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What Do You Need to Know About Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL)?

What Do You Need to Know about Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL)? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 After a diffuse large B-cell Lymphoma (DLBCL) diagnosis, what’s important for patients and their loved ones to know? This animated video provides an understanding of DLBCL, available treatment options and lists key steps for becoming an empowered patient.

See More From The Pro-Active DLBCL Patient Toolkit


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What Is Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma (DLBCL)?

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Essential Testing Following a DLBCL Diagnosis 


Transcript:

Hi, my name is Dr. Williams, and I am a hematologist-oncologist specializing in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma—commonly known as DLBCL.

Today, I’m going to talk about what you need to know if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with DLBCL.

First, it’s important to understand your disease.

DLBCL is the most common form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which is a type of cancer that begins in the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is part of the body’s immune system and includes tissue and organs that create, carry, and store white blood cells. DLBCL is caused when white blood cells called lymphocytes rapidly grow out of control.

It may be localized to the lymph nodes or may occur OUTSIDE of the lymphatic system in areas such as the thyroid, skin, breast, bone, testes, gastrointestinal tract—or even other organs in the body.

In many cases, an early sign of the disease is swollen lymph nodes. Patients may also experience symptoms that can include fever, unintended weight loss, night sweats, and fatigue. These are known as “B” symptoms. Depending on where the lymphoma is in the body, it could cause other symptoms as well.

Next, it’s important to understand how DLBCL is typically treated.

Because it is fast-growing, treatment usually begins quickly to help control the disease and its symptoms. The standard of treatment is a regimen called R-CHOP, which combines chemotherapy and a monoclonal antibody. This approach can lead to disease remission in many patients.

If a patient doesn’t respond to initial chemotherapy treatment or relapses, then several other types of treatment are considered, such as:

  • Alternative chemotherapy
  • Stem cell transplant
  • Targeted treatment
  • CAR T-cell therapy
  • And clinical trials

When making treatment decisions, factors such as where the disease is in your body, and lab test results can impact available options. And potential side effects, a patient’s age, health, and lifestyle are also taken into consideration.

In addition to understanding your disease and treatment options, it’s vital to be an active partner in your care. So, how can you take steps to be an empowered patient?

  • Educate yourself about DLBCL.
  • Consider a second opinion or consult with a DLBCL specialist immediately following a diagnosis.
  • Write down your questions before and during your appointments. Visit powerfulpatients.org/dlbcl to access office visit planners to help you organize your notes.
  • Understand the goals of treatment and ask whether a clinical trial might be right for you.
  • Bring a friend or loved one to your appointments to help you recall information and to keep track of important details.
  • Finally, remember that you have a voice in your care decisions. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and to share your concerns. You are your own best advocate.

DLBCL Treatment Decisions: What’s Right for You?

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

When considering therapy for diffuse large b-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), what determines the best treatment for YOU? Lymphoma expert Dr. Loretta Nastoupil shares key decision-making factors, emerging research, and tools for partnering with your healthcare team.

Dr. Loretta Nastoupil is the Director of the Lymphoma Outcomes Database and Section Chief of New Drug Development in the Department of Lymphoma/Myeloma, Division of Cancer Medicine at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Nastoupil here.

Download Program Guide

See More From The Pro-Active DLBCL Patient Toolkit


Related Programs:

DLBCL Patient First Office Visit


Transcript:

Katherine:

All right. Hello and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today, we’re going to discuss how you can be proactive in your DLBCL care and work with your healthcare team to find the best treatment path for you.

Before we meet our guest, let’s review a few important details. The reminder email you received about this program contains a link to program materials. If you haven’t already, click that link to access information to follow along during this 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.

All right. Let’s find out who we’re talking to today. Joining me is Dr. Loretta Nastoupil. Thank you so much for coming on the show with us. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Nastoupil:

Sure. Thanks, Katherine. I’m Loretta Nastoupil. I’m in the Department of Lymphoma and Myeloma at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. I’ve been here since 2013, and I currently lead our new drug development team in our lymphoma section.

Katherine:

Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us. So, let’s start with a basic question, what is diffuse large B-cell lymphoma or DLBCL?

Dr. Nastoupil:

That’s a really important question. And I spend a lot of time when I first meet patients explaining to them there are a lot of different terms that are thrown around in lymphoma. Particularly, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a term many patients will hear and even use. And I remind them that that is sort of an umbrella term that describes essentially every lymphoma that’s not Hodgkin lymphoma.

So, it’s really important to recognize that there are unique types of large cell lymphoma. And almost everything that we care about in terms of what the treatment will look like, whether or not we’re aiming to cure someone, or just maintain adequate disease control is primarily focused on the type of lymphoma someone has.

So, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is the most common lymphoma subtype. Just in terms of its descriptive name, it is a B-cell cancer. And it is comprised of large cells that are essentially effacing or replacing the architecture of a lymph node.

There are different types, which I’m sure we’ll discuss. But, again, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is our most frequent lymphoma we encounter.

Katherine:

What is B cell? What does that mean?

Dr. Nastoupil:

Sure. So, stepping back a little bit, I think most people when they know or have known someone with cancer, it is described as the organ it originates in. So, breast cancer’s a great example. That usually is breast tissue that is abnormal. It has malignant potential. And if it spreads beyond its capsule and specifically goes to a lymph node or another organ, generally that’s bad news.

Lymphoma is a cancer of the immune system. And there are various types of immune cells. B cells – they mature on and become plasma cells when they’re behaving normally. And their job is to generate antibodies so that we can develop immunity from exposures or infections we’ve had and we’ve recovered from.

So, if you develop a cancer in the B cell, depending what stage of development – if it’s a stem cell, for instance, that can lead to acute leukemia. If it’s an immature B cell, meaning it has not developed into a plasma cell, that’s, generally, where diffuse large B-cell lymphoma arises. So, these cells tend to live or spend most of their time in lymph nodes because they’re trying to mimic the behavior of a normal B cell where they’re waiting there for that exposure to happen.

So, these are generally not cancers that we try to cut out before they spread. They’re not spreading cancers in terms of how we generally think of those, meaning you’re not going to use surgery to treat it. And, oftentimes, there are malignant B cells kind of dispersed throughout the body because if you think about how your immune system should work, it should be able to fight off an infection anywhere and everywhere.

So, I think those are key things to keep in mind because oftentimes patients will have widespread involvement or lymph node involvement or bone involvement, and that’s just the nature of the disease and not necessarily something that is so far progressed we didn’t catch it early enough.

Katherine:

I see. Are there subtypes of DLBCL?

Dr. Nastoupil:

Yes, absolutely. So, again, stepping back, over the last 20 years, we have tried to understand why we’re able to cure about 60 percent of patients. But for the 40 percent that were not cured with standard treatment, their outcomes were generally poor, meaning most of those patients died as a result of their lymphoma.

And we’ve approached all of them the same. So, that would imply to us that there’s something inherently different about the large cell lymphoma cases that don’t respond to standard treatment. So, an attempt to try and define who those patients are before we initiate treatment, as technology has evolved, we’ve interrogated some of those biopsy samples to try and understand is there an underlying biologic rationale as to why some patients would have very, very disparate outcomes?

So, what we’ve learned is there are genes that are differentiated between different subtypes of large cell lymphoma. And we’ve described those subtypes based off those gene expression patterns. So, there is a germinal center type of large cell lymphoma. There’s a non-germinal center or activated B-cell type.

And then it gets much more complicated meaning there’s probably far more than just two subtypes. Right now, we’re describing at least five different subtypes. I think what’s important for patients to know is that we view this in terms of being able to predict who’s not going to have the typical course. And if we can define who they are, we might pursue something different, including potentially a clinical trial.

So, the subtypes I care the most about right now in terms of defining are the double hit or double expressors, those with other features that might lend itself to targeted therapy.

So, this is an evolving field and will continue I’m sure – that will have more subtypes defined over time.

Katherine:

Let’s look into testing for a moment. What tests are essential when making a diagnosis?

Dr. Nastoupil:

So, at the beginning, we clearly have to have tissue. I always say, “Tissue is the issue.” So, we may have features that are suggestive of lymphoma. And even sometimes radiologists will describe a CT scan or an x-ray and say, “This looks very suspicious for lymphoma.” But unless we actually have a biopsy that confirms lymphoma, we won’t go as far as to render a diagnosis in the absence of a biopsy.

Now our biopsy approaches have evolved over the last few years. The gold standard or what I would consider to be the best approach currently is to actually have an incisional biopsy meaning we find a lymph node that looks suspicious.

And we either remove the entire lymph node or a large section of that lymph node to render a diagnosis because there’s various things we need to do to that lymph node.

So, generally, we do what’s called immunohistochemistry staining. So, we stain either surface markers of those cells or markers within the cell because cancer is defined as having an abnormal clone or a population of cells that all have the same features. And they’re able to survive even if the host is not thriving.

So, that’s, essentially, what we’re trying to define. Are there cells in this lymph node that are all the same? And what features do they share in common? And then we will also do something called flow cytometry where we’ll take these cells and essentially sort them according to those surface markers. And that will also tell us – is this a B-cell clone, a T-cell clone, and what features would distinguish one lymphoma from another?

And the last thing that we need tissue for are what we call molecular studies, where we may learn about either genes that are rearranged or mutated within those cells that, again, may help us further classify the lymphoma and, again, group them into higher or potentially lower risk groups.

Katherine:

What do the results of these tests tell us about prognosis and treatment choices?

Dr. Nastoupil:

So, again, everything kind of hinges on what type of lymphoma we’re facing. So, for instance, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is what we call an aggressive lymphoma. So, what does that mean? It can grow very quickly. It can take over the patient in terms of resources. So, generally, patients will have weight loss and sometimes even constitutional symptoms or B symptoms, such as night sweats and fevers, fatigue.

In the absence of treatment, it is universally fatal. Now, that timeline can vary from one person to another. But, generally, within a year, if we don’t treat large cell lymphoma, generally, that’s not survivable.

But as I’ve also mentioned for at least 60 percent of patients and potentially even more, we can cure it with standard treatment. There are other types of lymphoma, such as indolent B-cell lymphomas where actually the goal is not cure, but patients may actually have a normal life expectancy meaning they will face multiple treatment courses over their lifetime. But at the end of the day, they should live just as long as someone their same age and sex who doesn’t have lymphoma.

So, again, that’s gonna be a vastly different treatment course and outcome. So, sometimes, when you’re sitting in the waiting room and you’re sharing your journey with others, you have to keep in mind that you may all be using the same term, non-Hodgkin lymphoma. But our expectations in terms of to and outcomes might be vastly different.

Katherine:

From person to person. What are the stages of DLBCL?

Dr. Nastoupil:

So, we currently use what’s called the Ann Arbor staging system. And, again, this is very different from the staging applied in solid tumors.

And so, the way we define stage is based off where the tumor is in relationship to the diaphragm. So, if you have the disease just in lymph nodes and it’s all confined to one side of the diaphragm, it’s either gonna be stage one or two. And how we distinguish between one or two is just really not are they in close proximity and something that we would fit in one radiation field.

If you have disease that’s above and below the diaphragm, that’s generally at least Stage 3. Stage 4 is generally when it’s now outside of the lymph node. So, what we call extranodal location. So, those are generally organs, lung, liver, skin, bone, etcetera.

It can be very complicated in that you could have just one extranodal site. So, say you just have stomach involvement, or you just have one area of the bone. That could be a 1E.

So, it’s important to recognize every patient has a stage. What that means is whether or not we would give a full course of therapy in terms of systemic treatment that goes through the vein or maybe a shortened course in radiation is dependent on that stage.

Katherine:

Now that we understand a bit more about DLBCL and how it’s staged, let’s move on to treatment options. Many factors come in to play when making a treatment decision, including a patient’s age and overall health. So, let’s walk through some of these considerations. Let’s start with treatment goals. What does this mean exactly? And what are the goals of treatment for DLBCL?

Dr. Nastoupil:

Great questions. For diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, my goal was that I want to eradicate this disease with one course of therapy. Now one course of therapy, again, may mean six cycles of treatment, or it may mean three to four plus/minus radiation. And that kind of gets back to the discussion we just had with stage. But the goal is to make it go away and never come back. Now, oncologists are eternal optimists.

And I saw this because we would not be oncologists if we weren’t always focused and hoping for the best outcomes for our patients.

Katherine:

Sure.

Dr. Nastoupil:

So, we, generally, when we’re counseling patients tend to keep the focus on what is the chance that I can cure this, and we use words like cure oftentimes. But there’s always those caveats. And those caveats are – we can’t really look into our crystal ball and predict the future for every given patient. So, we use tools to help us risk stratify patients, meaning if we took 100 people like a given person, we could predict the outcome for the majority of those patients.

So, with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma with no high-risk features – so, that gets back to the molecular subtype. Do they have double hit features – yes or no? The stage and something we call IPI, International Prognostic Index, that takes into account some clinical features. As you mentioned, patient specific factors, their age, their stage, some lab values, whether or not they have more than one extranodal variable. Then we can generally predict.

Again, if I have 100 patients with good risk IPI, 80 percent of them are likely to be cured and alive and well five to 10 years later. If I have someone with poor risk features that may not change exactly what I do for that patient, but that may help them and me in terms of should I be pursuing a trial to potentially have access to something that’s better than this standard option? Or how does this impact their planning?

Some people are close to retirement. Some people have specific life goals, such as a wedding or an anniversary that sometimes we use those sorts of calculators to best predict the future to inform some of that treatment. So, those are what we call sort of the characteristics coming into treatment.

There are comorbidities or sort of concomitant medical problems, such as heart disease, sometimes diabetes. But, generally, more often than not, it’s how healthy your heart is because my objective with treatment is to cure this.

Cure generally results from chemotherapy. And we can spend some time talking about why have we not moved away from chemotherapy in this disease? But, generally, that does involve chemo because that’s generally how I can eradicate this tumor.

But there are certain situations where that chemo may not be beneficial to a given a patient. It usually has to do with how healthy their heart function is at baseline. So, again, we look at all of these factors. What is their risk with the disease? What is their risk from the toxicity of treatment? And am I able to achieve that goal, which is to eradicate the disease?

Katherine: Well, let’s talk about chemotherapy. Why is that still part of the regimen in a treatment plan?

Dr. Nastoupil:

Yes, I’m gonna borrow an analogy that one of my colleagues Jason Westin uses all the time. The CHOP chemotherapy that is the backbone of our treatment for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma was developed in 1976.

There is no other technology that we would commonly use in our day to day. You wouldn’t still be driving your car you had in 1976. Clearly, our methods of communication in regards to phones have changed dramatically. So, why are we still using chemotherapy that was developed in 1976?

Katherine:

True.

Dr. Nastoupil:

Well, it’s not for lack of trying. Over the last four or five decades, we have been trying to improve upon this. And it works. It works for at least 60 percent of patients. When we tack on targeted therapy, such as immune therapy where we use an antibody that will stick to the surface of a marker on that lymphoma cell and then use the immune system to do some of the heavy lifting, we can probably improve those cure rates from 60 percent to potentially as high as 80 percent. That’s really been the only substantial improvement we’ve made.

Now, there is one caveat. So, just recently, we heard a press release of the POLARIX study, which is the first trial in the last four decades that could potentially replace R-CHOP as the standard of care.

We don’t have the full results yet. It’s essentially utilizing a drug called polatuzumab, which is an antibody drug conjugate. It’s essentially chemo on a stick. But we’re delivering chemo specifically to (CD)79b, which is a target on B cell lymphomas and modifying the CHOPs. We’re not getting rid of chemo altogether. We’re dropping one of the chemotherapy agents and replacing it with this targeted agent. So, it’s essentially CHP plus rituximab and polatuzumab might be the new standard.

But, again, that’s based off many, many efforts to try and replace CHOP. And we’re making slow incremental improvements, but we’re still keeping the therapies that tend to work.

Katherine:

And that makes sense. What about biomarker testing results?

Dr. Nastoupil:

So, in a perfect world, we would be able to take a patient’s specific tumor, sequence it, and provide a recipe or a solution to solve the problem. And that’s what a biomarker is.

It’s something that’s unique to the patient’s given tumor that then would inform what is the best treatment. So, we’re lacking in some ways a perfect scenario. What we do have, as what I’ve mentioned, some molecular studies where we can look for specific genes or rearrangements in the genes that may help us predict the future.

And in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, one of the most common examples of this is what we call double hit where we’re looking for two genes – MYC, which is M-Y-C, and either BCL2 or BCL6. These are genes that we all have. It’s just the lymphoma has moved these genes into sort of more of a prime real estate location that makes it a little bit more resistant to standard treatments.

So, if you move those genes in that tumor DNA, we call that our rearrangement. And we pick that up based off a FISH study. And if both of those features or all three of those features are there, we call it a double or triple hit.

That’s a potential biomarker that may suggest that particularly R-CHOP or standard treatment may not be the best strategy. There’s some limitations to that conclusion in that that’s not true for every patient. For about 20 percent to 30 percent of patients with double hit features, they’re gonna do really well with R-CHOP.

So, that’s why we are lacking in how effective these biomarkers are. And it would be great if we had additional biomarkers that were more precise or could tell us more than just that the standard may not be optimal.

So, that’s where we’re spending a great deal of time and effort in our research efforts just trying to identify biomarkers that may tell us what’s the best approach for a given patient or what we like to call personalized medicine.

Katherine:

Exactly. Does treatment typically start right away?

Dr. Nastoupil:

Hopefully. So, what I mean by that is everyone has to have a diagnosis. And a common story that I hear is that patients generally know when they’re not doing well. They may not be able to pinpoint I have lymphoma.

But they usually will see a primary care doctor or depending on the location of a lymph node if it’s palpable. Oftentimes, men when they’re shaving will pick up a lymph node in the neck. Or women if they’re having a mammogram will pick up a lymph node in the axillae or under the arm. So, that may lead to further investigation based off the location of a lymph node.

Or it may just be those constitutional symptoms where people aren’t feeling well, and a primary care doctor is their first stop. Lymphoma is rare. So, usually it’s a diagnosis of exclusion or something that we eventually get around to. That is important, but it’s not that important.

So, what I mean by that is I hope patients don’t have any guilt or regret if they’ve been sitting on symptoms for a while or even if their primary care doctor missed signs and symptoms of lymphoma because, again, it’s not very specific. There are a lot of things that can cause similar presentations.

But once we have imaging that is suggestive of lymphoma and then we have a diagnosis that’s rendered, again, followed by a biopsy, generally, then it is important that they seek care.

And they get that care in a timely fashion. What’s kind of interesting is the longer time from diagnosis to the initiation of treatment in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is usually associated with a better prognosis. So, that’s sort of counterintuitive.

One would think that the sooner you get started on treatment, the better your outcome will be. I think the challenge with interpreting that data is that the longer time from diagnosis to initiation of treatment usually means that that patient’s disease is one that lends itself to the affordability of time to be seen by specialists, have all of your staging studies completed, have a return visit to go over all those results and have a shared decision-making process in terms of deciding what’s the best treatment for you, and then getting started on that treatment.

So, those patients where that is agreeable and acceptable, they’re probably gonna do very well.

For the patients who are really sick and they need to get started on treatment sooner rather later as a result of their disease putting them at risk, either as a result of organs not functioning well or substantial symptom burden as a result of their disease, then they need to get started. So, that’s usually why their course from diagnosis to treatment is generally shorter.

So, again, it all kind of depends on a given situation. But with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, I tell patients usually within three months of knowing you have lymphoma, we need to get you on treatment, or you’re gonna be sick.

Katherine:

I can imagine. You touched on this a few moments ago. But what do you feel is the patient’s role in this whole decision?

Dr. Nastoupil:

So, I’ve actually been a patient myself, and I have mixed feelings about it. I think oftentimes as an oncologist, we share decision-making when we don’t know the exact path forward, meaning if there’s something controversial or you have more than one option, generally, we kind of put out all the information to the patient, and we want you to be part of that decision-making.

And I think that’s important because we’re all humans, and we all want liberties. And we want our patient rights to be acknowledged and respected. And that’s important. I think sometimes though that also burdens patients with making decisions when they may feel they don’t have all of the information to make an informed decision.

But your role as the patient is you know your body better than anyone. And, generally, if there’s something that just doesn’t fit well or sit well with you, be vocal about it. So, I’ve been in a situation where I felt like I had to speak up a few times, and not that I have all the answers. And I am an oncologist. So, I generally have more insight than others.

But, generally, I was right in that, again, I think we know our own bodies. And when you feel that something is being missed or maybe not given the time and attention it deserves, speak up. You also have a role in making sure that the diagnosis is correct.

So, I generally advise all patients because everything hinges on the diagnosis in lymphoma, more so than the staging, more so than sometimes even the treatment itself.

Getting a second opinion can be incredibly valuable because you have another pathologist that will lay eyes on this biopsy. And lymphoma is rare. So, a second opinion can be incredibly valuable, and that’s usually something driven by a patient more so than an oncologist. Though some oncologists – and I would say the majority – are open to an opinion because they too would like information or confirmation that they’re on the right path.

Katherine:

Certainly.

Dr. Nastoupil:

The other thing that I think patients can have role is exploring what trial options are out there and available to them. I think that is sometimes a tough subject to discuss. Clinical trials are not only for patients who have failed all the standard treatments.

And it’s usually not an option of hospice versus a clinical trial. That’s absolutely an inappropriate time to consider a clinical trial. And, generally, there are trials at any point in a patient’s journey where there is some controversy as to the best path forward.

Again, I’ve been discussing the last 40 years of trying to improve upon R-CHOP is because 60 percent of patients were cured, but 40 percent were not. There is always a scenario where we could do better. And, generally, the only way we will improve upon outcomes is to conduct important rational clinical trials.

So, sometimes, it’s as simple as reaching out, participating in programs such as this, reaching out to the Lymphoma & Leukemia society or the Lymphoma Research Foundation to just explore what are your trial options. They may not be appropriate for you right now but at least understanding where there is an opportunity to participate in a trial is worth exploring.

Dr. Nastoupil:

Dr. Nastoupil, now that we’ve discussed factors that go into the treatment choices, can you walk us through the currently available DLBCL treatment approaches and who they might be right for?

Dr. Nastoupil:

Absolutely. So, again, this is changing, and that’s good news. So, up until recently, R-CHOP or rituximab in combination with CHOP, which is an acronym for four different drugs, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine, and prednisone, has been our standard.

Again, what would potentially challenge that is the POLARIX study where we exchange vincristine for polatuzumab. We don’t know the results of that study yet. All we know is that it met its primary endpoint, meaning it met what it set out to do in terms of improving upon some of the outcomes achieved with R-CHOP.

We need to see the details to know if that means now every newly diagnosed diffuse large B-cell lymphoma patient will be offered the polatuzumab in combination with R-CHP study or whether or not there will still be some patients appropriate for R-CHOP.

But that is generally our first approach. Whether you get six cycles or a shortened course plus/minus radiation depends on your state. Once patients have completed therapy, generally, then we pursue what’s called surveillance.

So, we’re monitoring for any signs that the lymphoma has recurred or has not gone away. That’s a controversial topic in terms of how to conduct surveillance and one that I suspect will change over time. But for most patients, if the lymphoma is going to recur, it generally recurs within the first two years.

So, assessing patients either in the form of a CT scan, a PET CT, or a physical exam with labs every four to six months for the first two years is what most practices will pursue. I’m not saying that there is no chance that you would relapse beyond two years. It’s just that the majority of patients, at least 90 percent, if the lymphoma comes back, it usually does so within two years.

And the relapses that occur beyond two years are less predictable. They could happen at three years. They could happen at 10 years, as it’s hard to know how to do surveillance beyond two years.

If the lymphoma recurs, the first thing we need to do is biopsy it because there are many things that can mimic lymphoma on a scan – infection, inflammation, other tumor types. So, if there is ever a question about whether or not the lymphoma has recurred, I generally advise for all patients they undergo a biopsy to ensure that we know what we’re treating.

Depending on when the lymphoma recurs, if it happens within 12 months, this is another area that we are shifting our practice. In the past, for all patients who had relapsed large cell lymphoma, we would pursue what we call salvage or second-line chemotherapy. So, we mix up the chemo. We keep, generally, the rituximab, but we alter the chemotherapy agents. We wouldn’t give CHOP again.

And then we give a shortened course where we give two to three cycles. We repeat the scan. And for patients who’ve achieved what we call chemo-sensitive disease – so, that’s generally a complete response on scan – we would then move forward with high-dose therapy and an autologous stem cell transplant. So, essentially giving different but more intense chemo and rescuing patients from that maneuver with their own stem cells that will go back to the bone marrow and start making white blood cells, red cells, and platelets again.

What has shifted in the last six months is we now know that CAR T-cell therapy is superior to that approach, at least with two CAR Ts for patients whose lymphoma came back within 12 months. Again, we’re eagerly awaiting the full results of those randomized studies. But three trials were conducted. Two of the three suggest CAR T is better than second chemo and transplant for those patients who relapse within 12 months.

So, currently, we think that you’ll have a CHOP-like therapy with plus rituximab frontline. If you progress within 12 months, you potentially would be a candidate for CAR T-cell therapy. If the CAR T-cell therapy fails, which is true for about half of patients, or if you’re deemed to not be a candidate for CAR T, we have several other new options that didn’t exist a year ago, including targeted or non-chemotherapy options.

So, there are at least four options in that setting now that are therapies that target the lymphoma cells, either by targeting CD19, which is another surface marker, augmenting that either with an antibody drug conjugate, such as Lonca, or with an immune therapy, such as lenalidomide and tafasitamab. Polatuzumab is available in that third line or later space combined with bendamustine and rituximab. There’s an oral agent called Selinexor.

So, a lot of that is not to burden patients with information but to let them know they’ve got lots of options. And many of these can be sequenced. So, if we can’t achieve cure with R-CHOP and/or CAR T, there are still very good outcomes in that third line or later space.

Katherine:

We’ve covered a lot of information here so far. And just a reminder that the resource guide I mentioned earlier contains definitions and resources for what we’re discussing today. So, be sure to click on that link if you haven’t already.

Dr. Nastoupil, I’m wondering how patients can feel confident in speaking up and becoming a partner in their care.

Dr. Nastoupil:

So, it’s important to recognize, and I reflect on this all the time. Generally, once patients have been rendered a diagnosis of cancer, that’s a life-altering event. And even if I spend a lot of time trying to reassure patients that outcomes for lymphoma patients are very good, generally we’re aiming for cure, that’s not true for everyone.

And you can’t help but be concerned that you will succumb to this disease or that the toxicity of therapy is gonna be life-altering and impact your quality of life in such a way that it’s no longer the life that you were happy to live.

And so, I recognize that we are partners in this. My job is to choose the most effective therapy that will try and accomplish the goals we set out to achieve. However, sometimes, oncologists make assumptions about what the goal of a given patient is.

We’re assuming that longevity or living is the most important goal. Whereas sometimes, people might care more about the quality of life, or they may need more reassurances about what the options are or their realistic outcomes with therapy. Because, again, I’ve mentioned before, oncologists are generally eternal optimists. We tend to sugarcoat things a little bit.
So, it’s important for patients to recognize that they will have a shared decision responsibility, meaning oftentimes we will provide all the information that we have access to in terms of a given treatment.
What is the likelihood of success, what is the potential risk in terms of toxicity, and what we’re leaning towards one therapy over another, particularly if you have more than one option.
But, ultimately, we need patients to share with us what their goals are in terms of outcome of that treatment so that we can then potentially refine our treatment selection. So, again, being informed, participating in programs like this so that you understand what makes one lymphoma different from another. Why would one oncologist offer one treatment and another discuss something else?

So, understanding what the different lymphomas are, how they might be approached differently, what the new therapies are. I struggle to keep up with just the lymphoma literature and changes. I can’t imagine what it must be like for an oncologist that treats every cancer type. So, again, understanding that new drugs are approved almost every couple of months in lymphoma may provide an opportunity for patients to share new information with their oncologists as well. So, information is key.

Katherine:

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

Dr. Nastoupil:

Well, I appreciate your time as well.

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 the 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 joining us today.

How to Make an Informed Myeloma Treatment Decision

How to Make an Informed Myeloma Treatment Decision from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When faced with several treatment options, how can you decide on the best therapy for your myeloma? In this explainer video, Sandra and her doctor walk through important considerations when choosing a plan, and provide advice for partnering with your healthcare team.

Download our Myeloma Office Visit Planner to help you have productive conversations with your healthcare team, here.

See More From Engage Myeloma


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Transcript:

Sandra:

Hi, I’m Sandra. Nice to meet you!

Several years ago, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. I had bone pain and felt very tried so I went to see my doctor – my bloodwork indicated that it may be multiple myeloma and I was referred to a hematologist.

After a series of tests, my diagnosis was confirmed. I was overwhelmed when I learned that I had a blood cancer, but my hematologist, Dr. Reynolds, told me more about the condition and how it’s managed.

Here’s Dr. Reynolds – she can explain it further.

Dr. Reynolds:

Hi! I’m Dr. Reynolds, and I’m a hematologist specializing in the care and treatment of people with myeloma. The different types of myeloma are:

Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance or MGUS (pronounced em-gus or M-Gus). MGUS typically has no signs or symptoms and is characterized by an abnormal protein in the blood or urine.

And, smoldering myeloma, which is a very slow-growing type of myeloma. It also does not present with symptoms. Patients with smoldering myeloma have a higher chance of needing treatment, so blood and urine studies are ordered regularly.

Last is multiple myeloma. Multiple myeloma is a buildup of plasma cells in the bone marrow that crowds out healthy cells, causing symptoms and other problems in the body.

Sandra:

As part of my diagnosis, Dr. Reynolds ordered a series of tests that included a blood test, bone marrow biopsy, urine test, and imaging.

Dr. Reynolds:

That’s right. We also did additional testing to identify any specific chromosomal or DNA abnormalities to get a better understanding of the genetic nature of the myeloma cells. The results of these tests helped us learn more about the extent of Sandra’s myeloma, her prognosis, and which treatment plan could be most effective.

Sandra:

After I was diagnosed and we had all of my test results, I met with Dr. Reynolds, and she walked me through the goals of treatment for my myeloma.

Dr. Reynolds:

Right! First, we talked about the clinical goals of treatment, which are to slow the progression of the disease and to induce remission.

And, it’s important to note that because each person’s myeloma is different, they are treated differently – be sure to discuss the specific goals of YOUR myeloma with your doctor.

Sandra and I reviewed the effectiveness of each treatment option, including how treatment would be administered, and took all of her test results into consideration to make sure we found the best, most personalized treatment option for her myeloma.

Sandra:

Next, we talked about another key treatment goal: symptom management. Dr. Reynolds asked me to let her know about any symptoms that I experience.

Dr. Reynolds:

Exactly, Sandra. A significant change in symptoms can indicate that it may be time to adjust treatment, if the symptoms are due to the prescribed medication, or that the disease might be changing.

Common symptoms may include fatigue or weakness, loss of appetite, excessive thirst, and weight loss, among others. This is why it’s important to not only have lab work and regular visits with your hematologist, but it’s essential to share about any symptoms you may be having, even if you don’t think it’s related to your myeloma.

And, last but not least, we discussed the most important treatment goal: Sandra’s goals. Sandra let me know that she’s very social and enjoys traveling and spending time with her family – we wanted to make sure she could continue doing the activities she loves.

Sandra:

Then, Dr. Reynolds reviewed each of the treatment approaches with me, including potential side effects and how it may impact my lifestyle. We discussed the pros and cons of each option, and we went over what our next steps would be if the treatment plan needed to be adjusted.

Dr. Reynolds:

Exactly! When deciding on therapy, you and your doctor may also consider:

  • Your age and overall health,
  • Any presence or history of other medical problems, and
  • The financial impact of a treatment plan.

Sandra:

In addition to asking questions, my sister, Beth, took notes during our appointments, since it was often hard for me to absorb everything at once.

We also made sure to talk about the appointment on our way home, while the information was fresh on our minds. And we did our part by researching myeloma and bringing a list of questions to each appointment.

Beth found an office visit planner on the Patient Empowerment Network website that helped me organize my health info and questions.

Dr. Reynolds:

As you can see, Sandra and her sister were actively engaged in each care decision. It’s vital that patients feel empowered to speak up. If you can, bring a friend or loved one along to your appointment.

And, if you are able, it’s a good idea to seek a second opinion or a consultation with a myeloma specialist to help you feel confident in your care decisions.

Sandra:

Dr. Reynolds let me know that she would monitor my condition through regular physical exams, blood work and frequent communication. She made Beth and I feel included in the decision-making process, as if it were a collaboration.

Dr. Reynolds:

That’s right! This is a partnership. So, what steps can you take to be more engaged in your care?

  • Bring a friend or loved one to your appointments.
  • Understand and articulate the goals of your treatment plan.
  • Ask about relevant myeloma testing.
  • Learn about your options and weigh the pros and cons of each approach.
  • And, consider a second opinion or a consult with a specialist.

Sandra:

That’s great advice, Dr. Reynolds. To learn more, visit powerfulpatients.org/myeloma to access a library of tools.

Thanks for joining us!

Myeloproliferative Neoplasms Defined: What Are ET, PV, and MF?

Myeloproliferative Neoplasms Defined: What Are ET, PV, and MF? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are essential thrombocythemia (ET) , polycythemia vera (PV), and myelofibrosis (MF) exactly? Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju explains how each of these blood disorders manifests along with the symptoms observed in these MPN patients.

Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju is Director of the Blastic Plasmacytoid Dendritic Cell Neoplasm (BPDCN) Program in the Department of Leukemia at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Pemmaraju, here.

See More from Engage

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What Are the Considerations When Choosing Myelofibrosis Therapy?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:    

Can you help us understand the differences between ET, PV, and MF?

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

Yeah, this is very important because we toss these words around as if there’s some big definition that was given, and oftentimes, that never happens. So, let’s pause to do that. So, this goes back to the 1950s when William Damashek, who really postulated the modern MPDs at that time as they were known – myeloproliferative disorders – really thought that there were four diseases that were similar at some level and then presented differently. So, that’s polycythemia vera, essential thrombocytosis, myelofibrosis, and CML, chronic myeloid leukemia.

Then, as the modern era comes in, CML is divided off because of the Philadelphia chromosome, BCR-ABL, which is present in 100 percent of those patients.

So, now we know CML is its own thing. And now we have the big three, sort of non-Philadelphia chromosome MPNs, as they’re now known, because neoplasm – cancer – instead of disorder. Within the subtype, and this is important, the subtypes that you mentioned are the most common.

So, polycythemia vera – poly meaning many, cythemia, cells, vera is Latin for true.

This is the designation for the patient who has a higher than expected blood red cell mass or hematocrit. And it actually, interestingly, Katherine, most patients with P vera have an increase in all three of their blood lines, so the red cells, hemoglobin, hematocrit, platelets, and white count. Those patients with PV are especially at risk for both bleeding and clotting, transformation to myelofibrosis, and even transformation to acute leukemia in maybe 5 to 7 percent of patients.

So, the usual treatment there, Katherine, is to bring off the blood mass. That’s the phlebotomy.

And then in the patient who is above the age of 60 or has a prior blood clot, to give some form of chemotherapy, hydroxyurea (Hydrea), or interferon, for example.

Now, the second grouping is ET, essential thrombocytosis. Again, this word vera or essential, meaning not reactive, not benign, not from a regular cause like a surgery or a trauma or an inflammation. So, it means a cancerous cause, an autonomous cause, something that’s coming on its own.

Thrombocythemia or thrombocytosis, meaning too many platelets. So, usually, patients with ET have too many platelets as their predominant manifestation. But again, as with P vera, patients can get into problems with that. Very, very high platelets, usually a million-and-a-half or higher, can actually lead to bleeding. Not necessarily clotting, but extra bleeding. And then patients with any platelet levels, because the platelet level doesn’t exactly correlate, can have either bleeding or clotting. So, that’s usually the predominant factor. And again, the underlying problem with these MPNs is that they can transform to the other ones – PV, MF, even acute leukemia.

And then, finally, myelofibrosis, which we could spend the whole hour on just by itself, is the more advanced state out of these.

So, it can either arise out of the PV or ET or stand alone. And really here, this is an advanced bone marrow failure state with bone marrow scarring or fibrosis. And now, usually, most patients, their blood counts, rather than high are now low because the bone marrow is unable to produce enough cells. And then, therefore, the sequela of the disease – anemia, thrombocytopenia. So, low blood, low platelets.

Then you need transfusions. The liver and the spleen get larger because they remember how to make blood cells. People can have a wasting away appearance. And then here, more than the PV or ET, this is more of an acute disease for many where if you have intermediate to high stage, these patients can transform more readily to leukemia and have a decreased overall survival.

How to Make an Informed MPN Treatment Decision

How to Make an Informed MPN Treatment Decision from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When faced with several options, how can you decide on the best therapy for your essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV), or myelofibrosis (MF)? In this explainer video, Katrina and her doctor walk through important considerations when choosing treatment and provide advice for partnering with your healthcare team.

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Transcript:

Katrina:

Hi, I’m Katrina. Nice to meet you!

Several years ago, I started having headaches and felt very tired. After a trip to the doctor and undergoing bloodwork, I was diagnosed with polycythemia vera, or PV, which is a rare blood cancer that causes my body to produce too many blood cells. It was overwhelming at the time to learn that I had a blood cancer, but my hematologist, Dr. Liu, told me more about the condition and how it’s managed.

Here’s Dr. Liu–she can explain it further.

Dr. Liu:

Hi! I’m Dr. Liu, and I’m a hematologist specializing in the care and treatment of people with myeloproliferative neoplasms or MPNs. MPNs are a group of blood cancers that are characterized by the bone marrow overproducing a certain type of cell. Katrina was diagnosed with PV, which is one of the three MPNs. The three types of MPNs are:

Essential thrombocythemia, or ET, which means that the body is producing too many platelets. The second is polycythemia vera or PV. PV is characterized by the overproduction of red blood cells, and, in some cases, elevated white blood cells and platelets. And the third is myelofibrosis or MF, which causes scarring in the bone marrow that disrupts the normal production of blood cells.

When a patient is diagnosed with any of these conditions, there is a chance they could progress from one condition to the next.

Those that have been diagnosed with ET, PV or MF, should have regular visits with their hematologist to monitor their condition and find the most appropriate treatment to manage their MPN.

Katrina:

After I was diagnosed, I met with Dr. Liu and she walked me through the goals of treatment for PV.

Dr. Liu:

Right! First, we talked about the clinical goals of treatment for PV, which are to reduce the risk of a blood clot and ease or eliminate any symptoms.

And, it’s important to note that because each of the MPNs is different, they are treated differently – be sure to discuss the specific goals of YOUR MPN with your doctor.

Katrina and I reviewed the effectiveness of each treatment option, including how treatment would be administered, and took all of her test results into consideration to make sure we found the best, most personalized treatment option for her PV. Then, we went over what our next steps would be if the treatment plan needed to be adjusted.

Katrina:

Next, we talked about another key treatment goal: symptom management. Dr. Liu let me know that I should make her aware of any symptoms that I may be having, even if I don’t think it’s related to my PV.

Dr. Liu:

Exactly, Katrina. A significant change in symptoms can indicate that it may be time to switch treatments or that the disease might be changing. Those symptoms may include enlarged spleen, fever, itching, fatigue and anemia, among others. This is why it’s always important to not only have blood counts checked regularly, but it’s essential to tell your doctor or nurse about any symptoms you may be having, even if you don’t think it’s related to your MPN.

And, last but not least, we discussed the most important treatment goal: Katrina’s goals. Katrina let me know that she’s very social and enjoys playing golf and tennis with her friends – we wanted to make sure she could continue doing the activities she loves.

Katrina:

Dr. Liu reviewed each of the treatment approaches with me, including potential side effects for every therapy and how it could impact my lifestyle. We discussed the pros and cons of each option, together.

Dr. Liu:

Exactly! When deciding on therapy, you and your doctor may also consider:

Your age and overall health, any presence or history of other medical problems, and the financial impact of a treatment plan.

Katrina:

In addition to asking questions, my daughter, Sarah, took notes during our appointments, since it was often hard for me to absorb everything at once.

We also made sure to talk about the appointment on our way home, while the information was fresh on our minds. And we did our part by researching PV and bringing a list of questions to each appointment.

Sarah found an office visit planner on the Patient Empowerment Network website that helped me organize my health info and questions.

Dr. Liu:

As you can see, Katrina and her daughter were actively engaged in each care decision. It’s vital that patients feel empowered to speak up. If you can, bring a friend or loved one along to your appointment.

And, if you are able, it’s a good idea to seek a second opinion or a consultation with an MPN specialist to help you feel confident in your care decisions.

Katrina:

Dr. Liu let me know that she would monitor my condition through regular physical exams, blood work and frequent communication. She made Sarah and I feel included in the decision-making process, as if it were a collaboration.

Dr. Liu:

That’s right. This is a partnership. So, what steps can you take to be more engaged in your MPN care?

  • Bring a friend or loved one to your appointments.
  • Understand and articulate the goals of your treatment plan.
  • Learn about your options and weigh the pros and cons of each approach.
  • Consider a second opinion or a consult with a specialist.

Katrina:

That’s great advice, Dr. Liu. To learn more, visit powerfulpatients.org/MPN to access a library of tools.

Thanks for joining us!

Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe for Myeloma Patients?

Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe for Myeloma Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Should myeloma patients get the COVID-19 Vaccine? Dr. Joshua Richter encourages all patients to get the vaccine but notes important considerations around treatment.

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

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for patients with myeloma?

Dr. Richter:

Absolutely, 100 percent yes. Everybody with myeloma should absolutely get the vaccine. What’s a little more complicated is the timing of it. So, one is in relation to stem cell transplant or CAR T-cell therapy. If you’ve had one of these, obviously, consult with your provider. But the general recommendation is to wait about 60 to 90 days after a high-dose therapy like that. And it’s not a question of safety, it’s a question of efficacy. Vaccines are like vegetables, seeds, you have to put them in the ground to grow. If you give yourself a vaccine right after a stem cell transplant, well, your bone marrow is not ready to work with it. It’s like planting a seed in the desert.

You want to make sure your immune system can take in that vaccine and give you immunity. So, you have to wait at least 60 to 90 days. The other question is, what happens if you’re getting continual therapy? And we don’t know the answer for most of these drugs, but one of the things is dexamethasone (Decadron), which is a steroid. Almost all myeloma therapy comes with some steroids. And we like to separate the vaccine from the steroid dose by a little bit if we can. Again, always important to talk with your care team as to risk/benefit about holding certain treatments.

Myeloma Treatment Decisions: What Should Be Considered?

Myeloma Treatment Decisions: What Should Be Considered? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When deciding on a myeloma treatment, what factors affect your choice? Dr. Joshua Richter shares key considerations, the patient role in making decisions, as well as key questions to ask about treatment

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

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Dr. Richter, would you please start by introducing yourself?

Dr. Richter:

Sure, my name is Dr. Joshua Richter. I’m an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Tisch Cancer Institute Icon School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the Director of Myeloma at The Blavatnik Family Medical Center at Chelsea at Mount Sinai.

Katherine:

Great. Thank you. When making a treatment choice, what are three key considerations for myeloma patients?

Dr. Richter:

Absolutely. So, whenever we decide on treatment options, we consider three main topics: patient-related factors, disease-related factors, and treatment-related factors. So, patient-related factors are easy. How old or young are you? How fit or frail? Do you have any comorbidities, meaning other medical problems like heart disease or diabetes?

Disease-related factors are another important one. How aggressive is your disease? Is it rising up very quickly? Is it very slowly? Do you have something that we call extramedullary disease which means myeloma outside the bone marrow in the mass that we call a plasmacytoma? And that influences how we treat things.

And the last is treatment-related factors. What treatments have you, previously, had, how did you respond to them, and what side effects did you have?

If you developed a lot of neuropathy with one drug, we may not want to choose a drug that continues to have that type of side effect profile.

Katherine:

What’s the role as a patient in making treatment decisions?

Dr. Richter:

The role, from my standpoint of the patient, is honesty. You don’t get extra points for being in pain. I want to hear from you. I want you to tell me what your concerns are, short-term, long-term. I want you to tell me about little problems that you don’t – it’s not that you don’t want to bother your care team, we want to know.

Because something little may mean something big to us. So, all we want is for your well-being. And the better we keep those lines of communication open, the better.

Katherine:

Are there questions that patients should consider asking about their treatment plans?

Dr. Richter:

Absolutely. I think in a day and age where there’s so many different options, I think it’s always important to ask the care provider, what are the alternatives to this? Or why did you select this treatment for me? Because many times, there are alternative answers. So, in myeloma, there are a lot of options that may be good for someone. And the physician team may say we recommend this drug, and the patient may have trouble getting back and forth to clinic for logistical reasons. And there may be an all-oral alternative that if you don’t ask, we may not know that that’s going to be your preference. So, really that dialog is crucial.

What is Multiple Myeloma?

 

What is Multiple Myeloma? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is multiple myeloma exactly? Dr. Peter Forsberg defines myeloma, explaining how it affects bone marrow, and shares details about myeloma statistics and treatment in the U.S.

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

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Transcript:

Dr. Forsberg:             

So, multiple myeloma is a blood cancer. It comes from cells that live in your bone marrow called plasma cells. They’re part of your immune system. And when they do their job, they help protect you from infections.

They’re antibody producing cells. In myeloma, unfortunately something changes in those cells and they begin to grow and live beyond what they normally would. So, myeloma is a disease that results from that and when myeloma is diagnosed, it’s usually because those plasma cells or the antibody they produce has started to cause problems, to cause destructive changes or symptoms. So, that’s multiple myeloma.

And it’s maybe a little more common than people sometimes think. It’s got an unusual name, so most folks haven’t really heard of myeloma when they’re diagnosed with it. But it is the 14th most common cancer and there are about 30,000 cases diagnosed each year in the U.S. and at this point, more than 150,000 people living with myeloma. And that’s because more and more people are living with myeloma all the time. Advancements in treatment have made people live longer and live better with myeloma.

What Is CLL and How Is It Diagnosed?

What Is CLL and How Is It Diagnosed? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What exactly is chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and what factors help determine a diagnosis? Dr. Jennifer Woyach explains how CLL originates and transforms, the tests involved in diagnosis, and shares a common misconception about CLL.

Dr. Jennifer Woyach is a hematologist-oncologist specializing in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) at Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital & Solove Research Institute. Find out more about this expert here. 

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Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Well, Dr. Woyach, let’s start by understanding CLL. Would you briefly walk us through what CLL actually is?

Dr. Woyach:               

Sure. CLL is a cancer of the blood, the lymph nodes, and the bone marrow.

And it happens when a particular type of white blood cell called a B lymphocyte acquires genetic mutations and transforms into a cancer cell. And then, over time, those cancer cells continue to grow and divide. And they can cause symptoms such as enlarged lymph nodes if the cells get stuck in the lymph nodes and continue to grow there. It can cause a high white blood cell count, which usually doesn’t cause any symptoms but is one of the things that we see often in CLL. And then, it can also cause the bone marrow to not be able to produce normal cells because it can get so infiltrated or so full of CLL cells.

And this can cause things like anemia, which is lowering of the red blood cell count and thrombocytopenia, which is lowering of your platelet count.

Katherine:                  

What are the steps involved in reaching a diagnosis?

Dr. 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. So, just a blood draw in somebody’s doctor’s office. Usually, CLL is diagnosed in the asymptomatic stage. So, somebody goes to their primary care doctor, has blood drawn usually for another reason, and is found to have a high white blood cell count or sometimes even a fairly normal white blood cell count but a high percentage of lymphocytes. That certain type of cancerous white blood cell. So, the next step in the diagnosis then is something called peripheral blood flow cytometry, which is a specialized test where we look at the markers or antigens on the surface of white blood cells.

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 often times, those are not necessary at the time of diagnosis.

Katherine:                  

When you meet with patients, Dr. Woyach, what are some common misconceptions that you hear about?

Dr. Woyach:               

I think the biggest thing that I hear, and granted I see a lot of patients after they’ve been diagnosed by someone, gone to see an oncologist and then, come to me after, but one of the common things that I hear is that somebody has told them along the way that they have the good type of cancer, which I think is not a very helpful thing to hear as a patient because, of course, no cancer is a good type of cancer.

I think it’s important to note that CLL is one that has a lot of treatment options and usually extended survival. But I think that’s one of the most common misconceptions that I hear.

An MPN Care Partner Shares Why He’s Optimistic About the Future

An MPN Care Partner Shares Why He’s Optimistic About the Future from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Care partner Jeff Bushnell, husband of myelofibrosis (MF) patient advocate Summer Golden, explains why he’s hopeful about their future together. Jeff shares key resources that have helped him stay educated and maintain optimism.

Summer Golden and Jeff Bushnell have been married for over 20 years. When Summer was diagnosed with myelofibrosis (MF), Jeff took on the role of care partner and advocate. Summer uses her years of theatre training and comedy to cope with her condition and help others, while maintaining positivity about the future.

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Transcript:

Jeff:

It’s important to educate yourself because the more you know the less fear can overcome you. And this particular disease – the research is happening so fast, and things are changing. In my estimation, they’ll find – right now, the only cure is a stem cell transplant. It’s normally not done for older people. That in itself is innately risky. I’m convinced, probably within the next five to seven years, there will be a cure for this disease that’s not a stem cell transplant.

The research is moving that quickly on it. And if you don’t follow the disease and the people that are working on it, the specialists, you’re gonna have a much greater chance of feeling powerless and getting overwhelmed by it. As Summer believes, attitude can have a huge, huge impact on how the course of your disease runs. And a doctor would tell you the same thing.

For me, it started with Patient Power. Patientpower.info, I believe is, what it is. They have a whole section for myeloproliferative neoplasms and myelofibrosis, and they’re short videos. And you get a chance to listen to the best doctors that are the head people in this, Dr. Mesa, Dr. V [Verstovsek], and Dr. Jamieson – all the people that are really the movers and shakers. They speak. And you also get a chance to hear other patient’s stories and how they’re dealing with it. And that will give you a much better idea of what you’re facing. And you can really understand things from there. And you can get your knowledge.

Fear comes from lack of knowledge. In my job as a pilot, I flew for 50 years. I very, very rarely was afraid because my knowledge was so great and was reinforced every year by continual training that I felt prepared to handle anything that might come across to me. Knowledge is really important. It will allay your fears dramatically.

When I started online and heard about people that had been journeying with this for 10 or 15 years, initially, I had thought – well, this is a year or two, and it’ll be the end. And then I realized, plenty of people have lived with this for a long, long time. And they had a journey, and they’re doing it successfully. And that gave me confidence.

The more people you can talk to about it, the more you can put your journey in perspective. And it’s really hard to put in perspective for this particular disease because it affects everybody vastly differently. Some cancers – the progression is very, very linear. Everybody kind of goes through the same thing. This one – it depends on the mutations you have in your blood and all kinds of things like that, and some people get really bad symptoms quickly.

Others, they don’t. But the more you know about how those things affect you, the more you know and can understand about what to expect. And the more people you talk to who have it, you can find out about their journeys. It helps put yours in perspective.

I’m optimistic because I really keep up to date on what’s going on. And I see the doctors that are in the forefront of this and the research that they’re putting in and the care they have for working on this disease and the knowledge they have, and I just am quite optimistic. And as I say, I’m following the medical developments extremely closely.

I went to the ASH Conference last year. And I’ve gone to another conference that our doctor spoke at. And I’m just kinda blown away by – I’m fascinated by the science.

My advice would be find out as much as you can about it and support each other in a way that works in your own marriage.

Summer and I approach life a little bit differently. And yet, one of the reasons we do so well together is we kinda have both ends of the spectrum covered. And I sensed that when I met her 20 years ago. And we brought something to the table that each of us needed. And if you can find that in your relationship with your significant other that has the disease, what you can bring to it, what they can bring to it, you can be a tremendous support for each other.

A Care Partner’s Journey: How Life Goes on After an MPN Diagnosis

A Care Partner’s Journey: How Life Goes on After an MPN Diagnosis from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Care partner Jeff Bushnell shares how he and his wife, patient advocate Summer Golden, have dealt with her myelofibrosis (MF) diagnosis. Jeff explains how online support and finding an MPN specialist were essential steps in helping them continue to live life to the fullest.

Summer Golden and Jeff Bushnell have been married for over 20 years. When Summer was diagnosed with myelofibrosis (MF), Jeff took on the role of care partner and advocate. Summer uses her years of theatre training and comedy to cope with her condition and help others, while maintaining positivity about the future.

 

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Transcript:

Jeff:

The worst part was initially. We didn’t get a myelofibrosis diagnosis.

It took about a month because in order to definitively diagnose it they have to take a bone marrow sample and send it to a pathologist and so on and so forth. So, all that time, I’m worrying about the possibilities. It could be leukemia or this, that, or the other thing. My way of handling and dealing with scariness – I’m a retired pilot – is to find out things, knowledge.

I spent a huge amount of time on the internet. The LLS Society has papers about it, and I read those.

And the more I got into it – once we found out it was myelofibrosis, I’ve read almost all of the papers that the doctors write for each other to find about this. That doesn’t interest Summer in the slightest. It interests me greatly. So, when we have an appointment with the doctor – when I’m talking to the doctor, it’s like two doctors talking to each other.

When Summer’s talking to her, they talk on a different plane. It’s much more about mental approach to things and that kind of thing.

And for me, when I think back to the beginning of when we had this and where we are now two years later, we’re living the life that we lived before she was diagnosed to be real honest with you.

We do everything that we did before she was diagnosed the same way we did it before, and it was a trip that probably everybody who gets diagnosed or deals with a person that has the disease takes. When it first happened, it hit us like bricks coming out of the sky hitting us on the face. Literally, when we first went to the hospital and she got the word that there was a problem – as I say, we lived in two separate houses – I literally was afraid to call her phone figuring she might be not there. I was that scared. And then, after we met our doctor, which was extremely fortuitous – when we went to the emergency room, the person that was there, she said these look like leukemia things.

So, she called the oncologist. The oncologist on call is our current doctor, Dr. Tiffany Tanaka, and she’s a specialist in this disease. It was like it was meant to be. And Dr. Tanaka asked the guy to do some other tests and then said, “Send her home, but tell her I need to see her this week.” So, we’re thinking all these horrible things. And its New Year’s weekend, so the clinic is closed for about five days, you know? We’re worrying and worrying and worrying.

We finally saw Dr. Tanaka, and it was like a breath of fresh air. This wonderful doctor has the ability to just communicate with the patients. I’m interested in the disease, so she communicated on my level. Summer is not interested in all the medical jargon, so she was able to explain to Summer what was going on and just very, very reassuring, very reassuring.

And then, I went and started getting information. That’s my way of coping with things. The first place I went was – I went to Patient Power and found a lot of information there.

And then I found the online myelofibrosis support group at Facebook. And that was very, very useful. When I started reading about the fact that some people had this for many, many years – then I said this is not – nothing’s gonna happen in the next year or two. We can go back to living. And once we learned more about it and spent more time with our doctor and Summer was able to live her life once she got taking the medicine – she takes Jakafi.

That controlled the basic symptoms, and we haven’t looked back. We just started living our life the way we had been living it before.

Could an MPN Clinical Trial Be Right for You?

Could an MPN Clinical Trial Be Right for You? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is a clinical trial your best MPN treatment option? Dr. Ruben Mesa explains the clinical trial process and how patients may benefit from participating.

Dr. Ruben Mesa is an international expert in the research and care of patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). He serves as director of UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center in San Antonio, Texas. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

There is much exciting research in myeloproliferative neoplasms. First, research trying to understand, why do people develop MPNs, and why do they progress. This is crucial research, and that this basic research to better understand the diseases will help us asses whether our treatments are having an impact slowing down the progression of the disease, and help us better design therapies that, hopefully, can cure these diseases.

Be reassured  that our goal as a scientific community is to cure the MPNs. Now, until we’re able to do that, we want to be able to best control them as best we can. So, the next level of research is really in new therapies; primarily drug-based therapies, but future therapies using the immune system; potentially using vaccine therapy to try to better control the disease to make the disease as neutral in your life as possible.

Our goal, short of curing the disease is to make the disease as invisible in your life as possible. Hopefully, minimal side effects, minimal symptoms, protected against risk of blood clots or bleeding, ideally, decreasing the risk of progression, and hopefully without any significant side effects from the medication your receiving.

So, that really is our goal.

 Clinical trials are a crucial way for us to improve the treatments that we have for any diseases. And in particular, in areas like myeloproliferative neoplasms where we have therapies, but we don’t have cures, clinical trials are crucial. Clinical trials are a structured way for you to be able to receive a new treatment. That treatment is closely monitored, and starts with a strong belief that that treatment is going to be beneficial for you.

Being on a clinical trial has many steps, but you are in the driver seat in each of them. So, you’re able to enroll in a study, and you’re able to decide at any point whether or not you’d like to continue on in that study. You are made clearly aware of what you’re receiving; what dose; what to expect at each and every step of that therapy.

It’s a treatment just like any other, but we use them because we are hoping that it will be better than the treatments that we have, and we do it on a clinical trial so that we can learn from that experience. If that drug is better, then we should probably expand its use and give it to other people, and have it be approved and used around the world. Or for whatever reason that therapy is not as helpful as we would like, then we learn from that, as well.

Why was it not helpful? Was it the wrong therapy? Was it targeting the wrong aspect of the disease? Were there side effects that made the therapy not beneficial? So, we learn a lot about it in either direction. Hopefully, individuals who participate in clinical trials will have a direct benefit themselves by being able to experience a new therapy that is, hopefully, better. But also, they do have the ability to help other patients now and in the future that will be facing the same disease they have.

How Does Genetic Testing Impact Your MPN Treatment Options?

How Does Genetic Testing Impact Your MPN Treatment Options? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can genetic testing results impact your treatment and treatment response? Dr. Ruben Mesa provides an overview of common mutations associated with essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV) or myelofibrosis (MF) and how identification of these mutations are moving research forward.

Dr. Ruben Mesa is an international expert in the research and care of patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). He serves as director of UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center in San Antonio, Texas. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

We are learning much more about the genetics of Myeloproliferative Neoplasm, as we truly are about the genetics of many diseases. First, when I speak of genetics, these are not the genes we think of of inherited genes that are passed from mother and father, to son or daughter. These are the genes in ourselves that potentially can change over the course of our lives, and those changes or mutations can be associated with diseases.

So, what we have learned is that the genetic changes that are associated with myeloproliferative neoplasms are important, both in terms of predicting how the diseases might behave, and also, potentially in terms of therapies. The genetic changes fall into two different groups.

There’s a first group of the most common mutations that we think are important in driving the disease. The most common is the mutation in a protein called JAK2. That’s a mutation in about half of the patients with ET, half with PV – or half with myelofibrosis, and the majority with polycythemia vera. There is mutations in calreticulin. That’s about in a third of patients with ET, and a third with MF. And then, there’s mutations in MPL, which are present in a handful of patients with ET and with MF.

But in addition to those three mutations that tend to be mutually exclusive; patients tend to only have one of those, and there’s a small group of patients that do not have any of those three. But there’s another group of mutations that we have learned about.

That we are able to obtain on panels of sometimes anywhere from 40 to 100 genes that may or may not be changed or mutated in diseases like MPNs and the implications of what those pattern of changes in those mutations have for those patients. 

MPN Treatment Decisions: Which Path is Best for You?

MPN Treatment Decisions: Which Path is Best for You? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Ruben Mesa provides an overview of available treatments and reviews important factors to consider when choosing a therapy for essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV) or myelofibrosis (MF).

Dr. Ruben Mesa is an international expert in the research and care of patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). He serves as director of UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center in San Antonio, Texas. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

The treatment landscape for myeloproliferative neoplasms is changing very rapidly. And in a good way, it’s increasingly having many more options for patients with Myeloproliferative Neoplasms. But I would separate it, really, into two groups. First, there are those individuals with essential thrombocythemia and polycythemia vera.

These individuals, we have newer therapies, such as interferons, we have, potentially, use of JAK inhibitors, we have some experimental therapies, as well as prior therapies we’ve used and become accustomed to, including hydroxyurea, phlebotomy, and aspirin.

But we’re learning much more about how to use these therapies; how to combine them; what constitutes success with these therapies; what should constitute a change in terms of therapy.

And there are new therapies being developed in the future that will impact this group of individuals with earlier MPNs: ET and PV.

For patients with myelofibrosis, the treatment is evolving. Patients with Myelofibrosis are affected in different ways. It is, in some ways, a more problematic disease.

There is evolution of our most impactful therapy, of stem cell transplantation. We have a better sense of in which patients we should consider that treatment, and how that can be applied in the safest way. We also have more medical treatments. We just saw in 2019 the approval of Fedratinib as the second specific JAK inhibitor approved for patients with myelofibrosis.

We, additionally, now have, truly dozens of clinical trials of new therapies in development that are in clinical trials right now that might be helpful for patients with myelofibrosis who have either had Ruxolitinib, or have a suboptimal response to Ruxolitinib, or sometimes even newly diagnosed patients. But I would say the future is very bright.

So, it is key with a treatment to first understand what is the treatment, what is the dose, and what is the goal? Each of the treatments have different goals. Some of the goals are to decrease the likelihood of blood clots or bleeding.

And frequently, we assess whether we’re protecting against the blood clots or bleeding by bringing down elevated counts. Is the plate account high, and we’re trying to bring it into the normal range? Is the hematocrit high, and we’re trying to bring that to under 45%? Is the white blood cell count high? Have we lowered each of those? First, it’s around controlling blood counts if that is the goal, as well as trying to decrease at risk of blood clots or bleeding.

 Second, if patients have symptoms associated with their MPN, sometimes itching, sometimes symptoms associated with high courts, sometimes enlargement of the spleen, or symptoms associated with the spleen, have we reduced or nullified those symptoms? Have we shrunk the spleen if the spleen was enlarged?

And then, finally, we assess our goal by trying to be sure that patients are not progressing or getting worse on the disease. So, depending upon the treatment, we first asses what is our goal? Is it to improve counts? Is it to improve symptoms? Is it to shrink the spleen? And have we accomplished one, two, or all three of those goals? Or was only one those our goals to begin with? 

Newly Diagnosed with an MPN? Start Here.

Newly Diagnosed with an MPN? Start Here. from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

If you’ve been diagnosed with an MPN, such as essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV) or myelofibrosis (MF), Dr. Ruben Mesa outlines key steps you should take, including a visit with an MPN specialist.

Dr. Ruben Mesa is an international expert in the research and care of patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). He serves as director of UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center in San Antonio, Texas. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

Patients who have a Myeloproliferative Neoplasm should consider seeing an MPN specialist at least at some frequency. The myeloproliferative neoplasms are not common illnesses. They’re not exceedingly rare, but they’re not common. And there is many nuances in terms of how we best diagnose the disease; the discussion we have with you regarding what are the treatment plans and goals, and then putting that plan into effect.

So, frequently, there’s a value in seeing someone who focuses on MPNs to help to establish that plan, and then frequently, there is a home physician, hematologist, or medical oncologist that works together along with the specialist in terms of managing the patient.

When patients first come for their visits related to an MPN, they have many questions. You know, they’re not common diseases, and people typically don’t have much experience with them. They’ve not had a family member that’s afflicted or someone at work. So, frequently, it comes on out of the blue. People will frequently, sometimes, go online and get a lot of information, but sometimes too much information; information that may or many not be appropriate for them.

So, there are many questions that are valuable, and I always advise patients to write down their questions ahead of time because sometimes in the heat of the moment, having a conversation, particularly with a new physician or provider, those questions may not, necessarily, be top of mind for them. So, we can go through those questions clearly.

I think key questions, I wouldn’t limit it to one key question, but I’d say I would put them in categories. 1.) Truly understanding the diagnosis; what’s the actual diagnosis that that patient has. 2.) What does the physician think are the risks that patient has? With each of the diseases, there are different risk classifications, and that will also help to give patients a frame of reference if they read other information about their disease online from highly reputable sources, or other educational sort of materials.

To understand, what is the recommended treatment plan. The plan may or may not included medications and understand what those medications are intended to do, and what their side effects may be, or what to anticipate.

It may or may not include aspirin, it may or may not include phlebotomy, or it may or may not include other therapies. So, understanding that diagnosis, understanding the risk, and understanding, what is the recommendation in terms of treatment.