Applying Patient Advocacy Initiatives to Your Patient Journey #patientchat Highlights

Last week, we hosted an Empowered #patientchat on applying patient advocacy initiatives to the patient journey with special guest Seth Rotberg (@Srotberg15). Seth is a rare disease advocate and motivational speaker who is passionate about bringing his personal experience to better support the health community. The #patientchat community came together and shared their best advice and tips.

Top Tweets and Advice


You Have Power





Be Confident





Patient Advocacy Has Benefits



Full Chat


Spotlight On: World Cancer Day 2019

Today is World Cancer Day, which is a day to unite people worldwide in the fight against cancer. World Cancer Day is an initiative of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC).

2019 marks the launch of the 3-year ‘I Am and I Will’ campaign. ‘I Am and I Will’ is an empowering call-to-action urging for personal commitment and represents the power of individual action taken now to impact the future. You can follow along with all of today’s happenings with the official hashtags #WorldCancerDay and #IAmAndIWill. Head on over to to learn more about:

  • Why cancer matters
  • How to take action
  • Find activities taking part around the world

For more information take a look at this infographic provided by


The Importance of Clean Air for Recovering Cancer Patients

Air quality is an important part of living a healthy life, and studies show that patients with certain forms of cancer can face more difficult odds during recovery if they live in areas with heavy air pollution. Patients who live in wide open, green spaces can also be affected, however, as homes have been known to contain, sometimes, even more pollutants than the air outside. And, you don’t even have to be diagnosed with lung cancer in order to feel affected by mold spores and other pollutants that are circulating throughout the air in a home or recovery facility. Learning how to combat at-home air pollutants and keep other bacteria at bay will help ensure a quicker, easier recovery.

Special Attention on Avoiding Infection

When recovering from cancer treatment, it’s especially important for patients to avoid contact with other people or any sort of allergen that could cause infection. This is why hospital rooms are kept so clean, in order to allow your immune system to build itself back up over time. Most recovery facilities and rooms will feature a HEPA air purifier that has the ability to catch and destroy any virus, bacteria or mold in the air. Air filters, therefore, are a great tool when to facilitate quick recovery, especially for patients diagnosed with upper respiratory types of cancer. High-quality filters can clean the average-sized hospital time up to 12 times per hour. If you’re going to invest in an air filter or purifier for your home, it’s important to look for one with a HEPA filter as it will help capture microscopic dust and allergens that can cause harm even after your treatment and recovery are over.

Keeping Home Clean During Recovery

Once you’ve been discharged from a hospital or care facility, it’s extremely important to keep your home very clean, for much of the same reasons of avoiding infection or viruses. While this includes washing bedding and clothing in hot water nearly daily and cleaning all hard surfaces with disinfectants, it also means managing the humidity and mold in your home. Seeing as humidity is the cause of a lot of home health problems, it’s a good idea to first invest in a portable humidity meter to stay on top of the levels. Then, you’ll want to ensure that the humidity levels never rise above about 60%. Doing so can permit mold, which can cause autoimmunity, fatigue, nausea, and even asthma, all of which are things you’ll want to avoid especially if you’re recovering from cancer treatment.

Clean Air Equals Peace of Mind

The great news is that there’s currently no scientific evidence to back the idea that exposure to mold spores can lead to cancer. The real issue at hand is purifying and dehumidifying the air to ensure that no other types of bacteria or virus can enter into your lungs and compromise your immune system during such a delicate recovery period. Clean air will ensure you can breath easily and relax as you embark on the journey that is recovery, and that peace of mind will mean everything once you’re back at home and ready to just rest.

Starting the Year Empowered #patientchat Highlights

On Friday, January 11th, we hosted an Empowered #patientchat on starting the new year off empowered. This time of year is a good time to reflect on the past year and set goals for the new year – including being empowered in your health.

Being an empowered patient can have many different definitions, but most include patients taking an active role in their health by furthering their education on disease and treatment options, participating in shared decision-making with healthcare professionals, and advocating for themselves to get the best care they deserve.

The Top Tweet Takeaways…


You Are the Expert of YOU

Inspire by Example

Organization is Key

Full Conversation

ASH 2018 – Tools for Staying Up-to-Date on CLL Research

CLL patient advocate, Lee Swanson, interviews Dr. Anthony Mato, Director of the CLL Program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center about the exciting news for CLL patients at the ASH 2018 meeting.


Lee Swanson:

Hello.  I’m Lee Swanson at the American Society of Hematology conference in San Diego joined right now by Dr. Anthony Mato from Memorial Sloan‑Kettering in New York.  And, Doctor, CLL, what’s come out now at this conference about CLL that patients want to know about?

Dr. Mato:

This has been a very exciting ASH meeting for patients with CLL.  There’s been a couple of big themes, but probably the largest is the comparisons of novel agents to chemoimmunotherapy combinations.  We saw two presentations looking at ibrutinib and rituximab as compared to the chemo combo FCR, which is a standard of care for patients who are young and fit, and we also saw a comparison of ibrutinib with or without rituximab, the antibody, compared to bendamustine Rituxan.

The overlying theme of the two presentations is that the patients who received ibrutinib tended to do better, certainly in terms of progression‑free survival and even in terms of overall survival with regards to the FCR comparison.  So a big theme is that there are fewer and fewer patients who are the right candidates for chemoimmunotherapy, and it appears that BTK inhibitors, at least as of this moment, will be the standard of care frontline for patients with CLL.

Dr. Mato:

So the good news and the bad news:  You don’t have to do chemotherapy.  On the other hand, chemotherapy is a defined six‑, seven‑month regimen.  Does this mean you’re taking a pill forever?

Dr. Mato:

Based on the current way that ibrutinib has been studied and labeled that means you’re on a long‑term‑‑it’s a long‑term commitment to ibrutinib.  There have been updates at the meeting of ibrutinib‑based and venetoclax‑based combination therapies where there is the hope that giving ibrutinib with a partner, for example, or venetoclax with a partner will allow us to treat to a fixed duration and then stop for patients, and that duration would either be based on some predetermined time point or on depth of response based on response criteria or minimal residual disease criteria.

So right now it’s a long‑term commitment, especially frontline.  In the long‑term I think we’re headed toward the direction where we can define which patients may stop sooner and then be retreated.

Lee Swanson:

If you stop, can you be retreated with the same?

Dr. Mato:

That’s a great question.  There’s not a lot of information about that, but there’s no reason biologically to think that that wouldn’t be a problem.  Specifically, if you stop in the setting of responding disease it’s not likely you’ve required resistance to that drug, and so retreatment should be a reasonable strategy.  We’re at Memorial Sloan Kettering now designing many trials that will try to answer those questions and allow us to stop either monotherapies by themselves or combinations to treat to a depth of response and then stop, so that’s something we’re really interested in.

Lee Swanson:

So if a patient gets a diagnosis now from‑‑sometimes from a primary care physician, of CLL what’s the conversation they should have?

Dr. Mato:

From the primary care physician?  Well, I think the primaries are great at identifying an elevated white blood cell count and the signs and symptoms of CLL even making the diagnosis.  Flow cytometry is readily available now to anyone who wants to order it.  I think the conversation with a primary care physician should be who should that patient see as a CLL expert to help guide the observation period which is important, as many patients are not treated initially, and also to help them to be informed as to how the field is changing.  Because the progress is so rapid you really need to have someone who is focused in on this area to help guide that particular management strategy long term.

Lee Swanson:

It’s important to get to a specialist, at least get a communication with a specialist.

Dr. Mato:

Exactly.  And of course the local oncologist and the internist are very important in terms of patient management, but ultimately there could be somebody who could help drive that‑‑some of the more important decisions based on the newest standards.

Lee Swanson:

So all of these things coming out, how does a patient keep up on what’s going on?

Dr. Mato:

That’s a really great and difficult question to answer because there’s so many different sources of information, some more reputable than others on advances in the field.  I think that probably the best source is having a physician, a trusted provider who is up to date, who can help interpret some of the more complicated findings from the research studies.  But in addition there are patient organizations and professional societies who are reputable, who provide up‑to‑date, very reasonable recommendations, either through their websites or through the literature that they provide for patients.

I think trying to avoid just general Google searches for advice on management of CLL is a good idea to not do.  I find that oftentimes things that get posted online can be just one‑off examples where somebody’s either extremely happy with care or very unhappy with an event, and it may not necessarily be representative for all patients.  So I would say professional societies, CLL focus, patient organizations, and then of course having a care team that’s very focused and very specialized in the area so that they can interpret what can be complicated.

Lee Swanson:

Okay.  Thank you very much, Doctor.  Appreciate your time.

Dr. Mato:

Thank you very much.  Yep.

Lee Swanson:

This is Lee Swanson.  I’m at the American Society of Hematology conference in San Diego.

ASH 2018 – Multiple Myeloma Highlights

A Multitude of Options in Myeloma

Dr. Robert Orlowski, Director of Myeloma and Professor in the Departments of Lymphoma/Myeloma and Experimental Therapeutics at The University of Texas MD Anderson discusses the multiple myeloma highlights and what patients can be excited about from the ASH 2018 meeting.


Esther Schorr: Hi there. This is Esther Schorr from Patient Power coming to you from ASH 2018 in San Diego, and I have with me today Dr. Bob Orlowski who has joined us at Patient Power before. He’s the Director of Myeloma and Professor in the Departments of Lymphoma and Myeloma and Experimental Therapeutics—that’s a very long title—at the University of MD Anderson—University of Texas MD Anderson. Sorry.

Dr. Orlowski: Thanks very much for having me.

Esther Schorr: I’m glad you’re here again.

Dr. Orlowski: It’s a pleasure to be back on Patient Power.

Esther Schorr: Thank you, sir. So what’s going on in myeloma now at ASH? What are the highlights? What are patients going to be excited about, and what are you excited about?

Dr. Orlowski: One of the exciting areas is definitely talking about the different therapies that are targeting what’s called BCMA or B-cell maturation antigen. This is a protein on the surface of myeloma cells, and the excitement about it is it’s a target which is almost only on myeloma or normal plasma cells, not on other kinds of tissues. And that’s important because if you want to target for immunotherapy, you don’t want that target to be on too many normal cells, or the immune therapy will kill those cells and cause side effects.

So there are really three categories of drugs now that are looking very attractive. One is what’s called an antibody-drug conjugate. So this is a plain old antibody that has another chemical attached to it, and it’s given usually IV right now, attaches to the myeloma cell. It then gets inside the cell and the drug is released. So the antibody is essentially like a carrier molecule.

Esther Schorr: Kind of like a cruise missile?

Dr. Orlowski: Sort of like that. I like that analogy, yes. And then it blows up, using that analogy, the cancer cell once it’s inside.

So one of the first of these drugs that already is in the clinic is showing a 60 percent response rate in very heavily pretreated patients. The registration study, meaning the trial that hopefully will get it approved by the FDA, has already finished enrolling, so we’re hopeful that maybe by the end of 2019 this drug as a single agent will be available. And it’s really easy to give. It’s IV once every three weeks, which is pretty darn good.

Esther Schorr: And what’s the drug called? I’m sorry I missed that.

Dr. Orlowski: Well, it’s a good question. Actually, it doesn’t have a name yet, which is why I didn’t tell you what it’s called, but the abbreviation for it is GSK 916.

Esther Schorr: Okay.

Dr. Orlowski: And the reason for that is it’s actually quite expensive to come up with a name, because they have to find a name that, first of all, is not confused with other drugs so that it minimizing errors and also one that us poor feeble-minded doctors will remember so that we prescribe it often.

Esther Schorr: We’re not sure how you can remember all the letters anyway. Okay. So that’s one. Is there something else going on that you got to share?

Dr. Orlowski: So a second category of drugs that target the same protein, BCMA, the first formal presentation of those data were shown here at ASH, and this is what’s called BiTE or Bi-specific T-cell engager. And it’s sort of is a molecule, if you want to use the cruise missile analogy, that has two war heads. One end binds to the cancer cell. The other end binds to the patient’s own T cell, brings them together and the T-cell attacks the cancer cell. So it’s a way to use immune therapy with the patient’s own immune cells, and there are reports here of the first one of these which is called AMG 420. Again, doesn’t have a name yet, but it’s showing in very heavily pretreated patients complete responses with MRD, or minimal residual disease, negativity, which is really exciting.

Esther Schorr: So and that’s different than—and we’ll probably talk about it in a minute—that’s different than CAR-T.

Dr. Orlowski: Exactly.

Esther Schorr: Okay. So we can talk about that in a minute.

Dr. Orlowski: Yeah, that would be great. So the next topic is the CAR-T, also against B-cell maturation antigen, or BCMA. It’s a little more complicated though because what you have to do is you take out the patient’s own T cells and then in a laboratory you infect them with a virus. The virus has a gene in it that expresses a receptor on the T cells so that they can better recognize the cancer cells.

Esther Schorr: An invitation.

Dr. Orlowski: Exactly. Kind of. I like that.

Esther Schorr: Okay.

Dr. Orlowski: And then you infuse the cells back into the patient. They find the cancer cell, they attack it, and they kill it. So it’s great, because it’s personalized. It uses the patient’s own T cells. The problem is that it takes two to four weeks to manufacture the cells after they’ve been taken out of the patients, and so in the meantime the myeloma can sometimes be creeping up. So that’s one problem.

And also there are activities with the disease or with the T cell against myeloma, but there are also some side effects like cytokine release syndrome. But the response rates with some of the more advanced molecules are in the 90 to 100 percent range, and the durability of that is at least a year to 18 months, depending on what patient population you look at. And those are the most mature data of the three categories of immune therapies that we’ve talked about.

Esther Schorr: So of those three are any of them being looked at for first-line therapy, or these are at the moment still for people who have relapsed or are more difficult cases?

Dr. Orlowski: Right now it’s more for very advanced disease, but there are already trials planned with all three of these technologists in earlier patients and some in newly diagnosed patients, especially those with high-risk disease, because they still don’t do as well with standard therapies that we have. So it’s really an exciting time because these are some of the best results we’ve had in very difficult to treat patients, which means they should work even better when we give them earlier.

Esther Schorr: So one other question then. What’s happened to stem cell transplants for multiple myeloma patients? With all of these new combinations of treatment s, where is that in the mix of consideration for treatment?

Dr. Orlowski: Stem cell transplant is still considered part of the standard of care for patients with newly diagnosed myeloma, and in some cases it can be used for relapsed disease, especially if the patient had a really good durable benefit with a first transplant. The advantage of the stem cell transplant right now is that it with works very well, the toxicity profile is very well defined, and compared to a CAR-T cell it’s actually relatively cheap. But as the technology hopefully becomes cheaper and more available there would be great interest in comparing outcomes of people getting chemo plus a transplant, for example, versus chemo plus a CAR-T cell.

Esther Schorr: So it sounds like there’s a lot more options that are coming up for multiple myeloma patients. Is there anything else that patients that are listening would want to know about, that they should feel good about?

Dr. Orlowski: Well, there’s a lot more data with other immune therapies including earlier use of daratumumab (Darzalex), which is an anti-CD38 antibody. One of the presentations, which is still to come on Tuesday, shows the data of that drug with lenalidomide and dexamethasone in previously untreated patients, and the results really look excellent. So that will probably be one of the new standards of care for transplant ineligible patients. And there are studies ongoing with daratumumab in transplant eligible patients as well.

Esther Schorr: That’s a lot.

Dr. Orlowski: And that’s not all of it, but I think that may be all we have time for.

Esther Schorr: Thank you so much, Dr. Orlowski, for being with us again and making this a little more comprehensible for us normal mortals.

Dr. Orlowski: Thank you very much.

Esther Schorr: This is Esther Schorr coming to you from ASH. And remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or PEN. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

5 Ways to Detect Cancer Before It’s Malignant

Cancer are diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and can invade nearby tissues. Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems. In 2018 statistics, Cancer appears to be the second leading cause of death worldwide. It is responsible for an estimated more than 9 million death in 2018. About 1 in 6 deaths globally are caused by Cancer. There are several main types of cancer. There are several causes of cancer, however the main cause of cancer is the change or mutation in the Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) of cells. There are some factors that would lead to cell mutation. Usually cancer cells are genetics and that means it is hereditary. Other factors also are, individual’s lifestyle, diet, smoking, environment such as exposure to radiations and exposure to viruses and other infections.

There are several types of cancer nowadays, however according to statistics the following are the most spread types of cancer:

  1. Lung (2.09 million cases)
  2. Breast (2.09 million cases)
  3. Colorectal (1.80 million cases)
  4. Prostate (1.28 million cases)
  5. Skin cancer (non-melanoma) (1.04 million cases)
  6. Stomach (1.03 million cases)

Symptoms of cancer may vary depending on the type of cancer an individual has. However common symptoms of cancer are already established according to studies. The C-A-U-T-I-O-N U-S mnemonics is already an established common symptom of cancer according to studies, viz:

C- Changes in bowel or bladder habits;

A- A sore that does not heal;

U- Unusual bleeding or discharge;

T- Thickening or lump in the breast or any other part of the body;

I- Indigestion or difficulty swallowing;

O- Obvious change in a wart or mole;

N- Nagging cough or hoarseness;

U- Unexplained Anemia;

S- Sudden Weight loss.

Like in most diseases early detection plays an important part in the prevention and intervention of diseases. The same concept is very important also in cancer. It would help a lot in determining what type of cancer a person has and correspondingly its proper management. Once cancer is early detected, it can be prevented from spreading more damages to the person’s body by providing adequate and proper remedies. In most cases, cancer can be detected by the individual upon experiencing the above stated signs and symptoms. Some cancer may cause severe pain in the affected body parts, while some may cause unusual bleedings, sores and other unusual tissue growth that are visible and palpable to the infected individuals. According to studies, there are established cancer self-assessment methods applicable to men and women. In women, the breast self-examination (BSE) is applicable. It can be done regularly by women usually upon taking a bath and every month for purposes of detecting any lump in the breast. In men, the Testicular self-examination (TSE) is applicable also with the same duration in women. However, there are some cancer cases that are asymptomatic. In these cases, diagnostic tests may be conducted by the proper medical experts.

The following are the 5 common ways or methods to detect cancer:

  1. Biopsy– In most cancer cases, biopsy is the main method to determine whether cells are cancerous. In this method, the doctor will get a tissue sample for examination to be used in diagnosing cancer. The method of getting tissue samples can be made possible either through an image-guided biopsy, ultrasound, x-ray, computed tomography scan (CT scan), fluoroscopy and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Depending on what method used by the doctor the purpose is just to aid in guiding a specific organ or body part where the tissue samples can be obtained.
  2. Barium Enema – In this method an enema is required to clear the colon for purposes taking images through X-Ray by a radiology technician. This is used to detect colon cancer.
  3. Ultrasound– This is a method of taking images on the body part where cancer is suspected. It uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of internal body organs. The sound waves hit the organs and bounce back to a device called a transducer. The transducer turns the sound waves into images that are shown on a computer. There are two individuals that will conduct this method. The first individual is the sonographer or the specialist that operates ultrasound machine. 12 hours before the test, the patient is required to be in a “nothing per orem” (NPO) status, which means that the patient will not be allowed to eat or to drink 12 hours prior to the test. However, 1 hour before the test the patient is required to drink a quart of water to keep full bladder. During the test, the patient is required to remove his clothes and any metal object and is required to lie down on the examination table. The sonographer will then apply the echo gel to the skin of the patient in order to block the air pockets for better imaging quality. The Sonographer will then press the transducer firmly against the gel and move it back and forth. After the images are taken, the second individual, the radiologist, which is a medical doctor will then interpret the images for purposes of diagnosing cancer.
  1. Bone Scan– This method uses a small amount of radiation to detect cancer cells that start to propagate in the bones and bone tissues.
  2. Endoscopy– This method uses a thin scope that has camera on its tip connected to the monitor in order to determine any lumps or unusual tissue growths in the patient’s Gastro-intestinal tract.

In most cancer cases globally, early detection is the key to prevent extensive damages that are caused by cancer cell proliferation. It is also very important for proper cancer management.

Ask the CLL Expert – Dr. Richard Furman

Ask the CLL Expert – Dr. Richard Furman

CLL specialist Dr. Richard Furman, Director of the CLL Research Center at Weill Cornell Medicine, answered patients burning questions live in this installment of Ask The Expert.



Andrew Schorr:

And hello.  Greetings.  I’m Andrew Schorr in southern California, San Diego area, and I’ve been living with CLL for 22 years, so I’m vitally interested in today’s Ask the Expert session, this Patient Empowerment Network program.  We want to thank PEN, as we call it, and also the financial supporters of this program, AbbVie Incorporated and Pharmacyclics, although reminding you that they have no editorial control.  You’ll be hearing from our leading expert in CLL in just a minute.

Over the next 30 minutes or so we’ll get to as many questions as we can.  Remember not to make it too personal.  Let it help everybody in the community.  And also discuss what you learn with your own CLL provider so you get the treatment that’s right for you.  Okay.

Let’s meet our expert joining us from New York City and Weill Cornell medicine, and that’s Dr. Richard Furman, who is the director of the CLL research center in New York City at Weill Cornell.  Dr. Furman, welcome back.  Thanks for being with us.


Dr. Furman:

Thank you.  It’s my pleasure.  Thank you for having me.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  We have lots of questions.  One of them that somebody wants to know about is, first of all, if they’ve been‑‑maybe this is an easy one.  If they’ve been diagnosed with SLL, small lymphocytic lymphoma, is that the same as CLL and what we’re talking about with CLL applies to them?


Dr. Furman:

So that’s a very important question, and this is one that I actually think is very indicative of how little we used to know.  So in 1993 we actually had a diagnosis of CLL, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and a diagnosis of small lymphocytic lymphoma.  And we had patients that were diagnosed with SLL if they had a lymph node sent to the pathologist, or they were diagnosed with CLL if they had a bone marrow biopsy sent to the pathologist.

Clearly, we knew that patients could only have one diagnosis and not two, so in 1994 with the new lymphoma classification system the term was actually changed to be CLL/SLL.  So they really are exactly the same entity.  We don’t actually refer to differences anymore, and the whole, the whole individual‑‑the whole disease should be called CLL/SLL.

Now, an important thing is sometimes people require having a lymphocytosis to meet the definition of CLL, but the truth is both conditions are exactly the same.  Both should be treated exactly the same, and there should be no difference based upon having a lymphocytosis.


Andrew Schorr:



Dr. Furman:

Why this is most important, let me just add, is that there are sometimes people will be diagnosed with stage IV SLL and it’s very important to recognize that these stage IV SLL patients unless they have thrombocytopenia below 100,000 like the Rai stage would indicate really are not stage IV.  So the lymphoma staging system would automatically make them stage IV, and that’s certainly not correct.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Good point.  All right.  Here’s a question we got in from Julia and Betty and Shelly and Mark.  They all asked a similar question.  They’ve been on Imbruvica for five years now with success.

Is it working for most people, and what are some reasons why it doesn’t work for everyone?  And then what treatment options do you recommend if they relapse on Imbruvica?


Dr. Furman:

So right now I think the most important, there are a lot of prognostic markers available for CLL.  At last count we’re probably up to 115.  What’s most important is in 2018 what are those prognostic markers that really are relevant to the patient, and really as long as you stay as CLL you’re going to be able to have your disease very nicely controlled with our current agents and our novel agents.

So there are certain things that do indicate patients are likely to progress on ibrutinib, not likely progress must but who may progress, and people who might need something more, and that’s where a lot of our current clinical are research is focused.  So patients who have a risk of developing a Richter’s transformation or patients who have a likelihood of developing a BTK mutation that might generate resistance to ibrutinib are the two groups of people that we worry about most.

17p deletion is probably the most important predictor for predicting those patient outcomes.  There are other things that are predictive as well like having a NOTCH mutation.  Those are all readily obtainable prognostic markers that allow us to determine who’s at risk and who’s not at risk for progressing on ibrutinib.  If you don’t have 17p deletion or NOTCH1 mutation you have almost a 99 percent chance of being free from progression at five years on ibrutinib.  And it looks like most of the people who are going to progress will progress within five years.  So I think making it to that five‑year mark is really very‑‑is the most important thing.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  So if you do progress, what then?


Dr. Furman:

So fortunately we have a lot of great agents.

Venetoclax works very effectively in patients who progress on ibrutinib, generates some very, very deep responses and very long‑lasting responses.  So that’s certainly one option.  Another option is to be treated with a PI3‑kinase inhibitor.  So we have idelalisib and duvelisib now approved.  We will shortly have umbralisib approved as well as a novel agent.  We also have a whole array of other agents coming down the pipeline looking specifically at means for progression on venetoclax.  So we have an MCL1 inhibitor which targets the protein that’s likely responsible for resistance to venetoclax.  So all these things are actually currently in clinical trials and certainly will hold a great deal of promise.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Here’s a question we got in from Jeff.  He says, for young and fit patients with relapsed disease what are the best combos now and coming.  And I suspect maybe Jeff had received FCR, so if he relapses after FCR, what about that?


Dr. Furman:

So my belief is that these novel agents should always be used up front, or if you’ve gotten chemotherapy up front they should be used immediately at relapse.  A lot of patients and physicians have the idea that there’s a benefit to holding back until you really need something, but I believe putting our best foot forward first is always the best approach.  So I always recommend going forward first with BTK inhibitor therapy, followed by venetoclax or venetoclax followed by BTK inhibitor therapy.  And I think so in a patient who has relapsed after FCR it will be ibrutinib or acalabrutinib.  In a patient who has relapsed after acalabrutinib and ibrutinib would then move on to venetoclax.

Now, what I’m really very excited about is the possibility of the combination of either BTK inhibitor therapy plus venetoclax or PI3 kinase inhibitor therapy with venetoclax.

You know, both of these combinations really take advantage of the synergy that happens when you take a BCR antagonist like ibrutinib, acalabrutinib or idelalisib and duvelisib and combine it with a Bcl‑2 inhibitor.  And it really sort of enables us to get very, very deep remissions with actually as short as just 12 months of treatment.  And so those are what we’re currently testing in patients right now and what I hope will be the frontline treatment for patients in the not‑too‑distant future.


Andrew Schorr:

Now, one of the things people wonder about is if you take these big guns and put them together could you, like you’ve been able to do with FCR, stop treatment or take a break from treatment at some time.


Dr. Furman:

So I’m a big believer in that if something’s working and you’re tolerating it well that we shouldn’t mess with it, but we are currently studying two different processes with relationship to the ibrutinib plus venetoclax combination.  So we’re taking patients who become MRD negative on the combination after 12 months and randomizing them to either just get ibrutinib or to get placebo.  And so that’s going to give us information as to whether or not it’s safe to stop patients on the combination and treat them with nothing long term.  We’ll see, one, how many patients relapse, and hopefully none, and, two, if they do relapse whether or not we can then restart ibrutinib and control their disease.  So this will provide us that important question as to whether or not we’re giving up something by discontinuing the therapy.

We’ll have as our comparative those patients who got ibrutinib plus venetoclax for 12 months and then just remained on the ibrutinib.

And so that will sort of be the patients who will continue on with their therapy, and then the other half will be patients who have discontinued all their therapy.

My belief for going to venetoclax is that you’re going to get almost all of the bang for your buck out of the first 12 to 24 months, so continuing it is unlikely to yield an additional benefit, so I think stopping it is safe.  But, once again, these are the studies that will provide us with those data.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Now Maureen sent in a question where they responded to venetoclax and rituximab and they wondered what about testing for minimal residual disease?  They don’t have any lymph nodes or anything, but is that then appropriate to do a MRD test to see how deep the remission is?


Dr. Furman:

So the real important question should be whether or not that’s going to impact upon clinical management.

So MRD testing is easy, it’s noninvasive, it’s a peripheral blood test or a bone marrow biopsy, which I guess is only relatively noninvasive, and the information though is really not going to be of use.  So if you’re taking a patient who’s on ibrutinib and you’re going to continue the ibrutinib knowing the MRD status won’t change anything.  Likewise, if you have a patient who’s on venetoclax, who’s going to get a year of venetoclax on trial and then stop, knowing the MRD status won’t change anything as well.  So currently there’s no real reason for doing MRD assessments in patients except for just the ability to know.

Now, one day there’s some modeling that suggests that the time it takes you to reach MRD negativity is half the time you need to be on a substance, an agent, before you can actually claim to have a deep enough remission that you won’t relapse.  So we may one day say if you’ve been on ibrutinib for five years and became MRD negative, then 10 years of ibrutinib is enough and you can stop.  But that’s currently just theoretical and based on mathematical models.


Andrew Schorr:

Theresa wrote in, she said, my husband is being treated with acalabrutinib for five months.  He’s doing well, but should he have some sort of testing to know whether he will develop some sort of resistance in the future?


Dr. Furman:

So that’s a very important question, and the answer really is, you know, testing for it now isn’t going to be able to change anything.  Right now we would still continue the acalabrutinib until we see signs of clinical progression.  There’s some early data emerging from Ohio State where they’re doing PCR testing on all the peripheral blood of patients, on the peripheral blood of all patients to see whether or not they can detect any of these mutations that lead to resistance.  The problem is you’re still going to continue the treatment until you see the clinical relapse.

And, two, is you really‑‑you know, in essence when you look at the data that suggests that 92 percent of patients who get ibrutinib as a first‑line therapy will remain in remission at five years you’re talking about treating‑‑or testing a lot of people for very, very few people that will likely benefit.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  So if you have a question now, send it in,, and we’ll do our best to pose it to Dr. Furman.  Okay.

So Beth with wrote in and wanted to know is there work going on on a CLL vaccine?


Dr. Furman:

So we’ve been playing with CLL vaccines for at least the past 25 years, and a lot of these vaccines were originally designed to be what we call antiidiotype, meaning they were directed against the antibody made by the cell itself.  Unfortunately, a lot of those vaccines have not proven effective, and we’ve gone through a lot of different iterations.  We’re still trying, and hopefully one day we will have better success.

Right now a lot of our current research is focused on not so much the target that the vaccine should be against but ways to make the vaccine more effective.  Things like using PD‑1 inhibitors, which can actually make the tumors more apparent to the immune system.  Or using things that can actually enhance the presentation of the actual vaccine to the immune system, and that includes everything from idelalisib and ibrutinib to other different molecules that may actually make it more readily apparent.

Now, we do also have some new targets like ROR1, which may prove to be very exciting and interesting, but this is still all very far away from anything that will be approvable.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Now, here’s a question we got in from Cerisa, said, my understanding is that most drugs aim at destroying the CD20 protein like rituximab or obinutuzumab, etc.

Well, what about, CD9, CD15, CD23?  Are they not as bad as CD20 in CLL?


Dr. Furman:

So the thing that’s really important to keep in mind is only our monoclonal antibodies attack one protein in particular, and so we have obinutuzumab, rituximab, and ofatumumab all of which address or target CD20.  CD20 was the first protein targeted for two reasons.  One is it’s ubiquitously expressed on all B‑cell lymphomas, and so it’s a way to identify a target that we can actually generate one treatment for that will work in a large number of people.

The second is it’s a protein that doesn’t seem to actually get endocytosed or down modulated so that it remains positive in the cases most of the time.  One of the problems with some of the other proteins you mentioned is that they’re not expressed on the CLL cell.

So CD3, CD15, those are not present on CLL cells, but they’re also present on a lot of other cells as well.  The key about CD19 and 20 is that they’re only on B‑cells, and we really can actually do okay without our B‑cells.  And so that way the down side to knocking an out all our B‑cells is actually relatively minor.  And the CAR‑T cells, which are T‑cells taken out and reprogrammed, they’re reprogrammed to be directed against CD19 and 20, so in a way they work like the monoclonal antibodies.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Lynn wrote in and asked about transplant in CLL, and I’ve met people who have had transplant, so where does transplant fit in now, and does CAR‑T cell experimental therapy maybe supersede that?


Dr. Furman:

One well, one of the things that’s important to keep in mind is that CAR‑T cells are still very novel, and the long‑term efficacy is not yet there, so we still need to do a lot of work to help that.

My belief is allogeneic transplants are very effective but they’re also very toxic and dangerous, and I do believe that they should be avoided if at all possible.  So I am very, very selective in who I refer for allogeneic transplant.

With our novel agents like ibrutinib, idelalisib, duvelisib, umbralisib, acalabrutinib, vecabrutinib, zenabrutinib, the list is just rapidly growing, I almost believe that the patient who really needs an allogeneic transplant will only be those patients who have developed or are at high risk of developing Richter’s transformations.  So I really do believe there’s a very limited role for allogeneic transplant at this point in time.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  And CAR‑T, you’re watching it.


Dr. Furman:

I am.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Here’s a question that came in from Mike, and this is the bottom line for a lot of people when they’re diagnosed, and he says, what is the current state of treating CLL for those of us watch‑‑he says wait and see patients or watch and wait.  In other words, is it curable?


Dr. Furman:

So right now CLL is not curable.  The way that I would love everyone to start approaching CLL is very analogous to high blood pressure.  So we don’t cure high blood pressure, but if you take a pill a day it’s not going to have an impact on your longevity.  And I believe we’re there for about 75 to 80 percent of CLL patients, where they will be able to get a BTK inhibitor or a Bcl‑2 inhibitor or a combination and they will be able to not have to worry about their CLL for the rest of their lives.

There’s still the 20 percent who are going to develop either a Richter’s transformation or a progression on ibrutinib, and those are people we’ve got to figure out what to do differently for.  But all the others, even though it’s not curable, we can definitely I think keep it from having an impact on longevity.

People on watch and wait who are high risk of progressing and developing a Richter’s or progressing onto developing resistance to ibrutinib, we do have a couple of trials that are very interesting right now where we’re treating people at diagnosis with BTK inhibitors with the hope, because they’re so well tolerated and because they’re so effective, we might be able to have an impact and prevent those patients from developing resistance or developing a Richter’s transformation.


Andrew Schorr:

Wait a minute.  So are we looking at what has been the traditional watch and wait period differently now and some people will be treated much earlier?


Dr. Furman:

Well, we’re just starting to look at that right now in clinical trials.  So this is very early.  It’s for a very select group of people.

We know from the data‑‑so we have seven‑year data coming out at ASH this year where we’re going to have a group of people who were watched and waited and only when they had evidence of disease progression and needed treatment and got ibrutinib, 92 percent of them were still doing well and free from progression at seven years.  So for those 92 percent of patients we couldn’t do any better.  So it’s really just a very small group of patients who need something extra.

So, yes, we’ve proven I think in a large number of patients that BTK inhibitor therapy might be all that’s necessary, but in everyone else, in those 8 percent we do have studies going on to try to answer how to treat them differently.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  So we got a question early on about somebody who was asking about should he be taking a statin along with his oral therapy for CLL.  So people have other conditions.  So what about that?


Dr. Furman:

So if you have hyperlipidemia you should definitely be on a statin, otherwise, no, you don’t need a statin.  I think it’s important to keep in mind that there was a lot of data generated at one point about statins perhaps changing the CD20 expression on the surface of the CLL cells or making rituximab or other anti‑CD20 antibody therapy more efficacious.  I’m not aware of any data that suggests there’s an impact to statins on non‑anti‑CD20 therapy efficacy, and I think the impact on anti‑CD20 antibody efficacy is actually really quite small and unlikely to generate a significant difference.  So I really don’t believe there’s a need to do anything outside of just treating your lipids.


Andrew Schorr:

I promised our audience weeks ago that I’d ask you about this.  So should we have flu shots?  Should we have the shingles vaccine?


Dr. Furman:

So, absolutely.  Everyone should definitely get a flu shot each year.  And it’s important to get the flu shot each year because the immunity doesn’t persist.  So I actually recommend people get vaccinated either October or early November.  All right?  So any earlier than that I worry that you’re going to have your immunity peak before the height of the season, and later than that you may not actually have sufficient time to respond.

Regarding the shingles vaccine, so there’s a new shingles vaccine called Shingrix which is a recombinant vaccine, so it’s not a live vaccine, and that’s how it’s different than the previous shingles vaccine.  The previous shingles vaccine was an attenuated or live virus vaccine, and CLL patients really shouldn’t have taken it because it really theoretically could have caused shingles.

Now, the old shingles vaccine was also not very effective, so even though the risk was low with low efficacy there’s really no risk/benefit assessment that puts it in favor of doing.

But the new shingles vaccine actually has been tested in patients post autologous bone marrow transplants, so it’s very effective in patients who are very immunosuppressed, and because it’s not a live vaccine it is safe.  So I do recommend it for everyone.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Dr. Furman, so you mentioned it earlier and we’ve heard about a lot of programs, the 17p deletion and I almost think of it as the dreaded 17p deletion, but is that necessarily true?  Pam wrote in, she said, I have the 17p deletion.  What are my options?  So first of all, are all 17ps alike, and then what are the options?


Dr. Furman:

So the thing that’s most important to keep in mind when we talk about prognostic markers is they’re really just surrogates for clinical behavior.  And so the answer always is going to be if you have historical data that’s always going to trump the prognostic marker.

So someone who is 17p deleted and their disease has remained stable for the last five years, their disease is stable, and the 17p deletion is not going to be what drives the prognosis.  I think that’s very important because when you look at a curve you’re going to see some people doing well and coming off the curve late and some people doing poorly coming off the curve early.  You know, where they are on the curve we have no idea how to predict.  All we know is that they’re on a particular curve.  So prognostic markers tell us about the population, never about the individual.

Now, with that being said, we do know 17p deletion a lot of it, the percentage of the deletion if you’re above 20 or below 20 does have an impact on how you do overall.  So 20 percent and below, they‑‑patients seem to have a better prognostic outcome than the patients who have 20 percent and above.

With that being said, I do have patients who have 17p deletion in 70 percent of their cells and they’re just hanging out doing quite nicely.  So clinical behavior does trump everything else.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  So, obviously, most CLL patients are older.  I’m 68 now, but I was diagnosed at 45, which is pretty young, but here’s Matthew who writes in he was diagnosed at age 31 and he wonders, he knows a lot of the statistics but he knows it’s mostly older people.  He’s trying to figure out, well, what’s his life going to be like.  So what do you say to younger patients with CLL today?


Dr. Furman:

So, remember, we’ve only had these novel agents since 2010, and so what I really do believe is that we really don’t know how good things are going to be yet.  I think things are going to be a lot better than we ever envisioned, so I am quite optimistic about the future.

We don’t know whether or not a 31‑year‑old could enjoy a normal long life expectancy but if they don’t have evidence of or suggestions that they’re going to have particularly aggressive disease and develop resistance to a BTK or a Richter’s transformation, they could theoretically have 40 years on a BTK inhibitor.  And so that’s certainly what my hope is for the future.

You know, all the survival curves that people talk about and all the survival curves that people show really don’t take into account any of the novel agents, and that’s always very important to keep in mind.  So we do some have data.  As I mentioned, the seven‑year data is coming out from‑‑will be out at ASH, and the seven‑year ibrutinib data really suggests almost a nearly flat curve for patients with CLL who get ibrutinib as a front‑line treatment.


Andrew Schorr:

So you mentioned over the years the Rai staging system, and Dr. Rai, the grand old man of CLL.

So how does that apply now?  You know, somebody’s diagnosed with CLL, they come across this Rai staging system, but is that meaningful for them today, or are there new ways of looking at it?


Dr. Furman:

So the Rai stage really still drives when we’re going to treat patients.  So patients are still treated based on meeting, you know, the classic indications for initiation of therapy.  So Rai stage 3 and 4, namely hemoglobin less than 11 or a platelet count less than 100,000, really are the two primary reasons why people initiate therapy.  We know that if you watch and wait someone until they meet classic criteria and they have disease that doesn’t harbor one of these high‑risk changes we know that they’re going to do extremely well.  So that’s good news.  Whether or not patients who have these other markers should be treated before they have aggressive disease is on open question.

Now, what I really do think that’s also important to keep in mind is, you know, the watch and wait ideology really came about when we had therapies that were not very effective and also were quite toxic.  Now that we have these novel therapies that are far less toxic and highly effective, maybe the bar should move towards initiation of therapy sooner, but that’s still on open research question and not one that we know the answer to yet.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  And Bob has had the same treatment I’ve had.  He had Gazyva or obinutuzumab with high‑dose methylprednisolone, and now that was, gee, about two years ago, and now his CLL has started to show up in his spleen and his lymph nodes.  He said, well, can he be treated with the same combination again, or might he move to something else?


Dr. Furman:

Well, that’s going to depend on a lot of factors.  Most importantly is whether or not there was, you know, he had received the full dose in which case the likelihood is that with just a two‑year remission I would expect that retreatment would generate a shorter remission this time, and the risks associated with high‑dose methyl prednisolone plus obinutuzumab probably don’t outweigh, or aren’t going to be‑‑the risks are going to outweigh the benefits that would be gained if we’re talking about a response that’s going to last less than two years.  So it would probably be better to move on to additional agents.  And, fortunately, we have so many others that I think it would be a way to avoid resistance and also develop‑‑avoid, actually, the toxicities associated with high‑ dose methylprednisolone.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  We’ll take just a few more questions, and thank you, Dr. Furman, for sticking with us.  And I relate to this one.  So I did have the obinutuzumab and rituximab years ago, and I developed sort of a history of sinus infections for a while and even some chest congestion and I’ve seen other people write in about it.

Do we have the sinus or the respiratory issues from the CD20 antibody or is it something else?


Dr. Furman:

So it’s important to recognize that CLL patients, 75 percent of CLL patients will develop hypogammaglobulinemia, and that hypogammaglobulinemia is probably most of the cause of the chronic sinusitis, chronic bronchitis, sort of that‑‑those issues with having the constant drainage.  So I do believe that CLL in and of itself is certainly the first factor that impacts upon that.

The anti‑CD20 by itself will also cause a lot of those problems as well, so the two together are just a double hit.  But we do know that CLL patients, totally regardless of their prior‑‑regardless of their prior treatments will run into those issues.

Now, with that being said, what people often forget is the most common cause of a chronic sinusitis in anyone, even a CLL patient who’s gotten obinutuzumab, is still going to be a deviated septum,  or it’s going to be a blocked sinus channel, so I always recommend and I always insist on all my patients being evaluated by an ear, nose and throat doctor first just to make sure there isn’t something anatomical that could be fixed.


Andrew Schorr:

I went to an ENT the other day, and also I’ve been doing‑‑and I know my Dr. Kipps here is urging me, I’m doing the nasal wash and all that stuff, just trying to have sinus hygiene, if you will, working on that.

Okay.  Couple more questions.  Aukie wanted to know, and we’ve talked about this in the CLL world forever, should he be taking a green tea extract?  Is there any validity for that?  What do we know?


Dr. Furman:

So my belief is no.  I think it’s important that we have a lot of alternative medicines, medicines that have been studied, and until they show evidence clinically I do believe that it’s important to actually stay clear of them, and there are a couple of reasons why.

So a lot of things work in the laboratory, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to translate into working clinically.  And a lot of the medications that are sold as alternative medications or homeopathic medicines are unregulated and can make claims that aren’t substantiated, but they also don’t have their products necessarily vetted.  So we’ve had a number of examples of people who have been taking a root or have been taking some leaf that’s turned out to be laced with amphetamines.  So a leaf that claims to enhance your energy output, absolutely, if it’s laced with amphetamine will certainly be able to accomplish that.

So it’s important to keep in mind that anything that’s made naturally or that occurs naturally doesn’t actually get regulated the same way as pharmaceuticals.  There was also a change in the laws in the 1990s where anything that was natural didn’t have to be tested and approved by the FDA, so the claims that they make‑‑like Tony the Tiger can say that Frosted Flakes are great without proving that in a randomized controlled clinical trial.  Because it’s a naturally occurring substance it can make claims that aren’t necessarily substantiated.  I do worry about that.  And there are some definite cases of patients coming to harm from taking medication‑‑from taking supplements that weren’t well regulated.


Andrew Schorr:

So, as you know, so many of us complain about fatigue with CLL.  What can we do about that?  Is there any medication or something you feel comfortable about as a supplement that could help with that?  Certainly, we’ve been telling people exercise is a good thing and can give you more energy, but what do you tell your patients when they talk about fatigue?


Dr. Furman:

So this is actually a very common question, and I really do believe it’s very important to remember that having CLL doesn’t protect you from the things that befuddle the rest of us.  So the most common cause of fatigue in a CLL patient is not going to be the CLL but it’s going to be the same thing that befuddles the rest of us.  So it’s poor sleep hygiene.  It’s not sleeping long enough.  It’s all those things that really should be addressed first and foremost.  So we see a lot of sleep apnea that’s undiagnosed.  We see a lot of people who are just not sleeping long enough.

If we’ve ruled out everything else and a patient seems to have progressive disease, yes, there are definitely patients with CLL whose fatigue is related to the CLL, but I’m a big believer that fatigue related to CLL should only be present in a patient who really has active signs of CLL.  So if someone is on watch and wait and their lymphocyte count is not changing and their lymph nodes are not enlarged, their fatigue is not going to be related to their CLL.

But if someone’s lymphocyte count’s climbing and their lymph nodes are growing then certainly their fatigue might in part be related to their CLL.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  This has been like being on a game show.  I keep throwing things at you.  I want to thank you for all your time.

Folks, we’re going to let Dr. Furman go, but we will be doing other Ask the Expert sessions and doing some live broadcasts in from ASH.  ASH, you alluded to, Dr. Furman, always has more coming out, more longer range studies, combination information.  So just to wrap up with, for those of us living with CLL, and, thank god, so many of us long term, me, 22 years, are you very hopeful that you have more options for us now no matter what our CLL situation is?


Dr. Furman:

I really do.  I think we have some amazing options now.  We have also the data that our current crop of novel agents really can be safe and effective long term, and that’s what I really think is so important to be cheerful about.

And in those patients who do progress we have a whole crop of other agents that will prove to be hopefully effective in those situations.  But I think it’s going to be the‑‑you know, the home run though is going to be the combination of BTK and Bcl‑2 inhibitor therapy or PI3 kinase and Bcl‑2 inhibitor therapy because in those situations I really do see patients getting very, very deep remissions that I hope will be extremely long lasting.


Andrew Schorr:

Think about it, folks.  I mean, I got FCR, a three‑drug combination, in 2000, 18 years ago, and it worked for a long time.  So the idea of combination therapy has worked well in cancer therapy hitting those cancer cells in multiple ways.  Dr. Furman, thank you so much for being with us today.


Dr. Furman:

My pleasure.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  From Weill Cornell.

And I just want to mention for our audience, remember we’ve got a lot coming up.  On Wednesday, November 28, we’re going to understand the ins and outs of watch and wait for those of you who are in that situation.  From the big ASH meeting in San Diego‑‑yay, I don’t have to get on a plane to go anywhere‑‑we’ll be also doing live broadcasting so be sure to be signed up for that.

And then on December 5th we’re going to talk about the financial issues because, as Dr. Furman talks about, combining these oral therapies, these are expensive, and so what support is there for you so you get the combination should you need it and it’s affordable.  So keep an eye on that.  Go to the Patient Empowerment Network’s website,, and take a look at what we have on Patient Power as well.  Thank you so much, Dr. Furman.  Thanks to our audience and stay tuned for what comes out of the ASH meeting.  I’m Andrew Schorr.  Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or PEN. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Notable News: November 2018

November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and if ever there were a cancer that needed an awareness month, it’s lung cancer. Sometimes referred to as the invisible cancer, lung cancer is a disease caught up in a smoke cloud of misconceptions, and those misconceptions can prevent patients from early detection, treatment, and support. Several of the myths and misconceptions about lung cancer are addressed and dispelled in a recent article at One of the main myths is that you only need to worry about lung cancer if you are or ever were a smoker. That’s simply not true. In fact, people who have never smoked can get lung cancer, and it can be a genetic disease. Other myths include the belief that there are no early detection screening processes and that there has been no progress in lung cancer research. While it’s true that other cancers seem to have more screening options and better prognosis, advancements are being made in lung cancer. Organizations such as Patient Empowerment Network are making progress in building awareness and reducing the stigmas about lung cancer. See the rest of the myths and misconceptions and how they are dispelled here.

There is nothing sweet about having lung cancer, but there may be a sugary clue that could lead to earlier detection, reports Researchers have discovered that early-stage, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) tumors and precancerous lesions produce high levels of a molecule that they use to consume sugar to help fuel their growth. The molecule, called SGLT2, could be used to detect early stage NSCLC. Researchers also found that a diabetes drug, which blocks SGLT2, also prevented tumor progression in mice, which shows promise for possible future treatment of NSCLC. Further studies of SGLT2 could hinder the development of malignant NSCLC, and more information about this hopeful development can be found here.

Another hopeful lung cancer development comes in the form of a hot needle, reports The treatment, called radio frequency ablation, is being used to diagnose and treat difficult-to-reach tumors. In addition to being able to destroy the tumor by heating it up with radio frequency energy, doctors are able to use the needle to remove part of the tumor for biopsy. The needle works in place of attempting to access the tumors through invasive surgery. The hot-needle treatment is considered safe for repeated use, and a report showed that half of the patients treated with the hot needle survived at least five years. More information about this hot new treatment can be found here.

We would be remiss if we didn’t note that November is also National Family Caregiver’s Month. There are approximately 43.5 million unpaid caregivers in the United States and they are a critical component of a cancer patient’s journey. It is important for caregivers to make sure they are practicing self-care as well, and there are a number of resources available to them to help ensure caregivers have the information they need to care for their loved ones and themselves. The PEN Path to Patient Empowerment guide provides resources for care partners, including links to the Family Caregiver Alliance website and the American Cancer Society Caregiver Resource Guide. Chock full of information for caregivers about caregivers and the patients they care for, these resources are a must have for any caregiver and can be found here and here.

Oh, and November is also the month where we give thanks. Happy Thanksgiving from the PEN Family to your Family. We are thankful for you!

Patient Empowerment Photo Contest!

The Patient Empowerment Network is now accepting entries for our Patient Empowerment Photo Contest!

We’re looking for compelling, surprising, and stirring photographs that share a view into the patient and care partner world.Photos may be submitted to three categories:

  1. What Empowerment Means to You
  2. Family and Care Partner Experience
  3. A Day in the Life/Behind the Scenes of the Patient Journey

You may enter as many photos per category as you would like and the top entry in each category will receive a prize!

Submit your entries by posting your photo on social media with the hashtag #PENBeEmpowered or by emailing by December 21, 2018 at 11:59 PM. Good luck!

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  1. Entries must be original work.
  2. Entries can be submitted by posting your photo on social media with the hashtag #PENBeEmpowered on social media or by emailing by December 21, 2018 at 11:59 PM.
  3. Categories of entry include: 1) What Empowerment Means to You 2) Family and Care Partner Experience 3) A Day in the Life/Behind the Scenes of the Patient Journey
  4. Each entry should contain the following information: a) Title of photograph b) Name of photographer (first and last) c) A short (1-3 sentences) caption d) Photo contest category e) Entrant’s contact information (telephone number, e-mail address)
  5. Entrants are welcome to enter as many photographs per category as they like.
  6. The top entry in each category will receive gift cards to businesses to be determined.
  7. Entries will be judged by PEN staff and Board of Directors. Entries will be judged on artistic expression, creativity and originality, and the quality of the image. All decisions of the judges are final. The contest organizers reserve the right to disqualify entries which do not conform to the stated contest rules and criteria.
  8. Winners and runners-up will be announced on the PEN website and Facebook page on January 7, 2019.
  9. Photos will be displayed on the PEN website, PEN 2018 Annual Report, and other social and digital outlets. Select photos will be used in future PEN promotional materials.
  10. Entries may not contain brands or logos. Entries that contain any inappropriate material will be disqualified.
  11. By submitting a photo, entrants are agreeing to grant the PEN the absolute and irrevocable right and permission to use, re-use, publish, and re-publish the photographs in displays related to the contest; in PEN printed and electronic publications and in conjunction with any copyrighted matter, in any and all media now or hereafter known for illustration, promotion, art, advertising and trade, news, informational and educational purposes and to copyright the same, under its original name or otherwise. The entrant thereby releases and discharges PEN from any and all claims and demands arising out of or in connection with the use of the photos, including without limitation any and all claims for invasion of privacy.

Submit your entries by posting your photo on social media with the hashtag #PENBeEmpowered or by emailing by December 21, 2018 at 11:59 PM. Good luck!




Molecular Profiling, Cancer, and You

When you get a cancer diagnosis, your doctor might, or might not, bring up the topic of molecular profiling. If s/he doesn’t, you definitely want to bring it up yourself, and here’s why: the results of that molecular profiling can significantly impact your cancer treatment options.

The conversations about this topic that I have been privy to, in both patient and clinical communities, tell me that not every doctor is aware of the full array of genetic testing options for every type of cancer. This means that patients need to fully participate in conversations about tools that put precision medicine on the table, which start with conversations about molecular profiling of your specific cancer cells. If your clinical team doesn’t bring it up, you need to bring it up.

Another conversation gets opened when you bring up molecular profiling for your cancer: the one about insurance coverage. Genetic testing is less expensive now than it was ten years ago, but it still carries a pretty hefty price tag.  There isn’t a lot of hard data on the cost of specific tests – like much of healthcare, it seems to be a case of “if we tell you, we’ll have to kill you” when it comes to price tags before purchase – but commercial tests like Caris Molecular Intelligence (formerly Target Now) (priced at $5,500) and OncInsights (priced at $4,000) are pretty steep, particularly if you have a high deductible plan. If your health plan covers testing you’re, well, covered. If not, you’ll have to pony up some serious coin to get your cancer’s molecular profile.

Here’s where the power of community in cancer comes into play. If we, as people dedicated to transforming cancer treatment – patient, clinician, policy wonk, family caregiver, or all of the above – work together to push for full coverage of molecular profiling as both a standard of care for cancer treatment, and a 100% covered service to cancer patients, we’ll start seeing some “cancer moonshot” promised become reality.

Since medicine is a science, and scientists want proven data, here are some tools to use to advocate for making molecular profiling standard, and covered. From the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2011, Ready or Not: Personal Tumor Profiling Tests Take Off; from the Journal of Clinical Medicine & Research in 2004, The Promise of Molecular Profiling for Cancer Identification and Treatment; from Medscape in 2014, Can Molecular Profiling Lower Cancer Costs?

If you’re dealing with a cancer diagnosis right now, and want to bring up molecular profiling with your clinical team, here are the key questions to ask:

  • What are the benefits of molecular profiling for my specific type of cancer?
  • Is my cancer tissue a good candidate for molecular profiling?
  • Will molecular profiling improve my treatment options?
  • When should my cells be tested?
  • How much will testing cost, and will my insurance cover it?
  • What if I’ve already had treatment — does molecular profiling give me any options?
  • What are the risks of testing?

The answer to your cancer lies in its DNA. Don’t miss a chance to survive, and thrive – put your DNA to work in your cancer treatment.

Mental Health Challenges for Aging Americans

Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published for the Georgetown University Online FNP Program and can be viewed here.

While there’s many benefits to enjoy during your golden years, including time spent with loved ones after retirement, the American Psychological Association External link  (APA) says that aging “also comes with unique challenges: the loss of close friends and family members; complex and debilitating medical issues, such as sight and hearing loss; and increased financial pressure.” Identifying these challenges is becoming more important: Although recent research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology External link  found that people tend to be happier as they age, it is estimated that 20 percent of the 65 and older population External link  meets the criteria for some type of mental health disorder.“While seniors are less likely to be depressed than younger people,” Suzanne Allard Levingston writes in an article for The Washington Post External link , “the size of the baby boom population will demand new strategies to care for them.

The most common mental health disorders for aging Americans are depression and anxiety, which are also leading risk factors for suicide. Nursing@Georgetown created the following infographic to help illustrate some of the common signs and risk factors of depression among aging Americans.

View the text-only version


Symptoms of depression include persistent sadness, withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities, difficulty sleeping, physical discomfort, self-medication via substance misuse, and feeling lethargic, according to the CDC. They go on to note that depression is not considered a normal part of growing older External link , and while it is normal to experience sadness, grief, loss, and mood swings, depression that impacts a person’s ability to function requires treatment and support.

Anxiety often goes hand in hand with depression, according to a publication from the CDC and the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACDD) External link . The report goes on to highlight how almost half of older adults who are diagnosed with depression also meet the criteria for anxiety. The effects of anxiety include persistent worry along with physical symptoms that can include muscle tightness, restlessness, difficulty sleeping, stomach problems, and nausea all lasting for an extended period of time.

The APA outlines External link  how serious the physical consequences of depression and anxiety can be: “The feelings of hopelessness and isolation that often spur thoughts of suicide are more prevalent among older adults, especially those with disabilities or confined to nursing homes.”

The rate of suicide External link  among both men and women ages 65 to 74 has steadily increased over the past two decades. In 2014, the highest suicide rate in the country was among people 85 years or older External link .

The Role of Primary Care

There are several reasons why treating depression in the elderly poses a unique challenge. Common among patient’ concerns are: “inadequate insurance coverage, stigma around mental health… denial…and lack of transportation,” according to the APA External link . Systemic reasons include things like a shortage of trained geriatric mental health providers and miscommunication between health care providers.

In addition, when older adults visit their primary care providers, they tend to focus on physical symptoms rather than talk about how they’re feeling or what they’re experiencing mentally and emotionally, according to a fact sheet from the Illinois Department of Public Health External link . This can lead to mental health issues that go unrecognized, untreated, or undertreated. For example, the AARP External link  points out that depression is sometimes misdiagnosed as dementia.

The good news is that there are effective treatments for depression, and adults with depression can improve from treatment if they receive it. Primary care providers such as Family Nurse Practitioners play an important role by identifying at-risk older adults and taking necessary follow-up actions by implementing routine mental health screenings and treating symptoms that negatively impact quality of life.

Please note that this blog post is for informational purposes only. Individuals should consult their health care professionals before following any of the information provided. Nursing@Georgetown does not endorse any organizations or websites contained in this blog post.

Ask the CLL Expert – Dr. Jeff Sharman

Ask the CLL Expert – Dr. Sharman


“Ask the Expert” session with CLL specialist Dr. Jeff Sharman from Willamette Valley Cancer Institute and Research Center.


Recorded on: September 27, 2018

Andrew Schorr:
Greetings to this live Ask the Expert program for those of us dealing with CLL. I’m Andrew Schorr from Patient Power. Welcome to this Patient Empowerment Network program with financial support from AbbVie and Pharmacyclics. Thank you so much for being with us.

We have a wonderful expert with us today who is so knowledgeable about this, and that is Dr. Jeff Sharman. Dr. Sharman is the medical oncologist, of course, one of them at the Willamette Valley Cancer Institute and Research Center in Oregon. He’s also the medical director for hematology research at the US Oncology Network with oncologists all across the country. Jeff, welcome back to our program.

Dr. Sharman:
Thank you so much. It’s nice to be here today.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. Let’s get started. We have a lot of questions coming in, and if you, our viewer, have an additional question send it to and we’ll cover as much as we can in the next half hour.

Here’s a question that came in based on news events that people follow related to CLL, and this is from William. He says, I heard there’s a new drug approved for CLL, duvelisib. Can you tell more about this? Where does it fit in in the CLL landscape?

Dr. Sharman:
Absolutely. Duvelisib is another PI3 inhibitor. It has considerable molecular similarity to idelalisib, which was the first in class medication approved amongst the PI3 inhibitors a few years ago. This molecule has considerable both biochemical similarity, structural similarity but also quite a bit of clinical similarity. So when you look at the patient population in which it’s approved, similar clinical trial designs led to approval, and so as a result it’s sort of in the third‑line setting that you could use it.

It is a‑‑the drug class is a sort of the whole PI3 family of which there’s a growing number. There’s idelalisib, umbralisib is in late‑stage clinical trials. Copanlisib is approved in follicular lymphoma but not CLL. And as a family they tend to be utilized less frequently than the BTK inhibitors such as ibrutinib and to some degree less frequently than venetoclax, as well, the Bcl‑2 family, and that has to do with some of the side effects, that there is, a frequency of diarrhea, LFT abnormalities and so forth. So it follows on the heels of idelalisib, and I would say has more similarities than differences.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. Let’s go on. You mention about side effects. People ask about that all the time, so here’s a question from Judy. She says, I’m not able to get an answer from my husband’s oncologist regarding ibrutinib and severe body cramping. Have there been any reports showing this is a possible side effect from ibrutinib?

Dr. Sharman:
Absolutely, it is. It is‑‑well, absolutely possible, let’s say that. It actually is what I would say one of the most common side effects that I encounter as a limitation for ibrutinib. The medical term for it is arthralgias, which is sort of translates into joint pains. Sometimes you’ll also see actual cramps or spasms. I’ve had patients’ hands lock up when they’re driving sometimes, which can be a little bit concerning.

There is I think considerable question in the field. There are differences amongst thought leaders on this as to whether‑‑how to best manage it.

There’s some studies that suggest that lower dosages may‑‑after a patient has been on ibrutinib for a length of time you may be able to get away with lower dosages. Those pieces of clinical trial data are not as large and not as well validated, so I think it’s still in the hypothesis‑generating mode, but there’s some data that suggest you could do it. And if the choice was lower dose of ibrutinib or no dose of ibrutinib, I would probably go with a lower dose.

The other potential solution now is acalabrutinib, which is a second BTK inhibitor approved. It is approved by the FDA for mantle cell lymphoma. However, a lot of the clinical trials are in chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and there have been studies that looked at patients who have limited tolerance of ibrutinib, and in many cases they were able to go on acalabrutinib without a recurrence of the same side effects.

So that’s another possibility. It is in the NCCN guidelines that for those patients who have intolerance of ibrutinib consider acalabrutinib. So whether it’s dose reduction or drug substitution, those are sometimes two ways that I use to get around that scenario.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. Now, we should be clear that acalabrutinib is not yet approved for CLL. Does it seem like that’s forthcoming? I mean, nobody can guess the FDA, but.

Dr. Sharman:
Yeah. So the clinical trial that will lead to approval, presumptive approval, was a head‑to‑head comparison against investigators’ choice of bendamustine rituximab or idelalisib rituximab, and that study is fully accrued and waiting for end points.

And I think that the feeling would be that should be a positive test and that it would eventually get CLL approval. Most of the studies have been done in CLL. It’s just the mantle cell indication came along more quickly.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. All right. A lot of people worry about other side effects like fatigue, of course, in CLL. So here’s a question from Patty. She says, I’ve been taking 60 milligrams of Vyvanse, which is often used for ADHD, for extreme fatigue that she struggles with. And she says her blood pressure is elevated, and she’s read that that can be a side effect of Vyvanse. Are there any new or additional medications that can be used to treat fatigue without the worry of high blood pressure?

Dr. Sharman:
The way I would approach that situation, fatigue‑‑what I don’t know about this particular patient, is this fatigue that is attributable to the CLL or fatigue that’s attributable to medications?

CLL fatigue is probably one of the most bothersome sort of clinical realities, and for some patients even though they may not meet other treatment criteria such as rapid rise in white blood cell counts, systematic (?) inaudible adenopathy, marrow dysfunction. Sometimes fatigue is so debilitating that you need to do treatment for it. In the 2008 guidelines, fatigue was one of the‑‑it was like the sixth indication for when you treat CLL.

And I’ve seen some patients, you know, one immediately jumps to my mind. He’s clinician himself, very busy individual, likes to surf and so on and so forth, but his CLL left him so fatigued that he had to cut back on clinical work and so forth. And getting his CLL under control really made a huge difference for him. So in the setting of CLL I think that you may wish to consider talking to your doctor about going ahead and treating.

I find those are difficult, difficult discussions because if you don’t have the more classic indications for therapy it’s hard to know. Because fatigue can be a number of things. It can be thyroid dysfunction. It can be hormone imbalance with other hormones. It can be nutrient deficiencies and so forth.

Andrew Schorr:
It could be having three kids.

Dr. Sharman:

Andrew Schorr:
Yeah, I know. Lots of things.

Here’s another question from Bob. Bob wants to know, will approaches likely change for first‑line treatment, for instance venetoclax, or Venclexta, within the next two years? You have ibrutinib first line.

Dr. Sharman:

Andrew Schorr:
You have FCR that’s been around. You have idelalisib I think could be used first line.

Dr. Sharman:
Actually, idelalisib is specifically contraindicated for first‑line therapy because of side effects.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. So what about first‑line therapies, Jeff? Where are we there and what’s coming?

Dr. Sharman:
Yeah, so you’re kind of in this bind currently where your choices are chemoimmunotherapy or targeted therapy, and both of them have strengths and weaknesses. The strength of chemoimmun0therapy is that you give treatment for a fixed duration of time, and then you get treatment‑free interval that in properly selected patients should be measured in multiple years.

Andrew Schorr:
I went 17 years.

Dr. Sharman:
Yeah, absolutely. So effective therapy in appropriately selected patients. Now, when I say appropriately selected patients, that does get into some of the nuance about FISH changes and IGHV mutation, and I will tell you even amongst thought leaders in the field there’s some debate as to where you draw the line. Some patients are more suitable for ibrutinib either because of co‑morbidities or wish to avoid chemotherapy, but at least as of today ibrutinib is something you start and then stay on indefinitely.

And per the prior question, some patients have difficulties with that, whether it’s arthralgias or bruising bleeding and so forth. The medication you made mention of I think is the frontline therapy that may have the most profound impact on treatment selection in the next two years.

Andrew Schorr:

Dr. Sharman:
So the German Research Group, which is really just absolutely one of the best out there, have fully enrolled a clinical trial of obinutuzumab venetoclax versus chlorambucil and obinutuzumab, and I have to believe that that is going to result in a superior outcome for the venetoclax arm and that we will have the combination of obinutuzumab venetoclax for front‑line setting.

And what’s really appealing about that is that is one year of treatment and then treatment is suspended and stopped. And though we haven’t compared that to more traditional BR or FCR, I think it would be a highly effective regimen. We are currently conducting a study in the United States in our research network looking at the combination of obinutuzumab and venetoclax, and what I like about our study is we give‑‑for the listeners who might not be familiar with venetoclax, starting venetoclax is a little bit clunky because it works so quickly we have to be careful about a condition called tumor lysis syndrome, which is if you kill too much cancer cells too quickly that can cause some dangerous conditions, and venetoclax does do that.

And so what we’re doing is we’re giving two months of obinutuzumab and sort of getting rid of the bulk of the CLL and then starting the venetoclax hopefully under much safer conditions because, you know, in the Pacific Northwest we would say you can’t have forest fires if you don’t have any trees. So if we get rid of all the CLL or a substantial fraction of it somebody is less likely to have tumor lysis. So I think that’s the approach that is probably the next up in frontline.

The one other thing that could potentially change is acalabrutinib has conducted a three‑arm study‑‑excuse me, Acerta with acalabrutinib, where they give‑‑it’s a three‑arm study with either chlorambucil Gazyva, acalabrutinib or acalabrutinib with Gazyva. And so does the addition of a C‑20 antibody make BTK work better, remains the question outstanding.

Andrew Schorr:
All right. Let me just explain things to people. I’ve been around this for a long time and Jeff deals with these acronyms all the time. So, first of all, Gazyva is the same as obinutuzumab.

Dr. Sharman:
Thank you, yes.

Andrew Schorr:
It’s an infused CD20 that’s targeting the CD protein on the B‑cell, the bad guy, and it is sort of I don’t know if you’d describe it as a more powerful version but it followed from Rituxan or rituximab that many of us had. So the idea is you have an infused therapy for some length of time, and then you may have an acalabrutinib with it or you may have a venetoclax or Venclexta with it. Get I get it right, Jeff?

Dr. Sharman:
Yes. And if I just had one other comment. I think there are a lost questions and certainly some very compelling data about the combination of a BTK inhibitor such as ibrutinib with a Bcl‑2 inhibitor such as venetoclax.

Andrew Schorr:
Two pills.

Dr. Sharman:
Two pills, yes. And I think the preliminary data really looks extremely encouraging.

The challenge with that approach is it’s not approved in that combination and probably not going to be approved in the next two years unless the FDA does something that maybe I’m not anticipating at this point. That clinical trial that compares that to an existing standard is really only just getting off the ground now.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. All right. Let’s buzz through some others. So John writes in, please compare purpose and benefit differences for FISH testing versus next generation sequencing. So maybe you could explain them too.

Dr. Sharman:
Absolutely. Thank you for the question. It’s one that I think is often very difficult to comprehend.

So a little bit of history here is that we’ve known for a long time with that patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia have a pattern of common chromosome gains or losses, and we generally pay attention mostly to five separate categories.

There are some others that people sometimes look at, but ranging from sort of worst to best, worst is having a loss of chromosome 17p and P stands for petite arm, so part of the short arm of chromosome 17 is lost. 11q, Q stands for the long arm of chromosome 11. And then you have normal chromosomes or the addition of an extra chromosome 12 or the loss of a portion of chromosome 13 that kind of goes from worst to best. And that is very different than actual mutations in genes. So these are wholesale losses of large clunks of chromosomes.

And if you look at 17p the reason that 17p is bad is because there’s a particular gene there that’s very important called TP53, and you can actually have a mutation in TP53 without the presence of a chromosome loss. And so next generation sequencing looks at a host of additional genes that really until the last three to four years we didn’t know have the significance that they have. So TP53 is probably the most important, but you’re also seeing things such as SF3B1, NOTCH1, FA1. There are a variety of them that are out there. Some are better understood than others, and I think to some degree we’re still as a field even trying to figure out how best to integrate these into our clinical practice.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. So would you recommend for the typical CLL patient that they have FISH testing, which tells you about the chromosomes, right?

Dr. Sharman:

Andrew Schorr:
And when do we need to do genomic testing to see with whether if any of those genes you just rattled off?

Dr. Sharman:
Yeah. So I can tell you about my own personal practice on that. I do think that the field, as I indicated before, is still trying to digest this, and a number of those specific mutations there isn’t necessarily super robust consensus as to when is the best time to draw those. So I’ll explain how I’ve thought through it, and if that resonates with you.

So my question in the previously untreated patient is whether or not this patient is suitable for chemoimmunotherapy. Previously I said appropriately selected patients get very long duration responses. I don’t want to give chemoimmunotherapy to a patient who is not going to get a sustained benefit.

If I anticipate that I’m only going to get 18 months benefit or two years of benefit, it is not worthwhile in my mind going through the chemotherapy to get that. I would rather put those patients on a tyrosine kinase inhibitor.

So my first stratification is the IGHV mutation status, and I would say in general if somebody’s mutated, which is the more favorable form, I would tend to err more on the side of chemoimmunotherapy for those patients. For those who are unmutated, which is the bad one, I would tend more towards targeted therapy. These aren’t totally black and white.

But my next level of stratification is FISH. So if you’ve got a bad FISH finding even if you’re in that favorable category I strip you out from the chemotherapy group.

Andrew Schorr:
So like if you had a 17p deletion, those chromosome deletions?

Dr. Sharman:
Yes. So if you’re mutated, which you think is good, but you also have a 17p, then I wouldn’t give that individual chemoimmunotherapy.

So if you have good IGHV, good FISH, good functional status and I’m thinking about give you FCR, that’s my final check is let’s make sure there’s not something lingering underneath the surface here that I don’t know about. So that’s where I check it.

Now, in the relapsed/refractory setting it is more the norm that those patients are almost all going on novel agents where those mutations are sort of a little bit less salient, so I don’t necessarily check that. However, I do recheck FISH with successive lines of therapy because that certainly can evolve. And to make things even a little bit worse now for somebody who has been on BTK, we need to think about BTK mutations and whether or not that patient might be suitable for a second‑ or third‑generation BTK inhibitor that can get around that.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. And the genomic testing, when do you do that?

Dr. Sharman:
Well, so genomic testing is looking for those smaller mutations that don’t show up on FISH.

Andrew Schorr:

Dr. Sharman:
So that’s my final break point before I would give somebody chemoimmunotherapy. But I will tell you, there are opinion leaders out there who will argue that chemoimmunotherapy is dead and shouldn’t do it.

Andrew Schorr:
Right. There are.

Dr. Sharman:
I’m in the camp that thinks there’s still purpose and value in doing that in appropriately selected patients.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. Let’s get to some others. So Grant said he was diagnosed with a double diagnosis of diabetes and then, as he had additional testing, voila, he also had CLL. So he’s currently able to control his diabetes, and he’s in watch and wait for CLL. Is there any advice for me going forward with these two conditions? Diabetes and CLL.

Dr. Sharman:
It‑‑so I guess my question in such a circumstance is how is that CLL behaving. If he has a molecularly favorable CLL and he’s on watch and wait and things are simmering along, it may very well be that his diabetes poses a greater threat to his overall health than the CLL.

In contrast, somebody with an unmutated 17p deleted CLL, it’s the CLL that’s going to be more dangerous. Fortunately, the treatment interactions don’t overlap all that much. Sometimes with chemoimmunotherapy we give steroids, and that can be problematic for patients with diabetes, but I would manage them by and large independently.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. We’ve gotten several other questions. Sharon, we got yours and Jason. They were asking about first line with ibrutinib, and I think we spoke about that and other choices that may have a different side effect profile if ibrutinib has a problem. And also Sharon had written in about she’s in this watch and wait and she wonders about FCR, and I think we can hear from you that FCR and maybe BR in some cases, which is this chemoimmunotherapy approach, still has a place in your mind. So, Sharon, stay tuned.

Lucy wrote in. She says, given the 17 (?) (p53) deletion what role does that play in determining the beginning of treatment for the CLL naive patient, and you were just saying probably not FCR or BR.

Dr. Sharman:
Yeah. Boy if somebody had a 17p deletion I would strongly advise against traditional chemoimmunotherapy. I think it can actually be more harm than good in some cases.

There is a more subtle point though that I would jump onto, which is what factor does it play in first‑line therapy. It’s not so much the agent. Some people feel like because they’ve got a 17p they need to jump into treatment sooner rather than later.

I will tell you I have several patients with 17p deleted CLL that I’ve been able to watch for years and years and years without treatment. The indications for starting therapy really remain the same. If I see somebody clearly heading towards treatment with a 17p I may start them a little bit earlier, but again some of these folks can be watched and wait quite well.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. You’re a director of research, and we’re starting to hear about CRISPR or gene editing.

Dr. Sharman:

Andrew Schorr:
So do you think this gene editing will play a role in CLL?

Dr. Sharman:
Hoo, boy. You know, I think that probably dovetails with the question you didn’t ask, which is about CAR‑T cells. I think CRISPR, for members of the audience who may not be familiar with it, is a highly efficient, highly directed way of making genetic manipulation within cells,

and with a lot of the gene therapy that’s been done over the years we sort of randomly insert genetic material into cells to sort of reprogram them. That’s sort of the classic way of doing gene therapy. The problem with that is there are parts inside the genome that don’t like to be broken, and so the field really was set back a number of years when there were some early cases of leukemia caused by gene therapy.

And so what CRISPR does is it does allow you to make very targeted genetic modifications so that you can precisely put in new genetic material sort of wherever you want it. And I think that in the context of CAR‑T therapy there’s now goals to make it much more off the shelf than this sort of highly manufactured thing, and that’s where I would see CRISPR having the most likely early role.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. So CAR‑T, chimeric antigen receptor T‑cell therapy, taking a virus, I think, and combining it with stuff for your T‑cells, targeting your CLL. So Lynne just asked, she’s 71, would somebody older like that‑‑tomorrow is my 68th birthday, folks‑‑would we be candidates for CAR‑T should we need it?

Dr. Sharman:
Well, I need to articulate some of my limitations as a community practice oncologist, thus far the CAR‑T research has been sort of in the exclusive purview of academic centers, so I haven’t had the chance to do it yet. That having been said, we are working with a variety of sponsors to get such a program up and running.

However, I will say there’s a lot of enthusiasm in CLL because the original New England Journal of Medicine paper that described CAR‑T was done in both pediatric acute leukemia and adult chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and it is now approved by the FDA for the pediatric ALL, acute lymphoblastic leukemia. It is not approved for CLL. And part of that‑‑there’s a lot of reasons why it doesn’t work as well in CLL as it does in other diseases, and I think that the‑‑it’s okay that this is moving a little bit more slowly in the CLL field because I think we’re getting a lot of benefit of accumulating knowledge in how to make it work best in CLL. I think it will become an important therapy in CLL.

Keep in mind that the toxicity of chimeric T‑cell is significant, and the possibility of neurotoxicity or this syndrome that looks a little bit like sepsis that’s not sepsis but it looks like it in a lot of ways, what we call cytokine release syndrome make this a therapy where caution is advised.

And so if it’s something you’re thinking about I would say go get yourself seen in your very specific circumstances with somebody doing this in research studies and decide if it’s right for you.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. And we’ll have‑‑in other programs we’ll talk about CAR NK research that’s going on. Lot to talk about, maybe at ASH, folks. Dr. Sharman will be at the American Society of Hematology meeting, the ASH meeting here in San Diego in a couple of months. We’ll have coverage from that as these new areas come out.

Now let’s go back to the basics before the end, Jeff, and this that is flu season coming up.

Dr. Sharman:

Andrew Schorr:
And there’s also a shingles vaccine. And also some people related to hepatitis B.

What are you telling your patients about vaccines? My friend Jeff Folloder said somebody at MD Anderson had them maybe getting two flu shots.

Dr. Sharman:

Andrew Schorr:
So first of all, flu shots, and do we need more than one? And what about these other shots?

Dr. Sharman:
Yeah, so starting with flu I would encourage all my patients CLL patients to get flu shots. The response is nearly universal. Everybody always says, well, I got a flu shot and I still got sick. A flu shot does not prevent all illness. Flu prevents flu. And patients with CLL get more complications from flu because their immune system has a cancer in it. So CLL is a cancer of the immune system, so to whatever extent you can give yourself a head start to fight off flu I would encourage patients to do so.

Andrew Schorr:
More than one shot?

Dr. Sharman:
Well, so I will say that patients with CLL generally have less of a response to a flu vaccine than somebody without CLL.

So you don’t get as much protective benefit if you have CLL as somebody without it. I don’t think, at least, I’m not familiar with data that says two flu shots are better than one. It may be out there and I’m not aware of it, but I mean I could understand why you might. It at least biologically makes sense.

Andrew Schorr:
And the shingles vaccine?

Dr. Sharman:
Yeah, so very few clinic days go by where I don’t curse shingles at least once. For anybody who has had shingles you know it can hurt really badly, and there is this condition called post herpetic neuralgia, which is a sort of a lingering pain syndrome that can go on for years for patients who have had shingles and can be a life altering pain. And so, again, I think whatever head start you can give your immune system it’s worth doing.

And I guess the reason why I curse shingles so frequently is because it does seem to go part and parcel with lymphomas and CLL. Again, you have a cancer of the immune system. The immune system doesn’t work as well, and, boy, I can’t count the number of times where somebody gets shingles just as their CLL is acting up and then it delays treatment, or somebody is going through treatment with a lot of pain as a result.

Andrew Schorr:
So you’re not worried about the vaccine?

Dr. Sharman:
No. Not only am I not worried I highly encourage it. But I would point out that the old vaccine was a live virus, and there were problems giving that to patients with CLL. There is a new dead virus, Shingrix, that’s in short supply.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. Well, we’re going to wrap up. I want to just help everybody understand what I alluded to a minute ago, the world series of blood cancer‑related discussions where a lot of data, and, Jeff, you may have data presented there, is the American Society of Hematology meeting which is near me in San Diego in December and about 30‑, 40,000 people come and discuss all this.

So stay tuned. We’ll be doing programs from there, and we’ll bring you updates. Dr. Jeff Sharman, thank you so much for being with us once again.

Dr. Sharman:
My pleasure, Andrew. Thank you for your time.

Andrew Schorr:
All right. And this is what we do. Thanks to the Patient Empowerment Network so devoted to this. We’re happy to help from Patient Power, and thanks to the supporters for this program. They had no editorial control, but they believe in education. That’s AbbVie Incorporated and also Pharmacyclics.

I’m Andrew Schorr. Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Empowerment Network are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or PEN. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Clinical Trial MythBusters: Actionable Advice for Knocking Down Obstacles to Trial Participation

Actionable Advice for Knocking Down Obstacles to Trial Participation

Downloadable Program Guide

Clinical trials offer tomorrow’s medicine today, but more often than not, only a small fraction of patients ultimately enroll in a trial due to barriers posed by financial logistics, distrust and travel, to name a few. In this MythBusters program, we will examine the barriers to enrollment, evaluate patient needs and discuss resources to help guide people through the clinical trial process with the help from two experts, Dana Dornsife of Lazarex Foundation and Myeloma Survivor Reina Weiner.


Andrew: Hello from Carlsbad, California, near San Diego. I’m Andrew Schorr from Patient Power. Welcome to today’s Patient Empowerment Network program, clinical trials myth busters and actionable advice, resources for knocking down obstacles to trial participation. I wanna thank the companies that have provided financial support for this program. They have no editorial control, but we definitely thank them for their support. Those supporters are AbbVie Incorporated, Astellas, Celgene Corporation, and Novartis.

Okay. We have a lot to talk about. First of all, I’ll just say I’ve been in two clinical trials; one Phase 2 many years ago at MD Anderson for the leukemia I have, chronic lymphocytic leukemia. And that gave me tomorrow’s medicine today. It worked, but I had travel far to do it and there were costs involved.

And then I was in a second Phase 3 trial close to home, and that was good too, and discovered another cancer that I have, myelofibrosis, through the monitoring in the trial. So, I’m a believer, but there are obstacles, and let’s talk about some of these. And we’re gonna give you some very specific resources to overcome these obstacles, so that hopefully, if a clinical trial is right for you, you can participate, you can feel good about it, and you can move medical science along to help everyone who is dealing with that condition.

So, what are some of the issues? Financial, of course; logistical issues, of course; distrust, are they really gonna take care of you or are they gonna protect your safety? Is it really right? And are you being given the straight scoop? What about travel costs? I went from Seattle to Houston, Texas a few times. Costly, okay? Stay in a hotel. It’s costly. Get a babysitter, leave work; costly.

The guinea pig syndrome; you’ve heard about it so many times. Are they gonna experiment on you, and are they really protecting you, and are you a number, or you are a person with cancer, or your loved one? And then is your medical team that you’re talking to about your treatment, are they informed about clinical trials? Or are they pooh-poohing clinical trials because they don’t wanna do the paperwork, or it’s happening down the road and not at their clinic. Lots of issues; we’ll talk about that.

Okay, I got some great helpers. So, first let’s go to Asheville, North Carolina, and you are used to live in Charlotte. Reina Weiner joins us. Reina, welcome to our program today. There we go. Say that again, Reina, you were muted.

Reina: Thank you.

Andrew: Okay. Now we should tell you that last June, well, June of 2017, Reina had a autologous transplant for multiple myeloma. And along the way, leading up to that, over many years she was in four trials. So, first of all, Reina, let’s start with what’s most important. Post-transplant, how are you feeling today?

Reina: I’m feeling very well. Thank you, Andrew.

Andrew: Okay, and what’s coming up at the beginning of September?

Reina: What is coming up at the – oh, a big party is coming up. Our children are throwing us our 50th wedding anniversary party, so that’s been cool.

Andrew: Yeah. Well, congratulations. And you’ve been dealing with what became multiple myeloma since 1999. We’re gonna come back and track that in a minute, as far as the steps along the way, the concerns you had or not at different times about being in four clinical trials.

And now let’s go up near San Francisco in the East Bay of San Francisco Bay, Danville, California. Dana Dornsife. And Dana is the Chairman of the Lazarex Cancer Foundation. Dana, thank you so much for being with us.

Dana: Thank you, Andrew.

Andrew: Okay. Now ladies and gentlemen, I want you to know Dana and her husband and her family, overall, they’re incredibly philanthropic across a number of issues that are faced globally, and also in the US. But one of them is helping people with the financial issues that prevent them from being a clinical trial. So, Dana, this is a personal story for you, so maybe you could just tell us why did you start the foundation? It was a family issue.

Dana: It was a family issue, and that family issue really revealed to me a gap that exists in cancer care for advanced-stage patients who want to remain in their battle with cancer through clinical trial participation. My youngest sister’s husband, Mike, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in his early 40s. He was given one half of one percent chance to live, and at the time 35,000 people a year were diagnosed, and 35,000 people a year were dying from pancreatic cancer.

So, we decided as a family that if Mike wanted different results that we would need to do something different. And Mike and Erin went ahead and pursued standard of care, and I was tasked with identifying clinical trial opportunities for Mike. And, of course, that sounds very linear, but in fact, for a layperson it was a very difficult task to undertake. I did identify some trial opportunities for Mike. He did participate in a trial and responded well for a period of time, he had good quality of life.

And during that period of time he was meeting people who were asking him, “Hey, what are you doing? I wanna do what you’re doing.” And he would say to them, “Oh, just call my sister-in-law, Dana. She’ll help you.” And that’s literally how this organization began. Through those phone calls that I was receiving from other pancreatic cancer patients, I began to understand that Mike was able to take advantage of medical breakthroughs in clinical trials because he had a family who could afford to support him through the process. And all of these other families that I was talking to, they just didn’t have the financial wherewithal.

So, we started Lazarex in order to fill that gap and help people identify clinical trial opportunities, and then provide financial assistance to them to help cover the out-of-pocket expenses that create huge barriers for patients who are already experiencing financial toxicity due to their disease.

Andrew: Well, thank you for what you do. And we’re gonna talk a lot along the way about resources. There’s a downloadable guide that you’ll be provided with, along with a link to the replay of this program. And that’s gonna have specific resources that you can access, whether it’s financial issues, other issues you may be facing. So, look for that.

Today we’re really focused on actionable resources. So, let’s go to Reina for second. So, Reina, you had been in the pharmaceutical industry.

Reina: Yes, I had.

Andrew: So, you knew about drug development, and you understood about clinical trials. So, I’m willing to bet you were pretty proactive. People who weren’t in the field, they don’t know from clinical trials, and maybe they’d been worried about it. They’ve worried would they be experimented on, would they be a number and not name, would they get quality care. But you were probably, I have a feeling, pretty proactive. And you write about that. I know you have a book as well. So, is that Step 1 for people to speak up for themselves?

Reina: It is Step 1; absolutely, Step 1. And what I found is, first of all, people don’t know about trials. And if you go to a small community practice where they’re very busy, they don’t have the time, they don’t have the staff to really educate patients about trials, the best, best step for patients to take is to ask, “Is there a clinical trial that might be appropriate for me?” That’s huge.

Even when I went to a very well respected hospital and there was a researcher who was following me as I had smoldering myeloma and the numbers kept going up and up and up. I said is there – because I was living close to the NCI – is there a trial that would be appropriate to me at the NCI. And he said just a minute, turned around, went to his computer, found the trial and that’s how I got in.

Andrew: But it wasn’t at where you were receiving care or being monitored at that time. It was somewhere else.

Reina: It was not. It was at somewhere else.

Andrew: Okay. Dana, is one of the obstacles, not just financial, or maybe it’s even the business of cancer where if an oncology practice that you’re going to that’s maybe close to home is not doing the trial, maybe it’s not even in their financial interests to tell you. I mean, is there an awareness issue, do you feel?

Dana: There’s a huge awareness issue there, Andrew. And it all starts with knowledge is power, right, so I completely agreement with Reina’s comment about one of the first questions you need to ask is, is there a clinical trial out there for me because many doctors who are in community environments don’t offer that information. It’s not what they do every day. They’re there to administer standard of care. Only 6 percent of doctors actually engage in conversation with their patients about clinical trials, and that’s usually the 6 percent who are associated with research universities, right?

So, knowledge is power. If the patient doesn’t know about a clinical trial, they’re never going to participate. But once you find out and once you’ve identified an opportunity, the second biggest hurdle is that out-of-pocket expenses associated because most patients have been dealing with their disease for a longer period of time, and they’re basically broken in every way: physically, emotionally, spiritually, and, sadly, financially.

So, patients start to make decisions about the outcome of their care based on the size of their checkbook, and not focused on what’s best for them. And so, Lazarex eliminates that financial barrier as well to help patients say, “Yes, I can participate,” and we can get them where they need to be when they need to be there.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, Andrew, because there are many other barriers that exist; socioeconomic barriers, language, culture, historical barriers. And we are tackling all of those barriers one at a time. But really, the biggest two barriers are knowledge and financial.

Andrew: Right. And you mentioned about the historical barriers. Some people know about the Tuskegee experiments with African-American people, so in the African-American community, there still is a distrust among some people. Yet if you think about it from the FDA’s point of view where a company that’s developing a drug, or the NIH, they say okay, how does it work on broader populations or different ethnic groups or different ages or genders, et cetera?

They want to understand that data, and so not just having a number of people participating in the trial, but having it reach people who are in different situations, if you will. And so –

Reina: And if I may – ooh, I’m sorry.

Andrew: Reina, please, go ahead.

Reina: Well, if I may say that because people don’t know about it and the trials, the best trials, are trials with a variety of patients, but they do try to accrue populations who are certain ages, certain genders, ethnic groups, whatever they can get. And only 3 to 5 percent of patients participate, cancer patients, participate in clinical trials, and so much is lost if people don’t participate.

Andrew: Here in San Diego it’s sort of a pocket of a lot of medical research. There’s a lot up in your area, Dana, in the Bay Area, San Francisco Bay Area. I mean, it’s in North Carolina in the research triangle where that’s home state for Reina. And not to disclude others, and then certainly up around Boston. There are like companies all over the place and many of them are in earlier drug developments.

So, when you talk about immuno-oncology now, can we harness our immune system with the help of some medicine to fight the cancer, and I know some people who’ve received it; lung cancer patients who are living, et cetera, melanoma patients who are living for an extended time. These companies can’t move forward unless there’re people who are in the trials. So, the FDA says where’s your data? And they’re saying well, we’re trying, but we haven’t been able to complete this trial. Right, Dana? So, we can’t move towards cures unless we all come together.

Dana: That’s exactly right. So, let me just throw a few statistics out at you that I found astounding when I learned of them. So, we have a 48 percent failure rate of clinical trials, and it’s not because the drug didn’t work. We will never know, quite frankly, if the drug would have worked or not. And we will never know because there weren’t enough patients enrolled in the trials to find out.

So, 11 percent of trials never enroll a single patient, if you can believe that. So, here we are with an almost 50 percent failure rate, and yet we have 600,000 patients a year in this country who are dying from cancer. So, there’s this incredible disconnect between the thousands of patients who would participate in clinical trials if they could, and the thousands of clinical trials that need patients to participate in order to succeed. And without successfully completing those trials, those drugs are never going to get market to help the cancer patients that they are intended to serve and help.

That’s why Lazarex Cancer Foundation exists, and that’s why removing the barriers to clinical trials is so important. Our process does not lend itself well to that. And I just want to take a step back, Andrew, to address the minority participation in clinical trials. We all understand because of epigenetics and, yeah, advances in medical science that we need to have the full spectrum of our population participating in clinical trials. But that doesn’t happen. When you look at the 5 percent of patients who actually participate and you break it down ethnically and racially, less than 5 percent are from minority communities combined.

So, in theory, though we say we understand the importance of that, we’re actually not in practice doing what needs to be done. And so a lot of our work is also focused on reaching out to those socioeconomically challenged and racial and ethnic minority communities to raise awareness and help people like you’re doing on this program dispel the myths around clinical trials, so that they’re more inclined to ask better questions.

Andrew: Right. So, so important, and I applaud for that work. We’re gonna talk about the financial process in a second. Reina, so you were involved in a National Institutes of Health or National Cancer Institute trial.

Reina: Yes.

Andrew: A couple of them, I think, and one at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York’s premier resources. So, we talked about your tip was you gotta speak up and ask about trials, where they’re at that center, wherever you are, by XYZ oncology in a suburban area, whatever it is or not. So, what’s Step 2? So, for instance, now I understand there are people – and Dana, I’d like your comment on it too.

At some clinics now where there are clinical trial – there are nurse navigators, but often sometimes there are clinical trial navigators too, but often you gotta ask about that too, right, Reina? I mean, it’s speaking up and looking for the resources that are available to you there or wherever you choose to go, right?

Dana: Yes, and there are organizations like Dana’s who help people do clinical trial searches because that’s a bit overwhelming when you are already frightened, you already have the financial issues coming up. And like you mentioned, logistical issues. So, there is Dana’s organization; therefore, myeloma, the SparkCures. There’s the MMRF. There’s the International Myeloma Foundation. There is something called Cis Crypt. And so, they will help you find a trial.

And there are lots of regional trials groups, so you may not need to go to the big, big research center. They might be able to do it locally for you. But I always want to bring up the fact that there’s so much misinformation about trials and what it entails. There’s a tremendous amount of fear. And when I went on the first trial, as I wrote about a little blog recently, everybody said to my husband – well, not everybody, but an awful lot of people said why would you let your wife going in a clinical trial? She’s definitely gonna be a guinea pig.

And I can tell you very, very, very clearly that you get so much care. There’s so much documentation. And the patient’s health is never sacrificed for the research ever. And so, and you sign a consent form, so you’re very clear about what is going to happen. And yes, there’s more there’s more bloodwork. Yes, there are more biopsies. And it’s part of research. And when you sign up, you sign up. And I had more than I’d like to even talk about, but I feel very grateful and very humbled for the care that I received.

And I can tell you, too, that I talked to other people on the trial. And yes, they hope to gain better control of their cancer. But, in addition, they really hope to help the next group of patients who are coming up, so that these new treatments actually happen.

Andrew: I feel the same way. I was in a trial at MD Anderson in 2000, and the three-drug combination I got was not approved till ten years later, but they learned a lot. And you were on a three-drug combination, which I think still has not been approved for first line, but it’s is widely used, I think.

Dana: Right.

Andrew: So, in multiple myeloma. I wanted to mention some other resources, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society also has a resource center. You can call them. So, there’re these different groups that help you identify a trial, and doctors who specialize, so let’s say pancreatic cancer, you mentioned earlier Dana. I got a call from a friend in Miami, “How do I find a pancreatic cancer specialist?” And I connected them with PanCAN, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in Los Angeles, who knows who are the doctors who have the most experience with that.

Now, Dana, so then the next thing comes up is alright, I’ve identified the trial, but it’s not where I am. So, now we talk about logistics and finance. So, let’s say somebody calls your foundation. Tell us how it works. So, I don’t have the resources. Maybe they live in Northern California and the trial is in Southern California or in Salt Lake City. What happens next?

Dana: So, Andrew, in some cases it’s not even that distance. In some cases it’s getting from Sacramento to San Francisco, which is literally a one hour, one-and-a-half hours without traffic, in your car. And sometimes it’s a tank of gas, a bridge toll, and parking. I mean, we’re not talking about thousands of dollars in some cases, but it’s still the difference between life and death.

When someone calls Lazarex Cancer Foundation, they can contact us directly. We have a financial application that we use to determine the degree of eligibility for patients to get their out-of-pocket expenses reimbursed. Or they can be referred to us by their social worker at the institution where they are receiving, or thinking about participating in a clinical trial.

We take a look at the household income of the patient, and I believe our guidelines are very generous. We go up to seven times the federal poverty guidelines for patients. And we arrived at that number through trial and error. Our goal is to help as many patients as possible participate in clinical trials, and turn away as few as possible. And then we reimburse on a sliding scale from 100 percent to 75 percent to 50 percent depending upon your household income.

And it’s a pretty easy process to go through in order to be enrolled and receive the reimbursement. And then we reimburse our patients monthly, on a monthly basis. And in some cases, we’ve been working with patients, we follow them, like Reina, through two, three, four clinical trials. And we’ve been supporting them in trials for years. And without doing what we do, they may not be here with us today.

Andrew: Well, I’m sure you’ve saved some lives and lengthened some lives. Reina, so you were in the pharmaceutical industry and in oncology, I believe, before all of this started happening to you. And you’ve continued teaching nurses and devoting yourself to education and your book and your blogs. Thank you for all that. Maybe that’s what life’s about.

But knowing on the inside there are pharmaceutical programs, in some cases, I think, particularly for rare cancers where they may provide assistance. They can’t pay you to be in the trial, but there are at times assistance and travel logistics, particularly for rare cancers where maybe the trial is not, not one hour away. Am I right, Reina? Are you familiar?

Reina: Oh, there are. And sometimes when I was working, there would be a patient who had a cancer that really was not aligned with a particular treatment that would be effective for them. And so, the doctor wanted to try an off-label use of a product, and so then they would come to me and asked me if I could get the pharmaceutical company to provide the drug for free.

And sometimes it takes a little doing, but I was concerned about the patient and hoping to get them a better quality of life, if not an extended period of life. And so, yeah, the company would do that. Not every day, not all the time, but if the company had evidence that this was a patient who would benefit from the off-label use of a product then they would help them out.

Andrew: Okay. So, Dana, related to other organizations providing assistance, and I recently interviewed someone from the Family Reach Foundation where they help with rent or things, groceries, things like that. So, somebody says, “Oh my God, I’m afraid of a trial, I can’t go there,” or if they hear about it and they say, “Hmm, well, maybe I could, but I’d have to leave work, or maybe my spouse would have to leave work, we’d have to find somebody to pick up the kids from school, oh my God.” There are organizations that can help with some of these family processes, aren’t there?

Dana: Absolutely. And I think we’ve provided the Patient Empowerment Network with a list of those. 21st Century C.A.R.E. is an organization that provides patients with immediate financial assistance for expenses related to active cancer treatments. Cancer Care provides assistance for cancer-related costs. There’s a Cancer Care Co-Payment Assistance Foundation. We get that question a lot.

We’ll help with the out-of-pocket travel expenses, and in fact, some of the medical and diagnostic expenses that aren’t covered by insurance. When you’re participating in a trial, sometimes you have to get more stems than insurance will cover or whatever. But co-pays are a big deal for people to be able to afford those, and so, that is another organization that can help. Patient Advocate Foundation, which is an underinsured resource directory.

So, there are a lot of you nonprofits out there who exist to support patients through the fifth process. It’s just a matter of helping patients really understand and put together all of those resources in a way that they can access them.

Andrew: Okay. So, Reina, you’ve been through it four times, and you’re a pretty savvy person. Not all of us know as much, so help us now. So, one of the questions in a trial is, and in cancer, am I gonna get what I describe as the good stuff, knowing that the good stuff that’s being tried may not be good. I mean, it may not work out. There are trials that go bust. Not just for not getting people, but they got people, but it wasn’t as effective as they hoped it would be.

But let’s say we’ve done our homework and we go to a certain clinic, but it’s some sorta controlled trial. We don’t know whether we’ll be in the arm. So, was a concern for you? Were you gonna get the good stuff, and why do it?

Reina: Well, no, really, Andrew, because I know that like if it’s a Phase 3 trial, so you’re comparing standard of care versus the newest and hopefully the latest and greatest. If it turns out that one arm of the trial really shows a significant improvement, patients are always switched to the more effective arm of the trial. They don’t leave you on this arm of the trial thinking well, what the heck, we’ll just leave you there and see how the research pans out. So, they are always switched over to the most effective.

So, I wasn’t really concerned about that. And in the Phase 2 trial, it’s just seeing if the product was effective. And so, that was obviously not a concern for me. So, it worked out, and I do think, though, like what Dana does is absolutely wonderful at totally, totally, totally past wonderful.

But I always try to let people know who have friends and family who are facing some chronic significant illness that don’t just call and say let me know, let me know if I can help you because that’s so ambiguous. And most people will not call because they have pride or they think they can do it all by themselves.

So, I always try to suggest to people that if you’re calling somebody who you think might need some help, be specific. Call and say, “Can I walk the dog? I’m going to the grocery store in an hour. Is there something I can pick up for you? Can I mow the grass?” Anything that will help, but make sure that you are specific in your offering.

Andrew: I want to talk about a related issue. You use the word pride. Some people, maybe in some cases it’s even shame. They developed a certain cancer. Where these are maybe middle-class people who’ve had some resources. They’ve been paying their mortgage. They’ve been paying their expenses, making do. But now they get hit with a cancer diagnosis, which is catastrophic, and there is help available, Dana, but they’re too proud to ask for it when this could happen to anybody. And maybe you’ve even countered that along the way or know there’re people out there. What would you say to people, to not be shamed and to speak up?

Dana: Yeah. Well, sadly, one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer, and one in two men. And so, this is not an uncommon scenario, right? The likelihood of knowing someone who will receive a cancer diagnosis is very likely. So, I think that patients have to understand that pride doesn’t help you in your process with battling this disease. You have to take advantage of every opportunity that’s out there in order to come out on the positive side of this experience. And if you don’t take advantage of every opportunity, you may not.

And so, it’s one of those things that we just have to deal with right from the beginning, and just say okay, again, knowledge is power. I’m going to surround myself or engage with the people that are around me who want to help me. And you have to put that team together because you will need your team with this disease.

Andrew: Okay, so great advice. Reina, part of your team maybe could be the first doctor you saw who gave you the diagnosis, but they might not be the one where a trial was offered. So, first step is you talked about speaking up, but it takes a lot of courage to say to the doctor in the white coat with all the letters after their name, you know, thank you so much, Doctor, and I’ve either found out about a trial, or your turned and typed it in somewhere else. I hope you don’t mind, but I am going to go over there. Maybe you can advise me along the way.

But that takes courage because people are terrified, and they may be bold in principal in that situation with the person in the white coat. What advice would you give?

Reina: Ooh, well, that’s a big one for a lot of people. And, really, you know what, I imagined that it would be people who are older, who come from a generation where the doctor has the final word. But what I found out when I was writing my third book is that there were younger people who also feel very uncomfortable speaking up, asking a doctor, and so forth. But really, what to really put in your little mind and in your heart is this your life.

This is not just kind of a trip to the mall. This is really important for you to either improve the quality of your life or extend the quality of life, so take a deep breath, be very polite, and I think most doctors who are professional and open-minded will hear what you have to say if you present it in a way that they can hear. And if they really don’t hear you then it might be time to have a look around to see who will.

And, really, the bottom line is you need to trust yourself. And if you feel that this is really right, that there is a clinical trial that you would be eligible for and you can participate in with Dana’s help, with the financial, with the logistics, and so forth. Like I said, you just take a deep breath. And most doctors, like I said, really want the best for you.

Andrew: Okay, let’s talk about something that comes up. One of the things for people is the criteria of different trials. Dana, I don’t know if this is in your area, too, related to financial, but people let’s say okay, I wanna be in a trial, but the criteria are so narrow that I really wanna be in the trial, but they say I can’t.

Dana: Yeah, so that is a sad reality in many cases. And I refer to this as Clinical Trial Nirvana Syndrome where as a drug sponsor for trial, you want to attract the healthiest patients you can to participate in your trial, so that you have the greatest chance of success. But, unfortunately, in many instances, in most instances, a cancer diagnosis is accompanied by other comorbidities like heart disease or diabetes or other maladies that would preclude a patient from being able to participate in a trial.

So, that is an area that we are looking into and trying to – we have several proposals out there with various aspects of our government to try and really take a closer look at that, to try and make the trial makeup in relation to patient participants better mirror the realities of our situation because the likelihood of someone, if the drug gets approved, taking that drug and having a comorbidity is pretty likely.

And yet we won’t know what will happen there, right. So, we have to drill down on these issues and it’s a great, great issue to bring up. So, we’ve got a lot of work to do ahead of us.

Andrew: Right. And another thing that comes up too, and Kevin sent in a question. Kevin, thank you for this, matching what’s available in clinical trials to where you are in your journey with an illness. So, on Day 1 you’re diagnosed. I know Esther and I, we were crying and almost on the floor. And I thought I would be dead the next day. And it really took a while to overcome the terror of the diagnosis. And so, we were not even – well, the doctor wasn’t talking about trials; we wouldn’t have been hearing it anyway.

And some of us, thank God, with some trials, with some cancers now, are blessed with living longer and we start to learn. And then we want to know, in our situation, what applies to us. So, I know there are a lot of efforts being made to match trial offerings to where you are and what you might need to know now, what might need to be offering.

And some of you have heard this term, artificial intelligence, where we in the Internet business are all trying to fine tune what we’re suggesting or putting in front of you based on who you are and where you are, recognizing privacy and all those kinda things to make it more manageable.

We still have a long way to go. I mean, we have, but it’s not tied to where I am, who I am, where I am in my journey. It’s just what’s being done in a certain illness, right, Reina?

Reina: Yes.

Andrew: So, we have to refine our tools.

Reina: Absolutely.

Andrew: We have to refine our tools. Well, we’ve been getting in a number of questions. So, here’s one. So, David; so, he says as the excessive use of CT scans in clinical practice moves away from being the norm, have they lessened their use in clinical trials? In other words, this is about testing, and maybe it’s about the requirements.

Dana, I don’t know if you have feelings about it, but the scientists who are doing these trials, they wanna know everything. They would like to test us. So, the CT scan, and I mean I’m gonna have one next week, but it has radiation, right?

Dana: Right.

Andrew: So, let’s do a bunch of CT scans. No, let’s do a bunch of bone marrow biopsies. No. So, I’m saying I’m sorry. Not just do I have to pay something for these tests, or is there a co-pay or whatever, but also am I gonna be radiated? Am I gonna be poked? So, what about those issues? Is there dialogue going on, not just to help us financially, but also make it less onerous, I guess?

Dana: Yes, in fact there is dialogue going on about that, and it’s good, heartfelt dialogue. And it’s coming from a myriad of stakeholders, right, not just from patient advocacy organizations, but also from within industry insurers. And the whole goal is to okay, let’s stop looking at patients as a chart or a number on a piece of paper, and let’s understand that these are living, breathing human beings who are voluntarily participating in this clinical trial process for the benefit of not only themselves, but future patients to come and our industry.

And let’s start treating patients as humans who are participating, and let’s see what we can do to lessen the number of visits or minimize the number of scans and blood work, et cetera. So, there is active dialogue around that, and I think there’s a much higher degree of sensitivity on behalf of the teams who are actually putting the protocols together now.

Andrew: All right, I think so. And I know in some cases they’re doing what’s called trial simulations with a panel of patients and saying okay, we’re trying to answer these scientific questions and see if this drug that’s in development can do better for patients and would require so many office visits. Or so many, you come to the site, but so many could be done, maybe with your local doctor if that’s closer to home. So many blood tests, so many CT scans, so many biopsies. Imagine lung cancer patients with another lung biopsy. Not fun, and often not available.

So, there are all these kind of questions. And I think that’s going on although it needs to happen more. Now Dana, do you talk to the pharmaceutical industry? We had a question from Vi Life wanting to know related to trial awareness. Beyond the financial, do you work with pharmaceutical companies at all, as you are now, today? I mean, what we’re doing here is just to raise awareness about trials or other programs that you may do.

Dana: So, we are engaging with pharma right now. We were very fortunate to work with the FDA earlier this year in securing language around reimbursement of patients’ out-of-pocket expenses associated with clinical trials. There was some very nebulous language out there that was really preventing pharma from being able to support programs like ours.

And what we’re doing now is, in addition to we’re bridging this gap for patients that exist every day by reimbursing patients, but that is not a sustainable business model. It’s noble, but we have to have our tin cup out every day. And the number of patients we can help is directly related to the amount of money that we have in our account, right?

So, in addition to that program, our Lazarex Care Program, what we are also doing is trying to fix this problem and do it in a sustainable way. And in order to do that, we actually have to shift the burden from the patient back into industry, right, and help industry understand why they should include these out-of-pocket expenses as part of the clinical trial protocol every time, right, so they can enroll trials on time, on budget, save R&D dollars, preserve patent years, right?

I mean, there are a lot of reasons why pharma would want to participate in a program like that, in addition to the fact that it’s the right thing to do, right? And then we get more drugs to market faster, and we provide a platform of equitable access for everyone. So, we are engaging pharma in discussions right now about funding this program, we call Lazarex our IMPACT Program, that’s being rolled out at comprehensive cancer centers across the country. And it stands for Improving Patient Access to Cancer Clinical Trials.

It has been received very well and I’m happy to say that Amgen actually stepped up and funded this, so we are rolling it out here in California, and we are hoping that we’ll have similar opportunities in a couple of other areas in the United States. So, they are interested, and they want to improve clinical trial enrollment retention, and especially minority participation.

Andrew: Right. Boy, that you. Again, I keep saying thank you for what you’re doing, but you’re a real leader in the field. I’m going back next month to the Biden Cancer Initiative Summit continued by Vice President, Biden, former Vice President Biden, and his wife who continue to do leadership in this. And there’ll be a lot of senior people there and I’m hoping we can talk. And I know this issue of how can we advance cancer care through research in partnership with patients is a big one. So, Dana, thank you for helping lead the way in getting this going. And thanks to Amgen just as an example.

Reina, so, we talked about the cultural differences of people being in trials. We talked about the pride people may have in asking for assistance, the fear people have maybe participating in trials. You still have a – not now. I mean, you’re doing so well and you’ve been through trials and it’s worked out well. But there must have been some bumps along the way. Were there any misgivings at different times? And if so, how did you overcome it?

Reina: Oh, yeah. Well, there were definitely misgivings, I am sure. The first trial was when I asked the doctor if there’s something going on at the NCI. And there was no misgivings about that because that was a very observational trial. The second trial was much more progressive and I felt kind of a little uncertain about it, and so I asked the researcher at this well-known institution if I should participate because the trial, I should back up a little bit, that was for either smoldering myeloma patients or active disease patients.

At the time I was smoldering, and most physicians didn’t believe that that was a good idea to treat smoldering and wait until it became active. So, I asked this one researcher and he said absolutely, not, do not participate in the trial. And then I called someone else also from a very respected institution where I had been, and he said well, if you join that trial you’ll be crossing the Rubicon, which I didn’t even know what the Rubicon was at the time. I had to go look it up.

But, basically, once you start treatment, you kind of go on that journey and there’s no way to step off. But then I thought about it, I thought about it, thought about it, and finally I decided to trust myself because I had been to the NCI. I felt very safe there. And I decided to move ahead with it.

So, yes, I had plenty of misgivings about that. The other trials, not really because that trial changed my life and it gave me a very reasonable complete response. And the other ones, like I said, they just kinda fell in with the collecting a good amount of stem cells for a transplant and so forth.

Andrew: I wanna talk about family issues. So, the decision to be in a trial affects the family, whether it’s somebody’s driving you to the doctor, somebody’s taking off work, their worry, how they feel about trials, their own view of it, family logistics, costs, et cetera. We’ve talked about that. So, you wrote this blog about people questioning your husband, I guess, was your wife gonna be in a trial? So, how did you overcome that, whether if not with your husband, just with your community that you weren’t like crazy?

Reina: Well, they already know I’m crazy, so that’s a total aside. But, really, trying to educate people about the misinformation about trials; say, look, I will never be a guinea pig because that’s not what trials are about. And it’s very well controlled and there’s a lot of data that follows you. The care that I got was excellent.

And I try to dispel, like I said, a lot of the myths; that you signed consent form, which clearly explains what the trial is about, what your commitment to it is, and you can also drop out for any reason. There was hope that you don’t because they would like to have some results that then will lead into future treatments for patients. But you can drop out, so, really, taking that opportunity to educate people about what a clinical trial is like and that there are no guinea pigs.

Andrew: I wanna just – oh, yes, please, Dana.

Dana: Yeah, if I could just offer something in that regard. For people who haven’t gone down this path, the journey with cancer, having a cancer diagnosis is not like other chronic diseases, right, like diabetes, for instance, that you can typically control with insulin or whatever, right? For a cancer patient who has failed standard of care, who’s gone through maybe second- or third-line treatment options, but still has progressive disease, that patient will die if they don’t do something, right?

And so, clinical trials offer tomorrow cures today in some instances, right, and we don’t always have positive results in clinical trials. But for a patient who’s at that crossroad where their doctor has delivered those words, “You need to get your affairs in order,” right, it’s not a matter of am I crazy if I participate in a clinical trial. What it is a matter of is do I wanna live? And if so, what clinical trial can I participate in? It’s a very different decision tree.

Andrew: Right. And I certainly say that all the time. I got a call, as I mentioned, from a friend in Miami. The mother has a very serious cancer. And I said part of the initial discussion, even the initial discussion, Dana, can also be are there clinical trials that we should consider along with standard therapy? So, certainly, if you’ve failed or they’ve failed you, the treatments no longer work, what is the 360 degree view? And if you don’t do it here, so they do it down the road, or do they do it across the country? And what are the issues for you participating?

So, a lot of thinking, but it’s gotta be part of the discussion. So, so sadly now, what are we seeing; 3 percent, 4 percent, 5 percent of adults participating in cancer clinical trials in the US. Not good at all. And are we hurting ourselves with the chance of future therapies that can be more effective, or even cures because some of these companies sometimes are venture-backed. They don’t have money forever, you know, and they’re trying to get to the goal line to go the FDA.

Look, here is another question we got in. Tamara, our producer, just sent in. She says well, what happens when you join a clinical trial and it doesn’t have a beneficial impact? So, Reina, they didn’t know that the trials would necessarily work out for you. So, what happens then? Do you go on another trial? What do you do?

Reina: Well, if it doesn’t and you don’t seem to be responding to the therapy on the trial, or you find it intolerable yourself, then they will always return you to your oncologist who you had been seeing previously. But, on the other hand, they may offer you another trial that’s available that you would be eligible for as well. So, I mean, I really try to stress to people that the researchers are looking out for you. They want the best income, in addition to accruing the data that they hope.

And I can tell you that when I was on a trial at the National Cancer Institute, when I had questions, especially about the trial with smoldering versus active disease for myeloma, they would spend a couple of hours for me, explained with me, can I say that, right? Yes, spent a couple hours with me explaining all of the aspects of the trial, so yeah.

Andrew: I wanna point up an example that some people have heard of a woman I’ve become friendly with in the myeloma community, Reina. Cherie Rineker. So, Cherie’s down in Houston, and she was dying of myeloma. And she’d been in trials and treatments. She was at MD Anderson. Bob Orlowski is one of the top doctors in the world, and her doctor. And she was in different trials and then things were not working.

And she was put in touch with another researcher doing this CAR T investigation for multiple myeloma, which is pretty new, pretty new. And they’re learning a lot. It’s not a slam dunk, but so far it’s worked for her. It saved her life. She went to Nashville, Tennessee from Houston where she lives, and maybe I’m not sure the financial issues, Dana, about going. But that’s where she’d been in successive trials. And some were not working or no longer were working. There was another approach.

I wanna ask about another concept I’ve heard called siteless trials. And I don’t know, Dana, you’re nodding your head. Maybe you are familiar with this. One is a siteless trial because we talked about these trials going on at these academic medical centers, but not much elsewhere.

Dana: So, I have tell you, I don’t have a lot of experience with siteless trials, but there is a lot of dialogue taking place around rather than having the patient go to the trial, bringing the trial to the patient, and I think that’s the impetus behind a siteless clinical trial.

I think cancer has some unique challenges, especially blood-based cancers in clinical trials, and the oversight of patients participating in those trials that make siteless trials a bit of a challenge. But I think the place to start is in other diseases, or perhaps where you have a cancer diagnosis that’s not a rare form of cancer, whatever that requires, a high degree of oversight.

But the whole goal in doing this is to understand how we can get more people into these trials and make it less obtrusive on their life, right, so that more patients would be inclined to participate, increase our enrollment retention, our minority participation, and, ultimately, reduce the burden on the patient to participate.

Andrew: Esther and I’ve given a lot of talks at different conferences, and we said you have to see patients who might be considering or are in a trial as investors. So, they’re gonna invest with their body, their time, sacrifices, and other things in their lives for the hope of being cured if they could, or doing better.

And there needs to be the communication, financial support, logistical support in really treating people with a lot of respect as a person. Reina, do you agree with that, that we have to get to that concept where we’re taken care of? And you felt that way, but we need to do it for more people and have more people feel confident that it’ll work out that way.

Reina: Oh, certainly. Certainly, I do. And the education is really essential. And after I was in the first trial, I talked to everybody who would listen to me. And even if they didn’t, I would talk anyway just to try to say this is a place where you can go where you will receive what is hopefully the newest and the best treatment that’s available. That you will be cared for as well as you can possibly be, and that everything is documented. You know all the options that you have staying on the trial, giving consent, making sure you have all the information that you need to feel comfortable.

And Dana’s organization, hopefully, helping people out financially and logistically. There are ways to get into trials that at times are very successful. For me personally, I don’t know that I would be alive now if I had been on that trial, and that’s really my claim to fame, what can I say?

Andrew: And, Reina, I would say the same thing. Had I not been in a Phase 2 trial for chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 2000, I wouldn’t be around to have had retreatment last year, which has work quite well; 17-year remission. And I wouldn’t have been able to do this, and really have a purpose in life. So, I’m very grateful for being in the trial.

Dana, I can’t tell you – we were talking about gratitude, for you; came up in your family. You saw the gap for, not so much your family, but so many other families. The issues, financial issues, and you’ve been very philanthropic and, obviously, trying to have leadership in getting at some of these – we have a very imperfect system right now, so we have a long way to go. But for our viewers, if you’re living with cancer now, if your loved one is living with cancer, there are resources, people like Lazarex, people have been through it, like Reina.

We’re gonna give you this downloadable guide. And you’re gonna connect with these resources. Don’t… Put your pride away. Dana said it so well. There’s a very high likelihood we’re gonna be affected by cancer in our families, and there is help to navigate what’s kinda complicated right now, but is doable and can offer you the chance of doing better. Dana, did I say it right?

Dana: You did. You did. You did a great job, Andrew. Thanks.

Andrew: Okay. Well, thank you. And thanks to the Lazarex Cancer Foundation and, really, all you’re doing. And let’s hope that we can improve this process, increase participation, and have so many of these companies and the government that are trying to get scientific answers. We participate as respected patient investors. And we do better well. Reina, any final words from you with your 50th wedding anniversary coming up?

Reina: I’m very grateful. I’m very grateful to be here. I’m grateful for all the clinical trials, all the physicians who have taken care of me and who listened to all my concerns and fears. And I am super-duper grateful to my husband who has supported me, helped me, been there, been my caregiver, and washed the food for me when I had the transplant, and really, all the people who have been on the journey with me. So, if you are considering a clinical trial, if there is one that you might be eligible for, give it some thought. It’s a really important choice for you to make.

Andrew: Reina, thank you so much, all the best. Happy anniversary, early. Dana, best to you. Dana Dornsife, joining us from the Lazarex Cancer Foundation in the San Francisco Bay area. Dana, good health to your family, and thank you for all you do. Thanks for being with us, Dana.

Dana: Thank you.

Andrew: And, Reina, all the best, and thank you for those great words of wisdom. And we’ll meet in person sometime and I’ll give you a big hug, okay?

Reina: I hope so. I hope so. You take care of yourself, Andrew. Thank you so much.

Andrew: Thank you for joining us for this Patient Empowerment Network program Clinical Trials Mythbusters. We hope to do more. I wanna thank the companies that have helped provide funding for it; Abbvie Incorporated, Astellas, Celgene, and Novartis, for their support.

Thank you for joining us. I’m Andrew Schorr from Patient Power down near San Diego. Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.

Notable News – July 2018

There is some seriously risky business being reported in July. Meal times, diabetes, and bitter-taste sensitivity are all now being linked to a higher risk of cancer. Not to mention what researchers say the risks of complementary medicines might be.

There was another significant risk factor recently revealed, says A study of 20 million people conducted by Oxford University found that having diabetes increases your risk of cancer. Women with diabetes were 27 percent more likely to develop cancer and men were 19 percent more likely. The study, which included both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, showed that women with diabetes were more likely to develop leukemia and kidney, oral and stomach cancers. The men had a higher risk for developing liver cancer. Diabetes also puts people at risk for heart attacks, strokes, and dementia. You can read more about the findings and diabetes risks here.

Still another new cancer risk factor for women was reported by It was discovered that women who have a high sensitivity to bitter taste also have a high cancer risk. The study tracked the diet, lifestyle, and health of 5,500 British women for 20 years. The women were divided into three categories of bitter sensitivity: super-tasters, tasters and non-tasters. The super-tasters had a 58 percent greater risk and the tasters had a 40 percent greater risk of developing cancer than the non-tasters. Researchers hypothesized that lower vegetable consumption would be a cause for the significant increase in cancer risk for the tasters and super-tasters, but their theory was not proved by the research. Researchers continue to suspect a relationship between diet and cancer risk and hope to further study the overall diet of the tasters and super-tasters to try to determine the connection. More details about the study can be found here.

Alternative medicine may not put you at risk for cancer, but it may increase your risk of dying from it, reports A study done by the Yale Cancer Center found that treatments commonly referred to as complementary medicine, including the use of herbs and homeopathy, aren’t harmful when used with standard, conventional cancer treatments, but if the complementary treatments are used instead of the conventional treatments, patients are twice as likely to die from their cancer. The patients who were most likely to use the alternative treatments were young, affluent women and the researchers noted that doctors should use the information from the study to make sure they are meeting the needs of their patients who may turn down standard treatment in favor of alternative treatments. Researchers also acknowledged that alternative treatments such as yoga, acupuncture, and meditation can help to improve a patients quality of life and if they make the patient feel better they should be encouraged to use complementary medicine in addition to conventional treatments. You can read more here.

Make sure you aren’t at risk of missing out on the latest and most compelling cancer-related information. You can find it all here at