Tag Archive for: breast cancer

December 2021 Notable News

If you are like pretty much everyone in the world, you are tired of hearing about viruses, but there is a type of virus that you’ll be glad to learn about. You’ll also be glad to learn that blood tests are detecting cancer, immune cells are communicating with each other, and researchers are taking steps to reduce disparities in healthcare. You may not care to learn that there is yet another link between obesity and cancer, but there is, and that probably doesn’t come as a surprise at this point.

A study in Australia shows that obesity could lead to 10,000 cases of thyroid cancer in the next ten years, reports medicalxpress.com. The study found that one in five future thyroid cancers in the future will be linked to obesity levels today. The study shows the importance of preventing obesity in order to prevent cancer. The findings are especially troubling because the occurrence of obesity has doubled in Australia over the last 20 years. Obesity has been called a causal risk factor for thyroid cancer. Learn more about the study here.

Researchers have developed a new tool for determining the risk of breast cancer in black women in the United States, reports cancer.gov. Black women are usually younger when diagnosed and are more likely to be diagnosed with aggressive or advanced forms of breast cancer. Black women are also more likely to die from breast cancer. The tool, called the Black Women’s Health Study Breast Cancer Risk Calculator, is an online questionnaire that uses information about a woman’s medical, reproductive, and family history. The new screening tool is a step toward reducing the disparities in care for black women. Learn more about the risk calculator here.

Scientists have discovered how immune system cells communicate with each other to identify and eliminate tumors, reports sciencedaily.com. The information could help improve the number of patients who are able to benefit from immune therapies and could lead to the development of vaccines that could increase the survival rate for several cancers. Learn more about the findings and how the cells communicate with each other here.

A California company has developed a simple blood test that could detect up to 50 different kinds of cancer, reports webmd.com. The test, called Galleri, can even reportedly detect pancreatic, ovarian, and esophageal cancers, which are generally hard-to-detect. The test detects whether cancer signals were or were not detected and could lead to early detection of cancers. The test does not diagnose cancer and is not meant to replace regular recommended screenings but could help detect cancers that don’t have screening tests. The test doesn’t have full Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval yet, and it’s meant for people at high risk for cancer. Patients can expect to pay $950 for the test which isn’t covered by insurance. Learn more about the Galleri test here.

Believe it or not, some viruses can help to fight diseases like cancer, reports sciencedaily.com. Oncolytic viruses are able to target and destroy cancer cells all while leaving healthy cells alone. Viruses outnumber all other life forms combined, and they infect every form of cellular life. The oncolytic viruses are known as specialists in that they are selective in the type of organisms they infect, and because they kill cancer cells and don’t harm normal cells, they could provide a key to new cancer therapies. Learn more about the potential cancer fighting viruses here.

Let’s hope that in 2022 the viruses that are making headlines are the cancer-fighting kind. Wishing you health, peace and hope in 2022 and beyond. Happy New Year.

What Is One Thing (Or More) You’d Like To Say To A Newly Diagnosed Breast Cancer Patient?

As we enter the final days of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I am remembering a time over a decade ago, when immersed in a sea of pink ribbons I felt part of something. I had been diagnosed with breast cancer as the month of September turned into October and surrounded by Breast Cancer Awareness Month activities I felt supported as a newly diagnosed patient.

But as the last days of October faded and the pink ribbon wearers began to disappear, I was left wearing the everyday reality of a disease that I still felt ill-equipped to bear. I still feel a sense of sadness today at all that I had yet to learn and go through on my journey with breast cancer.  I often wonder how much easier that path might have been had I known then what I know now.

One thing I know for sure is that those of us who have traveled this road can ease the way for others who are just starting out. In this spirit, I reached out to the breast cancer community to ask them what advice they would give to a newly diagnosed person with breast cancer.  You will find their responses below alongside some of my own.

Find Support

Cancer research advocate and 20+ year breast cancer survivor, Lisa DeFerrari [1] emphasizes the important role of support. “Don’t be afraid to reach out for support early on,” she advises. “I realize that many of us are very independent-minded – I certainly am,” she says, “but breast cancer and learning how to deal with it are complicated and there are lots of great resources out there. Reaching out for information and support can also be a way to recover from the sense of loss of control that often comes with a cancer diagnosis.”

To this cancer blogger, Megan-Claire Chase [2] adds, “let go of your pride. Don’t be afraid to start a GoFundMe. You’d be amazed by people’s generosity to pay your medical bills and regular bills.”

Ask Questions

“Ask questions and push for information,” recommends Julia [3] creator of #BCCWW breast cancer Twitter chat. “For people living with long term conditions and disabilities before breast cancer it is valid to worry about the consequences of cancer and the risks of treatment on your wider health,” she adds.  “Don’t let anyone invalidate those concerns with ‘but cancer’  – it’s your body and health,  it’s you that has to bear the possible risks and potential consequences of both.   So make sure they’re centered to the degree you need them to be.”

Diagnosed with late-stage invasive lobular breast cancer in 2015, Siobhan Freeney [4] who campaigns for essential breast screening and early detection of breast cancer for women with dense breasts, urges women to ask about their breast density even after a diagnosis, as this is important information because It will influence their surveillance imaging. Siobhan highlights the fact that “many women diagnosed with breast cancer don’t know anything about dense breasts and associated risk factors.

Be Your Own Advocate

Although you may be reeling from the news of a cancer diagnosis, it’s important that you learn as much as you can about your diagnosis and what treatment options are available.  Siobhan advises taking time to absorb what’s just happened and then take notes at meetings and consultations. “Find out as much as you can about your particular cancer and speak up,” she recommends. “Ask for MRI, PET, CT any baseline scans available to you. Find reliable, evidence-based information.”

Jo Taylor [5] founder of After Breast Cancer Diagnosis stresses the need to be your own advocate. “Be your own advocate – try to understand what type of breast cancer it is and ask questions and research it. Always ask for copies of scans and details. Then find your community who support you and you can support them.”

Employment Advice

Megan-Claire offers this advice for those who are working full time at the time of diagnosis “Talk with your manager or direct supervisor and work out a plan where you can work from home (if not already due to COVID) and work out a schedule for coverage when your chemo treatment starts.” She also offers two practical tips when undergoing chemotherapy: “I suggest getting your chemo on Fridays so you’ll have the weekend to rest,” and “ask your oncologist for a temporary handicap sign. It helped me immensely due to deep fatigue.”

Tackle Fatigue

As Megan-Claire mentions, fatigue is an issue that cancer patients face. We all know what it’s like to feel tired — physically, mentally, and emotionally, but usually, after some relaxation and a good night’s sleep, we are ready to take on the world again. When you have cancer, though, rest often isn’t enough. You experience persistent, whole-body exhaustion. Even after adequate sleep or rest, you will still feel tired and unable to do the normal, everyday activities you did before with ease. A lot of cancer patients don’t report fatigue to their doctors because they think that nothing can be done about it. In fact, there are things that can be done to alleviate the debilitating effects of cancer-related fatigue. If left untreated, fatigue may lead to depression and profoundly diminish your quality of life, so it’s important that you speak to your doctor if fatigue is an issue for you [6].

Journal Your Thoughts

It is amazing how quickly you forget what you thought and felt in those early days of diagnosis and treatment. Megan-Claire recommends keeping a journal to note down your thoughts. “It could just be a sentence or two and either save them on your laptop or in a journal,” she recommends. “There was a lot I forgot about and was glad I had my little notes from the start of treatment to look back on.”

Honor Your Grief

One of the things you might like to journal about is the feelings of loss and grief you will experience with a cancer diagnosis. While many people think of grief only as a reaction to bereavement, we can feel grief after any kind of loss. Some of our losses are tangible, for example losing our hair, and some are more intangible, such as the loss of trust in our bodies. Coping with the losses associated with cancer is challenging. Grief brings many emotions with it. Patients, as well as caregivers and family members, may go through emotions of anger, denial, and sadness [7].

Respect the diagnosis; question the prognosis

This final piece of advice comes from Betsy Mullen [8]. “Respect the diagnosis; question the prognosis,” she says. “I was diagnosed with a grade III triple-negative breast cancer and given 2-3 years to live at best. That was 29 years ago.”

To Wrap Up

Being diagnosed with cancer is a life-changing event. Know that you will go through many emotions and experiences on the roller-coaster ride of diagnosis, treatment and beyond.  Each person will experience the journey in their own way.  While there’s no right or way to go through the experience, it’s important as mentioned above that you find support. Reach out at each step of the way and find someone who understands what you are going through and can offer you the support you need.


Notes

[1] Lisa DeFerrari Finding Great Support After a Cancer Diagnosis

[2] Megan-Claire Chase Life On The Cancer Train

[3] BCCWW https://twitter.com/bccww

[4] Siobhan Freeney https://beingdense.com

[5] Jo Taylor abcdiagnosis.co.uk

[6] How To Cope With Cancer-Related Fatigue

[7] Grief, Loss, and the Cancer Experience

[8] Betsy Mullen https://twitter.com/betsymullen

What Do You Need to Know About Metastatic Breast Cancer Genetic Testing?

What Do You Need to Know About Metastatic Breast Cancer Genetic Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Why is it important to ask about metastatic breast cancer genetic testing? Find out how test results could reveal more about YOUR breast cancer and could help determine the most effective treatment approach.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

Related Resources:

What Do Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients Need to Know About Genetic Testing

What Do Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients Need to Know About Genetic Testing?

How Can You Ensure You’ve Had Essential Metastatic Breast Cancer Testing (1)

How Can You Ensure You’ve Had Essential Metastatic Breast Cancer Testing?

What Questions Should Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients Ask Before Starting a Treatment Plan

What Questions Should Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients Ask Before Starting a Treatment Plan?


Transcript:

Why should you ask your doctor about metastatic breast cancer genetic testing?

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network – also known as the NCCN – recommends that every metastatic breast cancer patient undergo genetic testing. The test results can help predict how your cancer may behave and could indicate that one type of treatment is more effective than another.

This testing identifies specific gene mutations, proteins, chromosomal abnormalities, and/or other molecular changes that are unique to YOU and YOUR breast cancer.

There are two main types of genetic tests used in breast cancer:

  • Germline or hereditary genetic testing, which identifies inherited gene mutations in the body. These mutations are present from birth, can be shared among family members and be passed on to subsequent generations.
  • The second is somatic or tumor genetic testing, which identifies markers that are unique to the cancer itself. It is also commonly referred to as genomic testing, biomarker testing, or molecular profiling. Somatic mutations are NOT inherited or passed down from family member to family member.
  • Depending on your history, your doctor may order one–or both–of these types of tests.

So why do the test results matter?

  • If you have specific gene mutations – such as the BRCA1 or BRCA2 inherited gene mutations – it could indicate that a targeted treatment approach may be the most effective option. For example, there are two oral targeted therapies that are approved specifically for use in metastatic patients with BRCA1-positive or BRCA2-positive breast cancer.
  • Results of these tests may also help you to find a clinical trial that may be appropriate for your particular cancer.
  • Additionally, results from germline genetic testing may suggest that close family members should also be tested to determine their risk.

How can you insist on the best breast cancer care?

  • First, always speak up and ask questions. Remember, you have a voice in YOUR breast cancer care.
  • Ask your doctor if you have had–or will receive–genetic testing, including germline and somatic testing.
  • If you have already undergone genetic testing, bring a copy of your results to your current doctor, so they can understand your results and determine whether additional testing is needed.
  • Have a discussion with your healthcare team about the test results – including which markers were detected and how results may impact your care and treatment plan.
  • Ask whether your family members should meet with a genetic counselor or undergo testing to help gauge their risk of developing breast cancer.
  • And, finally, bring a friend or a loved one to your appointments to help you process and recall information.

To learn more about breast cancer and to access tools for self-advocacy, visit powerfulpatients.org/breastcancer

Breast Cancer Telemedicine Tips: How to Make the Most of Your Visit

We all have acknowledged that the silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the use of telehealth services. You should have a choice on who you feel comfortable with on your healthcare team and now telemedicine grants that choice to many populations.

Newly diagnosed breast cancer patients living in a rural area or farther from major academic health centers are now able to obtain second opinions from experts without travel and with minimal exposure to COVID-19. The quality of a televisit does not differ from an in-person visit. Although you’ll be without a physical exam, your provider can still prescribe medications and send you for various tests/blood work.

Tips

Know When to Use Telehealth

If you are unsure that your chief complaint requires a telehealth visit versus an in-person visit, ask. You can avoid an unnecessary trip or multiple appointments.

Find Out What Telehealth System Will Be Used

Will your appointment be via phone call, or will there be video? Is there an application you should download, or is it accessible via your web browser? Is this televisit covered by your insurance? Don’t be afraid to overprepare. In the end, it saves time and benefits everyone involved in the appointment.

Connect With a Plan

Telemedicine may seem less formal causing us to not be as prepared as we would for an in-person visit. Write your questions and concerns down. Just because you’re connecting virtually does not make your appointment time any less important.

Bring a Loved One

At first thought, you may see no reason why someone should accompany you to your telehealth visit; however, you still need that support. It’s okay to have someone in the room or even on camera with you. Your provider will not mind and will encourage it. Many times, emotions are high in the exam room, and we hear what our providers are saying, but we’re not really listening. Having support at your telehealth appointment ensures that you won’t be overwhelmed with trying to remember every detail. The best part is that with telehealth your loved one can join from almost anywhere in the world!

Stay Informed

Telehealth extends beyond appointments. It also includes patient portals. If you have a quick question for any member of your healthcare team, more than likely there is a system that you can use to quickly contact someone. Your patient portal can also give you easy access to results of blood tests, urinalysis, and more.

Telehealth services are likely here to stay. As you enter survivorship of your breast cancer care, annual visits can be maintained via telehealth. While in survivorship, you’ll most likely no longer be seeing multiple doctors on a regular basis for your care. With telehealth, you are able to maintain your health with one provider during survivorship without taking time off of work, finding childcare and/or sacrificing travel plans. As telehealth services continue to develop and to improve, the future of breast cancer care will steadily become more accessible.

Check out the following programs in our Breast Cancer TelemEDucation Resource Center:

Breast Cancer TelemEDucation Tips

Download Guide

Breast Cancer TelemEDucation Blog + Tips Infographic

Download Guide

Breast Cancer Clinical Trial Cornerstone Resource Directory

Download Directory

Breast Cancer_Clinical Trial Cornerstone_F

Download Directory

How Can You Ensure You’ve Had Essential Metastatic Breast Cancer Testing?

How Can You Ensure You’ve Had Essential Metastatic Breast Cancer Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can metastatic breast cancer patient ensure they receive essential testing? Dr. Jane Lowe Meisel explains how tests can vary by patient and shares advice for key questions to ask to help ensure optimal care.

Jane Lowe Meisel, MD is an Associate Professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University. Learn more about Dr. Meisel here.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

Related Resources:

Essential Testing Following a Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis

How Genetic Mutations Affect Metastatic Breast Cancer Prognosis and Treatment

What Are Essential Genetic Tests for Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients?


Transcript:

Katherine:

We’ve talked about several key tests. Some patients may be confused about whether they’ve received these tests. So, what questions should they ask their physician to make sure they’re getting appropriate testing?

Dr. Meisel:

I think it’s probably useful because not everybody needs every test, and I think there are often things you hear about online or from friends or even in a webinar like this and there may be a good reason why you haven’t had that particular test. So, I wouldn’t assume that if you haven’t had everything that we’ve talked about today even, that someone’s made a mistake or that you need that and aren’t getting it. But I would ask. I think it’s always helpful to know more, knowledge is power. And so, if you have never had a CT scan or a CA27-29 level or a genomic testing.

I think it’s not a bad thing if you’re curious about it, to just ask your treating team, “Hey, I heard about genomic testing, is there a reason I haven’t had that? Or have I had that?” Maybe you have, and they called it something else. I think it is complicated, but I think it helps to understand what you’ve had done and what you haven’t had done. And sometimes, asking about something like that may prompt the team to do things that my benefit you. 

Is Your Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Effective?

Is Your Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Effective? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can metastatic breast cancer treatment effectiveness be gauged? Dr. Jane Lowe Meisel shares important indicators, including symptom improvement, and discusses periodic testing that can help track a patient’s treatment results.

Jane Lowe Meisel, MD is an Associate Professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University. Learn more about Dr. Meisel here.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

Related Resources:

How Can You Advocate for the Best Breast Cancer Care?

Factors That Guide a Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decision

Which Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Is Right for You? Guide


Transcript:

Katherine:

We have another question we received earlier, this one from Eileen. She asks, “How will I know whether my treatment is working?”

Dr. Meisel:

That’s a really good question. So, I think for patients who have symptoms from their cancer, they often will know the drug is working because their symptoms improve. Say if you have lung metastases and you are short of breath and your shortness of breath gets better. That’s a really good sign that the treatment is working. I would say that often what we are doing, and it depends a little bit on the regimen and what the patient is getting and how often they’re coming in.

But we’re checking labs as well and sometimes there are lab abnormalities when a patient is diagnosed with metastatic cancer that can then improve over time. So, for example, if someone has a heavy burden of bone involvement with breast cancer, there’s a lab value called the alkaline phosphatases that will often be elevated. If that starts elevated and comes down, that’s a really good sign. And some of their liver function tests that we check and if a patient has liver metastases, we often will see those come down if a patient is responding.

There are also, what we call tumor markers that we can check in patients with metastatic breast cancer. Those would be proteins in the blood basically that can be made by the breast cancer in abundance. And those are called CA27-29 and CA15.3. Some doctors check both of them. Some will just check one depending on which one their laboratory at their institution is running. But typically, I will check those at diagnosis of metastatic disease. And then if it’s elevated, I know it’s a good marker to follow for my patient. And then I’ll follow that monthly or every three weeks, depending on when the patient is coming in to see me.

And if I see that marker start to go down, it’s not an absolute, but it can be a good early indicator of improvement with the treatment. And then I think it varies a little bit from practice to practice and based on patient preference. But often there will be scans done when a patient is initially diagnosed to determine the extent of the disease. So, usually a CT scan of the chest and the abdomen and the pelvis or a PET scan, which some of you may have heard of. Either one of those is good.

And that can be done about every 12 weeks usually in the beginning, to make sure a patient is responding and once you feel confident that they are, those can be done less frequently. So, I would say the scans and the lab work and then the patient’s overall condition are usually the way that we look to see, are we having a response or not. 

Why Should Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients Consider a Clinical Trial?

Why Should Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients Consider a Clinical Trial? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Why should metastatic breast cancer patients consider participating in a clinical trial? Dr. Jane Lowe Meisel discusses when clinical trials may be considered, explains the stages of trials, and shares a valuable resource for patients.

Jane Lowe Meisel, MD is an Associate Professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University. Learn more about Dr. Meisel here.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

Related Resources:

What Could Advances in Breast Cancer Research Mean for You?

How Can You Advocate for the Best Breast Cancer Care?

Metastatic BC Research: How Can You Advocate for the Latest Treatment?

Metastatic BC Research: How Can You Advocate for the Latest Treatment?


Transcript:

Katherine:

So, you mentioned earlier, clinical trials. When should patients consider participating in a trial?

Dr. Meisel:

I think it’s a great question and I think the answer is really, almost any time. There are trials in every setting. So, I think one of the common misconceptions about clinical trials is that you really only should be in a clinical trial, or your doctor might only mention a clinical trial if they don’t have other options for you or if you’re really in stage. And I think that perception is changing. But I think the reality is that there are clinical trials in every setting.

So, we have clinical trails looking at prevention of breast cancer. Clinical trials looking to optimize early-stage treatment of breast cancer. Clinical trials looking at secondary prevention, so once you’ve had breast cancer, how can we reduce your risk of recurrence. And then lots of clinical trials in the metastatic setting both for patients who are initially diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.

And then in second, third, fourth line and even for patients who have had tons and tons of additional therapy that we’re looking at new drugs for. So, I think at almost any juncture where you’re making a treatment change, it’s probably appropriate to say, would there be a clinical trail that you can think of that would be good for me in this setting? And it may be that there’s a one that’s 12 hours away, and it’s not convenient for you or feasible.

And maybe that your doctor doesn’t necessarily know of one but then that prompts them to ask a colleague who may be more involved in clinical trial design and development. Or it may be that there is one, but you ultimately choose not to pursue it because you have a different option. But I think it’s always appropriate to ask, would there be a trail for me? Because if there is, then maybe that opens up an option you hadn’t thought about before.

Katherine:

Sure. For patients who aren’t familiar with the stages of clinical trials, would you give us a brief overview of the stages?

Dr. Meisel:

Yeah. Absolutely. So, in terms of clinical trials that’re being done in humans, we talk about Phase I, Phase II, and Phase III typically. So, a Phase II clinical trial is typically an earlier stage trial.

Looking at either a drug that has not been tested in humans before or a drug that has not been tested in a particular combination in humans before. And so, those trials are done only in select institutions, usually academic institutions as opposed to private hospitals. And they often have what’s called a dose finding phase and then a dose escalation phase. So, the earliest part of those trials is actually looking at, what is the safest dose to give to patients?

So, they start the first patients at a low dose of the compound. And if those patients do well, the next patients that’re enrolled get enrolled at a slightly higher dose. And then up until they reach the highest dose they can find where people are tolerating it and doing reasonably well. And in those Phase I trials, doctors and investigators are also evaluating efficacy, is this drug working. But the primary goal of the early phase trial is actually to find the right dose to then study in larger groups. And so, if they find the right dose and there’s good biological rationale for the compound, then the trial would go on to a Phase II.

Which might be just what we call single arm Phase II study, where every patient is getting that experimental drug. And we monitor them to see, is the drug effective or is it less effective than the standard of care? Or sometimes they’re what we call, randomized Phase II trials where patients are randomized to either get the experimental drug, or to get what the standard of care would be in that situation. I think a lot of people get afraid about the idea of a randomized trial because they’re afraid they’re going to be randomized to a placebo. And that is really not done in the metastatic setting because it wouldn’t be ethical to give a patient with active cancer a placebo.

So, usually the randomization would be either to the study compound or to a standard of care drug. And then if things look good in a Phase II trial, then a Phase III study is done which is usually what the FDA requires to allow a drug to go on and be administered outside of a study for approval. And those Phase III trials tend to be larger studies that’re done in larger groups of patients with more statistical validity because of their size, to determine, is this drug really better than the standard. 

Managing Metastatic Breast Cancer Symptoms

Managing Metastatic Breast Cancer Symptoms from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Metastatic breast cancer symptom management relies on monitoring a number of factors, including patient and doctor communication. Dr. Jane Lowe Meisel shares advice for optimal management of MBC symptoms and how a supportive oncology team can help.

Jane Lowe Meisel, MD is an Associate Professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University. Learn more about Dr. Meisel here.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

Related Resources:

Which Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Is Right for You? Guide

Factors That Guide a Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decision

Understanding Metastatic Breast Cancer Resource Guide


Transcript:

Katherine:

How does symptom management play into the treatment decision?

Dr. Meisel:

I think symptom management is huge, because like I said and I tell this to all my patients at the outset of treatment that most of the time, metastatic breast cancer becomes a chronic diagnosis for a patient. You’re dealing with it, essentially like a chronic illness for the rest of your life. And you’re on some form of treatment for the most part, for the foreseeable future.

And so, making sure quality of life is as good as it can be is critically important. And I think symptom management is a huge part of that and we know that if we can treat and manage symptoms well, people can live better and often live longer because then they can stay on treatment for more extensive periods of time comfortably. And so, I always encourage patients, don’t be a martyr.

Don’t think you have to just bounce in here and tell me everything’s okay if it’s not okay. If you’re having symptoms and side effects from treatment, or from the cancer, I want to know about them so that we can really aggressively manage those symptoms just like we’re aggressively managing the cancer. A lot of times oncologists can do that on their own. We are pretty well versed in managing a lot of symptoms and side effects.

But a lot of times also, there are teams of doctors either who do palliative care or here at Emory, we call it supportive oncology where they are specially trained in things like pain management and managing more common side effects like nausea, constipation, diarrhea, appetite suppression, that can go along with cancer and with treatment.

And then they often will co-manage patients with us as well, just to make sure there’s that really strong focus on maintaining as much of a low symptom burden as possible.

How Does Biomarker Testing Impact Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Options?

How Does Biomarker Testing Impact Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Options? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How are metastatic breast cancer treatment options impacted by biomarker testing results? Dr. Jane Lowe Meisel explains germline testing versus somatic testing – and how results may be used to help determine optimal treatment.

Jane Lowe Meisel, MD is an Associate Professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University. Learn more about Dr. Meisel here.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

Related Resources:

Essential Testing Following a Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis

How Can Breast Cancer Genetic Testing Empower Women?

What Could Metastatic Breast Cancer Genetic Testing Advances Mean for You?


Transcript:

Katherine:

What is biomarker testing, and how do results impact treatment options?

Dr. Meisel:

Great question. So, I think people often confuse germline mutations and somatic mutations. So, I’ll talk about that a little bit as we talk ab out biomarkers. So, I think biomarkers in general are factors within the tumor that allow us to make treatment decisions. So, if a biomarker in the tumor can predict response to a certain type off treatment, we want to know what that biomarker is so we can better treat the patient and more elegantly design a regimen. So, for example, having an estrogen-positive tumor, estrogen positivity is a biomarker suggestive of response to anti-estrogen treatments, which is why we give anti-estrogen therapy to ER-positive breast cancers.

But more recently, we’ve been able to move a little bit beyond estrogen, HER2 and triple-negative as our subtypes and think a little bit more in some patients about more sophisticated biomarkers. And that’s where somatic mutation testing comes in. So, there are germline mutations, which are inherited mutations that’re present in every cell in your body. So, for example, if your mother was a BRCA mutation carrier and based that BRCA mutation down to you, you would have a germline BRCA mutation. So, your cancer would carry a BRCA mutation, but so would every other cell you have.

And that’s a biomarker. That would make you a candidate for something like a PARP inhibitor. But in cancers, which the genes in the cancer have gone awry by definition, there are often other biomarkers within that tumor that may make you a candidate for certain treatments. And so, those mutations that arise in the cancer itself are called, somatic mutations. Those are mutations in the tumor, can’t be passed down to your offspring or anything like that and were not inherited by your parents. But mutations that’ve accumulated over time as these cancer cells have gone awry.

And so, genomic testing, or biomarker testing can be done often on a metastatic specimen. So, to be specific about it, say you had a metastatic breast cancer to the liver. You could have a liver biopsy done and that tissue from the liver biopsy could be sent for genomic testing. There are a lot of companies that do this and there are also some larger cancer centers that actually do in house testing for genomics. So, this testing can be done and what it does then is, it helps you determine, do you have a biomarker that predisposes you to a certain treatment.

So, if that metastatic liver tissues, for example contained high levels of PBL1 expression for example and you were triple-negative, that would say to your doctor ooh, this is a great candidate for immunotherapy along with chemotherapy. Or if you’re estrogen-positive for example and your tumor contains a mutation in the gene called PIK3CA and that might make you a candidate for a drug called, Alpelisib. So, these mutations could often be paired to a drug or treatment options, or sometimes to a clinical trial to allow patients to come take advantage of more targeted therapies. That sometimes, because they’re targeted, have fewer side effects than drugs that are a little more discriminate.

Katherine:

Marie sent in this question prior to the program, “Are there some genetic tests that’re more accurate than others?”

Dr. Meisel:

That’s a good question. I would say most genetic testing platforms have been heavily vetted and approved by national organizations and laboratories that’ve been tested multiple times before they’re allowed to be marketed. So, I wouldn’t say that one genetic testing program is necessarily better than another. I think that any of the commercially available platforms that’re used are probably pretty accurate.

I was just going to add one thing to that, if that’s okay. I was going to say that I think it’s important when you’re using genetic testing platforms though to know what you’re testing for. So, there are some platforms that will just test for say, the three most common mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 that Ashkenazi Jews have.

And so, if you get that testing back and you’re negative, you might think, “Oh, I don’t have a mutation in those genes.” Well, we know from that testing, just as an example, is that you don’t have a mutation in those three alleles of that gene. But if you haven’t had full gene sequencing, you could have a mutation somewhere else in that gene. So, I would say all genetic testing that’s commercially available is probably pretty accurate. But it is important when you get testing done to know what you’re testing for and what you’re not testing for so you can interpret your results accurately. And genetic counselors, as well as your doctors can help you do that. 

Key Considerations When Making Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decisions

Key Considerations When Making Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decisions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Making metastatic breast cancer treatment decisions involves weighing key factors. Dr. Jane Lowe Meisel shares important considerations that aid in choosing the best treatment for an individual patient.

Jane Lowe Meisel, MD is an Associate Professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University. Learn more about Dr. Meisel here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Yeah. Yeah. So, what factors are considered when deciding on the best treatment approach for an individual patient?

Dr. Meisel:

So, I think certainly the tumor type that we were talking about. Is it estrogen-positive or HER2-negative or HER2-positive?

I think response to past treatments, both in terms of if someone has had metastatic disease for a long time and has had a few treatments already, how long did they respond to those treatments and how completely did they respond to those treatments?

Did they have stable disease for a while, or did their cancer actively shrink?

And then I think other than that, it would be some of the things I touched on. Side effect profiles. Do patients have pre-existing neuropathy from other chemotherapy? If so, maybe you want to avoid a regimen that causes more neuropathy. Schedule. Some patients, it’s really important to be on a certain schedule, as opposed to a different schedule. I think whether there are clinical trials available instead of whatever the standard of care regimen would be is also important.

Because for some patients who are interested in pushing the envelope or who might be a great candidate for a particular trial, if there is one that they’re a candidate for that’s not horribly inconvenient from a logistics standpoint, then trials I think are also a great option to consider. So, I think from an effectiveness standpoint, you want to think about the tumor type response to past treatments. And then potentially, if the patient has had, what we call genomic profiling, where the tumor has been sent for basically genomic analysis, to see what genes might be mutated in the tumor that could potentially drive a response to a newer, different therapy.

All those things can be taken into account as we think about the cancer. But then there are the patient-specific factors, and I think those would be mainly side effects, schedule, clinical trials and desire or not to pursue those. And then, just what the patient’s perspective is on the plan that you’re offering them. 

An Overview of Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Options

An Overview of Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Options from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What metastatic breast cancer (MBC) treatment options are available? Dr. Jane Lowe Meisel provides an overview of MBC treatment approaches, including CDK4-6 inhibitors, tyrosine kinase inhibitors, PARP inhibitors, and immunotherapy.

Jane Lowe Meisel, MD is an Associate Professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University. Learn more about Dr. Meisel here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Right.

Well, let’s talk about treatment options for advanced disease. Can you review the types of treatments available for metastatic breast cancer?

Dr. Meisel:

Absolutely. And what I’ll do is, I’ll give you a broad overview and then because there’s so much and this is such a rich environment, I mean, I give hour long lectures just about the treatment of metastatic triple-negative breast cancer to our fellows. So, there is so much meaty information here. But I’ll give an overview with some key buzzwords so then people can go look up things that matter more to them or interest them more. So, as I said, we start with thinking about, is this hormone receptor-positive or estrogen-positive breast cancer? Is this HER2-positive or is this triple-negative? And those factors really send us down different paths.

So, if someone is estrogen-positive, I had mentioned before the PALOMA and MONALEESA studies showing that CDK4-6 inhibitors, which is a class of drugs that the first one was approved in 2015 and then two others have been approved subsequently. So, relatively new drugs. But those drugs, which are pills, added to traditional anti-estrogen therapy which would be aromatase inhibitors or fulvestrant.

Are often great first line options for these patients. And people can do well for years on just that alone, with estrogen-positive metastatic breast cancer. On average, about two years before people progress and need something new. And then after that, there are lots of trials ongoing looking at different ways in which an estrogen-positive breast cancer might progress on that regimen and how do we target that. So that there are multiple other anti-estrogen options down the line that people can use in estrogen-positive breast cancer before they need to even think about going on to something like chemotherapy.

So, really lots and lots of options for those patients, but probably starting with a CDK4-6 inhibitor plus anti-estrogen combination. And then in HER2-positive breast cancer, typically the first line treatment would be what we call monoclonal antibodies directed at HER2. So, something like Herceptin and Perjeta, which you may have heard of. And often combined with chemotherapy. But again, this is one of those areas that is also very, I think the art of medicine is very important and patient dependent.

Some of these regimen depend a little bit on patient’s age and other medical problems and desires, whether to include chemotherapy along with that frontline anti-HER2 regimen. Or whether to think about something like anti-estrogen therapy if the patient is HER2-positive and estrogen-positive. And then there are a lot of other different things we’re also using in HER2-positive disease after patients progress on that initial therapy, so there are what we call, antibody drug conjugates, where a chemotherapy like drug is attached to an antibody that then brings the chemo to the HER2-positive cell and allows for chemotherapy penetration more directly.

And then a class of drugs called tyrosine kinase inhibitors, which are oral drugs that get directed at HER2. So, another really exciting area to treat and a place where we’ve seen so many advances. And then in triple-negative breast cancer, I’d mentioned that chemotherapy has really been the mainstay of treatment historically because there weren’t great targets. But recently we’ve seen that immunotherapy, along with chemotherapy drugs like Keytruda, which you may have heard of.

Or atezolizumab, which is Mesenteric, can be used along with chemo and patients that overexpress a molecule called, PDL1. And that can actually include not just how long patients spend on the first treatment, but how long they live. So, we’re seeing a lot of triple-negative patients being great candidates for immune-based regimens now. And then for patients who have inherited a BRCA gene mutation, which many of you may have heard of. That gene mutation can actually predispose a triple-negative patient to be more receptive to a class of drugs called PARP inhibitors.

So, drugs like Olaparib or Talazoparib are new drugs that’ve been approved in the last couple of years in triple-negative metastatic breast cancer for patients who carry a BRCA1 mutation or BRCA2 mutation. And then there are also antibody drug conjugates in triple-negative breast cancer as well. The Trodelvy that’s been approved and then of course others that are in clinical trials currently. So, as you can see, it’s complex. I mean, the treatment of metastatic breast cancer is complicated. And so, it’s important I think to really be able to have a dialogue with your provider about what they’re recommending for you and why.

And I think there are often lots of options. And so, as much as you can make your doctor aware of what matters to you in terms of what side effects are you most afraid of or would you like most to avoid, what dosing schedules would be idea for your schedule for the rest of your life. So that you can deal with taking kids to school or the job that you’re currently working on or whatever, I think helps your doctor help you come up with the right regimen for you.

What is Metastatic Breast Cancer and How Is It Diagnosed?

What is Metastatic Breast Cancer and How Is It Diagnosed? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Metastatic breast cancer (MBC) may progress differently than the earlier stages of breast cancer. Dr. Jane Lowe Meisel defines metastatic breast cancer and discusses key tests involved in an MBC diagnosis.

Jane Lowe Meisel, MD is an Associate Professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University. Learn more about Dr. Meisel here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

This webinar is focused on metastatic disease, would you define metastatic breast cancer for us?

Dr. Meisel:

Absolutely. And I think metastatic breast cancer is one of those terms that as doctors, we throw around a lot and often times don’t stop to check understanding as to what that means.

And what metastatic breast cancer is and means, is breast cancer that is spread outside of the breast and surrounding lymph nodes to another organ system. So, metastatic breast cancer, some of the most common places where it spreads are to the bone, to the skin, to the lungs, to the liver, to the brain. There are other places it can spread to. I’ve seen it on the ovaries, in the GI tract. But basically, when breast cancer spreads outside of the breast and surrounding lymph nodes to another organ system, that’s when we consider it metastatic.

Katherine:

How can a patient ensure they are getting an accurate diagnosis?

Dr. Meisel:

Another good question. And I think the most important thing when you’re considering whether or not you have a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer is to get a biopsy of that metastatic site. So, you wouldn’t want to assume, just based on a CT scan that shows something in the bone that you have metastatic disease. Ideally, we would biopsy that spot or some spot that was indicative of metastatic disease to actually prove that there is metastatic cancer in that distant site.

Because sometimes it’s nothing. Sometimes you get scans and a little bone abnormality, maybe a scar from a prior fall. And then also, sometimes if it is metastatic, sometimes the breast cancer, the hormone receptor status for example can change from the primary site to the metastatic site. And that might impact treatment. So, it’s important to both get a metastatic biopsy to confirm diagnosis. And also, to understand what the treatment plan might be. And I think also for patients, just to make sure that you understand what your stage is, ask your doctor.

Say, what is my stage? Because sometimes doctors think people understand and they don’t actually, so checking that understanding is important. But if your doctor or provider is not actively checking your understanding, you can check it with them to make sure that if you are metastatic or have Stage IV disease, which is another way we define metastatic or talk about metastatic cancer, that you make sure you have the definition right.

Katherine:

Right, right. So, once someone has been diagnosed with metastatic disease, are there key tests that’re used to help understand how their disease may behave and progress?

Dr. Meisel:

Absolutely. So, I think the first thing as I said is that metastatic biopsy. Another thing that’s very important is understanding the hormone receptor status and the HER2 status of the breast cancer. And probably for a lot of you listening, if you have listened to metastatic breast cancer webinars before or maybe know someone or have had a diagnosis yourself, you’re well versed in this. But for some who may not be, I think a quick overview is maybe helpful. Breast cancer can be divided into three different subtypes. So, triple-negative, estrogen-positive or HER2-positive. And estrogen-positive breast cancer is the most common kind.

That tends to be driven by hormones and often treated with what we call, endocrine therapy. So, anti-estrogen pills, things like Tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors are examples of that. And that’s one kind. And then there’s HER2-positive breast cancer, which is a type of breast cancer that over expresses a marker called HER2. And we now, since we know about that marker, have been able to develop a lot of different treatments that target HER2 selectively.

And can be used to treat that subtype. And then triple-negative is basically estrogen-negative, progesterone-negative and HER2-negative. And that type of breast cancer traditionally was treated essentially only with chemotherapy. But now we’ve had some breakthroughs, which we’ll talk about I think later in this program talking about immunotherapy and more targeted therapy for that. But those subtypes help determine how we treat patients. And it also can sometimes predict behavior.

I would say one of the other things that helps us predict behavior of metastatic disease is, if a patient had early-stage disease before, how quickly they developed metastatic disease. So, for example, someone who develops estrogen-positive metastatic breast cancer 12 years out from their original diagnosis is statistically more likely to have a slower progressing course of disease than someone who develops triple-negative metastatic disease very soon after their initial treatment. So, I would say that’s the primary thing we look at in terms of determining treatment plan and then predicting overall course. 

Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe and Effective for Breast Cancer Patients?

Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe and Effective for Breast Cancer Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What do breast cancer patients need to know about COVID-19 vaccines? Dr. Jane Lowe Meisel offers her advice and perspective about COVID vaccines and precautions for breast cancer patient safety.

Jane Lowe Meisel, MD is an Associate Professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University. Learn more about Dr. Meisel here.

[Editor’s Note: On August 23, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for individuals 16 years of age and older.]

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Let’s shift gears for a moment and talk about another time sensitive topic, COVID. Now that vaccines are available, are they safe and effective for breast cancer patients?

Dr. Meisel:

Yeah, I think the short answer to that is yes, absolutely. I’m encouraging all my patients, no matter what their treatment status is to go ahead and get vaccinated. And with the delta variant being more transmissible, I think it’s all the more time, even if you haven’t considered vaccination up until now, to really go ahead and strongly consider getting a vaccine.

I think some of the hesitations that some of the people have talked to me about is that there were not a lot of active cancer patients, if any, included in the initial trials. And whereas that is true, it’s still the case that now, so many cancer patients have been vaccinated. We haven’t really heard about adverse effects in vaccination being something that’s higher in patients who have cancer who are on active treatment. I think the one challenge is, if you have a compromised immune system because of cancer treatment, there’s the possibility that you might not mount the same immune response to the vaccine as someone who doesn’t have cancer or isn’t getting active treatment.

So, while I would say yes, definitely get vaccinated, I would also at the same time encourage caution in saying, because you might not mount the same, 95 percent or whatever immune response, it may still be a good idea to wear a mask when you go to the grocery store, taking those precautions because no one really knows what’s coming and it’s better to be safe than sorry. But I think we will get a lot of information as the months go on about, do we need boosters? Who might need boosters more soon than others and some of that will get clarified for us, but my short answer would be yes, vaccines for all.

Katherine:

Excellent, that’s very helpful.

Dr. Meisel:

Thank you.