Skin Cancer Archives

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer and usually forms in skin that has been exposed to sunlight, but can occur anywhere on the body.

 

What Do You Need to Know About Advanced Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer?

What Do You Need to Know About Advanced Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What information is important for you and your loved ones to know after an advanced non-melanoma skin cancer diagnosis? This animated video reviews the types of advanced non-melanoma skin cancer, current treatment options, and important advice for engaging in your care.

What do you need to know if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with advanced non-melanoma skin cancer? 

Non-melanoma skin cancer describes skin cancers that are not classified as “melanoma.” The main types of non-melanoma skin cancer include: 

  • Basal cell carcinoma 
  • Squamous cell carcinoma 
  • And Merkel cell carcinoma 

When a non-melanoma skin cancer is large and deeply invasive, it is considered advanced. In these cases, the cancer is managed by a multidisciplinary team that could include a dermatologist and surgical, radiation, and medical oncologists.  

Treatment recommendations are based on a variety of factors, including: 

  • The location and size of the cancer. 
  • Test results, including genetic test results. 
  • Potential treatment side effects. 
  • And the patient’s overall health and personal preferences. 

If the cancer cannot be treated by surgery alone, treatment options may include: 

  • Chemotherapy 
  • Radiation therapy 
  • Targeted therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Or a clinical trial 

Palliative care may be used in combination with these approaches to help reduce symptoms and to manage treatment side effects. 

Now that you understand more about advanced non-melanoma skin cancer, how can you take an active role in your care?  

  • First, continue to educate yourself about your condition. Ask your healthcare team to recommend credible resources for information.
  • Next, understand the goals of treatment and share your personal preferences with your doctor.
  • Consider a second opinion with a specialist following a diagnosis to confirm your treatment approach.
  • And write down your questions before and during your appointments. Visit powerfulpatients.org/skin to access office visit planners to help you organize your thoughts. Bring loved ones to your appointments to help you recall information and to keep track of important details.
  • Ask your doctor whether a clinical trial might be right for you.
  • Finally, remember that you have a voice in your care. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and to share your concerns. You are your own best advocate.

To learn more about advanced non-melanoma skin cancer and to access tools for self-advocacy, visit powerfulpatients.org/skin. 

How a Skin Cancer Expert Empowers Patients

How a Skin Cancer Expert Empowers Patients from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 

Dr. Anna Pavlick is a medical oncologist with over 20 years of experience treating patients with skin cancer and is the founding Director of the Cutaneous Oncology Program at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian. To learn more about Dr. Pavlick, visit here.

What are steps does skin cancer expert Dr. Anna Pavlick take to empower her patients? Dr. Pavlick explains how self-education and being comfortable with your healthcare team are key components of patient empowerment.

 

Katherine:

Yeah. Dr. Pavlik, how do you empower patients? 

Dr. Pavlick:

You know, when I talk to patients I really do try to number one: educate them. I am big believer in bad artwork, because I’m a bad artist. And so I really try to draw out schematics to help patients understand how they therapy that I’m proposing is going to work, so they understand the mechanism. Patients will also go home with printed handouts so that they can go back and read about what we talked about, because many times patients absorb maybe one-quarter of what’s been said in a consult. 

I encourage people to bring their family members or friends so that they can hear; two sets of ears is always better than one. And I fully support them; if they want to go get a second opinion, my answer is, “Absolutely.” I do not get offended. I feel that if – because a lot of times the patient’s going to say, “I don’t want a second opinion, but my family does.” You’ve got to live with your family. Go get the second opinion. 99 percent of the time, experts who do this for a living all have the same answers. And so it just is going to solidify for your family that the right thing is being done, and then you can also decide where do you feel most comfortable?  

If Dr. A and Dr. B tell you the same thing, what environment do you feel most comfortable in, so in the event that you had questions, or you didn’t feel well, where do you want to go? So, I strongly encourage that. And if somebody comes back and says, “You know, I really think that this place fits me better,” my answer is, “That’s absolutely fine; thank you for letting me know. If there’s anything I can do, please reach out.” Because, again, bottom line is I just want the best outcome for the patient.  

What Do Advanced Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer Patients Need to Know About Treatment and Research?

What Do Advanced Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer Patients Need to Know About Treatment and Research? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What therapies are emerging for advanced non-melanoma skin cancer (ANMSC)? Dr. Anna Pavlick shares the latest in ANMSC research news, including developments in targeted therapy and immunotherapy. 

Dr. Anna Pavlick is a medical oncologist with over 20 years of experience treating patients with skin cancer and is the founding Director of the Cutaneous Oncology Program at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian. To learn more about Dr. Pavlick, visit here

Katherine:

Are there developments in advanced non-melanoma skin cancer treatment and research that patients should know about?  

Dr. Pavlick:

Well, I think when it comes to non-melanoma skin cancers, the developments over the last five years have been groundbreaking. 

I think the first major advancement we made was to identify that the hedgehog pathway is a pathway that basal cell cancers follow in order to spread to other parts of the body. And we found out that if we can block that pathway, we can control basal cell cancer very easily because more than 90 percent of basal cell cancers use that pathway to spread. So it’s like a roadblock. If you’re doing construction and you come to point where you’ve got the detour, well, you can’t keep going straight ahead – you get stopped. And that’s what targeted therapies do, and we found that there are hedgehog inhibitors that are these roadblocks for basal cell cancer.  

Dr. Pavlick:

So what has been evolved since then is looking at immunotherapy as a way to control non-melanoma skin cancers because, as you know, melanoma was the first place that immunotherapy really became paramount as the key treatment that makes the hugest impact on patients. And because of what we learned in melanoma, finding out that the number of mutations that melanomas have make it very susceptible to immunotherapy. We then went and looked at, “Well, what does squamous cell cancer have, what does basal cell cancer have?” 

Well, we found out that basal cell, squamous cell and Merkel cell cancer have a very high mutational burden, and translating that, we said, “Well, we now know this: these are cancers that should now response to immunotherapy as well.” And they do. And they do very, very beautifully. Unfortunately, like every story, it’s not 100 percent of the tumors that will respond. It’s basically in the 50 percent range. So although it’s still a very high number, you need to know that going into it when you treat a patient with locally advanced squamous cell cancer, only 50 percent are going to have a response. So, if you don’t see that tumor getting better pretty darn quickly, you better start thinking, “This might be somebody who’s not going to respond to immunotherapy, and what’s going to be my Plan B?”  

Katherine:

Right.  

Dr. Pavlick:

Because squamous cell cancers in general respond very, very quickly to immunotherapy. 

Usually within a matter of four to six weeks, you’re already starting to see improvement. When it comes to basal cell cancer on the other hand, basal cell cancers – because they develop very, very slowly over years – it takes months of immunotherapy to get them to respond. So I tell patients with locally advanced basal cell, “You really have to be patient, because we expect this to take somewhere between three and 6 months for us to start seeing something get better.” It doesn’t mean that it’s not working, it’s just basal cells just respond much slower. I think when patients are prepared and knowing that this is not a quick eight weeks – we’re going to know for sure whether this helps or not – it helps patients to be able to understand that, “I’m in this for at least six months –maybe longer.” 

Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed Advanced Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer Patients

Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed Advanced Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer Patients from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Anna Pavlick provides three key pieces of advice for newly diagnosed advanced non-melanoma skin cancer patients to help them feel empowered in their care and treatment decisions.

Dr. Anna Pavlick is a medical oncologist with over 20 years of experience treating patients with skin cancer and is the founding Director of the Cutaneous Oncology Program at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian. To learn more about Dr. Pavlick, visit here
 

Katherine:

What three key pieces of advice would you have for a patient who has just been diagnosed with advanced non-melanoma skin cancer?  

Dr. Pavlick:

I think the first one is number one: do your homework. Don’t just take anything for face value. You know, I tell my patients, “This is your life. If you go and do research about what appliance you’re going to put in your kitchen, I think you should also do a little bit of research about what doctor you’re going to allow care for you.” And so I always tell everybody, “Did you do your homework? Are you sure you’re in a place that is going to be able to provide you with the care that you need? Are the physicians that you’re seeing experienced in the disease that you have?” Because they may be brilliant physicians, but they may not have any expertise in that particular area. And so I think it really behooves people to – I tease my patients, I ask them if they go to “Google Medical School.”  

And really, find out a little bit about our backgrounds, find out about the institution that you’re going to, and learn a little bit about the disease. I’m certainly not saying come in and tell us what you want to have done, because I would hope that it takes many years of training and expertise to know how to make a good decision. But I think the more that patients know about the physicians that they’re seeing, and their level of expertise, and their interest, the better the outcome’s going to be. So that’s number one, number two is consider clinical trial. If you are a candidate for a clinical trial, consider it.   

Because we are taking promising agents and looking for ways to make patients have better outcomes. And so, many times when we talk about clinical trials, we know about the drugs, we know about their side effects, we know their efficacy, but we’re looking to find ways to make those drugs work even better. And sometimes it may be adding radiation to one of the standard drugs we have. It may be adding a different type of targeted therapy to the medicines that we have. Sometimes it’s actually taking a research medicine that looks really, really good and very promising, and adding that extra research drug to a standard drug to see if we can’t do better.  

So that I think is really – my second point of advice is really consider participating in a clinical trial if it’s applicable.  

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. 

Dr. Pavlick:

And so what’s my third one? My third one is to really make sure that you can communicate with your team, that you trust your team, and you feel comfortable with your team. You know, there are many of us who have the expertise, but we all have very different manners in which we communicate and talk to patients and speak with family members. If you’re not comfortable with the person that you’re seeing, there is absolutely nothing wrong with going to get a second opinion to find someone who has the same level of expertise who may just fit your personality better.  

You know, everybody’s different. You have to find the health care team that fits for you. And I think that’s so important, because you’re trusting us with your life. And if you don’t feel comfortable, then we shouldn’t be the ones taking care of you.  

Katherine:

Yeah. This is all about self-advocacy.  

Dr. Pavlick:

That’s right. 

Katherine:

The more you know, the better care you’re going to get, and the more comfortable I think you’ll feel with your treatment.  

Dr. Pavlick:

Correct. 

Katherine:

Yeah.  

Dr. Pavlick:

And again, I think treatment – yes, people come to us for our recommendations, but it really is a team effort. My feeling is the more that patients understand why we’re doing what we’re doing, and are part of that decision-making process, the smoother treatment goes.  

Katherine:

Sure.  

Dr. Pavlick:

I really think education is important – of the patient and the family.  

I think being able to ask your physician questions without feeling that you’re threatening – it’s something you should be able to do. And I think it just provides with better care.  

Katherine:

Dr. Pavlik, how do you empower patients? 

Dr. Pavlick:

You know, when I talk to patients I really do try to number one: educate them. I am big believer in bad artwork, because I’m a bad artist. And so I really try to draw out schematics to help patients understand how they therapy that I’m proposing is going to work, so they understand the mechanism. Patients will also go home with printed handouts so that they can go back and read about what we talked about, because many times patients absorb maybe one-quarter of what’s been said in a consult. 

I encourage people to bring their family members or friends so that they can hear; two sets of ears is always better than one. And I fully support them; if they want to go get a second opinion, my answer is, “Absolutely.” I do not get offended. I feel that if – because a lot of times the patient’s going to say, “I don’t want a second opinion, but my family does.” You’ve got to live with your family. Go get the second opinion. 99 percent of the time, experts who do this for a living all have the same answers. And so it just is going to solidify for your family that the right thing is being done, and then you can also decide where do you feel most comfortable?   

If Dr. A and Dr. B tell you the same thing, what environment do you feel most comfortable in, so in the event that you had questions, or you didn’t feel well, where do you want to go? So, I strongly encourage that. And if somebody comes back and says, “You know, I really think that this place fits me better,” my answer is, “That’s absolutely fine; thank you for letting me know. If there’s anything I can do, please reach out.” Because, again, bottom line is I just want the best outcome for the patient.  

Where Do Clinical Trials Fit Into a Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer Treatment Plan?

Where Do Clinical Trials Fit Into a Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer Treatment Plan? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

At what point should advanced non-melanoma skin cancer patients consider participating in a clinical trial? Dr. Anna Pavlick discusses the benefits of trial participation and how the eligibility process works.

Dr. Anna Pavlick is a medical oncologist with over 20 years of experience treating patients with skin cancer and is the founding Director of the Cutaneous Oncology Program at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian. To learn more about Dr. Pavlick, visit here

 

Katherine:

Where do clinical trials fit into the treatment plan? 

Dr. Pavlick:

You know, for me clinical trials are something that patients need to see as an opportunity. 

It should always be the first question that a patient should say, “Hey doc, what about a clinical trial?” Clinical trials provide patients with such great resources to either get a standard therapy with something extra, or to look at a novel way of using a known therapy. I think it’s something that every patient should ask their physicians about – and not everybody is eligible, or should go on a clinical trial – but it’s certainly worth asking, “Is there a clinical trial that I could participate in?”  

Katherine:

So, who might be eligible? What’s the criteria? 

Dr. Pavlick:

Well, each trial has different criteria. So, depending on the trials that are available at the institution where you’re being seen – for example, if you have, let’s say, basal cell cancer – the clinical trial may be looking at two immunotherapies as opposed to one immunotherapy. So when we do a clinical trial, there are what we call inclusion and exclusion criteria, and those are pre-determined criteria that you have to check those boxes to make sure those patients fit that particular study.  

So it’s not a random, “You can’t participate because you’re wearing a purple shirt today.” It is, “You have basal cell, but you have never had this drug that the study says you have to have been treated with this drug in order to go on to this study.” So you can’t jump from A to Z. You have to go from A to B to get to C. So, it really is just checking the boxes, making sure that patients fit whatever the deemed criteria are, and make sure they also don’t fall into the exclusion criteria. 

You know, trials will also say, “If you have an unstable medical condition –,” you know if I have a patient who’s telling me that they’re in and out of the E.R. with chest pain because the doc thinks that they have unstable angina and may need a stint – well, that’s not a patient that you want to put on a clinical trial at that point in time. Not to say that it can’t be re-explored at a different point, but people with active other medical issues just add to the complexity of being able to determine what are the side effects, and what are the not – what’s related to study drug, and what’s related to underlying problem?  

How Is Advanced Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer Treated?

How Is Advanced Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer Treated? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Developments in advanced non-melanoma skin cancer treatment and research continue to evolve. Dr. Anna Pavlick reviews important treatment considerations and discusses targeted therapy options.

Dr. Anna Pavlick is a medical oncologist with over 20 years of experience treating patients with skin cancer and is the founding Director of the Cutaneous Oncology Program at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian. To learn more about Dr. Pavlick, visit here

 

Katherine:

How is advanced non-melanoma skin cancer treated? 

Dr. Pavlick:

Everybody’s locally advanced non-melanoma skin cancer really has to be looked at as a personal type of management. 

There is no cookie-cutter answer to say, “Well you just cut it out, or you just radiate it.” Again, it’s going to be contingent upon where is this located, how extensive is it, what is the patient’s preference, what is the patient’s performance status? You know, when you talk about offering radiation, although it’s a very good therapeutic option for many of these tumors, there are some patients who can’t travel hours to get to a radiation facility, and radiation is given every day for several weeks. So that’s an option – though it’s a treatment option, it may not be a feasible option. And so I think there are multiple factors. If you cut it out, is the patient going to be left with a disfiguring outcome? 

I know many times I get sent older patients because this is a disease many times of older patients, where they have these very large lesions and the thought of doing a surgery – not that you can’t – but can the patient withstand such an extensive procedure? What are they going to look like and what kind of functional deficits are you going to leave them with? You know, all of this really has to come into play, and then again, is the patient well enough tolerate a medical therapy that I have to offer? So this is why when you deal with these cancers, it really is a group effort. We all know the patient. We all get to see the patient. 

And then we all get together and say, “Okay, what are the pros and cons, and really what is the optimal way for us to best serve this patient to get rid of their cancer but also preserve their quality of life?”  

Katherine:

So other than surgery what other options are available to patients? 

Dr. Pavlick:

So surgery’s obviously the first and foremost because if you can take it out, it’s a one-and-done, patient can heal, patient can move on. 

But again, depending on location, depending on extent of the disease, sometimes we consider radiation therapy, sometimes we consider medical therapy, which would mean using different types of systemic therapies, whether it be pills – depending upon the type of cancer it is – or even intravenous immunotherapy to help either control this disease and shrink it up, then allowing the surgeon to go in and remove it. Or, best case scenario is that the immunotherapy will completely eradicate the tumor and spare the patient from having to undergo any type of procedure.  

Why Do Advanced Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer Patients Need a Multidisciplinary Care Team?

Why Do Advanced Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer Patients Need a Multidisciplinary Care Team? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Skin cancer expert Dr. Anna Pavlick explains what it means to have advanced non-melanoma skin cancer and discusses why patients should seek a multidisciplinary care team.

Dr. Anna Pavlick is a medical oncologist with over 20 years of experience treating patients with skin cancer and is the founding Director of the Cutaneous Oncology Program at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian. To learn more about Dr. Pavlick, visit here.

 

Katherine:

Let’s start with some basic information for patients. What is advanced non-melanoma skin cancer? 

Dr. Pavlick:

That’s actually a really good question, because many people think skin cancer is just skin cancer is just skin cancer. But when it comes to non-melanoma skin cancers, those are the types of cancers that are really much more common than melanoma. So we’re talking about your basal cell cancer, your squamous cell cancer, and even a more rare type of cancer called Merkel cell. Locally advanced non-melanoma skin cancers mean that these are lesions that are not easily removed by the dermatologist. So, it’s not a tiny little thing where you go in, you usually have a Mohs procedure for most of these types of cutaneous malignancies.  

And a Mohs procedure is where a dermatologic surgeon will go and take thin layers – layer by layer – and look at it with a pathologist in order to determine if they’ve successfully cleared out the cancer. It allows for us to be very meticulous in how we take things out, but it also allows us to have a nice, clean, smaller resection area, so healing is also much nicer than if you had to cut out a big chunk of tissue.  

But when you have locally advanced disease, sometimes that includes having such extensive disease that maybe cutting the lesion out is going to cause disfigurement, or they may be involved lymph nodes, and so we’re afraid that maybe this cancer can now go to other parts of the body. You know, it is just not a simple cut it out and you’re done kind of cancer. 

It’s a kind of cancer that really requires a multidisciplinary team to really think about what are the best ways to manage this for the patient that’s going to provide the patient with the best cosmetic outcome, and long-term outcome control as well.  

Katherine:

Who’s on that team?   

Dr. Pavlick:

So in our academic center that team, or even in a community setting, that team should include a dermatologist, a medical oncologist, a surgeon – depending on where that cancer is located – many times it’s on the head and neck, so it would be a head and neck surgeon. If it’s an extremity or a trunk lesion, then it may be an oncologic general surgeon. Radiation oncology is also important to include because sometimes these are very radiation-sensitive tumors, and radiation may be a part of the whole treatment plan.  

A Patient’s Perspective | Participating in a Clinical Trial

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

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

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

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

See More from Clinical Trials 101

Related Resources:

A Patient Shares Her Clinical Trial Experience

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

Are Clinical Trials a Logistical Nightmare?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Cindi Terwoord:        

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

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Cindi Terwoord:        

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Cindi Terwoord:        

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. Did you have any hesitations?

Cindi Terwoord:        

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

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

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

Katherine Banwell:    

Oh, good for you.

Cindi Terwoord:        

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

Katherine Banwell:    

That’s a great idea.

Cindi Terwoord:        

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Cindi Terwoord:        

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

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

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Cindi Terwoord:        

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Cindi Terwoord:

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

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

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Pauline Funchain:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You’ve Chosen to Participate In a Clinical Trial: What Are Next Steps?

Understanding Common Clinical Trial Terminology

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


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Pauline Funchain:

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Pauline Funchain:

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

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Pauline Funchain:

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

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How Can Clinical Trials Be Accessed?

How Can Clinical Trials Be Accessed?  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Clinical researcher Dr. Seth Pollack and patient advocate Sujata Dutta explain the benefits of participating in a clinical trial. They review important questions to ask your doctor and share advice for finding a trial.

Dr. Seth Pollack is Medical Director of the Sarcoma Program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and is the Steven T. Rosen, MD, Professor of Cancer Biology and associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Pollack, here.

Sujuta Dutta is a myeloma survivor and empowered patient advocate, and serves a Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) board member. Learn more about Sujuta, here.

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What Is a Clinical Trial and What Are the Phases? 

Are Clinical Trials Safe?

A Patient Shares Her Clinical Trial Experience


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:    

Sujata, there’s clearly a lot of hesitation and misconceptions out there. What would you say to someone who’s considering a trial but is hesitant?

Sujata Dutta:  

I would say speak to your provider, speak to your doctor, and get all these myths kind of busted to say, “it’s going to be expensive” or whatever those questions are. And then, through that process also try and understand what is it that the study is trying to achieve? How is that going to be beneficial to you? So, in my instance, it wasn’t the last line of defense, it was just one of the processes or combos that would help me. And so, that was important for me to understand and then a little bit of education as well. So, I was asking, I have questions on my phone every time I meet my provider, and I did the same thing. So, I think that one of the good practices is keep your note of your questions and have those questions ready. And no question is silly, all questions are important. So, ask as many questions as you can and use that opportunity to educate yourself about it.

And maybe you realize, “No. I don’t think it’s working for me” or “I don’t think this trial is good for me.” But it’s good, important, to have that conversation with your provider, that’s what I would recommend highly.

Katherine Banwell:    

Excellent. Thank you, Dr. Pollack, if someone is interested in participating, how can they find out about what trials are even available for them?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

Yeah. I mean, the best thing to do is to start just by asking your doctor if they know about any clinical trials. And a lot of the times the clinical trials are run at the big medical centers that may be closer to you, so you could ask your doctor if there’s any clinical trials at the big medical center even. Or I always think it’s good to get a second opinion, you could go get a second opinion at the big medical center that’s close to you and ask them what clinical trials are at your center.

And sometimes they’ll be conscious about some of the clinical trials that may be even run around the country. And you can ask about that as well.

Katherine Banwell:    

Would specialists have more information about clinical trials than say a general practitioner?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

So, I specialize in rare cancers, so a lot of the times the general practitioners they’ve got my cell phone number, and they text me, and they say, “Hey, do you have a clinical trial going on right now?” And that happens all the time, but yeah, the specialists will usually because frankly there’s so much to know. And the general practitioners really have a lot to keep track of with all the different types of diseases that are out there. Whereas at the big centers, the specialists, part of their job is really to keep their tabs on what’s going on with the clinical trials.

So, they’re good people to ask, either your local doctor could reach out to them, or you could go get a second opinion and ask.

Sujata Dutta:  

There’s also a lot of information, Katherine, on sites such as LLS, or PEN, or American Cancer Society that they also publish a lot of information. Of course, I would recommend once you have that information then vet it by your specialist, or whatever. But if you’re interested in knowing more about clinical trials in general and some that would work for you, then those are also some places to get information from.

Katherine Banwell:    

That’s great information. Thank you, I was going to ask you about that Sujata. Well, before we end the program, Dr. Pollack, I’d like to get your final thoughts. What message do you want to leave the audience with related to clinical trial participation?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

Yeah. I think clinical trials it can be a very rewarding thing for a lot of patients to do, I think patients really like learning about the new treatments. And I think a lot of patients really like being a part of pushing the therapies forward in addition to feeling like sometimes they’re getting a little bit of an extra layer of scrutiny, because there’s a whole extra team of research coordinators that are going through everything.

And getting access to something that isn’t available yet to the general population. So, I think there’s a whole host of advantages of going on clinical trials, but you need to figure out whether or not a clinical trial is right for you.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. Sujata, what would you like to add?

Sujata Dutta:  

Absolutely, I second everything that Dr. Pollack is saying. And in my personal experience I wouldn’t say everything is hunky-dory, everything is fine. I’m going through treatment, I have chemo every four weeks, I started with chemo every week. That’s when the logistics pace was really difficult because going to Mayo every week was not easy. But anyways, as the trial progress itself every four weeks, but as I said the benefits are huge because I have labs every four weeks. I meet my provider every four weeks.

So, we go through the labs and anything amiss, I’ve had some changes to my dosage because I’ve had some changes in the labs. And so, there’s a lot of scrutiny which I like, but the flip side, for maybe some maybe like, “I have to have chemo every four weeks. Do I want to do that or not?” Or whatever. In my case, I knew it, and I signed up for it, and I’m committed to doing that for two years. And so, I’m fine with that. So, I would say all in all, I’d see more benefits of being in a clinical trial. One, you’re motivated to give back to the community. Two, you are being monitored and so your health is important to your provider just as it is to you. And so, I highly recommend being part of a trial if it works for you and if you’re eligible for one.

Are Clinical Trials Safe?

Are Clinical Trials Safe?  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Clinical researcher Dr. Seth Pollack explains the safety protocols in place for clinical trials, including how data is reported and protected. Patient advocate Sujata Dutta goes on to share her experience in a clinical trial.

Dr. Seth Pollack is Medical Director of the Sarcoma Program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and is the Steven T. Rosen, MD, Professor of Cancer Biology and associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Pollack, here.

Sujuta Dutta is a myeloma survivor and empowered patient advocate, and serves a Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) board member. Learn more about Sujuta, here.

See More from Clinical Trials 101

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Is a Clinical Trial a Last-Resort Option?

A Patient Shares Her Clinical Trial Experience

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


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Some patients feel that clinical trials aren’t safe, is that the case, Dr. Pollack?  

Dr. Seth Pollack:

No. I mean, we go through, as I was saying before, these clinical trials are extensively vetted. So, the safety is, of course, one of the things that we look most carefully about. But as I was saying before, like with any treatment’s cancer treatments have toxicity, that’s a common problem. So, and when you’re dealing with something brand new sometimes there is a little bit more risk. So, when you’re talking about these very early-stage Phase I trials you probably want to talk to your doctor about what sorts of toxicities you can expect and where they are in the Phase I trial. Are you the first ever to receive this new drug? And if you are nobody’s making you go in the clinical trial, so it can only help to get more information. Right? So, you should ask your team about it, you should find out. 

Most of the time there’s going to be a lot of patients that have been treated already, I mean, they can’t give you definitive data about how things are going but they can maybe say, “Hey. I’ve already treated a few patients on it, and they seem to be doing great.” 

Katherine Banwell:

So, you need to weigh the pros and cons of the trial. 

Dr. Seth Pollack:

You do need to weigh the pros and cons. Now, when you’re talking about these Phase IIs and Phase IIIs, I mean, these are drugs now that have really been vetted for their safety and we have a lot of data about it. And even the Phase Is, it’s not like these things are coming out of nowhere, they’ve been scrutinized, we really expect that they’re going to be safe but we’re doing the trial to prove it. So, it’s a good thing to ask about. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah, yeah. 

Sujata Dutta:

Yeah. I would also add that it’s so closely monitored that safety is a top priority, it’s front and center. So, the advantage, I think, with being on a trial is the close monitoring of the patient exactly for this reason. 

If something is amiss it’s going to be picked up as quickly as possible and you’re any issues are going to be addressed as soon as. So, I think, safety does get addressed pretty quickly.  

Katherine Banwell:

Good. 

Can data from trials even be trusted? Dr. Pollack, is that the case? 

Dr. Seth Pollack:

Well, of course, I mean, it can be trusted. Because the thing with the clinical trial data is that you really see the data and there’s all kinds of scrutiny making sure that the data is reported accurately. Now, there’s a whole other conversation we could have as to whether we could interpret the data differently. And sometimes that is an issue that comes up, but the data is reported very accurately. 

So, and there are statistics that are very well understood, and the bar is actually pretty high to say one arm of the trial was better than the other arm of the trial. So, if patients have better survival on one arm, if we say that, usually it means they did considerably better. Enough better that it wasn’t a random chance that one extra patient did better on the treatment arm. No. There were enough patients that did better that the statisticians can go through it with a fine-toothed comb. And they can be absolutely sure up to exactly how many percent sure they can tell you, 0.05 percent or less chance of error that this was a real difference between the study arm and the standard of care arm. 

Sujata Dutta:

I think you mentioned too that one is trust, and one is data. So, Dr. Pollack mentioned a lot about the data, I think the trust is also a very important thing. I like to go with positive intent because I do not have a reason to believe my doctor has some ulterior motive to suggest a clinical trial. And so, I trust them wholeheartedly. The first hurdle is you have to trust the system or what is being proposed to you because, as Dr. Pollack said, it’s gone through a lot of vetting. A recommendation to be part of a trial itself is vetted by your doctor when they make the recommendation. So, have faith, trust, that they are making a good recommendation. And then, of course, the data, I don’t know much about that, but as I said, I trust it. So, I would trust the data too. 

Katherine Banwell:

Of course. Of course. Some patients feel like they’re going to lose their privacy. Sujata, did you feel that at all? 

Sujata Dutta:

No. Not at all. 

I mean, with everything else that is also taken care of, my information, or whatever, is not made available to anybody. And so, obviously there’s a lot of people will get those, and I had a huge pile of paperwork to go through, but I think that’s a good thing. For my peace of mind that I knew that my information was not going to be shared outside of the study, the trial, etc., and things. So, no, I don’t think that’s a problem. 

Katherine Banwell:

Beyond these misconceptions is there anything else you hear? Dr. Pollack?  

Dr. Seth Pollack:

No. I mean, look, in our crazy modern world there’s concerns everywhere, but the clinical trial is very, very careful. Whenever possible we use the medical chart.  

And then, we have a very stringently protected database that’s storing people’s information, but it’s deidentified. So, I mean, we have a separate key to figure out who the patients are and then we try to limit the use of the patient’s name or any identifying information about them beyond that. So, and your information is not shared. For example, if there’s a drug company involved in the trial, your information is not shared with the drug company, you have a new identifier that is unique and not traceable back to you that is provided to whoever, if there’s outside groups working on the trial with you. So, your information is very carefully protected, and everyone is very conscious about issues regarding privacy.  

Katherine Banwell:

That’s great to know.  

Are Clinical Trials a Logistical Nightmare?

Are Clinical Trials a Logistical Nightmare?  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

PEN board member and myeloma survivor Sujata Dutta shares how her family managed the logistics of her clinical trial participation.

Sujuta Dutta is a myeloma survivor and empowered patient advocate, and serves a Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) board member. Learn more about Sujuta, here.

See More from Clinical Trials 101

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Is a Clinical Trial a Last-Resort Option?

Are Clinical Trials Safe?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:    

The logistics will be a nightmare and I don’t live close to a research hospital. Sujata, did you have that issue?

Sujata Dutta:  

Yeah. That’s a very interesting one, and actually I’ll share my experience. I did have this concern about logistics, because I got my transplant at Mayo Rochester, which is a two-hour drive from where I live. And so, when I got to know about it literally me and my husband were like, “Oh, my gosh. What are we going to do?” It’s not just me, my husband is my caregiver, he has to take the day off to drive me to Mayo, wait through my treatment, and drive me back. Then we have boys who were distance learning at the time, and so what do we do with them? Do we drop off a friends or take a favor from a friend? And so on and so forth.

So, the logistics was an issue and we literally said, “Thanks but no thanks” and we walked out of the room. And we came downstairs, and my husband was like, “What the heck?” My team understands everything, and I fortunately work for a very good employer, and they understand everything, people first. And so, he was like, “I can figure this out. Let’s do it if this is what’s going to help you, then let’s just figure this out.” And at that time, it was so good, and I have total respect for Dr. Pollack.

You and everybody in this medical community. My doctor who leads the trial at Mayo, she actually said, “Why don’t you check with your local cancer center? Maybe they are also approved by FDA, and they may be able to administer this treatment to you.” Unfortunately, at that time they weren’t but we were like, “We’re going to go ahead with the trial. It doesn’t matter.” My husband was like, “I’ll take the day off, you don’t worry about it.” And then, four months later my institute did get approved by FDA, and so I was able to transfer from Mayo to my local cancer center, Abramson Cancer Center, which is 20 minutes from home. And so, there are options, I know that it can be an issue and it can be overwhelming at the time which was the case with me. But I was able to overcome that, so maybe there are options available that the patients can consider.

Is It Expensive to Participate in a Clinical Trial?

Is It Expensive to Participate in a Clinical Trial?  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is there a financial cost to participating in a clinical trial? Dr. Seth Pollack explains how clinical trials participation is billed and potential financial impacts.

Dr. Seth Pollack is Medical Director of the Sarcoma Program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and is the Steven T. Rosen, MD, Professor of Cancer Biology and associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Pollack, here.

See More from Clinical Trials 101

Related Resources:

Is a Clinical Trial a Last-Resort Option?

Are Clinical Trials Safe?

Are Clinical Trials a Logistical Nightmare?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:    

Is this fact or fiction; it will be expensive? Dr. Pollack?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

That’s fiction because the way the clinical trials work is we go through everything very carefully to figure out what things are standard and what things are unique to the clinical trials. So, if you are getting chemotherapy, you’re going to need blood work, you’re going to need the chemotherapy drugs, you’re going to need some sort of imaging, CT scan, or whatever your doctor would do.

And all those sorts of things are considered standard, so your insurance company is built for those. Then there’s a bunch of things that are considered research. For example, there’s special research bloodwork, maybe there’s an investigational agent that’s being added to standard chemotherapy. Those things are billed to the study, so you don’t actually have to pay anything extra, it’s just like you’re getting the normal treatment as far as you’re concerned. I mean, that’s the way it always is, and I haven’t had any of my patients ever get into real problems in terms of the finances of these things. It always works very straight forward like standard therapy.

Is a Clinical Trial a Last-Resort Option?

Is a Clinical Trial a Last-Resort Option?  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Are clinical trials only meant as a last-resort option? Dr. Seth Pollack debunks this common clinical trial misconception and explains why he feels patients should participate when the opportunity arises.

Dr. Seth Pollack is Medical Director of the Sarcoma Program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and is the Steven T. Rosen, MD, Professor of Cancer Biology and associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Pollack, here.

See More from Clinical Trials 101

Related Resources:

Is It Expensive to Participate in a Clinical Trial?

Are Clinical Trials Safe?

Are Clinical Trials a Logistical Nightmare?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:    

Right. And another concern that people have is; clinical trials are my last resort treatment option. What do you say to that Dr. Pollack?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

Yeah, no. That’s a common misconception. So, we like to have clinical trials for every phase of the patient’s cancer journey because we’re trying to make every single part of the cancer journey better. So, I think a lot of people think that, okay, when they hit their last resort that’s kind of the time to try something new. Even in the very earliest parts of the cancer journey, even in the diagnosis phase sometimes we’ll have clinical trials where we’ve tried different images, modalities, or look at things in a different way in terms of the biopsies.

But then, in terms of the cured-of treatments, when somebody is in the cured-of setting we don’t usually try something very brand new. But a lot of the times we’ll try something that is very affective for patients at the end, and we want to try and make the cured-of strategy even better. So, a lot of the times for those patients we’ll have new therapies that are very safe and established that we’re trying to incorporate earlier into patients’ treatments because we know they work really well, right? And then, even in patients who have incurable cancer a lot of times it’s better to try a clinical trial earlier on just because sometimes the clinical trials have the most exciting new therapies that are bringing people a lot of hope.

And a lot of the times you want to try that when you’re really fit and when you’re in good shape. So, that’s why I think that you really want to think about doing a clinical trial when the opportunity arises.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. Beause it could be beneficial to you and it’s certainly going to be beneficial to other people.