What Is the Importance of Culturally Competent Care?

What Is the Importance of Culturally Competent Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Culturally competent care is another way to work toward health equity. Dr. Nicole Rochester and Aswita Tan-McGrory discuss barriers to providing culturally competent care and ways to address the issues.

See More From Rx for Community Wellness

Related Resources:

Advice From Cancer Survivor to Better Whole Person Care

How Can Cultural Competency Play a Role in Your Care?

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments?

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

We know that due to structural racism, due to inequities, not everybody has access to fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy foods, not everyone has access to green spaces, nice parks where they can go outside and have safety and exercise, and that’s something that we’re being made increasingly aware of is how these social determinants of health impact healthcare. So I want to move and start to talk about the importance of culturally competent care, or I like to call it cultural humility, I don’t know that we can really ever be competent in someone else’s culture. But I want to talk about how those come together, this idea of being respectful and sensitive and aware of an individual’s culture and how that connects to some of the health inequities that we experience. So, Aswita, I know this is an area of expertise for you, so I’d love for you to chime in.

Aswita Tan-McGrory, MBA, MSPH:

Yeah, I mean, I would love it if every physician or nurse or PA started the conversation, what has been the biggest challenge for you in the last six months? If you ask that question, I mean, well the patient will be like, “Oh my God.” And not around just medical issues, they all align, right? If you don’t have housing, you’re going to have medical stress, like Broderick said. I’m just calm listening to you, so I’m going to guess that you have is really positive vibe that’s probably missing for many of us because we aren’t practicing the things that you encourage. And so I would just say that it’s really difficult in the system like I said, we set up, and we mentioned 15 minutes, doctors don’t feel like they have time to ask that question, but you’re doing it in other ways, we implement social determinants of health screening. Well, that’s really that question, right? But you formalize it because it’s not happening, so now it becomes like a screening question. And I will just say that we’re very narrow-minded in our view. I think I have seen a change in the very beginning when we started the work in our center in 2006, a lot of pushback was around thinking about what happens in the patient outside of our walls. It said,  “Well, I didn’t go to medical school to solve the problem of housing, I didn’t go to medical school to figure out how to get somebody on benefits.” And I think the healthcare system realized it doesn’t matter what you do in the hospital, it will be undone when they get home to a situation where they can’t maintain it, they can’t provide that support, they don’t…

They’re stressed out, they have mental health issues, so I think they’re finally getting there. But I think just acknowledging that the person in front of you has different experiences based on language, education, gender, ability, sexual orientation…I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think you just need to own it, we’re working on it. So I do it better than others, but I don’t know any healthcare system, honestly, that’s nailed this to the way that we probably should, so…I’m with you, Broderick. We don’t do this very well, and most of my job includes dismantling these systems that we built to benefit the people in power and leave everybody else behind, and so that’s been really the focus in our work.

Why Is It Important to Address Whole Person Care?

Why Is It Important to Address Whole Person Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is whole person care, and why is it important to address? Dr. Nicole Rochester, Dr. Broderick Rodell, Aswita Tan-McGrory, and Sasha Tanori discuss the factors that whole person care examines, obstacles of healthcare systems, and how to advocate for optimal care.

See More From Rx for Community Wellness

Related Resources:

How Can Cultural Competency Play a Role in Your Care?

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments?

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

So let’s start with a definition of whole person care. Whole person care is defined as the patient center, optimal use of diverse healthcare resources to deliver the physical, behavioral, emotional, and social services required to improve the coordination of care for patients, their well-being, and their health outcomes. So I’d like to start with you, Aswita, and I’d like to know your thoughts on whole person care, and why do you think that this has been such a taboo subject for so long, and also why is it important for us to address whole person care?

Aswita Tan-McGrory, MBA, MSPH:

I think that part of the problem is that our healthcare system is very, very fragmented, so if we think about…we have primary care, then we have specialty care, then we have care in the hospital, and oftentimes there’s no communication, or communication is sort of inconsistent between those pieces. And so we as a healthcare system don’t promote this idea of whole person care, where you would really look at a patient, see them, see them in their environment, oftentimes, we’re seeing patients in our own institutions and we really don’t know anything about what we’re sending them home to, right? Unless we ask or we screen.

So I actually think it starts with how we build our systems in many ways, as a very sort of system that doesn’t really work to encourage thinking about the patient in the whole way, and that means the primary care physician being part of the care team with specialty care, getting that conversation just from an implementation perspective, I think this is a real challenge in our system, there’s other things as well, but I think that’s a big piece towards how do we ensure that for the patient…and I’m sure all of us have had our own experiences in healthcare where we are like, “They’re not talking to each other. Well, why does this doctor not talk to my primary care doctor? Aren’t they like logging into the same system?” And then if you go outside of your system, it’s even more challenging, so.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I completely agree, and I can relate to every single thing you said as both a physician and as a former caregiver, I will say as a pediatrician, I felt that this idea of whole person care, even before it was really a thing that’s kind of incorporated in our practice out of necessity, and we know that it’s important for the health of children to be involved in what happens to them at school and what happens to them in their child care setting, what’s happening in their homes.

And so that was kind of my reference point, but when I became a caregiver for my dad and kind of stepped into the world of adult medicine, I experienced exactly what you describe, Aswita. Just this fragmentation providers not talking to one another, and just a lack of appreciation for the importance of our environment and the things that we’re exposed to in our homes than in our communities, and how that is so intricately connected to our health. So I really appreciate that.

Aswita Tan-McGrory, MBA, MSPH:

Yeah, I want to just tag on something you just said is, I work with a lot of pediatricians and pediatric hospitals, and they are the angels in our system, if I can say so, you…and they definitely have cornered that market of really thinking of social determinants of health or the whole system for their pediatric patients in a way that I think adult medicine is just catching up on. So I’m totally in agreement, like what you said, and I think it’s because you’re working with kids, you can’t not talk to the parents, not think about what is the school like you know so you’re forced to because of that environment, but that’s really a model that we should be using for all of our patients.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I completely agree, completely agree. Sasha, what are your thoughts about whole person care and where are your providers gotten it, right, maybe where have they gotten it wrong?

Sasha Tanori:

For me personally, I can’t speak on every Mexican American, but at least for me personally, it’s definitely been a struggle because where I come from, it’s a very like low demographic, we don’t have a whole lot of resources and stuff like that. So getting care is…it’s not the easiest. I’ve had to go to several doctors before I even got diagnosed, and I didn’t even get diagnosed in my hometown, I had to be sent to San Diego because they had no idea what was going on. They were like, “We don’t know what’s wrong with you. Go home.” They kept giving me misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis, and especially with being a plus-sized Mexican American, they were just like, “Oh, if you lose a couple of pounds, you’ll be fine.” And I show up at the hospital with bruises on my body and they’re like, “It’s because you’re overweight.” And I’m like, “That doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense.” So yeah, it was definitely difficult trying to find a good healthcare professional who would listen to me, and I had to leave out of my Imperial Valley, out of my demographic to go find the help because…

And even then, they were kind of like, “Well, it could be this blood disease, it could be this, it could be that.”  And they were like, “Oh well, is anyone in your family…you’re Mexican, is there anyone in your family who has this type of illness, do they have diabetes, or this or that?” And I was like, “No, just help me. Don’t worry about them. Don’t worry about my family. Don’t worry about them. Worry about me.” And finally, I think after two months or something of just going to doctors’ appointments, after doctors’ appointments, they finally were able to give me proper diagnosis. But it shouldn’t have to take that many trips to the hospital and seeing this many doctors for them to figure out what was wrong. And a lot of it is because of, like you said, it’s because of the whole inequity of being a person of color, and I’m only half-Mexican. But a lot of people see that part of me first, and I think they automatically start being prejudiced, or they start judging you based on the way you look, the way you talk and stuff like that, so that way. It’s definitely been a struggle, especially being here in the Imperial Valley, we’re so close to the Mexican border. So they just automatically…they’re like, “No,” it’s just straight up, “No.”

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wow, I’m really sorry about that, and I appreciate you sharing your story. What about you, Broderick? And you’re a naturopathic physician, you’re a wellness expert, so you probably fully…not probably you fully understand the importance of whole person care. I feel like that’s at the root of your specialty, so maybe you can give us some ideas about how you approach this and why whole person care is so important.

Broderick Rodell:

Yes, thank you. And I do fully understand the various issues and concerns that can arise when you go to a medical doctor and the specialist and not talking to your primary care physician. And so I focus a lot of my attention on the individual and what you can do as an individual to care for yourself, to educate yourself about well-being and help. It doesn’t deny the various social conditions or structural issues there. It’s just that I feel like we have our greatest amount of power, a great capacity to act and taking as much responsibility as we possibly can in our own care through educating ourselves about how our bodies work, how our mind works, how disease manifestation arises, taking advantage of the tools that we have available to us via the Internet and educating ourselves so that we can be advocates for ourselves when we have a conversation with the various medical practitioners. But I’ve also really emphasized what can I do to maximize my health, my well-being, what choices can I make in my life to make my life into a life with maximum wellness and well-being and minimal suffering? And I do spend a large amount of time focusing on training the mind, reducing stress, educating yourself around, what can I do to eat well, nutrition, what can I do to exercise? To get my body moving, what are the various things that I can do to care for myself to the best of my abilities and not give too much power over to medical doctors on a medical system that not always…

Now, I want to say, I’m going to be careful, I say this can be quite incompetent and that incompetence is associated with, I think what was mentioned earlier, a lack of communication. A lack of communication, the way the system is set up, it’s kind of dysfunctional and the various incentives and not enough time spent with patients. And if you’re not spending enough time with patients and you’re not communicating with other practitioners that are working with these patients, then you’re not going to have a very good idea of what’s going on in this patient’s life and what could be contributing to their illness. So, therefore, it’s incumbent upon the patient, we as individuals, to try to learn as much as we can and try to get our communities involved to help create educational programs to facilitate that education and that awareness.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I completely agree, Broderick, the ideas that you mentioned in terms of we as patients and family members and communities educating ourselves about our own health and advocating for ourselves as someone who left medicine to become a professional health advocate, I’m all about advocating for yourself, speaking up, understanding what’s going on with your body. And I know that that can be challenging. And some people feel like, “It’s unfair, if I’m sick, the last thing I should have to worry about is fiercely advocating for myself in a medical setting.” And it is unfair to some degree, but as you stated in this system and the system that we’re currently operating in it is absolutely necessary, and I love that you mentioned mind, body spirit. And as a traditionally trained physician, I will admit that we don’t get that connection, that’s not something that is part of our traditional training. And it’s unfortunate that we kind of just see the body over here, and then the mind over here. And we know that we are all…this is all part of who we are, and that if your environment is not optimal, if your mental health is not optimal, if your spiritual health is not optimal, then that’s going to manifest itself in your physical health.

Equity Rx, Cancer Care for the Whole Patient

Equity Rx, Cancer Care for the Whole Patient from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is culturally competent whole-person cancer care, and why is it important? How can patients maximize their well-being for the best possible cancer treatment outcome? A cancer survivor, naturopathic doctor, and public health scientist share solutions on how the whole patient should be considered in cancer care.

See More From Rx for Community Wellness

Related Resources:

Why Is It Important to Address Whole Person Care?

Why Is It Important to Address Whole Person Care?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Hello and welcome to Equity Rx, Cancer Care for the Whole Patient. I’m your host, Dr. Nicole Rochester. I’m a pediatrician and the CEO of Your GPS Doc. This is a Patient Empowerment Network program, and I’d like to start by thanking our incredible partners, Triage Cancer, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and CancerGRACE for their support. Today, we’re covering a very important topic, the significance of treating the whole patient while providing medical care, particularly for underserved communities. For me, when we think about self-care in the context of whole person care, it’s often considered to be a luxury, particularly in BIPOC communities, mental health and self-care are not always prioritized, and we know that this is… And we know that this is important as well for those with the cancer diagnosis, so how do we change that? We’re going to be talking about how to remove this taboo and how to encourage meaningful mind-body connections, we’re gonna talk about what has worked and what hasn’t worked, and most importantly, how do we ensure that Equity, Rx in cancer care occurs on an everyday basis.

How do we make sure that the entire patient, the whole patient is considered. I’m excited to introduce our panel to you today, we have Aswita Tan-McGory. She is the director of Equity and care implementation at Massachusetts General Hospital. She’s also the Director for the disparity solution center. We have Sasha Tanori. Sasha is a Patient Empowerment Network, AML Empowerment Lead and a cancer survivor. And we have Dr. Broderick Rodell He is an educator, a doctor of naturopathic medicine, and a wellness expert. Following this program, you will receive a survey and we’d be delighted to get your feedback, this helps inform future programs that we produce. Please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical care, so if you have any questions following this program, please be sure to connect with your healthcare team on what options are best for you.

So, let’s start with a definition of whole-person care. Whole-person care is defined as the patient center, optimal use of diverse health care resources to deliver the physical, behavioral, emotional and social services required to improve the coordination of care for patients, their well-being and their health outcomes. So, I’d like to start with you, Aswita and I’d like to know your thoughts on Whole Person Care, and why do you think that this has been such a taboo subject for so long, and also why is it important for us to address whole person care?

Aswita Tan-McGory, MBA, MSPH:

I think that part of the problem is that our healthcare system is very, very fragmented, so if we think about… We have primary care, then we have specialty care, then we have care in the hospital, and oftentimes there’s no communication or communication is sort of inconsistent between those pieces, and so we as a healthcare system don’t promote this idea of whole person care, where you would really look at a patient, see them, see them in their environment, oftentimes, we’re seeing patients in our own institutions and we really don’t know anything about what we’re sending them home to, right? Unless we ask or we screen.

So I actually think it starts with how we build our systems in many ways, as a very sort of system that doesn’t really work to encourage thinking about the patient in the whole way, and that means the primary care physician being part of the care team with specialty care, getting that conversation just from an implementation perspective, I think this is a real challenge in our system, there’s other things as well, but I think that’s a big piece towards how do we ensure that for the patient… And I’m sure all of us have had our own experiences in healthcare where we are like, they’re not talking to each other. Well, why does this this doctor not talking to my primary care doctor aren’t they like logging into the same system? And then if you go outside of your system it’s even more challenging, so.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I completely agree, and I can relate to every single thing you said as both a position and as a former caregiver, I will say as a pediatrician, I felt that this idea of whole person care, even before it was really a thing that’s kind of incorporated in our practice out of necessity, and we know that it’s important for the health of children to be involved in what happens to them at school and what happens to them in their child care setting, what’s happening in their homes.

And so that was kind of my reference point, but when I became a caregiver for my dad and kind of stepped into the world of adult medicine, I experienced exactly what you describe, Aswita. Just this fragmentation providers not talking to one another, and just a lack of appreciation for the importance of our environment and the things that we’re exposed to in our homes than in our communities, and how that is so intricately connected to our health. So I really appreciate that.

Aswita Tan-McGory, MBA, MSPH:

Yeah, I want to just tag on something you just said is, I work with a lot of pediatricians and pediatric hospitals, and they are the angels in our system, if I can say so, you… And they definitely have cornered that market of really thinking of social determinants of health or the whole system for their pediatric patients in a way that I think adult medicine is just catching up on, so I totally agreement, like what you said, and I think it’s because you’re working with kids, you can’t not talk to the parents, not think about what is the school like you know so your forced to because of that environment, but that’s really a model that we should be using for all of our patients.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I completely agree, completely agree. Sasha, what are your thoughts about whole-person care and where are your providers gotten it, right, maybe where have they gotten it wrong?

Sasha Tanori:

For me personally, I can’t speak on every Mexican-American, but at least for me personally, it’s definitely been a struggle because where I come from, it’s a very like low demographic, we don’t have a whole lot of resources and stuff like that, so getting care is… It’s not the easiest. I’ve had to go to several doctors before I even got diagnosed, and I didn’t even get diagnosed in my hometown, I had to be sent to San Diego because they had no idea what was going on. They were like, We don’t know what’s wrong with you. Go home, they kept giving me misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis, and especially with being a plus-sized Mexican-American, they were just like, Oh, if you lose a couple of pounds, you’ll be fine, and I show up at the hospital with bruises on my body and they’re like it’s because you’re overweight, and I’m like, That doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. So yeah, it was definitely difficult trying to find a good health care professional who would listen to me, and I had to leave out of my Imperial Valley, out of my demographic to go find the help because…

And even then, they were kind of like, Well, it could be this blood disease, it could be this, it could be that, and they were like, Oh well, is anyone in your family… You’re Mexican, is anyone in your family have this type of illness, do they have diabetes, or this or that. And I was like, No, just help me. Don’t worry about them. Don’t worry about my family. Don’t worry about them. Worry about me. And finally, I think after two months or something of just going to doctor’s appointments, after doctor’s appointments, they finally were able to give me proper diagnosis, but it shouldn’t have to take that many trips to the hospital and seeing this many doctors for them to figure out what was wrong. And a lot of it is because of, like you said, it’s because of the whole inequity of being a person of color, and I’m only half Mexican, but a lot of people see that part of me first, and they think they automatically start being prejudiced or they start judging you based on the way you look, the way you talk and stuff like that, so that way… It’s definitely been a struggle, especially being here in the Imperial Valley, we’re so close to the Mexican border, so they just automatically…They’re like, No, it’s just straight up, no.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wow, I’m really sorry about that, and I appreciate you sharing your story and you’re bringing up some things that we’re definitely going to get further into as we start to talk about bias and culturally competent care. What about you Broderick? And You’re a naturopathic physician, you’re a wellness expert, so you probably fully… Not probably you fully understand the importance of whole-person care, I feel like that’s at the root of your specialty, so maybe you can give us some ideas about how you approach this and why whole person care is so important.

Broderick Rodell:

Yes, thank you. And I do fully understand the various issues and concerns that can arise when you go to a medical doctor and the specialist and not talking to your primary care physician, and so I focus a lot of my attention on the individual and what you can do as an individual to care for yourself, to educate yourself about well-being and help, it doesn’t deny the various social conditions or structural issues there, it’s just that I feel like we have our greatest amount of power, a great capacity to act and taking as much responsibility as we possibly can in our own care through educating ourselves about how our bodies work, how our mind works, how disease manifestation arises, taking advantage of the tools that we have available to us via the internet and educating ourselves so that we can be advocates for ourselves when we have a conversation with the various medical practitioners, but I’ve also really emphasize what can I do to maximize my health, my well-being, what choices can I make in my life to make my life to no life with maximum wellness and well-being and minimal suffering. And I do spend a large amount of time focusing on training the mind, reducing stress, educating yourself around, what can I do to eat well, nutrition, what can I do to exercise? To get my body moving, what are the various things that I can do to care for myself to the best of my abilities and not give too much power over to medical doctors on a medical system that not always…

Now, I wanna say, I’m gonna be careful, I say this can be quite incompetent and that incompetence is associated with, I think what was mentioned earlier, a lack of communication. A lack of communication, the way the system is set up, it’s kind of dysfunctional and the various incentives and not enough time spent with patients, and if you’re not spending enough time with patients and you’re not communicating with other practitioners that are working with these patients, then you’re not gonna have a very good idea of what’s going on in this patient’s life and what could be contributing to their illness. So, therefore, it’s incumbent upon the patient, we as individuals, to try to learn as much as we can and try to get our communities involved to help create educational programs to facilitate that education and that awareness.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I completely agree, Broderick the ideas that you mentioned in terms of we as patients and family members and communities educating ourselves about our own health and advocating for ourselves as someone who left medicine to become a professional health advocate, I’m all about advocating for yourself, speaking up, understanding what’s going on with your body? And I know that that can be challenging. And some people feel like it’s unfair, if I’m sick, the last thing I should have to worry about is fiercely advocating for myself in a medical setting, and it is unfair to some degree, but as you stated in this system and the system that we’re currently operating in it is absolutely necessary, and I love that you mentioned mind, body spirit, and as a traditionally trained physician, I will admit that we don’t get that connection, that’s not something that is part of our traditional training, and it’s unfortunate that we kind of just see the body over here, and then the mind over here, and we know that we are all… This is all part of who we are, and that if your environment is not optimal, if your mental health is not optimal, if your spiritual health is not optimal, then that’s going to manifest itself in your physical health.

I wanna start talking about health inequities, and I wanna piggy-back off of something you just said, Broderick, because you talked about kind of eating well and exercising, and sometimes those things, those behaviors are kind of weaponized against patients, particularly if they are in environments where that doesn’t just come easy. So we know that due to structural racism, due to inequities, not everybody has access to fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy foods, not everyone has access to green spaces, nice parks where they can go outside and safety and exercise, and that’s something that we’re being made increasingly aware of is how these social determinants of health impact healthcare. So I wanna move and start to talk about the importance of culturally competent care, or I like to call it cultural humility, I don’t know that we can really ever be competent in someone else’s culture, but I wanna talk about how those come together, this idea of being respectful and sensitive and aware of individuals culture and how that connects to some of the health inequities that we experience, so Aswita, I know this is an area of expertise for you, so I’d love for you to chime in.

Aswita Tan-McGory, MBA, MSPH:

Yeah, I mean, I would love it if every physician or nurse or PA started the conversation, what has been the biggest challenge for you in the last six months? If you ask that question, I mean, well the patient will be like, Oh my God. And not around just medical issues, they all align right? If you don’t have housing, you’re gonna have medical stress, like Broderick said. I’m just calm listening to you, so I’m gonna guess that you have is really positive vibe that’s probably missing for many of us because we aren’t practicing the things that you encourage, and so I would just say that it’s really difficult in the system like I said, we set up, and we mentioned 15 minutes, doctors don’t feel like they have time to ask that question, but you’re doing it in other ways, we implement social determinants of health screening. Well, that’s really that question, right. But you formalize it because it’s not happening, so now it becomes like a screening question, and I will just say that we’re very narrow-minded in our view, I think I have seen a change in the very beginning when we started the work in our center in 2006, a lot of pushback was around thinking about what happens in the patient outside of our walls, it said, Well, I didn’t go to medical school to solve the problem of housing, I didn’t go to medical school to figure out how to get somebody on benefits, and I think health care system realized it doesn’t matter what you do in the hospital, it will be undone when they get home to a situation where they can’t maintain it, they can’t provide that support, they don’t…

They’re stressed out, they have mental health issues, so I think they’re finally getting there, but I think just acknowledging that the person in front of you has different experiences based on, language, education, gender, ability, sexual orientation… I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think you just need to own it, we’re working on it, so I do it better than others, but I don’t know any healthcare system, honestly, that’s nailed this to the way that we probably should, so… I’m with you Broderick, we don’t do this very well, and most of my job includes dismantling these systems that we built to benefit the people in power and leave everybody else behind, and so that’s been really the focus in our work.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wonderful, thank you so much for sharing that. And for all the work that you’re doing in this area. Sasha, from your perspective, and you mentioned you’re a Mexican-American, you mentioned that there were significant barriers for you in terms of getting a diagnosis, having to leave your community. So, I love for you to share more about that, this idea of cultural humility, cultural sensitivity, and how that played out or maybe didn’t in your experiences with the healthcare system.

Sasha Tanori:

Yeah, I live in the lowest poverty line of California, so there’s not very much out there at all in my area, just to get my diagnosis, like I said, I had to leave out of my community to go get the community… To go get the diagnosis. Sorry. And when I did that, it was… A lot of it had to also do with your… For me personally, it has to do with like generational. My father doesn’t believe in diagnosis, diagnoses, to him, it’s like every time I kept coming to him and complaining about this issue, he was just like, Oh, you’re exaggerating, or it would be like the typical inaudible],  and put some Vix on it and you’re fine type of response, and I kept bugging him and bugging him, and he didn’t believe me, nobody believed me because it’s just such a… Like I said, I live in a… What’s the word I’m thinking of, I’m sorry. I live in a community that they don’t take things like this seriously from Mexicans, if a white girl was to go to the hospital and say, Hey, I’ve got bruises, it’s like, Okay, let’s do testing right away, but I kept… And it is a lot of my generational, I think, trauma from my parents or from my dad mostly, that I didn’t even believe myself, it’s just like…

I kept putting it on the back burner. I kept thinking, No, there’s nothing wrong. No, there’s nothing wrong. No, there’s nothing wrong. And I wish that I would have advocated for myself a lot sooner, I wish that I would have taken my own problems more serious because I didn’t… I didn’t think anything was on either, I just kept ignoring it because that’s just how my mind was trained from my community, from my parents or my dad mostly, and finally, once I was able to… Once I started getting really, really serious, I still didn’t get the help, I need it right away, it was now kept pushing it back on, you need to lose weight, or you’re anemic, or you have this blood disorder, so take this medicine, like nobody really took anything… I was saying serious because I also didn’t take it serious, my community doesn’t take it serious, my dad doesn’t take it serious, and that all just comes back to being Mexican, that’s just how it is when you’re Mexican, you don’t really take any of the serious issues serious, you go to work and you take care of your family. And you put yourself on the back burner.

You put yourself last. And it was really hard. Yeah, but now that I been through everything I’ve been through, I’m seriously, so passionate about making sure that people, especially Mexicans realize, Hey, whatever you’re feeling, whatever you’re going through, whether it’s physical, emotional, mentally, it needs to come first, no matter what.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Thank you, Sasha. That is so incredibly important, and even the way you’re sharing what you said towards the end about, You go to work, you take care of your family, this all goes back to cultural competence, all goes back to social determinants of health. It explains why often, racial and ethnic minority groups, those in lower income brackets have poor health, it’s not biology, but when you are needing out of necessity to focus on your next meal, then you’re going to push off going to the doctor, you’re going to neglect your mental health, which brings me back to you, Broderick, because we know that stress and anxiety and depression and all of those things impact your physical health, and as I said earlier, I think traditionally, there’s been this ridiculous disconnection between our minds and our bodies, and we know a lot more now, in fact, there’s a study, there are many studies, but there’s a study specifically looking at Prostate Cancer by Dr. Burnham, a researcher, and what they found in this study is that they looked at prostate cancer cells from African-American patients and white patients, and when they treated these cells with stress hormones, they saw that the black patient’s prostate cells would begin to up-regulate the genes and the proteins that are known to make that cancer more resistant to therapy, and so it starts to look at the role of stress and stress hormones, and we know that there’s increased stress among minority communities, among… Sorry, urban communities, those who are otherwise disenfranchised, so from your perspective, can you just share a little bit about the connection between stress and physical illness and maybe how you approach that in the work that you do?

Broderick Rodell:

Yeah, so I’m just reflecting on what Sasha was saying and how the depth of what you’re saying and how this relates to stress. So these various patterns we don’t operate, we have a framework that we all operate from, and it’s beneath the surface of our conscious awareness and so our subconscious mind operating system is there, but that operating system comes from our conditioning, we’re conditioned by our families, by our local communities, our societies, and so the various structures that are in place are facilitating our conditioning and from our conditioning we… That our conditioning creates our perspective, the framework that we operate from, that’s determine… That’s gonna determine how we relate to our experiences, and how we relate to our experiences can be gracefully or it can be stressfully, just to put it in those two different terms, and so that stress, that is created based on how we’re relating to our experiences has a historical perspective, and so we have to address those issues. We can address on familial issues that has a historical relationship and say that maybe the relationship that my mother and father or grandparents had towards their own health is not necessarily to be the most optimal way to do that, and they may have had those ways of relating to their experience, based on their conditioning, based on the suffering that they’ve been experienced, environmental conditions that were conducive for that mental framework that they’re operating from, and so we have to work towards transforming that, and again, the place where we have the most power in ourselves, How can I change myself? When I listen to Sasha story, Sasha says, I have to change, I have to go somewhere else.

I can’t depend on my father to do it ’cause he’s gonna tell me to put Vix on, but that’s not gonna work for me. I have to advocate for myself, and so how do we increase that by increasing our education and learning about ourselves and learning about our mental models that we’re using to relate to our experiences and transforming those mental models to reduce unnecessary stress and tension, because when we’re under unnecessary stress, we have our epinephrine cortisol, these hormones that are increasing in our body, that’s gonna suppress our immune system. It’s gonna cause damage in our blood vessels, organs are not gonna function optimally, and I think that we’re gonna keep finding out more and more about this. I was interested, as you hear that about the prostate, prostate cells in African-Americans, why would that be the case? You’ve got generations of hyper-vigilance for historical reasons, cultural reasons or social reasons, then of course, that’s gonna get passed on from generation to generation, a sense of hyper-vigilance a sense excessive amount of stress hormones was floating around in the bloodstream, and it’s gonna have a significant influence on how the body is capable of dealing with various illnesses be it cancer, be it cardiovascular disease or any other disease that’s associated with, or ____ disease that’s associated with stress these days.

In particular, with cancer it’s very interesting, that relationship and why are these cells dividing and rapidly producing in the way that they’re doing, and how is that related to stress? I don’t think it’s… No, simple relationship there. You can’t just say, Stress causes cancer, I’m not saying that at all. But there is a correlation, there is a relationship, and if the thing that we can tackle, we can’t change our genes, but what we can do is change our relationship to our experience. Transform that to reduce the amount of stress or suffering and maximize well-being, and that’s the kind of work that I try to focus my attention on and what comes out of that is, Okay, I need to work on how I relate to my experience, but also How do I create favorable conditions in my internal system, in my body through the food, it through the exercise that I do it, through the literature and I expose myself to etcetera.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

No, that was perfect, Broderick. That was perfect. I appreciate that because as we wrap up, we want to start to share solutions, how do we begin to change the conversation among healthcare providers, among community-based organizations, policymakers, those that influence the health of individuals and communities, and what you’ve described is what we can do. The power that we have within ourselves to reframe how we look at our circumstances, to reframe how we relate to our experiences to begin to minimize the stress to the degree that we can individually and how all of that really impacts health. I really, really appreciate those comments. Sasha, I’m going to go to you next and then I’m going to finish up with Aswita. If you had some advice that you could give from a patient’s perspective, and maybe you’re talking to a policy maker or healthcare providers, but how can we do better in this area as it relates to Whole Person Care, culturally competent care?

Sasha Tanori:

I would definitely say take your patients more seriously and not just like one-offs, okay, bye. A lot of the times they just do a couple of tests and they’re like, Oh well, we can’t find anything, so let’s just move along and there needs to be more conversation as well.

A lot of the doctors will come in and talk to you for like you said, 15 minutes, and then it’s like, Okay, you know, well, we can’t find anything wrong, so just go… And it’s like, No, let me explain everything, let me explain how I’m mentally feeling, how I’m physically feeling, how stressed out feeling, how emotionally I’m feeling, and there’s just so many different layers to just one, if you come in and say, Oh, well, my hip hurts. Okay, but why I explain more to it, not just okay let’s do an x-ray and you leave. Like there needs to be a lot more conversation going on between the patient and the doctor, there needs to be a lot more understanding where it could also be stress as it relates to work, it could be stress related to family, to love the ones… To kids, to spouses, there’s so many different things on top of that, that’s more than just, you know, Hey, you know like, I just need a prescription and you can go… There’s so much more conversation needs to be have then I really wish that a lot more health care providers would have that conversation with them, I know they don’t always have the time, they’re busy, but at least a little bit more compassion, a little bit more understanding, going about when it comes to patients.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I appreciate that, and you’re right. The time is an issue. And I will tell you as a physician and as somebody who has tons of physician friends, it causes internal conflict within the doctors, because I don’t know any doctor that got into this for any reason, primarily, other than to help patients, and so to be placed in these situations where you know that you’re falling short of providing the care that your patients need is actually quite disturbing. So that leads me to you, Aswita. So we’ve talked about all the things that need to happen in an ideal world, but as you described earlier, the system in which health care is provided in our country is dysfunctional, it’s broken, and so as someone with your background, what are some of the solutions? What are some of the things that healthcare systems and organizations can do with all these limitations that we’ve all been talking about today?

Aswita Tan-McGory, MBA, MSPH:

This actually came from my colleague who’s a psychiatrist, and we did a webinar together, and she mentioned this, and I just really loved it as a solution which is talking as a pathway to healing, when we think about… A lot of what I heard today, the big thing is a lack of trust between a patient and a provider or a patient and a health care system, there was so much trauma in our communities that we don’t talk about, and so I would say that like…

One solution is, we as a system need to talk about these challenges more openly or more… I mean I have this sign behind me it says get comfortable being uncomfortable to talk about racism, but I think also within our own communities, we need to talk more about the challenges, the things that we just sort of tolerated that are not okay anymore, and getting mental health care, acknowledging that we are disproportionately attacked when we go out on the streets, all of those things, we need to more openly talk and that is a pathway to healing, which I think this country really could use, and so my solution is simple but difficult, but probably cheaper than any other solution that I would offer to fix the issues. I think we just need to start there, yes, we can do many things, but I think talking about this as a pathway to healing would go a long way.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wow. Talking as a pathway to healing. That is powerful. Well, I want to thank all of you for spending some time with me today, this has been a phenomenal conversation, one that I’m sure we could all continue for hours and hours and hours. But unfortunately, we do have to go.

I want to thank all of you for taking time to be part of this Patient Empowerment Network, Equity Rx webinar. Just to give a recap, we’ve learned about the importance of culturally sensitive Whole Person Care, how culturally competent or culturally sensitive whole person and care is important in reducing health inequities, we talked about how stress impacts lifestyle and cancer and all other chronic diseases, and we’ve also tried to provide you with some actionable pathways and potential solutions to this problem, it is truly these actions that are the key to staying on your Path to Empowerment. I’m Dr. Nicole Rochester, thank you for joining this Patient Empowerment Network program.

Three Ways to Partner in Your Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Care

How can Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM) patients become partners in their care? In the “Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Treatment Decisions: What’s Right for You?” program, expert Dr. Jorge Castillo from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute shares three key ways that WM patients can take a more active role for optimal health outcomes.

1. Ask Your Doctor When the Appropriate Time to Treat Is

WM patients can often remain in the watch-and-wait phase of their disease for many years, but it’s important for the oncologist to monitor the patient during this time. Ask your doctor when the appropriate time to treat will be, make sure that your bloodwork is monitored on a regular basis, and report how you’re feeling and all of your symptoms.

 2. Establish Your Treatment Goals and Plan

Depending on each Waldenström macroglobulinemia patient, treatment goals may vary depending on the patient age, overall health, lifestyle, and other factors. Work together with your healthcare team to determine your treatment goals and then learn about treatment options. Take action to both ask your WM provider about treatment options and ask about credible Waldenström macroglobulinemia online resources to do further research. And then discuss your treatment options with your WM provider to determine the best treatment for you.

3. Become a Proactive Patient

WM patients can take actions to further advocate for their best care. Educate yourself about your condition by reading credible online resources like International Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia Foundation, Lymphoma Research Foundation, and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Bring a friend or family member to your appointments with your Waldenström macroglobulinemia doctor to help take notes or to ask questions – and make sure to advocate for yourself if you feel ignored or unheard.

By taking a more active role in their care, Waldenström macroglobulinemia patients can help determine the best treatment plan for optimal health outcomes.

Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Treatment Decisions: What’s Right for You?

Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Treatment Decisions: What’s Right for You? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What determines the best Waldenström macroglobulinemia treatment for YOU? In this 30-minute webinar, Dr. Jorge Castillo reviews key factors that affect treatment decisions, emerging treatment research, and shares tips for partnering with your healthcare team.

Dr. Jorge Castillo is Clinical Director at the Bing Center for Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Learn more about Dr. Castillo, here.

See More From The Pro-Active Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Patient Toolkit

Download Guide

Related Programs:

Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Patient First Office Visit Planner

Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Patient First Office Visit Planner

WM Patient Follow-Up Visit Planner

Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Patient Follow-Up Visit Planner 

Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Treatment Decisions: What’s Right For You? Resource Guide 


Transcript:

Katherine:      

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s webinar. In this program, we’re going to help you learn more about Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia, what it is, and how it’s treated, and we’ll share tools to help you work with your healthcare team to access the best care.

Before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you. Joining us today is Dr. Jorge Castillo. Dr. Castillo, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Castillo:               

Yes, hi. Thank you, Katherine. My name is Jorge Castillo. I’m the clinical director of the Waldenstrom’s Program at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Katherine:                  

Excellent. Thank you for taking the time to join us today.

Dr. Castillo:               

Happy to be here.

Katherine:                  

Before we get into the discussion, I’m sure this has been on the minds of many patients. Is the COVID vaccine safe and effective for Waldenstrom’s patients?

Dr. Castillo:               

Yeah, that’s a great question. I think the short answer is yes. We have a number of studies that not only our center but other centers in the United States and Europe have been doing. And we have seen that patients with Waldenstrom’s do benefit from the administration of the COVID vaccine.

Katherine:                  

Excellent. Let’s start with the very basic. What is Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia?

Dr. Castillo:               

Yeah, Waldenstrom’s macro – it’s a mouthful.

Katherine:                  

It is.

Dr. Castillo:               

I can just call it WM for ease.

It is a blood cancer, and in this blood cancer, the malignant cells are nesting in the bone marrow. And not only that. These malignant cells kind of secrete, produce, a protein called IgM.

IgM is an antibody that should be protecting us from infections, and in a normal state, we all have a little bit of IgM, and that’s a good thing. But in these patients, with these malignant cells, as these cells accumulate in the marrow, they actually increase the levels of IgM in our patients, and that can translate into a number of different symptoms, which we will probably talk about later.

Katherine:                  

Yes. How is it staged?

Dr. Castillo:               

So, the staging is a very interesting aspect. So, when we think about cancer, we think about stage I is in one spot, stage II in another spot, stage III, right, and it gets more extensive as we go along. That doesn’t really apply to Waldenstrom’s. Waldenstrom’s is a whole-body disease right from the start. The main reason for that is because it’s a disease of the bone marrow, and we all have bone marrow in all our bones, from our skull all the way to the great toe, so if you were to get a sample from each bone space, we would find the malignant cells there. So, this is a disease that is a whole-body disease right from the start, so therefore, there’s no stage I, II, or III. That is just the way we envision this.

Katherine:                  

How does the condition progress?

Dr. Castillo:               

So, it’s interesting because a number of the patients that we see in my clinic are actually asymptomatic at the time of the presentation. I would say maybe about a third of the patients I see in my clinic that were diagnosed with this disease for other reasons. They either had an abnormal laboratory value or an abnormal imaging study or some other reason. And when they come, they are worked up. Initially, they are found to have these malignant cells and these IgM elevation, but they have no other problems whatsoever.

So, I would say most patients will be asymptomatic at the beginning of the disease, and probably they will be asymptomatic for years before the symptoms actually do start. So, what happens is the malignant cells start taking over the bone marrow space, and it reaches a point in which the bone marrow, the healthy bone marrow, doesn’t have space to produce the normal cells that they should produce.

So, the first things that we tend to see in these patients is anemia, so the hemoglobin level starts dropping.

The red cells are the first ones that are being affected by this process so that the anemia is being seen first. If we leave that for a long time, then the other blood cells will decrease also, the white blood cells and the platelets over time. But the first one is almost always the anemia. And obviously, that, patients feel tired. They feel short of breath. They feel fatigued and all of that.

Now, the IgM itself can cause other problems on their own. If they have there’s too much IgM, they can actually make the blood a little thick, and that can cause a little bit of problems with the circulation, specifically in the eyes, for example. Some patients have blurred vision. Some patients have nosebleeds or headaches, right, with all that hyperviscosity, which means the blood is too thick. In some other patients, we have nerve damage. You know, they can have numbness in their toes, and then that increases into the – progresses, extends into the feet, into the shins, into the knees and then the fingers.

And so, that happens over years sometimes. Some patients can have enlargement of lymph nodes in their necks and in the axillary areas or in the inguinal areas, or even enlargement of organs, the spleen and liver and things like that. So, when we think about the clinical manifestations of Waldenstrom’s, it varies, very diverse. But I would say most patients would have anemia. I think that’s probably the most important aspect of it.

Katherine:                  

Thank you for that. That’s really helpful. So, now that we know more about Waldenstrom’s and how it progresses, let’s turn to treatment. Help us understand when it’s time to treat. Certain patients, as you said, don’t really need treatment right away because they’re asymptomatic. So, which patient type should begin to get treatment?

Dr. Castillo:               

That’s really the most important aspect of the discussion, I would say, because from my perspective – you know, I’ve been doing this for almost a decade, seeing probably 3,000, 4,000 patients with Waldenstrom’s in my career, I think one of the most important decisions is when to treat.

A number of our patients will be asymptomatic, and they will remain asymptomatic for years. So, really, treatment initiation in this scenario is not reasonable. Number one, we don’t cure the disease. Number two, patient have a long survival. I’m talking about 15, 20 years of survival in a large proportion of patients. So, a treatment that is going to last a year is not going to change a 20-year survival, so we don’t extend the survival of our patients in most cases.

Katherine:                  

Right. If a patient has been on watch and wait, how do you know when it’s time to begin therapy?

Dr. Castillo:               

Yeah, so essentially, when we see patients in whom we decide to monitor, right, watch and wait, which is monitor them, we follow them over time, and we see them sometimes every three months or every six months, and we get bloodwork.

We do bloodwork on those patients to look at the hemoglobin, just to see if there’s anemia or not, to look at the IgM to see if it gets too high or not. And if the IgM is too high, sometimes, we’ll have the patients have eye examinations on a yearly basis to make sure that there’s no changes in the vessels in the back of their eyes, in their retinas. That’s an indication of hyperviscosity. And every time we see them, not only do we look at the numbers, which I think is important, but we also look at the symptoms.

So, I classically ask my patients, “How’s your energy level, how well you’re doing, still able to do everything you want to do? Any numbness in your feet? Right? Any nosebleeds, any headaches, any blurred vision, right? Any lumps? So, I just go over this list of different symptoms that patients can experience. Are you having fevers? Are you having night sweats? Are you losing weight for no reason? Right? So, it’s a monitoring process.

Just to clarify further, for example, a patient can come to see me with anemia, and I know that Waldenstrom’s causes anemia, as I said before. But it is my duty as a doctor to make sure that there’s no other reason why the patient might be anemic. So, even though in the scenario, which is very likely that the disease is causing this problem, I still need to make sure that it is not something else driving this anemia for the patient, and then the anemia is severe enough. You know, some patients say, “Yeah, I’m a little tired, but I’m still able to do everything I want to do.”

So, really that’s a very minor process. And there are people who tell me, “You know what, I cannot play with my children anymore, right, because I’m so tired,” then that’s a different process. So, the severity of the symptom and how related to the disease it is, that combination is what really tells us who needs to be treated or not.

So, what I would say in terms of treatment timing for Waldenstrom’s patients, it’s not that you need treatment and then you don’t need it, and then you need it. It’s not like that. It’s more like you don’t need it; you don’t need it; and then it is reasonable to treat. And there is a period in which it’s reasonable to treat, and that period can last sometimes months to years. Some patients can decide to be treated a little earlier in the process with less symptoms. And some patients can decide to be treated a little bit later with more symptoms.

So, it has to do a lot with the patients, how they feel, how they’re tolerating the symptoms, how dangerous or potentially threatening those symptoms are. And that’s a conversation that it needs to take place between the doctor and the patient, understanding the patient’s preferences.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. Yeah. What are the treatment goals for Waldenstrom’s?

Dr. Castillo:               

So, as I said earlier, we don’t cure patients with Waldenstrom’s. Patients live with Waldenstrom’s, and I said before as well, for many years.

So, I think the goal of the treatment is to get back the patient – to get the patient back to how they were feeling before they became symptomatic. If the patient is not able to play with their children, as I said before, getting them back to play with their children again and have that energy. Or if they’re having all these lumps popping up in their bodies, kind of reduce the size of those lumps. Or if they’re having the neuropathy, have an improvement on the nerve ending damage and the numbness that they’re experiencing. If they’re having nosebleeds and headaches, resolve those symptoms.

So, in many other cancers, we think about complete remissions, cures, and that’s what we need to do. And we need to induce responses in our patients, and our treatments do induce responses in our patients, and responses are measured by IgM levels improvements and hemoglobin improvements and things like that, which is great to have the numbers improve, but I think it’s key to actually control the patient’s symptoms as well.

And I think it’s – from my perspective as a patient, if I were a patient, that would put it more important to me. So, what about my hemoglobin going from 10 to 13 if I’m not feeling better? So, I think feeling better is a very important aspect of what we do here.

Katherine:                  

Yeah, absolutely. Can you walk us through the currently available treatment approaches for WM?

Dr. Castillo:               

Oh, there’s plenty. And that is actually a good message. So, there are many treatment options, and the treatment options are almost equally effective. So, I think we can separate the treatment options in big groups. I think that the big group, the first group that we use, treatments that are very effective, is chemotherapy-based. And we have a number of chemotherapy options that we use routinely for patients with Waldenstrom’s. We typically combine chemotherapy with an antibody called rituximab. And that rituximab is used universally for a lot of different blood cancers out there.

And so, when we combine the chemotherapy with the rituximab, I would say probably 90 to 95 percent of patients that get treated do feel better. Not only their numbers improve, but also the symptoms improve, the treatments. These treatments are typically given intravenously, and they are typically given for about six months of treatments. It’s very easy to tolerate.

I mean, it’s not the classic chemotherapy that we think about with other cancers, right? Losing your hair and vomiting and being very sick. That is not what happens with these chemos. They are very gentle chemos. But the fact that they are gentle doesn’t mean that they do not work. I mean, they are very effective against the disease, but they are more gentle in terms of the side effects. Some other side effects that I think are important with chemo specifically is the small risk of developing another bone marrow disease, and that’s because of how chemo works. It also damages a little bit the good cells, and that can cause other problems, and the risk of infections.

I think nowadays, in the context of the pandemic, I think the risk of infections is something that we need to really talk about a lot with our patients. But these typically are six-month treatments, intravenous treatments, and then done with treatments and very effective regimens. Then, we have the non-chemo treatments, which is you have a lot of those, development of those therapies over the years.

We do have a group of medications called proteasome inhibitors, or PIs. And we borrow those from the myeloma group.

Myeloma is another blood cancer that shares some similarities with Waldenstrom’s, so we use some of those treatments into our treatments. And these are non-chemotherapy agents. We also combine them with rituximab to make them more powerful.

And some of them are intravenous. Some of them are injected under the skin. Some of them are pills. And again, six months of treatments, very nicely tolerated, very effective. I’m talking about 90, 95 percent efficacy rate. And the side effects with this are more like nerve ending damage or more like lung, heart problems, not really secondary malignancies, but infections is also an issue here too.

And then, we have the most – the newer treatments that are the pill form treatment. We call them BTK inhibitors, B as in Boy, T as in Tom, K, BTK inhibitors.

We use that for many other diseases as well, but we use them for Waldenstrom’s too. And we use them alone in most scenarios. Sometimes, we can combine them with rituximab, but the large experience is without rituximab. So, it’s just the pill. Nothing else. No injections or infusions. No risk of secondary bone marrow disease. No risk of neuropathy. But they are pills that you have to take every day, indefinitely.

So, in contrast with the other six-month treatments, duration treatments, these are treatments that tend to last for several years. And we do have some taking these pills sometimes for six, seven, eight years, and they continue on them because they do well, and their response is as good as chemotherapy. But it’s just with a pill that you need to take every day.

Now, these pills have a different set of side effects, and that includes sometimes some irregular heartbeats, some bleeding and bruising. We have a new pill just that we published on recently, a medication called venetoclax, with a V. Again, it’s a different mechanism of action. It’s a BCL-2 inhibitor. It doesn’t have any risk of arrhythmia or bleeding, but it can cause some issues with infections.

But maybe you can take two years of this treatment and not take it indefinitely. So, all these are treatments that we keep advancing, and we will continue running studies with new medications that hopefully have similar or higher efficacy with a better side effect profile.

Now, just to finalize, the last option that should always be in the mind of a patient is clinical trials, investigational agents that are not sometimes – some of them are approved already by the FDA.

Sometimes they’re not. But they are agents that either in the laboratory or in prior experience suggest that they might have efficacy on these patients.

And that’s another treatment option that could be considered in some scenarios.

Katherine:                  

Okay, excellent. Efficacy and many factors coming into play, obviously, when making a treatment decision. How do you decide which treatment is appropriate for a particular patient?

Dr. Castillo:               

Yeah, that’s a million-dollar question. And the reason that is the case is because when we think about other types of cancers, right, breast cancer and lung cancer, we do have these large studies with thousands of patients in which half of the group got one treatment; the other half got the other treatment. And we know that one treatment is better than other in this context of a randomized, large study. We don’t have a lot of that in Waldenstrom’s because it’s a rare disease. So, most of the studies that we do have are studies in which we have maybe 30, 40, 50 patients, 100 if we’re lucky, so comparisons between all these different treatments have not been done.

So, the chemotherapy, for example, versus the PI, there’s no study comparing that. The chemotherapy versus the BTK inhibitors, there’s no study comparing that. So, based on that, since there’s no comparison, we need to kind of understand the profile of the drug, you know. And you need to match that with the patient’s preferences.

So, we need to look at the patient’s age. We need to look at the patient’s comorbidities. We need to look at the patient’s medications that they’re on. Are their insurance going to cover the pills or not? Are they comfortable with getting intravenous infusions? What is the risk of leukemia versus the risk of neuropathy in those patients? So, we need to look at so many factors. Interestingly enough, efficacy is not the problem. We don’t choose treatments based on efficacy because all of the treatments are almost equally effective. We actually choose treatments based on patients’ preferences. We choose treatment based on the medication side effects.

And the newer thing is actually, we’re doing genomic profile in the patients. We’re actually seeing which mutations the patients have, and there are some treatments that work better or worse with specific mutations, so we kind of tailor a treatment option based on all those factors.

So, it’s not an easy job, but I think it’s rewarding to understand that the best treatment for a patient with Waldenstrom’s is a personalized treatment. And as long as –

Katherine:                  

That’s what it sounds like.

Dr. Castillo:               

And as long as the patient understands the best he or she can in terms of the pros and cons of the treatment before going in, an educated decision, I think that’s probably best choice, yeah.

Katherine:                  

Are there test results that can impact options?

Dr. Castillo:               

I would say so. So, for example, in patients who have very high IgM levels, we try to avoid giving rituximab alone, for example, because rituximab can also make the IgM go up in about 40 to 50 percent of the cases, and patients can become more symptomatic if they were symptomatic because of the IgM in the first place.

So, that’s one value that we follow carefully. Sometimes, the kidney function can tell us if there are some chemotherapies that cannot be given with a kidney function that is not normal or close to normal, for example. And again, there are some mutations that can help us understand if a treatment might work better than other treatments too.

So, yeah, there’s a lot of shades of gray in there to be able to pick and choose. And again, the patient’s symptoms are important. I mean, if a patient, for example, already has an arrhythmia, I’m going to try to avoid a medication that can cause more arrhythmias. If a patient has already some nerve damage, I’m less likely to recommend a treatment that can cause more nerve damage. So, yeah, there’s a lot of room there for personalization.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. You’ve mentioned existing conditions. So, how do patients’ specific factors like lifestyle and age and other preexisting conditions impact treatment choices?

Dr. Castillo:               

Well, I think the way that affects it is just because patients who are older age tend to have other problems, you know. And I think having that in mind is important. So, if somebody has a liver dysfunction of some kind, then that will modify my treatment options. And as I said earlier, if someone has a kidney disfunction of some kind or depending on the degree, I can choose a different type of treatment there.

Now, also, we need to be mindful, for example, if somebody’s not so reliable on taking pills because they cannot remember or they don’t know, they are not organized enough or they don’t – you know. So, there are so many other factors playing into that role – maybe a pill form treatment might not be the best option, you know.

If somebody doesn’t have help to transfer him to take him to the infusion room back and forth, maybe an infusion treatment might not be the best there. So, again, another series of factors could be taken into account when making treatment decisions.

Katherine:                  

There’s obviously so much to consider when choosing therapy. What do you feel is the patient’s role in treatment decisions?

Dr. Castillo:               

From my perspective, the patient’s role is very important. I need, as a physician, that the patient feels that it’s part of the team here. So, when patients come to see me, I strongly encourage patients to bring as many people as they want with them. If they want somebody on FaceTime at the same time, I’m happy with that too. And that helps because the amount of data that we provide, the amount of information that we provide, is a lot in terms of quantity. But sometimes, it’s not easy to understand when you just hear it one time, right?

So, having somebody taking notes, having somebody else taking notes, having somebody else listening, somebody else asking questions, and then somebody else explaining back to the patient – the patient is looking for the best for them, but if he’s also affected by the whole process. It would be naïve to feel – or to think – that somebody was told they have an incurable blood cancer, and they are completely paying attention to everything you’re saying, after you said something like that.

So, I think it’s important for patients to be there with family, friends, or whoever wants to be there to help out. I think that’s a really important aspect. Then, number two is you need to know about your own disease. And I am fortunate to work with a group of patients who are highly educated, to the point that they get to know more about their disease than their own doctor. And I think that’s key. I think that’s important. For me, that is not threatening or challenging. I think that is actually a good thing.

And that way, I can have a more direct conversation, meaningful, because I understand that the patient is understanding what I am saying, and we are trying to speak the same language, so I think that is key also. So, bottom line, I think education from the patient perspective, involvement of their care, I think that’s key so they can be their own best advocates.

There is going to be a lot of – since it’s a rare disease, there’s going to be a lot of backs and forths with different physicians. Some physicians are going to be more intensive and trying to treat when the patient doesn’t need to be treated. The opposite is also true in which a patient, they do need treatment, and the physicians are saying, “No, we can wait a little bit longer.” And again, that has nothing to do with the quality of the doctor. It’s just the fact that the disease is rare, and to keep up with it is very difficult. So, the patient being their best advocate is actually a very important role that they should have.

Katherine:                  

Knowledge is power.

Dr. Castillo:               

That’s right.

Katherine:                  

How is treatment effectiveness monitored? How do you know if it’s working?

Dr. Castillo:               

Yeah, so a couple of ways, right? We have the formal way and the informal way. So, the formal way to measure a response is, I mentioned before, the IgM. All right? So, the IgM levels, we use the IgM levels and how they decline over time on treatments to measure the response of the patients. So, based on the IgM decrease, we can actually classify the patients’ response in different depths.

So, we have minor responses, which is 25 to 50 percent decrease in the IgM, and then we have a partial response, which is a 50-90 percent decrease in the IgM, and then we have a very good partial response, which is a 90 percent decrease of the IgM or normalization of the IgM. So, it all depends. So, if your IgM let’s say, is 3,000, right, you will not be in a partial response unless your IgM is below 1,500, and you will not be on a very good response unless your IgM is below 300, for example. And that might be different for somebody who starts with an IgM of 10,000, and that might be different for somebody who start with an IgM of 500, right?

So, that’s the formal response criteria that we use, IgM-based. Having said that, we also have other factors in terms of the quality of life of the patient. So, we can see improvements in hemoglobin levels. We can actually see normalization of hemoglobin, even though the response to the IgM is minor. Right, you say “minor”, and I mean, how great that is?

But if the hemoglobin goes from 8 to 15 on a minor response, I think that patient is doing very well, right? So, we need to have those two hand-in-hand to understand what the benefit of the patient is seeing. If the patient is having hyperviscosity symptoms, for example, and the IgM was 6,000 and went down to 4,000, that’s enough for the patient to be without hyperviscosity symptoms. Then that’s a successful treatment too. So, we need to balance all that out and make sure that we understand it very well. So, yeah, we do have the formal IgM responses, but we do have the physical quality of life response that we should also pay attention to.

Katherine:                  

Fatigue seems to be very common among Waldenstrom’s patients. Here’s a question that we received before the program. Kasey asks, “Why do I feel so tired all the time? Is there anything that can be done about it?

Dr. Castillo:               

That’s a great question, and as I said before and basically kind of summarizing what I put together, I mean, there are many patients why a symptom with Waldenstrom’s could be fatigued. One of them is they could be anemic. The other one, they could have some hyperviscosity symptoms causing some fatigue, maybe some inflammation in the body because of the Waldenstrom’s, but maybe there are other reasons why patients can be fatigued.

And if you go out there in the streets and you start asking people, “Are you tired?” 80 percent of Americans are going to be tired. I’m not trying to minimize the symptoms of the patients. What I’m trying to say is we need to be very careful at understanding what the relation of the fatigue is with the disease. We need to be convinced that there is a relation there.

If that happened in my clinic – for example, a patient comes to see me, and they are fatigued; their hemoglobin is 14, which is normal; their IgM is about 1,000, which is not supposed to cause hyperviscosity. So, I do not know really in that context if the Waldenstrom’s is driving the fatigue or not.

Katherine:                  

Or if it’s something else.

Dr. Castillo:               

Exactly. So, we need to make sure that the patient doesn’t have any iron deficiency, that the patient doesn’t have any thyroid problems, that the testosterone problems are okay, that there’s no sleep disturbances, that there’s no depression. So, there’s so many different other things that we need to make sure are not there before we mount into that. Because if someone is fatigued with a hemoglobin of 8, which is very low, with my treatments, if I make that 8 14, I know the fatigue is going to get better. But if the patient is fatigued with a hemoglobin of 14, which I am not going to improve with my treatments, then how confident do I feel that I’m going to improve the patient’s quality of life with a potentially dangerous treatment?

So, we talked about already secondary leukemias, neuropathy, other problems that the patient can have with the treatments or because of the treatments.

So, we need to balance that out and understand that the potential benefit has to be higher than the potential risk, and that’s why the personalization comes into play. So, fatigue is a big issue, and we try to take a very systematic approach about that, you know, ruling out other conditions, making sure that we understand its relation with the disease before recommending treatment just for fatigue.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. This is one side effect that is so important for patients to share with their healthcare team, right?

Dr. Castillo:               

Oh, absolutely.

Katherine:                  

So that their healthcare team can know how to treat them.

Dr. Castillo:               

That’s right. And again, there are so many interventions that are not medications that could be done in these type of situations, right? Meditation, mindfulness. There are so many other approaches to try to help in these type of situations, changing a little bit sometimes the perspective, trying to be a little bit more on the positive thinking, right?

So, there are so many different ways outside of pharmacological approaches that we can use to try to improve our patients’ quality of life.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. Knowing that one has an incurable disease can be very stressful, right? Knowing that you have to live with this.

Dr. Castillo:               

That’s absolutely correct, and again, what I’ve seen happening in some of my patients is every little thing that happens to them, they do not know if it’s because of the disease or not.

Katherine:                  

Oh, yeah.

Dr. Castillo:               

“So, I have a twitch there. Oh, it’s due to Waldenstrom’s. Do I need to be treated because of that twitch?” And that, I understand it. Well, I try to understand it. I’m not in that same situation, so I cannot understand it completely. But I try to understand how if you don’t trust your body anymore, right? I mean, you have a disease, and you don’t trust your body anymore, then how you trust all these little symptoms here and there?

So, in my conversations with my patients, I discuss these things openly and that you’re going to have a lot of different symptoms here and there. Most of them probably are not going to be related to the disease, but if some of them are concerning enough to you in terms of your activities, in terms of eating, drinking, sleeping, social life, sexual life, you know, working life, then let me know, and then we will be happy to investigate those because anything can happen to anybody.

So, you can have other problems. Waldenstrom’s doesn’t protect you from anything, so, and it’s always important to discuss this with patients and pay attention to the patients, not dismiss their symptoms, think about them with them, talk about them with the patients to try to understand how these are affecting them.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Castillo, are there emerging approaches for treating Waldenstrom’s?

Dr. Castillo:               

Always. And that’s the beauty – that’s the second part of when we talked about clinical trials, right, we talked about clinical trials? Science continues, and we work very closely with an organization called the International Waldenstrom’s Foundation, and they support research all over the world for Waldenstrom’s.

So, their message is since the sun comes up until the sun comes down, there is someone, somewhere in the world working on Waldenstrom’s, and that’s true.

So, there’s a lot of science in the background, and that science helps us understand how the Waldenstrom’s cells behave, and therefore, we can then start targeting some things. That’s how BTK inhibitors came out. That’s how proteasome inhibitors came out. That’s how BCL-2 inhibitors came out. All these are the result of science, applied into the treatments. So, at my institution and many other institutions in the country and outside of the country, there are newer treatments being tried all the time.

We have now – we are looking into combining BTK inhibitors with other agents. Germany is doing a number of different studies. Canada is doing a number of different studies. We are doing some studies in the United States as well, combining chemotherapy and PIs with the BTK inhibitors. We’re doing a study in my institution combining BTK inhibitors with BCL-2 inhibitors. So, and the idea is to try to create a more powerful agent or regimen and hopefully maybe not give patients indefinite treatments, more like fixed duration treatments.

So, I think that’s where it’s coming. It’s coming maybe double, triple combinations, fixed duration treatments. That’s what is coming in terms of that aspect of the research. And then, we do have newer compounds coming out.

We do have now some concepts in what we call immunotherapy, right? We think about antibodies.

We think about bispecific T-cell engagers. CAR-T cells, so all that is actually up and coming in Waldenstrom’s. There are actual clinical trials being done today evaluating all those different treatments for patients with Waldenstrom’s.

So, I think the future is really bright. I’m really optimistic, to be honest with you about the treatment of patients with Waldenstrom’s. Obviously, what we need, what we want, is cure of the disease. And again, we can think about cure in two different ways. We can think about the classic definition of cure in which we treat patients, the disease goes away, you stop treatments, and the disease never comes back, right? That’s one way of looking at cure.

The other way of looking at cure is you treat the disease, the disease is in a remission, you continue treating the patient, and then the patient basically dies of other reasons, right? That is a functional cure. So, I think we’re closer to the latter, much more than the former, but the efforts to continue developing new treatments, it’s not stopping anytime soon.

Katherine:                  

No, because we’re always constantly moving forward, having to find new treatments, definitely. Well, Dr. Castillo, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.

Dr. Castillo:               

It has been my pleasure. I mean, I always enjoy the opportunity to be able to communicate with patients about what I love doing.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. Thank you, and again, thank you to all of our partners.

To learn more about Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for being with us today.

Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Treatment Decisions: What’s Right For You? Resource Guide

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Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Patient First Office Visit Planner

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Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Patient Follow-Up Visit Planner

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Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Care Partner First Office Visit Planner

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Medical Tests for Waldenström Macroglobulinemia

Editor’s Note: This guide was originally published by The International Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia Foundation (IWMF) here.

By Guy Sherwood, M.D., 2007. Revised by Linda Nelson and Sue Herms, 2016, 2020.


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Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Glossary and Abbreviations

Editor’s Note: This guide was originally published by The International Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia Foundation (IWMF) here.

Written & compiled by Guy Sherwood, M.D., Bret Blakeslee, Sue Herms, & Peter DeNardis, 2015. Revised Linda Nelson, Glenn Cantor, & Sue Herms, 2020.


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Frequently Asked Questions About Waldenström Macroglobulinemia

Editor’s Note: This guide was originally published by The International Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia Foundation (IWMF) here.

By Peter DeNardis, Marcia Klepac, Elena Malunis, and Linda Nelson, 2017. Revised Linda Nelson, 2019.


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What You Need to Know Before Choosing a Cancer Treatment

What You Need to Know Before Choosing a Cancer Treatment from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

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What steps could help you and your doctor decide on the best treatment path for your specific cancer? This animated video explains how identification of unique features of a specific cancer through biomarker testing could impact prognosis, treatment decisions and enable patients to get the best, most personalized cancer care.


If you are viewing this from outside of the US, please be aware that availability of personalized care and therapy may differ in each country. Please consult with your local healthcare provider for more information.


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TRANSCRIPT:

Dr. Jones:

Hi! I’m Dr. Jones and I’m an oncologist and researcher. I specialize in the care and treatment of patients with cancer. 

Today we’re going to talk about the steps to accessing personalized care and the best therapy for YOUR specific cancer. And that begins with something called biomarker testing.

Before we start, I want to remind you that this video is intended to help educate cancer patients and their loved ones and shouldn’t be a replacement for advice from your doctor.

Let’s start with the basics–just like no two fingerprints are exactly alike, no two patients’ cancers are exactly the same. For instance, let’s meet Louis and another patient of mine, Ben. They both have the same type of cancer and were diagnosed around the same time–but when looked at up close, their cancers look very different.  And, therefore, should be treated differently.

We can look more closely at the cancer type using biomarker testing, which checks for specific gene mutations, proteins, chromosomal abnormalities and/or other molecular changes that are unique to an individual’s disease.

Sometimes called molecular testing or genomic testing, biomarker testing can be administered in a number of ways, such as via a blood test or biopsy. The way testing is administered will depend on YOUR specific situation.

The results could help your healthcare team understand how your cancer may behave and to help plan treatment. And, it may indicate whether targeted therapy might be right for you. When deciding whether biomarker testing is necessary, your doctor will also take into consideration the stage of your cancer at diagnosis.

Louis:

Right! My biomarker testing results showed that I had a specific gene mutation and that my cancer may respond well to targeted therapy.

Dr. Jones, Can you explain how targeted therapy is different than chemo?

Dr. Jones:

Great question! Over the past several years, research has advanced quickly in developing targeted therapies, which has led to more effective options and better outcomes for patients.

Chemotherapy is still an important tool for cancer treatment, and it works by affecting a cancer cell’s ability to divide and grow. And, since cancer cells typically grow faster than normal cells, chemotherapy is more likely to kill cancer cells.

Targeted therapy, on the other hand, works by blocking specific mutations and preventing cancer cells from growing and dividing.

These newer therapies are currently being used to treat many blood cancers as well as solid tumor cancers.  As you consider treatments, it’s important to have all of the information about your diagnosis, including biomarker testing results, so that you can discuss your treatment options and goals WITH your healthcare team.

Louis:

Exactly–Dr. Jones made me feel that I had a voice in my treatment decision. We discussed things like potential side effects, what the course of treatment looks like and how it may affect my lifestyle.

When meeting with your healthcare team, insist that all of your questions are answered. Remember, this is YOUR life and it’s important that you feel comfortable and included when making care decisions. 

Dr. Jones:

And, if you don’t feel your voice is being heard, it may be time to consider a second—or third—opinion from a doctor who specializes in the type of cancer you have. 

So how can you use this information to access personalized treatment?

First, remember, no two cancers are the same. What might be right for someone else’s cancer may not work for you.

Next! Be sure to ask if biomarker testing is appropriate for your diagnosis. Then, discuss all test results with your provider before making a treatment decision. And ask whether testing will need to be repeated over time to identify additional biomarkers.

Your treatment choice should be a shared decision with your healthcare team. Discuss what your options and treatment goals are with your doctor.

And, last, but not least, it’s important to inquire about whether a targeted therapy, or a clinical trial, might be appropriate for you. Clinical trials may provide access to promising new treatments.

Louis:

All great points, Dr. Jones! We hope you can put this information to work for you. Visit powerfulpatients.org to learn more tips for advocating for yourself.

Dr. Jones:

Thanks for joining us today. 


This program is supported by Blueprint Medicines, and through generous donations from people like you.

Extended Quick Guide to Medicare

This guide was originally published by our partner, Triage Cancer, here.

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