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Accessing Personalized Treatment for Lung Cancer

 

Accessing Personalized Treatment for Lung Cancer from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lung cancer expert Dr. Heather Wakelee defines personalized medicine and explains the factors that are considered when determining a treatment approach.

Dr. Heather Wakelee is a thoracic medical oncologist and deputy director of the Stanford Cancer Institute where she also serves as the division chief of medical oncology. Learn more about Dr. Wakelee, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

We’ve been hearing the term “personalized medicine” a lot more often. How would you define that term?

Dr. Wakelee:

That’s a great question. So, I think back when I first started taking care of patients living with lung cancer 20 years ago, we really just had chemotherapy for those with metastatic disease. And for those with earlier stage disease, it was just surgery radiation. And since that time, we’ve learned a whole lot and brought in a lot of different types of treatment. Surgery and radiation still have important roles for many patients.

And we think about them as being targeted and personalized based on stage, but it’s a little bit different. When we talk about personalized, we’re thinking more about what are aspects about the tumor that allow us to pick the right systemic treatment. So, “systemic” meaning a pill or something that we give IV.

With chemotherapy, we don’t have much to pick between them as far as specifics for the tumor. We can look at what we call the histology, which is how it looks under the microscope, whether it’s the squamous type or the non-squamous type and some of the chemotherapy drugs matter there. But, in the last 15, 20 years, we’ve learned about the specific what we call “gene mutations” that define the tumor.

And, depending on the gene mutation in the tumor, for some patients, we can give them pill therapy drugs that will work well. So, that’s personalized. Or, immune therapy now is an option for a lot of patients. That’s usually IV therapy.

And, there are some aspects of the tumor that can help us pick that also. 

Which Lung Cancer Treatment Is Right for You? What You Need to Know

 

Which Lung Cancer Treatment Is Right for You? What You Need to Know from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What do you need to know before deciding which treatment is best for YOUR lung cancer? Lung cancer specialist Dr. Heather Wakelee reviews key factors that help guide treatment decisions, including biomarker testing, and shares advice for partnering with your team to advocate for the best care.

Dr. Heather Wakelee is a thoracic medical oncologist and deputy director of the Stanford Cancer Institute where she also serves as the division chief of medical oncology. Learn more about Dr. Wakelee, here.

This program is brought to you by the Patient Empowerment Network. It is made possible through support from Daiichi Sankyo, Foundation Medicine, Illumina, Merck, Novartis, and generous donations from people like you.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for you today’s program. Today, we’re going to discuss how to access the most personalized lung cancer therapy for your individual disease and why patients should insist on essential testing. 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.

Let’s meet our guest today. Joining me is Dr. Heather Wakelee. Dr. Wakelee, would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Wakelee:              

Sure. Thank you so much and I’m really delighted to be on this and get to address all of our listeners. So, I am Dr. Heather Wakelee and I am a lung cancer specialist. I work at Stanford University where I’m also the chief of the Division of Medical Oncology.

Katherine:                  

Excellent. Thank you. Before we get into an in-depth discussion on lung cancer treatment, we’ve been hearing the term “personalized medicine” a lot more often. How would you define that term?

Dr. Wakelee:              

That’s a great question. So, I think back when I first started taking care of patients living with lung cancer 20 years ago, we really just had chemotherapy for those with metastatic disease. And for those with earlier stage disease, it was just surgery radiation. And since that time, we’ve learned a whole lot and brought in a lot of different types of treatment. Surgery and radiation still have important roles for many patients.

And we think about them as being targeted and personalized based on stage, but it’s a little bit different. When we talk about personalized, we’re thinking more about what are aspects about the tumor that allow us to pick the right systemic treatment. So, “systemic” meaning a pill or something that we give IV.

With chemotherapy, we don’t have much to pick between them as far as specifics for the tumor. We can look at what we call the histology, which is how it looks under the microscope, whether it’s the squamous type or the non-squamous type and some of the chemotherapy drugs matter there. But, in the last 15, 20 years, we’ve learned about the specific what we call “gene mutations” that define the tumor.

And, depending on the gene mutation in the tumor, for some patients, we can give them pill therapy drugs that will work well. So, that’s personalized. Or, immune therapy now is an option for a lot of patients. That’s usually IV therapy.

And, there are some aspects of the tumor that can help us pick that also.

Katherine:                  

Well, I imagine that much of personalized immunotherapy for a patient requires a number of tests and then a thorough review of the results. So, can you provide an overview of important tests following a lung cancer diagnosis?

Dr. Wakelee:              

That’s a fabulous question. When we think about the tests that we need to have done, they’re mostly tests that are done on the tumor, so, either if someone has a surgery or at the time of biopsy. and, that’s where we can figure out what we call, again, the histology that’s squamous or non-squamous. That’s when they look at it under the microscope. But, they also, with the tumor specimen, you can pull the DNA out of the tumor and then test for the gene mutations in the tumor. And, I always emphasize these are not changes in the genes that are in the whole person. They are things that are unique to the tumor. They are what make the tumor different from the rest of the person.

So, we look at those gene mutations or that’s kind of a biomarker. So, there are a lot of terms that we use, and I know it gets really confusing. So, I try to use “biomarker” to mean all of these things, but that gene mutation is what we look at in the tumor tissue to see if there are specific changes that will allow us to give a pill therapy, a targeted pill therapy. And then, there are also aspects of the tumor that help us figure out whether or not the immune therapy might work, and most commonly, that’s something called PD-L1. That’s a protein that we look at on the surface of the tumor, and so again, under the microscope.

Katherine:                  

And, when you talk about extracting DNA, is that via a blood test?

Dr. Wakelee:              

So, we have two different ways to do that. So, what I was talking about before was from the tumor tissue, you can extract the DNA. But now, there are these liquid biopsies where we can draw blood and find the tumor DNA that is different from the rest of the person’s DNA and look for those gene mutations in the tumor.

And that is where there’s a lot of developments happening. And, that’s so fabulous because they’re often faster results for patients, and it means that you can not have to go through another biopsy. We still need the biopsy to establish whether or not there is even cancer. But, once we know that there’s cancer for sure, then we can use the liquid biopsies to get a faster information result on those gene mutations and to follow over time to see how the tumor evolves because tumors change after they’ve been treated.

Katherine:                  

Do you use imaging at all?

Dr. Wakelee:              

Yes. Always. So, when someone is first diagnosed with cancer, we usually find that because of imaging, so, a CT scan or an X-ray, maybe they had a screening CT scan or maybe they had a cough that led someone to go get an X-ray, an examination. So, the imaging is a part of the original diagnosis. And in addition to CT scans, we’ll often get a PET scan that helps us look for, in a different way, the rest of the body, maybe an MRI of the brain to look in that area.

And then, wherever we’ve found the tumor, we will track that area with scans over time. And, it gets a little complicated for a patient that was found with what we call early-stage disease. So, stage I or II. Many of the times, those patients can have surgery and then we don’t have any tumor we can follow anymore. But we get CT scans to look to see if it could have come back. For patients with more advanced disease, so, stage III that couldn’t have surgery or stage IV, there we have areas that we’re going to continue to follow with the scans. And which scans and how often is going to depend a lot on what treatment the patient’s on and where the tumors are located that we’re tracking.

Katherine:                  

Do these tests differ for small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer patients? And, I know that non-small cell lung cancer is also known as NSCLC.

Dr. Wakelee:              

Yes. So, long ago, the only distinction we had with lung cancer was that small cell versus non-small cell, and that is something that is seen under the microscope when that tissue is taken out from the biopsy. The pathology doctors look at it under the microscope, and the cells look different. And, the small cell lung cancer, those cells are small. It’s not very creative naming. And then, everything else is non-small cell or NSCLC. So, it’s SCLC and NSCLC. So, that was one of the first distinctions.

And, it is still very important because the chemotherapy drugs that we use are slightly different. And, the genetic, those gene mutations, we see them in any cancer. That’s what makes a cancer different from the rest of the body. But in small cell lung cancer, the tumor mutations that we see are not things that we know how to target specifically. In non-small cell, there are targets that we can target specifically for some patients.

So, just there, it’s different in having the targeted pill drugs in non-small cell, not so much in small cell. With immune therapy, those newer immune therapy IV drugs, they can work in both small cell and non-small cell. But for small cell, the biomarkers, that PD-L1 level is not as important for helping us figure out who’s going to benefit. For non-small cell, with many of the drugs, it is important. So, there are differences there.

Katherine:                  

Well, let’s go a little deeper. And, you did mention some of this already, Dr. Wakelee, but what is genomic or biomarker testing?

Dr. Wakelee:              

So, we are struggling with how to have one unifying way of describing it because it’s so complicated. So, to me, biomarker testing is any aspect of the tumor that helps us choose the best treatment for that patient. And so, it’s a very broad term. And, within biomarker testing, there are several different ways that we look at it.

So, one is to look at what proteins are on the cell’s surface. And, we do that by having stains that we use to stain the tissue. So again, complicated, but when a piece of tissue is taken out of the person, part of the tumor is removed. It’s sliced into little tiny slices, which are then put on glass slides that can be looked at under the microscope. And, that’s how the pathology doctors can look and see, “Ah, this looks like cancer,” or, “It doesn’t look like cancer.” When it does look like cancer, you can then put on stains, so basically, different colored antibodies that will light up if that particular protein is there. And so, that helps us figure out for sure that this started in the lung because there are specific proteins that are only found in lung. So, that’s one way we used it, and this is an older technology. But, we also can use that to look for how much of this PD-L1 protein is expressed. And so, that’s an important biomarker, but it’s not based on genomics, which is when we’re talking about the DNA.

 Then, we have the genomic testing, and that’s when we’re looking at the genome of the tumor and how that genome is different. And, that’s that DNA or RNA testing. We talk about it with the next-gen sequencing. So, “sequencing,” any of those terms are all meaning we’re looking at some aspect of what makes the tumor genes and therefore the proteins made by the tumor different than the rest of the genes in the person.

And so, that testing, that genomic testing can be done on either the tumor specimen or that’s where we can do blood tests that will be able to pull out those bits of the DNA that are from the tumor versus from the person and help us figure out what’s going on with the cancer. So, when we talk about biomarkers, the whole picture, and when I’m talking with patients who are diagnosed with lung cancer, we talk about well, there’s chemotherapy treatment, which is good for almost everybody. There is targeted therapy.

Targeted therapy is usually based on those genomic tests, and the genomic tests can be done either on the tissue or on blood. But, they’re really important to have a full understanding of the tumors to do a comprehensive or next-gen sequencing analysis of the tumor or DNA. And then, you have the immune therapy where that PD-L1 biomarker is important. So, that’s the way I think about it, and the biomarkers are really critical for helping us figure out what’s the best path forward for any individual patient.

Katherine:                  

Let’s turn to treatment, Dr. Wakelee. On a basic level, what are the goals of treatment for lung cancer?

Dr. Wakelee:              

So, with lung cancer, we’d love to cure everybody, that’s the ultimate goal, and do it in a way where people are able to continue living their life as they were before the cancer diagnosis. The ways that we do it, first of all, we’ve got to find the cancer, and that’s where screening is such an important aspect of things. If we can find the cancer at an earlier stage, we’re more likely to be able to cure someone.

So, what do I mean by “earlier stage?” Well, when a tumor first develops, usually, there is a single cell that develops a mutation, meaning a change in the gene, which gives that cell an advantage so it doesn’t die the way it’s supposed to. And then, it keeps growing, and dividing, and making new cells. And those over time get to a large enough size that they are the cancer. And given more time, those cancer cells start to spread into other parts of the body, usually first into what we call the lymph nodes, and from there then into other organs in the body. And this stage refers to health or how the cancer spread. So, the stage I cancer is still in that ball of cancer. Stage II means that it’s spread into some lymph nodes. Stage III is it spread into more lymph nodes, usually in the center part of the chest or mediastinum, and that’s where it starts to be much more difficult for the surgeons to be able to truly remove all of the cancer.

And then stage IV means that the cancer is not something that we’re going to be able to remove with surgery. It’s spread either within the lung to the lining of the lung or it has spread to other organs in the body. And so, when we talk about those stages that I, II, III, IV, it’s a bit more complicated than that. But, I think for most people, if they just think about it as stage I, just the cancer, stage II, lymph nodes and the lungs, stage III, lymph nodes in the center, and then stage IV, elsewhere, that’s a good way to kind of wrap your head around it.

And when we talk about stage I and II, that’s the truly early stage where we hope to be able to cure people with surgery. Surgery alone is enough for the majority of people with stage I cancer, and for maybe half, a little more than half of people with stage II. So, how can we be better than that? Well, that’s where there’s been a lot of new advances. So, adding chemotherapy after surgery can help a lot of stage II patients.

If the tumor genomic testing biomarkers shows that there’s a mutation called EGFR, we now know that there’s a pill drug that people can take that would prolong the time to when the cancer might come back. And then, just very recently, there was stated that that immune therapy drugs IV can also prolong time to when the cancer comes back and maybe improve cure if the tumor has that biomarker called PD-L1. So, that’s that early stage. So it’s, again, getting more and more complicated and emphasizing that you’ve got to understand the biomarkers of the tumor to know how to best help someone.

When we move to stage III, some have surgery, but when you can’t have surgery, then we do the chemotherapy and the radiation. That’s the key part of the treatment there. And, we also know that immune therapy can be really helpful for a lot of patients when it’s given after the chemo and radiation’s completed. And then for stage IV, I talked about that already, which is you’ve got to do the biomarkers to figure out the best treatments for some people starting with a targeted pill drug is the right thing if their tumor has those right gene mutations.

For other people, immune therapy alone might be an option if the PD-L1 level is very high and they don’t have one of those gene mutations in the tumor. And for a lot of people, chemotherapy or chemotherapy plus immunotherapy is the right strategy.

Katherine:                  

Would you help the audience understand the types of therapy for small cell lung cancer specifically?

Dr. Wakelee:              

Yes. So, small cell still has the same kind of staging, but it’s a little bit more simple. We talk about extensive stage or limited stage. And what that has to do with is we rarely do surgery for small cell. It tends to have spread earlier. There are a few cases where that’s done, but normally, we divide it up into limited or extensive. And when we talk about that, limited is the radiation doctors can get all of the cancer in one radiation field, and then radiation plus chemotherapy is the standard approach to try to cure. If it’s more extensive than that, then it becomes extensive stage.

And, the best treatment are going to be chemotherapy plus those immune therapy drugs added together.

And so, the chemotherapy drugs that we use for non-small cell and small cell, the platinum drugs play a role in all of it. The drug we partner is a little bit different. There’s a drug etoposide we use a lot in small cell and a lot of other options for non-small cell. And then, the immune therapy drugs, there are a lot of options that are fairly similar for both small cell and for non-small cell. 

Katherine:                  

Dr. Wakelee, you mentioned targeted therapies. How do they work?

Dr. Wakelee:               

Targeted therapies are something we can use when we find a specific gene mutation in the tumor. So, I mentioned before that in order for a cancer cell to become cancer, something has to happen to the DNA in the cell.

And, there’s a change or a mutation in the DNA of the cell which leads it to be a cancer. And, a lot of the time, that mutation happens in a specific kind of gene that makes a type of protein called a tyrosine kinase. And for those of you who haven’t studied a lot of science, it’s a word you might not have heard before. But basically, these tyrosine kinases are proteins in the body that make a lot of changes to what’s going on in the rest of the cell. So, they’re sort of what we call regulators. And, one way of thinking about them is like on and off switches. So, normally, their job is to sit and if the right molecule comes around, that turns it on, and then it turns on other proteins in the cell. And if that molecule isn’t there, it’s turned off. So, it’s this on and off switch that does a lot of other aspects of what’s going on in the cell. But, sometimes, a mutation happens. It turns it on all the time. So, it’s like if you leave the light on.

It’s on all the time, that’s using a lot of energy, and that’s actually what’s driving the cell to act like a cancer. And so, we can now look for some of those mutations that turn some of these tyrosine kinases on all the time. But, we’ve also developed drugs that we can use to turn them off. So, if we find this specific gene mutation that’s turning, say, the EGFR protein on all the time, if we find that, we can have the patient take a pill that then turns that off.

And that helps the cancer slow down, some of it die, some of the cancer cells die, but it doesn’t completely wipe it out. It helps the patient for a long time though by shrinking the cancer, helping them feel better because the symptoms are gone, keeping the cancer from growing. But, cancer cells are clever. They continue to divide, they can continue to make new mutations, and eventually, they figure out ways around that. So, when we talk about targeted therapy, it’s a setting where we find the cancer.

In the cancer, we find the gene mutation, it’s in one of these specific types of proteins, genes that make specific protein that turn something on that we can then turn off, and with those pill drugs, we can have a big impact for people.

Katherine:                  

And, what exactly is immunotherapy?

Dr. Wakelee:              

Immunotherapies are treatments that were used to help keep the immune system more active.

So, the immune system is a very complex mechanism. There are cells that their whole job is to figure out and find things that are not us. So, they are looking for bacteria, they’re looking for cells that have a virus in them, and when they find it, they attack. And, that attack can be in the form of antibodies, it can be cells that actually go in and attack other cells directly, and we are all familiar a little bit with the immune system because we know that if we get a cold, our body, we can get a fever, that’s part of our immune response, and we get better. And then, some people know the bad side of the immune system if they have allergies or certain autoimmune diseases where the immune system gets a little bit too revved up and starts to recognize normal things as foreign.

So, in the setting of cancer, normally, the immune system is able to recognize a cancer cell, see that it’s different from the rest, and get rid of it. But, cancer cells are clever and they figure out ways to evade the immune system. And, one of the ways they do this is they put a protein called PD-L1. So, PD-L1 is a protein that a lot of our normal cells use to say, “Just a normal cell. Ignore me.” And so, when an immune cell comes in and sees that, it gets turned off it goes away. So, what our immune therapies do is most of them are blocking that PD-L1 protein. And, when they do that, it’s sort of like taking away the stop sign. So, you’ve got a tumor using a stop sign to say, “Go away, immune cell,” you block it so the immune cells can’t see that stop sign, and so then it kills the cancer cell better. So, that’s how these drugs work, and that’s the immune therapy.

There are some other stop signs besides PD-1 and PD-L1, but that’s the most common. So, when we’re talking about immune therapy, it’s drugs that block that. So, they increase the ability for the immune cell to recognize cancers. The risk from them is that you can get the body to recognize normal tissue as a problem sometimes. So, that’s the toxicity that we watch for.

Katherine:                  

Right. What are the advantages of these new treatment approaches compared to standard chemotherapy?

Dr. Wakelee:              

Well, I think the most exciting news that we’ve seen in lung cancer over the last few years is that we’re actually helping more people live longer. And the way that we’re doing that is through these newer treatments. So, when we can personalize treatment by recognizing that a person’s cancer has a specific gene mutation and we can give them the right targeted pill drug, we can help them live longer and feel better because those often have fewer side effects. Wish I could say they were curing the disease, but they’re helping people live longer.

And, that can be measured in years for some folks, which is fantastic. And then, with immune therapy, again, they’re not working for everybody, but they were for a large number of patients with lung cancer with non-small cell to help them live longer with their cancer controlled. And so, we’ve actually improved the overall survival rates for lung cancer with these new developments. Where we can make even more of an impact is also by finding more of the cancers earlier, and that’s where cancer screening is so important also. So, by having more choices, chemotherapy can still help a lot of people. Targeted therapies can help probably close to 20, 30, 40 percent of people with non-small cell lung cancer that’s the adenocarcinoma type. And then, the immune therapies can help other people living with lung cancer. Usually immune therapies don’t work on the same tumors the way the targeted pills work. So, you’re kind of getting at different groups of people with those different strategies. It’s not completely true, but it’s a kind of general principle about it.

Katherine:                  

What about side effects for some of these treatment choices?

Dr. Wakelee:               

So, chemotherapy is one people fear the most, but I think it has a bit more of a bad reputation than it needs. A lot of the lung cancer therapies that are chemotherapy can be reasonably tolerated. I mean, I’m not signing up to go get chemotherapy just because. There definitely are side effects. The biggest one is people get fatigue, get really tired. Though, if they’re feeling horrible because of the cancer, a lot of times people feel dramatically better. But, tiredness, it can impact appetite a little bit, though cancer does that also. There can be nausea, vomiting, but we’re much better at controlling that with the newer drugs. Some cancer therapies cause hair loss, but a lot of our non-small cell lung cancer therapies don’t cause hair loss. So, there are a lot of options there you can talk about with your doctor. And then, when the blood counts are low, there can be risk for infection, low red blood cells with anemia.

So, there are a lot of different things. But in general, chemotherapy is better tolerated than people think it’s going to be because in the movies, they make it look horrendous.

With the pill therapies, again, lots of variability depending on the specific pill. Some of them cause rash. Some don’t. Some of them can cause some changes to the heart that we have to monitor with EKGs, electrocardiograms, some don’t. Some cause some changes to labs like for liver tests that we have to monitor. Some don’t. Some cause hair color changes. Some don’t. It’s always to gray, unfortunately.

So, there are a lot of different variations in what different treatments can do. And so, it’s just really important if your doctor is talking with you about starting one of the targeted pill drugs that you really ask what are the side effects I need to be watching for, what are the ones I need to know to call you about, and which are the ones I just know, “Okay, this is happening and it’s okay. It’s going to cause swelling in the ankles,” no, just a huge range of them. And then, with the immune therapy drugs, they tend to be mostly fatigue, just like with chemotherapy, though some people feel fine.

What we have to watch for is that they can cause what we call autoimmunity. So, it’s talking about the fact that the way they work is they help the immune system better recognize the cancer, and they do that by taking away one of the stop signals. But, that stop signal, the PD-1, PD-L1, that stop signal is also used by a lot of normal cells to tell the immune system to back off. So, when you remove it, when you block it, the immune system can get confused and start to attack normal cells. So, you can get a rash, people can end up with gut symptoms like diarrhea, they also can end up with it attacking the lungs and causing what we call a pneumonitis lung inflammation or brain symptoms, so, almost anything. Now, those are rare, and we can treat them with steroids. But, people need to be aware that if something new is happening, they need to alert their doctor. I think sometimes, there’s this false impression that immune therapy is completely safe, but, it’s not. And, all of the treatments that I’m talking about are designed to help people live better and live longer when they’re dealing with lung cancer, but they all also have risk.

And so, it’s just really important to have those discussions with the care team as you’re starting something new about what are the things I need to be watching for and to know how to reach people if you’ve got a new and concerning symptom, especially if you’re starting on something new.

Katherine:                  

That’s all really helpful information. Thank you, Dr. Wakelee. We have a question that we received from an audience member earlier. Jeff asks, “How do you know if your lung cancer treatment is working?”

Dr. Wakelee:              

So, there are a lot of ways of knowing if treatment is helping. So, the one I rely on the most is, “Does the patient overall feel better?” That is difficult to say exactly how. Sometimes people are having breathing problems; they feel that that’s better. Sometimes their energy’s lower. They feel better. It can be vague. We also use scans. So, we tend to get scans, depending on the treatment we’re giving, every couple of months plus or minus, sometimes, every three months to help track what’s actually going on. But occasionally, there are discrepancies.

So, sometimes, the scan, is it better? Is it not better? Can’t really tell. And then, you’re always taking that, “How does the patient feel?” So, usually, if the scans are better, the patient feels better. It’s easy. Usually if the patient’s feeling worse and the scan looks worse, clear decision. Not a good one, but clearly, we need to do something different. But sometimes, you’re left, and especially this happens with the first scan because you get a scan, it takes a little while, you start the new treatment, then you get the next scan, how much of the changes happened before you started the new one and how much didn’t? So, these can be more challenging conversations, but generally if the patient’s feeling a little bit better, the scan’s unclear, we usually say, “You know, let’s give this treatment a little bit more time.” We also, I think your question was specifically around how do we tell if it’s working, but, you also often need to be thinking about, “Well, what’s it doing that’s negative to the person and is that potential, those side effects worth the benefits we are or are not seeing?”

So, it’s kind of all of those things together. It can be a bit complex.

Katherine:                  

What goes into the decision to change therapies if it becomes necessary?

Dr. Wakelee:              

So, when we’re thinking about making a change, the way I always look at it is, is where we are today still okay or not? And, if it’s not, that would be because clearly the cancer’s growing or clearly the side effects are just not tolerable. Then, we decide together with the patient we need to do something different. And, when we think about what do we do next, we look at what have we’ve already done, did it work or not, if not, let’s do something more different. And so, let’s think about something that might be somewhat similar. When we’re dealing with targeted therapies, we have ways to try to figure out what changed in the tumor that made it now resistant or not working with that treatment. And so, with some of the pill drugs, there’s been a lot of research and understanding how does the tumor change that helps it evade, get away from, be resistant to whatever treatment you’re on.

And then, sometimes, we have other pill drugs that work in that particular setting, not always. With immune therapy, we’re trying to better understand why does the immune therapy stop working? Sometimes you can add back to it, like, you can add chemotherapy back to immune therapy alone or sometimes you can do radiation with immune therapy to get that response back. Or, add other combinations to it. So, that’s another thing that we’re working on. And then, like I said, if someone hasn’t ever had chemotherapy and the tumor’s become resistant, we’re going to be thinking a lot about chemo because that can play a role against so many different reasons that the cancer might not be responding to whatever treatments someone’s on. And then also, looking at how the patient’s feeling and doing, what their overall what we call “performance status, ” their sort of overall health, and how well do we feel with them that they’re going to be able to tolerate the next treatment because, you’re always having to weigh how much is this likely to help, and how might this harm in finding the right balance.

Katherine:                  

I’d be remiss if I did not bring up COVID-19, and, I’m sure a lot of patients are curious whether the vaccine is safe and effective.

Dr. Wakelee:              

So, we do believe the vaccine is safe and effective for patients living with lung cancer, and really important to be protected as much as possible. I was part of a group of other physicians around the world looking at the impact of COVID-19 on patients living with lung cancer. And, we collaborated with a group of physicians, Rayna Garcina was the lead. She was living in northern Italy at the time of the first wave, and so, was really face-to-face with it early on when there was so much we didn’t know. And, she gathered a group of us to watch and see, and what we were able to figure out before the vaccine was available was that people living with lung cancer who were overall healthy still except for their cancer were perhaps on a pill, targeted therapy, or immune therapy seemed to really not have that different of an impact compared to people who didn’t have lung cancer.

Chemotherapy was a little bit harder to see that, but didn’t seem to be such a big issue. It’s different than people living with, say, leukemias or lymphomas where the treatments are impacting their immune systems even more. They seem to have worse outcomes. A lot of lung cancer patients were okay, but still, it’s a higher risk. And so, we want to protect our patients as much as possible.

So, we are, now that we have the vaccines, strongly advocating vaccines for any patient who was living with cancer really for almost anybody because as a physician, we really think that makes a big impact. We have not seen any negative impacts of the vaccine on any aspect of cancer treatment. It does not have a negative impact on how well the cancer is treated by the therapies. We did notice that when someone gets the vaccine, they can get some enlargement of the lymph nodes. That’s part of having an immune response is your lymph nodes get enlarged. And so, we did get a bunch of scans that the vaccines came out showing, “Well, this person has some lymph nodes in the axilla, which is the armpit.”

And it seemed to be correlating with the side that someone had a vaccine. And then, those go away. And, this was actually an interesting medical literature thing because for people getting screened with mammograms for breast cancer, there were suddenly all these lymph nodes showing up. But that was actually a sign that the person was responding to the vaccine and it went away over time. And, it was a fine thing. It was just – I remember the first patient I had where that happened, we’re like, “Oh, well, that makes sense. Okay.” So, it’s okay. So, it was not cancer. It was just the immune response. But, yeah, so, we are recommending vaccines. There’s no data showing it is not working for lung cancer patients. The vaccines are less effective in people getting certain types of cancer treatment that are really suppressing the immune system. But even some response is better than none, and we’re still recommending the patients really do their best to stay safe with masks and things like that.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Wakelee, what are you excited about in lung cancer research right now? And, what do you want to leave the audience with? Are you hopeful?

Dr. Wakelee:              

I’m very hopeful. When I started treating lung cancer patients 20 years ago, we only had chemotherapy. And now, for metastatic disease, with using the right biomarkers, we can figure out so much more about the cancer to be able to personalize the treatment, for many patients, being able to offer pill therapies that are somewhat less toxic and highly active and give people more time. And now, we’re in the immune therapy revolution, which is helping a whole other group of patients living with lung cancer to be able to live with quality life for much longer. And the pace of discovery is just going up so quickly. And, I think that’s what I’m most hopeful about is just how much attention is being paid on lung cancer and finding better therapies that are going to help more people for a longer period of time. And again, I’m going to emphasize the screening is making a big difference also. If we can find the disease early, we can have an even bigger impact on people.

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Wakelee:              

Thank you. Really enjoyed talking with you. Thank you.

Katherine:                   

And thank you to all of our partners.

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

Establishing a Lung Cancer Diagnosis: How Do Subtypes Affect Treatment Choices?

Establishing a Lung Cancer Diagnosis: How Do Subtypes Affect Treatment Choices? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lung cancer specialist Dr. Jessica Bauman provides an overview of the types of lung cancer and describes how the subtype affects prognosis and treatment choices for patients.

Dr. Jessica Bauman is assistant professor in the department of hematology/oncology and as associate program director of the hematology/oncology fellowship training program at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. Learn more about Dr. Bauman here.

See More From the The Pro-Active Lung Cancer Patient Toolkit

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Lung Cancer Treatment Approaches: What Are Your Options?


Transcript:

Katherine:               

From my understanding, there are two main types of lung cancer – small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. Would you provide a brief overview of how these two types of lung cancer differ?

Dr. Bauman:                

Absolutely. So, I think it’s important for any new patient who’s coming in, to see me or any medical provider. The first thing we need to establish when we are thinking about a lung cancer diagnosis is what the cells look like under the microscope. And the simplest way to think about this is either they look like small cell lung cancer, or they look like non-small cell lung cancer.

And that really can decide what kind of treatment we need to pursue. For small cell lung cancer – small cell lung cancer can be a more aggressive lung cancer that certainly can spread throughout the body and requires more urgent treatment in general when we’re thinking about the speed in which we need to start to treat patients for this cancer. For non-small cell lung cancer, in general, we don’t have to start treatment as quickly as we need to for small cell. And there is a lot more information right now that we need other than just the simple non-small cell lung cancer diagnosis. We need to know whether it is adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, which are further subdivided.

And then we often need even more information about those subtypes to be able to decide ultimately what the best treatment plan is.

Overall, I would say about 15 percent of lung cancers are small cell. So, they’re more rare. And about 80 percent to 85 percent of lung cancers are non-small cell. And the most frequent kind of non-small cell lung cancer right now is adenocarcinoma.

Should You Have Prostate Cancer Genetic Testing?

Should You Have Prostate Cancer Genetic Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Should you ask for prostate cancer genetic testing? Dr. Nima Sharifi discusses prostate cancer genetics and shares his perspective on how testing can help ensure the best care for a patient.

Dr. Nima Sharifi is Director of the Genitourinary (GU) Malignancies Research Center at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more here.

See more from The Pro-Active Prostate Cancer Patient Toolkit

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Prostate Cancer Staging: What Patients Should Know

 


Transcript:

Dr. Sharifi:

I think it’s okay when you’re speaking with your physician to say that you’re concerned about the genetics of prostate cancer. You can ask about personalized medicine treatment options, and whether genetic testing would make a difference for treatments.

 

And you can also bring up the concern about family members, and that there may be an inherited or heritable component of cancer that could be passed down, for example, from one generation to the next and that could be shared among siblings. I think there’s nothing wrong with bringing that up. And I would suggest that if that’s a concern, that a man does bring that up with their physician.                                   

 

So, it turns out that there are certain germline mutations that can predispose to several different types of cancers.

 

For example, these BRCA mutations can predispose to developing prostate and perhaps more aggressive prostate cancer, but they can also predispose to developing breast cancer. So, if you look, for example, at members of a family who are related, you may see that certain cancers may develop in multiple family members. So, if you see that that – If you look at your family history and you see that that is the case, then you may want to think about genetic testing and perhaps to see a genetic counselor to talk about getting tested.

Prostate Cancer Treatment Decisions: How Do Genetic Test Results Impact Your Options?

Prostate Cancer Treatment Decisions: How Do Genetic Test Results Impact Your Options? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How do genetic test results impact prostate cancer treatment options? Dr. Nima Sharifi explains BRCA mutations, germline genes, and somatic mutations—and discusses when treatment with PARP inhibitors may be appropriate.

Dr. Nima Sharifi is Director of the Genitourinary (GU) Malignancies Research Center at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more here.

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Prostate Cancer Staging: What Patients Should Know

 


Transcript:

Dr. Sharifi:        

There are several types of mutations that occur in prostate cancer. We know about a lot of them. We’re beginning to understand the function of many of them, and the role of just a few of them has become a bit clearer in treatment of prostate cancer. So, the one that I think has the clearest implications is something called BRCA mutations.

So, you can get mutations in genes that regulate DNA damage. This can occur in either inherited genes, or these are mutations that can occur in the cancer itself. And this will allow for tumors to become the developed – actually, greater DNA damage. The implications of using this information, genetic testing for these BRCA mutations, are actually several. One is that it may – if it comes in through the germline, then it tells us something about the hereditary or familial component of it.

So, that has implications not only for the patient but also potentially family members. And then the second set of implications has to do with treatment, and specifically treatment that in more advanced cases where there are now two FDA-approved agents that are used specifically for patients who have mutations in these genes.

And we’re still learning a lot about what these genes mean, or mutations of these genes mean for patients in their clinical course. And we’re learning much more information about other mutations which may occur in prostate cancer as well.

So, we should draw a distinction between two different types of genes. One is germline. Germline has to do with the DNA or the genes that you inherit from your parents. And the second category is somatic mutations, or somatic genetics. And this, specifically, has to do with mutations that occur in the cancer cell itself, but that are not inherited from one’s parents.

It’s a very active area of research. So, again, for the vast majority of mutations that we recognize in prostate cancer, we don’t use that to make clinical decisions. There are a few, such as the DNA damage repair genes or BRCA genes – which tell us something about the potential for a more aggressive disease course or a more aggressive disease – and also the potential appropriateness of using agents called PARP inhibitors, which seem to specifically work in patients who have mutations in the BRCA family of genes.

So, in terms of the treatment options, the major genetic tests that allow us to figure out whether systemic or drug treatment option is appropriate or not, is in DNA damage repair genes such as BRCA.

So, for example, in the case of metastatic disease that’s resistant to hormonal therapy and has already been treated with other therapies, if there is a mutation in BRCA or one of the closely related gene members, then use of a drug called a PARP inhibitor may be appropriate, and that could benefit patients.

How Can You Insist on Better Prostate Cancer Care?

How Can You Insist on Better Prostate Cancer Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

How can prostate cancer patients access the best care in an evolving treatment landscape? Prostate cancer survivor Jim Schraidt shares his advice for staying up-to-date about treatment developments and for accessing support and resources

Jim Schraidt is a prostate cancer survivor and Chairman of the Board of Directors for Us TOO International. Learn more about Jim Schraidt here.

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Newly Diagnosed with Prostate Cancer? Consider These Key Steps

 


Transcript:

Jim Schraidt:              

The really great news is that sort of across the board, from early stage disease through metastatic prostate cancer patients, there are advances that are occurring very rapidly at this point, so rapidly that practitioners have difficulty keeping up with them.

And, honestly, those of us who do some patients support likewise have difficulty keeping up with them. I think, once again, these support groups can serve a useful function in that you have specific questions, you hear about it, you bring together a group of individuals, and somebody in that group may know something about it.

And they can tell you, they can give you information, or they can give you direct Internet links where you can find more information. The other source of information is some of the Us TOO publications, our monthly hot sheet, as well as the website.

There are a couple other websites that I personally regard as excellent. The first would be the Prostate Cancer Foundation. The second would be Prostate Cancer Research Institute. And then finally, ZERO. So, I think if you attend a support group, and talk to other guys, and look at some of these websites, I think that’s a very good starting point for research and trying to get the best and most up-to-date information possible.

There’s a lot of progress being made across the disease spectrum, and it’s very exciting. I mean, for many years, all we had was surgery, radiation, and hormone therapy. But new things are coming online all the time. There are immunotherapies that are frequently genetically based. And there’s new knowledge about the disease itself and making active surveillance available to more patients.

And this is extremely critical because many men can go on with prostate cancer, with low-grade disease, really for their entire lives, and avoid the side effects of treatment.

And even if they don’t, if they delay definitive treatment for a period of years, there may be something new that comes down the pike that is both effective and has a better side-effect profile. This is the kind of research that is a part of what Prostate Cancer Foundation is funding.

So, there’s a lot out there. There’s a lot that’s happening. And I think that should give encouragement to prostate cancer patients. In terms of somebody who is later in the process and having difficulty coping with side effects or disease progression, I think the encouragement is that there are people out there that you can talk to about it, that you’re really not alone, and there are people out there that are anxious to help you, to hear from you, and provide assistance.

For those of us who have been at it a while, we find that helping others enhances our own healing. And so, don’t be reticent about asking for help. Because it’s out there, and it can really make a difference.

How Could You Benefit from Joining a Prostate Cancer Support Group?

How Could You Benefit from Joining a Prostate Cancer Support Group? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are some of the benefits provided by prostate cancer support groups? Prostate cancer survivor Jim Schraidt shares his perspective on how support groups can help patients with the emotional aspects of the disease as well as serve as a resource for information sharing.

Jim Schraidt is a prostate cancer survivor and Chairman of the Board of Directors for Us TOO International. Learn more about Jim Schraidt here.

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Transcript:

Jim Schraidt:              

I think there are two primary ways that support groups are helpful. In the best case, a man will come to a support group as a newly diagnosed patient. And we’re actually working with a pilot project at Northwestern in Chicago where we have a support group that’s been in existence for a little over a year at this point.

But one of things that we’re working with the urology department there on is to get the urologists to refer newly diagnosed patients to the support group. And I think the primary benefits to a newly diagnosed patient are first, sort of removing some of the anxiety by talking to people who have been through the process and reminding them that in 90 percent of the cases they have some time to do some research, talk to people, and make a good decision that they can live with.

Because all of the treatments for prostate cancer, with the possible exception of active surveillance, come with side effects that a person undergoing this kind of treatment is going to have to live with for the rest of this life.

So, it’s a decision that’s very important. And to have the best possible outcome for a patient, they need to know what those side effects are. And they need to hear from men who have actually been through it.

I think the second important function of support groups is just support; after treatment, or if a patient is unfortunate enough to have recurrence or progression of his disease. And we’re not practitioners. We’re not medical practitioners. We don’t give medical advice. But there are lots of tricks of the trade, if you will, that men who have been coping with side effects can share with other men and help them get through it.

And part of that is just having a place to talk about what they’re going through, whether it’s things that they’re embarrassed to talk with their friends about, or things where they’re having difficulty communicating with their partner. I know from experience also that anger is a big thing that many patients experience, anger, and depression, post-treatment. And for me, one of the huge benefits of a support group was finding a place where that anger could go.

Because, I mean, even the best and most well-intentioned spouse, partner, or whatever, is going to grow tired of an angry patient partner.

And that can impact communication and can isolate a patient. So, it’s really important to have a place where some of that can go. And that’s part of the second piece, as far as I’m concerned.

The whole mental health piece really is under-emphasized, under-discussed by practitioners, but is very real for a lot of men undergoing this treatment. And the good news is that, that there is help available, and you can get through this. But many, many, many times you can’t do it on your own.

And you can’t do it solely with the help of your partner many times. So, this is one way you can talk to other people who have been through it, and they may have suggestions about therapy or talking to mental health practitioners.

How Does Us TOO International Support Prostate Cancer Patients and Their Loved Ones?

How Does Us TOO International Support Prostate Cancer Patients and Their Loved Ones? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are the ways that Us TOO International can help prostate cancer patients and their loved ones? Jim Schraidt, a prostate cancer survivor and chairman of Us TOO’s board of directors shares how his involvement with support groups evolved after his diagnosis and how Us TOO is working to improve support for both patients and care partners.

Jim Schraidt is a prostate cancer survivor and Chairman of the Board of Directors for Us TOO International. Learn more about Jim Schraidt here.

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Transcript:

Jim Schraidt:              

My name is Jim Schraidt. I am now a 10-year, almost 11-year prostate cancer survivor. I was diagnosed in January of 2010 and had surgery in March of that year. Since then I’ve been involved in various support groups and some of those activities.

I found my way to a support group probably about three or four months after I was treated. And I was very active in that support group for a number of years. They helped me with a number of issues I was having at the time. And eventually I went on to become the facilitator of that group, and I’ve been in that role now for about five years.

Us TOO helped me find my initial support group. And we currently sponsor a network, a nationwide network of about 200 support groups. I became very interested in the work that Us TOO was doing, and I ran for Board, their Board of Directors. And I was elected, and I’m now finishing my sixth year on the Board and my second year as Chairman of that Board.

So, we’ve been very active in looking at the entire prostate cancer community and trying to develop new and better ways to serve patients. One of the things that we’ve accomplished in the last couple years is a partnership with a prostate cancer foundation, with is the leading private-research funder of prostate cancer research. So, we’ve worked with them to help make education about clinical trials available, for example. And they are contributing to our monthly newsletter with research news that’s actually put in laymen’s language so that people can understand it.

We’ve collaborated with other prostate cancer organizations, and we believe that this is critically important, that by working together we can amplify the patient voice and develop the best possible educational materials. So, in addition to the support groups, we have that going on. We also have a website that has a great deal of information about prostate cancer, support groups, and that sort of thing.

We are the prostate cancer sponsor for the Inspire site, which is an online community where prostate cancer patients can type in a question and have that question answered by other prostate cancer patients, or people who are knowledgeable in the field.

We actually have some practitioners that occasionally check in on that. So, then I think the final thing is that we have a couple of dial-in support groups that are for subspecialty types of patients and caregivers.

The first is called A Forum for Her, and it’s exclusively for women partners and caregivers. It gives them a separate and safe place to go and talk about the disease from a woman’s perspective. And then the second, newer dial-in support group we have is for gay men. And this is a group of men that for various reasons are less comfortable than they need to be in a broader kind of support group.

So, we’re working on that as well. One of our key initiatives as we look to celebrating our 30th year next year is support group leader education. And the goal here is to teach support group leaders best practices and make resources available to them so that they can either direct patients where to find information, or they can go back and find information and give that to patients directly.

So, the goal, once again, is to bring some standardization to the support group experience, and make sure that men are getting the best possible support and information.

Clinical Trial Helps Lung Cancer Patient Live Active Life

Editor’s Note: This blog originally appeared on the American Lung Association’s Blog. You can view it here.


Donna Fernandez’s father died of adenocarcinoma at the age of 49, just six months after he was diagnosed, so when she learned she had the same disease, she knew exactly what it meant.

“They told my husband that I would live for four months,” she recalled.

Adenocarcinoma is a form of non-small cell lung cancer often found in the outer area of the lungs and makes up about 47% of lung cancer cases, and usually grows and spreads to other parts of the body more slowly than small cell lung cancer does. It develops in the cells of the outer layers of lung tissue, which line the cavities and surfaces of the body and form glands.

Donna was put on traditional chemotherapy and the cancer tumors did shrink, but the moment she stopped chemotherapy, they came back. “I was most worried about my dogs,” Donna said. “They can be pretty evil, and no one is going to love these little devils the way that I do.”

Like many patients, Donna, who worked through her treatment, had a tough time with chemotherapy. If she had treatment on Thursday, she would feel fine until the steroids from the treatment wore off by the weekend.

“I’d be so nauseated that I could not bring myself to drink anything,” she remembered, “I wouldn’t be able to walk from the couch to the refrigerator.”

During chemotherapy in 2013, Donna was approached with the opportunity to join a clinical trial, and it changed her life.

“I had no idea that it would help me,” she said. “I thought that I was helping future generations.”

Still an active participant in her clinical trial for treatments, Donna checks in every two weeks for an infusion and extensive blood tests. With the personal care administered from her healthcare team, to the tailored medical regimen, down to the feeling of being among family when she visits the Cancer Center at University of Texas Southwestern, Donna admits that she went from surviving to thriving.

“I can’t say enough about the ramifications [of the clinical trial],” she said. “I’m living proof. I’m not just alive, I’m living.”

Donna and her dogs travel often as they participate in dog agility competitions throughout the country. They went to Tennessee last year, and Donna is now preparing for a trip to Missouri, all thanks to the tremendous treatment received as a result of a clinical trial.

“I’m living my life and that’s so significant,” she said. “Just a few year back, I probably would not have made it.”

Donna’s story is proof that clinical trials are a valid treatment option and should be considered as an option throughout treatment.