Tag Archive for: bone marrow

Low Testosterone in Cancer or Transplant Survivors

I was one of the authors (out of more than 50) of a review article on male specific late effects in stem cell transplant patients [1]. The article looked at many late effects in male transplant survivor. This post is a summary on one late effect, hypogonadism (that is low testosterone) as well as my opinion about the recommendations on screening for low testosterone.

We do not know much about low testosterone in cancer survivors or transplant survivors. There is a significant increase in the incidence of low testosterone but the size of the increase in transplant survivors is not well understood. Symptoms related to low testosterone include: “loss of body hair, small testes, and ED (Erectile Dysfunction)”. Other symptoms that may be signs of low testosterone but may be signs of other problems include: “loss of libido, anemia, fatigue, lack of motivation, reduced muscle mass, and increased fat mass” (I don’t really know what “lack of motivation” means). The article recommends: “testing and consideration of hormone replacement therapy based on symptoms”. This is similar to what has been recommended in the past [2].

In 2016, some 23 years after my bone marrow transplant (BMT) I was diagnosed with low testosterone. I had finally asked one of my doctors to get tested and my testosterone level was 192 (my free testosterone was also low, and this is useful for the doctors, but I won’t mention it anymore). The normal level of testosterone is between 300 and 1000 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL). [3] While I had symptoms, low libido, loss of muscle mass and fatigue primarily, no doctor had asked about those symptoms, and I had not thought about them as more than getting old.

I started on testosterone replacement, and it has made a huge difference. The biggest difference in my mind is less fatigue. One of the more common side effects of testosterone replacement is it can raise your red blood count (I like to call this an “effect”). Since a year or two after my transplant, my hemoglobin was on the low side (typically 12-13, normal for men is 13.2-16.6) and my hematocrit was generally between 37 and 40% (normal for men is 38.3-48.6%) [4]. A few years ago, at my annual exam my hematocrit was close to 35%. I went to see an oncologist (the oncologist who treated me is no longer seeing patients in the office). A whole bunch of tests were run, but not a testosterone test and nothing abnormal other than my red blood values was found. After starting testosterone replacement, my hematocrit is 43-45% and my hemoglobin is 14-15. The biggest change for me is that I have far less fatigue presumably because I have more red blood cells.

Testosterone levels naturally decrease with age. The folklore is that the testosterone level decreases about 1% per year from age 30 or so. [5] Other sources say from age 20. I believe this means that if you level is 800 at age 30 (there seems to be little data for a “normal” level at different ages), it will go down about 8 units per year (1% of 800). So, at age 80, the level would be around 400 (if this actually means a decrease of 1% of the current level every year, it will go down to about 480 at age 80). If the level was 600 at age 30, then it would be about 300 at age 80 (or around the low end of the normal range, which I imagine is about the average level for 80-year-old men). What if a 30-year-old had a testosterone level of 800 and then was diagnosed with AML and had chemotherapy and a transplant? Perhaps 2 years post-transplant is now 500, which is normal. There seems to be no data on testosterone levels in long term transplant survivors. However, if this goes down 8 units a year (this seems to be as good a guess as any), then after 25 years the level would be 320 and after 30 years it would 280, which is less than the 80-year-old man without cancer. It is important to state that there appears is no data to support or refute this scenario. Still my belief is that this is essentially what happened to me. My guess is that quite a few male transplant survivors have a testosterone level in the normal range 1 or 2 years post-transplant (although most will not have it tested) but will eventually have hypogonadism and likely not realize it.

While there is a lot we do not know about testosterone levels in transplant survivors (or for that matter healthy men), there is one thing we do know. “The majority of health care professionals do not address [sexual dysfunction]” [1]. In my mind this calls into question the recommendation to test testosterone levels “based on symptoms”. Most doctors do not seem to ask about symptoms specific to low testosterone and the other symptoms are non-specific. It seems to me that not testing testosterone levels at say 1 or 2 years post-transplant is likely causing harm to some male long term survivors. A better guideline would be to routinely test 1 or 2 years post-transplant and then again if symptoms warrant.

The BMT Infonet as part of their Celebrating a Second Chance at Life Symposium had a really good workshop on Sexual Concerns in Men after Transplantation by John Mulhall MD, from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. You will have to register before viewing the replay of this workshop. While it covered other topics, there was a lot of information about low testosterone 

Contact Art Flatau, flataua@acm.org

Bibliography

[1] Phelan, R et. al., “Male-Specific Late Effects in Adult Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation Recipients: A Systematic Review from the Late Effects and Quality of Life Working Committee of the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research and Transplant Complica,” Transplantation and Cellular Therapy, 2021.

[2] Navneet, Majhail S.; et. al., “Recommended Screening and Preventive Practices for Long-Term Survivors after Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation,” Biology of Blood and Marrow Transplantation, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 348 – 371, 2012.

[3] Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, “Testosterone,” [Online]. Available: https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/tests/testosterone

[4] Mayo Clinic, “Complete Blood Count,” [Online]. Available: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/complete-blood-count/about/pac-20384919

[5] Mayo Clinic, “Testosterone therapy: Potential benefits and risks as you age,” [Online]. Available: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/sexual-health/in-depth/testosterone-therapy/art-20045728

[6] WebMd, “Is Testosterone Replacement Therapy Right for You?,” [Online]. Available: https://www.webmd.com/men/guide/testosterone-replacement-therapy-is-it-right-for-you

An Expert Defines Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL)

An Expert Defines Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL) from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is diffuse large B-cell lymphoma? Dr. Justin Kline defines DLBCL from symptoms to staging and explains how the condition progresses through the body.

Dr. Justin Kline is the Director of the Lymphoma Program at the University of Chicago Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Kline, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:      

Let’s start by understanding what DLBCL is and how it progresses. How would you define DLBCL?

Dr. Kline:       

Well, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is a malignancy of a normal counterpart cell called a B-cell, which is part of our immune system. Its job is to make antibodies, to help protect us from various types of infections. Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, or DLBCL, initiates when normal B-cells acquire changes in their genetic machinery, like any cancer. And DLBCL is the most common form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. We classify it as aggressive, as an aggressive lymphoma, which means if left untreated it tends to grow pretty quickly.

Katherine:      

How is it typically diagnosed?

Dr. Kline:       

Well, it varies. But like any cancer, a diagnosis requires some sort of a biopsy, either a surgical removal of a lymph node or a needle biopsy of a lymph node or another structure where the tumor seems to be growing.

Katherine:      

How does somebody know if they have DLBCL?

Dr. Kline:       

Well, there are certain symptoms that are more common amongst folks with DLBCL. And they’re not specific to DLBCL, they can be seen in other lymphomas, but they include symptoms like fatigue that’s unrelenting, unintentional weight loss, sometimes fevers, typically at similar times throughout the day, drenching night sweats, swollen lymph nodes, and then certainly pain in any area of the body that comes and doesn’t go. Those are some of the general symptoms.

Katherine:      

And how does the condition progress?

Dr. Kline:       

Well, as I mentioned, DLBCL tends to be an aggressive lymphoma, so sometimes folks will notice enlarged lymph glands that continue to grow and grow and grow. Sometimes they’re painful, sometimes not so much. DLBCL, it can really grow anywhere, so we think of it as a lymphoma and so involving lymph nodes, but DLBCL can grow in any organ, even outside of lymph nodes. And so it sometimes progresses locally, but it also can spread and start to grow in other areas of the body.

Katherine:      

And how is it staged, Dr. Kline?

Dr. Kline:       

Well, there’s a special staging system for all lymphomas that is somewhat similar to what folks might think of with solid tumors like a breast cancer, a lung cancer. But in other ways, it’s different.

The staging tools for DLBCL are really most importantly PET scans and CT scans, really PET scans and in some cases bone marrow exams or bone marrow biopsies. The PET scan is a very sensitive scan that uses radioactive glucose to identify very sensitively where in the body lymphoma might be growing, because lymphoma cells really preferentially prefer to use glucose as their primary energy source. So, they preferentially take up the radioactive glucose that’s given through the vein before the PET scan is taken.

As I mentioned, in some cases, a bone marrow test is also done, although less and less frequently. Which is good, because that’s a more invasive and uncomfortable test. And so folks who have early stage DLBCL that typically involves one lymph node group, like for example, a lymph node in the neck or several lymph node groups on the same side of the breathing muscle, of course you can’t see my breathing muscle here, called the diaphragm.

Those are stage I and stage II DLBCLs. stage III DLBCLs are those that involve lymph nodes on either side of the breathing muscle, so in other words, lymph nodes involved in the neck and then maybe in the groin area, where stage IV DLBCLs are those that involve sites outside of lymph nodes like the liver or the lungs or the bones.

Katherine:                  

What are the subtypes of DLBCL?

Dr. Kline:       

Well, that’s a good and somewhat complicated question. So there, probably most importantly, there’ve been two subsets, if you will, of DLBCL identified, and they really have to do with where along the normal maturation course a B-cell becomes lymphoma or where the DLBCL develops in that normal maturation course. Some DLBCLs arise from what we call germinal center B-cells, which are B-cells that are sort of just seeing their natural antigen or what they’re supposed to recognize.

And then there are DLBCLs that arise in more differentiated or more mature B-cells, and those are called activated B-cell type DLBCLs. So, there’s germinal center and activated, the B-cell type DLBCLs. And I don’t know that that’s super important for your listeners to know, but it is important because these two subtypes of DLBCL are driven by largely separate mutations or alterations in the DNA, and they also respond differently to initial treatment. There are other rare subtypes that involve specific mutations and genes like MYC and BCL2, and these are the so-called double-hit lymphomas. They’re officially classified as high-grade lymphomas, but they’re very similar to DLBCLs. There are other rare subtypes of DLBCL, for example, a type that comes on typically in young men and women called primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma.

But I think for the sake of simplicity, the most common two subtypes are the germinal center derived and then the activated B-cell type of DLBCL.

Katherine:      

All right. That’s good to know, thank you. It helps us understand the disease a little bit better.

Dr. Kline:       

Good.

How is Flow Cytometry Used in CLL?

How is Flow Cytometry Used in CLL? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia uses flow cytometry as part of testing methods, but how is it used? Watch to learn about the information provided by flow cytometry tests and how the information is used for CLL patients.

See More from START HERE CLL

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Transcript:

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) can be either a slower-growing or faster-growing type depending on the patient. There are several tests that CLL specialists use in diagnosing the condition – with flow cytometry being one of the testing tools.

Flow cytometry provides information about particle or cell characteristics including:

  • DNA gene expression
  • Total DNA
  • Cell structure
  • Cell size
  • Newly-created DNA
  • Amount and type of specific surface receptors
  • Intracellular proteins
  • Transient signaling

Dr. Lyndsey Roeker:                

“So, at diagnosis flow cytometry is the first test done, and what that means is, you take all of your white blood cells in your blood, and you run them through a fancy machine that puts them into buckets. So, you have a bucket of your normal neutrophils, a bucket of your normal lymphocytes, and then you find this bucket of cells that look somewhat unusual. And those have a specific look, if you will, and if they look like CLL cells, that’s how we make the diagnosis.”

The properties found in flow cytometry help to determine the type of CLL that a patient has. CLL specialists then use flow cytometry results along with other blood tests, a patient’s medical history, and other signs and symptoms to establish CLL prognosis and treatment options. Flow cytometry is a key test that confirms CLL diagnosis by checking a patient’s bone marrow or blood cells for signs of CLL, and test results are used to help determine optimal care for each patient.

What is Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)?

What is Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

CLL stands for chronic lymphocytic leukemia, but what is it exactly? Watch to learn how CLL develops and hear from CLL expert Dr. Jennifer Woyach and patient Adrian.

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Transcript:

CLL is a blood cancer called chronic lymphocytic leukemia, which originates in the bone marrow of patients. Genetic mutations in the blood become leukemic, multiply into CLL cells, and bring on the condition of CLL. CLL is counted as the most common adult leukemia type among countries in the Western world. For the most part, CLL impacts older adults at an average diagnosis of age 70 with slightly more men impacted compared to women with CLL.

Dr. Jennifer Woyach:

“CLL is an interesting disease because it’s one of the only cancers that does not require a biopsy of something for a diagnosis. So, we can, actually, make the diagnosis of CLL based on the peripheral blood.”

Adrian (CLL Survivor): “It happened as a bit of a shock to me, actually. I’ve been quite healthy quite well earlier that week. I’d gone walking in the mountains in Switzerland, but I collapsed one day on the way home from work, and was diagnosed with pneumonia. And during that illness, they realized that my immune system wasn’t working too well, and then my lymphocyte count was high, and I was diagnosed with CLL. I was put on watch and wait, which for some people can last a decade or more, but for me, it only lasted 15 months.”

Sometimes referred to as a “good” cancer among cancer types, many CLL patients stay in an active surveillance period of “watch and wait” for several years.

What is CD5 Expression in CLL?

What is CD5 expression in CLL? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients display a different CD5 expression than some other blood cancers. Watch to learn about CD5 expression and how monitoring plays into CLL patient care.

See More from START HERE CLL

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Transcript:

The protein of CD5 is abnormally expressed (or displayed) in T cells and/or in B-1a B cells in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and is often referred to as a marker. The small CD5-positive B lymphocytes multiply and accumulate in a CLL patient’s blood, bone marrow, and secondary lymphoid tissues and then create the condition of CLL. Though some blood cancers show as CD5-negative status, CD5 is shown as overexpressed along with CD19 and CD23 combined with weak expression of CD20 and CD79b in CLL patients.

Recent research studies looking at different CD markers including CD5 show that monitoring of CD expression changes over time can help more accurately determine prognosis for CLL patients. 

Dr. Jennifer Woyach:

“So, there is kind of a code of these markers on the surface of all of your blood cells that can tell what type of cells they are. So, for CLL in particular, we’ll see that the cells express some of the normal markers we would see on a normal B lymphocyte.

Things like CD19, CD20, CD23. But they also express a marker called CD5, which is found on normal T lymphocytes but shouldn’t be found on B lymphocytes.

And so, this collection of surface markers can make the diagnosis of CLL. Sometimes, we do need to do extra studies like a bone marrow biopsy or a lymph node biopsy. But oftentimes, those are not necessary at the time of diagnosis.”

As always, check with your CLL specialist if you have more questions about CD5 expression in CLL.

CLL Patient-Expert Q&A

Dr. Nadia Khan | CLL Patient-Expert Q&A from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is CAR T-cell therapy a cure for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)? What specific lab tests will I need to get a second opinion? CLL expert Dr. Nadia Khan answers questions from CLL patients and families. 

Have a question for a future Patient-Expert Q&A Email us: question@powerfulpatients.org with subject line: CLL Patient-Expert Q&A 

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Transcript:

Mary Leer:

Dr. Khan, first of all, thank you for being part of this program. 

Dr. Nadia Khan:

Thank you so much for inviting me to participate.

Mary Leer:

We have a question from Larry about side effects. Larry says: I’ve been fighting side effects with each medicine. Will the correct answer for side effects in CLL always be to stop the medicine? 

Dr. Nadia Khan:

Larry, thank you for your question. It is an excellent one, and this is something that we encounter on a very regular basis in CLL patients who are on targeted therapies. The side effects occur frequently in patients taking BTK inhibitors, in patients taking PIK inhibitors, and we have some side effects reported on BCLT inhibitors as well, typically side effects on all of these targeted therapies can be managed with either dose reduction or supportive therapies, and we don’t necessarily have to stop a medication due to a side effect that is encountered, and of course, it would depend on the type of side effect and the severity of the side effect before deciding to pause therapy for a time or to dose reduce or add other medications to help.

Mary Leer:

Sarah has a question about side effects. How can I tell if side effects are from CLL, my medicine, or just a part of aging? 

Dr. Nadia Khan:

Thanks for that question, Sarah. It can be a challenge to tease out the cause of any given complaint, whether the symptom is due to underlying other medical conditions, the medications a patient is on, their CLL therapy, their CLLl itself is something that we find to be challenging, and it can often be a process of elimination and understanding when side effects started and how they are related to the known side effect profile of a therapy is often a starting point. Depending on the side effect, we may decide to institute a treatment holiday, and if the side effect improves or resolves during the treatment holiday, it’s more clear that the side effect is due to the medication in question. If the side effect persists during that period of time, then it’s more likely to be due to something else.

Mary Leer:

George asks, are there any long-term side effect risks for CLL patients? 

Dr. Nadia Khan:

That’s a great question, George. It really would depend on the therapy being instituted and when in the chemoimmunotherapy era for CLL patients, we have a very different perspective of what short-term and long-term side effects were and are for those patients who have been treated with chemoimmunotherapy. For patients treated with targeted therapies and immunotherapy combinations today, there tends to be fewer serious long-term side effects when looking at the various drug classes. For example, BTK inhibitors, there is a risk of atrial fibrillation that remains constant throughout the course of therapy, and if a patient is on therapy for one year or 10 years, they can develop that particular side effect. High blood pressure can be significant with BTK inhibitors as well, and that risk also tends to be stable. In terms of infection risk, there is relative immunosuppression with all CLL therapeutics, and so our concern, more recently has been focused on COVID infection, serious bacterial and viral infections tend to be less frequent, we don’t institute prophylaxis for those infections because they tend to be so few and far between in the patients that we’ve treated. 

Mary Leer:

Thank you, Dr. Khan. Here’s a question from Richard:  I am a CLL patient currently on “watch and wait.”  When is the right time and what tests should have been performed before seeing a CLL specialist? 

Dr. Nadia Khan:

Richard, thank you for your excellent question. There are a number of tests with respect to CLL that help us to prognosticate more accurately, and those would include either a FISH panel, fluorescence in situ hybridization for CLL which identifies this common amplification and deletions that have been described in CLL. Additionally, an IgVH mutational test and a TP53 sequencing test would be the three basic prognostic tests used to identify what kind of CLL a patient has. This testing should be repeated at any point wherein a patient is changing therapy or at any point where there’s a change in the clinical status of the patient. Outside of these standard tests, there are other molecular tests that can be ordered and are commercially available for use… For use by clinicians. These molecular tests can also identify changes within the CLL that can help to prognosticate at this time, outside of the standard tests that I mentioned to you, there are no proven benefits to other testing, but the results of additional testing can just really help inform your clinician about the likelihood of you needing treatment in the near future and the likelihood of response to therapy. 

Mary Leer:

This question comes from Laurie. How common is it for CLL patients to develop a second gene mutation? 

Dr. Nadia Khan:

Laurie, Thanks for that question. It is not common for most call patients to have significant alterations in the genetic landscape of the CLL. With that being said, there are a few notable exceptions for CLL with TP53 dysfunction or complex cytogenetics, there is a higher likelihood that there will be genetic instability in those CLL clones. Therefore, it’s important to retest for changes if there is a change in the biology of the CLL, if there is a progression on therapy, for example, or at the time when a new therapy is planned.

Mary Leer:

Yolanda’s question is, what is CAR T therapy and who is eligible? 

Dr. Nadia Khan:

Thank you, Yolanda. This is a question that I get asked very frequently. CAR-T therapy is an exciting cellular therapy that has been FDA-approved in a number of lymphomas, and it is currently not FDA-approved for patients with CLL. So at this time, CLL patients can receive CAR-T therapy in the setting of a clinical trial only, and it is typically reserved for those patients who have progressed or relapsed after multiple lines of therapy and for whom there is no alternative therapy for consideration. Often, it is considered in the context of the clinical trial prior to the use of allogeneic stem cell transplant, because the results of allo transplant and CAR-T seemed to be fairly comparable. CAR T therapy, however is much better tolerated than allo transplant, both of these modalities are very rarely employed for our CLL patient today because of the very effective targeted therapies and immunotherapies that we have to use. 

Mary Leer: 

Dr. Khan, Chuck’s question is, what are the side effects of CAR-T cell therapy? 

Dr. Nadia Khan: 

Thank you, Chuck. For your excellent question, CAR-T-therapy is associated with two main types of side effects, one is Cytokine Release syndrome or CRS, which happens within the first two weeks of receiving CAR cells, and that can manifest as fevers, chills, a drop in blood pressure, shortness of breath, and the requirement of oxygen. When that happens to patients, there are medications that are given to help improve those cytokine-mediated events. Another major side effect with CAR-T therapy is neurotoxicity, which also happens within the first 14 days in some patients who receive CAR therapy, and that can manifest as anything from a headache to more concerning confusion, seizures and coma. CRS happens commonly in patients who receive party therapy and is usually managed very successfully with anti-inflammatory therapies given intravenously in the hospital and can be used for patients even who get outpatient CAR-T therapy.

Dr. Nadia Khan: 

When patients do suffer with neuro toxicities, intravenous therapies are also employed to combat that, and when necessary, patients might require escalation to an intensive care setting when these toxicities are very severe.

Mary Leer: 

Dr. Khan, is CAR T therapy a cure for CLL? 

Dr. Nadia Khan: 

Thank you for your question, Bernard. CAR-T therapy has been curative for a minority of patients who have been treated with CARs on clinical trials, and unlike other lymphomas In CLL, there hasn’t been an FDA approval as yet for CAR-T therapy, and we are hopeful for that to change in the future as CARs are modified and may potentially become more effective at eradicating the CLL and hopefully resulting in better side effect profiles and patients who do receive CAR-T therapy, the majority of patients who have received CARs in CLL studies have not had durable remission, unfortunately.

Mary Leer: 

Dr. Khan, what is conditioning therapy and why is it given prior to infusion of the CAR T cells?

Dr. Nadia Khan: 

Thank you, Samuel. Conditioning therapy is a course of – a briefer course of chemotherapy that’s given just prior to CAR-T therapy, really to prepare the body in a way to receive the CARs, and it makes the CARs more effective when there has been a level of immunosuppression to allow the CARs to expand more freely after they have been re-infused into a patient.

Mary Leer: 

Okay, here’s a question that Sandra asks, I’m preparing for CLL treatment, can I take my vitamins, herbs, or other supplements during treatment?

Dr. Nadia Khan: 

Thanks for that excellent question, Sandra. It’s so important to review all of your medications with your provider before starting any therapy during the course of your CLL treatment, drug interactions with herbals and over-the-counter medications can result in serious side effects, some over-the-counters and Herbals can inhibit the effectiveness of CLL therapy. So it’s important to discuss these with your provider on a case-by-case basis.

Mary Leer: 

Dr. Khan, here’s a question that I think many are probably thinking of right now, what tests do you give patients to see if CLL treatment is working?

Dr. Nadia Khan: 

Thank you, Jessica. During the course of CLL treatment and at the end of a time-limited treatment course, we’re assessing for responses, so as a patient is going through their treatment, we may decide to re-image to determine if there has been debulking of lymph nodes. And depending on the treatment that we’re administering and where the lymph nodes are located, we may decide to do imaging sooner or later, so for example, if there are palpable lymph nodes while a patient is on therapy, and we can measure these readily by physical exam in the clinic, we may not feel as compelled to re-image at an early time point, if there is valiantly or in large seen that is hard to palpate. And we want to understand if treatment is working after approximately three to four cycles of therapy, we would assess for a good response to treatment if clinically, it also does appear that patients are responding, and if there was any question as to respond, we would image at an earlier time point when patients are being treated with a Venetoclax [VENCLEXTA] based regimen and there is significant adenopathy or an enlarged spleen, we may reassess the size of lymph nodes and spleen during the course of Venetoclax [VENCLEXTA] ramp-up to determine if patients can be transitioned from inpatient to outpatient ramp-up.

Mary Leer: 

Dr. Khan, this is our final question. Karen asks, with many new therapies available, will watch and wait be redefined for CLL patients? 

Dr. Nadia Khan: 

What an excellent question, Karen. Currently, the strategy for CLL patients is to institute therapy when there is likely to be a benefit with the intervention, and there are studies that are ongoing looking at earlier intervention with oral therapy, and once we see the readout for patients with particularly high-risk features. I think it is possible that we’ll have an alternative strategy for those patients. Thankfully, our CLL patients live very long lives, and what we’ve come to see over decades of treatment experience with our CLL patients is that early intervention to date has not resulted in longer… Longer survival. So at this point, it’s not something that’s recommended, but we may have more information soon.

Mary Leer: 

Dr. Khan, thanks for joining us today and answering all of these questions for our audience. Just a reminder to our audience, please take the CLL-Patient-Expert Q&A survey following this webinar.

Mary Leer: 

Dr. Khan, before we end this program,  what are you optimistic about for the future of CLL? 

Dr. Nadia Khan: 

So I’m very optimistic about the future of CLL therapeutics, we’ve already come to see excellent responses that are very durable with time-limited targeted therapy and immunotherapy approaches. In the future, it is likely that we will be using a more personalized approach to treating any given CLL patient using their genetic and molecular profile to decide on their treatment strategy, a single-agent approach versus multiple targeted therapies to eradicate CLL clones. In the future will be looking at endpoints like minimal residual disease, as well as clonal evolution to help guide our treatment strategy for patients with CLL

DLBCL Treatment Approaches: What You Need to Know

DLBCL Treatment Approaches: What You Need to Know from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What do you need to know about diffuse large b-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) treatment options? DLBCL expert Dr. Justin Kline discusses current therapies for newly diagnosed and relapsed/refractory patients, reviews promising research, and shares tools for staying up to date on the latest treatment approaches.

Dr. Justin Kline is the Director of the Lymphoma Program at the University of Chicago Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Kline, here.

See More From The Pro-Active DLBCL Patient Toolkit

Download Guide

Related Resources:

How to Play an Active Role in Your DLBCL Treatment and Care Decisions

An Overview of Current DLBCL Treatment Approaches

DLBCL Treatment Approaches What You Need to Know Resource Guide


Transcript:

Katherine:      

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s webinar. Today we’re going to discuss diffuse large B-cell lymphoma or DLBCL and explore current and emerging treatment approaches. Before we meet our guest, let’s review a few important details. The reminder email you received about this webinar contains a link to program materials. If you haven’t already, click that link to access information to follow along during the webinar. At the end of this program, you’ll receive a link to a program survey. Please take a moment to provide feedback about your experience today in order to help us plan future webinars.

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

Dr. Kline:       

Hi, thank you. Yes, my name is Justin Kline. I am an associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, medicine.

I’m the director of the lymphoma program, which basically means I specialize in taking care of folks who’ve been diagnosed with various types of lymphomas.

Katherine:      

Thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to join us.

Dr. Kline:       

Pleasure.

Katherine:      

Let’s start by understanding what DLBCL is and how it progresses. How would you define DLBCL?

Dr. Kline:       

Well, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is a malignancy of a normal counterpart cell called a B-cell, which is part of our immune system. Its job is to make antibodies, to help protect us from various types of infections. Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, or DLBCL, initiates when normal B-cells acquire changes in their genetic machinery, like any cancer. And DLBCL is the most common form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. We classify it as aggressive, as an aggressive lymphoma, which means if left untreated it tends to grow pretty quickly.

Katherine:      

How is it typically diagnosed?

Dr. Kline:       

Well, it varies. But like any cancer, a diagnosis requires some sort of a biopsy, either a surgical removal of a lymph node or a needle biopsy of a lymph node or another structure where the tumor seems to be growing.

Katherine:      

How does somebody know if they have DLBCL?

Dr. Kline:       

Well, there are certain symptoms that are more common amongst folks with DLBCL. And they’re not specific to DLBCL, they can be seen in other lymphomas, but they include symptoms like fatigue that’s unrelenting, unintentional weight loss, sometimes fevers, typically at similar times throughout the day, drenching night sweats, swollen lymph nodes, and then certainly pain in any area of the body that comes and doesn’t go. Those are some of the general symptoms.

Katherine:      

And how does the condition progress?

Dr. Kline:       

Well, as I mentioned, DLBCL tends to be an aggressive lymphoma, so sometimes folks will notice enlarged lymph glands that continue to grow and grow and grow. Sometimes they’re painful, sometimes not so much. DLBCL, it can really grow anywhere, so we think of it as a lymphoma and so involving lymph nodes, but DLBCL can grow in any organ, even outside of lymph nodes. And so it sometimes progresses locally, but it also can spread and start to grow in other areas of the body.

Katherine:      

And how is it staged, Dr. Kline?

Dr. Kline:       

Well, there’s a special staging system for all lymphomas that is somewhat similar to what folks might think of with solid tumors like a breast cancer, a lung cancer. But in other ways, it’s different.

The staging tools for DLBCL are really most importantly PET scans and CT scans, really PET scans and in some cases bone marrow exams or bone marrow biopsies. The PET scan is a very sensitive scan that uses radioactive glucose to identify very sensitively where in the body lymphoma might be growing, because lymphoma cells really preferentially prefer to use glucose as their primary energy source. So, they preferentially take up the radioactive glucose that’s given through the vein before the PET scan is taken.

As I mentioned, in some cases, a bone marrow test is also done, although less and less frequently. Which is good, because that’s a more invasive and uncomfortable test. And so folks who have early stage DLBCL that typically involves one lymph node group, like for example, a lymph node in the neck or several lymph node groups on the same side of the breathing muscle, of course you can’t see my breathing muscle here, called the diaphragm.

Those are stage I and stage II DLBCLs. stage III DLBCLs are those that involve lymph nodes on either side of the breathing muscle, so in other words, lymph nodes involved in the neck and then maybe in the groin area, where stage IV DLBCLs are those that involve sites outside of lymph nodes like the liver or the lungs or the bones.

Katherine:                  

What are the subtypes of DLBCL?

Dr. Kline:       

Well, that’s a good and somewhat complicated question. So there, probably most importantly, there’ve been two subsets, if you will, of DLBCL identified, and they really have to do with where along the normal maturation course a B-cell becomes lymphoma or where the DLBCL develops in that normal maturation course. Some DLBCLs arise from what we call germinal center B-cells, which are B-cells that are sort of just seeing their natural antigen or what they’re supposed to recognize.

And then there are DLBCLs that arise in more differentiated or more mature B-cells, and those are called activated B-cell type DLBCLs. So, there’s germinal center and activated, the B-cell type DLBCLs. And I don’t know that that’s super important for your listeners to know, but it is important because these two subtypes of DLBCL are driven by largely separate mutations or alterations in the DNA, and they also respond differently to initial treatment. There are other rare subtypes that involve specific mutations and genes like MYC and BCL2, and these are the so-called double-hit lymphomas. They’re officially classified as high-grade lymphomas, but they’re very similar to DLBCLs. There are other rare subtypes of DLBCL, for example, a type that comes on typically in young men and women called primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma.

But I think for the sake of simplicity, the most common two subtypes are the germinal center derived and then the activated B-cell type of DLBCL.

Katherine:      

All right. That’s good to know, thank you. It helps us understand the disease a little bit better.

Dr. Kline:       

Good.

Katherine:      

Let’s move onto treatment. From what I understand, treatment really should start right away. So, what types of treatment are currently available to someone newly diagnosed with DLBCL?

Dr. Kline:       

Sure, so for about 20 plus years now, the standard of care for most patients with DLBCL, regardless of whether it’s a germinal center or an activated B-cell type DLBCL, is a combination of what we call chemo immunotherapy, the acronym for which is R-CHOP, and each of those letters stands for a different medication. The R stands for rituximab, which is an antibody that coats the surface of lymphomatous B cells and sort of signals the immune system to come and kill those cells.

The C is cyclophosphamide, the H is hydroxy doxorubicin, and the O is Oncovin. These are each classical chemotherapy drugs, and they each work through a different mechanism to help kill lymphoma sells. And the P is a steroid pill called prednisone, so it’s a little bit complicated, but the reason that we use cocktails of medicines to treat lymphomas is that it really works to prevent the lymphoma cells from gaining the upper hand, from developing resistance to a single type of treatment.

Katherine:      

Right.

Dr. Kline:       

Now, I should say that for certain DLBCLs, particularly those double hit lymphomas that we talked about, sometimes we use a more intensive cocktail called dose-adjusted R-EPOCH. It has largely the same medications with an additional chemotherapy called etoposide.

The difference is that R-CHOP is given – all the drugs are given intravenously, with the exception of prednisone, over a single day. The dose-adjusted R-EPOCH is given over an infusion over the course of about five days. The other point I might make is that there was a recent large clinical study that compared R-CHOP to a new regimen called polatuzumab R-CHP. So, basically the O in R-CHOP was removed and substituted for this new drug called polatuzumab vedotin, and although many, many combinations similar to R-CHOP have been compared to R-CHOP over the past 20 years and failed, this regimen, polatuzumab R-CHP in the study called the POLARIX study actually was shown to improve what we call progression-free survival by about six percent. So, it may become a new standard of care for treating DLBCL, which is exciting, because we haven’t had one in over 20 years.

Katherine:                  

Right. That’s good news.

Dr. Kline:       

Long answer to a short question, sorry about that. Yes, it is good news.

Katherine:      

That is good news. What about stem cell transplants?

Dr. Kline:       

Good question. So, for newly diagnosed patients, in this era, we rarely if ever are recommending stem cell transplant or stem cell transplantation as part of initial therapy. There are rare circumstances, but for the vast majority of patients who are, people who are diagnosed with DLBCL, it’s not recommended.

Katherine:      

Where do clinical trials fit in?

Dr. Kline:       

It’s a really good question. I practice at an academic medical center, and so one of our missions is to advance therapy and make it better. There’s no way to do that without performing clinical trials, so I think for – clinical trials aren’t for everyone. As a matter of fact, most people with lymphoma are not treated in the context of clinical trials.

But certainly I think they are important to consider, and number one, it’s possible that the particular person might be involved with the clinical trial that is very successful and actually improves their outcome. I always tell people that I see that being involved with the clinical trial is also, to some extent, an altruistic endeavor. You’re helping your doctors learn more about how to treat a type of cancer, hopefully better, maybe not, you know? So, there is some altruism that goes into clinical trials as well. So, I do think that most people who are able should consider having a second opinion. Doesn’t have to be at an academic medical center, but at least with another doctor, where clinical trial options can be discussed.

Katherine:      

Other than a newly diagnosed patient’s stage of DLBCL and their age, what other factors would impact a treatment decision?

Dr. Kline:       

Yeah. So, that’s a good question, so you named I think the biggest two, the most important two. Although I have to say that even people in their – oftentimes in their 80s are prescribed full dose therapy. The goal of our treatment, especially in newly diagnosed patients, is to cure the lymphoma, and so we tend to be aggressive. But outside of age, other things we consider are other health problems. Does the person have a healthy heart, healthy kidneys? How many other medical problems does the person have? How fit is the person? How sick is the person or symptomatic is the person from him or her lymphoma? And sometimes we take into consideration all those factors and we say, well, it’s still worth it to try to deliver the most intensive therapy that we can.

Other times we say, you know what? I think the risk of doing such is probably not worth the potential benefit, and so sometimes we’ll recommend dose reductions, reduce the doses of some of the medicines and the R-CHOP cocktail if that’s what we’re going to do, and occasionally, if the person has too many other things going on, we may talk about more palliative treatments, in other words, gentler treatments that may extend a person’s survival while hopefully maintaining a really good quality of life.

Katherine:                 

Yeah. What kind of side effects should patients expect?

Dr. Kline:       

Well, that’s a conversation I’ve had many, many, many times over the years. And specifically to the R-CHOP cocktail, just because that’s the one that’s used most commonly, I tell people that the most common things are symptoms like fatigue, occasionally nausea, sometimes vomiting, although the medications we have to prevent those things are very good these days.

Constipation is not uncommon, hair loss, mouth sores. I think probably the most important thing is to recognize that the chemotherapy will suppress or reduce the immune system, and so we’re always worried about people catching infections when they’re on chemotherapy, because sometimes they can be serious. And then I talk about rare symptoms that are a big deal. Sometimes the chemotherapy can damage organs like the heart. It’s uncommon, but it happens sometimes. And chemotherapy, while we need to give it to cure the lymphoma, can sometimes cause secondary blood cancers like leukemias years down the road. The risk is low, but again, these are I think serious things that people, even if they’re rare, people need to know about them before they start.

Katherine:      

Yeah. Let’s turn to what happens after treatment. How is the effectiveness of the treatment monitored?

Dr. Kline:       

Well, so depends on the doc to some degree, but I like to do some, what I call interim imaging. So, we’ll typically, again, depending on the stage, but very often we’re delivering six treatments of R-CHOP, usually given every three weeks. So, the total treatment course is about four and a half months. It can be a little bit shorter for patients who have Stage 1 or Stage 2 DLBCLs. I like to get interim imaging, which is either a PET scan or a CAT scan, done sort of in the middle of treatment, just to give us a sense of how things are going. Are the lymphomatous tumors shrinking down? Some patients are, even by the middle of treatment, are in a complete remission. Their PET scan has gone totally normal. And then at the end of treatment, that’s probably the most important imaging, and there I do like to do PET scans again. Again, they’re the most sensitive test we have to detect lymphoma.

And so at the end of treatment, usually about four to six weeks after somebody completes treatment, we like to get that end of treatment PET scan, and that’s the PET scan that allows us to say, you’ve had a complete response. You’re in a complete remission, or not.

Katherine:                  

So, what does remission mean exactly then?

Dr. Kline:       

So, in DLBCL, remission is pretty simply defined as absence of disease on, or absence of cancer on the tests that we do to detect it. Again, typically PET scans, and if somebody had involvement of his or her bone marrow at the beginning before treatment, we’ll repeat that bone marrow at the end of treatment just to make sure that there’s no lymphoma left over. And so, but for most people it’s a PET scan. If the PET scan does not show any abnormalities, then that’s what we call a complete remission or remission.

Katherine:      

Is a cure possible for patients with DLBCL?

Dr. Kline:       

Cure is not only possible, it’s actually quite common. If you look at all comers, regardless of stage, age, what have you, approximately 60 to 65 percent of folks who are treated for DLBCL are cured. The cure rates are higher with folks with earlier stage lymphomas, but even folks who have advanced DLBCL are frequently cured.

Katherine:      

That’s great news. Let’s talk about if someone doesn’t respond to initial treatment or they relapse. Let’s start by defining some terms for the audience. What does it mean to be refractory?

Dr. Kline:       

So, refractory is a term that’s used to describe a situation where a person has received treatment but that treatment hasn’t worked as well as we have expected. And the most – probably the most important scenario is after initial treatment.

Most people, for example, who receive R-CHOP, somewhere between 80 and 85 percent will have a completely negative PET scan after treatment. That’s remission. If the PET scan is not negative and you do a biopsy and it shows that there’s still lymphoma there, that’s what’s called primary refractory. In other words, the person’s lymphoma was refractory to initial or primary treatment. And in clinical trials that are testing agents, drugs or immunotherapies in folks who’ve had multiple treatments, usually refractory is used to define someone who has either not responded or has had a very, very short response to whatever the last treatment they had was.

Katherine:                  

How does relapse then differ from refractory?

Dr. Kline:       

So, right, so relapse suggests that the lymphoma at some point was in a remission, right?

And so for example, a person gets six treatments of R-CHOP, has a PET scan at the end, the PET scan is clean. We say you’re in remission. Eight months later, the person develops a newly enlarged lymph node, and a biopsy shows that the lymphoma has come back, right? That’s what we would call a relapse. There was a period of remission, whereas refractory usually means there was never a period of remission to begin with.

Katherine:                  

Got it. How typical is it for a patient to relapse?

Dr. Kline:       

Well, again, if you look at all comers, if you treated 100 people with DLBCL, most, probably 70 to 75 percent, would go into remission. About 10 or 15 percent would have primary refractory disease and another 10 or 15 percent would have a remission that would end at some point and they would have a relapse. So, it’s not terribly common.

The problem is that once the lymphoma has either demonstrated that it’s refractory to treatment or it’s come back, it’s relapsed, it’s a little bit more difficult to cure the lymphoma at that point.

Katherine:      

How are patients treated then if they’ve relapsed or refractory?

Dr. Kline:       

Well, so for somebody who’s had primary refractory lymphoma or has a lymphoma that’s relapsed after initial therapy, again, say for the sake of argument with R-CHOP, for many, many years, the next line of treatment if you will was to administer what we call salvage chemotherapy, and this is different chemotherapy from the original R-CHOP, that’s meant to put the lymphoma back into remission. In other worse, to salvage a remission. And for folks whose lymphomas were sensitive or responded, shrunk down to that salvage chemotherapy, we would consolidate that remission.

We would make it deeper using high dose chemotherapy and an autologous or a cell, stem cell transplant. And that’s been the standard of care for younger patients for decades.

That paradigm has been challenged, particularly in refractory patients or those who have very early relapses after R-CHOP, by two important clinical trials that have demonstrated superiority of a type of immunotherapy, a cellular immunotherapy called CAR T-cell therapy, which seems to be more effective even than stem cell transplantation in that population of folks.

Katherine:      

What about emerging therapies, Dr. Kline? What approaches are showing promise?

Dr. Kline:       

Well, I think probably in DLBCL, the biggest breakthrough, I don’t even know that I can call it emerging at this point, because it’s on the market, so to speak.

But I think it’s important to talk about, again, is CAR T-cell therapy, and this is a type of immune therapy where a person’s own immune cells called T-cells are taken from his or her bloodstream. And then using a special type of a virus, those T-cells are manipulated or engineered, that sounds better, to express on their surface something called a chimeric antigen receptor, which is somewhere between an antibody and a normal T-cell receptor. But anyhow, this chimeric antigen receptor confers or allows the T-cell to recognize a protein that’s expressed on the surface of B-cells, cancerous or otherwise, called CD19. And when that chimeric antigen or CAR antigen, excuse me, that CAR receptor expressing T-cell sees a lymphoma cell, it engages it and kills it, a pretty clever idea which has been in the works for decades now.

But CAR T-cell therapy has now been approved for not only DLBCL but many other types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. And I think in the past decade, far and away, that’s the biggest breakthrough. There are other types of immunotherapy, probably most notably a type called bispecific immunotherapy, which is a pretty clever type of immune therapy where these specially engineered antibodies that are capable of binding or sticking to not only a person’s T-cell, a T-cell that’s already in his or her body, and a B-cell, a lymphoma cell that’s right next to that T-cell, sort of holds them together, and the part that binds the T-cell actually activates it, triggers it to kill the B-cell. And so there are a number of companies that have those bispecific therapies that are in development. I suspect a couple will be approved by the FDA, I would guess, in 2022.

These bispecific immunotherapies have been very effective, again, in DLBCL that’s come back, relapsed or refractory, as well as in other lymphomas. They do have some side effects that are similar to what we see in folks with CAR T-cell therapy. I won’t belabor what those are, but they are also very effective. There’ve been a number of drugs that, either immunotherapies or other types of therapies, that target that same CD19 protein on diffuse large B-cell lymphoma cells that have recently been approved by the FDA, either alone or in combination. Targeted therapies are always exciting. Although as compared with other lymphomas, these targeted therapies, many of which are oral, which are pills, have not been particularly effective in relapsed DLBCL.

So, I think that among the most exciting therapies are those that take advantage of our own immune systems to recognize and kill the lymphoma cells.

Katherine:      

With all of these treatments in development, how can patients ensure that they’re receiving the latest treatment options?

Dr. Kline:       

Yeah. It’s complicated, even for somebody who’s in the business. There are so many clinical trials going on all over the place and at various stages. I think, as I mentioned early on in our conversation, one of the best ways to make sure that you or your loved one is receiving the most advanced care is to get that second opinion, particularly at a center that does clinical trials. And it doesn’t have to be an academic center. There are many offices in the community that also run clinical trials, but I think meeting with somebody who treats DLBCL for a living at least once to talk about those options is a good idea.

The second approach is really to get engaged. And it may not be the person with lymphoma, sometimes it’s a spouse or a child, usually a grown child, but doing due diligence, getting involved with websites, Lymphoma Research Foundation, Leukemia-Lymphoma Society, where you know you’re getting good information. Folks like you guys who are involved in patient education. I think I have seen many patients who come in extraordinarily well educated about DLBCL, even before their first visit, and I do think it does make a difference in helping them decide what and where they want to get their treatment.

Katherine:      

Yeah. What resources would you recommend for patients to help them stay up to date or to learn more about their disease?

Dr. Kline:       

Sure, yeah. Again, I think as folks sort of meet with their oncologist or oncology nurse, each office or center may have their own specific recommendations. I really like, as I mentioned, the Lymphoma Research Foundation, which I think is LRF.org*, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, LLS.org. They not only have a website that has a lot of information on it, but they often have patient education days once or twice a year where specific lymphomas are discussed in their treatment, that’s geared toward people with lymphoma and their caregivers.

They also have, it talks about dealing with chemotherapy, the financial toxicity associated with cancer treatments, how to sort of share your diagnosis with your children and other family members, so it’s not just doctors that are barking at you all day long, but it’s other people, social workers, lawyers, nutritionists, nurses. So, those are probably my two favorite organizations, but there are many others where people can get very good and useful information about DLBCL and other lymphomas as well.

Katherine:      

To close, what are you wanting to leave the audience with? Are you hopeful?

Dr. Kline:       

Well, I think DLBCL has really been a success story, right? I mean, if you look through the literature 50 years ago, there were very few people, if any, who were cured after being diagnosed with DLBCL. And as I mentioned earlier, again in our conversation, and today we’re curing about two-thirds of people who are diagnosed with DLBCL. That being said, that leaves about a third of people who need additional treatment, and that additional treatment often has a lot of side effects associated with it. So that is a particular group of people for whom I think we need new, more effective and hopefully less toxic treatments. So, again, if you’re somebody out there who’s been diagnosed with DLBCL, get a second opinion, consider being involved in a clinical trial. It may not only help you, but it also helps your doctors and other people who do DLBCL treatment for a living.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Kline, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.

Dr. Kline:                   

It’s been my pleasure, thanks for having me.

Katherine:      

And thank you to all of our partners. If you would like to watch this webinar again, there will be a replay available soon. You’ll receive an email when it’s ready. And don’t forget to take this survey immediately following this webinar. It will help us as we plan future programs.

To learn more about DLBCL and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit Powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell, thanks for being with us.


*Editor’s Note: The Lymphoma Research Foundation’s website is lymphoma.org

DLBCL Treatment Approaches: What You Need to Know Resource Guide

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How to Play an Active Role in Your DLBCL Treatment and Care Decisions

How to Play an Active Role in Your DLBCL Treatment and Care Decisions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What steps can you take to engage in your diffuse large b-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) treatment and care decisions? Expert Dr. Jason Westin discusses current and emerging DLBCL therapies, reviews key treatment decision-making factors, and shares advice for partnering with your healthcare team.

Dr. Jason Westin is the Director of Lymphoma Clinical Research in the Department of Lymphoma/Myeloma in the Division of Cancer Medicine at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Westin, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today, we’re going to explore the goals of DLBCL treatment and discuss how you can play an active role in making care decisions.

Before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you.

Joining us today is Dr. Jason Westin. Dr. Westin, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself? Okay.

Dr. Westin:                 

Of course. Happy to be here. Thank you for inviting me. My name’s Jason Westin. I am the Director of Lymphoma Clinical Research and the Section Chief for Aggressive Lymphomas at MD Anderson Cancer Center of Houston, Texas.

Katherine:                  

Excellent. Thank you so much for taking time to join us today. Today, we’re going to be learning about DLBCL treatment goals and how patients can be active members of their team. So, let’s start by understanding who is typically on a patient’s DLBCL healthcare team.

Dr. Westin:                 

It’s a good question. The members of the DLBCL healthcare team usually consist of a physician – and this person usually would start the process of saying, “This is something. I don’t know what’s going on with this mass or this pain you’re having. Let’s get some imaging. Let’s get a biopsy to figure out what’s going on.” There would often be a nurse as a member of the team. And the nurse usually provides a critical service in terms of help – facilitating patients to understanding what’s going on and to work with the healthcare team directly to provide excellent patient care.

And eventually, there would often be a pharmacist involved in terms of the chemotherapy or treatments that are administered to help review those and work with the physician and the nurse directly. Those would be the main members of the healthcare team. Occasionally, there might be a social worker or there might be other care providers that are involved. But usually, it’s the physician, the nurse. And then, sometimes the physician extender, such as a PA or a nurse practitioner.

Katherine:                  

Okay. What do you feel is the patient’s role as a team member.

Dr. Westin:                 

Patients are a critical part of our team and are often the decider of what goes on. The physicians, nurses, PAs, pharmacists – our jobs are to help educate the patient and to help the patient to decide what the best treatment is.

Ultimately, it’s the patient’s responsibility to understand what’s going on, to ask good questions, and then to make a decision about what treatments are best for them.

Katherine:                  

What role do caregivers take?

Dr. Westin:                 

Caregivers often play a very important role, and it’s variable from person to person how involved a caregiver is. But if patients have symptoms or side effects of treatment, caregivers are often critical to make sure patients get the appropriate medical care that they need. Some treatments may have more potential for side effects than others. Sometimes, caregivers are essential to actually stay with a patient, even during admission to the hospital to make sure the patients are monitored closely.

And we may talk about different treatments later in the interview. But at our center, sometimes we even mandate that there are caregivers involved in the sense of staying with the patient in the hospital for certain therapy types. But in general, being a supportive family member or caregiver, it’s a good thing to have even if we don’t have a lot of toxicity for emotional and physical support. But sometimes it’s really important to help manage toxicities.

Katherine:                  

Right. Before we move on to discuss the types of treatment, what are the goals of DLBCL treatment and how do they vary by patient.

Dr. Westin:                 

It’s a very important question to define at the outset what are we trying to accomplish when we’re talking about different treatments that we could recommend. DLBCL is a curable disease but, unfortunately, we don’t cure as many patients as we’d like. The majority of patients are cured but we always want to try and do better. But at the outset, we define our goals. And if somebody’s newly diagnosed, the goals of treatments is to try and go for a cure. That’s the end of that sentence when I am talking to my patient, that we are going for a cure, period. And then, we describe how we get there.

If somebody has relapsed or refractory disease, if the first treatments don’t work, usually we’re still trying to go for a cure, but there are some contexts where a curative treatment may be too toxic, the treatment itself may be a bad idea, just because of the potential of toxicities to be too much for a patient to tolerate.

So, there are situations, if the patients had a cancer that’s not gone away with the standard approach, sometimes we’re still going for a cure. Sometimes that may be difficult to achieve and we’d be going for a palliative treatment to try and prolong the patient’s quality of life and to try and give the patient more good days without harming them with treatments. But by and large, when we’re talking about the category or large B-cell lymphoma, the intention of treatment is to go for a cure.

Katherine:                  

How can patients make sure they understand their goals of treatment?

Dr. Westin:                 

It’s important to ask physicians, and PAs, and nurses at the outset about the goals of treatment. Sometimes we move quickly from diagnosis to treatment and don’t necessarily take a moment to talk about, “What are we trying to accomplish with this treatment?” We just see a fire and we’re trying to put it out. And the patient’s excited to get started after the scare of a diagnosis.

But I do think clarifying, “Can we talk a little bit about what the goal of this treatment is” – because sometimes there can be a mismatch between what a patient might expect a goal is and a physician, or a PA, or a nurse might expect a goal is. And if we’re not clarifying that and on the same page about that, sometimes there could be conflicts or confusion as we go into the treatments.

Katherine:                  

All right. I think we have a good understanding of treatment goals. So, when is it time to treat DLBCL?

Dr. Westin:                 

DLBCL is not a cancer that we wait to treat. This is a cancer that needs treatment very quickly after diagnosis. If a patient were not treated, the cancer would progress very rapidly. Some DLBCL’s progress faster than others but we would expect that if treatments were not administered, if we lived a century ago when treatments didn’t really exist, people would live, at the most, a few months with this cancer. This is a rapidly growing cancer that would result in death if we didn’t take care of it.

So, the time to initiate treatment is basically after a biopsy is obtained, the pathologist says, “This is large B-cell lymphoma,” a meeting with and oncologist occurs that says we got to start a treatment. Than then, ASAP after that to get going. What we know from DLBCL patients in the past is those that require treatment sooner – meaning you get a biopsy on a Monday and by Friday night you’re sick and you need treatment now or else – that tends to go along with a more aggressive version of DLBCL and perhaps can be associated with worse outcomes.

Patients who get a biopsy and four weeks later then they’re in the oncologist’s office talking about, “Maybe we should start a treatment,” but no symptoms, no problems, that usually goes along with a better prognosis. The so-called diagnosis to treatment interval can be actually powerfully prognostic.

Katherine:                  

So, once it’s time to treat, then of course it’s time to think about treatment options. So, let’s walk through the types of therapy that are used today in DLBCL treatment. First of all, let’s talk about chemotherapy.

Dr. Westin:                 

Yeah. So, unfortunately, chemotherapy is still the – cornered the realm when it comes to DLBCL therapy, especially in the frontline setting. So, if a patient is newly diagnosed, no prior history of DLBCL, biopsy comes back and describes that’s what we’re looking at, the standard treatment, which has been around for about 40-plus years, is a combination of chemotherapy called CHOP, each letter representing a different medication. The antibody immunotherapy Rituxan, or rituximab, was added about 20 years ago.

So, the standard treatment for the past 20 years has been R-CHOP. And this has been tried and true. It’s been tested many, many times to try and improve this or to beat this. And R-CHOP has been less toxic than other alternatives or as good as other alternatives through many, many, many trials.

Now, late last year, in 2021, there was finally a randomized Phase III trial that showed, in addition of a targeted therapy in place of one of the chemotherapy drugs, had a slightly better progression free survival at two years. The targeted therapy here is a drug called polatuzumab. Polatuzumab is an FDA-approved therapy for large B-cell lymphoma patients in the US. Currently, as of the time we’re taping this, it’s approved for patients with relapsed disease. It’s not yet approved, based on this Phase III trial, but that may change in the coming months.

The improvement was modest. Around six percent of patients differing in terms of those who had progressed versus those who had not progressed in two years. So, not an earthquake, but R-CHOP or variations of R-CHOP are still a standard treatment for patients, outside of a clinical trial, of newly diagnosed diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.

Katherine:                  

And what about CAR T-cell therapy?

Dr. Westin:                 

The other treatment classes, the targeted therapies include CAR T-cell, or other antibody drug conjugates, immunotherapies, bispecific [antibodies] – there is a lot going on in new drugs and new drug development for DLBCL.

As of today, most of those therapies that are approved are looked at in patients that have already had a frontline chemotherapy approach and the cancer has come back. So, those are approved. But they’re either approved for patients in second line therapy – after having had one line, cancer comes back and now we’re in second line – or in third line therapy, two previous treatments and now we’re in third line treatment. There’s a lot of clinical trials, and I think we’ll talk maybe about clinical trials in a bit, that are exploring use of these targeted therapies, including CAR T-cells, including bispecific antibodies, including other targeted therapies as a potential for a frontline treatment.

But outside of a clinical trial, R-CHOP or versions of R-CHOP are still the standard today.

Katherine:                  

And what about stem cell transplant?

Dr. Westin:                 

Stem cell transplant’s been a second line therapy option, and it’s been the standard second line therapy for about 25 years. We’ll see this change in the coming years. There have recently been three randomized clinical trials comparing stem cell transplant versus CAR T-cell. All three of those reported out some information in late 2021, with two of them having final results, one of them having an interim report. And one of the final reports, one the interim reports, showed a significant improvement in chance of staying in remission in all the outcomes that were measured for CAR T-cell beating stem cell transplant.

So, we’re waiting to see how the health authorities view these clinical trials, if CAR T-cell potentially moves into second line treatment for a majority of patients instead of stem cell transplant. So, stem cell transplant’s been there, it’s tried and true. It has cured a significant portion of patients. However, CAR T-cells potentially are better and may be moving in the second line within the next year.

Katherine:                  

Okay. Good to know. You touched upon clinical trials. Where do they fit in?

Dr. Westin:                 

Yeah. In my view, clinical trials are our best weapon against cancer, period. I think that’s true across the board, even for cancers like DLBCL where the majority of patients are cured with their first treatment, like an R-CHOP type therapy. All of our treatments at some level came from a clinical trial. They didn’t just have treatments fall out of the cancer treatment tree. They all came from patients going on to clinical trials, trying to improve upon previous standards.

And as I mentioned, CHOP has been there for about 40 years. R-CHOP has been there for about 20 years. We don’t do a lot of things that we would consider risk of death that we trust a 40-year-old technology to try and save us from. We like the latest, we like the modern, we like what’s the shiny new object. And so, clinical trials are the way that we define new standards and move forward to do new therapies.

CAR T-cells are an incredible advance. Those didn’t exist a handful of years ago. They were only defined as successful in clinical trials. So, my advice to a patient who is diagnosed with DLBCL is ask your provider, as your physician, or your PA, or your nurse practitioner, “What clinical trials are available to me?” If the answer is, “We don’t have any,” go on the internet and figure out where you can go for a second opinion where clinical trials might be available. And there are plenty or resources online to try and figure this out.

Time is of the essence for this DLBCL. We don’t have six months to shop around and go figure out what centers, but clinical trials are really the only engine we have to drive progress to do better and cure more patients.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. You touched upon this earlier, Dr. Westin, but aren’t there emerging DLBCL approaches the patient should know about?

Dr. Westin:                 

Yes. Thankfully, there are many, many. We could spend several hours talking about lots of new therapies coming along. So, it’s a great answer to have. It’s an embarrassment of riches that we have for lots and lots of new therapies that appear quite promising in the early development stage.

In terms of those that have actually crossed over the finished line to be approved by the FDA, we have a handful of new therapies in the past few years that have been approved. Previously, we didn’t really have very many, but now there are multiple therapies that are approved by the FDA outside of a clinical trial, that are targeted treatments.

And those include antibody drug conjugates, basically an antibody like you make against an infection. However, this antibody has a chemotherapy warhead attached to the back of it. So, effectively, it’s a heatseeking missile that finds whatever target we want it to find – in this case, cancer cells – and delivers a high dose chemotherapy right to the bad guys, not to the good guys. There are also other immune therapies that we’ve seen than can be very powerful antibodies, plus immunomodulatory drugs. And we can talk about specific names of these if we’d like.

And then, lastly, there are other oral agents that are coming along that look very promising in terms of their ability to target the cancer cells more directly than growing cells.

Lastly, there’s a very new class of therapies not yet approved, but very promising. I mentioned this before. It’s something called a bispecific antibody. Bispecific – the word bicycle meaning two wheels. Bispecific is two specific antibodies. Basically, it’s an antibody that’s grabbing onto a cancer cell and grabbing onto an immune cell. “I’d like to introduce you guys. Why don’t you guys come in proximity and see if we can have a party.”

And it’s an idea here of trying to get the cancer cell to be attacked by the immune cell simply through this close proximity that occurs. Not yet approved. Looks very promising and I think probably will be approved for multiple different lymphoma types, including large B-cell, in the coming years.

Katherine:                  

Okay. That’s really good information. Related to clinical trials and research, we received a patient question before the program. Anthony wants to know, “If I participate in a clinical trial, will I receive a placebo?”

Dr. Westin:                 

Great question, Anthony. I get this question all the time. The short answer is no in the way that you’re meaning this question.

Is there a possibility that you won’t get an active treatment for your cancer? No. That’s unethical. That’s not something that would ever been done in a clinical trial when there’s indication that treatment is needed. The only time a placebo might be used is to try and check to see is something effective more than what we’ve done in the past. An example being if we wanted to check a new drug in combination with R-CHOP, comparing it to R-CHOP alone, sometimes patients might get R-CHOP with the new drug or R-CHOP with a placebo.

Not a placebo by itself, but basically as a balance so that everybody’s taking an extra pill on top of their regular therapy. Because the placebo effect is powerful. Patients who take the new therapy, got the new pill, “I feel better because I’m doing this new targeted treatment.” When, in reality, placebos do that, too. So, it does help to have a balance in terms of symptoms, in terms of effectiveness in adverse events, to have placebo-controlled trials.

However, patients don’t get only a placebo. They get standard treatment plus a placebo. So, the only context I can think of you’d do that would be in that situation or if we think you’re already potentially cured but we’re giving an extra therapy just to be double sure versus observing the current standard. You may get a placebo there. But if you have active lymphoma that needs treatment, you will never get a placebo as your single therapy. That would be unethical and unacceptable. That does not happen.

Katherine:                  

Okay. That’s really good to know. Thank you.  Now that we have a better understanding of the types of treatment, let’s talk about what goes into deciding on an approach. Since no two patients are exactly the same, I imagine then that their treatment approaches are different. So, what do you consider when determining the best treatment option for an individual patient?

Dr. Westin:                 

That’s a very important question. How can we personalize treatments in a way that gets us down to what a single patient needs, not both populations of thousands of patients, but the person sitting across the exam room.

Katherine:                  

Right.

Dr. Westin:                 

For first line DLBCL, someone who’s newly diagnosed, unfortunately the one size fits all of R-CHOP being the standard, or versions of R-CHOP, the new treatment that I mentioned having a slight improvement not yet approved by the FDA, there’s not as much customization or personalization outside of clinical trials as I would like. We’d love to be smarter and to be able to say, “Well, you have the subtype A of large B-cell, therefore you should get subtype therapy A,” or subtype B and you get subtype therapy B. We have more of a one-size-fits-all approach in our frontline treatment outside of clinical trials.

On clinical trials, sometimes patients will have a subtype of large B-cell. We talk about things called the cell of origin. We talk about things called double hit. There are specific subtypes of DLBCL that occasionally a clinical trial will target that subtype and have a therapy that’s supposed to work better in that subtype.

So, that’s another reason to consider clinical trials, is the ability to potentially to customize or personalize your therapy to go more specifically after what’s wrong with your cancer cells as opposed to having something that’s given as a shotgun approach to everyone. And the reason that R-CHOP is around for this long is that it works fairly well across the board in different subtypes. It’s not something that’s completely effective in one and completely ineffective in another.

But, in terms of personalizing therapies, clinical trials are an important thing to be considered. In the relapse space, with patients that have relapsed disease, there we have more potential to customize treatments and often that’s done based upon characteristics of the tumor or the patient’s preferences in terms of frequency of treatments, in terms of potential for side effects. There’s more that can be done if somebody’s already had a treatment and it came back. But clinical trials are a great way to try and customize, or to drill down in terms of specifics about your particular cancer.

Katherine:                  

Can you touch upon treatment side effects?

Dr. Westin:                 

Yes. Treatment side effects, obviously, are very important to our patients in terms of what does their quality of life look like while the therapy’s ongoing to try to get rid of this dread cancer. The side effects really depend upon what treatment we’re talking about. And if we focus on frontline treatments, the initial treatments being R-CHOP based treatments, side effects are chemotherapy side effects. And that includes low blood counts, white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets, risk of infection along with the low white blood cells, and risk of fevers prompting a trip to the emergency department for an evaluation.

Thankfully, that’s rare. Maybe one out of four or one out of five patients would have an infection during treatments. But if it happens, it can be serious. Fatigue, nausea – which is usually very well controlled with medications, but nonetheless has to be something we watch out for. And for many patients, it’s important to note that hair loss can occur from the chemotherapy. And that’s something that it’s easy to say, “Oh, I don’t care about that.” But for many people, when you look in the mirror and you see somebody else looking back at you, somebody that has a different physical appearance than you’re used to, it can be quite distressing.

That’s unfortunately part of many patients’ journey with the therapy for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. In nonchemotherapy treatments – the targeted ones that I mentioned – these are the antibody drug conjugates, the targeted immune therapies, or in CAR T-cells, side effects can be very different, sometimes much less in terms of the side effects, other times completely different types of side effects. So, it really matters what type of treatment you’re talking about. And this is something you really want to clarify with your physician, with the nurse, with the PA.

“Tell me a lot of details about what I should expect when I’m feeling this. And give me reading materials so I can digest it, think about it, and figure out what questions I need to ask after we first discuss this.”

Katherine:                  

Yeah.

Dr. Westin:                 

The side effects really are an important part of the patient’s journey.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. We had another audience question prior to the program. “Where can I find a specialist?”

Dr. Westin:                 

Very important question. It depends where you live. Specialists are not on every oncology shop in the country.

Katherine:                  

No.

Dr. Westin:                 

Lymphomas are not the most rare cancer. They’re somewhere in the seven, eight, nine range every year in terms of annual incidents of cancers. But that’s lymphomas in general. Large B-cell lymphoma is the most common lymphoma, but it represents about 30,000 new diagnoses each year. Thirty thousand Americans are diagnosed with this disease each year. Thirty thousand sounds like a large number if you’re thinking about a sporting event, but if you’re thinking about compared to the entire US population, that’s a relatively small number.

So, I think that going to a relatively large cancer center, if that’s something that’s feasible for you – if you live in a driving distance or have the economic means to be seen at a cancer center, you’re very likely to find a physician that has expertise in DLBCL. I practice at MD Anderson, where basically most of my patients have DLBCL. And I work in a department where all patients have lymphoma of various subtypes.

So, I have a somewhat unique position, where we’re able to drill down about subtypes of subtypes of subtypes and get into the weeds. Many physicians are able to keep up with the latest information for DLBCL, but may not be able to have that level of focus. I think it’s important to consider where you’re being treated as something that’s critical. And as mentioned before, asking about clinical trials. And if the place you’re at doesn’t have them or doesn’t want  to talk about them, maybe I should think about getting a second opinion someplace that might. 

Katherine:                  

Yeah. It sounds like there are several factors to weigh when making this decision about treatment. And lately, we’ve been hearing this term shared decision-making, which basically means the patients and clinicians collaborate to make healthcare decisions. And it can help patients take a more active role in their care. So, I’d like to get your thoughts on how best to make this process work. Are there questions that patients should consider asking about their proposed treatment plan?

Dr. Westin:                 

Definitely. And I think shared decision-making is something that we view to be critical. We want everybody on board to feel like they’ve got some sense of ownership of these decisions and that they’re involved in a way that’s meaningful. At the end of the day, the patients make the decisions about which treatments are right for them but they’re trusting their healthcare team to give them good advice. This is not something that patients have expertise in. This is often out of nowhere that somebody is newly diagnosed and this is not on their radar, not something that they ever thought that they’d be sitting in the chair talking about which type of therapy for this cancer.

And so, patients are often relying on the healthcare team to give them good advice. But it’s a fair question and it’s, I think, one that’s appropriate to ask. “Are there other treatment options that we should be talking about?” Basically, exploring, “Is this option you’re presenting the option or is this what you consider to be the best option.” Oftentimes physicians, and PAs, and nurse practitioners might filter information such that, “Yeah, there are other options but here’s why they’re bad. Here’s why they’re not right for you.”

But feeling that you have some clarity about why a treatment choice was made, I think, is often quite important. For first line DLBCL, there are less options to consider. But in the relapse space, there are lots of options. And those should be discussed. And sometimes the healthcare provider, a physician, might have their favorite that they have had good experience with treatment A and therefore they recommend treatment A to the next patient. But that may not always be the right treatment for a given patient.

There may be reasons to consider other treatments. And so, asking that question, “What else is out there? What other treatments are there? Anything else that we should be considering,” I think is a fair question to ask and an important one. And if the answer is, “No, there aren’t other treatment options. This is the one that we should choose,” at least you’re aware of that by asking that question. So, I think that’s an important one to clarify.

Katherine:                  

Right. That leads me to my next question. What advice do you have for patients who don’t feel comfortable speaking up but they have questions about their treatment plan?

Dr. Westin:                 

Yeah. I think written questions sometimes are easier than trying to remember all of your questions. It always is a bit problematic when I go into a visit and a patient has six pages of paper written down for questions. We unfortunately don’t have unlimited time to get through all of those. But trying to condense into – prioritizing. Which of the questions are the ones that I feel like I must get into and which are ones that I can submit to have answered after the fact.

Perhaps the nurse could send me a note through the electronic medical record to answer questions 10-15 on my list. So, I think you can overwhelm a visit if you show up with a list of questions that are even 30-second answers might take an hour to answer all of them. That’s sometimes counterproductive, in my opinion, to have that level of detail on a single visit. But it’s fair to say, “Can I contact the healthcare team to get these answered electronically through the EMR,” or, “Can we table this and go into the questions that we didn’t get to at our next visit?” I think both of those are appropriate.

I think people that are not comfortable to push back on the physician, or the PA, or the nurse, doing things in writing sometimes feels a little bit less confrontational for people. So, I think that’s important to have as a backup option.

Katherine:                  

And I imagine caregivers can be helpful in this regard as well.

Dr. Westin:                 

Correct. Yeah. I think caregivers are a key part of that. And sometimes we go into a room and the patient says, “Nope. Don’t have any questions.”

And then, the caregiver has got a whole list of them. That’s very appropriate. Caregivers have that responsibility and that role to play sometimes, to be the key questioner.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. Are there resources to help patients and their loved ones to weigh the risks and benefits of different treatment options?

Dr. Westin:                 

There are. There’s lots of resources online and I would make sure that you go to a trusted site. Sometimes things sound too good to be true because they’re not true. But things like the lymphoma research foundation or the LLS, the Lymphoma & Leukemia Society, are great sources for information. And sometimes they may link you to other sites. You could also ask your healthcare provider does their institution have anything specific about this disease. Sometimes your healthcare provider might tell you, “Here’s the right article if you want to go read the source, the clinical trial, that was published to show why this treatment’s good.” They may show you that paper.

But online, careful how deep into the weeds you go because sometimes you can find things that aren’t correct. Trust good, trusted sources.

Katherine:                  

Do you think patients should consider a second opinion consult with a specialist?

Dr. Westin:                 

It sometimes is appropriate. Other times, there’s not a lot of time. If treatment’s needed right away, you don’t want to get sicker because you’re waiting for seeing somebody two states over and it takes two weeks to get there. Sometimes you want to start treatment and get the second opinion after you’ve got the fire put out. But the second opinion usually gives more peace of mind than actually changing treatments. But if you’ve got that thought of, “I’m not so sure this is what I’d like to do,” or, “I’d like to get more information,” a second opinion may be very appropriate.

Katherine:                  

Okay. So, to close, Dr. Westin, what would you like to leave the audience with? Are you hopeful?

Dr. Westin:                 

I am very hopeful for the future for how we can beat DLBCL. We currently are curing the majority of our patients. We’ve got new weapons which look incredible and are continuing to help more and more people. But the main engine that we do help more people – the main engine that we make progress is clinical research through clinical trials.

I think this is something that we don’t want to rely on 1970s chemotherapy as we’re getting into the 2030s, and 2040s, and 2070s. This is something that we should be able to improve upon and to move beyond. And the only way we do that is through clinical trials. So, please do ask your doctor about what clinical trial might be right for you and don’t presume that a trial is something that’s experimental or something that’s not safe or not good for me. That’s how your treatments that we’re talking about today were originally discovered was through clinical trials. So, the future is bright. We’re helping a lot of people. And we can do more and do better in the future.

Katherine:                  

Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today, Dr. Westin.

Dr. Westin:                 

Thank you for having me.

Katherine:                  

And thank you to all of our partners.

Please continue to send in your questions to question@powerpatients.org and we’ll work to get them answered on future programs.

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

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

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

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

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

See More From The Pro-Active Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Patient Toolkit

Download Guide

Related Programs:

Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Patient First Office Visit Planner

Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Patient First Office Visit Planner

WM Patient Follow-Up Visit Planner

Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Patient Follow-Up Visit Planner 

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


Transcript:

Katherine:      

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

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

Happy to be here.

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

Katherine:                  

It is.

Dr. Castillo:               

I can just call it WM for ease.

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

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

Katherine:                  

Yes. How is it staged?

Dr. Castillo:               

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

Katherine:                  

How does the condition progress?

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

That’s what it sounds like.

Dr. Castillo:               

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

Katherine:                  

Are there test results that can impact options?

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

Knowledge is power.

Dr. Castillo:               

That’s right.

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

Or if it’s something else.

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

Oh, absolutely.

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

Katherine:                  

Oh, yeah.

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

Katherine:                  

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

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

Why Follicular Lymphoma Patients Should Speak Up About Symptoms and Side Effects

Why Follicular Lymphoma Patients Should Speak Up About Symptoms and Side Effects from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Tycel Phillips urges patients to be active participants in their follicular lymphoma care and discusses the importance of sharing symptoms and side effects with your healthcare team. 

Dr. Tycel Jovelle Phillips is a Medical Oncologist in the Hematology Clinic at The University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Phillips, here.

See More from The Pro-Active Follicular Lymphoma Patient Toolkit

Related Programs:

Follicular Lymphoma: What Treatment Options Are Available?

Follicular Lymphoma: What Treatment Options Are Available?

What Factors Are Considered When Choosing a Follicular Lymphoma Treatment?

What Are the Treatment Goals for Follicular Lymphoma?

What Are the Treatment Goals for Follicular Lymphoma?


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Let’s take a moment to talk about patient self-advocacy. Patients can sometimes feel like they’re bothering their healthcare team with their questions and their comments. Why is it important for patients to speak up when it comes to symptoms and side effects?

Dr. Phillips:                 

Well, for the side effect part it’s important because your physician can’t potentially prevent the worst thing or further development of side effects. Nobody can. And also, they can’t prevent you from going to the hospital if you don’t let them know you have this certain side effects.

So, it’s very important to communicate side effects, because for the most part there are logical next steps that we can implement to either eliminate the side effects or hopefully prevent them from future treatment regimens. And also, other concerns that you may have. I mean, you only get one life. And this is your body. Then for the best part, it’s best to communicate any concerns that you may have in regard to treatment, or any questions you may have so that you are well aware.

You can’t really fight this appropriately without sort of being well aware of what you’re dealing with, what we’re using to take care of the cancer, and what potential side effects may come up. Again, so we can, again, have you have the best experience possible to try to get your cancer under control. I try to explain to my patients, “I don’t want you to wait until the next visit if you have issues.” I mean, we need to sort of manage these in real time. Even things we don’t take care of right then and there, again, it gives us a heads up and a head start to try to take care of these problems the next time you come to the clinic.

Emerging Follicular Lymphoma Treatment Approaches

Emerging Follicular Lymphoma Treatment Approaches from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Tycel Phillips explores the latest follicular lymphoma treatment approaches. Dr. Phillips discusses CAR-T cell therapy and inhibitor treatments and provides advice on clinical trial participation. 

Dr. Tycel Jovelle Phillips is a Medical Oncologist in the Hematology Clinic at The University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Phillips, here.

See More from The Pro-Active Follicular Lymphoma Patient Toolkit

Related Programs:

Follicular Lymphoma: What Treatment Options Are Available?

Follicular Lymphoma: What Treatment Options Are Available?

What Are the Treatment Goals for Follicular Lymphoma?

What Are the Treatment Goals for Follicular Lymphoma?

What Factors Are Considered When Choosing a Follicular Lymphoma Treatment?


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Okay. Are there emerging approaches for treating follicular lymphoma that patients should know about?

Dr. Phillips:                 

There are. So, there are some more exciting data that’s coming out, specifically looking at CAR-T, which is chimeric antigen receptor therapy. So, these are augmented T-cells that they collect from the patient, they help recognize – they help to modify those cancer cells to recognize the tumor more appropriately. And they target those tumor cells through a receptor called CD19 that’s present on the tumor.

So, that therapy has shown a significant overall response rate in follicular lymphoma. Even in very heavily pretreated patients. Right now, we’re still waiting on a longer follow up as far as the duration of the response, but as of right now it is a very encouraging therapy.

The downside to that therapy is that you can only receive it at select centers because they have to be a therapeutic approved center. So, you can’t just go sometimes to your regular oncologist’s in say, Skoboken or wherever, and get this treatment. So that’s one downside to that and also, it’s a very expensive treatment and you need insurance approval to cover that. Some of the side effects from that treatment we have gotten better at controlling, such as cytokine release syndrome, which can cause fever, low blood pressures, difficulty breathing.

That typically happens within a set period of time after the infusion of the [inaudible] [26:49] Liso-cel? Maybe chemo? The audio fully cuts out. and modified T-cells. And then there’s also what we call neurotoxicity, meaning you can have some neurological complications. Which, again, we’ve become better at managing. There are a couple CAR-T products on the market right now; all of them seem very comparable and also effective in follicular lymphoma. There’s also treatments called bispecific antibodies, these are like causally off the shelf products, except they use an antibody.

And in this antibody it has sort of two receptors. So, earlier we talked about Rituximab, which is a CD20 antibody. The bispecifics have a CD20 antibody and a CD3 antibody set. So, they bind to the tumor and also bind to your T-cells. And with the binding to the T-cells, they call it T-cell activation and expansion. And it will utilize your own T-cells to fight off the cancer. So, because these bispecifics are given as an off the shelf product, they can likely be able to be given in more accessible areas.

So, you won’t have to select centers to be given. There are still some complications with those, such as CRS and neurotoxicity, but early reports indicate that they’re much less severe and less frequency than what we see with CAR-T. But as of right now, neither the duration of responses of these treatments are still to be determined. So, again, these are two exciting sort of avenues that are moving forward for patients with follicular lymphoma that will be further developed and sort of be expanded on in the coming years.

Katherine:                  

I’d like to just go back for a second and ask you about inhibitor treatments.

Dr. Phillips:                 

Sure. So, as of right now, CAR-T with the chimeric antigen receptor therapy treatment is only approved for patients with relapsed refractory disease. The bispecific antibody therapies are only available in clinical trial. There are some other sort of cyclin inhibitors that haven’t gotten approval. So, we have the PO3 kind of Delta inhibitors, which inhibit the PO3 kind of pathway in a patient with follicular lymphoma.

There were four approved agents in this class of drugs. We had umbralisib, duvelisib, copanlisib, and idelalisib. More recently, two of those, idelalisib and duvelisib, have removed their indications for follicular lymphoma.

So, as of right now we have copanlisib which is an IDP kind of three dose inhibitor and umbralisib, which is an oral agent for the PO3 dose kind of inhibitor. So, both of those agents are typically usually targeted in the third line and beyond. So, patients who fail at least two lines of therapy. We also have tazemetostat, which is an EZH2 inhibitor, that was most recently improved. So, EZH2 mutations occur in about 20% of patients for follicular lymphoma.

But tazemetostat was actually approved for those with and without the mutation as it did show some efficacy in both. It appeared that the overall response rate was a bit higher than those who had an EZH2 mutation, with the duration of the response appears to be equivalent. But I do think for most parts in that situation, for those who lack the mutation the drug is typically used for patients who are unfit for other therapies. Whereas those who have the mutation, it typically probably will be used a bit earlier.

Katherine:                  

What about clinical trials? How do they fit in?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, for patients with relapsed refractory disease and even some patients with untreated disease, clinical trials are sometimes your best avenue for getting some of these new and promising therapeutics before they get approval. I know sometimes patients are very cautious about clinical trials because they don’t want to be guinea pigs. But I would say all treatments that we offer you have started in clinical trials. And this is the only way to really advance the field. So, if your treating physician has a clinical trial for you, I would strongly recommend patients consider that.

Because, again, they are typically offering you something that they can’t offer you as a standard care, insurance approved treatment. And for the most part, they’re either adding drugs to what we do as far as standard of care treatment approach or offer you something that is very promising in the relapsed refractory setting or upfront setting. That compares very favorably to what we would give you as a standard of care option. That allows you to get this option sooner and earlier when you’re in better shape and less sort of beat up from the other treatments that we would give you.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Phillips, to close, what would you like to leave the audience with? Are you hopeful?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, I think follicular lymphoma, and lymphoma in general, we are having a better understanding of the biology of the cancer, certain things that are important to the cancer, and certain avenues that we can treat the cancer and avoid some toxicities that have sort of plagued us before. So, I think moving forward there is a ton of research going into improving outcomes for patients with lymphoma, and follicular lymphoma, in general. There are a ton of other treatment options that are coming down the pipe way.

So, I think patients with follicular lymphoma should be very hopeful and encouraged that we will just continue to improve the quality of life and also the duration that they can live with this cancer. I mean, as of right now, until we can cure this cancer, our real goal is to continue to buy you more time. And time buys you more treatments. And most of the treatments that we are developing and are coming, again, down the pipeline are less toxic than some of the things we had 5, 10, definitely 15, 20 years ago.

So, your experience and your quality of life will be improved, and these treatments will also give you more longevity than you could have ever expected. So, patients with lymphoma are living a lot longer and that’s not an important thing to remember. Not hopeful, not – sorry, it’s not hopeless, even though we may say we can’t cure your cancer, the goal is as of right now is to turn this into a chronic disease such as any other chronic disease. Something that you can live with, while managing control. Hopefully, you will continue to enjoy your life and your life won’t be cut short by this cancer.

What Treatment Options Are Available for Relapsed Follicular Lymphoma?

What Treatment Options Are Available for Relapsed Follicular Lymphoma? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Tycel Phillips answers a patient question regarding relapsed follicular lymphoma and discusses available treatment approaches for relapsed patients.

Dr. Tycel Jovelle Phillips is a Medical Oncologist in the Hematology Clinic at The University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Phillips, here.

See More from The Pro-Active Follicular Lymphoma Patient Toolkit

Related Programs:

What are the stages of Follicular Lymphoma?

What Are the Stages of Follicular Lymphoma?

Dr. Tycel Phillips reviews how follicular lymphoma patients are monitored during remission, including frequency of office visits.

Monitoring Follicular Lymphoma Patients During Remission

Why Follicular Lymphoma Patients Should Speak Up About Symptoms and Side Effects

Why Follicular Lymphoma Patients Should Speak Up About Symptoms and Side Effects


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

We received this question from an audience member prior to the program. Angela asks, “What if I relapse after treatment? What are my options then?”

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, a lot of that, again, depends on the timing. If you relapse early, obviously whatever we gave you in the frontline we would not repeat. And again, if it’s within the 24-month period, again, that takes you on the road of POD24. Wherein patients who are fit enough, it would take you to a route where you would actually probably get a transplant. It’s consolidation to extend our true progression sabbatical.

If you relapse after 24 months, that would really depend on what you received in the frontline because some of these agents can be repeated. If we don’t repeat what you’ve had in a frontline setting – so again, if you’ve got R chemo, then a second line setting, normally what we would do now, based on published data from the augment study, is we would typically treat these patients with Rituximab and lenalidomide, which is that oral medication.

That’s typically if you did receive lenalidomide in the frontline setting and you would not want to repeat that, then we would typically give you R chemo in a second line setting. Again, in most of those situations, it would be RCP or Bendamustine and Rituximab.

Monitoring Follicular Lymphoma Patients During Remission

Monitoring Follicular Lymphoma Patients During Remission from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Tycel Phillips reviews how follicular lymphoma patients are monitored during remission, including frequency of office visits. 

Dr. Tycel Jovelle Phillips is a Medical Oncologist in the Hematology Clinic at The University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Phillips, here.

See More from The Pro-Active Follicular Lymphoma Patient Toolkit

Related Programs:

What are the stages of Follicular Lymphoma?

What Are the Stages of Follicular Lymphoma?

What Treatment Options Are Available for Relapsed Follicular Lymphoma?

What Treatment Options Are Available for Relapsed Follicular Lymphoma?

Why Follicular Lymphoma Patients Should Speak Up About Symptoms and Side Effects

Why Follicular Lymphoma Patients Should Speak Up About Symptoms and Side Effects


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

If someone receives treatment and then goes into remission, how are they monitored?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, there’s a couple of different ways you can go about it.

Historically, what we would do is we would actually sometimes get CAT scans. But we’ve sort of pulled back from that in recent years. So, as of right now, the recommendation is really just clinical observation, meaning what I call well baby visits. Meaning I will see you in clinic at least every three months for the first year after completion of therapy. We do a system assessment, we’ll do a physical exam, we’ll do labs. Unless there is really something that at the completion of therapy that I’m concerned about, we won’t typically do any imaging.

We reserve imaging until there is a concern at some point, whether you have symptoms, there’s a lab issue, or there’s some other finding that comes up that means that we have to repeat pictures. So those visits I’ll do typically every three months for the first year, spaced out that every four months for the second year, post treatment. And then every six months up until about year four. And then it’ll become a yearly visit thereafter, as long as you continue to remain well without symptoms and nothing on an exam that’s concerning.

Follicular Lymphoma: What Treatment Options Are Available?

Follicular Lymphoma: What Treatment Options Are Available? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Tycel Phillips provides an overview of follicular lymphoma treatments available to newly diagnosed patients and reviews the pros and cons of oral regimens and stem cell transplant. 

Dr. Tycel Jovelle Phillips is a Medical Oncologist in the Hematology Clinic at The University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Phillips, here.

See More from The Pro-Active Follicular Lymphoma Patient Toolkit

Related Programs:

What Factors Are Considered When Choosing a Follicular Lymphoma Treatment?

Emerging Follicular Lymphoma Treatment Approaches

Emerging Follicular Lymphoma Treatment Approaches

Why Follicular Lymphoma Patients Should Speak Up About Symptoms and Side Effects

Why Follicular Lymphoma Patients Should Speak Up About Symptoms and Side Effects


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Now that we’ve discussed factors that can impact treatment decisions, would you walk us through the currently available follicular lymphoma treatment approaches? And who they might be right for?

Dr. Phillips:                 

Sure. So, we’ll start with the newly diagnosed or untreated patient. So, again, if you’re newly diagnosed or untreated, your options are the monoclonal antibody, Rituximab. Again, that’s a CD20 monoclonal antibody.

That is typically given once weekly for four weeks and can be repeated, if need be, after a break. And that’s usually reserved for patients who have minimal symptoms, low burden disease. Because, again, data has shown that the bulkier the disease, you’re likely not to have a very durable or deep response with just simulating Rituximab. Additional options include Rituximab plus chemotherapy.

So, we have regimens such as CDP, which is Cytoxan, vincristine, and prednisone. Cytoxan and vincristine being a steroid, prednisone being — sorry, Cytoxan and vincristine being a chemotherapy agent, and prednisone being a steroid. We have our bendamustine, bendamustine being a chemotherapy agent. There’s R-CHOP, which is Cytoxan, vincristine, Adriamycin, and prednisone. And sometimes that is reserved, because unlike the other two, R-CHOP can only be given once because of the accumulation of the anthracycline.

You can only have so much of that in a lifetime before you run a risk of cardiac toxicity.

Katherine:                  

Oh.

Dr. Phillips:                 

And also, R-CHOP as of right now is a standard of care for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. Which every patient with follicular lymphoma has a chance of transforming into diffuse large B-cell lymphoma at some point. So, we tend to try to reserve R-CHOP if we can. Additionally, more recently, there was a study called Relevance, which evaluated RPMO versus an agent called lenalidomide plus Rituximab, what we call R squared.

So, it was designed as a superiority study, but what came out of it is R squared is probably equivalent, not better, than R chemo. So that is also an option up front. With lenalidomide it’s a little bit different than the other agents, which all give it intravenously, meaning through the vein. But lenalidomide is an oral medication, that you would take 21 days on, and seven days off. And that’s given in conjunction with the Rituximab. And you typically would take that for 12 cycles, or about a year of treatment.

Whereas the chemotherapy regimens that I mentioned before, are typically given for six cycles. Meaning you’ll be taking it for a duration of 18 weeks or 24 weeks. So around four and half to six months for the chemotherapy. Thereafter, it’s a bit controversial, but some patients can then transition to what we call Rituximab maintenance.

Where you would get Rituximab every other month for a period of two to three years. Typically, two years, as a way to delay the return of the cancer. So, R maintenance we know of improves your progression of survival, so the time until the cancer comes back. And there is no survival benefit with maintenance at this point. So, it is in some ways a bit controversial. Especially now, given the pandemic.

Katherine:                  

What about stem cell transplant? Is that an option?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, for up front, that’s usually not something that we typically do. So, for stem cell transplantation, there are two types of stem cell transplantation. There’s one called an Autologous Stem Cell Transplantation, which is basically really a stem cell rescue.

You get a high dose of chemotherapy after stem cells are collected from you and those stem cells are given back to rescue your body from the chemo. That is typically reserved for what we call high risk patients. So, we give you an initial up front chemotherapy regimen. And if your cancer comes back within less than 24 months of completion of that therapy, you fall into what we call a POD24 category. Which means Progression of Disease within 24 months.

We do know those patients are at higher risk, than patients who stay in remission for at least 24 months or longer. So, if we look at overall survival for those POD24 patients, about half of those patients will succumb to their disease within a five-year period. Which is much different for what we see with the standard for follicular lymphoma patients. So, and that POD24 category it does appear that Autologous Stem Cell Transplantation is beneficial in that patient population. As well as an Allogenic Stem Cell Transplant. So, an allogenic transplant is when you get immune cells from another donor.

So, “allo” meaning from a different person. So, in that sense, you get sort of temporized, and they would give you donor lymphocytes. And those lymphocytes themselves would try to fight off your cancer. So, an Auto transplant is mainly just chemo; an Allo transplant, the donor cells help fight off the cancer.

Katherine:                  

Right.

Dr. Phillips:                 

There are complications to both, which is why they’re not typically given up front. The Allo transplant probably has more risk of complications as well. Those cells can also recognize your body as being foreign and try to fight them off because they don’t originate from you. And there’s also just a risk of other death from that procedure. So, all those have to be taken with a bit of caution. And for the Allo transplant, it’s generally only recommended if you have that, a sibling donor. Because there’s much less risk of complications than versus you get an unrelated donor.