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Thrive | What You Should Know About MPN Symptoms & Treatment Side Effects

Thrive | What You Should Know About MPN Symptoms & Treatment Side Effects from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How are MPN symptoms and treatment side effect managed? In this animated explainer video, an MPN specialist and myelofibrosis patient discuss the importance of clear communication with your healthcare team, the process for assessing common issues, and advice for advocating for yourself.

 

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Transcript:

Brian: 

Hi, I’m Brian. Nice to meet you! I’ve been living with a condition called myelofibrosis for many years. While there have certainly been ups and downs, I’ve been able to navigate care for my condition and to live a full life.  

So how have I been able to do that? First and foremost, I have a great relationship with my care team, whom I communicate with regularly. Meet, Dr. Liu – my doctor. 

Dr. Liu: 

Hi! I’m Dr. Liu, and I’m a hematologist and a specialist in myeloproliferative neoplasms or MPNs. The three types of MPNs are essential thrombocythemia, or ET,  polycythemia vera or PV, and myelofibrosis, or MF.  This group of blood cancers is characterized by the bone marrow overproducing a certain type of cell.  

Maintaining a good relationship with your healthcare team, coupled with finding a treatment approach that works for you, can help you live a full life and to thrive with an MPN. 

Brian: 

Exactly, Dr. Liu. Over the years, I’ve experienced periodic issues with my condition. I’ve had symptoms and treatment side effects that have been bothersome and interfered with my life. But, communication with my team has been essential to feeling well.  

Dr. Liu: 

That’s right, Brian. When symptoms or treatment side effects are bothering you, it’s important to let your healthcare provide know how you are feeling. 

Brian: 

For example, recently I felt tired beyond general sleepiness. And when I shared this with Dr. Liu, we discussed potential causes of the fatigue, and we talked in-depth about my options to manage it, including changing therapy and some simple changes to my diet and lifestyle.1 Over time, my energy levels improved, but having the open dialogue with Dr. Liu was essential to tackling this symptom head-on. 

Dr. Liu: 

That’s a great example. When I first hear from a patient that they are having an issue, we go through several steps to find a solution.2  

We start by ensuring that the disease is well-controlled, so we check blood counts. Next, we try to determine if it is a symptom of the MPN or a side effect of the treatment. Once we’ve done those steps, we come up with potential solutions which may include, but are not limited to: 

  • A dose reduction or a treatment holiday. 
  • Changing therapy to find something that is more well-tolerated. 

Other considerations are dependent upon the specific symptoms and side effects but may include: 

  • Supportive care options, including diet and exercise. 
  • A visit to your primary care doctor to see if there is something else going on physically. 

Brian: 

That’s good to know, Dr. Liu. Something you brought up with me, which I feel is important to mention, is mental health. Often, emotional symptoms can take a toll on the body, causing fatigue or other issues. 

Dr. Liu: 

Great point, Brian. Seeking care for your mental health is crucial, particularly if you are in active treatment. 

Brian: 

Of course, we know that the symptoms and treatment side effects for MPNs can vary widely, so what advice do you have for patients who may be afraid to speak up? 

Dr. Liu: 

The most important thing to remember is that we have options to help you, no matter what you are going through. It’s your body and if you don’t let your provider know what you’re going through, they can’t help you. 

Brian: 

So true. It’s also a good idea to bring a care partner along to appointments, sometimes a spouse or friend can you help you communicate what’s going on. 

Dr. Liu: 

That’s great advice, Brian. Bringing someone along to take notes is a great idea. Also, be sure to write down any questions or concerns you have in advance to make the most of your appointment. 

Brian: 

OK, Dr. Liu, let’s recap your advice for MPN symptom management: 

Dr. Liu: 

Good idea! First, remember that everyone’s MPN is different, so managing symptoms and side effects can be tricky. Communicating with your healthcare team is critical to your overall care – report any and all concerns to your team immediately. 

And, do your part. Make sure you see your primary care physician regularly and do your best to maintain a healthy lifestyle. 

Brian 

And, most importantly, remember you are at the center of your care. Never hesitate to share your opinion and to advocate for yourself. 

To learn more, visit powerfulpatients.org/MPN to access a library of tools. Thanks for joining us! 

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PODCAST: CLL Patient Expert Q&A: Dr. Danielle Brander

 

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Transcript:

Lisa Hatfield:

Welcome to this START HERE, Patient Empowerment Network program. This program bridges the CLL expert and patient voices, enabling patients and care partners to feel comfortable asking questions of their healthcare team. Joining me is Dr. Danielle Brander, a CLL specialist serving as assistant professor in the Division of Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapy at Duke University Medical Center. Dr. Brander directs the chronic lymphocytic leukemia or CLL and lymphoma program and serves as primary investigator for CLL focus clinical trials. Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Brander.

Dr. Danielle Brander:

Thanks for having me, Lisa.

Lisa Hatfield:

The world can be complicated, but understanding your chronic lymphocytic leukemia diagnosis and treatment options doesn’t have to be. The goal of START HERE is to create actionable pathways for getting the most out of CLL treatment and survivorship. Before we get started, please remember to download the program resource guide via the QR code. There is great information there that will be useful during this program and after. So let’s get started. Dr. Brander, I’d like to talk about what’s on the CLL treatment radar. There’s a lot going on in terms of emerging treatment options, clinical trial data, and other learnings from the CLL community. Before we jump into a detailed discussion, can you provide an explanation of what CLL is?

Dr. Danielle Brander:

Absolutely. So CLL, or chronic lymphocytic leukemia, we generally think of as blood cancer. But often as you hear the ending of that, the name leukemia, we also think of it as a lymphoma, meaning patients can have the spectrum of an elevated white count like you might think of in terms of a leukemia. They can also, like a lymphoma though, have enlarged lymph nodes or spleen. And often patients are diagnosed incidentally and that just means that they’re…in seeing their physician or their medical team for other reasons. And they might have had a blood test, and their white counts elevated.

Or they might notice they have a tiny enlarged lymph node or found on screening for other cancers, for example. And so the takeaway there is that many patients don’t necessarily have symptoms and certainly often many patients don’t have reasons to need to start treatment at the time they’re diagnosed. So in terms of what it is today, I think more and more patients are being diagnosed both because it is something that comes about as patients get older, but also because it’s found during routine other visits. And so more and more patients I think are found incidentally that way.

Lisa Hatfield:

Okay, thank you. So just a follow-up question to that, if a patient goes into their primary care provider and finds something unusual that might indicate CLL, will they be referred to a hematologist right away at that point? Usually?

Dr. Danielle Brander:

So that is a great question. Often they are, for example, if they’re noted to have a high white count or, specifically a type of white cell called lymphocytes. However, there are many things that can cause that or cause a small lymph node. And so, some primary care appropriately, if those changes are small and they could be due to other things like an infection, for example, then their primary care might want to follow up first. And if things go away, it may not be related to a cancer at all.

But if it’s something that persists or it seems very out of range, or primary care, who, you know, are specialists and seeing kind of changes all the time, and may say this seems a little bit out of range, then even before something’s diagnosed, patients might be referred to a hematologist or an oncologist to help with that workup. But often because primary care is so astute in seeing these things, they may counsel patients to say, let’s send this test or this test to get things going while we’re speaking to a hematologist or oncologist.

Lisa Hatfield:

We have CLL patients and care partners who are newly diagnosed in active treatment, watch and wait, and also living well with their disease. Joining this program no matter where you are in your CLL journey, START HERE provides easy-to-understand, reliable, and digestible information to help you make informed decisions. So, Dr. Brander, we’re going to get into a more detailed discussion now of CLL. Can you talk a little bit about the novel pathways and targets that are currently under investigation in CLL, and what are the most important highlights from those for patients and their families and care partners?

Dr. Danielle Brander:

Yes. So over the last decade or even the last five years, for patients diagnosed with CLL, there’s been a very encouraging and marked change in the available treatments that is, you know, not that many years ago we generally only had chemotherapy or chemotherapy combined with these antibody targeted treatments that we call immunotherapy sometimes.

But in the last 5 to 10 years we’ve seen quite a remarkable change in treatments that target, meaning often they go after pathways or ways that the CLL cells have learned to grow or have learned to not die the way that normal cells should, die after certain time points. The two main categories of treatments that are approved for CLL treatment, either for patients as a first treatment or patients that have had treatment before including prior chemo or other agents are called BTK inhibitors or BCL-2 inhibitors.

BTK is something inside the leukemia cells. It’s also in some of our other cells. But in the CLL cells particularly, they’re very sensitive in needing that protein. So in targeting that BTK inhibitors keep the cells from getting the normal signals that they need to stay alive, and so the lymph nodes that are big get smaller, a spleen that might be big get smaller, white count eventually comes back down, for example. And those BTK inhibitors have also already encouragingly changed over recent years.

So there was…you’ll hear people say first generation, these were the first inhibitors that came out, that was a drug called ibrutinib (Imbruvica), which is still around. And then there are second generation that are approved that have come out as first treatment or treatment for previously patients that receive treatment.

Those second-generation BTK inhibitors are called zanubrutinib (Brukinsa) and acalabrutinib (Calquence) that are approved. The main other approved category of these targeted treatments I mentioned is venetoclax based treatment. And that targets something different, that targets a set of proteins inside the cell that tell the cell to stay alive too long. And so you have this accumulation and venetoclax targets that pathway. And the last thing I’ll mention about the BTK inhibitors that’s emerging is now there are trials of what are called non-covalent BTK inhibitors.

So they work in a different way, they go after BTK and so that they can work. The non-covalent, even for patients where the first and second-generation, traditional covalent BTK inhibitors I mentioned stop working, those are not yet approved officially for CLL, though they’re approved in mantle cell lymphoma. That’s a drug called pirtobrutinib (Jaypirca), that’s a non-covalent BTK. And the reason that emerging set of treatment, as I mentioned, is important is because it can work for patients where the first or second-generation covalent BTK inhibitors stop working. The venetoclax (Venclexta), as I mentioned, works by a different mechanism. So patients, of course, where the BTK stopped working, in many cases venetoclax can be helpful as well.

Lisa Hatfield:

Great. Thank you so much. So I read a little bit, I did a little research on trials that you’re involved in, and there is a trial the EVOLVE CLL trial, and I wonder if you can talk about that a little bit because I think it is exciting for patients to hear that there might be an option for earlier intervention. And I’m not sure if you’re allowed to talk about any results yet, but if you can speak to results, that would be great to hear about those results too.

Dr. Danielle Brander:

Well, yes and no, thank you for bringing this up because this is very important. As you mentioned, it’s called the EVOLVE study. It’s led by a national cooperative group called SWOG, meaning there are lots of places that it’s available, not just larger centers, but smaller oncology centers as well. And this is to look at what’s called early intervention, meaning as we spoke about before, most patients with CLL don’t need treatment at the time that they’re diagnosed. The reasons for treatment are, we call those treatment indications are based on three main categories that I’ll just review. For some patients, it’s new or progressive symptoms like weight loss or, very symptomatic limiting life day-to-day activities like night sweats or fatigue, for example, that’s the first category of reasons some patients might need treatment is unmanageable side effects.

The second main category is if the lymph nodes get very large or impacting on organ function, or the same for the spleen, it’s getting very large to a certain size, or it’s affecting your ability to eat regular meals or losing weight. And then the last category of treatment indications that we generally wait to start treatment for are if it’s affecting the normal blood count.

So there’s not one magic white count where patients need to start treatment, but almost like weeds in a garden, if those CLL cells are crowding out the red blood cells, so the hemoglobin’s falling or it’s crowding out the platelets, so the platelets are crowding and can’t grow and reach a certain threshold, then we recommend treatment. Of course, there are scattered other reasons, but those are the main three categories. And the reason of waiting to start until those are met is because historically trials have been done to look at waiting for those indications versus treating around the time of diagnosis.

Those trials so far have included chemotherapy by itself or chemotherapy in combination. And most recently there was a trial looking at first-generation ibrutinib that was given continuously. And so far there’s been no survival. So no life expectancy benefit to early treatment versus waiting for those indications. And the other reason generally not treating all patients is because some patients never require treatment, about a quarter of patients. So if we offer treatment to everybody, at the time of diagnosis, there are patients that would get treatment that would be exposed to side effects and never needed. But what the EVOLVE study is uniquely looking at is randomizing. And randomizing means some patients will get treatment and some patients will wait until those traditional reasons to need treatment. But for those randomized to receive therapy, it’s that venetoclax based treatment combined with this antibody called obinutuzumab (Gazyva).

And the way that treatment is given for patients, is the same way it’s given for patients who outside of the trial need treatment, meaning they get the antibody infusion, then they get the venetoclax pill, but it’s for a fixed duration, meaning a total of one year of treatment. The trial is also only for patients with higher-risk CLL. So as I mentioned, some patients never need treatment, some patients do, some patients need it quicker. So rather than looking at this trial and saying all patients, including those with CLL, that’s likely to be slower-growing. The EVOLVE trial is only for patients who are more likely to need treatment in the next couple of years.  And the way that’s determined is a score called the CLL-IPI score, and CLL-IPI tries to identify patients more likely to need treatment in the next couple of years by a couple of key factors.

Stage at the time of diagnosis, it looks at age, and it looks at key factors of the leukemia itself, including something called deletion 17P or TP53, because that marker in the cells is a high risk of eventually needing treatment.  So to answer your question, what EVOLVE is looking at is taking higher-risk patients, so patients rather than all patients more likely to need treatment anyway, and around the time of diagnosis, randomizing to either be treated or to follow the traditional, sometimes called watch and wait or dynamic monitoring until they reach traditional markers. And ultimately, and it’ll likely take many years to look at, ultimately the question is looking at if that helps prolong patient survival by having higher-risk patients receive that fixed-duration treatment earlier in time. We don’t yet have any results or any results to share, because the study is still enrolling.

But again, I think it’s something for patients to be aware of, because it does look at the higher risk patients. But around a year, it has to be within a year of diagnosis. So patients who are newly diagnosed, the question to ask your oncology team is “Do I qualify?” if it’s something you’re interested for, and they’ll help walk you through that. If you haven’t had markers checked, for example, it might be a good time to ask about that, to see if this is something would be available, even if not available though, it does create a time to talk to your team about the markers, because those can inform regardless of trial or not maybe what to expect in coming years and likelihood of treatment.

Lisa Hatfield:

Great, thank you for that. So as a cancer patient, one of the biggest questions I had when I was diagnosed, you hear the word “cancer” or in this case “CLL leukemia.”Two questions. One of them, is there a cure for CLL? And if not, are any of the…are there any trials looking at a cure for CLL?

Dr. Danielle Brander:

Yes. Excellent. An understandable question. Traditionally, we say that CLL or others slower-growing, or sometimes you’ll hear the term indolent lymphomas, do tend to be slower-growing.  Some patients don’t need treatment. But the flip side of that is we generally think of them as not curable, that they’re a chronic condition and that treatment, the goal of treatment is to knock it down and relieve whatever symptoms or indications or reasons you’re starting treatment are.

But at some level, we historically think of CLL as either eventually coming back or sticking around, so to speak. However, I think most oncologists, most those in the field, feel that some of the treatments that are around or in combination, that we’re going to have some patients that have maybe what a term might be functional cure or individual, cure-like condition.

Meaning if our newer treatments for some patients can knock down the CLL so much that it either doesn’t come back or take so long to even show itself again, in a way that serves as what the purpose of cure, really is, which is to get it down to levels that it’s not causing problems or not coming back, for the lifetime of the patient. Bone marrow transplant is the only therapy historically that has been cured, has offered a cure for some patients. The downside and the reason that most patients aren’t referred to for bone marrow transplant is the risk side of it. Meaning, unfortunately, a bone marrow or stem cell transplant has such a high risk of directly causing side effects.

That could be life-limiting or chronic side effects from the transplant itself versus the agents available now that we aren’t using or referring to bone marrow transplant nearly as much, but I think it’s really encouraging what we’re seeing in responses. So we talked already about those main categories of BTK inhibitors or venetoclax, I didn’t yet talk about, but there are many trials that have looked at those in combination, or CAR T, for example, or bispecific antibodies that are knocking down the CLL to such low levels. But the hope is that serves as a way of functional cure. But it’s going to take time to see if that’s the case. But we’re all very encouraged and really believe that that’s on the horizon.

Lisa Hatfield:

Great. Thank you so much. And even a functional cure sounds really hopeful, so I’m happy to hear that term. Thank you. And I want to be cognizant of your time and the time of everybody watching. So we are going to move into some of the questions that we’ve received from you watching this, patients. Remember, as patients, we should always feel empowered to ask our healthcare providers any and all questions we might have about our treatment and prognosis. Please remember, however, this program is not a substitute for medical care and always consult with your own medical team. So, Dr. Brander, let’s start here. How do you explain, you kind of covered this a little bit, CLL treatment options and prognosis to your newly diagnosed patients? And I think that the prognosis piece is really important, especially if they do start treatment. 

Dr. Danielle Brander:

Sure, absolutely. So, what are the things we’re looking for in terms of needing treatment?  Because some of those, especially the symptoms we’re noting a lymph node or spleen, for example, or symptoms of anemia, which is low red cells or bleeding from low platelets, it’s helpful for patients to understand what we’re looking for, but, of course, in the time between visits those are the things we want to help patients with if they notice.

And so we encourage them all the time to call our triage or send us, you know, most electronic medical records now, have ways to send your team a message. And we want to know about that from patients in between visits. In terms of prognosis, as I mentioned before, there are other CLL-specific labs usually on the blood, meaning a regular blood draw.

Most patients don’t need another lymph node biopsy or a bone marrow biopsy, though that happens in some cases. And two of those or some of those key markers I mentioned before, but they test in the leukemia, there’s one test called the FISH, F-I-S-H, it’s not specific to CLL, we use it in other cancers. But it’s to look for specific changes in the leukemia genomics, meaning the DNA, the genetic material of the leukemia, not genetics you’re born with, but the cancer itself.

And there are specific patterns and that can be helpful as I sit down with patients to say this isn’t 100 percent, but this is kind of what to expect and likelihood of needing treatment over the next couple of years. There’s another test called IGHV, another mutation test TP53 kind of beyond this to go over right now, but as you mentioned, I think it’s important to meet with your medical team and say, ‘How does this pertain to me specifically?”

In terms of prognosis, I think there’s two parts to that of understanding what to expect. There’s likelihood of needing treatment, there’s likelihood of time to treatment, and those kind of markers and staging system help in a good way. Right now, our historical expectations, meaning 5 or 10 years ago, we could often also sit with patients and say, “This is the prognosis in terms of survival.” Expected life expectancy on average, but in a good way, most of our systems nowadays with the newer treatments likely vastly underestimate patient survival, meaning those systems were designed when we only had chemotherapy treatments.

Now, we know patients even with the highest risk markers, the faster progressions are living, you know, years and years beyond what was expected with chemotherapy. So I just caution especially materials around from just a couple of years ago that likely they don’t pertain, but they can be helpful in knowing what to expect.

Lisa Hatfield:

Great, thank you for that. Answering that question. We have a couple of questions about BTK inhibitors, and you already talked a little bit about the role of those and why they’re significant in treating CLL. But another patient’s asking about the, of course, a lot of patients wonder, what are the side effects? They hear chemo and like, “Oh, my gosh, the side effects are going to be off.” Can you talk about the side effects and even maybe some unusual side effects that you’ve heard of from patients when using the BTK inhibitors?

Dr. Danielle Brander:

Sure, absolutely. And so again, really important, these are things that as we maybe anticipate patients are going to start treatment, this is a long discussion of deciding between treatment, for example, as first treatment. There’s no trial saying one path is necessarily better than the other. So we try to individualize choosing between BTK inhibitors or that venetoclax-based therapy I mentioned. Some of that though comes about and what expected side effects are expected side effects for the individual. I try for patients to hear it from myself, other members of the team, the nurse, our pharmacist, for example.

And so patients shouldn’t feel overwhelmed to keep asking about what to expect or new side effects. There are some side effects we talk about regardless of the treatment. So I’ll just point out, anytime you’re starting treatment, you’ll hear the team talk about risk for infection, monitoring for fevers, reaching out to us about those kinds of side effects, lower blood counts that can happen regardless, not specific to BTK though it can happen there as well.

There’s some specifically though with BTK inhibitors, we ask patients to watch out for. Some BTK inhibitors can cause some cardiovascular side effects, meaning watching out for funny beating of the heart or what we call palpitations, skipped beats. There can be arrhythmias, some patients can have with time elevation in their blood pressure, for example. And then risk for bleeding, meaning BTK inhibitors affect how the platelets stick together similar to what aspirin does.

So the platelet levels may be normal but patients might have easier bruising, just generally manageable. But if there’s any kind of bleeding, certainly the team should be aware. It’s also the reason though, if you’re on a BTK inhibitor and you have a planned surgery or procedure, let your team know, because we may recommend or a lot of times recommend holding the medication before and after certain surgeries or procedures.

Other side effects can be muscle or joint aches. Some patients have some gastrointestinal side effects like looser stools or sensitivities to certain food causing looser stools, for example. And then there are some that are specific to the individual BTK inhibitor. This is the one point I’ll mention that first-generation BTK inhibitor ibrutinib, part of the reason for the second-generation zanubrutinib and acalabrutinib is not necessarily of them working better but to have less of these side effects that I just mentioned.

Lisa Hatfield:

Great, thank you for that. So this patient is telling us that he’s trying to plan life while living with cancer. It’s a challenge. It’s hard to know where to start. Can some patients go off of ibrutinib? I don’t say…ibrutinib after five years and enter a watch-and-wait kind of program. And will they be monitored during that time too, if they ever do go off of the medication?

Dr. Danielle Brander:

Yeah. So again, more excellent, excellent questions. So of those main categories of treatment, the BTK inhibitors are given continuously, meaning, at least so far, the standard way we recommend of those treatments is that they’re taken every day, either once or twice a day, depending on which BTK inhibitor, and they’re taken every day. Unless patients run into progression, meaning the CLL learns to grow through its resistance or patients run into side effects that despite maybe team’s recommendation of changing the dose or holding the medications, that it’s just the medication is just not tolerated.

In those cases, there are cases where we do recommend stopping the treatment because of side effects. And the key there is that patients if depending how long they’ve been on treatment or how their CLL is responding, might not need to go on to the next treatment right away.

So to answer this patient’s question, if they were to run into a side effect that wasn’t manageable, there are patients where we say, stop treatment and let’s just watch things, see if you need treatment, if your CLL has no other reason to jump into the next therapy. And there have been encouraging things that we’re learning and that I think are hopeful to this patient’s question, which is maybe in the future there are patients where we proactively can tell them to stop after a certain time because of what we’ve learned for patients so far. But at the current moment in time, we don’t tell patients to stop at a certain amount of time.

But there are trials that are looking at that after a certain number of years. And there are also trials that have followed patients who have stopped therapy and some of those patients, as I mentioned, who are told to stop treatment due to other side effects or other reasons, may go a long time, a couple of years before they need to start therapy.

Lisa Hatfield:

Okay, great. Thank you. I’m going to add one little question there too, if you don’t mind. So we’ve talked about trials a little bit, and I know that patients can go to clinicaltrials.gov, but what if a patient lives in an area that doesn’t have a major academic center or maybe trials aren’t being done very much in their area? Do you have a recommendation for patients? Should they just ask their doctor about trials if say, for example, they want to go on one of these trials? What recommendations do you have for those patients?

Dr. Danielle Brander:

Yes, absolutely. Starting with your healthcare team is very helpful to navigate to the right site. You mentioned the SWOG trial, which is online at a lot of the community and academic sites. So I would say also don’t or I encourage patients that just if they’re at a smaller site, it doesn’t mean there aren’t trials available. And then without going into all the individual, I guess societies and advocacy networks I really think that that’s been a tremendous benefit for patients is that there are societies through, you know, having leukemia or lymphoma, for example, that list or want to help patients connect them to what available trials there are.

Because while we think of trials as maybe the treatment, the reality is that a lot of trials are looking at other things too, patient’s physical function, patient’s other aspects of life besides the drug itself. So yes, I think that’s a great question for patients to be thinking about.

Lisa Hatfield:

Great, thank you. And you’re right, talking about access to trials is a whole other issue that will probably take up an entire program. But there are the advocacy networks out there, even Patient Empowerment Network. We can maybe help with that a little bit too. So we have another patient who is concerned about chances of relapse and is asking if there are any lifestyle changes through diet and supplements or anything that you can speak to that may enhance their response or their duration response to the treatment?

Dr. Danielle Brander:

Yeah. So a very very great question to bring about. And this is the one area, understandably where many of us feel frustrated because we can’t tell patients specifically that this trial has been done and says this specific diet is helpful or this specific lifestyle change is helpful to make the treatment work for longer. I think some of that is because some of the general advice we give meaning maintaining daily activity or a well-balanced diet sound non-specific or simple, but I think do help in patients staying in an overall general health wellness so that they can benefit from the treatment and potentially have less side effects from the therapy.

But getting back to the question we just talked about, I think certainly trials or studies really need to be continuing to look at this, because I think there likely are things that we can be more specific to patients about. There are studies looking at physical fitness and exercise regimens not necessarily specific to CLL, although there are studies being done in that space, but to other cancers showing that physical activity and exercise can help even for patients not on treatment maintain control of their cancer. So general daily activity and exercise are important in studies that look at how do you tailor that to an individual I think are important too?

Lisa Hatfield:

All right. So probably time for this last question from a patient. “As a CLL expert, how do you help empower your patients so they can get the most out of their CLL treatment and survivorship? How do you work with them as a team to make sure, I guess they’re having the best outcome they can?”

Dr. Danielle Brander:

Absolutely. So it starts at the start. I guess so for conversations, meaning for those that don’t need treatment right away building the relationship, understanding how I can help patients and their caregivers help, for example, they like to learn how much they want to know, what resources can I connect them with. And then I think it’s important for them to have other team members that they can go to and talk to and hear it from, because sometimes the same information we can just share in different ways or approach differently. The nurse on our team or our pharmacist or I work with a wonderful group of nurse practitioners and physician assistants as well. And so from the beginning, I want patients to feel free to ask the questions that come to mind.

It’s amazing, of course, during the course of the visit when you’re going over your labs and that, that sometimes it’s easy to forget the questions you came in with. So, of course, anytime you can write them down before coming in, write them down and then maybe prioritize because all of us…I think it’s hard to remember everything. So prioritizing the questions we want to make sure we get to and go over as well as know that these same questions are going to mean different things to you the longer you’re living with your CLL. And so it’s okay to ask the same questions. Again, there’s never a question that any of us mind going over several times. And then just know how the team can help you. You know, are you coming? How much information do you want?

How much input do you want us to put? And what is your importance and priority? At the end of the day, I want all patients to know no one knows what it is, like living with it. No one knows what’s most important as much as you and your family or your caregiver team does. And I learn just as much from patients and the way they share their experiences. There’s a lot we can look at a group of patients with CLL and say how different each patient’s experiences, who needs treatment or not, who has side effects or not. But no one’s going to know as much as as you do living with it. And it’s our hope to help you wherever you are in your journey or whatever ways that we can help you.

Lisa Hatfield:  

Well, and I appreciate your comment that we can ask the same questions over and over if we need to. I know my oncologist when I first met with him, I felt guilty taking in more than two questions, but right before he moved, I took in a long, I rolled up a piece of paper, a long scroll, and I said, I have some questions for you, but I knew they were all repeat questions. But it does give us a little bit of peace of mind just hearing it again from somebody, especially in those initial phases of treatment, just hearing it, even if you have to hear it again and again. So thank you for mentioning that. It makes us feel a little more confident in taking those concerns to our providers, even if they’re repeated concerns. 

Lisa Hatfield:

Dr. Brander, thank you so much for being part of this Patient Empowerment Network START HERE Program. It’s these conversations that help patients truly empower themselves along their treatment journey. And on behalf of patients like myself and those watching, thank you very much for joining us.

Dr. Danielle Brander:  

Thank you for having me.

Lisa Hatfield:  

I’m Lisa Hatfield, thank you for joining this Patient Empowerment Network program. 

Thrive | Advice for Managing Potential CAR T-Cell Therapy Side Effects Resource Guide

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Stem Cell Transplant for AML | What Patients Should Know

Stem Cell Transplant for AML | What Patients Should Know from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When is stem cell transplant an option for AML care? AML specialist Dr. Alice Mims discusses who this procedure is most appropriate for and how patients are monitored after transplant. Dr. Mims also addresses common issues following stem cell transplant, including joint pain. 

Dr. Alice Mims is a hematologist specializing in acute and chronic myeloid conditions. Dr. Mims serves as the Acute Leukemia Clinical Research Director at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James. Learn more about Dr. Mims

See More from Thrive AML

Related Resources:

How Can You Thrive With AML Advice for Navigating Care.

Thriving With AML Tips and Support for Navigating Treatment

Thriving With AML | Tips and Support for Navigating Treatment 


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Janet wants to know what factors enable a patient to achieve and continue in remission if they are not able to achieve stem cell transplant due to age restrictions.  

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, I think first and foremost, I think it’s very important that there — that patients are aware that there shouldn’t be just strict, stringent cutoffs of age as a requirement for stem cell transplant.  

 And really, there’s a lot of research going on that we should take into account. Physiological age, and there are ways to measure that just to be sure that stem cell transplant really is not an option. And for patients who stem cell transplant is not an option, I think as we talked about earlier, so there can still be really great treatments that can get patients into remission and ongoing therapies with dosing adjustments again to decrease toxicity and improve quality of life and thinking about things like maintenance therapy as appropriate. 

Katherine Banwell:

What are the age restrictions, and why are they there? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, sometimes you will hear age 75. Really, no one above age 75 should move forward with transplant. And that’s based off of past data where they’ve explored transplant and seen increased toxicity. And from transplant in itself, increased side effects, increased risk of early mortality. And so, I do think it’s important to take the patient as a whole into consideration because again, you could have someone who’s 77 who may be running marathons, and in great shape, and not a lot of other healthcare issues, who may still do really well with treatment. And so, I think that’s – really needs to be taken in account, really the overall picture of health for the patient before making…  

Katherine Banwell:

So, the… 

Dr. Alice Mims:

…just a firm cutoff. 

Katherine Banwell:

Right. Okay. So, it’s not cut and dry. 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Exactly.  

Katherine Banwell:

If you’re 75 or older, then you definitely can’t have stem cell transplant. 

Dr. Alice Mims:

That’s correct. 

Katherine Banwell:

Then you’re looking at everyone individually. 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Yeah. So, it really should be looked at. And I still have some patients who will come to me and say, “Oh, I was told I’m 68 years old, I’m not a candidate.” And that always makes me take a step back. And then we kind of have to have that discussion again. And they may still not be a good candidate based off of other comorbidities or healthcare issues, but it shouldn’t just be a number rules you out for having that as an option. 

Katherine Banwell:

Good to know. We received this question from Carl, “What does treatment look like following transplant? And what are doctors looking for when monitoring through blood tests?”  

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, after transplant, the first three months is pretty intensive of being seen very frequently at your transplant center twice to once a week. You’re also on immunosuppressive medications to try to help prevent issues like graft-versus-host disease, which can be a complication from transplant. 

And then over time if you’re doing well, we try to start tapering off those immunosuppressive regimens to see if you can tolerate that. And what I say to most of my patients for – who are undergoing transplant, it can take some time to really feel back to being yourself. It can take six months, it can take a year or longer. And sometimes your normal is a new normal based off of how you do and the side effects of the transplant in itself. So, you may not go back to if you’re here before transplant and before your diagnosis, it may be that this is your new normal. Just so people can be prepared and know what they’re signing up for.  

Katherine Banwell:

And with the blood testing, what are you looking for when you’re monitoring a patient? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. There are a few different things that we’re looking for when monitoring patients. So, one, making sure that the stem cells or the graft from the donor are recovering. 

You want to see that blood counts, levels of white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets are getting to normal levels. You’re also assessing and making sure you’re not seeing signs of relapse. You’re checking levels of donor cells versus the patient cells within the stem cell — sorry, within the stem cell compartments. And so, we’re taking all of those into account as well as checking organ function and making sure there’s no signs of potential graft-versus-host disease as well.  

Katherine Banwell:

Ryan wants to know, “I’m a year-and-a-half post-transplant, how can you tell if the aches and pains in your joints are normal aging, host versusgraft disease, the AML returning, or even something else?” 

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, I think that’s also a difficult question to answer, because it really is patient-dependent. And so, I think if you’re having new joint aches or pains, it’s always important to reach out to your transplant team to make sure that – it could be any of the above. 

And so you’re doing the appropriate workup with lab work, imaging, things that would be appropriate, or seeing certain specialists. Maybe orthopedist if needed because it could be I’d say less likely leukemic relapse, but still want to be sure. But it could be definitely complications from GVHD, or there are some joint issues that can evolve post-transplant, especially for people who are on long-term immunosuppressant medications. Or it could be the normal effects of aging. So, it’s always good to have that reassurance.  

Expert Advice | Managing AML Symptoms and Treatment Side Effects

Expert Advice | Managing AML Symptoms and Treatment Side Effects from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

The symptoms of acute myeloid leukemia (AML), or side effects of treatment, can have an impact on daily life. Dr. Alice Mims, an AML specialist, discusses how common issues are treated and talks about why it’s important to share what you’re going through with your healthcare team. 

Dr. Alice Mims is a hematologist specializing in acute and chronic myeloid conditions. Dr. Mims serves as the Acute Leukemia Clinical Research Director at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James. Learn more about Dr. Mims

See More from Thrive AML

Related Resources:

AML Treatment Decisions | Understanding Factors That Impact Your Options

Thriving With AML | Advice for Setting Goals and Making Treatment Decisions

Understanding AML Treatment Categories

Understanding AML Treatment Categories 


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

When it comes to living and thriving with AML, Dr. Mims, managing disease symptoms and treatment side effects is a big part of that. 

Would you talk about how symptoms and side effects can impact life with AML? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, I think from my perspective, what we are always trying to do when we’re moving forward with a treatment plan is of course, get patients into remission, but the purpose of getting into remission is not just to achieve that, but for patients to have quality of life. And so, there needs to be continued dialogue between the patient and the treatment team about how you’re feeling during treatment. Because they’re definitely based off of therapy, different side effects, things that could be not necessarily due to active leukemia anymore. And so there may need to be dose adjustments and other things that we do to the regimens in order to make you feel as good as possible while continuing on treatment. 

Katherine Banwell:

Why is it so important for patients to speak up about any issues they may be having? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

I think it’s important because you’re your own best advocate. Being the patient, being the person who’s living with having this diagnosis and going through the treatment, myself, or other colleagues as physicians, we can have a sense of what may be going on based off of numbers. But we’re not truly going to know how you’re feeling unless you speak up and let us know. And there may be things we could do with supportive medications, dosing adjustments as mentioned, that could help in making you hopefully feel better and less side effects and toxicities from treatment. 

Katherine Banwell:

What are some common symptoms and side effects that you hear about?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

Okay. Sure. So, different side effects that I would say that people can have, people can feel fatigued just from treatment in general. Some of our therapies can cause neuropathy, skin rashes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. And so, all of those are important along as mentioned with symptoms you may have from decreased blood counts that we do have interventions that we could implement to help the – make the therapy more tolerable. 

Katherine Banwell:

So, for the side effects like fatigue, for example, what do you do about that? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, I think it depends on the level of fatigue. Of course, we don’t have – I wish we had a pill that could just make fatigue improve. But if it’s really that the treatment is deriving it, and it’s impacting your quality of life, there are dose reductions or things we can do that may help with the level of fatigue you’re experiencing.  

Katherine Banwell:

And what about some of the other side effects. You mentioned diarrhea. 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. 

Katherine Banwell:

How is that handled? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Yeah. So, for issues from GI complications such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, we have really lots of choices for anti-nausea medicines and different combinations we can use or newer antiemetics that can help with that. And from a diarrhea perspective it depends on the treatment. But, of course, we want to make sure first and foremost there’s no infection. And if not, then there are good antidiarrheals we could add on to the regimen to help with that as well.  

Thriving With AML | Advice for Setting Goals and Making Treatment Decisions

Thriving With AML | Advice for Setting Goals and Making Treatment Decisions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When facing an acute myeloid leukemia (AML) diagnosis, treatment decisions may feel overwhelming. AML specialist Dr. Alice Mims shares expert guidance for setting treatment goals with your team, advice for making care decisions, and explains how tests results may impact choices.

Dr. Alice Mims is a hematologist specializing in acute and chronic myeloid conditions. Dr. Mims serves as the Acute Leukemia Clinical Research Director at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James. Learn more about Dr. Mims.

See More from Thrive AML

Related Resources:

Phases of AML Therapy | Understanding Treatment Options

Expert Advice | Managing AML Symptoms and Treatment Side Effects

Stem Cell Transplant for AML | What Patients Should Know


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

One part of thriving with AML is finding a treatment approach that manages your disease and fits with your lifestyle. Before we talk about therapy, can you tell us how treatment goals are established for an individual patient? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, for individual patients, I think it’s very important that there is an initial discussion that doesn’t feel too shortened that you can have time with your care team to really go into depth about the diagnosis, about the specifics of your particular subtype of acute myeloid leukemia, understanding the treatment options, and then being given time allowed to reflect on all of that information. So, then you can come back and have your questions better answered that may come from that initial discussion. 

And then help you with your team make a decision based on that information that works best for you.  

Katherine Banwell:

Outside of patient preference, what other factors do you take into account when working with a patient to decide on a treatment plan? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, there are multiple different factors that we try to take into account. Again, yeah, most importantly what patients’ goals are like you mentioned, but those include overall health, including different comorbidities, so what other healthcare diagnoses, medications are you taking, what are the patients’ age, thinking about that for long-term goals, overall support from loved ones, family to — just because care can be really involved. And then in particular, thinking about specific features of that individual patient’s AML, including molecular, genetic features of the leukemia. 

Katherine Banwell:

Well, let’s talk more in depth about the test results you just mentioned. 

What is the test for genetic markers? And how is it conducted? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, there are a few different tests that we use under that scope of genetic markers. So, those include looking at chromosomal abnormalities of the DNA. So, with cytogenetics, and then also more specific prose where we call FISH testing. And then also we look for specific gene mutations through next-generation sequencing, or PCR testing. And so, we use all of those results together to give us the most information we can about that individual’s leukemia. 

Katherine Banwell:

How has molecular testing revolutionized AML care? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Oh gracious. It’s really done such – so much for leukemia. And just things are so different even where they were five years ago because of having molecular mutations, that information available. 

So, it helps with discussing prognosis. So, we know that different molecular features can tell us about curative intent and what are the treatment steps we would need to take to give the best chance long-term. And then also now, we’ve evolved to where we have directed therapies that can target mutations or the proteins that arise from those mutations with therapeutic options. 

Katherine Banwell:

Is this testing standard following an AML diagnosis? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

It is standard following an AML diagnosis. That’s recommended within all of the guidelines with patients and really should be done for all patients at initial diagnosis. 

Katherine Banwell:

Can genetic markers or mutations change over time? For example, if a patient relapses, should molecular testing be done again? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Yes, absolutely. Mutations can evolve. It’s something we call clonal evolution of the leukemia. 

And so you can have mutations that could be present at diagnosis that may no longer be present. Or the opposite can occur where you have new mutations that can appear. And that can lead to different options for treatment. So, it’s very important to retest at time of relapse.  

Katherine Banwell:

What advice do you have for patients who want to ensure that they’ve actually undergone molecular testing? What questions should they be asking their healthcare team? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

I think it’s definitely important to bring this up with the healthcare team. And it should be something at diagnosis and relapse to ask, what are the cytogenetics, what do they look like now, what do the gene mutations, and really as mentioned before, it’s so crucial in talking about prognosis, talking about treatment options that if it doesn’t come up, it’s really something that you should take a pause and try to go back to readdress with your team.  

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PODCAST: Managing Life With AML | What You Should Know About Care and Treatment

 

What do you need to know when it comes to managing life with acute myeloid leukemia (AML)? In this webinar, Dr. Alice Mims, an AML specialist and researcher, discusses how treatment decisions are made and how test results may impact therapy. Dr. Mims will shares the latest advances in research and key advice for living well with AML.

Dr. Alice Mims is a hematologist specializing in acute and chronic myeloid conditions. Dr. Mims serves as the Acute Leukemia Clinical Research Director at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James. Learn more about Dr. Mims.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today. Today’s program is a continuation of our Thrive series. And we’re going to discuss navigating life with AML, and how you can engage in your 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. Well, joining us today is Dr. Alice Mims.  

Dr. Mims, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Yeah, sure. Thank you, Katherine. I’m Alice Mims. I’m a physician and associate professor at Ohio State University. And also, the section head for the myeloid and acute leukemia program within our division of hematology. 

Katherine Banwell:

Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today, Dr. Mims. We start all of our webinars in our thrive series with the same question; in your experience, what does it mean to thrive with AML? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure, I think that’s a great question. So, really for me, I think thriving with AML is very patient- or person-dependent. It really depends on making sure that your treatment goals align with your care. And so that means really being an active participant in your diagnosis, understanding the disease process, and making sure that your care team really understands what your overall goals are for your treatment. 

Katherine Banwell:

Thank you for that because it helps us to understand as we move through the program today. One part of thriving with AML is finding a treatment approach that manages your disease and fits with your lifestyle. Before we talk about therapy, can you tell us how treatment goals are established for an individual patient? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, for individual patients I think it’s very important that there is an initial discussion that doesn’t feel too shortened that you can have time with your care team to really go into depth about the diagnosis, about the specifics of your particular subtype of acute myeloid leukemia, understanding the treatment options, and then being given time allowed to reflect on all of that information. So, then you can come back and have your questions better answered that may come from that initial discussion. 

And then help you with your team make a decision based on that information that works best for you. 

Katherine Banwell:

Outside of patient preference, what other factors do you take into account when working with a patient to decide on a treatment plan?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, there are multiple different factors that we try to take into account. Again, yeah most importantly what patients’ goals are like you mentioned, but those include overall health, including different comorbidities, so what other healthcare diagnoses, medications are you taking, what are the patient’s age, thinking about that for long-term goals, overall support from loved ones, family to — just because care can be really involved. And then in particular, thinking about specific features of that individual patient’s AML, including molecular, genetic features of the leukemia. 

Katherine Banwell:

Well, let’s talk more in depth about the test results you just mentioned. 

What is the test for genetic markers? And how is it conducted? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, there are a few different tests that we use under that scope of genetic markers. So, those include looking at chromosomal abnormalities of the DNA. So, with cytogenetics, and then also more specific prose where we call FISH testing. And then also we look for specific gene mutations through next generation sequencing, or PCR testing. And so, we use all of those results together to give us the most information we can about that individual’s leukemia. 

Katherine Banwell:

How has molecular testing revolutionized AML care?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

Oh gracious. It’s really done such – so much for leukemia. And just things are so different even where they were five years ago because of having molecular mutations, that information available. 

So, it helps with discussing prognosis. So, we know that different molecular features can tell us about curative intent and what are the treatment steps we would need to take to give the best chance long-term. And then also now, we’ve evolved to where we have directed therapies that can target mutations or the proteins that arise from those mutations with therapeutic options. 

Katherine Banwell:

Is this testing standard following an AML diagnosis? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

It is standard following an AML diagnosis. That’s recommended within all of the guidelines with patients and really should be done for all patients at initial diagnosis. 

Katherine Banwell:

Can genetic markers or mutations change over time? For example, if a patient relapses, should molecular testing be done again? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Yes, absolutely. Mutations can evolve. It’s something we call clonal evolution of the leukemia. 

And so you can have mutations that could be present at diagnosis that may no longer be present. Or the opposite can occur where you have new mutations that can appear. And that can lead to different options for treatment. So, it’s very important to retest at time of relapse. 

Katherine Banwell:

What advice do you have for patients who want to ensure that they’ve actually undergone molecular testing? What questions should they be asking their healthcare team? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

I think it’s definitely important to bring this up with the healthcare team. And it should be something at diagnosis and relapse to ask, what are the cytogenetics, what do they look like now, what do the gene mutations, and really as mentioned before, it’s so crucial in talking about prognosis, talking about treatment options that if it doesn’t come up, it’s really something that you should take a pause and try to go back to readdress with your team. 

Katherine Banwell:

I’d like to move on to treatment now, Dr. Mims. And, of course, treatment takes place in phases for AML. The first is induction therapy. Can you start by defining induction therapy for our audience? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, induction therapy is really terminology that we use to talk about initial therapy for someone with a new diagnosis. So, we can have intensive induction therapies, and non-intensive induction therapies. But the goal for either of those types of treatment is to get the leukemia into remission. 

So, to talk about that in a little bit more detail, for intensive induction regimens, those typically involve cytotoxic chemotherapy. So, you may hear terminology like, “7 + 3 induction,” or “high-dose cytarabine regimens,” but those are typically more intensive regimens that we use that can have increased side effects but may be very important based off the type of acute leukemia. 

And then for non-intensive based regimens, one of the standards has really evolved to be venetoclax (Venclexta) and azacitidine (Vidaza) as a non-intensive regimen that can work very well for a majority of patients. And there are some off shoots of that as well. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. And when does stem cell transplant come into play? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, stem cell transplant is something that we all think about at the beginning for anyone with a new diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia where as we’re working to get back genomic information about the individual’s acute leukemia, we may go ahead and start looking for different donors, doing typing, just in case that’s something that we need as far as someone’s therapy. 

But typically we reserve stem cell transplant for patients who have either intermediate or high-risk features of their AML. Or who may have even favorable respite are not responding as well as we would like when looking at the depth of remission. And so, we always want  to be prepared in case that’s something we need to move forward with as part of their care, if the goal of their treatment is for curative intent. 

Katherine Banwell:

Let’s talk about what happens after the initial phase of treatment. What’s the purpose of consolidation therapy? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, there are a few different purposes we can use consolidation therapy for. So, for patients – consolidation therapy is used for patients who have achieved remission. And then it’s either to try to hopefully get them cure of their AML. The patients have more favorable risk features of their AML and cure is an option through just chemotherapy alone. 

Or it can be used to try to keep people in remission while we’re working to get towards stem cell transplant as that can sometimes take a few months to get a donor ready, have things ready to move forward with transplant. 

Katherine Banwell:

And what are the options for consolidation therapy?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, options for consolidated chemotherapy are typically based off of what you had initially for induction chemotherapy. So, if it’s more intensive-based regimens, it typically is consolidation with intensive consolidation, cytarabine based regimens.  

For lower intensity regimens, typically consolidation is more continuing therapy on what you started but may have adjustments of the treatment based off of trying to decrease the toxicity now that the patients are in remission. 

Katherine Banwell:

And how are patients monitored in consolidation therapy? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, it definitely is based off of the individual’s type of consolidation chemotherapy or treatment. But most patients, if we feel like the treatment is going to lower blood counts, they have bloodwork twice a week, and we’re watching for things, for side effects for treatment, looking out for risk of infection, giving transfusion support, and then if something happens that we feel like we can’t support patients in an outpatient setting, then we’ll get them back into the hospital if they need to for care. 

Katherine Banwell:

What side effects are you looking for?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, most of the side effects with any of the treatments that we give are what we call myelosuppressives. So, it lowers the different types of blood counts.   

So, white blood cell count which increases risk of infection, red blood cells, so, side effects or symptoms from anemia. And then risk of bleeding from low platelet counts.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Maintenance therapy has become more common in other blood cancers particularly in multiple myeloma. Is there a role for maintenance therapy in AML? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

There actually is now, which is something that’s newer that has evolved for acute myeloma leukemia. So, in the context of intensive therapy, we now have oral azacitidine (Onureg), which is a little bit different than some of the IV formulations that we give.  

But for patients who receive intensive induction therapy, get into remission and may receive consolidation but are not able to go onto transplant if they have that immediate or higher risk features, there’s FDA approval for oral azacytidine, which has been shown to improve overall survival and keep people in those remissions for longer. 

More recently, specifically for patients who have a particular type of mutation called FLT3, if they also receive intensive induction therapy with a FLT3 inhibitor added onto that, then their quizartinib was just recently approved as a maintenance therapy for patients with that particular type of AML.  

Katherine Banwell:

Are there emerging AML therapies that patients should know about other than what you just mentioned? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, I think there are a lot of exciting treatments that are up and coming based off of many small molecule inhibitors that are being studied. 

One in particular I would mention that everyone’s very excited about is a class of agents called menin inhibitors.  

And so that’s an oral agent that has been shown to have responses for patients with relapse or refractory AML who have NMP-1 mutations or have something called KNT2A rearrangements. And seeing responses with just a single agent in the relapse refractory setting, it’s been really exciting. And so, I think we’re hopeful that that may become FDA-approved in the near future. And it’s also now being explored in combination with intensive chemotherapies as well as less intensive induction regimens. And so, maybe we can do a better job without brunt treatment by adding these therapies on. 

Katherine Banwell:

That’s exciting news. When it comes to living and thriving with AML, Dr. Mims, managing disease symptoms and treatment side effects is a big part of that. 

Would you talk about how symptoms and side effects can impact life with AML?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, I think from my perspective, what we are always trying to do when we’re moving forward with a treatment plan is of course, get patients into remission, but the purpose of getting into remission is not just to achieve that, but for patients to have quality of life. And so, there needs to be continued dialogue between the patient and the treatment team about how you’re feeling during treatment. Because they’re definitely based off of therapy, different side effects, things that could be not necessarily due to active leukemia anymore. And so there may need to be dose adjustments and other things that we do to the regimens in order to make you feel as good as possible while continuing on treatment. 

Katherine Banwell:

Why is it so important for patients to speak up about any issues they may be having? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

I think it’s important because you’re your own best advocate. Being the patient, being the person who’s living with having this diagnosis and going through the treatment, myself, or other colleagues as physicians, we can have a sense of what may be going on based off of numbers. But we’re not truly going to know how you’re feeling unless you speak up and let us know. And there may be things we could do with supportive medications, dosing adjustments as mentioned, that could help in making you hopefully feel better and less side effects and toxicities from treatment. 

Katherine Banwell:

What are some common symptoms and side effects that you hear about?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

Okay. Sure. So, different side effects that I would say that people can have, people can feel fatigued just from treatment in general. Some of our therapies can cause neuropathy, skin rashes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. And so, all of those are important along as mentioned with symptoms you may have from decreased blood counts that we do have interventions that we could implement to help the – make the therapy more tolerable. 

Katherine Banwell:

So, for the side effects like fatigue for example, what do you do about that? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, I think it depends on the level of fatigue. Of course, we don’t have – I wish we had a pill that could just make fatigue improve. But if it’s really that the treatment is deriving it, and it’s impeding your quality of life there are dose reductions or things we can do that may help with the level of fatigue you’re experiencing.  

Katherine Banwell:

And what about some of the other side effects. You mentioned diarrhea. 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure.  

Katherine Banwell:

How is that handled? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Yeah. So, for issues from GI complications such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, we have really lots of choices for anti-nausea medicines and different combinations we can use or newer antiemetics that can help with that. And from a diarrhea perspective it depends on the treatment. But of course, we want to make sure first and foremost there’s no infection. And if not, then there are good antidiarrheals we could add on to the regiment to help with that as well. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. That’s great advice. Thank you. I want to make sure that we get to some of the audience questions. These were sent to us in advance of the program today. Let’s start with this one; Janet wants to know what factors enable a patient to achieve and continue in remission if they are not able to achieve stem cell transplant due to age restrictions.  

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, I think first and foremost, I think it’s very important that there — that patients are aware that there shouldn’t be just strict, stringent cutoffs of age as a requirement for stem cell transplant. And really, there’s a lot of research going on that we should take into account. Physiological age, and there’s ways to measure that just to be sure that stem cell transplant really is not an option. And for patients who stem cell transplant is not an option, I think as we talked about earlier, so there can still be really great treatments that can get patients into remission and ongoing therapies with dosing adjustments again to decrease toxicity and improve quality of life and thinking about things like maintenance therapy as appropriate. 

Katherine Banwell:

What are the age restrictions, and why are they there? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, sometimes you will hear age 75.

Really, no one above age 75 should move forward with transplant. And that’s based off of past data where they’ve explored transplant and seen increased toxicity. And from transplant in itself, increased side effects, increased risk of early mortality. And so, I do think it’s important to take the patient as a whole into consideration because again, you could have someone who’s 77 who may be running marathons, and in great shape, and not a lot of other healthcare issues, who may still do really well with treatment. And so, I think that’s – really needs to be taken in account, really the overall picture of health for the patient before making… 

Katherine Banwell:

So, the… 

Dr. Alice Mims:

…just a firm cutoff. 

Katherine Banwell:

Right. Okay. So, it’s not cut and dry. 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Exactly. 

Katherine Banwell:

If you’re 75 or older, then you definitely can’t have stem cell transplant. 

Dr. Alice Mims:

That’s correct. 

Katherine Banwell:

Then you’re looking at everyone individually. 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Yeah. So, it really should be looked at.  

And I still have some patients who will come to me and say, “Oh, I was told I’m 68 years old, I’m not a candidate.” And that always makes me take a step back. And then we kind of have to have that discussion again. And they may still not be a good candidate based off of other comorbidities or healthcare issues, but it shouldn’t just be a number rules you out for having that as an option. 

Katherine Banwell:

Good to know. We received this question from Carl, “What does treatment look like following transplant? And what are doctors looking for when monitoring through blood tests?” 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, after transplant, the first three months is pretty intensive of being seen very frequently at your transplant center twice to once a week. You’re also on immunosuppressive medications to try to help prevent issues like graft vs host disease, which can be a complication from transplant. 

And then over time if you’re doing well, we try to start tapering off those immunosuppressive regimens to see if you can tolerate that. And what I say to most of my patients for – who are undergoing transplant, it can take some time to really feel back to being yourself. It can take six months, it can take a year or longer. And sometimes your normal is a new normal based off of how you do and the side effects of the transplant in itself. So, you may not go back to if you’re here before transplant and before your diagnosis, it may be that this is your new normal. Just so people can be prepared and know what they’re signing up for.  

Katherine Banwell:

And with the blood testing, what are you looking for when you’re monitoring a patient?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. There are a few different things that we’re looking for when monitoring patients. So, one, making sure that the stem cells or the graft from the donor are recovering. 

You want to see that blood counts, levels of white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets are getting to normal levels. You’re also assessing and making sure you’re not seeing signs of relapse. You’re checking levels of donor cells versus the patient cells within the stem cell — sorry, within the stem cell compartments. And so, we’re taking all of those into account as well as checking organ function and making sure there’s no signs of potential graft versus host disease as well. 

Katherine Banwell:

Katrina sent in this question; do you have any advice for dealing with a general oncologist who does not exactly follow my AML doctor’s recommendations? I see a local oncologist and an AML specialist guides my care. 

Dr. Alice Mims:

I think that’s a tough question. And so, I think I’ll answer that if – maybe two different ways. 

So, one, I think sometimes it’s hard when you’re the local community oncologist, and you’re there for the day-to-day care. And so there may need to be treatment adjustments and other things that you need to do in that moment or time to help make sure that toxicities are not too severe or are helping the patient as you’re seeing them day-to-day. And it may not be easy to involve the specialist right there in the moment. But I think if there are bigger issues as far as overall goals, overall communication, it should be that both are able to communicate well with each other. They should be able to communicate via email, via text message. That’s what I do with a lot of my community partners. And it’s always important that you as a patient feel confident in your care. And so, if that trust is not there that things are being followed, then it may be important to look and see if there’s another physician who you do feel comfortable with proceeding with your care with. 

Katherine Banwell:

And what do you tell patients when they’re not feeling comfortable with their care team or their oncologist or their general oncologist? What do you say to them to give them some confidence to find somebody else who they feel more comfortable with? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, I’ll just say from my perspective. So, if I’m seeing a patient and they may have questions, they may not feel comfortable, they may need more time. And I always think it’s important if you want a second opinion, whether it’s at a specialist level, whether it’s in a community oncology private setting, that should not be offensive to the physician.  

If that makes the patient feel more comfortable in what they’re doing with their care, that’s how they should move forward. And it should be what they feel like is best. If a physician takes that personally or is offended by it, I think that’s more of their problem as opposed to anything that you’re doing wrong.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Thank you for that. Ryan wants to know; I’m a year and a half post-transplant, how can you tell if the aches and pains in your joints are normal aging, host vs graft disease, the AML returning, or even something else? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, I think that’s also a difficult question to answer because it really is patient dependent. And so, I think if you’re having new joint aches or pains, it’s always important to reach out to your transplant team to make sure that – it could be any of the above.. 

And so you’re doing the appropriate workup with lab work, imaging, things that would be appropriate or seeing certain specialists. Maybe orthopedist if needed because it could be I’d say less likely leukemic relapse, but still want to be sure. But it could be definitely complications from GVHD or there’s some joint issues that can evolve post-transplant, especially for people who are on long-term immunosuppressant medications. Or it could be the normal effects of aging. So, it’s always good to have that reassurance. 

Katherine Banwell:

Let’s talk a little bit about mental health resources. Managing the worry associated with a diagnosis or concerns about relapse, or even various side effects can lead to emotional symptoms like anxiety and fear.  

Why is it important for people with AML to share how they’re feeling with their healthcare team? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, I think it’s very important because, one, all of those feelings are normal feelings. I think they’re sometimes that from going through such a rapid diagnosis and then having to start treatment pretty quickly and going through all the ups and downs with these types of diagnosis can really lead to for some patients PTSD-type symptoms. And then there are also things that can evolve over time where their anxiety or even survivorship guilt as you go if you move forward and are doing well where you may have some friends or people you met along the way who may not have had as good outcomes. And so, there are resources available based off of where you are.  

But for survivorship, oncology specific counseling to deal with some of these feelings that are understandable and normal for what patients have been through. 

Katherine Banwell:

Can a social worker help? And are there other people on the healthcare team who can support a patient’s emotional needs? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Oh, absolutely. So, I think it’s really place-dependent on where you are but yes, absolutely. Social workers are a great resource for patients. There may be other collaborative teams based off of where you’re receiving your treatment that may be available that are maybe patient support groups where you can go and be with other patients or Facebook, social media support groups. And I think all those can be very helpful. And I know at least at our center, we also have patient mentors who have been through and gotten through to the other side of transplant or whatnot who are great resources because they’ve lived and experienced it. 

And I think that’s just as a physician, I can talk about things that I don’t have that personal experience having lived through it. And I think that’s very important — 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. It’s a… 

Dr. Alice Mims:

…to be able to have somebody to talk to. Yeah. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. What about the financial aspect of treatments? There are many people who would find it difficult to find and maybe they don’t have insurance, or their insurance doesn’t cover a lot. How do you help patients who are dealing with financial restrictions?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, I think that we’re fortunate here because we have a lot of support staff to help patients with our financial counseling team. We also have people within the medication assistance programs who can help find foundation grants to help with medication support, travel support. 

I think for patients who may not have those things available at their individual center, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is a great place to reach out for.  

And there are other foundations as well who at least may have navigators to help patients figure out other resources or funding available. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. Okay. That’s really good information, Dr. Mims. Thank you. And please continue to send in your questions to question@powerfulpatients.org and we’ll work to get them answered on future programs. Well, Dr. Mims as we close out our program, I wanted to get your thoughts on where we stand with progress in AML care. Are there advances in research treatment that you’re hopeful about? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Yes. I would say from even when I finished fellowship 10 years ago, not to state my age, but we had essentially about three treatments at that time. 

Now in the past five years there have been I think maybe 11 different new drugs that have been approved for a acute myeloma leukemia. And so, I think we’re just on the precipice of really evolving to have individualized care. Hopefully have more curative options for patients. So, I’m really excited for the time we’re in right now where I even hope we’ll be in the next five years for patients. 

Katherine Banwell:

That’s an encouraging message to leave the audience with, Dr. Mims. Thank you so much for joining us today. 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Thank you so much for letting me be here with you today. 

Katherine Banwell:

And thank you to all of our collaborators. To learn more about AML and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for joining us today.   

Managing Life With AML | What You Should Know About Care and Treatment

Managing Life With AML | What You Should Know About Care and Treatment from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What do you need to know when it comes to managing life with acute myeloid leukemia (AML)? In this webinar, Dr. Alice Mims, an AML specialist and researcher, discusses how treatment decisions are made and how test results may impact therapy. Dr. Mims will shares the latest advances in research and key advice for living well with AML.

Dr. Alice Mims is a hematologist specializing in acute and chronic myeloid conditions. Dr. Mims serves as the Acute Leukemia Clinical Research Director at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James. Learn more about Dr. Mims.

Download Resource Guide

See More from Thrive AML

Related Resources:

AML Treatment Decisions | Understanding Factors That Impact Your Options

AML Specialists and Second Opinions Expert Advice to Patients

How Can You Thrive With AML Advice for Navigating Care.


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today. Today’s program is a continuation of our Thrive series. And we’re going to discuss navigating life with AML, and how you can engage in your 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. Well, joining us today is Dr. Alice Mims.  

Dr. Mims, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Yeah, sure. Thank you, Katherine. I’m Alice Mims. I’m a physician and associate professor at Ohio State University. And also, the section head for the myeloid and acute leukemia program within our division of hematology. 

Katherine Banwell:

Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today, Dr. Mims. We start all of our webinars in our thrive series with the same question; in your experience, what does it mean to thrive with AML? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure, I think that’s a great question. So, really for me, I think thriving with AML is very patient- or person-dependent. It really depends on making sure that your treatment goals align with your care. And so that means really being an active participant in your diagnosis, understanding the disease process, and making sure that your care team really understands what your overall goals are for your treatment. 

Katherine Banwell:

Thank you for that because it helps us to understand as we move through the program today. One part of thriving with AML is finding a treatment approach that manages your disease and fits with your lifestyle. Before we talk about therapy, can you tell us how treatment goals are established for an individual patient? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, for individual patients I think it’s very important that there is an initial discussion that doesn’t feel too shortened that you can have time with your care team to really go into depth about the diagnosis, about the specifics of your particular subtype of acute myeloid leukemia, understanding the treatment options, and then being given time allowed to reflect on all of that information. So, then you can come back and have your questions better answered that may come from that initial discussion. 

And then help you with your team make a decision based on that information that works best for you. 

Katherine Banwell:

Outside of patient preference, what other factors do you take into account when working with a patient to decide on a treatment plan?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, there are multiple different factors that we try to take into account. Again, yeah most importantly what patients’ goals are like you mentioned, but those include overall health, including different comorbidities, so what other healthcare diagnoses, medications are you taking, what are the patient’s age, thinking about that for long-term goals, overall support from loved ones, family to — just because care can be really involved. And then in particular, thinking about specific features of that individual patient’s AML, including molecular, genetic features of the leukemia. 

Katherine Banwell:

Well, let’s talk more in depth about the test results you just mentioned. 

What is the test for genetic markers? And how is it conducted? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, there are a few different tests that we use under that scope of genetic markers. So, those include looking at chromosomal abnormalities of the DNA. So, with cytogenetics, and then also more specific prose where we call FISH testing. And then also we look for specific gene mutations through next generation sequencing, or PCR testing. And so, we use all of those results together to give us the most information we can about that individual’s leukemia. 

Katherine Banwell:

How has molecular testing revolutionized AML care?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

Oh gracious. It’s really done such – so much for leukemia. And just things are so different even where they were five years ago because of having molecular mutations, that information available. 

So, it helps with discussing prognosis. So, we know that different molecular features can tell us about curative intent and what are the treatment steps we would need to take to give the best chance long-term. And then also now, we’ve evolved to where we have directed therapies that can target mutations or the proteins that arise from those mutations with therapeutic options. 

Katherine Banwell:

Is this testing standard following an AML diagnosis? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

It is standard following an AML diagnosis. That’s recommended within all of the guidelines with patients and really should be done for all patients at initial diagnosis. 

Katherine Banwell:

Can genetic markers or mutations change over time? For example, if a patient relapses, should molecular testing be done again? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Yes, absolutely. Mutations can evolve. It’s something we call clonal evolution of the leukemia. 

And so you can have mutations that could be present at diagnosis that may no longer be present. Or the opposite can occur where you have new mutations that can appear. And that can lead to different options for treatment. So, it’s very important to retest at time of relapse. 

Katherine Banwell:

What advice do you have for patients who want to ensure that they’ve actually undergone molecular testing? What questions should they be asking their healthcare team? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

I think it’s definitely important to bring this up with the healthcare team. And it should be something at diagnosis and relapse to ask, what are the cytogenetics, what do they look like now, what do the gene mutations, and really as mentioned before, it’s so crucial in talking about prognosis, talking about treatment options that if it doesn’t come up, it’s really something that you should take a pause and try to go back to readdress with your team. 

Katherine Banwell:

I’d like to move on to treatment now, Dr. Mims. And, of course, treatment takes place in phases for AML. The first is induction therapy. Can you start by defining induction therapy for our audience? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, induction therapy is really terminology that we use to talk about initial therapy for someone with a new diagnosis. So, we can have intensive induction therapies, and non-intensive induction therapies. But the goal for either of those types of treatment is to get the leukemia into remission. 

So, to talk about that in a little bit more detail, for intensive induction regimens, those typically involve cytotoxic chemotherapy. So, you may hear terminology like, “7 + 3 induction,” or “high-dose cytarabine regimens,” but those are typically more intensive regimens that we use that can have increased side effects but may be very important based off the type of acute leukemia. 

And then for non-intensive based regimens, one of the standards has really evolved to be venetoclax (Venclexta) and azacitidine (Vidaza) as a non-intensive regimen that can work very well for a majority of patients. And there are some off shoots of that as well. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. And when does stem cell transplant come into play? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, stem cell transplant is something that we all think about at the beginning for anyone with a new diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia where as we’re working to get back genomic information about the individual’s acute leukemia, we may go ahead and start looking for different donors, doing typing, just in case that’s something that we need as far as someone’s therapy. 

But typically we reserve stem cell transplant for patients who have either intermediate or high-risk features of their AML. Or who may have even favorable respite are not responding as well as we would like when looking at the depth of remission. And so, we always want  to be prepared in case that’s something we need to move forward with as part of their care, if the goal of their treatment is for curative intent. 

Katherine Banwell:

Let’s talk about what happens after the initial phase of treatment. What’s the purpose of consolidation therapy? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, there are a few different purposes we can use consolidation therapy for. So, for patients – consolidation therapy is used for patients who have achieved remission. And then it’s either to try to hopefully get them cure of their AML. The patients have more favorable risk features of their AML and cure is an option through just chemotherapy alone. 

Or it can be used to try to keep people in remission while we’re working to get towards stem cell transplant as that can sometimes take a few months to get a donor ready, have things ready to move forward with transplant. 

Katherine Banwell:

And what are the options for consolidation therapy?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, options for consolidated chemotherapy are typically based off of what you had initially for induction chemotherapy. So, if it’s more intensive-based regimens, it typically is consolidation with intensive consolidation, cytarabine based regimens.  

For lower intensity regimens, typically consolidation is more continuing therapy on what you started but may have adjustments of the treatment based off of trying to decrease the toxicity now that the patients are in remission. 

Katherine Banwell:

And how are patients monitored in consolidation therapy? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, it definitely is based off of the individual’s type of consolidation chemotherapy or treatment. But most patients, if we feel like the treatment is going to lower blood counts, they have bloodwork twice a week, and we’re watching for things, for side effects for treatment, looking out for risk of infection, giving transfusion support, and then if something happens that we feel like we can’t support patients in an outpatient setting, then we’ll get them back into the hospital if they need to for care. 

Katherine Banwell:

What side effects are you looking for?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, most of the side effects with any of the treatments that we give are what we call myelosuppressives. So, it lowers the different types of blood counts.   

So, white blood cell count which increases risk of infection, red blood cells, so, side effects or symptoms from anemia. And then risk of bleeding from low platelet counts.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Maintenance therapy has become more common in other blood cancers particularly in multiple myeloma. Is there a role for maintenance therapy in AML? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

There actually is now, which is something that’s newer that has evolved for acute myeloma leukemia. So, in the context of intensive therapy, we now have oral azacitidine (Onureg), which is a little bit different than some of the IV formulations that we give.  

But for patients who receive intensive induction therapy, get into remission and may receive consolidation but are not able to go onto transplant if they have that immediate or higher risk features, there’s FDA approval for oral azacytidine, which has been shown to improve overall survival and keep people in those remissions for longer. 

More recently, specifically for patients who have a particular type of mutation called FLT3, if they also receive intensive induction therapy with a FLT3 inhibitor added onto that, then their quizartinib was just recently approved as a maintenance therapy for patients with that particular type of AML.  

Katherine Banwell:

Are there emerging AML therapies that patients should know about other than what you just mentioned? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, I think there are a lot of exciting treatments that are up and coming based off of many small molecule inhibitors that are being studied. 

One in particular I would mention that everyone’s very excited about is a class of agents called menin inhibitors.  

And so that’s an oral agent that has been shown to have responses for patients with relapse or refractory AML who have NMP-1 mutations or have something called KNT2A rearrangements. And seeing responses with just a single agent in the relapse refractory setting, it’s been really exciting. And so, I think we’re hopeful that that may become FDA-approved in the near future. And it’s also now being explored in combination with intensive chemotherapies as well as less intensive induction regimens. And so, maybe we can do a better job without brunt treatment by adding these therapies on. 

Katherine Banwell:

That’s exciting news. When it comes to living and thriving with AML, Dr. Mims, managing disease symptoms and treatment side effects is a big part of that. 

Would you talk about how symptoms and side effects can impact life with AML?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, I think from my perspective, what we are always trying to do when we’re moving forward with a treatment plan is of course, get patients into remission, but the purpose of getting into remission is not just to achieve that, but for patients to have quality of life. And so, there needs to be continued dialogue between the patient and the treatment team about how you’re feeling during treatment. Because they’re definitely based off of therapy, different side effects, things that could be not necessarily due to active leukemia anymore. And so there may need to be dose adjustments and other things that we do to the regimens in order to make you feel as good as possible while continuing on treatment. 

Katherine Banwell:

Why is it so important for patients to speak up about any issues they may be having? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

I think it’s important because you’re your own best advocate. Being the patient, being the person who’s living with having this diagnosis and going through the treatment, myself, or other colleagues as physicians, we can have a sense of what may be going on based off of numbers. But we’re not truly going to know how you’re feeling unless you speak up and let us know. And there may be things we could do with supportive medications, dosing adjustments as mentioned, that could help in making you hopefully feel better and less side effects and toxicities from treatment. 

Katherine Banwell:

What are some common symptoms and side effects that you hear about?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

Okay. Sure. So, different side effects that I would say that people can have, people can feel fatigued just from treatment in general. Some of our therapies can cause neuropathy, skin rashes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. And so, all of those are important along as mentioned with symptoms you may have from decreased blood counts that we do have interventions that we could implement to help the – make the therapy more tolerable. 

Katherine Banwell:

So, for the side effects like fatigue for example, what do you do about that? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, I think it depends on the level of fatigue. Of course, we don’t have – I wish we had a pill that could just make fatigue improve. But if it’s really that the treatment is deriving it, and it’s impeding your quality of life there are dose reductions or things we can do that may help with the level of fatigue you’re experiencing.  

Katherine Banwell:

And what about some of the other side effects. You mentioned diarrhea. 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure.  

Katherine Banwell:

How is that handled? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Yeah. So, for issues from GI complications such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, we have really lots of choices for anti-nausea medicines and different combinations we can use or newer antiemetics that can help with that. And from a diarrhea perspective it depends on the treatment. But of course, we want to make sure first and foremost there’s no infection. And if not, then there are good antidiarrheals we could add on to the regiment to help with that as well. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. That’s great advice. Thank you. I want to make sure that we get to some of the audience questions. These were sent to us in advance of the program today. Let’s start with this one; Janet wants to know what factors enable a patient to achieve and continue in remission if they are not able to achieve stem cell transplant due to age restrictions.  

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, I think first and foremost, I think it’s very important that there — that patients are aware that there shouldn’t be just strict, stringent cutoffs of age as a requirement for stem cell transplant. And really, there’s a lot of research going on that we should take into account. Physiological age, and there’s ways to measure that just to be sure that stem cell transplant really is not an option. And for patients who stem cell transplant is not an option, I think as we talked about earlier, so there can still be really great treatments that can get patients into remission and ongoing therapies with dosing adjustments again to decrease toxicity and improve quality of life and thinking about things like maintenance therapy as appropriate. 

Katherine Banwell:

What are the age restrictions, and why are they there? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, sometimes you will hear age 75.

Really, no one above age 75 should move forward with transplant. And that’s based off of past data where they’ve explored transplant and seen increased toxicity. And from transplant in itself, increased side effects, increased risk of early mortality. And so, I do think it’s important to take the patient as a whole into consideration because again, you could have someone who’s 77 who may be running marathons, and in great shape, and not a lot of other healthcare issues, who may still do really well with treatment. And so, I think that’s – really needs to be taken in account, really the overall picture of health for the patient before making… 

Katherine Banwell:

So, the… 

Dr. Alice Mims:

…just a firm cutoff. 

Katherine Banwell:

Right. Okay. So, it’s not cut and dry. 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Exactly. 

Katherine Banwell:

If you’re 75 or older, then you definitely can’t have stem cell transplant. 

Dr. Alice Mims:

That’s correct. 

Katherine Banwell:

Then you’re looking at everyone individually. 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Yeah. So, it really should be looked at.  

And I still have some patients who will come to me and say, “Oh, I was told I’m 68 years old, I’m not a candidate.” And that always makes me take a step back. And then we kind of have to have that discussion again. And they may still not be a good candidate based off of other comorbidities or healthcare issues, but it shouldn’t just be a number rules you out for having that as an option. 

Katherine Banwell:

Good to know. We received this question from Carl, “What does treatment look like following transplant? And what are doctors looking for when monitoring through blood tests?” 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, after transplant, the first three months is pretty intensive of being seen very frequently at your transplant center twice to once a week. You’re also on immunosuppressive medications to try to help prevent issues like graft vs host disease, which can be a complication from transplant. 

And then over time if you’re doing well, we try to start tapering off those immunosuppressive regimens to see if you can tolerate that. And what I say to most of my patients for – who are undergoing transplant, it can take some time to really feel back to being yourself. It can take six months, it can take a year or longer. And sometimes your normal is a new normal based off of how you do and the side effects of the transplant in itself. So, you may not go back to if you’re here before transplant and before your diagnosis, it may be that this is your new normal. Just so people can be prepared and know what they’re signing up for.  

Katherine Banwell:

And with the blood testing, what are you looking for when you’re monitoring a patient?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. There are a few different things that we’re looking for when monitoring patients. So, one, making sure that the stem cells or the graft from the donor are recovering. 

You want to see that blood counts, levels of white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets are getting to normal levels. You’re also assessing and making sure you’re not seeing signs of relapse. You’re checking levels of donor cells versus the patient cells within the stem cell — sorry, within the stem cell compartments. And so, we’re taking all of those into account as well as checking organ function and making sure there’s no signs of potential graft versus host disease as well. 

Katherine Banwell:

Katrina sent in this question; do you have any advice for dealing with a general oncologist who does not exactly follow my AML doctor’s recommendations? I see a local oncologist and an AML specialist guides my care. 

Dr. Alice Mims:

I think that’s a tough question. And so, I think I’ll answer that if – maybe two different ways. 

So, one, I think sometimes it’s hard when you’re the local community oncologist, and you’re there for the day-to-day care. And so there may need to be treatment adjustments and other things that you need to do in that moment or time to help make sure that toxicities are not too severe or are helping the patient as you’re seeing them day-to-day. And it may not be easy to involve the specialist right there in the moment. But I think if there are bigger issues as far as overall goals, overall communication, it should be that both are able to communicate well with each other. They should be able to communicate via email, via text message. That’s what I do with a lot of my community partners. And it’s always important that you as a patient feel confident in your care. And so, if that trust is not there that things are being followed, then it may be important to look and see if there’s another physician who you do feel comfortable with proceeding with your care with. 

Katherine Banwell:

And what do you tell patients when they’re not feeling comfortable with their care team or their oncologist or their general oncologist? What do you say to them to give them some confidence to find somebody else who they feel more comfortable with? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, I’ll just say from my perspective. So, if I’m seeing a patient and they may have questions, they may not feel comfortable, they may need more time. And I always think it’s important if you want a second opinion, whether it’s at a specialist level, whether it’s in a community oncology private setting, that should not be offensive to the physician.  

If that makes the patient feel more comfortable in what they’re doing with their care, that’s how they should move forward. And it should be what they feel like is best. If a physician takes that personally or is offended by it, I think that’s more of their problem as opposed to anything that you’re doing wrong.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Thank you for that. Ryan wants to know; I’m a year and a half post-transplant, how can you tell if the aches and pains in your joints are normal aging, host vs graft disease, the AML returning, or even something else? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, I think that’s also a difficult question to answer because it really is patient dependent. And so, I think if you’re having new joint aches or pains, it’s always important to reach out to your transplant team to make sure that – it could be any of the above.. 

And so you’re doing the appropriate workup with lab work, imaging, things that would be appropriate or seeing certain specialists. Maybe orthopedist if needed because it could be I’d say less likely leukemic relapse, but still want to be sure. But it could be definitely complications from GVHD or there’s some joint issues that can evolve post-transplant, especially for people who are on long-term immunosuppressant medications. Or it could be the normal effects of aging. So, it’s always good to have that reassurance. 

Katherine Banwell:

Let’s talk a little bit about mental health resources. Managing the worry associated with a diagnosis or concerns about relapse, or even various side effects can lead to emotional symptoms like anxiety and fear.  

Why is it important for people with AML to share how they’re feeling with their healthcare team? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, I think it’s very important because, one, all of those feelings are normal feelings. I think they’re sometimes that from going through such a rapid diagnosis and then having to start treatment pretty quickly and going through all the ups and downs with these types of diagnosis can really lead to for some patients PTSD-type symptoms. And then there are also things that can evolve over time where their anxiety or even survivorship guilt as you go if you move forward and are doing well where you may have some friends or people you met along the way who may not have had as good outcomes. And so, there are resources available based off of where you are.  

But for survivorship, oncology specific counseling to deal with some of these feelings that are understandable and normal for what patients have been through. 

Katherine Banwell:

Can a social worker help? And are there other people on the healthcare team who can support a patient’s emotional needs? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Oh, absolutely. So, I think it’s really place-dependent on where you are but yes, absolutely. Social workers are a great resource for patients. There may be other collaborative teams based off of where you’re receiving your treatment that may be available that are maybe patient support groups where you can go and be with other patients or Facebook, social media support groups. And I think all those can be very helpful. And I know at least at our center, we also have patient mentors who have been through and gotten through to the other side of transplant or whatnot who are great resources because they’ve lived and experienced it. 

And I think that’s just as a physician, I can talk about things that I don’t have that personal experience having lived through it. And I think that’s very important — 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. It’s a… 

Dr. Alice Mims:

…to be able to have somebody to talk to. Yeah. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. What about the financial aspect of treatments? There are many people who would find it difficult to find and maybe they don’t have insurance, or their insurance doesn’t cover a lot. How do you help patients who are dealing with financial restrictions?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, I think that we’re fortunate here because we have a lot of support staff to help patients with our financial counseling team. We also have people within the medication assistance programs who can help find foundation grants to help with medication support, travel support. 

I think for patients who may not have those things available at their individual center, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is a great place to reach out for.  

And there are other foundations as well who at least may have navigators to help patients figure out other resources or funding available. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. Okay. That’s really good information, Dr. Mims. Thank you. And please continue to send in your questions to question@powerfulpatients.org and we’ll work to get them answered on future programs. Well, Dr. Mims as we close out our program, I wanted to get your thoughts on where we stand with progress in AML care. Are there advances in research treatment that you’re hopeful about? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Yes. I would say from even when I finished fellowship 10 years ago, not to state my age, but we had essentially about three treatments at that time. 

Now in the past five years there have been I think maybe 11 different new drugs that have been approved for a acute myeloma leukemia. And so, I think we’re just on the precipice of really evolving to have individualized care. Hopefully have more curative options for patients. So, I’m really excited for the time we’re in right now where I even hope we’ll be in the next five years for patients. 

Katherine Banwell:

That’s an encouraging message to leave the audience with, Dr. Mims. Thank you so much for joining us today. 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Thank you so much for letting me be here with you today. 

Katherine Banwell:

And thank you to all of our collaborators. To learn more about AML and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for joining us today.   

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Phases of AML Therapy | Understanding Treatment Options

Phases of AML Therapy | Understanding Treatment Options from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are the types and phases of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) treatment? Dr. Alice Mims, an AML specialist, defines induction, consolidation, and maintenance therapy for patients. Dr. Mims also explains the role of stem cell transplant and discusses promising new AML therapies.

Dr. Alice Mims is a hematologist specializing in acute and chronic myeloid conditions. Dr. Mims serves as the Acute Leukemia Clinical Research Director at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James. Learn more about Dr. Mims

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How Can You Thrive With AML Advice for Navigating Care.

New and Emerging AML Therapies Being Studied in Clinical Trials

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

I’d like to move on to treatment now, Dr. Mims. And, of course, treatment takes place in phases for AML. The first is induction therapy. Can you start by defining induction therapy for our audience?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, induction therapy is really terminology that we use to talk about initial therapy for someone with a new diagnosis. So, we can have intensive induction therapies and non-intensive induction therapies. But the goal for either of those types of treatment is to get the leukemia into remission.  

Katherine Banwell:

And what are the available treatment options for induction therapy?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, to talk about that in a little bit more detail, for intensive induction regimens, those typically involve cytotoxic chemotherapy. So, you may hear terminology like, “7 + 3 induction,” or “high-dose cytarabine regimens,” but those are typically more intensive regimens that we use that can have increased side effects but may be very important based off the type of acute leukemia. 

And then for non-intensive based regimens, one of the standards has really evolved to be venetoclax (Venclexta) and azacitidine (Vidaza) as a non-intensive regimen that can work very well for a majority of patients. And there are some off shoots of that as well. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. And when does stem cell transplant come into play? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, stem cell transplant is something that we all think about at the beginning for anyone with a new diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia where as we’re working to get back genomic information about the individual’s acute leukemia, we may go ahead and start looking for different donors, doing typing, just in case that’s something that we need as far as someone’s therapy.  

But typically we reserve stem cell transplant for patients who have either intermediate or high-risk features of their AML. Or who may have even favorable respite are not responding as well as we would like when looking at the depth of remission. And so, we always want  to be prepared in case that’s something we need to move forward with as part of their care, if the goal of their treatment is for curative intent. 

Katherine Banwell:

Let’s talk about what happens after the initial phase of treatment. What’s the purpose of consolidation therapy? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, there are a few different purposes we can use consolidation therapy for. So, for patients – consolidation therapy is used for patients who have achieved remission. And then it’s either to try to hopefully get them cure of their AML. The patients have more favorable risk features of their AML and cure is an option through just chemotherapy alone.  

Or it can be used to try to keep people in remission while we’re working to get towards stem cell transplant as that can sometimes take a few months to get a donor ready, have things ready to move forward with transplant. 

Katherine Banwell:

And what are the options for consolidation therapy?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, options for consolidated chemotherapy are typically based off of what you had initially for induction chemotherapy. So, if it’s more intensive-based regimens, it typically is consolidation with intensive consolidation, cytarabine-based (Cytosar-U) regimens.  

For lower intensity regimens, typically consolidation is more continuing therapy on what you started but may have adjustments of the treatment based off of trying to decrease the toxicity now that the patients are in remission. 

Katherine Banwell:

And how are patients monitored in consolidation therapy? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, it definitely is based off of the individual’s type of consolidation chemotherapy or treatment. But most patients, if we feel like the treatment is going to lower blood counts, they have bloodwork twice a week, and we’re watching for things, for side effects for treatment, looking out for risk of infection, giving transfusion support, and then if something happens that we feel like we can’t support patients in an outpatient setting, then we’ll get them back into the hospital if they need to for care. 

Katherine Banwell:

What side effects are you looking for? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, most of the side effects with any of the treatments that we give are what we call myelosuppressives. So, it lowers the different types of blood counts.  

So, white blood cell count which increases risk of infection, red blood cells, so, side effects or symptoms from anemia. And then risk of bleeding from low platelet counts.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Maintenance therapy has become more common in other blood cancers particularly in multiple myeloma. Is there a role for maintenance therapy in AML? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

There actually is now, which is something that’s newer that has evolved for acute myeloma leukemia. So, in the context of intensive therapy, we now have oral azacitidine (Onureg), which is a little bit different than some of the IV formulations that we give.  

But for patients who receive intensive induction therapy, get into remission and may receive consolidation but are not able to go onto transplant if they have that immediate or higher risk features, there’s FDA approval for oral azacytidine, which has been shown to improve overall survival and keep people in those remissions for longer. 

More recently, specifically for patients who have a particular type of mutation called FLT3, if they also receive intensive induction therapy with a FLT3 inhibitor added onto that, then their quizartinib (Vanflyta) was just recently approved as a maintenance therapy for patients with that particular type of AML. 

Katherine Banwell:

Are there emerging AML therapies that patients should know about other than what you just mentioned? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, I think there are a lot of exciting treatments that are up and coming based off of many small molecule inhibitors that are being studied.  

One in particular I would mention that everyone’s very excited about is a class of agents called menin inhibitors.  

And so that’s an oral agent that has been shown to have responses for patients with relapsed or refractory AML who have NMP-1 mutations or have something called KNT2A rearrangements. And seeing responses with just a single agent in the relapsed/refractory setting, it’s been really exciting. And so, I think we’re hopeful that that may become FDA-approved in the near future. And it’s also now being explored in combination with intensive chemotherapies as well as less intensive induction regimens. And so, maybe we can do a better job with upfront treatment by adding these therapies on.  

Understanding AML Treatment Categories

 

Understanding AML Treatment Categories from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are the available classes of therapy for acute myeloid leukemia (AML)? Dr. Jacqueline Garcia reviews AML treatment options, ranging from chemotherapy and stem cell transplant to supportive care. 

Dr. Jacqueline Garcia is an oncologist and AML researcher at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Garcia.

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New and Emerging AML Therapies Being Studied in Clinical Trials


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

In your experience, what does it mean to thrive with AML?   

Dr. Jacqueline Garcia:

I think that’s a really great question, and I’m glad you’re asking me now as opposed to a decade ago. In the last several years, we’ve had a tremendous number of drugs that got FDA-approved and a lot of exciting clinical trials that have not only shown efficacy and safety but really some long-term responses. So, we can now focus on not just finding what drug can work, which used to be our problem 10 years ago, since we had very limited therapeutic tools, meaning treatments. We now have several treatments available.  

So, when I think of what it means to thrive, it’s identifying the right treatment for each individual patient with acute myeloid leukemia, because what might be recommended for one patient may not be the right for another. And there are many different patient- and disease-related factors that go into that decision-making.  

Katherine Banwell:

Can you walk us through the classes of treatment that are considered when choosing an AML treatment approach?  

Dr. Jacqueline Garcia:

Yeah. In terms of the different classes of treatments, I would say we think of probably three broad categories. One would be – sorry, four broad categories. One would be intensive chemotherapy. And that involves generally hospitalization. Another would be less intensive therapy. That could involve a mixture of inpatient or outpatient therapy. That could also include targeted therapy. The third would be clinical trials, which can include any of the former options I recommended, but they would be in an experimental study. And the fourth would be focusing solely on supportive care or hospice for patients that are too sick to receive therapy.  

Other aspects that are specific, such as pills, versus IV, versus role of transplant, I don’t see it as being separate. You don’t go right to transplant when you have a diagnosis of AML. You have to be in remission. So, transplant, for instance, would come after an intensive therapy or after the less intensive chemotherapy. So, I see that as being the second step once I choose the right treatment option for the patient.  

Katherine Banwell:

And when you’re talking about transplant, you’re talking about stem cell transplant, right?  

Dr. Jacqueline Garcia:

Yes. Stem cell transplant, bone marrow transplant – they mean the same thing. We recruit stem cells from donors that are related or unrelated, and we mobilize them from bone marrow to blood. And so, we can collect stem cells either from blood or bone marrow at this point. So, that’s exactly right.  

Katherine Banwell:

And what about targeted therapy?  

Dr. Jacqueline Garcia:

We have targeted therapy available that’s IV or pill form. And so, any one of these options can be considered. But everything is very patient-specific, and I am very happy to tell you some of the categories and nuances of things that I look at, because I don’t usually just offer patients a menu.  

I tell them what’s appropriate based on their patient characteristics, meaning what their liver function is, their heart function, their history, medical history, what their labs show. And then, I look at their disease history. We are now in an era where we have options. So, I look to see are there mutations that are targetable. Are there not? Are there markers on the surface of their leukemia cells that suggest that there’s a target for an immunotherapy?  

So, we don’t offer classes per se without it being specific. So, I always look to see what are the patient disease-specific characteristics, and then I start the conversation about what the potential options could be and then what I think the best option would be for that particular case.  

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