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Should Patients “Watch and Wait” Before Starting CLL Treatment?

Should Patients “Watch and Wait” Before Starting CLL Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What do chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients need to know about watch and wait? Dr. Matthew Davids shares the meaning of watch and wait, when it’s appropriate for CLL patients, and which factors are monitored to ensure the best care.

Dr. Matthew Davids is Director of Clinical Research in the Division of Lymphoma at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Davids here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

We have a question from the audience. Linda writes, “I’ve heard that CLL doesn’t need to be treated right away. Is that true?”

Dr. Davids:

That is true for the majority of CLL patients, and it’s actually a very counterintuitive thing. We’re conditioned that if you have cancer that it’s important to be proactive and get rid of it as quickly as possible, the sooner the better, and that is actually not the case in CLL. And we didn’t just take a guess that that’s the best approach. This is actually something that’s been studied in clinical trials. There were several clinical trials launched in the ‘70s and ‘80s looking at an early intervention strategy using a chemotherapy-based approach to see if treating at the time of diagnosis would be better than waiting until patients developed more significant symptoms.

And all of those studies did not show a benefit to early intervention.

Now, more recently those studies have been challenged as somewhat out of date, which is a fair criticism because they used an older chemotherapy drug. And so, there is a newer study now going on in Europe that is looking at early intervention with the drug ibrutinib, which is one of our novel agents for CLL, looking to see if early intervention with ibrutinib (Imbruvica), particularly for patients who have a higher risk form of CLL, may be beneficial.

But we have seen some data now already presented from this study that do not show any improvement in how long the patients live by treating with ibrutinib early, and we do see some of the typical side effects that we’re accustomed to seeing with ibrutinib. So, even with the newer data that we’re seeing, we still do not recommend early intervention for patients with CLL.

Katherine:

I’ve heard this term “watch and wait.” What does that mean?

Dr. Davids:

Yeah, it’s not the best term because it’s very passive. That refers to this observation strategy. I like to think of it more as “active surveillance.” It seems more proactive because you’re doing something about it.

You’re really checking the blood counts, you’re getting your physical exam, you’re checking in on symptoms, these sorts of things, and really keeping a close eye on the disease. And that’s the approach that we like to take

with our patients to really keep them engaged, making sure they’re staying up-to-date on their screenings for other cancers, making sure they’re getting vaccinations, these sorts of things are all the things we do with active surveillance.

Katherine:

How is someone monitored during this watch-and-wait period?

Dr. Davids:

It varies depending on individual patients. We’ve alluded to the fact that there’s different genetic subgroups of CLL already, so there are some patients that have higher-risk disease. The example of that usually is deletion 17p that people may have heard of on the FISH test. For those patients I usually am seeing them every three months or so, physical exam, checking on their history, checking their blood work. But there’s quite a few CLL patients who have lower-risk disease. If they have for example mutated IGHV, if they do not have the 17p for example, those patients may be able to be seen once every six months or so with a similar setup.

I don’t routinely get CAT scans on a regular basis for most patients. Most patients don’t need bone marrow biopsy tests unless they’re starting treatment. So, it’s mostly it’s exam, talking to patients, and checking the blood work.

What Standard Testing Follows a Myeloma Diagnosis?

What Standard Testing Follows a Myeloma Diagnosis? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What tests will you have following a myeloma diagnosis? Are there additional tests you should request? Dr. Joshua Richter provides an overview of key testing for myeloma and why each test is necessary.

Dr. Joshua Richter is director of Multiple Myeloma at the Blavatnik Family – Chelsea Medical Center at Mount Sinai. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Medicine in The Tisch Cancer Institute, Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology. Learn more about Dr. Richter, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

What standard testing follows a myeloma diagnosis?

Dr. Richter:

So, the standard testing that follows a myeloma diagnosis is multifaceted. So, the first one is blood work. And we draw a lot of blood tests to look at the bad protein that the cancer cells make. So, we send tests like a protein electrophoresis which tells us how high that bad protein is. We send immunofixation. That test tells us what type of bad protein it is. You’ll hear names like IgG kappa and IgA lambda.

These are the different types of bad proteins made by myeloma cells. Oftentimes, we’ll send urine tests to find out how much of that bad protein that was in the blood is coming out in the urine. We will, typically, do a bone marrow biopsy. It’s a test where we put a needle into the back of the hip bone to look at the marrow itself. And we’ll use that marrow to figure out how much myeloma there is, any other characteristics like the genetic changes in those cells.

The other big thing is imaging. So, the classic imaging that we do with myeloma is something called a skeletal survey. It’s, basically, a listing of X-rays from head to toe. But nowadays, we have newer techniques, things like whole body low-dose CAT scans, something called a PET-CT scan, and MRI scans. And your care team may have to figure out which one is right for you at what given time.

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. Are there additional tests that patients should ask for?

Dr. Richter:

Absolutely. One of the most important things from myeloma has to do with the genetic risk stratification.

So, for almost all cancers, the staging has a very big impact. And people will often think of cancer in stages I, II, III, and IV, and they’re managed very differently depending upon what stage it is. Myeloma has three stages, stage I, II, and III. But the most important thing is, actually, beyond the staging is what’s called the cytogenetics risk stratification. So, it’s really important when the bone marrow is sent to be sure that it is sent for, kind of, advanced techniques. Because you really want that snapshot of exactly what the genetic profile is, because that gives us information of A) how to treat, and B) prognostic, you know, who will tend to do better or worse based on this information. And even though that may not tell us which drugs to use, specifically, it may say, should we do something like a transplant or not? Should we consider a clinical trial early or not?

Katherine:

I see. How do test results affect treatment choices?

Dr. Richter:

So, test results can affect treatment choices in a number of ways. Probably, the most common one is thinking about the routine blood tests like your CBC or complete blood count and your chemistry, which looks at things like your kidney function. Some drugs tend to have more toxicity to the blood counts. So, if your blood counts are very low, we may choose drugs that don’t lower the blood counts very much.

Kidney function which we, usually, measure by something called the creatinine. Creatinine is made by the muscles and cleared out by the kidneys. So, if your kidneys aren’t working very well, you don’t pee out creatinine, and that creatinine level will rise in the blood. If your creatinine level is high, we may choose certain drugs that don’t affect the kidneys or not metabolized or broken down by the kidneys.

The genetic studies that we use – we’re not quite at this base yet where we can say, if you have this genetic abnormality in your myeloma, we should use this drug except there’s some really great data on the cutting edge about a drug called venetoclax.

Venetoclax is a pill that’s used to treat other diseases like lymphoma and leukemia. And it turns out that people who have what’s called a translocation (11:14) which means part of the 11th chromosome and part of the 14th chromosome in the cancer cells swap material.

Those people respond amazingly well to venetoclax. So, we’re starting to have what we would call precision medicine where we find your genetic abnormalities, not that you got from your parents or passed to your kids, but the genetics inside the tumor cells to tell us which treatments will work best for you.

What’s YOUR Role in Making Myelofibrosis Treatment Decisions?

What’s YOUR Role in Making Myelofibrosis Treatment Decisions? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can you play a role in your myelofibrosis care? Dr. Joseph Scandura shares his personal philosophy on patient care and the important role of shared decision-making.

Dr. Joseph Scandura is Associate Professor of Medicine and Scientific Director of the Silver MPN Center at Weill Cornell Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Scandura, here.

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Transcript

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Scandura, what is the role of the patient in making treatment decisions? 

Dr. Scandura:

My personal philosophy is I view myself and my interactions with patients as a partnership. And I have and I bring to this partnership medical knowledge, some scientific knowledge, experience treating patients, understanding the diseases and the biology of the diseases. 

What patients bring is their personal histories, what they want and need from therapy, what their expectations are, where their fears and concerns might be. And as we share our information, I think that provides the opportunity to come to an understanding where the patient can make an informed decision and I can support that decision, that we know what the groundwork has been between us. And so, I spend, often, a lot of time in the beginning with patients kind of trying to understand who they are as people and what they need and expect. And everybody, as you might imagine, is an individual.  

And I present to them the information, and I try to encourage questions so that I know that they understand the information that I’m giving so that they can make a decision in their best interest. And so, I think shared decision-making is the only model I practice.  

Now, patients have different needs, particularly some of my older patients. And, culturally, there are some differences where they don’t want to take that role of being the decision-maker. And so, then my role changes a little bit, and it becomes more to make sure they’re comfortable and understand the direction that we’re going in and, again, always trying to encourage people to take ownership. 

I think, in New York City, that’s not so common. People are pretty well-informed and interested and more than willing to express their opinions.  

And so, I would say it can be very rewarding to come to a decision where patients feel their needs are being met.  

Expert Perspective: Promising Myelofibrosis Treatment Research

Expert Perspective: Promising Myelofibrosis Treatment Research from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Joseph Scandura shares optimism about myelofibrosis therapy in clinical trials, including excitement about anti-fibrotic agents and how they work.

Dr. Joseph Scandura is Associate Professor of Medicine and Scientific Director of the Silver MPN Center at Weill Cornell Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Scandura, here.

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Transcript

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Scandura, you mentioned promising research in myelofibrosis treatment. What are you most excited about right now? 

Dr. Scandura:

I think there are a couple drugs that have been in clinical trials that have had activity in a significant subset. So, anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of patients where the bone marrow fibrosis is actually reversed. 

And this is really something that we haven’t seen with other agents. And the approved agents, when that does happen, it’s really in a vast, vast minority of patients. And so, these newer drugs and, often, they’re used in combination with other approved drugs, can reverse the fibrosis in the marrow. And that is what I find most intriguing and exciting. They seem to be well-tolerated medications with predictable and reversible side effects when they do exist. And I think that time will tell if the promise is long-lived or if it’s short-lived. I mean, obviously, new drugs we don’t have the experience with that we really need. 

The clinical trials that are available now with some of these agents are in the last stages before the companies go to the FDA seeking approval for use. 

And so, we don’t have their results from those studies yet. They’re just opening, so sometimes the excitement doesn’t bear out when we do the rigorous clinical trials. But I’m actually quite optimistic about some of these agents, and I think that there is going to really be a sea change in how we treat patients and some of the outcomes we can expect from our therapies.  

What Are the Considerations When Choosing Myelofibrosis Therapy?

What Are the Considerations When Choosing Myelofibrosis Therapy? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 When choosing a myelofibrosis treatment, how do you determine what might be best for you? Dr. Joseph Scandura shares expert advice, including a review of inhibitor therapy and stem cell transplant.

Dr. Joseph Scandura is Associate Professor of Medicine and Scientific Director of the Silver MPN Center at Weill Cornell Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Scandura, here.

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Transcript

Katherine Banwell:

What are the considerations when choosing treatment for myelofibrosis?  

Dr. Scandura:

I would say in broad strokes, the primary considerations are the patient, what they want, the disease, what our options are, and the overall condition in terms of what are our possibilities for therapy and what is the risk/benefit of some of these different therapies. So, in myelofibrosis, although there’s been a huge amount of research over the past 10 years, really blossoming and are very impressive in, I think, an exciting way, there really are only two therapies that are approved by the FDA in the treatment of myelofibrosis, and those both affect one class of agents. These are JAK2 inhibitors, and those can be ruxolitinib (Jakafi) and fedratinib (Inrebicare the two drugs that are approved. 

Now, we have a number of therapies that have been used off-label, meaning without FDA approval, so often and for so long that they’re considered alternative standards of therapy. These can be growth factors; these can be biological agents in certain situations. And then, clinical trials is really increasingly a common therapeutic option for patients.  

And then, on the most aggressive side, is hematopoietic stem cell transplant and allogeneic transplant getting blood-forming cells from another person and replacing the entire blood system through transplant. 

Katherine Banwell:

So, who is right for a stem cell transplant? 

Dr. Scandura:

I would say, first and foremost, an informed patient about the risks of transplant and a patient for whom a donor exists, and a good quality donor. Transplant is not an option for some people or if a donor can’t be identified, obviously. 

And it’s a patient for whom the risk balance, the risk/benefit balance is tipped so that the potential toxicity, frankly, of transplant is warranted. Transplant is our most aggressive therapy. Virtually every patient will have significant side effects from transplant. Some of them are short-lived, some of them can be chronic. People die from the consequences of transplant. And so, it’s not something that is considered in patients who are necessarily doing well or are frail. The risk of transplant versus the benefit may not be in favor of transplant at that time.  

My approach for transplant is to get advice from transplant physicians. I’m not a transplant physician, but I have colleagues who I refer to. 

And I refer in myelofibrosis fairly universally fairly early, with the rationale being that this is information. It is not a plan; it is to speak to a transplant, what kind of donor exists. If no donor exists, then transplant is not on the table. If we have a very good, high-quality donor, then this is something that wouldn’t make the decision in itself, but it’s kind of something we can keep in our hip pocket in case we need it. And I think it’s important for patients to understand and have a full and complete discussion with a transplant physician so they understand what that means. You know, it is a significant commitment of time and morbidity, and it comes with risks. 

It is also our only curative therapy. And so, it’s a double-edged sword, and I think informed patients and understanding what the options are are the gateway to any consideration of transplant.   

Primary vs. Secondary Myelofibrosis: What’s the Difference?

Primary vs. Secondary Myelofibrosis: What’s the Difference? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Are primary and secondary myelofibrosis different? Dr. Joseph Scandura, a specialist in myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs), explains the diagnoses and shares insight into each type.

Dr. Joseph Scandura is Associate Professor of Medicine and Scientific Director of the Silver MPN Center at Weill Cornell Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Scandura, here.

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Transcript

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Scandura, would you start by introducing yourself?  

Dr. Scandura:

Sure. My name’s Joe ScanduraI’m an assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. I’m a physician scientist. My laboratory studies blood formation, normal and malignant, and clinically I treat people with  myeloid neoplasms, particularly, and myeloproliferative neoplasms.  

Katherine Banwell:

Would you define myelofibrosis for us, and also provide an explanation of primary versus secondary myelofibrosis? 

Dr. Scandura:

Sure. Myelofibrosis is in the class of diseases called myeloproliferative neoplasms. And, really, its sort of marker feature is scarring in the bone marrow.  

Clinically, this comes along most commonly and fairly universally with anemia, and there can be abnormalities of both the white blood cell count and the platelet count, sometimes, often in the beginning, being too high. And then they can also become too low. 

It tends to be a progressive disease, or on the face on which it progresses is different in different people and there are a variety of different features that can go along with risk. But every individual, of course, is individual.  

A primary myelofibrosis is what we refer to when the diagnosis is made and there’s no antecedent, there’s no precursor malignancy. And so, you come in and the diagnosis is myelofibrosis, and we can’t find anything that came before it.  

Secondary myelofibrosis is what we refer to when somebody has another blood disorder, usually essential thrombocythemia or polycythemia vera, and in a small subset of these patients, the disease can change, what we call evolve or progress into a fibrotic phenotype or associated with the marrow scarring, and a lot of the features of myelofibrosis. Although there are some subtle differences between primary and secondary, they’re more similar than different in terms of their clinical features and how we treat them. 

How Does Inhibitor Therapy Work to Treat Myelofibrosis?

How Does Inhibitor Therapy Work to Treat Myelofibrosis? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is inhibitor therapy? Dr. Joseph Scandura reviews approved JAK inhibitor therapies and explains how they work to treat myelofibrosis.

Dr. Joseph Scandura is Associate Professor of Medicine and Scientific Director of the Silver MPN Center at Weill Cornell Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Scandura, here.

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Transcript

Katherine Banwell:

How does inhibitor therapy work to treat myelofibrosis? 

Dr. Scandura:

So, the therapies that we have now that are approved therapies that are in this class are  ruxolitinib (Jakafi) and fedratinib (Inrebic) 

Both of these agents act to block signaling through a protein called JAK2. You can think of JAK2 as being part of the antennae system that a cell uses to communicate with the rest of the body. And so, our blood-forming cells have a lot of input from the body saying, “Okay, we need some of these kinds of cells, we need some of those kinds of cells,” and it’s a very adaptive system. And JAK2 is involved in a lot of the signaling in this as part of the antennae system.  

And what happens in the myeloproliferative neoplasms is that signaling is a bit excessive. 

And so, it’s like the volume is turned up too loud and the signaling is causing the cells to do things, make too many cells, make the wrong kinds of cells, and JAK2 is part of that signaling system. So, these inhibitors kind of help turn down the volume of the signaling in these blood-forming cells. They are drugs that have good activity in improving symptoms, they have great success in reducing the size of the spleen, they can be useful for a few years to many years. They are not curative therapies. We don’t think of them as therapies that change the course of disease, but they certainly have an important role in helping people feel better. There are other inhibitor therapies that are in clinical development. 

So, clinical trials of some of these drugs have really impressive activity, but none is approved yet by the FDA.  

I hope and expect we’ll have a couple more drugs available in the coming years. And there’s a lot of excitement in clinical trials in terms of some of the activities that are being seen, and really quite tolerable therapies, so not a lot of side effects for patients. And so, I think it’s kind of an exciting time for physicians and for patients and a lot more options now and, I think, a lot more options coming down the line.

Which Gene Mutations Impact Myelofibrosis Treatment Options?

Which Gene Mutations Impact Myelofibrosis Treatment Options? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Are there specific mutations that may affect myelofibrosis treatment choices? Dr. Joseph Scandura explains the factors that are considered when deciding a myelofibrosis therapy, including a discussion of high-risk and low-risk disease.

Dr. Joseph Scandura is Associate Professor of Medicine and Scientific Director of the Silver MPN Center at Weill Cornell Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Scandura, here.

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Transcript

Katherine Banwell:

Are there gene mutations that affect myelofibrosis treatment choices? 

Dr. Scandura:

Yeah. So, you know, the primary mutations in JAK2 or CALR or MPL in myelofibrosis aren’t that helpful in guiding therapy.  

And we look at the other genes for co-ocurrent mutations and those, as I was mentioning before, can come into one of two categories. So, there are a number of genes that we know tend to confer a higher risk, and so we call those high molecular risk mutations. And people who have higher molecular risk tend to have a more aggressive disease. 

Now, I want to add a word of caution because when we talk about patients and risk, we’re talking about groups of patients. For any individual, everything kind of boils down to it happens, or it doesn’t happen. And so, there’s nobody is 50 percent dead in five years, right. You either are or you’re not. And so, when we talk about risk, then we’re talking about risk of bad things happening like death or other complications of the disease, we’re trying to guide treatment decision-making and guided discussion based on a chance.  

But all of those things, for any individual, there are people who have high risk who do quite well for a long period of time, and people who don’t have high risk who don’t do as well as you think they should. And so, it’s a part of a conversation, it helps guide discussion, but it is not something carved into stone, and nobody has a perfect ability to predict anybody’s future. 

And all of these things are our best tools to estimate, but they are not a future; they are a possibility. And so, people who have higher molecular risk, we might think about more aggressive treatments than people who have lower molecular risk.  

Have You Had These Essential Myelofibrosis Tests?

Have You Had These Essential Myelofibrosis Tests? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are the essential tests that should follow a myelofibrosis diagnosis? Dr. Joseph Scandura reviews the necessary laboratory testing, along with a discussion of next generation sequencing, and explains how often bone marrow biopsies should take place.

Dr. Joseph Scandura is Associate Professor of Medicine and Scientific Director of the Silver MPN Center at Weill Cornell Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Scandura, here.

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Transcript

Katherine Banwell: 

What testing should take place following a myelofibrosis diagnosis? 

Dr. Scandura:  

So, a diagnosis of myelofibrosis always comes after a bone marrow exam and a physical examination. Often, patients have an enlarged spleen and blood count testing and a variety of other laboratory tests. So, after that and a diagnosis is made of myelofibrosis and, sort of, coincident with the diagnosis, we often look for molecular markers of myelofibrosis. So, these are malignancies of the bone marrow, cancers, if you will, on the bone marrow, although the term is scarier than or is different than what we think of for many malignancies in how it acts. But the myelofibrosis, this is a disease that’s characterized by, really, mutations in the malignant cells, the abnormal cells. 

They’re really just one of three genes. And so, JAK2 being one of the genes, calreticulin or CALR being another one, and MPL one.  

And more than 90 percent are people having mutation in just one of those three genes. And so, often at the time of diagnosis, tests for those mutations are done, and they help eliminate the possibilities of other causes of myelofibrosis – infections, rheumatological diseases. Sometimes, you can have marrow fibrosis but they don’t go along with mutations and the same clinical situation. And so, at the time of diagnosis, we usually know something about a mutation in JAK2, CALR, or MPL.    

More commonly now, and it’s increasingly common over the past 10 years in, I would say, in New York City and many places across the country, we also look more broadly for other common mutations in the MPN cells. And these are what we refer in the batch as next generation sequencing or NGS panels, and we use the term panels because we’re looking at from a few tens to even 100 or a couple hundred genes for mutations that occur far less frequently than in JAK2 or MPL or CALR.  

But they occur often enough that some of them we use to help guide treatment decision-making or approach to therapy. The reality of it is that that the technology to sequence and identify mutations has really outstripped our knowledge of what to do with all of that information. 

And, for the vast majority of people, it comes down to do you have a marker, a genetic marker that tends to go along with higher risk, meaning a higher likelihood of something that we don’t want to have happen. And in that instance, although it may be looking at a hundred or so genes, it comes down to a binary thing – either you have or you don’t have. 

Katherine Banwell:

Is there any other testing that you usually want to do? 

Dr. Scandura:

Laboratory testing, for sure and, as I mentioned before, a bone marrow exam. But physical examination, some people might do imaging of the spleen size. Honestly, I don’t routinely do that outside of the setting of the clinical trial. I don’t really think it dictates therapy very often. 

And if the spleen is so small that you can’t feel it on physical exam, it probably isn’t clinically meaningful anyway in terms of something to treat. It might be there, but it doesn’t really change things too much.   

Katherine Banwell:

How often should patients have a bone marrow biopsy? 

Dr. Scandura:

So, I’ll answer there is no standard in terms of monitoring for myelofibrosis with the marrow or otherwise. My personal approach is I do a marrow when I think it’s going to help medical decision-making. And so, for a patient who’s got early myelofibrosis, who’s been very stable, responding well to therapy, that could be three, five years between marrow exams. 

For somebody who’s being considered for a clinical trial, oftentimes, a marrow exam is required before they start on the clinical trial and at various intervals afterwards. If there’s somebody who had been stable and something is changing, like the blood counts are changing or his symptoms are changing, or any of a number of clinical features, then I might look in the marrow to see what’s happening there, to see if explains and can help guide a treatment approach to help people feel better. So, there is no single standard, but my personal approach is to do a bone marrow exam when I think it’s going to help make a decision.  

What Key Tests Should Follow a Myeloma Diagnosis?

 

What Key Tests Should Follow a Myeloma Diagnosis? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are the key tests that should take place following a multiple myeloma diagnosis? Dr. Peter Forsberg details the appropriate tests, including imaging and blood tests, that may aid in assessing the risk and informing treatment options.

Dr. Peter Forsberg is assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and is a specialist in multiple myeloma. More about Dr. Forsberg here.

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What Are Key Factors in Myeloma Treatment Decisions?

Transcript:

Katherine:                  

What testing should take place following a myeloma diagnosis?

Dr. Forsberg:             

So, after a patient is diagnosed with myeloma, or with suspected myeloma, a number of tests take place to both understand the myeloma. Get some sense for how aggressive the myeloma might be and understand what may be being caused by the myeloma at any given time. So, that involves a number of blood tests. It involves checking urine, doing at least one 24-hour collection of urine. Doing imaging, tests to look at the skeleton or different areas of the body for myeloma involvement.

And a bone marrow biopsy and what’s called an aspirate.

So, all those tests together are used to help confirm myeloma, to understand what’s going on with it and then to understand some of the characteristics of it that might be important over time.

Some of the more complicated tests when people are initially diagnosed with myeloma to get their head around are some pretty important blood tests that we monitor pretty closely.

Things called the serum protein electrophoresis and serum light chain assays. And basically, those are tools that help us measure antibodies. Myeloma is a disease; it comes from cells that make antibodies or fragments of antibodies. And by measuring those, we can understand the myeloma, we can give it some names. And then we can also measure it over time. So, those can seem a little bit impenetrable to patients when they’re first diagnosed, but they’re pretty important for patients and for people treating the myeloma to understand where the myeloma stands and how things are going.

Katherine:                  

What about genetic testing?

Dr. Forsberg:             

So, the main way that we use genetic testing in multiple myeloma is through something called, cytogenetics. And cytogenetics is a way for us to evaluate chromosomes. Chromosomes are in cells and that’s where genetic material is contained. And in myeloma, some of the main vents that drive myeloma cells to change from normal plasma cells come through changes in chromosomes.

And so, those chromosome changes that can be detected with different tests, sometimes they’re called karyotyping or what’s called FISH can give us a sense for some of the changes that may drive the myeloma or have driven it in the first place.

Key AML Testing for Better Care: Understanding Prognosis and Treatment Choices

Key AML Testing for Better Care: Understanding Prognosis and Treatment Choices from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

After an acute myeloid leukemia (AML) diagnosis, additional tests must follow to determine prognosis and treatment options. Dr. Pinkal Desai explains key tests that aid in choosing optimal care for each patient. 

Dr. Pinkal Desai is Assistant Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and a hematologist specializing in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) at Weill Cornell Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Desai, here.

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Being Pro-Active in Your Care: Key AML Testing to Advocate For 

Should AML Molecular Testing Be Repeated?

Confused About AML Genetic Testing and Treatment? What You Need to Know

Transcript:

Katherine:      

Other than a complete blood count, what additional testing should take place following an AML diagnosis?

Dr. Desai:                

So, a blood count or CBC is just a hint that there might be AML. It’s certainly not diagnostic.

But when you see that there are some abnormalities in blood count, and there might be the presence of these immature cells or blasts in circulation, there is suspicion that this is acute myeloid leukemia. The diagnosis, the gold standard for diagnosis, is a bone marrow biopsy, which is a procedure that can be done out-patient or in the hospital, depending on where the patient is. It takes about 15 minutes, where we take a sample out of the hip bone and look at the cells. This is where bone marrow is being made, so you’re going to exactly where the problem lies, and seeing if the blast count is increased.

So, the diagnosis of AML is established when the blast count is over 20 percent in the bone marrows. And normally, it needs to be less than 5 percent.

And if it’s over 20 percent, that’s the diagnosis of AML. Whether it’s over 20 percent in the bone marrow or in the peripheral blood.

It doesn’t matter, one way or the other. This is a diagnosis of AML, but you do need a bone marrow biopsy to confirm diagnosis of AML.

Katherine:                  

What about genetic or molecular testing? Is that done?

Dr. Desai:                   

AML diagnosis is just one part or the first step of saying somebody has leukemia. There is a slew of other tests that are important, and we generally consider, within the genetic tests, we generally consider two kinds of testing. One is the cytogenetics, or the karyotype analysis, which looks at the chromosomes in our bodies.

So, leukemia can be associated with big chromosomal changes, and that’s important to recognize. And the second one is the molecular testing, and we’ll go over both of them.

The chromosomes, or the karyotypic analysis, the vast majority of leukemia patients have a normal chromosome type, but there are certain recurrent abnormalities in chromosomes that we see in leukemia, and that’s important to know for a variety of reasons: treatment decisions, prognostication.

And the second part of it, the molecular, these are actually genetic routine analysis, and this is not somebody – it doesn’t mean, when we say genetic testing, it’s not the patient’s own normal genetic type. So, we’re not looking for what they have inherited. Most of leukemia is actually a random event, and it’s not inherited. We’re talking about genetic damage that the leukemia cells have within themselves.

It gives us the signature of the leukemia, and it helps us understand what genetic abnormalities are present in the leukemia. There are several panels, 50 to 100 genes, but there’s usually recurrent genetic damage that leukemia cells have.

And you want to know that, because again, like karyotype, this is important in treatment decisions, and also in the prognostication and prediction in the future.

Shared Decision-Making: The Patient’s Role in Treatment Choices

Shared-Decision Making: The Patient’s Role in Treatment Choices from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is the role of the patient when it comes to treatment choices? Dr. Brady Stein details how he partners with patients in decision-making for their MPN care. 

Dr. Brady Stein is a hematologist focusing on myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.


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How Often Should You See Your MPN Doctor?


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

What do you feel is the patient’s role in the decision for therapy?

Dr. Stein:                   

I think it’s a really important role. I think historically – and, this is decades past; this era should be well over and behind us – this era of authoritative medicine is over.

You can’t just have a doctor walk in the room and say, “This is your treatment, this is what you should do, I’ll see you later.” It’s shared decision-making, and that can be troubling for some patients. But, the idea of shared decision-making is us explaining options informing the patient and making decisions together. That’s really the paradigm for modern contemporary medicine.

Some patients have a harder time with that. A lot of patients say, “Well, doc, this is too overwhelming for me. I just want you to decide for me.” And, we try not to do that. That’s a more uncomfortable type of visit for me when a patient is very deferential and says, “Whatever you say, I’ll do.” That’s not really what we want to hear. I want to know that you feel really informed, that you have a good understanding because each of these treatments – any treatment, any medication has its pros and cons.

There are no real magic bullets, and each upside has an equal downside, so you have to engage and open a dialogue, and what that means is that patients need to read and learn. That’s hard, but patients need to become proactive in their approach to their own illness, and all the patients who are listening now are doing that, trying to get more education about your relatively rare illness that’s going to give you a much better framework to help make decisions together.

Katherine:                  

Absolutely. If a patient isn’t feeling confident with their treatment plan or their care, do you recommend that they maybe consider a second opinion or seek a specialist?

Dr. Stein:                   

Of course, yeah. These are rare diseases, and patients often – I would say that in my clinic, a lot of the patients direct their own second opinions. Oftentimes, it’s coming from the patient more so than their doctor. I think the patient community is very active, the patients are networking, and they’re finding the right specialist to get to.

I think it should be really a team approach. It’s never – it’s usually not very convenient to go to a university unless you live really close, so you want to have someone close to home who can handle the routine, and then, someone who maybe is a little bit further away who can see you once a year, can help with the big decisions, can be part of the healthcare team. So, we generally recommend that you have someone near, and that maybe you have someone far who focuses only on MPNs as part of your team, and now, it’s a little different. Telemedicine is becoming a pretty ingrained part of medicine. It’s a little easier to have those visits with a physician who’s far away because of telemedicine.

Self-Advocacy: Advice for Being a Pro-Active MPN Patient

Self-Advocacy: Advice for Being a Pro-Active MPN Patient from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patients be more pro-active in their care? Dr. Brady Stein shares advice to help patients educate themselves about the disease, while finding the right balance of knowledge to prevent them from feeling overwhelmed. 

Dr. Brady Stein is a hematologist focusing on myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.


Related Resources

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Let’s talk about patient self-advocacy now, Dr. Stein. Patients can sometimes feel like they’re bothering their healthcare team with their comments and questions.

Why is it important for patients to speak up when it comes to symptoms and side effects?

Dr. Stein:                   

I smile a little bit because patients – I get a lot of patient emails by MyChart. That’s our medical record, and it’s a secure patient email, and a lot of patients will start their message by saying, “I’m sorry to bother you.”

And, I always say, “Why do you think that? It’s my job. Please don’t apologize for reaching out to me.” So, that’s kind of the first thing. Don’t feel like you’re bothering your doctor. There are certain things that we won’t know unless you tell us, and so, I think that’s pretty clear. When we’re in a patient room and there might be a husband and wife together, and whether it’s the husband is the patient or the wife is the patient, we might ask a question, and we might get, “No, everything is fine,” but all doctors kind of sneak over to the partner, and the partner may be saying – they’re making gestures to us. There may be nonverbal forms of communication to tell us there’s something much worse than what the patient is telling you.

So, again, “advocate” meaning you have to tell us what’s going on with you. If you’re worried about something, please don’t be stoic about it. These diseases are treated a lot based on your symptoms, and so, if you don’t tell uls about your symptoms, we won’t know.

And, in terms of advocacy, I think one of the things is that these are pretty rare diseases. In an academic center, no, this is our focus, but if you’re in a community practice where the doctor’s seeing 10-15 different things during the course of a day, it’s basically impossible to keep up with myelofibrosis, especially if you have one patient in your whole practice. I can’t do that for diseases that I see that I have only one patient. The medical literature can be overwhelming.

So, patients can quickly outpace their doctor in terms of their knowledge of these diseases, but I think it’s really important to read, to learn, and to think about the illness because you may find out things through your research that your doctor wouldn’t know are available. You may find a clinical trial, a new strategy, or a new test that they simply haven’t had the time to keep up with or learn about. So, that’s what advocacy is about. Reading is really important, but you have to find a balance. I want my patients reading, but you’ve got to find the right amount because there’s a certain amount of reading where the patients start to get overwhelmed.

All patients kind of get to this point. They take it in – like taking it in like a fire hydrant in the beginning of the disease, and it’s overwhelming, and then they start to find their balance. I think there’s a point where the reading becomes anxiety-provoking rather than ameliorating anxiety, and all patients just generally find their balance.

Is My MPN Treatment Working?

Is My MPN Treatment Working? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

During myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) treatment, specific blood tests and diagnostic measurements help to gauge a patient’s treatment response. Dr. Brady Stein details the criteria he assesses in monitoring the efficacy of a therapy, including patient-reported outcomes.  

Dr. Brady Stein is a hematologist focusing on myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.


Related Resources

What Are the Treatment Options for Myelofibrosis?

Monitoring MPNs: When is it Time to Switch Therapies?

MPN Symptom or Treatment Side Effect? Know the Difference


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Once a patient has started treatment, how do you know it’s working?

Dr. Stein:                   

That’s a good question because this is a very unique area. Yes, of course, in some respects, it’s straightforward with ET or PV. If we’re starting a medication to control a blood count in hopes of having lowered the thrombosis risk, you can look objectively at blood counts.

Okay, your hematocrit is at this goal? Yes, therapy’s working. You have not had a blood clot?

Yes, therapy’s working. So, there are some objective things. In myelofibrosis, there are some objective things like measuring the spleen and seeing it reduce. You can feel that with your hands, or you can do an ultrasound. So, there are some objective parameters of success. But, in this area, patient-reported outcomes are really important, and so, a measure of success is really just asking the patient, “Do you feel like your drug is working? Do you feel better?

It’s kind of a simple question, but it’s really important, and it’s what we ask in patients who are on certain therapies. “Do you feel like the net effect of your therapy is still positive? Do you feel like it’s helping?” Seems like a straightforward type of question, but I think the answer is extremely informative. When a patient says, “Yes, definitely, my medication is still helping me,” then I know that I don’t need to change it.

MPN Treatment Choices: Where Do Clinical Trials Fit In?

MPN Treatment Choices: Where Do Clinical Trials Fit In? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When considering MPN treatment approaches, clinical trials are a viable option for care. Dr. Brady Stein discusses clinical trials and factors to keep in mind when considering participation.

Dr. Brady Stein is a hematologist focusing on myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.


Related Resources

Tools to Help You Learn More About MPN Clinical Trials

Promising ET, PV & Myelofibrosis Therapies in Development 

What Are the Treatment Options for Myelofibrosis?


Transcript:

Dr. Stein:                   

Clinical trials are always a treatment – always an option for patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms because while we have some standards, we can definitely improve upon those standards for certain. So, clinical trials are always a therapeutic option. I think the one thing is that it may not – it’s not always the most convenient option, but it could be a really important option if available to you.

So, clinical trials basically offer something new or novel that would not otherwise be available to other patients. So, ruxolitinib (Jakafi) was approved around 2011, but the first clinical trials were in 2007, so that’s the example I give to a patient about the benefit of a clinical trial.The patient can get access to a drug that’s effective perhaps three to four years before it’s commercially available.

That’s really the biggest advantage, is you can get early access to something that could really help you. The downsides are that clinical trials are not usually as convenient as regular care, there are often more visits, and there are a lot of unknowns – unknowns about whether it will work. Some side effects are known and expected; there are others that are unknown. So, it’s a lot to think about, but I think it’s always important to consider, especially if your first-line therapy has not been effective, if it’s losing its touch, it’s a good thing to think about for a second line.

Katherine:                  

Are there emerging approaches for treating MPNs that patients should know about?

Dr. Stein:                   

Yeah, absolutely. I think the first question – I think patients are often worried that they have a really rare disease, and why would anyone do research in this area, and that’s – the research community is extremely engaged, the productivity is pretty impressive, and there’s a lot of clinical trials in the space, and I think what I try to explain is pharmaceutical companies aren’t just targeting the most common diseases.

They have interests in rare diseases, and findings in rare diseases can be extrapolated to other diseases that you might think are unrelated, but they can share features, so when you find something working in one space, it can have broad applicability. So, there’s an abundance of research in myeloproliferative neoplasms which are emerging?

In PV, I think there’s quite a possibility that there’ll be a drug approval in 2021, a novel type of interferon called ropeginterferon

That is a drug that’s approved abroad; it’s approved in Europe, and I believe it’s approved in Taiwan, and the FDA is looking at it now. So, it’s a possibility that there’ll be a future option for patients with polycythemia vera. So, yes, it’s research now, but it could be available, and so, that’s the drug that I’m starting to talk more and more about for patients with PV.

In myelofibrosis, you have two JAK inhibitors that are approved, ruxolitinib and fedratinib, you have two others in clinical testing, momelotinib and pacritinib, and then you have a whole other class of what we call non-JAK2 type of therapies targeting the vast array of pathway abnormalities in myelofibrosis.

So, there are a number of different clinical trial options, especially in myelofibrosis. I think that’s the disease area where there are the most clinical trials.