PODCAST: Advanced Prostate Cancer: How to Access the Best Care and Treatment for YOU


Progress in advanced prostate cancer has led to more personalized treatment options and individualized care for people with this diagnosis. Dr. Xin Gao discusses how the results of essential testing can help guide a patient’s prognosis and treatment path, reviews available therapies, and shares advice for self-advocacy.

Dr. Xin Gao is a Medical Oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn more about Dr. Gao.

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See More From INSIST! Prostate Cancer



Hello and welcome. I’m your host Katherine Banwell. Today’s program focuses on how people with advanced prostate cancer can access the best treatment in care. We’ll review essential testing, discuss the latest research, and share tips for self-advocacy. Before we meet our guest, let’s review a few important details. The reminder email you received about this program contains a link to a resource guide. If you haven’t already, click that link to access information to follow along during the webinar. At the end of this program, you’ll receive a link to a program survey. Please take a moment to provide feedback about your experience today in order to help us plan future webinars.  

Finally, before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you. Well, let’s meet our guest today. Joining me is Dr. Xin Gao. Dr. Gao, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself? 

Dr. Gao:

Yeah. Thank you very much for having me. My name is Xin Gao. I’m a medical oncologist at Mass General Cancer Center in Boston, Massachusetts. I focus on prostate cancer and other cancers involving the urinary system. I’m also involved in our clinical trials program where we’re studying newer and what we hope are better treatments for these types of cancers.  


Well, thank you so much for joining us today. I know you’re a busy guy.  

Dr. Gao:

I’m happy to be here.  


Good. Dr. Gao, this program is focusing on advanced prostate cancer. Would you walk us through how the disease progresses in each stage? 

Dr. Gao:

Sure. I think advanced prostate cancer can mean a lot of different things, but in general, it means a prostate cancer that has either spread out from the prostate gland itself to other areas of the body or has recurred despite either surgery or radiation-based therapy to the primary prostate tumor. 

In each of these situations, typically the focus would on medication types of treatments and we think about advanced prostate cancer as either hormone-sensitive or hormone-resistant, or the other term in the field for it would be castration-resistant, meaning that the prostate cancer is either sensitive to hormonal therapies or perhaps it’s no longer sensitive to the most common type of hormone therapy called androgen deprivation therapy. So, those are sort of the ways that the cancer can progress, and typically all these cancers start as hormone-sensitive prostate cancers and over time, they may evolve and become resistant and become what we call castration-resistant prostate cancer. 


Okay. So, they’re not numbered as in a lot of other cancers, like stage I, stage II?  

Dr. Gao:

Meaning by stage, oh. So, there are stages. All advanced prostate cancers are by definition stage IV. All advanced cancers, in general, are stage IV but advanced prostate cancer would be stage IV. Most prostate cancers actually present as localized prostate cancer, stage I, stage II, even stage III prostate cancers and the majority of localized prostate cancers are actually fortunately quite curable with either surgery or radiation-based therapies.  

Unfortunately, not all are curable and some will recur despite these curative intent treatments and others might just be inherently more aggressive biologically and they could even present with metastatic disease or stage IV disease having spread to other sites outside of the prostate gland, even at diagnosis. 

When prostate cancer metastasizes or spreads, it commonly spreads by lymphatic vessels or by the bloodstream and most commonly, they tend to go to either lymph nodes or bones or some combination of both. More common areas of lymph node spread are in the pelvic areas, kind of near where the prostate gland is, or deep in the abdomen in an area called the retroperitoneum. And then bones more commonly could be in sort of the back or spine bones or in the pelvic bones, but it could go to other areas less common as well.  


What are common symptoms of advanced disease, and how are the symptoms managed? 

Dr. Gao:

So, with advanced disease, the symptoms can present in a variety of different ways.  

They’re often related to where the cancer has spread to. If there’s a tumor in the prostate gland itself or next to it, some patients might experience urinary symptoms, urinary frequency, feeling of incomplete emptying or a weak urinary flow. Or even pain or discomfort of leading with urination. That’s sort of the primary prostate tumor itself. Bone metastases can cause bone pain and commonly this involves bones in the spine or back or in the pelvis.   

There’s also a heightened risk of fractures with bone metastases and obviously that can sometimes cause pain. However, I think I should mention, many bone metastases actually don’t cause pain. It’s not uncommon that we see a bone scan or a CAT scan that the cancer is in multiple bones, but the patient actually, you know, I think fortunately, doesn’t feel any pain from that. 

Lymph node spread, I would say, rarely causes symptoms early on, but if there’s significant enlargement of these lymph nodes or in risking anatomic areas, sometimes the lymph nodes can cause discomfort or pain. Sometimes they can compress upon major veins or blood vessels or on the ureters that drain the kidneys and cause either blood clots or lower extremity swelling if it’s the major veins or cause kidney dysfunction because the ureters aren’t draining the kidneys appropriately. And then, I think in general, as with any advanced cancer, advanced prostate cancer can commonly cause fatigue and cause patients to just kind of generally feel unwell in sort of a hard to pinpoint type of way.  

I think it’s sort of the general toll that the cancer – the burden of the cancer is causing on the body and maybe taking, you know, essential nutrients or other things away from normal body organs or body cells.  


How are some of these symptoms managed?  

Dr. Gao:

So, pain, if people have pain, it’s typically managed with analgesics and pain medications, whether it’s Tylenol or ibuprofen. Other NSAID types of medications. Opiates and narcotic pain medications are commonly used for advanced prostate cancers as well to control and manage and treat the pain. And patients with cancers involving the bones that have become resistant to standard hormone therapy, we also commonly give medications called bisphosphonates. 

Zoledronic acid is a common one. Or a related medication called denosumab to try to reduce the risk of fractures, to strengthen the bones a bit. And these medications can also help with bone pain to some extent. And sometimes we treat other symptoms of cancer with medications that might help improve energy levels and improve the fatigue, for example.  

So, methylphenidate or methylphenidate  (Ritalin) is a common medication that is used to try to help with energy levels or reduced energy in advanced cancer patients. Sometimes steroid medications can do that as well, could be helpful. Appetite, reduced appetite with advanced cancer is not uncommon, although I think for prostate cancer, we see it to a lesser extent compared to other advanced cancers. 

There are other medications, steroids being one of them, and medications like mirtazapine or Remeron can be used to help try to simulate the appetite a little bit more. In terms of other symptoms, urinary symptoms, let’s say from the primary prostate tumor, that’s often co-managed with my colleagues in urology. There are medications that can be used to try to help with the urinary flow or stream in some situations or perhaps procedural interventions that might be able to help open up the urinary outlet a little bit more. Those things can be considered as well.  


I’d like to talk about what goes into deciding on a treatment pass. What testing is used to understand a patient’s individual disease? 

Dr. Gao:

There is a lot of testing that we do for – to try and characterize a patient’s individual disease and try to select an optimal management strategy for their specific cancer and their specific situation. 

We look at the biopsy, the pathology. The most common type of prostate cancer is called adenocarcinoma, but rarely we see certain other types under the microscope, things like neuroendocrine or small cell prostate cancers that tend to be treated in a different way. We look at things like the Gleason score.  

That tells us a bit more about sort of the aggressiveness of this cancer, as well as the PSA, you know, it’s a very good correlate for how the cancer is doing in general once somebody has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For imaging tests, we commonly rely on imaging. We look at prostate MRIs to get an idea of the local extent of the prostate tumor. We get things like bone scans and CAT scans to look at the entire rest of the body to see if or where the cancer may have spread to.  

And there are newer imaging tests like the PSMA PET scan, which we commonly use now, which is a much more sensitive test for detecting prostate cancer in 2023 compared to traditional scans like CAT scans and bone scans. I also commonly make use of genetic testing and molecular information.  

So, for any patient with an advanced prostate cancer, I do recommend both what we call a germline test, which is testing for inherited cancer genes that a patient could have gotten from the parents and pass onto their kids, as well as somatic testing, which is testing the cancer itself to see what genetic mutations or alterations might’ve developed within their cancer. And that can actually factor into certain treatments that the patient may or may not be more likely to benefit from if they have these genetic mutations.  


Dr. Gao, a patient sent in this question prior to the program. What other genetic testing, beside BRCA markers, are important for deciding future targeted therapies and how are each of them used? 

Dr. Gao:

Yeah, that’s a great question. Targeted therapies have been used in a lot of different cancers and it’s only really within the past few years that we’re using them as a standard of care routinely in prostate cancers. So, BRCA II and BRCA I mutations are some of the more common mutations or genetic alterations that are targetable in prostate cancer. Recently, there have been multiple FDA approvals of different drugs that are called PARP inhibitor, which are able to target the cancer if they have BRCA II or BRCA I mutations.   

Beyond BRCA II and BRCA I, there’s a panel of what’s called homologous recombination repair genes and that’s defined differently in varying extents, depending on the specific drug. That has been FDA approved, but in general, it’s about 12-14 genes total and they actually include the BRCA II and BRCA I genes.  

So, some of the ones that have been…it seems like the data shows maybe more activity or better efficacy with these PARP inhibitors include a gene called PALB2, P-A-L-B 2. It’s not a very common mutation that we see, but it is something that we should look for because even if it’s not common overall for the patient who has it, it could be a very helpful and useful gene to know that that they have and it certainly would warrant treatment with a PARP inhibitor. 

The other sort of dozen  or so…10-12 genes in this homologous recombination repair pathway, the data, I would say, is still early and it is still somewhat limited in terms of how much people with those gene mutations truly benefit from these PARP inhibitors, but I do think it’s important to look for them, to know that if they do have one of these genetic mutations that it does make a PARP inhibitor an option for them. And then, beyond these HRR genes, I always look for something called a microsatellite instability or mismatched repair deficiency. These are sort of genetic features or really a panel of about four genes involved in a cellular process called – a DNA repair process called mismatch repair.  

For those patients that have either mismatched repair deficiency or microsatellite instability high cancers, I do recommend that they consider an immunotherapy medication called pembrolizumab which is FDA-approved regardless of cancer type for any MSI high or mismatched repair cancer and they’ve shown pretty solid activity for those kinds of cancers.  


Dr. Gao, now that we know what goes into understanding a patient’s disease, I’d like to talk about treatment, starting with treatment goals. How do goals vary by patient, if they vary at all? 

Dr. Gao:

Sure, yeah. I do think they vary and I think it is important to be clear about what the realistic goals of treatment might be so that the patient can make an informed decision on how the prostate cancer should be treated or managed. 

Some prostate cancers are highly curable, although there isn’t anything that’s 100 percent, right? And others are curable, but we acknowledge that there may still be a significant risk of relapse despite treatment. And maybe that rough percentage, the probability of cure and sort of the potential downsides or side effects of treatment, that’s something that the patient has to weigh in terms of whether they want to proceed with that treatment or not.  

And then, there are cancers, especially with advanced prostate cancers, that are unfortunately not curable, but yet treatments have the ability to significantly prolong somebody’s life, to slow the cancer progression down or even to shrink it, and to improve cancer-associated symptoms and other sources of distress that we talked about earlier. 

And so, with each patient, I think it is important to talk about these treatment goals because it may not be readily clear, is this a curable cancer or not? And it might not be clear how much benefit they might expect with treatment or are we talking about a marginal benefit? And then that way, you know, they can think about it, talk about it with their family, and kind of factor into their overall benefit risk calculation about whether to do something or not.  


Would you provide an overview of current treatment options for advanced disease? 

Dr. Gao:

Sure. So, it’s a big, very open-ended question, I think.  

So, I think you can divide it up into sort of the major treatment modalities, so things like radiation or radiation types of therapies, chemotherapy, hormonal therapies which are the mainstay of prostate cancer treatments, targeted therapies, and immunotherapies.   

Starting with hormonal therapies which are the backbone of prostate cancer treatments, for advanced prostate cancer, androgen deprivation therapy or ADT is often given indefinitely as the typical standard of care treatment and there are various forms of ADT, most commonly in the form of long-lasting injectable medications – leuprolide (Eligard/Lupron Depot), goserelin (Zoladex), sometimes degarelix (Firmagaon)  is used. And then more recently, there was an FDA approval a couple years ago of an oral pill called relugolix (Orgovyx), which is also a form of ADT or androgen deprivation therapy.   

These medications block the body’s ability to make testosterone which is important for prostate cancer survival and spread. In addition, abiraterone is an oral medication that is also considered a hormonal therapy. It blocks the production on androgens or male sex hormones outside of the testes. That includes the adrenal glands and some other tissues such as prostate cancer itself. And abiraterone (Zytiga) is commonly used in advanced prostate cancer management, in addition to androgen deprivation therapy whereas ADT blocks the testes from making testosterone and androgens, abiraterone blocks the production of androgens outside of the testes. 

And then finally, oral anti-androgen medications that block the prostate cancers from being able to detect androgens or male hormones and to block the androgen receptors on prostate cancers from sending cellular signals for growth and survival are also very commonly used.  

There are older anti-androgen medications like bicalutamide (Casodex), flutamide (Eulexin), lutamide, and there are newer ones, stronger versions, called enzalutamide (Xtandi), apalutamide (Erleada), and darolutamide (Nubeqa). For most patients who present with advanced prostate cancer, I think this is much easier, ADT along with either abiraterone or one of the newer, stronger anti-androgens, is the standard of care for most advanced prostate cancer patients with metastatic disease.  

And then, sometimes for patients with higher volume or more aggressive cancers even in the group with metastatic disease, we even add on another treatment, usually chemotherapy, something called docetaxel for what we call triple therapy. And then, maybe that’s a segue to chemotherapy, so docetaxel chemotherapy is a common chemotherapy used for prostate cancer, certainly advanced prostate cancers. Cabazitaxel (Jevtana) is also a common chemotherapy in this situation. These two are related drugs in a family of drugs called taxane chemotherapies and basically they kind of block the trafficking of important components within cancer cells and cause the cancer cell death.  

Docetaxel (Taxotere) is the more commonly used one. It’s typically used earlier, before cabazitaxel. And like I said earlier, for certain patients with what we call high volume metastatic prostate cancer, it’s often used in combination with hormonal therapies early on, what we call upfront therapy for six cycles. If a patient doesn’t receive docetaxel up front, docetaxel is commonly used after progression, after the cancer has progressed on ADT and one of the oral hormone medications.  

Cabazitaxel is more commonly used after a patient has previously received or progressed on docetaxel. Both drugs have been evaluated in randomized Phase III clinical trials and have shown to provide efficacy for patients with advanced prostate cancers. 

In addition to these taxane chemotherapies, platinum chemotherapy, such as carboplatin or cisplatin, are sometimes used for advanced prostate cancers as well, especially for certain neuroendocrine or small cell prostate cancers. These are rarer cancers, but they tend to respond better to platinum-based chemotherapies.  

Or for certain what we call aggressive variant prostate cancers, these platinum-based chemotherapies are also used in combination with either one of the taxanes or with another chemotherapy drug called etoposide. In terms of other treatment modalities, I think recently what we call radiotherapeutics or radioligand therapies have gotten a lot of press with the approval of a new medication called lutetium PSMA or 177 lutetium PSMA 617 (Pluvicto). 

The brand name for that in the U.S. is Pluvicto and what this is is a drug that’s a small molecule that binds to PSMA, which is a protein highly expressed in close to 90% of prostate cancer, advanced prostate cancers. And the small molecule will home to the cancer and it’s linked to radioactive lutetium and the lutetium will decay in that area and lead to cancer cell death.  

So, Pluvicto or lutetium was FDA approved in spring of 2022 based on randomized Phase III trials that show significant efficacy for patients with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer who have previously received a second-generation androgen receptor pathway inhibitor, such as abiraterone and enzalutamide, as well as a taxane chemotherapy, like docetaxel or cabazitaxel.  

The medication is given intravenously, once every six weeks, for up to six doses, and there are ongoing clinical trials, actually, that are trying to evaluate this medication in earlier settings where patients haven’t gotten prior chemotherapy before. There was a press release from about half a year ago stating that they’re seeing some early encouraging signs of efficacy with this drug, even in patients who had never received chemotherapy before, so it may be a medication that is going to be used more and more so in more patients even earlier in their course of disease. 


This actually leads me to my next question which is about research news. 

Prostate cancer research is evolving quickly, like so many other cancers. And it’s important for patients to stay up to date on developing news. So, are there research advances that patients should be aware of? 

Dr. Gao:

Yeah, I mean some of the treatments that I just mentioned, PARP inhibitors, pembrolizumab (Keytruda) for MSI higher and mismatch repair deficient tumors and lutetium. Those have come out of recent major clinical trials and have become the standard of care in a lot of different…in various different settings for patients. And there are always new research trials, clinical trials, that are going to either move some of these established treatments to earlier lines of setting, earlier lines of treatment, or using them in maybe combination with other drugs where we might learn that they’re more useful if we combine it with another drug or maybe combine it with hormone treatments earlier rather than later. 

So, there are always clinical trials for advanced prostate cancer. There are even newer trials, novel therapies, completely new treatments that have been studied in the laboratory in say petri dish models of cancer or animal, mouse models of prostate cancer, but have shown enough early exciting data to try to move them into human beings and hopefully help advanced prostate cancer patients. 


Dr. Gao, if a patient is feeling like they’re not getting proper care or if they’re just not comfortable with their care team, what steps would you recommend they take to change the situation? 

Dr. Gao:

Yeah, I think that’s a difficult question to answer and it depends on sort of what the specifics are, but I will always encourage people to be up front with their providers, with their oncologists and their oncology team. I think it’s… it really is a collaboration and it really needs mutual trust and open communication.  

And to be able to say these are the things that I wish could be a bit better or not that different or could you clarify this or answer this or what about this idea or this thing that maybe I heard about. See what their thoughts are. I think clear communication is always important and it shouldn’t – I tell my patients that I view my role as sort of advising them about what the reasonable treatment or management strategies might be in their situation and what the data shows and what is recommended. 

But ultimately, it is a shared decision and the patient is in charge of their own body and own health and they can make the decision on what makes sense for them. So, again, I think it’ s a two-way street and open communication is the most important thing.  


As we wrap up, Dr. Gao, I’d like to get your thoughts. How do you feel about where we stand with advanced prostate cancer care? 

Dr. Gao:

Yeah. I think there have been a lot of advances in advanced prostate cancer care in recent years. Newer and better treatment strategies seem to come along every couple of years and I think what we’ve seen for advanced prostate cancer patients over the past, really, since probably 2015 or so, is a significant improvement in outcomes, long-term outcomes like survival and slowing down of the cancer. 

And it’s… I think it’s important to acknowledge that and to acknowledge that the clinical trials in recent years have really led to a lot of improvements and really the hope that in the coming years, there’s going to be additional research, additional clinical trials, newer treatments hopefully, that will continue to improve outcomes for advanced prostate cancer patients. I also think that it’s really critical to evaluate the specific patients’ cancer characteristics, things like the genetic testing that I mentioned earlier, as well as their sort of life situations and other medical comorbidities to come to a shared decision about what makes the most sense in terms of their cancer management.  

Genetic testing might open up the option for certain FDA-approved therapies or consideration of certain targeted therapies that still might be in clinical trials. And clinical trials, again, are also an option for additional treatment strategies that otherwise would not be available. 


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

Dr. Gao:

You’re welcome. Thanks for having me. 


And thank you to all of our collaborators. If you would like to watch this webinar again, there will be a replay available soon. You’ll receive an email when it’s ready. And don’t forget to take the survey immediately following this program. It will help us as we plan future webinars. To learn more about prostate cancer and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for joining us. 

PODCAST: Updates in Prostate Cancer Treatment and Research | What You Need to Know


With research evolving quickly, it’s more important than ever that people with prostate cancer take an active role in their care. Dr. Channing Paller shares an update on recent prostate care treatment advances, discusses essential testing–including genetic testing–and provides advice for self-advocacy.

Channing Paller, MD is the Director of Prostate Cancer Clinical Research at Johns Hopkins Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Paller.

See More From INSIST! Prostate Cancer



Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell. Your host. Today’s program focuses on helping patients with advanced prostate cancer insist on better care. We’re going to discuss the latest research, current treatments, and how patients can collaborate with their healthcare team on key decisions.

Before we meet our guest, let’s review a few important details. The reminder email you received about this program contains a link to program materials. If you haven’t already, click that link to access information to follow along during the webinar.

At the end of this program, you’ll receive another link to a program survey. Please take a moment to provide feedback about your experience today, in order to help us plan future webinars. And finally, before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you.

Well, let’s meet our guest today. Joining me is Dr. Channing Paller. Dr. Paller, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Paller:

Thank you, Katherine. I’m delighted to be here today. My name is Channing Paller. I’m Associate Professor of Oncology at Johns Hopkins and the director of Prostate Cancer Clinical Research.


Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.

Dr. Paller:

Thank you for having me.


Dr. Paller, in June, prostate cancer researchers from around the world met to discuss their findings at the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology, or ASCO meeting, in Chicago. Would you walk us through the highlights from that meeting that patients should know about?

Dr. Paller:

Absolutely. We’ve had a exciting time for prostate cancer in June. So, I’d say, the first thing I would bring up is, the PEACE-1 trial was discussed again, and more data came out from that trial. That trial originally supported what we found, the STAMPEDE trial, to say, yes, we should add abiraterone to androgen deprivation therapy and chemotherapy in helping de novo metastatic patients live longer and do better overall. And it also, this time around, showed us that combining abiraterone (Zytiga) with radiation, plus or minus chemo, had patients do better. So, they had a longer progression-free survival, or metastasis-free survival.

And also, the neat thing was, patients had fewer local symptoms in the long run. So, it prevented catheters being needed later, prevented blockages. It prevented local side effects from their cancer, which was really terrific to know, because that helps with patients’ quality of life.

That was one of the main, personally. Go ahead.


Yeah, I was just going to ask, anything else?

Dr. Paller:

Yes. So, the second big headline, which is one of my dear loves, is all of the PARP inhibitor data. So, there were a couple trials presented, and this month has been terrific in terms of, there have been two drug approvals. So, let me talk through a couple of those.

So, one of the big ones that was presented at ASCO was looking at talazoparib (Talzenna) and enzalutamide (Xtandi) in patients with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer, and it showed that the combination of those two drugs helped patients do better than enzalutamide alone, in that setting. What was also interesting is a subset of patients with DNA repair mutations did even better.

June 20th, the FDA approved that combination for patients with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer with DNA repair mutations.

We also had a drug approval for abiraterone (Zytiga) and olaparib (Lynparza) in the same space of metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer for patients with BRCA mutations. That was a more narrow approval, but it was still very important.

And what’s exciting here is, we’re really learning more about targeted therapy, precision medicine, for our prostate cancer patients. When I started treating prostate cancer patients back in 2005, the main drug approved was chemotherapy, docetaxel (Taxotere), and hormone deprivation therapy. And in the last almost 20 years, or 18 years, we’ve had 10 drug approvals, and we’re really starting to have multiple drugs approved based on people’s genetics.


That’s such promising news. I mentioned at the top of the program that our focus for this webinar is advanced prostate cancer. So, I’d like you to define that. What is advanced prostate cancer? And is any of the research you mentioned focused on this stage of disease?

Dr. Paller:

Well, advanced prostate cancer includes any prostate cancer that was extended outside the prostate, really, that’s spread to the nodes, even to the lymph nodes, to the liver, to the lungs, to the bones. And so, we have a lot of new findings, looking at this space, and that was a lot of what they showed at the ASCO conference.

The other thing we’re learning is that we really want to get genetic testing on everybody. And so, in addition to your regular, “How do you feel?” “What do your labs show?” “What is your PSA doing?”

We also want to get imaging, right? So, we want to look at imaging, in terms of, what did your CT and bone scan show? And nowadays, we’re moving into PSMA, or prostate-specific membrane antigen, PET scans.

And so, that’s the new main way people look at where their prostate cancer has gone, and help them decide, what is the best treatment for me? Is it to get surgery locally, or has it advanced now, and I really need to do hormone therapy and radiation, or some other combination of systemic therapy, meaning more hormones, or more chemotherapy, with targeted therapies such as radiation?


Beyond ASCO, Dr. Paller, are there other research or treatment advances that patients should know about? Anything other than what you’ve mentioned already?

Dr. Paller:

Oh, yes. So, the other headline that I was really excited about at ASCO is watching medicine adopt the world of artificial intelligence. There was a great abstract, looking at how we can use artificial intelligence to look up pathology slides.

So, in the past, we would always want to go to a top academic center to have your pathology reviewed by a top expert and make sure we were treating the right cancer, and make sure we really understand your risk. What we’re finding is, we can create biomarkers, and we’re understanding not just genetic, genomic biomarkers, but also pathology biomarkers, and age, and PSA, and risk, and comorbidities, and we can combine them all together and use AI to help us better stratify patients.

And so, although it’s early, I think this is going to be an explosion in terms of helping us better define risk for patients in advanced prostate cancer, and help them figure out, do they need intensification of treatment, or can we de-intensify treatment? Can we not cause as much toxicity, and they’ll do just as well? And so, I was really excited to see that data as well.


How can patients stay up to date on evolving research?

Dr. Paller:

There are many ways to stay up to date. There are nice summaries at ASCO. There are nice summaries through the Prostate Cancer Foundation. There are good summaries at each of the institutions with whom you work.

One of my favorite ways to stay up to date on precision medicine is one of these registries that I am co-leading, which is called the PROMISE registry. This is a wonderful opportunity which was conceived in the pandemic.

And so, it’s pandemic friendly, and that is called the PROMISE registry. And what you can do is go to prostatecancerpromise.org and sign up if you have prostate cancer. And you say, “Hey, I have prostate cancer. This is my address. Please ship me a kit where I can do saliva testing of my genes.” And once you get your tests sent in, they’ll send you a kit, you send it back, you’ll get an email, and you can go over your results with a genetic counselor.

And then, once you get enrolled in this program, it is really just a free information source. And so, you can learn more about the clinical trials around the country for patients with different mutations. And so, I love that as, whether or not you have a mutation and you’re going to follow with us for 20 years, because we’re going to offer you opportunities and let you be the first to know about new drug approvals, you can still hear about all of the new research.

And I think that’s a wonderful, free resource that we’ve done for our patients to help them understand more about what’s out there. Another opportunity to learn more about prostate cancer is the prostate cancer clinical trial consortium. They have a nice website looking at germline genetics, looking at diversity, looking about clinical trial design. And so, there’s lots of different places to learn more about prostate cancer.


Dr. Paller, what about clinical trials? Why should patients consider enrolling, and what are the benefits for them?

Dr. Paller:                   

I like to tell my patients that once you have metastatic or advanced prostate cancer, we’re not doing placebo on you. If we’re doing placebo, it’s the standard of care plus a new drug, and we want to know if the new drug in combination with the old drug is better than the old drug alone.

And so, I find those patients heroes, in one sense, for the future, right? They’re helping to approve the new drugs of the future, and I also find, oftentimes, those are the patients that do best, because they’re getting to try all of the new drugs of the future before they’re approved. And so, I will have patients that are, I call them chronic trialists because they’ll go through all my new drugs before they’re even approved.

And I love it, and they love it, because they do better than the average, because they’re exploring all of the new therapies. And so, I find those patients heroes, and I really appreciate their efforts. I would say, the most important thing about clinical trials is learning about them, right? And being able to ask the questions. “Well, what phase is that trial?” So, Phase I is really testing safety, and finding the right dose for patients. And so, that’s usually a small number of patients, and looking exactly at, does this work? Do we have a biomarker to follow? What’s the best way to use this new drug?

Phase II starts to look at efficacy, as well as looking at side effects. And so, with Phase II, we really look at, what is the effect? Is it better than what we expected? Does it help these patients – is it better than some of the other drugs?

And then, Phase III are usually large trials that are looking at FDA approval. They’re looking for registration with the FDA, getting approval, and being the new standard of care that’s paid for by insurance companies.


I’d like to back up a bit and talk about the treatments that are currently available. Let’s start with surgery. What role does that play in treating advanced disease?

Dr. Paller:                   

Surgery is one of the key tools that we use when we’re trying to cure prostate cancer when it’s localized, or just starting to spread. But if it’s too advanced, meaning, spreading to the lymph nodes, we usually don’t recommend surgery. So, surgery is usually used for curative intents, although there is a trial ongoing now, looking at the same question of, is adding surgery to systemic therapy helpful in terms of long-term cure rate, in terms of decreased side effects later, and local symptoms later?

And so, we are asking that question. That is one of the ongoing clinical trials that we’re looking at right now, as a group.

Surgery is terrific. Radiation is terrific. Really working with your team to understand for you, what are the side effects that you would undergo? What are the risks and benefits of each modality that you would like to, or that you’re willing to tolerate? And so, I think the differences between surgery and radiation, for curing patients, are really something that you need to discuss with your provider. The risk of erectile dysfunction, the risk of the local symptoms from the radiation, the risk of having bleeding from your bladder, the risk of bowel problems. Those are all things that that you – urinary incontinence – that you need to discuss with your physician.


What are other options that are available now, for patients?

Dr. Paller:                   

For curative intent, the main two treatment options are surgery, radiation. Many people for very localized disease are trying other therapies, such as cryotherapy, and more focal therapies. But really, for curative, the standard is surgery or radiation. And as it gets more advanced, circling back to advanced prostate cancer, we are learning that combination therapy is better. So, adding pills like abiraterone, adding systemic therapies, help patients do better.

So, there’s a big, long list of therapies upfront that we use for metastatic hormone-sensitive prostate cancer. There’s abiraterone, there is apalutamide (Erleada), there’s enzalutamide, and now, darolutamide (Nubeqa).

And in fact, in fit patients that can tolerate chemotherapy for metastatic high-volume prostate cancer patients, we always recommend triple therapy, either with abiraterone, docetaxel, and ADT, or with darolutamide, docetaxel, and ADT, and these patients really seem to do better for longer. The other thing I would add is the PEACE-1 trial, which looked at abiraterone and docetaxel, found that patients would do best by adding growth factor support. And so, that is recommended.

The other thing I want to point out to patients is, I know we’re all eager to get started when we find out we have a diagnosis of metastatic prostate cancer, but sometimes, these therapies are quite tough on the system when you have a lot of cancer in your body, and my recommendation to everybody is, one thing at a time.

So, start the hormone therapy and wait at least 30 days, and in fact, in the PEACE-1 trial, they waited 45 days, right? That allows the testosterone levels to fall, it allows you to adjust to the side effects of hormone deprivation therapy, and it allows your body to be ready for the next line of therapy. And you can add the ADT to second line, such as abiraterone or daro during that time, but not adding the chemo all at once, that really makes a difference.

I find, unfortunately, when patients and their providers don’t follow those strict criteria, as they did in the trial, meaning they start chemo and abiraterone and ADT on day one, the levels of chemotherapy get higher in the bloodstream because testosterone regulates that, and we’ve published on that before. And they end up with terrible side effects from the chemotherapy, such as neutropenic fever, which means you end up in the hospital with a bloodstream infection and a fever, and more neuropathy, meaning numbness and tingling in your hands and feet.

And so, I really caution people to spread those therapies out over the first 90 days, and you’ll do better in terms of side effects, and just as well in terms of overall survival.


Where does hormonal therapy fit into the treatment options, and have there been any advances in hormonal therapy?

Dr. Paller:     

Yes. So, hormonal therapy is the mainstay of how we take care of prostate cancer patients, whether we do this with surgical castration, which is not done very often anymore, or we do it with an LHRH agonist, or we do it with an LHRH antagonist. So, that means that we can do it with medicines that block the signaling, but that tells your body to produce testosterone in various ways. What’s really neat is we’ve made advances, that there are now oral options for some of these therapies.

In particular, there’s a new therapy called Orgovyx, or relugolix, that is an oral LHRH antagonist that locks testosterone and allows us to stop prostate cancer growth. In addition, there are a variety of LHRH agonists that can be given as subcutaneous shots. 


Dr. Paller, let’s talk about what goes into deciding on a treatment path. First, what testing helps you understand the patient’s individual disease?

Dr. Paller:                   

Great question.

When I meet a patient, we talked about a few variables. First is, how do they feel? Are they in pain? Are they losing weight? Are they fatigued all the time? Are they able to do things that they enjoy, or not? So, that’s the most important, in terms of, how do they feel, and what are their symptoms?

The next thing we looked at is, what are their labs, right? We look at PSA, but we also look at, is the prostate cancer affecting their organs? Is it affecting their red blood cells, their platelets, their white blood cells? And very importantly, it tells us, by looking at their alkaline phosphatase, if it’s in their bones or not. And we also can look at their labs to see, is it affecting their liver or not. Another thing we monitor is their creatinine or kidney function. Is there a blockage of their important organs down there because the prostate cancer has grown? So, the labs tell me a lot about their body function, and making sure their body is still functioning well.

After we do how they feel, and what their labs are, we also look at imaging. And then, the previous years, we’ve always looked at a standard nuclear medicine bone scan, and also, a CAT scan. And nowadays, we’re really moving towards PSMA, or prostate specific membrane antigen, to help us really identify, at a much more sensitive level, where prostate cancer cells are expressed.

And after we do those main three key things, we start to look at diagnostic tests. We look at different ways of assessing what are their genes. So, one of the first things we do is looking at germline genetic testing to see, what were the genes they were born with? And can those genes help us learn more about their cancer, and how it might progress? And also, how we might treat it better if they have certain genes like BRCA.

The other nice thing about genetic testing, or germline genetic testing, is looking at, if they do have a genetic mutation, or a pathologic variant like BRCA, we are always, always telling families that they should get cascade testing for their familyright? So, if they have a mutation, we recommend that their family members get tested to make sure that they’re not at risk for a cancer. And so, we have them meet with a genetic counselor.

So, in addition to what you’re born with, we also want to know what your cancer has developed, because cancer cells are growing quickly, and they can develop a mutation. And so, we also test the cancer, get genomic testing of the cancer, to look for mutations that we can target with our multiple drugs that we’ve approved to target cancers in certain mutations. So, you have something called MSII, we have immunotherapy for you. If you have DNA repair mutations, we have PARP inhibitors for you, or even carboplatin (Paraplatin) can be added to target patients with DNA repair mutations as well.

And so, there’s a whole variety of tests out there by a multitude of providers, that help us really better understand your cancer.


And the treatment options, by the sounds of it.

Dr. Paller:                   

And the treatment options. Yes, there is. There’s a whole variety of it. Yeah.


So, what is personalized medicine, Dr. Paller? And how is it achieved?

Dr. Paller:            

Personalized medicine means many things to many different people. I find the most important thing is not forgetting the patient. The patient needs to be their own advocate, and have an advocate there with them, right? Because maybe the best treatment is chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation, etc., etc., but maybe you’re 92, and you’ve lived a good life, and you have heart disease, and you might not die of your prostate cancer. And so, overtreating people is just as dangerous as undertreating people.

And so, precision medicine is a whole variety of things, of looking at the whole person, looking at their genes, looking at biomarkers their cancers produce, and looking at what comorbidities they have, right? If you have really bad diabetes, maybe you don’t want me to add steroids to your regimen. If you have a seizure disorder, maybe you don’t want me to add insulin. I wouldn’t, because there’s a seizure risk. If you have various problems, we just need to take those into account and find the best therapy for each individual.


I think you’ve covered this, in a sense, but I’m going to ask you the question anyway. Why is it important that patients have a role in making decisions about their care?

Dr. Paller:                   

It is essential that patients have a role in their care so that they are taking ownership and being part of the team, to care for themselves, not to put extra weight or work on the patient, but really, so that they know they’ve made the right choice for them.

Understanding a patient’s priorities are essential. Some patients may not want the side effects of hormone therapy, and they may say, “Hey, I have oligometastatic disease, meaning I just have one spot to my bones, and I’m 80 years old. And Dr. Paller told me that the sub analysis of this triple therapy, new trial, showed that, I’m over 75, I may not benefit as much. And you know what? I don’t want to have the side effects of hormone therapy. I don’t want to lose muscle mass. I don’t want to have hot flashes. I don’t want to have erectile dysfunction.”

“I want to enjoy my life, even if it’s slightly shorter, and it might not be slightly shorter.” And so, I find, having a partnership with a patient to really understand their priorities makes life worth living more, right? So, maybe a patient’s priority is finding time with their grandchildren. Maybe a patient’s priority is getting a PhD. Whatever their patient’s priority is, it is important that we put that to the context of their whole being and helping them really find the best therapy for them, to help them do as well as they can, as long as they can.


I think this this leads us very nicely into the next topic, and that’s self-advocacy. While the goal of this program is to help patients insist on better care, there may be factors that impact their access. What common obstacles do patients face?

Dr. Paller:                   

The main obstacle for patients is insurance. Unfortunately, I find that it’s frustrating to not be able to provide patients with oral hormonal therapy if they can’t afford it, because they don’t have insurance, and it’s too expensive. But there are other challenges that patients face, right? If they’re young and don’t have childcare, if they have trouble getting time off their work. But I think one of the major problems is economics, and can they get the same care, and can they advocate for themselves, right? So, another problem is, if you are in a community practice, you might not have access to the top diagnostic testing.

And it’s really important that you advocate for yourself and get a second opinion at an academic center where you can get the best testing and figure out the best path for yourself. And sometimes, if patients are at sites where they’re seeing a generalist, they’re not going to get access to that, because that’s not standard at that hospital.


Yeah. Well, what is the medical community doing to help improve access?

Dr. Paller:                   

We are working hard on reaching out into the community. One of the other hats I wear is, I’m Associate Program Director for the Johns Hopkins Clinical Research Network for oncology. And one of my jobs is to find communities that want to open trials at community sites.

These aren’t our super complicated phase I trials. These are often simple Phase II or Phase III trials that patients can participate in, and really get access to new biomarker tests, get access to new treatments, and really be connected to the centralized knowledge that is available at academic centers.

And I think all of ASCO is doing this, I think all the Prostate Cancer Consortium is doing that, I think the PCF is doing this, and we really are – and I even think the drug companies are reaching out and educating primary care doctors, urologists, radiation oncologist patients.

There are a lot of programs we now do that are direct to patient education, so that we’re not dependent on whether or not the doctor has time to explain these things. And so, programs like this are really wonderful at keeping the patients educated and able to advocate for themselves.


What diversity in clinical trials? Is that an emphasis for the research community?

Dr. Paller:                   

Absolutely. I think that’s an emphasis across the board in society today.

We are eager to learn more about how patients with different genetic profiles, with different ethnicities, with different socioeconomic backgrounds, are reacting differently to different therapies. If you’re African American, do you respond differently to [treatment] with one study we looked at? If you have a different diet, are you going to respond differently to immunotherapy? And really understanding different demographics is really important to us at this time.


Are there resources that patients can turn to that would help them gain better access to healthcare?

Dr. Paller:                   

There are programs that are available either through your local community, or another one that has a nice patient centered education program is NCCN, or the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. They have summaries of your tumor type across the board, and how to best treat it.

They also have a list of experts that helped make those guidelines, so that you could reach out to those centers and know the main centers that are treating your cancer.


That’s great advice. Thank you. If a patient is feeling like they aren’t getting the best care, though, what steps should they take to change that?

Dr. Paller:                   

That’s a good question. So, being a self-advocate takes energy, when oftentimes, you’re tired and overwhelmed at your cancer diagnosis. And so, my heart goes out to all of those patients. Really, finding a second opinion, and finding an academic center or a large program that has a prostate cancer focused program, is helpful.

Or whatever your tumor or issue is, going to a center that is a specialist in that, for a second opinion, is often helpful, and can work with your local physician to help get you the care that you need.


That’s great information, Dr. Paller. Thank you. As we wrap up, I’d like to get your closing thoughts. How do you feel about the future of prostate cancer care? Are you hopeful? Encouraged?

Dr. Paller:                   

I am so hopeful and encouraged. We are exploding in the number of drugs we have. We are exploding in the number of opportunities and precision medicine drugs that we’re having. This is a wonderful time where we’re combining our understanding of genetics, and biomarkers, and AI, and pathology, and imaging, and I am thrilled.

I think we’re really going to be able to understand which patients should get which drugs without having so much toxicity. And such a high failure rate here, or how do I know who will get the best treatment?

“We’re just going to try it and see.” I don’t want to have to say that in five years. I want to say, “I know this will work, and I can control your symptoms and your side effects.”

And so, I am so excited about the future. I think we’re just making huge strides every day now, and I think this will be a whole new world in the next five years.


Dr. Paller, thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. Paller:                   

Thank you so much, Katherine.


And thank you to all of our collaborators.

If you would like to watch this webinar again, there will be a replay available soon. You’ll receive an email when it’s ready. And don’t forget to take the survey immediately following this webinar. It will help us as we plan future programs. To learn more about prostate cancer, and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for joining us. Thank you, Dr. Paller. Great information.

Why Getting a 2nd and 3rd Opinion Made a Difference In Her Cancer Treatment, With Sasha Denisova

This podcast was originally publish on WE Have Cancer by Lee Silverstein on May 7, 2019 here.

Sasha Denisova – WE Have Cancer

Seeking out a 2nd and 3rd opinion in her cancer treatment resulted in a dramatic improvement in Sasha Denisova’s quality of life.

Sasha first appeared on this podcast in Episode 83 where she shared the struggle she faced getting doctors to take her colorectal cancer symptoms seriously.

During our latest conversation she discussed why she made the decision to forego treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to seek treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City. We also discussed:

  • How she got the courage to challenge the initial treatment recommendations made by her doctor and why it’s important for everyone to advocate for their best care.
  • The importance 0f seeking out opinions from the top rated cancer facilities in the U.S.
  • How she eased herself back into working out in the gym and why working with a guided fitness instructor was important.
  • Why exercise is vital to her well-being and how most cancer patients can find an exercise routine that works for them.

Take Control Of Your Care When You’re Seriously Sick via NPR

This podcast was originally publish on NPR by John Henning Schumann, Mara Gordon, and Chloee Weiner on September 7, 2019 here.

Finding out you have a serious medical condition can leave you reeling. These strategies from medical and lay experts will help you be in control as you navigate our complex health care system and get the best possible care.

Here’s what to remember:

1. Your primary care doctor is the captain of your health care team.

With any serious diagnosis, there will usually be more specialists to see. Having a primary care doctor you trust helps coordinate the information flow and keep track of the big picture. Your primary is on her toes for possible medication interactions. Regular preventive measures shouldn’t be overlooked, either.

2. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.

If you’re offered treatment such as chemotherapy or surgery that can be life-altering, it’s crucial to get more than one opinion, ideally from a doctor working for a different institution. Oncologists and surgeons expect patients to seek second opinions — many provide them as a major part of their practice. If your doctor resents you seeking more opinions, that’s a red flag.

3. Get organized, stay organized, and find someone to help you if you can’t do it yourself.

Make a list of what you hope to accomplish at the doctor’s office. If for some reason you aren’t able to take notes, bring someone along who can act as an advocate and make sure your concerns aren’t overlooked. Ask for copies of your medical chart and test results so that you are part of the conversation — you have a legal right to see your records.

4. If you need a procedure, go to someone who does it all the time.

It’s true for medical care as it is in life: The more a doctor does a procedure, the better at it she’ll be. This means fewer complications and better outcomes. It’s OK to ask your doctor how many times she’s done a procedure; a high volume means competence when things go as planned, and calmness for unforeseen complications.

5. Use the Internet, but use it wisely.

Contrary to what you may think, your doctor wants you to be well-informed and engaged with your health. There’s more medical information available online than ever before, but a lot of it is garbage. Stick with trusted sources like the National Library of MedicinePubMed.gov, or learn about and use the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

6. Figure out what matters to you, and fight for it

Our default setting for health care is that more testing is always good. But that’s often not the case, as tests have side effects and can cause undue anxiety because of false positives or incidental findings. Have a frank conversation with your doctor about your values and what you want (and don’t want!) and you’ll be an empowered patient with a doctor as your advocate, not your adversary.

Learning How to Simplify Cancer With Joe Bakhmoutski

This podcast was originally publish on WE Have Cancer by Lee Silverstein on June 18, 2019 here.

Joe Bakhmoutski – WE Have Cancer

Joe Bakhmoutski was diagnosed with Testicular cancer in 2016.He founded Simplify Cancer  to provide support and advice to those touched by cancer. During our conversation we discussed:

  • Why he created Simplify Cancer
  • How he came to be diagnosed with Testicular cancer
  • How people perceive various cancers and how some are deemed “embarrassing”
  • What patients can do to prepare for their first oncologist appointment and the free tool he offers on his website to assist with this.
  • The book he’s writing to help men dealing with cancer.

Links Mentioned in the Show

Simplify Cancer – http://simplifycancer.com/