions. I didn’t really have a lot of time to think about it. So, I just surrounded myself with really good people and did what they said.

Probably the only decision I’ve really had to make is between my first transplant and my second. And like I said, they were only about 60 days apart. I did really well recovering from my first transplant. They released me to go home 14 days after my transplant, which they said was fairly unusual. The day I got home, I got C. diff And I was brutally ill, and then I got the flu. And then I got C. diff, and then I got the flu again. So, basically out of a two-month break, I was sick for a month.

Cindy:

Oh my gosh.

Alan:

And when I went back, he told me – he said, “Look, I know you’ve had a hard time. So, we can go one of three ways. Your test results were very good, so we can either let you go home for a couple weeks to recover.” Of course, he knew I had to run a business too while I was going through all that. And he said, “Or, we can do a reduced dose of melphalan, or we can just give you the full dose.” And I’m an idiot, and I said just give me the full dose. So, that also says a lot about my personality card.

But anyway – so, I don’t have any regrets. It’s taken me a long time to get back on feet, but I live a pretty normal life. About four or five weeks after I got home from my second stem cell transplant, I made arrangements to continue a family tradition of going fishing with my dad and my sons in South Louisiana. And I looked like a ghost honestly, but I’ve forced myself to do a lot of things I didn’t feel like doing so that I could recover.

Cindy:

Josine, can you talk about your initial treatment and if you were part of that decision-making process?

Josine:

Sure.

Cindy:

I know that initial treatment shocks us, and many of us are really, really sick. So, we’re really not part of it, but talk a little bit about your experience.

Josine:

Yeah. I was totally out of it at that point when I was first diagnosed because I was on morphine for 10 days, and I lost 10 days of my life. So, I never had anyone say that I had this cancer or discuss any treatments me. So, I was at their mercy. They gave me bendamustine and CyBorD – no. Yeah, CyBorD and bendamustine in the hospital. And I had, like I said, no recollection of any of it at all. My husband was there to make all those decisions at that time.

Cindy:

So, now, unfortunately, we have myeloma. And myeloma is one of those diseases of relapse and remission right now, although I’m very hopeful that we’ll be curing some people very soon. No one’s saying that they have a cure for myeloma. So, there’s a possibility that we will relapse in the future. Hopefully, the really, really, really distant future, but there’s that possibility. So, when we’re thinking about treatments, what do you think are some of the things that you consider when making that treatment option?

Mike:

In my case, Cindy, last year – last July, my oncologist gave me eight different options. And we went through the list, the pros and cons of each of those eight options, and finally together decided on the Elotuzumab, Revlimid, and dex. And it was very important to me to sort of understand what his thinking was and why he liked this option versus that option and so forth. Part of it had to do with how effective we thought things would be given my myeloma and my history with myeloma. Part of it had to do with side effects that we wanted to avoid. I have peripheral neuropathy left over from Velcade. So, that sort of ruled out Velcade. But anyway, it’s great that we had so many different options to be able to choose from. I’m fortunate enough to be in that position now. And it made me feel good to be able to go through those options one by one with my myeloma specialist.

Cindy:

Some of the things you considered is what your specialist was thinking, why he picked a treatment; but you also considered some side effects from previous treatments when selecting your new treatment, which makes a lot of sense. If you already had neuropathy, trying a treatment that is known to cause neuropathy might not be the best choice.

Mike:

Exactly.

Cindy:

Yes. Anybody else – things that they considered in the past when making a treatment decision or think they would be considering in the future for future treatment decisions?

Alan:

I had to make the decision about going on maintenance. And I have a lot of friends with multiple myeloma, and some of them chose not to do maintenance. I guess, once again, it goes to my personality type. The first thing I asked my specialist was, “If you were me, what would you do?” Nobody knows better than he does. And why would you do that. And he told me, and then the other side of it is – going back to my personality, I’m more likely to do the most aggressive thing to go ahead and get it over with. And that’s kind of why I decided I should finish my maintenance. They originally scheduled three years of maintenance for me. And I should finish that in January or February of next year.

Cindy:

So, it was trusting your specialist but asking why he chose that treatment.

Alan:

That’s correct.

Cindy:

But your personality is – go for the gusto there.

Alan:

Yes. And the other side of it is that right now I’m an 18-year-old in the body of a 70-year-old. I’m actually 52, but I figure I can handle the more aggressive treatments right now than maybe I could 10 years from now. I’ve got kids. I’ve got a grandson. And I figure if it means me doing the most aggressive things so I can be with them longer, I don’t mind doing that.

Cindy:

And Connie, I think one of your considerations was quality of life. I heard you talk about quality of life when you made that decision about not having your stem cell transplant right up front, harvesting your cells, keeping them in the fridge just in case you need it. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Connie:

Yeah. I looked at having the stem cells available, so I could have a stem cell transplant if I needed one. And I wanted to continue to compete with the race walking. So, that was a small part of it. Also, I with my oncologist – this last appointment he mentioned that if my numbers continue to just go very slowly up that maybe the next appointment that we would discuss some options. He did mention that he liked – maybe for my particular situation – adding daratumumab. And we would be looking probably at a two- or three-agent combination. I’m, unfortunately, not able to tolerate the dex. So, I’m not sure how important a factor that is for trying to enter a clinical trial. I’ve noticed most of them do use dex because of the synergy there. So, that’s a bit of a concern for me as well.

Cindy:

I know you are not on your induction therapy now. You had some treatment decisions to make. Can you talk a little bit about what you thought about when going through those?

Josine:

Oh, sure. When the famous 100-day visit to the hospital – after you have your stem cell transplant; my specialist asked me if I wanted to go on consolidation or right onto maintenance. And I guess I was kind of like Alan. I’m like – I wanna do this consolidation first because I wanna do as much as I can to get to where I have to be and then start the maintenance. The only thing is I was on Velcade for those eight weeks, and there was no change at all in any of my numbers. So, then I was on Rev only for a year and a half.

And after that, the light chains went up, and I had new lesions. And my specialist had suggested adding Ninlaro and dex. And I had known that – well, he had told me. I didn’t know it then – that Ninlaro and Velcade were in the same class. And I was questioning him. I said, “Why would I go on that if the Velcade did nothing for me. And he said, “Well, working as a triplet it’ll work better.” And it really did. So, I’m grateful for that, but I was very confused at the time.

Cindy:

You mentioned the words consolidation and maintenance. Can you explain what the difference between consolidation and maintenance therapy is?

Josine:

Sure, consolidation is something that you do right before a maintenance program. It’s just eight weeks. They’re gonna try something to bring the numbers down even lower because, obviously, the stem cell transplant wasn’t as magical as they thought it would be for me at that time. So, I opted to do that just to give it a little boost to see if something else would work. And then the maintenance – I know Alan said he’ll be on it for three years. I think I’m gonna be on it indefinitely. I didn’t get an end date on mine.

Cindy:

And usually consolidation is more of a full dose of whatever treatment that you’re choosing to use as consolidation, whereas maintenance is usually a reduced dose or a reduced scheduling.

Mike:

One thing my myeloma specialist has said to me recently is that the line between consolidation and maintenance is kind of blurring now, and more patients are on sort of maybe in between consolidation and maintenance where you’re on treatment with more than one agent for an extended period of time. He’s told me I’m gonna be on something forever and ever for the rest of my life. So, it’s sort of hard to say whether it’s consolidation or whether it’s maintenance. It all just sort of blurs at this point.

Cindy:

Yeah, it’s hard to make that distinction. When does the consolidation end and the maintenance begin? At what dose level?

Alan:

That also shows how different we all are, and I’m in some different Facebook groups and support groups and things. And I see people asking what are the – how does the treatment progress, and what are the side effects of this drug and that drug. But we’re all different. And that’s the thing that is so important, even though there are some general guidelines – even in our treatments. I was classified as low risk. They got me into remission pretty quickly. So, things could change; but as of right now, there isn’t an end date to my maintenance treatments. I know people that didn’t do any maintenance. And then I also know people that probably won’t ever stop. And we were all treated at the same place.

Cindy:

It is very different from person to person, from treatment to treatment and even within yourself. Sometimes, you respond very quickly to one treatment and very slowly to another. So, that’s one of the benefits of being seen by a myeloma specialist, someone who only treats myeloma. Is everyone here being seen by a myeloma specialist?

Mike:

Yes.

Alan:

Yes.

Cindy:

Actually, I see two myeloma specialists – one and one for a second opinion, but I really do get my treatment locally. So, I’m very fortunate that all three of my doctors communicate with each other and work well with each other. So, let’s think about – if we had to make a treatment decision in the future and you were given two options, what kind of information would you like to know about each of those options before you make that decision?

I knew early on – one of the considerations I thought of after my stem cell transplant didn’t work was, I was still working at the time, and I was a teacher. And being a teacher, it was hard to take off from school to go to an infusion center to get my treatment. Or if I had to go several times a week, that just was not something possible. And I was trying to continue to teach.

So, one of things that I was considering back then was how the treatment was given. And one of the treatments that I chose was an oral treatment because that allowed me to continue to be employed. Eventually, I did retire. And that wasn’t as much of a concern, but back then, when I was still working and knew that it would be a conflict, that was something that came into my decision-making process. Anybody else?

Alan:

I would have to say for me the side effects probably would be the least important. I think I can probably endure a lot at this point in my life if it’s just temporary. I do have three businesses, and that would come into play as far as how treatments would go. My primary business as a financial advisor – I can pretty much do that from anywhere. In fact, even when I was going through my stem cell transplants, I always had my laptop with me. But since then, in the last year or year and a half or so, I’ve started two more businesses, and that would definitely come into play.

Cindy:

Does that – you were saying –

Alan:

And the other thing is I’d wanna know what the track record is, you know? Do we have a long-term track record?

Cindy:

So, you’re saying side effects for you would be least. But track record – are you talking more about the efficacy of the drug, how well it works compared to other drugs? What do you mean by track record?

Alan:

I would wanna know – I would be more willing to trust something that had a long-term track record of success than something new that we really just don’t know that much about. And that conversation actually came up with my doctor because there are a lot of new drugs out on the market right now. And he did tell me. He said, “Some of myeloma specialists are kind of getting away from the older drugs that we know work and going to these newer drugs.” He said, “I like to combine the two.” And that’s basically what he did. For my consolidation round, instead of doing a lower-dosed VDT-PACE of Velcade, dex, and thalidomide like they had historically done – for my consolidation round, they put me on the daratumumab. And I did 16 weeks of that, one treatment a week for eight weeks and every other week for eight weeks, and then I went on my maintenance.

Cindy:

Any other things that you would wanna consider or information you would want to know about a treatment before you make that decision?

Mike:

I think we’re getting close to the point where it’s gonna be important to understand a lot about the molecular basis of your particular form of multiple myeloma in order to be able to personalize the treatment. So, what particular mutations are driving your or my myeloma at this particular point? Because we know that changes over time, and what drugs are most effective against those mutations? I don’t know if we’re exactly at this point yet, but I think we’re getting close to that. So, when I relapse again, that’s something that I’m gonna be talking with my doctor about – exactly what mutations have I got and what are the best drugs against those mutations?

Alan:

I do agree with that, and I know the Myeloma Institute where I was treated they do genetic studies on every patient. I’m sure they do that in other facilities also. And I definitely agree that that’s where they’re trying to go. And hopefully, they’ll be there soon.

Cindy:

Finding a treatment that’s aimed at one of the mutations you have – the goal of precision medicine. That’s pretty exciting. Any other things that you might want to consider? How do find out about new treatments? There’s so many new treatments first that are FDA-approved and available. But there are also a lot of treatments and clinical trials. I know when I was newly diagnosed, I had no idea what was available to treat multiple myeloma. I didn’t even know if I had a choice of treatments. I just blindly followed my doctor’s orders. My doctor told me what he thought was best, and I said yes.

But now I know there are so many treatments. How do you find out information about them so that you can have that engaged discussion with your doctor?

Josine:

Selinexor – the newest one that was approved – one of the gentlemen in our support group has been on it for eight months on a trial. So, we watched him go from literally look like he’s dying to dancing the jig. It’s awesome. So, knowing people who are on that particular drug or whatever and then inquiring about it because I know Krissy is starting with that as well. That’s how we learn. And we just learn everything from the IMF. I learn on online and from our support group. Deena is an amazing support group leader.

Cindy:

Great. So, you learn information through your in-person support group –

Josine:

Yes.

Cindy:

– and through talking to someone else who’s been on that treatment. Other ways we could gather information about treatment options? Alan, do they talk about treatment options in some of your online support groups?

Alan:

They do. I see a lot of information about that. I’m an administrator on a Facebook group for a particular drug. So, I see a lot of people making comments about different treatment options that they’re doing and their success.

I probably don’t put as much research into this as a lot of people do. I’ve battled the fight of not becoming my disease is what I call it. You can’t overwhelm yourself with information. I’m a big picture guy anyway. I’m not an engineer type-like. My wife is. Her dad was a retired engineer. So, she wants all the little details. I just want the big picture. When I go in, they do my test. I just wanna know good or bad. That’s all I wanna know. I would have to say that talking to people that have the disease and their experiences probably has a bigger impact on me than anything. Because I believe that sometimes studies can be skewed, and I like personal knowledge.

Cindy:

Anybody else? Anyone actually go to the studies and read the studies or abstracts of the studies or ask their doctors about studies?

Mike:

I do.

Cindy:

I thought you would sneak up. You’re in my support group. I know you talk about those studies, so do I. Go ahead. Talk a little bit more Mike.

Mike:

I am the detail guy on that. So, I do read the studies. I’m on the institutional review board for the cancer center that I’m treated at. So, I get to see some of the trials even before they start. I’m fascinated by the disease and the science. If I take off my patient hat and put on my scientist hat, multiple myeloma is a really, really interesting disease. It’s a complex disease. It’s a complicated disease. And there’s a lot that we can learn about cancer in general by using multiple myeloma as a model cancer.

So, it’s fascinating to me to talk with my doctor about the research; and fortunately, he puts up with my dumb questions for the most part. So, to me, I just enjoy kind of understanding as much as I can about it. It gives me a sense of power. And maybe that’s an illusion, but it still helps. The more that I know, the more comfortable I feel about things. So, I do a lot of reading about it and keeping up with webcasts and so forth that are put on various foundations. And there are lots and lots of opportunities to learn. There’s a lot more to learn than I have time for, but it’s an interesting disease.

Alan:

Mike, you and I are exact opposites, and we’d make a great team. You know that, right?

Cindy:

Right.

Mike:

Yeah, even though we’re wearing similar shirts.

Cindy:

I’m glad we have such a varied panel today. It’s good having many different perspectives. Any other ways we educate ourselves about treatment options that are coming up?

Alan:

I wanna add also that I try to participate in events like this. I do quite a bit of public speaking. I’ve been asked to be a PACE ambassador for one of the pharmaceutical companies. So, I travel around, and I get multiple myeloma specialists all over the country. So, I’ve learned a lot through those conversations. And I think it’s important for us to do things like this to give back. We all know how scary it is when we’re first diagnosed. And if we can do something like this or help somebody that’s newly diagnosed, I mean we’ve done a great thing.

Cindy:

Right. I agree with you 100 percent. Being a retired teacher, it’s in me to help educate others because I really truly believe that knowledge is power. And there has to be just a variety of ways, whether it’s through teleconferences or online support groups or in-person support groups or mentoring, there’s just so many ways that you give back and help someone.

Alan:

To me, the first of the unknown is worse than the actual treatments.

Cindy:

Exactly. And being able to talk to someone who’s been in your shoes is the absolute best.

Alan:

Do you mind if I share something with you real quick?

Cindy:

Go ahead.

Alan:

I mentioned that I went fishing four or five weeks after my second stem cell transplant. While I was there, I got a phone call from one of my clients, and one of her good friends had just been diagnosed with multiple myeloma. And he was gonna be treated where I was. And I was able to – she wanted me to talk to him. So, I called him. I shared my story. I told him how bad I was. And he said, “Well, I’m nothing like that. They caught mine early.” But I said, “Well, you understand my situation was serious.” I said, “I’d like to tell you where I am now. He said, “Okay.” I said I’m in South Louisiana fishing with my dad and my sons.” And he said, “You’re kidding!” I said, “No, I caught a 30-pound fish last night. I’ll send you a picture in a minute.” And just to hear the change in his voice, the tone of his voice, to give him that encouragement that everything was gonna be okay –

Cindy:

Right.

Alan:

– was an amazing feeling. About a year and a half later, I was fishing again in South Louisiana. And I only go a few times a year at most. And I got a phone call, similar situation – a single dad with a 13-year-old daughter. And I got to share my story with them. I got her – I got them on speakerphone so they could both hear me. My daughter was 14 when I was diagnosed. I will never forget that – being able to talk to them and encourage them because we all know how important your attitude plays a part in our recovery.

Cindy:

Exactly. Thank you so much for sharing that very personal story. And I’m sure we all have a similar story of a way that we spoke to someone and probably made a difference at that point in their journey. So, we’re coming to the end of our program. What are some things that you know now that you wished you’d knew then about making treatment decisions? Anything that you know now that you wished you knew in the past?

Connie:

I think one of the things I’ve learned is not to self-diagnose. I think when – it took nine months to get my myeloma diagnosis. I had broken a rib previously. And so, after that race, I thought I had just broken another rib. And it got better and went away. And a couple of months later when I turned over in bed, it felt like a knife going through me and took my breath away. And then another two months went by. I thought – well, I just re-broke it. Another two months went by and same thing, turned on my side in bed at night, and it went another knife through me.

So, I just even competed in some other races that summer. And I didn’t quite feel like I could go as fast as I wanted to or I might really do some serious damage. And that’s when I knew I needed to see a doctor. And I did, and I got bronchitis. And they first treated me and checked out everything for heart and didn’t find anything. And then, when I got the bronchitis, I went back to the doctor. And that’s when they decided to send me to a specialist, and he just touched my sternum and realized it was deformed and said he didn’t even wanna touch it until he got some images. And that’s when he – after the images that he got, he referred me to the West Michigan Cancer Center for further diagnosis.

Cindy:

Josine, any final words of wisdom?

Josine:

Well, like Connie was saying about self-diagnosis. I thought I hurt my back at work. If I had only heard the words multiple myeloma in life growing up, which I never heard of it until diagnosis, I think it would’ve been less painful a journey to say the least. Well, you know, it’s all part of everybody’s journey. And we’re here today, and every day’s a gift.

Alan:

As far as things I wish I would’ve known; I wish I would’ve known how hard the battle would be after the major treatments. It took me a long time to bounce back. My immune system just wasn’t very good. I kept pushing myself probably harder than I should have, but it goes back to the same thing – is do things that you don’t feel like doing. Push yourself to do the things – there are days when I don’t feel like getting up out of bed, even today. For the last week and a half, I’ve been fighting a cold. I actually – Thursday before last, me and my oldest son took our four-wheel drives to an off-road event and camped out for the weekend. Of course, I got sick the day we got there. But we had a great time and made some great memories, and the price was well worth it.

And that’s kind of the attitude that I have. I know that there’s a price to be paid at times for the things that I do, but every day is just a blessing. Every day is an opportunity to have a positive impact on somebody else’s life, and every day is a day to make memories with my family and my friends and the people I love. And put your focus there.

Cindy:

Wonderful words.

Alan:

The way that I put it in my talks is – we will find in life whatever we look for. If we look for reasons to be sad and upset and depressed, we will find those. If we look for reasons to smile and be happy, we will find those also.

Cindy:

That’s true. Very good. I could listen to your words of advice all day long, but we don’t have all day. So, how about Mike. Do you have any final words of wisdom? Advice?

Mike:

I guess the thing that comes to my mind that I know now that I didn’t know at the beginning – there’s so much. I didn’t know anything. But I realize now that I’m not alone. I felt very alone at first, but I’m not alone, and I’m not alone in lots of different senses. One sense is that there are other patients and other folks who are going through multiple myeloma just like I am. And so, a forum like this is really important to be participating in. I believe participating in in-person support groups is important, online support groups.

So, just realizing that you’re not alone is a key thing. And another way that I’m not alone is I have a wonderful team of doctors and nurses and healthcare professionals working to make me as well as I can be. And then I also am very blessed to have great friends and family. So, just knowing that I’m not alone is a key, key thing.

Cindy:

I like that. I’m not alone. Very good. Well, we’ve come to the end of our time. I think we learned a lot of great information between each other, and I’m hoping that it’s gonna be very beneficial to the myeloma community. So, to our audience, thank you for joining us for this Patient Empowerment Network programming, Myeloma Patient Café. I am

Cindy Chmielewski. And remember that this fifth -grade teacher says, “Knowledge is power and is your best medicine of all.” Thank you very much for joining us.


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