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Is the COVID Vaccine Effective for CLL Patients?

Is the COVID Vaccine Effective for CLL Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is the COVID vaccine effective for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients? Dr. Paul Barr shares insight about mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness in CLL patients – both for those in remission and those in active treatment.

Dr. Paul Barr is Professor of Hematology/Oncology at University of Rochester Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Barr, here.

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An Expert’s Perspective on CLL Research Advances

Transcript:

Katherine:

I understand that researchers have been looking into whether the COVID vaccination is as effective in people with CLL. What can you tell us about that? The research?

Dr. Barr:

Sure. Everyone knew this was going to be an important question. We’ve known for a long time that riff CLL responses to vaccines in general aren’t as good as some of the normal population. So, there’ve been a whole host of studies over the years where patients didn’t quite respond as well to flu vaccines or pneumonia vaccines. Nonetheless, we typically recommend standard vaccinations, because there’s can be some degree of response. And our testing isn’t always perfect in terms of how well vaccines work.

So, when it typically, is felt to be a relatively safe procedure, is something we typically recommend.

More recently, we looked at studies on the shingles vaccine, and actually that works better than perhaps the flu shot, for example. Because patients probably were previously exposed to that virus earlier in life when they get vaccinated. So, recall response, which is a little bit easier for the immune system.

So, that brings us up to the COVID vaccines, which is obviously critically important ever on everyone’s mind. And the data’s still early. But what we’ve learned so, far is that, like what we might have predicted, our patients, the CLL patients don’t respond as well to the mRNA-based COVID vaccines.

So, in the media we saw, in the larger 20- and 40,000 patients studies that maybe, 95 percent of patients didn’t experience infection. It looks like in the general population, those vaccines work very well. In a cohort of 160, some CLL patients who are vaccinated early on in Israel, it looked like maybe about 40 percent of patients responded.

For the patients who hadn’t previously been treated but had measurable CLL, maybe about half of patients responded adequately in terms of generating antibodies. So, kind of a flip of a coin. For patients who have been treated and were in remission for more than a year, we’ll say the responses were better, maybe 80 percent or so.

For patients who are on active treatment, even our novel treatments, like the BTK inhibitors or venetoclax (Venclexta), the BCL-2 inhibitor, the responses were pretty poor, 18 or so percent.

So, you can see for patients with active disease, their responses are impaired. For those that are in remission, a little better. For those who are on active treatment, the antibody responses aren’t very good. So, I honestly think this is important information, but tell patients, don’t lose hope.

It’s still important to take the precautions. Some degree of wearing masks and social distancing. They will be better protected if their friends and family around them are vaccinated, and they still may respond to some degree. It’s not like the vaccines aren’t working at all. It’s just that the responses aren’t quite as good as the general population. So, again, another long-winded answer, but hopefully that helps patients understand some of the limitations in vaccinations.

But also that generally things are getting safer in that they still can venture out in society, but still have to take some precautions.

What Is a CLL Biomarker?

What Is a CLL Biomarker? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is a chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) biomarker? Dr. Paul Barr provides the definition of a biomarker and explains how they may assist in determining a CLL patient’s prognosis and treatment approach.

Dr. Paul Barr is Professor of Hematology/Oncology at University of Rochester Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Barr, here.

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An Expert’s Perspective on CLL Research Advances

Transcript:

Katherine:

Often patients are confused with the term biomarker or biomarker testing. Would you define that for us?

Dr. Barr:

Sure. Biomarkers, I think of them as surrogates to understand the bigger picture. A lot of times what we really want to know when we’re meeting a patient is what’s going to happen in the future? What’s going to happen in five and 10 years from now? Or maybe we want to know as we’re getting closer to treatment, how well is this going to work and how long is it going to work for?

So, we do a lot of research in developing surrogate tests to try to give us an idea of what the future might hold. And so, we have developed a number of molecular genetic tests that we test for, and they give us an estimate of what to expect in terms of the patient’s prognosis.

Or perhaps they help predict for which treatment might work best. So, we often, will look at some molecular aberrations or some genetic tests that tell us about abnormalities just within the CLL cells in the leukemia cell. And they can predict for more slowly or rapidly growing disease. And other tests, might predict for, which drug might serve a patient best in terms of efficacy or how long would it work or for safety.

So, think of that as useful tools to help us give the patients an idea of what to expect over time.

An Expert’s Perspective on CLL Research Advances

An Expert’s Perspective on CLL Research Advances from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) research advances have emerged recently? Dr. Paul Barr shares how CLL treatments have advanced in recent years and how progress has impacted quality of life for patients.

Dr. Paul Barr is Professor of Hematology/Oncology at University of Rochester Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Barr, here.

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CLL Treatment and Research Update: News From ASCO 2021

Transcript:

Katherine:

What are you excited about when it comes to CLL research?

Dr. Barr:

Well, it’s hard not to be excited, honestly. Five years ago, roughly, we were largely using chemotherapy.

And while patients could do very well, not all of them did. And in such a short period of time, everything has been turned on its head. We have better treatments for safer, patients are doing better, they’re living longer. There are more novel treatments being studied now. And we start to wonder if with some of the newer treatments, if maybe we actually can cure this disease. Maybe if the majority of them, they might be able to live a normal lifespan. So, we’re incredibly optimistic.

Those are very general statements, but they really are, they come from just the impressive outcomes that we’ve seen from patients being able to be at home, take their treatment, go into deeper remissions and do better in the long-term.

So, yeah, there’s a lot to be excited about. And that’s why my answer is just kind of general. There’s a lot to focus on, from the different novel agents to MRD-guided therapy, to some of the CAR-T products that are coming out. I really think it’ll continue to change at a pretty rapid pace.

Katherine:

That sounds very promising. When it comes to new developments in research, how can patients discuss this type of information with their doctor to find out if there’s a new approach or a clinical trial that might be right for them?

Dr. Barr:

Well, I honestly think they should feel empowered to simply ask. I know a lot of my patients they will want to know anything new. They can ask us, generally is that, they know that we have these major meetings twice a year. And what’s new with these treatments. Or many of them are on clinical trials and want to know, “Do we have any results yet? What’s been changing?” And sometimes at the end of every visit, we’ll spend five minutes just talking about the new developments or what’s coming down the pike or how practice is changing.

I’m just in the routine of having this conversation with most of the patients on a recurring basis. And honestly, they feel well-served, like we’re keeping them up to date. I think patients enjoy that sort of conversation. So, I wouldn’t feel shy about simply asking.

How Can You Engage in Your CLL Care?

How Can You Engage in Your CLL Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients become more engaged in their care? Dr. Paul Barr explains steps that patients can take to activate shared decision-making with their provider for optimal care.

Dr. Paul Barr is Professor of Hematology/Oncology at University of Rochester Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Barr, here.

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An Expert’s Perspective on CLL Research Advances

Transcript:

Katherine:

We’ve been hearing a lot about shared decision-making lately. In your opinion, how is this concept best put into practice?

Dr. Barr:

So, I honestly think shared decision-making is not just useless term. This is something we actually really use in our clinics, and it’s very important for the care of CLL patients, where we have patients who do very well for a long period of time. And there are a lot of different management decisions and a variety of treatment options that we have to discuss.

So, when we have that luxury, it’s really important to help educate patients on the different options and to better understand what their goals of care are, so they can help us decide what’s best for them. When we’re deciding just, one example is that, when we’re deciding on various treatments, we can use agents that are given orally, taken at home, but patients may be on them for many years.

Alternatively, we have fixed duration regimens, but may involve trips to the infusion center. And a lot of these different treatments all work very well. So, involving the patient in that decision making process, makes the process that much easier for the patient and enables you just to take better care of them over the long run.

Katherine:

What is the role of the patient to making treatment decisions?

Dr. Barr:

Well, I think that the role of the patient is really to be their own advocate. Take all the information and then, help us make decisions together. And to just be very honest about what they want from, not just a simple decision about a treatment, but from their overall care. To really just to be as involved as possible and to make sure all of their concerns are heard, all of their questions are answered.

Katherine:

For those who might have trouble speaking up for themselves, what advice do you have for them?

Dr. Barr:

Oh, I would say, especially for our patients with CLL, often there are many,

many appointments along the way, where there may not be urgent decisions being made and there are opportunities to slowly learn more to ask questions. So, as much as possible, try not to be intimidated by that visit to the cancer center, which obviously can be anxiety provoking, but to develop a relationship with your hematologist, your oncologist, your care team so, that they can take better care of you.

I honestly think it works best when you slowly get to know your team, understand the field, some of the decisions that need to be made and that the team only wants what’s best for you. So, yeah, I honestly think it’s – think of it as a process. It’s not a one-time visit where you have to get everything out and get everything answered. It should be a relationship.

CLL Treatment and Research Update: News from ASCO 2021

CLL Treatment and Research Update: News from ASCO 2021 from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What’s the latest chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) treatment and research news out of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 2021 meeting? Dr. Paul Barr shares study results and explains how they could impact CLL care.

Dr. Paul Barr is Professor of Hematology/Oncology at University of Rochester Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Barr, here.

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An Expert’s Perspective on CLL Research Advances

Transcript:

Katherine:

I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Joining me is Dr. Paul Barr. Dr. Barr, would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Barr:

Sure. Hi, Paul Barr from the University of Rochester. Glad to be here.

Katherine:

Thank you so, much. Cancer researchers came together recently to share findings at the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, also known as ASCO. Is there news from the meeting that CLL patients should know about?

Dr. Barr:

There is. It seems like at every major meeting, we have a potentially practice-changing dataset that we like to scrutinize and talk about. This ASCO is no exception. I think probably the most impactful abstract was a report.

The first time we’ve seen the results from a study that was called The ELEVATE Relapsed Refractory Study. This was a randomized trial, enrolling previously treated CLL patients who had high-risk disease and randomizing them to two of our very important BTK inhibitor treatments.

Half the patients got acalabrutinib (Calquence), and the other half received ibrutinib (Imbruvica). And both groups were treated until the drug essentially either stopped working, the disease became resistant or was stopped for side effects. So, this was a study we have waited on the results for a long time given that we don’t often see these randomized studies comparing two such active agents. And the results showed us that both drugs work really almost equally as well.

The progression-free survival or the roughly the average amount of time patients are taking the drug was just over three years, 38 months in both arms. So, they really work very well and equally as well. But we did see less side effects with the acalabrutinib. And one of the most important side effects that the study was powered around was, atrial fibrillation or flutter.

There was less AFib or less new AFib in patients that were treated with the acalabrutinib. There was also less minor bleeding, arthralgia, diarrhea. So, a number of, perhaps less severe type side effects, were less common. There was more headache and more cough in the acalabrutinib-treated patients. But I think overall, most of us took from this abstract that both drugs work exceptionally well.

And overall, are very well tolerated treatments although there does look to be lower rates of a number of important side effects with acalabrutinib.

Katherine:

Dr. Barr, is there any other news from the conference that patients should know about?

Dr. Barr:

There is. I’ll give you a couple other additional findings. One was an update of a study, we’ve seen the results before. It’s sort of a partner study to the one I just mentioned. It was called The ELEVATE TN or ELEVATE Treatment Naive Study.

These were previously untreated patients, treated with an old standard, randomized study where the patients received either chlorambucil-based therapy (Leukeran). It was combined with a CD20 antibody obinutuzumab (Gazyva). The second arm was single agent acalabrutinib and the third arm was acalabrutinib plus obinutuzumab. Not surprisingly both of the acalabrutinibs continue to perform very well. The treatments work much better than chlorambucil. But now, we have four-year data. And that’s important for us to really understand what to expect as time goes on.

And I think that the major take-homes are that, acalabrutinib continues to work very well in the first-line setting. There is a hint that acalabrutinib, I’m sorry, that obinutuzumub may prolong the remissions, which is a little bit surprising to us.

But again, small differences in the study weren’t powered to really look at that comparison. And also, the major take home from that dataset is that the safety still looks very good at four years for the patients receiving acalabrutinib. So, I think that continues to shape our practice. And I think the last dataset or abstract to comment on, was one actually we saw at a different meeting at the European Hematology Association meeting, EHA. And this was another randomized study comparing two different BTK inhibitors in relapsed CLL patients.

This one compared ibrutinib and zanubrutinib (Brukinsa). Like acalabrutinib, zanubrutinib is another more specific BTK inhibitor. And when you compare it to ibrutinib and perhaps somewhat similarly to The ELEVATE Relapsed Refractory Study in this zanubrutinib-ibrutinib comparison, so-called ALPINE study, we saw similar efficacy.

Zanubrutinib actually looked like it performed a little better than ibrutinib, but also again here, lower rates of side effects. So, the theme continues for the more specific BTK inhibitors. They seem to work just as well, maybe a little better in some respects, compared to Ibrutinib and somewhat lower rates of side effects. So, when you put it all together, all of the BTK inhibitors work exceptionally well.

We have varying degrees of follow-up and confidence. We have the most follow-up in our ibrutinib treated patients so, we know what to expect for patients six, seven years out after being on ibrutinib.

But we’re now seeing in these earlier studies that lower rates of various toxicities for the newer more specific BTK inhibitors. So, kind of a long-winded answer to your simple question, but hopefully that shows how the new and emerging data continues to shape how we take care of patients.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: Shirley’s Clinical Trial Profile

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: Shirley’s Clinical Trial Profile from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patient Shirley felt she had a different experience not fitting the typical CLL patient demographic. Watch as she shares about her journey as a BIPOC patient, the value of clinical trials, and her advice to other patients for ensuring optimal outcomes.

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Transcript:

Shirley:

In my late 30s, I started feeling extremely fatigued, and I went to my GYN. She ran a couple of tests, and she has sent me over to a hematologist because she just determined that it was something that she was not knowledgeable about. Then I had a physician contact me after several blood tests, and they had told me that it was a form of cancer, and it was leukemia, and it was called CLL, which is chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

When I heard the word chronic, I immediately thought, “Oh my God, this means like death instantly.” But they had told me that, “No, it was aggressive, but it’s definitely slow-moving,” and I have a great chance of fighting it. I was concerned because I did not feel like I wanted to be a lab rat, because I was told that I did not fit the demographics for having CLL. Most of the individuals were male of Caucasian descent, and they were much, much older than I was possibly in the late 60 to 70s, so I got a lot of stares and it made me feel very uncomfortable. So, I just didn’t want to feel like they were just like, “Okay, this is a different case. We can make a name for.” I wanted to make sure I was getting the best treatment.

I didn’t tell too many people in the beginning because I really didn’t know what was going on, but a lot of people was able to tell because no matter how much the time of sleep I got…I was always tired. The fatigue is just overwhelming. I decided to just remain optimistic about my future, because I know whenever you’re trying to battle any kind of ailment your attitude means a lot, you have to really put it out there into existence that you’re going to get better and you believe it, you have to really believe it in order to put that energy into finding out about the treatments and so forth. My doctors, they gave me a booklet that was maybe about it, and they said to me, “Take this home, study hematology and learn about your disease, how we’re going to be trying to treat it, and you know what you’re going to be feeling and you need to tell us everything if your nose itches, your eyes burn. We need to know everything that happens.”

And I was just not a complaining type of person, so there were plenty of times where I was experiencing like pain on my side and I was just like, “Oh, it’s probably just gas from the medication,” and then later found out that the medication they were giving me was enlarging my spleen, so it was pushing against my stomach, which was causing me an enormous amount of discomfort. So the doctors had to then give me other types of medication to help treat that issue that I was having, so it was definitely a long journey. This was an unusual diagnosis for someone of my heritage. The doctors explained to me that there was no blueprint for my treatment, this was, they were going to be trying things, they had a team of individuals, maybe it was like 10 or 15 of them, and they’re actually studying my case on this big screen in this room.

So it was constant medication, it was constant them trying, running the blood test, you were always, always getting blood tests, they were always giving you observations. Someone was always in your room, at least every two hours, checking to see what was going on. I just remember some time sitting in the hospital was just feeling very overwhelmed and definitely feeling isolated alone. I remember one time I was in so much pain, like my bones were hurting me so bad that I literally was just losing my mind in the bed. So they gave me some morphine, which I’ve never taken before in my life, and I wind up throwing up the chemo medication that they gave me. it was just so bad. So, the nurses and I were really overwhelmed at that point. I remember contacting family members and telling them, “I need to get out of here, I feel like they’re just trying whatever they want to try on me, and I don’t think it’s working. I don’t feel this is the place for me, like I need to really get out of here.”

So my doctor who was actually giving a seminar in Switzerland was just like…he was really amazing. He said to me, he said, “You are my prize patient. I am working every day really hard trying to get you back to being your 100 percent yourself,” He said, “You’re always like a light of sunshine.” The women that he worked with are always looking in the patient portal, and they’re like, “Shirley is coming in,” like, “Oh my gosh, she’s coming today.” And they’re excited because I always maintained a great attitude, and I always came in there dressed up.

So my doctor also recommended it when my treatment, a hospital stay was over for me to practice on taking out walks and exercising, yoga was very good meditation, they told me to get all these apps on my phone and therapeutic massages, those have been like a savior for me. I think having a good support system around you is extremely important, people who understand. Never be afraid to tell people what exactly you are experiencing. The mental fatigue that you go through is really unpredictable, and it’s off because that was not something that they, that no one prepared you for. So my doctor and his colleagues, they were just one of the greatest teams that I have experienced, them being very transparent about what was going on with me, even when I was at one time being very stubborn, I got so upset that I pulled the IV out of my arm and I was like, “You know what, I’m not doing this, I’m tired. I’ve got to get out of this hospital. I can’t stay here.”

I mean, people were just so sick, and this is not me. And they had to assure me, “It is you. You are sick, and you do have a blood cancer, and the sooner you come to terms with that, the more calm you’re going to be in being susceptible to accepting treatment. We’re here to help you, but we need you to tell us if something is not working, you don’t feel good on what’s going on in your body, we need to know.” The blood tests don’t lie, they tell them exactly what’s happening, the doctors know if the treatment is working, they monitor the CLL extremely closely. They were way more advanced at honing in on the type of treatment that I needed, so I was really assured that you’re in the right hands, and after when I started feeling a little bit better, then my trust totally opened up in staff, because I saw that they were excited about my treatment working. They were giving me the three combinations of chemo, and they were like, “This combination is working for you now.”

They started a new trial which was bringing in venetoclax (Venclexta) along with the rituximab (Rituxan), and that is what really started sending me on a better path, getting better. And then once I came off of the rituximab, which was an IV-infused chemo treatment, they decided to just keep me on the pill form of venetoclax, I was able to go into the office, which I was ecstatic about.

Advice I like to give to patients who are considering a clinical trial is definitely ask a lot of questions. Don’t be afraid, don’t be shy or hesitant and don’t feel like you feel like you’re ignorant. And always address it with a positive attitude. Keep in mind that they are there for your best interests and trying to get your health back to normalcy. Just know that you’re not in it alone. And always find someone that you can always have a conversation with if you don’t feel comfortable. Never be afraid to ask questions and just even if you do look different as opposed to everyone else that… and just get that everyone else that is sick. Don’t feel like you’re in it alone, regardless of how you look for what your demographic background is, just know that the team that’s there that’s in place is always fighting for you, and you can always say no or get a second opinion. That’s very important to know that you have options.

So, never feel afraid to ask about the clinical trials and do your research, it’s important. It’s inspiring to see people on the leukemia organization website that are exercising, they go for runs right after they receive treatment, that inspired me to say, I’m going to out and take the dog out for a walk or go out for a run and help myself get better,” and it works. It works, it really does.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: Fran’s Clinical Trial Profile

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: Fran’s Clinical Trial Profile from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patient Fran was diagnosed over 20 years ago and has traveled long distances for care. Watch as she shares her CLL journey and the benefits that she’s experienced from seeking out CLL specialists and clinical trials.

“I just think that clinical trials play such an important role in the future…we’ve come such a distance in my 20 years that we would have never come had we not had people that came before me in clinical trials.”

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Transcript:

Fran:

Hi, my name is Fran, and I am 80 years young, just celebrated my birthday. And I have had CLL for 22 years. So, I developed CLL while I was still working as a nurse and as a diabetic specialist within a hospital setting. I was diagnosed as many are, by a simple blood test, having no symptoms. It was really done as part of my military requirement.

And I continued to work and continue my military career. I was a single parent, I am/was a single parent at that time, and I was raising three girls, so I had a busy life, and this was just a sideline as far as my health was concerned. I was in good health, but as the years went on, after two-and-a-half years, my count started to rise again, no symptoms. And the local oncologist that I was seeing decided that it was time for me to begin my first treatment, which was a very simple treatment again, as far as I was concerned, because it was an oral medication that I had no side effects whatsoever from, and it was easy to take once a day, and I did get some improvement in my blood work, of course. It did not put me in remission, but it brought down my numbers a little bit, and I was able to go sort of morally along for another two years when then it became evident again, not because of how I felt, but because of my numbers that I needed additional treatment. This treatment was a little bit more complicated because it was FCR, and that’s chemotherapy intravenous.

But I did say myself, “You need to start paying more attention to this disease,” and I went…I did go for a consultation at a university, about two hours from my home, and the physician was pretty direct with me and saying, “You need to start to pay more attention, get more information, have more testing done regarding the type of CLL you have,” at that point, it was the first time I had heard mutated, unmutated, which I know sounds probably a little crazy with my medical background. But again, I was able to put it in the rear-view mirror, the disease because I felt so well, and/or maybe it was denial.

I was able to come out of retirement and start to teach nursing part-time and work some other jobs. I got married. Life was good, I mean it was even better than good, and my pattern has been that I would get the treatment, get my CLL under control for about three to three-and-a-half years, that was about the time that I started, the numbers started to increase. And so my local oncologist here in Maryland said, “Well, we really need to be looking for something different,” and it was at that time when iguratimod (IGU) had just come out of clinical trials and been approved, so I was in this area, at least one of the first people in their practice to go on iguratimod.

Even though it’s not comfortable geographically, but to begin to look for a specialist and…so three years into iguratimod, I did that. I went to a university hospital setting, about three hours from my home and had way more thorough work-up, but more a work-up that included more tests that were able to give a clearer picture of my CLL, where it was at that point. And this group of doctors at this university setting said, Well, you were on track to maybe another year, and iguratimod to the end of the line as far as treatment for you, and you probably need to be looking at perhaps venetoclax (Venclexta) as your next option.

And I discussed actually with one of the local oncologists about going to see a specialist, and he encouraged me, he did not discourage me, he said, “We’d like to continue, we can play a role here, but we understand where you’re coming from.”

I am so glad that I made the decision, I did, because there is no doubt that this decision at the end of the iguratimod journey for me. I was going to be faced with another crossroads of where do I go from here as far as treatment, and I am quite sure had I not made the decision to go to a research university setting with a specialist that really is heavy into research.

I’m not sure that I would have…I would have ended up on a clinical trial, I’m not sure…I could have navigated all that myself, even with my medical background. Sure, enough the iguratimod did come to an end. And as I did, I was truly, really ready for venetoclax and a physician specialist, CLL specialist that had been at the university setting that I went to, as I mentioned, for my care, he had left that university and moved on a little further away from where I live, I contacted him just for an opinion, and he said, “Well, why don’t you come to see me?” I was in Florida at the time, and so I said, “Okay,” I would. And I did. And he broached the clinical trial.

The benefits definitely outweigh the risks for me. I didn’t realize that I was one of the first 10 or 12 people to take this drug, but I don’t think it would have made any difference because I knew that I had faith, first of all, in my physician and his knowledge, I had faith in the drug as they explained it to me, it was a new way of addressing mutations, and I just felt that this was a good pathway to be on, and that the risks, I felt would be handled by my physician and I would be watching for them, so…I do feel in my case, it was definitely worth the risk. I would say though, that people should really think and read and get as much information as they can about the specific trial that they’re considering, but know that there are just some questions, especially early on, that can’t be answered because they don’t know the answers.

I believe wholeheartedly in trials, and I would say that you have to deal with the, I think the emotion and the fear, the trepidation, this is something new, and try to work through that and concentrate on the positive. I just think that clinical trials play just such an important role in the future that you know of all of medicine, but particularly CLL we’ve come such a distance in my 20 years that we would have never come had we not had people that came before me, in clinical trials. On the other hand, I think you really do need to think about not only the immediacy, but the intermediate and the long range. What do I do if this happens or that happens? That I have to think of this.

This is part of my life now. This is something I have to commit to.

So it’s given me years with my family, with my girls, with my grandchildren, I’m getting to see kids off to college, into high school, Bob and I, my husband have had years that I never thought that I would have.

How to Make Confident and Informed CLL Treatment Decisions

How to Make Confident and Informed CLL Treatment Decisions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can you engage effectively in your CLL care? Collaborating with your doctor and playing an active role in your care can lead to improved outcomes. This animated video reviews essential steps and important considerations for making informed and confident CLL treatment decisions.

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Transcript:

Elena:

Hi, I’m Elena and this is my husband, Bill.

Elena:

Several years ago, I was diagnosed with CLL, which stands for chronic lymphocytic leukemia. CLL is a blood cancer that starts in the bone marrow. It’s the most common type of adult leukemia.

When I was first diagnosed, I wasn’t treated right away. It was confusing at the time, but my CLL doctor, Dr. Singh, told me that most people with CLL don’t need to be treated immediately.

Here’s Dr. Singh, he can explain it further.

Dr. Singh:

Hi! I’m Dr. Singh, and I’m a hematologist specializing in the care and treatment of people with CLL.

At first, we approached Elena’s CLL with “watch and wait” or active surveillance. Through physical exams, blood work and frequent communication, we monitored how her CLL was progressing over time.

Elena:

I was in watch and wait for about a year—then, I begin to have symptoms that interfered with my daily life. I had drenching night sweats and I felt so exhausted.

Dr. Singh:

Right! An increase in symptoms is often an indicator that it’s time to treat a patient’s CLL. Elena’s fatigue and night sweats are common symptoms. Other symptoms can include enlarged lymph nodes or spleen, fever, unintentional weight loss and frequent infections.

In addition to an increase in symptoms, signs that it might be time to treat can include anemia or low platelet counts.

Elena:

So, once Dr. Singh let me know it was time to treat my CLL, he walked me and Bill through the goals of treatment.

And by that, I mean we discussed balancing my lifestyle with finding an effective treatment for my CLL.

Dr. Singh:

Elena let me know that she’s very social and enjoys riding her bike – we wanted to make sure she could continue doing the activities she loves.

The clinical goals of CLL treatment are to slow, stop or eradicate the cancer. I spoke with Elena and Bill about finding an approach that may get her CLL under control while preserving her quality of life.

Elena also had essential testing, including biomarker testing, which we took into consideration along with her treatment goals. We reviewed each potential approach to make sure we found the best, most personalized treatment option for HER CLL.

We discussed the effectiveness of the treatment option, and the likelihood of a recurrence a. And we reviewed what our next steps would be if the treatment plan needed to be adjusted.

Bill:

And I wanted to make sure Elena was able to continue feeling her best, so I asked about potential side effects for each therapy and how it could impact our lifestyle.

Dr. Singh:

Exactly! We discussed how each treatment option could affect Bill and Elena’s daily life. You and your doctor may also consider:

  • The financial impact of a treatment plan
  • Your age and overall health
  • The stage of your disease at the time of treatment
  • And Biomarker test results

Elena:

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

Bill:

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 CLL and bringing a list of questions to each appointment.

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

Dr. Singh:

As you can see, Bill and Elena 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 CLL specialist to help you feel confident in your care decisions.

Elena:

Dr. Singh made Bill and I feel included in the decision-making process, as if it were a collaboration.

Dr. Singh:

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

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

Bill:

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

Elena:

Thanks for joining us.

How Can I Tell if My CLL Treatment is Effective?

How Can I Tell if My CLL Treatment is Effective? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

How is chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) treatment effectiveness monitored? Dr. Lindsey Roeker discusses the potential symptom improvements that can manifest and what she looks for during examinations with her patients.

Dr. Lyndsey Roeker is a hematologic oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Roeker here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:                  

How do you monitor whether a treatment is working?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, a lot of it has to do with the CBC, so your normal blood count, and what we’re looking for is improvement in hemoglobin and improvement or normalization of platelet count. And for many people, those, either anemia or low platelets, are the symptoms that drive people to be treated in the first place, so we’re looking for those parameters to get better.

With a lot of people with CLL, totally understandably, because it’s the number that’s the most abnormal, really focused on white blood cell count. 100 percent understandable.

I always tell people that that’s actually the part of the CBC that I care least about, and the reason is that, for patients on BTK inhibitors, we expect to see the white blood count actually get higher before it gets less high. That’s actually just a sign that the drug is working and it’s pulling CLL cells from the lymph nodes into the bloodstream. So, that’s actually a good sign that it’s working, and that lymphocyte count, at least in the beginning, isn’t a great marker of how well the drug is working.

The other thing that’s important is the physical exam, so looking for whether any lymph nodes that were enlarged have normalized or gone away, and also feeling the sides of the spleen, because the spleen can become enlarged with CLL, and it’s important to make sure that’s normalizing, as well.

And then the last piece is talking to people, so making sure that if they were having fatigue, or fevers, or night sweats before they started treatment, to make sure that those symptoms have gone away. And that’s kind of the three things that I use. I use the blood counts, the physical exam, and the interview with a patient to really understand how their disease is responding.

What is High-Risk CLL and How Is It Treated?

What is High-Risk CLL and How Is It Treated? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What exactly is high-risk chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and how is it treated? Dr. Lyndsey Roeker discusses biomarkers that indicate high-risk CLL as well as treatment approaches that may be used for targeting specific subtypes of CLL.

Dr. Lyndsey Roeker is a hematologic oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Roeker here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:                  

We have an audience question. Mike wants to know, “What does it mean to have high-risk CLL?”

Dr. Roeker:                

So, great question, and the interesting thing is that I think the answer to that question is evolving. So, deletion of 17p, deletion of 11q, and TP53 mutation have historically been markers of more aggressive disease or unfavorable CLL. In the era where we only had chemo and immunotherapy, we know that patients had less great outcomes. We know that the treatments tended to not work as well, and patients had disease that tended to come back faster, and things like that.

That’s all evolving in the era of targeted agents. We have some indication that probably patients who have more aggressive underlying disease biology, meaning disease that’s going to behave less well, kind of regardless of what we treat it with, certainly may derive less benefit, meaning that the treatment will work for less long. That being said, these treatments are still really effective for our patients who have traditionally high-risk disease. So, I think it still remains to be seen, in terms of long-term outcomes and what to expect for patients that have these traditionally high-risk characteristics.

Katherine:                  

Let’s run through a few potential results so we can understand how you might approach each patient type. If someone has deletion 17p, what is the approach?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, there are two totally reasonable frontline treatment options.

So, BTK inhibitors, which are – the current approved ones are ibrutinib and acalabrutinib, are completely a reasonable approach in the frontline setting, meaning the first treatment that someone gets, and those are pills that you take daily. For ibrutinib, it’s once a day. For acalabrutinib, it’s twice a day, for as long as they’re working. And the idea is, with this approach, you keep on those medicines, and they keep the disease suppressed. So, that’s the first option.

The second totally reasonable option is a combination of venetoclax (Venclexta) and obinutuzumab (Gazyva). So, venetoclax is a pill and obinutuzumab is an IV medicine, and the way that this was studied was a total of one year of therapy. So, from the time you start until you’re done with all of your treatments, that’s a one-year course. And the drugs have different side effect profiles, and depending on other medical problems, patient preference about, let’s just take a pill and that’s easy, versus the combination of pill and IV medicines, either can be a completely reasonable choice.

It just depends a lot on patient and doctor preference.

Katherine:                  

What about the TP53 mutation?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, both of those treatment options seem to work very well for TP53-mutated patients. We had that discussion about the possibility of chemoimmunotherapy for a small minority of patients, and for patients with a TP53 mutation, using chemoimmunotherapy up front is probably not the correct answer. It’s better to go with one of the targeted drug approaches.

Katherine:                  

How would you approach each patient type, if a patient is IGHV unmutated?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, IGHV-unmutated is the same discussion. Chemoimmunotherapy is probably not going to provide a durable, meaning it’s not going to last for a long time. We’re not going to achieve that potential cure. So, for those patients, either the BTK inhibitor approach, or the venetoclax/obinutuzumab approach is completely a reasonable one to take.

Katherine:                  

And if they’re IGHV-mutated?

Dr. Roeker:                 

IGHV-mutated patients who are young and don’t have a lot of other medical problems, that’s when we add in the third option of chemoimmunotherapy. For many patients, it’s not wrong to choose either a BTK inhibitor or venetoclax/obinutuzumab, but it does add in that third potential option of chemoimmunotherapy.

Katherine:                  

Are there other markers that patients should know about?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, TP53 mutation status, FISH, and karyotype kind of gets you most of them. Some centers do additional next-generation sequencing of other genes that have been associated with higher-risk disease, though really understanding how to interpret those results still remains somewhat unclear, and that’s still an area of research that people are doing, to really understand what those other mutations really mean for people.

What Key Questions Should CLL Patients Ask About Digital Tools Born Out of COVID?

What Key Questions Should CLL Patients Ask About Digital Tools Born Out of COVID? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are some key questions that chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients can ask about digital tools for their CLL care? Dr. Kathy Kim from UC Davis School of Medicine offers advice on questions to ask and explains important use factors about some technologies.

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Transcript:

Dr. Kim:

Patients should be advocates and they should ask, what can you give me that can help me through this process, and what tools do you have for me to communicate and stay connected with my doctor? So, you should ask, are there ways for me to get in touch that are not calling, just when the clinic is open, do you have a secure messaging system? Can I message through the patient portal? Do you have an app that’s available for that patient portal that I can download? Do you have any other research studies where they’re trying as the same way you said patients should ask other clinical trials, are there research studies using technology for cancer patients? So as much as outreach as we do to try to recruit patients into our technology trials, oftentimes somehow patients don’t hear about it, so if you ask and you’re interested, is there a study like that where I can get access to technology to try it out, to see if it will help. So, you should definitely be an advocate, but I think some specific tools that patients should be asking about that are already available are things like, how can I get an electronic copy of my care plan? Can I get that through the portal or do you have an app where I can download my actual care plan? How do I get electronic copies of my medical records?

Where can I get them? And how can I store them safely? How can I connect to other patients in my area? Do you have an online patient support group? Do you have any services at the hospital where you connect patients like me as close as possible to the kind of patient I am, that you can make a match for me to talk to someone by using either ZOOM like this or an online support group or just one-on-one match maybe introducing by email. These are all technological tools that already exist that are not, that should not take a huge amount of time for someone to learn a new technology, but you want to make sure that it’s something that your hospital and your provider feel comfortable have tried and know that it’s secure and safe and useful. You don’t wanna go off and do something that your provider has no connection to it, you really wanna keep these as integrated as possible, and in that way, I think in the future, we won’t just rely on Mr. Marks, you have to come in to the hospital for every single thing. We want to give you all these tools, and then you and your doctor can decide which things you really have to come in person for and which things you can access online.

And so that is the conversation that every time you go talk to a new provider or go to a new hospital or clinic, you should ask, what technologies do you have that are available to the patients? And that that’s how I think we’re gonna push forward our new model of cancer care, which I will hope will use the technology to allow patients to collaborate with their healthcare team more easily and more seamlessly and in a way that’s safe and secure

Which CLL Treatment Is Right for You? What You Need to Know

Which CLL Treatment Is Right for You? What You Need to Know from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What do you need to know before deciding which treatment is best for YOUR CLL? Dr. Lindsey Roeker discusses the role of key CLL tests, including biomarker testing, reviews emerging research, and provides tips for partnering with your care team to advocate for the best care. 

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today we’re going to discuss how to access the most personalized CLL treatment for your individual disease, and why it’s essential to insist on key testing. 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 the webinar.

At the end of this program, you’ll receive a link to a program survey. Please take a moment to provide feedback about your experience today, in order to help us plan future webinars. And finally, before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you. Joining me today is Dr. Lindsay Roeker. Dr. Roker, thank you so much for joining us. Would you introduce yourself?

Dr. Roeker:                 

Absolutely. So, my name is Lindsey Roeker, and I am a member of the CLL program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Katherine:                  

Excellent, thank you. Let’s start at the beginning. How is CLL diagnosed?

Dr. Roeker:                 

Absolutely. So, for most patients, CLL is diagnosed after a routine blood test shows a high white blood cell count. That’s kinda the most common way that we find people entering into our clinic. Other things that people can notice is they have lumps or bumps that they’ve felt in their neck or under their armpits. Those are some other symptoms that can lead to the diagnosis, but often once a patient finds that their white blood cell count is high, some additional testing is done, and the diagnosis of CLL is made.

Katherine:                  

What are some common symptoms of CLL? You mentioned the lumps and bumps.

Dr. Roeker:                 

Yeah. So, often in early stages, the lumps and bumps in the neck are the most common that people recognize, but fevers or chills, night sweats, where patients are waking up drenched, having to change their pajamas, or weight loss without trying, are some other symptoms that can raise some alarm bells and make people start looking for something.

 And CLL can be a diagnosis that can be found through that, as well.

Katherine:                  

What is watch and wait?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, after diagnosis, about two-thirds of patients enter this period of watch and wait, and what that means is we have good data to say that treating CLL before it’s causing symptoms doesn’t help people live better or live longer. And for that reason, we use the approach of watch and wait, and what that really means is you see your doctor a few times a year. I see people every three to four months. And you have your labs checked, have a physical exam, and through that process, just ensure that there are no symptoms that the CLL is causing that warrant therapy.

Katherine:                  

That’s very helpful. Thank you for that. Now, what tests are necessary to help understand a patient-specific disease, both at diagnosis and prior to treatment?

Dr. Roeker:                 

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

As you start reading, you’ll find that people talk about monoclonal B-cell lymphocytosis, which is MVL, CLL, and SLL, and a lot of times, it’s confusing because you start reading, and there are all of these – kind of lingo around it. So, what we’re looking for with flow cytometry is how many cells are in the peripheral blood? If it’s fewer than 5,000 per microliter – so, your doctor will talk to you; they’ll either say five or 5,000, depending on what units they’re using.

If it’s lower than that, and you don’t have any lumps or bumps or lymphadenopathy, meaning enlarged lymph nodes, that’s when we make the diagnosis of monoclonal B-cell lymphocytosis.

So, that’s kind of a pre-cancer diagnosis. Then, CLL, the diagnosis, is made in any patient who has greater than 5,000 cells per microliter, or five, if you’re using that unit, and that’s when the diagnosis of CLL is made. If people have lymph nodes that are enlarged, and there are CLL or SLL cells inside of them, but not a lot of involvement in the blood, that’s when we make the diagnosis of SLL, which is small lymphocytic lymphoma. So, CLL and SLL are really the same disease; it’s just where they manifest, primarily. So, whether it’s mostly in the blood, that’s CLL, or mostly in the lymph nodes, and that’s SLL.

Dr. Roeker:                 

Nope. So, that’s the flow cytometry test, and that’s kind of the test that leads to the diagnosis.

Katherine:                  

Got it. What about FISH and TP53 mutation?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, at diagnosis, I often do this testing. Depending on which provider you go to, you may do it at diagnosis or closer to the time of needing treatment. But FISH is basically a test that looks for big changes in the chromosomes. So, if you remember back to high school biology and you see all of those chromosomes laid out, what FISH is looking for is big changes in those chromosomes. So, is there an entire arm of one of the chromosomes missing? And that’s what FISH does.

There’s also something called karyotyping, or in some institutions, they use something called SNP array. These are more refined tests that look for additional changes in the DNA. So, FISH is kind of a targeted look at a few different chromosomes, whereas karyotype or SNP array looks at all of the chromosomes. Then, there is TP53 mutational testing, and that is done through a bunch of different testing, often next-generation sequencing is what we use.

And we basically use a fancy spellcheck to see if there’s any misspellings, if you will, in TP53.

And TP53 is a gene that we use. It’s called the guardian of the genome. So, its job is basically to make sure that our cells are reproducing. They keep all the genes in working order. If TP53 is missing or misspelled, it doesn’t work as well, and that’s when people can get more issues with their CLL. It tends to be CLL that behaves a little more aggressively.

Katherine:                  

What about IGHV mutation status?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, IGHV mutation status is a really important feature because it really is, of all of the things, what helps us understand the best way to go about therapy. And IGHV mutational status is basically a signature of the CLL that helps you understand how mature or immature the CLL cells are.

In general, mature cells tend to behave a little bit more predictively, and in ways that behave a bit better with therapy. So, the more mature cells are actually mutated IGHV, and I know that’s backward, because usually we think of mutated as being back. But in this case, mutated is actually those cells that are a bit more mature, and that just has to do with how white blood cells develop in our body. If it’s IGHV-unmutated, those tend to be the more immature cells that can behave a little more erratically.

Katherine:                  

Which tests need to be repeated over time?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, IGHV mutational status never changes, so that one does not need to be repeated. TP53 mutational status, FISH, and karyotype or SNP array, are ones that I tend to repeat before we start any therapy. So, at the time that you’re going to start your frontline therapy, and then if you have the disease come back and need to be treated again, I usually repeat those tests because those can change over time.

So, that’s both FISH, karyotype or SNP array, and the TP53 mutational testing.

Katherine:                  

Okay. So, it sounds like it’s important for patients to make sure they’ve had this testing. What do the test results reveal about a patient’s prognosis?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, IGHV mutational status, like I said, really helps us understand how to approach therapy. In general, CLL is a disease that we are increasingly managing with targeted medicines, so drugs that really manipulate the cell biology to either stop the growth of cells or kill the cells so that they pop open. And that has been a trend that has taken place over the last six or seven years, and definitely has revolutionized the treatment of CLL. There is still a small minority of patients, the patients who have IGHV-mutated disease, and are younger, and have fewer other medical problems, that can still be good candidates for chemotherapy.

And the reason that I say that is because in general, chemotherapy for those young, mutated patients cures a subset of patients, so when we look at long-term studies of FCR, which is a combination of chemo and immunotherapy, there are a subset of patients who have a really long period where their disease doesn’t come back, to the point that we call them cured or functionally cured. That’s obviously a word that has a lot of emotional charge around it, and it’s hard because there’s always the possibility of the disease coming back in the future.

But because of those long-term outcomes, we know that there’s some patients that can really have long-term benefit from chemoimmunotherapy.

For IGHV-unmutated patients, and especially for patients with TP53 mutations or deletion of 17p, chemoimmunotherapy really is not the right answer, with all of the medications that we have available to us now.

Katherine:                  

We have an audience question. Mike wants to know, “What does it mean to have high-risk CLL?”

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, great question, and the interesting thing is that I think the answer to that question is evolving. So, deletion of 17p, deletion of 11q, and TP53 mutation have historically been markers of more aggressive disease or unfavorable CLL. In the era where we only had chemo and immunotherapy, we know that patients had less great outcomes. We know that the treatments tended to not work as well, and patients had disease that tended to come back faster, and things like that.

 That’s all evolving in the era of targeted agents. We have some indication that probably patients who have more aggressive underlying disease biology, meaning disease that’s going to behave less well, kind of regardless of what we treat it with, certainly may derive less benefit, meaning that the treatment will work for less long. That being said, these treatments are still really effective for our patients who have traditionally high-risk disease. So, I think it still remains to be seen, in terms of long-term outcomes and what to expect for patients that have these traditionally high-risk characteristics.

Katherine:                  

So, now that we understand how these tests affect prognosis, let’s discuss how they can affect treatment options. Let’s run through a few potential results so we can understand how you might approach each patient type. If someone has deletion 17p, what is the approach?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, there are two totally reasonable frontline treatment options.

So, BTK inhibitors, which are – the current approved ones are ibrutinib and acalabrutinib, are completely a reasonable approach in the frontline setting, meaning the first treatment that someone gets, and those are pills that you take daily. For ibrutinib, it’s once a day. For acalabrutinib, it’s twice a day, for as long as they’re working. And the idea is, with this approach, you keep on those medicines, and they keep the disease suppressed. So, that’s the first option.

The second totally reasonable option is a combination of venetoclax and obinutuzumab. So, venetoclax is a pill and obinutuzumab is an IV medicine, and the way that this was studied was a total of one year of therapy. So, from the time you start until you’re done with all of your treatments, that’s a one-year course. And the drugs have different side effect profiles, and depending on other medical problems, patient preference about, let’s just take a pill and that’s easy, versus the combination of pill and IV medicines, either can be a completely reasonable choice.

It just depends a lot on patient and doctor preference.

Katherine:                  

What about the TP53 mutation?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, both of those treatment options seem to work very well for TP53-mutated patients. We had that discussion about the possibility of chemoimmunotherapy for a small minority of patients, and for patients with a TP53 mutation, using chemoimmunotherapy up front is probably not the correct answer. It’s better to go with one of the targeted drug approaches.

Katherine:                  

You mentioned, Dr. Roeker, the IGHV mutated and unmutated. How would you approach each patient type, if a patient is IGHV unmutated?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, IGHV-unmutated is the same discussion. Chemoimmunotherapy is probably not going to provide a durable, meaning it’s not going to last for a long time. We’re not going to achieve that potential cure. So, for those patients, either the BTK inhibitor approach, or the venetoclax/Obinutuzumab approach is completely a reasonable one to take.

Katherine:                  

And if they’re IGHV-mutated?

Dr. Roeker:                 

IGHV-mutated patients who are young and don’t have a lot of other medical problems, that’s when we add in the third option of chemoimmunotherapy. For many patients, it’s not wrong to choose either a BTK inhibitor or venetoclax/Obinutuzumab, but it does add in that third potential option of chemoimmunotherapy.

Katherine:                  

Are there other markers that patients should know about?

Dr. Roeker:                 

I think those are the big ones.

So, TP53 mutation status, FISH, and karyotype kind of gets you most of them. Some centers do additional next-generation sequencing of other genes that have been associated with higher-risk disease, though really understanding how to interpret those results still remains somewhat unclear, and that’s still an area of research that people are doing, to really understand what those other mutations really mean for people.

Katherine:                  

What about the impact of testing, overall? Why is it so important?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, as we’ve moved from a disease that was really only treated with chemoimmunotherapy, to one that has targeted drugs available, knowing your IGHV mutational status really impacts what your frontline treatment options are. That’s the major therapy-defining risk factor. The other mutations help you know what to expect. So, for patients who have deletion of 17p or TP53 mutation, it’s possible that the treatments are going to, overall, work for a shorter period of time.

All that being said, every person is an individual, and it’s hard to predict exactly how long someone’s going to respond, from an individual basis. So, what I tell my patients is, “I could tell you what 100 of people with exactly your same disease would do, on average, but I can’t tell you exactly what’s going to happen for you. And that’s a journey that we’re going to take together and really understand over time.”

Katherine:                  

These are really great points, Dr. Roeker. Now, we’ve talked about this a little bit. What are other important factors to consider, like a patient’s age, that can help them access the best treatment for their CLL?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, age is important. Other medical problems is actually a very important consideration.

So, these medications have different side effect profiles and behave differently in different people. So, the BTK inhibitors, specifically ibrutinib is the one that we have the most data on, has cardiovascular side effects, so it can cause atrial fibrillation. It can cause high blood pressure. So, for patients who have preexisting heart disease, or preexisting atrial fibrillation that has been hard to control, or blood pressure that has been hard to control, for those people, I think adding in a BTK inhibitor can be a bit more of a higher risk situation than in somebody without those preexisting problems.

Venetoclax is a pill that causes the cell to burst open rapidly, and it kills cells very quickly. Because of that, the major side effect is called tumor lysis syndrome, and tumor lysis syndrome is basically the cell opens up and all of the salt inside of it goes into the bloodstream.

And that salt can actually be really hard on the kidneys. So, for people who have kidney problems, venetoclax can be somewhat more challenging to use and just requires a higher level of vigilance. So, for patients who have preexisting kidney disease or the idea of a lot of monitoring and things like that, is more challenging. Then maybe the BTK inhibitors are a better choice.

Katherine:                  

How do you monitor whether a treatment is working?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, a lot of it has to do with the CBC, so your normal blood count, and what we’re looking for is improvement in hemoglobin and improvement or normalization of platelet count. And for many people, those, either anemia or low platelets, are the symptoms that drive people to be treated in the first place, so we’re looking for those parameters to get better.

With a lot of people with CLL, totally understandably, because it’s the number that’s the most abnormal, really focused on white blood cell count. 100% understandable.

I always tell people that that’s actually the part of the CBC that I care least about, and the reason is that, for patients on BTK inhibitors, we expect to see the white blood count actually get higher before it gets less high. That’s actually just a sign that the drug is working and it’s pulling CLL cells from the lymph nodes into the bloodstream. So, that’s actually a good sign that it’s working, and that lymphocyte count, at least in the beginning, isn’t a great marker of how well the drug is working.

The other thing that’s important is the physical exam, so looking for whether any lymph nodes that were enlarged have normalized or gone away, and also feeling the sides of the spleen, because the spleen can become enlarged with CLL, and it’s important to make sure that’s normalizing, as well.

And then the last piece is talking to people, so making sure that if they were having fatigue, or fevers, or night sweats before they started treatment, to make sure that those symptoms have gone away. And that’s kind of the three things that I use. I use the blood counts, the physical exam, and the interview with a patient to really understand how their disease is responding.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Roeker, why is it important for patients to speak up if they’re experiencing side effects? I know that they sometimes feel like they’re bothering their healthcare team.

Dr. Roeker:                 

Thank you for that question, because it’s really important point. Side effects are easiest to manage when you catch them early. So, when people have, for instance, muscle pain or joint aches, I have lots of tricks up my sleeve to help people, but I need to know about it. So, if people don’t tell me until they have joint pain that’s so bad that they’re not able to exercise or not able to get out of bed easily in the morning, that’s taking it – it’s gone on for a while at that point, and it’s pretty far down the line.

First of all, you wouldn’t have had to suffer for that long because we have ways of fixing it, and second, it’s always harder to fix a problem once it’s further down the line than earlier on. So, I talk to people about what side effects they might experience and what to expect, and then we talk about different management strategies to really nip it early so that we’re not dealing with a really huge problem down the line.

Katherine:                  

We have a question from our audience. Maria asks, “I just found out that I will need to undergo treatment again. I was previously treated with FCR. Does that impact my options now, going forward?”

Dr. Roeker:                 

Great question. So, FCR was a really common treatment strategy before we had all of the drugs that we have available now. We have good data to say that both BTK inhibitors and venetoclax-based treatments work after chemoimmunotherapy. In fact, those were the patients in whom these drugs were really initially studied, so we actually know better in that group of patients how they’re going to work, than in the patients who have never been treated with them, in terms of the amount of data and the long-term follow-up that we have.

So, most likely, your provider will still talk to you about kind of the two therapeutic option being a BTK inhibitor-based approach versus a venetoclax-based approach, and either are completely appropriate in that setting.

Katherine:                  

We have another question from our audience. Eileen is currently in active treatment for her CLL, and she wants to know, “Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for her?”

Dr. Roeker:                 

Great question. So, here is my take on COVID vaccines. We have great data on the safety of these vaccines, so the risk of a life-threatening allergic reaction is very, very low, less than one in a thousand. We know that it can cause some irritation at the injection site, so pain in your arm. We know that it can cause some kinda flu-like, blah symptoms for a couple of days, totally fine to take ibuprofen and kinda get yourself through that period.

But from a safety perspective, I don’t have concerns about these vaccines. There’s a lot of social media coverage on long-term implications that are either not based on data, at all, and just speculation, and people who are trying to raise alarm, or people who are really bringing up bad things that are happening to people really far out from the vaccine. And I think it’s really hard to attribute that to the vaccine. Obviously, any time there is a new technology, there’s the possibility of things happening, and we’re going to know more with time, but I think, overall, from a scientific perspective, there is no data that makes me worried about the safety of this vaccine.

The efficacy question, I think, is more of an open question, and the reason I say that is two-fold. The first is, we know that patients with CLL who get other vaccines, some get 100% coverage, some get zero percent coverage, and some are somewhere in between.

And it’s hard to predict who is going to fall where. So, that’s the first piece. The second piece is, we’ve looked at patients who had CLL and got COVID, and we saw if they made antibodies, which is kind of a marker of an immune response, and it’s not consistent that every patient who got COVID makes antibodies.

So, the combination of those two pieces of data makes me question exactly how well they’re going to work. So, what I’m telling my patients is, “Definitely go ahead and get it. I think it’s safe. And then pretend that you didn’t get it.” So, I know that’s hard advice to hear, but continue wearing a mask, continue social distancing, and continue to wash your hands. And then, every interaction you have is a risk-benefit discussion or decision. So, that’s different for every person, but in general, I recommend that people continue being cautious.

Once the whole population around you is vaccinated and we have less virus circulating in the community, that’s when it’s going to be substantially safer. So, definitely, I recommend that people get it, regardless of whether you are on watch and wait, getting treatment, have just finished treatment, whatever it is, but I do think there’s reason to be cautious even after getting vaccinated.

Katherine:                  

Are there symptoms or issues CLL patients should be looking out for, post-vaccine?

Dr. Roeker:                 

Not particularly, beyond what people are getting in kind of the general population. If you’re having a lot of those kind of flu-like symptoms, just talk to your provider to make sure that ibuprofen is safe, because if your platelets are really low, that can cause bleeding. But Tylenol is typically pretty safe, and talk to your doctor about which medicines are kinda best for you to take in that situation, but no particular concerns in patients with CLL.

Katherine:                  

Okay. Thank you for the clarification. As I mentioned at the start of this program, patients should insist on essential CLL testing. As we conclude, I think it’s important to point out that some patients may not know if they’ve received these important tests, so how can they take action?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, the next time you’re at your doctor, ask, “I just want to know more about the prognosis of my CLL, and can we talk through the genetic markers of my disease, to help me understand what to expect?” That’s kind of code for, “Let’s go through all of these test results,” and it also – if you have a provider who doesn’t routinely test them at diagnosis, and for instance, just tests before treatment, they can also kind of give you their sense of when they do the testing, so you know what to expect. And I think that’s an important discussion to have with your provider, for sure.

Katherine:                  

Are there key questions that patients should ask their physicians?

Dr. Roeker:                 

I’m always impressed with the questions that people come up with. I think one of the best is, what should I expect, based on what we’re doing now? It’s always a hard question to answer because, obviously, for any patient, it’s so individualized, but I think understanding what to expect, as a general sense, is a good way to approach both treatment and prognosis, and all of those kinds of things.

Katherine:                  

I’d like to close by asking about developments in CLL research and treatment. What’s new that you feel patients should know about?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, there are a lot of exciting drugs coming up in CLL. We have the BTK inhibitors, ibrutinib and acalabrutinib approved. We have more BTK inhibitors with different side effect profiles that are in development.

And there’s also a new class of drugs called noncovalent BTK inhibitors, which seem to work well, even when prior BTK inhibitors have stopped working. So, that’s a really exciting development. There is also just lots of studies about how we combine drugs to maximize efficacy while minimizing side effects, and all of these studies that are underway are really looking at refining how we approach treatment so that we can treat people very effectively but also minimize their side effects.

And as we have more results available, the treatment paradigm for CLL is going to continue to shift and evolve, and I think there are a lot of exciting things coming, and there’s definitely a lot of reason to be hopeful, that the future of CLL is even brighter than the present.

Katherine:                  

It all sounds very promising, Dr. Roeker. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. Roeker:                 

Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

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 CLL and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for joining us.

Which CLL Treatment is Right for You? Resource Guide

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Increasing Treatment Access for Every CLL Patient No Matter Location

Increasing Treatment Access for Every CLL Patient No Matter Location from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can CLL patients get the best treatment no matter where they live? In the era of COVID-19, where social distancing helps to avoid risk for acquiring infections, how can patients, care teams and health systems provide quality cancer care during the pandemic and beyond?

Watch as a panel of experts and a CLL patient discuss innovations around practical tools such as mobile applications that allow you to track your own information to help improve access to treatments. Learn about tips for self-advocacy, the importance of connecting with a CLL specialist and empowerment for increasing your digital literacy.

Related Resources:

Dr. John Pagel’s Top Tips for Preparing for Your CLL Telemedicine Visit

Telemedicine Challenges and Opportunities for CLL Patients

What CLL Symptoms Can Be Monitored via Telemedicine?


Transcript:

Dr. Farrukh Awan:

Hello and welcome. I’m Farrukh Awan from UT Southwestern in Dallas, Texas. I am a CLL doctor, I take care of patients with CLL. I also perform a lot of research around patients with blood cancers, leukemias and lymphomas, and with one goal to make small advances in the field and hopefully eventually cure this cancer. So, I’m very excited to be on today with all of you and look forward to having a nice discussion with all of you. I would like to start off by introducing the participants of this discussion with me, and I really thank them for their time this afternoon, and hopefully you guys can all enjoy them.

So, I’ll start off with Dr. Kathy Kim. Dr. Kathy Kim is an associate professor at UC Davis in California. She is a very well-established researcher there and the faculty member there, and she’s also the director of the Health Innovation Research Center in the UC Davis Center for Health and Technology. Welcome Dr. Kim. And I also am very happy and excited to be introducing Mr. William Marks, who’s a renowned Jazz musician, who happens to be one of our patients, and we’re very excited that he is joining us today from Dallas. So, thank you all for being here today, and we really want you guys to participate, send in your questions in the chat box or whatever you feel comfortable with, raise your hands, and we can definitely try to get to as many of them as possible.

So today, what we will talk about is how CLL patients can get the best possible care regardless of where they live, where they are, or regardless of the pandemic, we feel that there is a lot of disparity in the care that our patients can get, and we are all familiar with a lot of data that came out recently and also in the years past, which consistently showed the same trend that people in different parts of the country with access to different resources get different levels of care, which I feel that in 2021 it’s unfortunate because we feel that it shouldn’t matter where you are, the care should be consistent, unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in.

So, there are certain issues and concerns and challenges that we face, and we want to highlight some of those and talk about them during the next hour or so. We also obviously are dealing with a pandemic, which complicates the issue even more, you know for the first time, we’ve had an opportunity to deal with this issue of remote help or telehealth or remote monitoring of patients for an extended period of time.

So we’ve had the chance now, ’cause people used to talk about this all the time, but for the first time, we’ve had really an opportunity to really assess the situation and come up with solutions that work for as many patients as possible, so a lot of new things are happening in the field, and a lot of challenges that we have encountered over the last few months, and we welcome some of them, so we’ll talk about some practical tools, we’ll talk about some innovations, and hopefully we can have a nice conversation around that.

So, before we start formally, just a few housekeeping things, so like I said, 30 minutes in discussion of different topics that we felt might be a benefit to you, and then the rest of the time will be dedicated to your questions. Please remember to keep your questions generally broad, we don’t want to know your specific health information ’cause this would be shared as a video format, later on we will have a transcribed format of this presentation and this discussion. So, it will also be available on the website, so please don’t share anything that you would not want to share in a public forum.

I will also try to answer as many medical questions as possible without very specific references to your situation because there’s always so many things that we are not aware of, so don’t take this as formal medical advice, please. This is just a suggestion, and I’ll give you the suggestions to the best of our abilities, and the same goes for Mr. Marks and Dr. Kim. So, let’s start off, we’ll start off with the first domain that we kind of selected we felt would be helpful ’cause it’s very relevant to what we are going through right now, and that’s the COVID pandemic.

So COVID has been a major social inconvenience, it’s a very unfortunate situation that we’re all dealing with right now. Unfortunately, in our country, the incidence of new infections has gone down, but we’ve lost a lot of people and it’s happening all over the world. The third wave that people keep talking about or the second wave is happening as we speak in multiple parts of the world, and a lot of people are still dying unfortunately and still suffering from this, so we do see some light at the end of the tunnel hopefully, with more vaccinations, things will improve.

So, I think the problem that we have encountered during this era over the last year and a half or so, and possibly for the foreseeable future, is how can patients in this challenging time get the best care? How can healthcare teams and can physicians, nurses, APPS, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, how can they work as a team to provide the best possible care to our patients without compromising quality?

So, we will start off with Mr. Marks, and let’s see what his journey has been like, ’cause we kind of know that he started before on his journey before the pandemic and during the pandemic. So, I guess, why don’t we start off with you, William, and see how you want to capture your journey, what happened with you, how you felt about the changing dynamics of a patient-physician relationship, so let’s start off with you and then see what you feel has happened and impacted you during this pandemic?

Mr. William Marks:

Well, my journey started around 2015, real quick, briefly, I was healthy, I went to my doctor every year, got a physical. At this physical, my doctor called me back and told me I needed to come back and get other further blood work and long story short it started my CLL journey. I had a physician, my physician referred me to an oncologist, and I already made up my mind how I wanted my treatment to go, and they wanted to start a treatment on me that I just was not really ready to agree to.

And so, I had a friend that was a physician, and he referred me to Dr. Froehlich at UT Southwestern and he immediately agreed with me and thought, we should wait on treatment for a while because I had no signs of CLL at that time, and then Dr. Awan came about, and what I loved about Dr. Awan is, I did tell him how I felt about what my treatment should be, what I really didn’t want to get into, but he told me that he really didn’t want the treatment, wanted me to take treatment that I thought he was going to tell me I needed. He thought that we needed to wait a while, and so we waited until around I think Dr. Awan, 2017 or 2018, then he started experimental treatment on me and it really works for me, and he can explain to how it has been successful for me. But you have to trust the doctor.

And also, during the pandemic, I had such a trust in my doctor that talking to him via ZOOM on some of my patient visits was no problem for me, and so that’s kind of my journey. I had an oncologist, they wanted to do a treatment on me that I really didn’t agree with, and I found a doctor who first started out saying, “We don’t want to do this right now, we just want to kind of see what happens” and then to me, it turned out successful.

Dr. Farrukh Awan:

So, what I’m hearing you say is that you would recommend that anyone with CLL should at least try to get a second opinion from a person who specializes in the field, is that accurate?

Mr. William Marks:

Very accurate, very accurate. And whatever your belief system was, you know there are certain treatments out there that I just didn’t believe that I wanted to go through at first, and it’s a choice, and I don’t know Dr. Awan, if you really wanted me to delve into that or not, and you know but he told me before I even said that, and it just made me feel like he’s the doctor for me, he feels the same way I do, and I haven’t even told me the idea, so it’s very important that on this journey that you pick a physician that you can 100% trust.

Dr. Farrukh Awan:

So, I think just a little bit of a background, he mentioned that he’s on an experimental therapy, and just to clarify that a little bit more, Mr. Marks got on a clinical trial with a new combination of immune therapy, which worked out very nicely for him. So that’s another pitch for asking about the clinical trial as a patient. I think patients need to be their own advocates; they need to ask for those. Push the doctor a little bit.

Had he not pushed the first doctor, he probably would have ended up with chemotherapy. Now, some people can argue that that may not be necessarily the wrong thing to do, but we have other options which might be even better, or other options which are definitely less toxic, so pushing us, if he pushes me and if my patients pushed me, it pushes me to find the next best thing, so I think it’s a mutual thing, I benefit from patients like him, and hopefully our patients benefit from the doctor being engaged and receptive to their needs.

Dr. Farrukh Awan:

So, I completely agree with this. I think we’ve seen this over and over again, that sometimes if you’re getting a certain plan made already, and if you have any doubts, any questions, and if you feel that you read somewhere about some other thing, you should at the very least, ask the question and you should always make an effort to find a CLL specialist who might be close to you, and if there isn’t a CLL specialist close to you, it’s always an option right now to ask for telehealth with a doctor who might be a couple of hours away or in another state.

Because we now have access to those resources.

So, this is the nice segue, so we’ll get Dr. Kim in next. You know, with so many patients nowadays who are worried about their cancer care and how that will continue, and especially now with remote monitoring. How, what kind of tools do you have deployed and used, what would be your recommendations for us and how we can make us some of these new innovations and new methods to provide the best care for our patients?

Dr. Kathy Kim:

Oh, thank you so much, and I’m glad to hear where this conversation started with you, Dr. Awan and Mr. Marks, because I think even when you’re thinking about using technology, again, it’s not one-size-fits all, it is what the provider is comfortable with and what the patient is comfortable with, and what you two can work together to improve your care. So, I think there are a lot of innovations that have been developed over many years, but this past year under COVID, we saw an acceleration of people adopting them because it was out of necessity that people didn’t come in to a setting where they might potentially be infected or to infect others.

So, we certainly saw a huge increase in telehealth, which has been virtual visits, like we’re doing right now, we are virtually visiting with each other or telephone visits, so there’s been a huge upsurge in the number of hospitals and clinics and practices that have been able to implement telehealth with their patients. But there are other tools that again, have been in development that are now starting to take off under the last year, and those are remote patient monitoring devices, these are either specific medical devices, like blood pressure machines, glucose meters, some heart monitors, sleep monitors, you know things that, devices that check your oxygen saturation.

So, there are many medical devices that are for use in the home, that are either covered by insurance or people can buy them at the drug store, and what has really come about this year is the ability to connect the data from the device you have in your home to your provider, so that’s been in place, but we really haven’t implemented it very many places, and now lots of places are allowing that connection to happen. So, the patient can use the device in their home and get it connected to the internet and have it sent to the hospital or to their doctor, so their doctor can be watching the data and also monitoring them, so that’s one really wonderful piece of progress that we’ve had in the past year. I would say the third area that again, has been around for a while but people haven’t used it so much has been mobile applications.

Dr. Kathy Kim:

So, these are basically software that you can run on your smartphone or you can run it on a tablet or a computer that let you track your own information. So, I know CLL patients and many cancer patients have lots of documents from all the treatments, from all the visits that they have had, and it’s a challenge to manage all those medical records because you might go to multiple places, right? You’re not always going to the same place.

So, now there are many applications that are integrated with the record systems that your hospital or doctor has, where you can aggregate all of your records in one place, and that way when you go to talk to another provider or have this second opinion or a consult, you have access to all your records that you can share. And then you can also track things that are important to you, so maybe you want to track how I feel, what my symptoms are under certain kinds of medications or when I do more physical activity, do I get more tired or do I actually feel better, you know track and by taking my other medications, and for many of us, just remembering to take your medications every day is hard enough if you have several medications and they’re at different times, you might not remember, did I take that one already or do I still need to take it?

And so, these applications can also set up your medication schedule and help you to track whether you’ve taken them or not, so there are lots of these tools now available where you can start to manage all of these things and share that information with your doctor.

Dr. Farrukh Awan:

I really like how you went through all of them, couple of things that I have noticed, and maybe you can comment on this too, one is, what’s the financial cost to having access to those tools? So that’s the first thing. So is it going to be financially difficult to let’s say, get an app or download an app, which might have a subscription service, attached to it, so that’s the first question that I might have. And the second question is then, this is something that I run into every day. A lot of my patients are older.

Some of my patients live on farms, a couple of hours, three, four hours away from Dallas in a relatively rural area, east or west of us in north Texas, and you know those people may not necessarily have access to broadband, they may not have access to high-speed internet. So, they may not be able to get online, or if they do get online, the connections are not the most perfect, so it’s always, the video is not pretty good, or they frankly, may not know how to operate, they don’t just don’t feel comfortable operating these devices or the tablets or phones, even though they might use them for making calls and texting, but they may not necessarily be very conversing with them or very at ease with them, so are those options really difficult for our patients to use?

Dr. Kathy Kim:

Yeah, so you’ve mentioned three really key areas, cost, connectivity, and what I will call digital literacy or digital familiarity, those are really three key areas that we need to address for anyone who wants to use these tools to be able to use them. So, cost is the first thing, most mobile apps are fairly inexpensive, and if you’ve downloaded anything from the Apple Store or the Google Play store, almost everything is free, or a few things might have you know $2.99, $8.99. Some of them do have subscription fees.

So, the app itself is probably the least expensive part of it. The more expensive part is, do you have a modern smartphone that can actually, where you can download that up or do you have a modern tablet or a newer laptop that can actually use apps, right? Not just software, but apps, those devices is where the cost really comes in, and you know if you’ve got any kind of device, it’s every couple of years, you have to replace it or upgrade it to kind of keep it up-to-date. So that is definitely a barrier of the cost of the computing device or remote patient monitoring device, and that is where we really need to collaborate in the industry with our hospital systems and our provider systems, with our legislative representatives, with our insurance companies, to provide low-cost access to the devices.

The third thing is connectivity, which is both cost, and it is a cost as well as an accessibility issue, and for most of the uses in healthcare, as you’ve mentioned, we need to be able to do video, we need to be able to connect to the devices for data, and that means we either have to have a cell phone data plan, a mobile data plan that can run data on your phone or your tablet, or you need a broadband connection in your home, an actual Wi-Fi plan that comes installed. You need one or the other.

And again, those, either of those options are quite expensive, if you do video visits, it can really eat up your bandwidth if you’re on a low band, low bandwidth plan or you’re paying for the minute or by the bit. It can become very expensive, so we have to have a cost-effective plan available to people, and again, there’s lots of policies or proposals, to be submitted both at the state level, and there are federal programs that are actually now subsidizing. So specifically, under COVID, provider organizations can apply to the federal government for special funds to offer telehealth help patients, so many providers have bought tablets or other remote patient monitoring devices or things like that, that they can give out to patients.

Which brings us to the third thing that you mentioned, which is digital familiarity or digital literacy. We have to help people learn how to use these. So even if you use a cell phone, it’s different using a smartphone, right? The apps are different, the navigation is different, how you touch your screen is different, how these applications actually work, and how to get the data from your own device to a provider, to your doctor is a whole another set of skills, right? Do you have to pair these devices, do you have to register an account and have a password?

Do you have to approve your doctor to get access, there’s all these questions about how you would actually do all this and this is where organizations like the Patient Empowerment Network, that I know does a lot of effort to help patients more how to use technology, as well as the research that we have been doing at UC Davis in the community about how to support patients overcome all these barriers becomes really critical, we have to actually work together to make sure all three of these issues are addressed so that everybody can have access.

Dr. Farrukh Awan:

So, you know, excellent points. And thank you for sharing with us. I think that what I would like to stress is, patients need to be advocates for themselves, and if you are having issues or difficulty in connecting with your provider via these remote tools that we have, like Dr. Kim mentioned, we have access to resources that can be provided to our patients in any major cancer center, any major university setting, and a lot of larger practices have access to these resources that can provide these facilities for our patients, so that it makes it maybe less burdensome, more accessible and people can avail those resources and get benefit from them. So, let’s go to Mr. Marks, so what about your journey?

‘Cause you started off by being able to see the doctor in person, you know somebody who can feel you on lymph nodes, you can feel your spleen and see how big they are, and then to go from that to being on video, obviously, I’m assuming that prior to the pandemic, you did not have a lot of interaction with this video platforms for medicine encounters. So how was your journey? Did you have a hard time in dealing with that or getting used to it? How did you open it?

Mr. William Marks:

I really didn’t have a hard time with it. Under the circumstances due to COVID, I understood that we have to go this route, but I would go to a facility to get my blood work done, you would read my blood work and over video you would tell me how my blood work was going, and it just gave me a sense of comfort and ease. It’s already stressful to go through a pandemic for all of us, but to also be dealing with CLL at the same time can be pretty traumatic for some patients, so I’m saying it was pretty comfortable for me because I knew I could go get my blood work done, you could read my blood work, and you could talk to me about what, you could assess it and tell me what I needed to do. So, it was really a comforting thing for me.

Dr. Farrukh Awan:

Awesome, so that’s always great to hear. And I would also like to add that a lot of times in certain situations, my patients are not comfortable with using the platform, they don’t know despite all our best efforts, and in those cases, I encourage them to at least talk to me on the phone, make an appointment, talk to me, so that way you can at least get undivided attention. We can talk about your symptoms, and at the very least, we can say, okay fine, you can go to a lab for blood work close to home, and then we can at least look at the blood work.

I can talk about the symptoms, I can talk about if you feel a new knot or if you feel that you have another new lump or bump, so those are things that I do encourage that at the very least, there are ways to connect via telephone, the old-fashioned way nowadays. And that can also provide some comfort to our patients and they can also benefit from using this old-fashioned tool, so I think this is also, this is great. So, let’s keep going on these and access to care. Another issue that we have seen is that some of our patients and we live in a town that has a substantial percentage of Hispanic-speaking or Spanish-speaking people, so we actually have access to a lot of resources and a lot of options for those patients, but there might be some limitations in people who don’t necessarily speak English as the first language, so what kind of tools do we have for those people, what kind of resources can they access to? So, Dr. Kim, anything for those patients?

Dr. Kathy Kim:

Yes, and we have really made an effort in our own research to any of the resources that we provide, the mobile applications that we use are available in multiple languages, and I will say Spanish is the most common one that we are able to support. Of course, there are many, many languages spoken in the United States, beyond English and Spanish that we do, we are challenged when we try to find other resources or applications that can be in Chinese and Korean and in other languages. It’s really challenging.

So, in our own work, we have developed applications, and this is in research, so these are not things that are necessarily available in practice. We have developed applications for example, for care coordination for patients undergoing chemotherapy or to support shared decision-making at the beginning of your cancer journey between a patient and their family and a clinician, and when we develop those applications, as I said, we, obviously, I don’t speak Spanish, I only speak English, so I’m limited as to what I can develop. I can develop it in English, but then we always try to co-design it with clinicians who speak that language and with patients, so we do a lot of co-design with patients so that when we create it we’re making sure that it seems appropriate when it’s produced in other languages, and then we always test it with people who are native speakers in that language as well, so that’s one.

So many of the educational resources, our website information, our mobile applications, there is no reason why we can’t have those available in multiple languages. I think it is more challenging when you’re trying to build a relationship with a provider, with your doctor or with your nurse, or nurse practitioner and the patient don’t speak the same language, and then we have to rely on interpreter services. And I will say that that has not quite made the leap that we’d hoped with telehealth, to integrate an interpreter into your telehealth visit is quite challenging, and I’ve heard of doctors and patients being on a televisit and then the doctor calls the interpreter on their cell phone and tries to put that speaker up to the speaker on the computer, and that it’s not the best experience for anybody. So, that is an area that we would really like to work on, how do you have interpreter services really integrated into telehealth so it’s smooth for everybody.

Dr. Farrukh Awan:

And let me share my experience, just this week, actually, on Monday, I was in clinic and we frequently have patients who speak Spanish, and we have in-person Spanish interpreters that are readily available, so one of my patients was a Spanish speaker, so I had the interpreter in the room with me, so that interaction went really well, the patient’s daughter was also obviously able to interpret some of that, so it was a fairly easy conversation, we explained, we talked about treatment options and what the plan is, so that went really well, My next patient was a Vietnamese speaking patient, so we don’t have those in person, so my nurse got me this iPad, which was on a mount, it’s like a dolly that can go from room to room, and I turned it on and I was expecting some issues and they basically had a screen for me saying what language do you want, and I said Vietnamese, and then literally 30 seconds I was connected to a Vietnamese speaking interpreter, and they were able to see me, see the patient and the patient was able to see them. So, it was almost like having an interpreter in the room.

And my third patient, this is where it got interesting, ’cause I did not think that I would have that there, ’cause they spoke Macedonian, ’cause they’re from Bosnia and that was interesting, very nice people, but they just don’t speak English, so I got on the same platform and I hit the other button and they said, what language do you want? And I said, Macedonian, and they connected me to a Macedonian speaker, and it was actually pretty straight forward, and I think the patients appreciate it, I think that the family members appreciate it if you talk in their own language. I feel that most of patients in that setting are able to understand some English, but if we try to converse, I feel that sometimes the message that I’m trying to convey may not get through to them like I would like to, and I think that’s why it’s always good to have an interpreter, even if the family member is there in the room? I think it always helps to have an interpreter in the room, in the event that you have to explain certain medical terminology, so my experience with this one application that our hospital subscribes to was very, very good, so I did not have to hold up my phone like Dr. Kim was mentioning. I hate that.

And to communicate to the patients real-time with the person who was actually able to see all of us, so that was my experience recently, and I also found out that actually there are certain apps that if I want to print out a certain form or a certain patient education material and give it to the patient, okay, fine, this is the treatment you’re getting, these are the side effects, this is what to expect, there are options for translating it because they are already translated.

You just hit the language you want, and that prints out the material in that language and you can give it to the patient to read, and I feel that that was a good resource to have. Similarly, being involved in multiple clinical trials, I feel that that is sometimes challenging option for a lot of patients, but I just want to reassure everyone that all you have to do is ask. You can ask for a form in a specific language and it’s my responsibility, it’s my job to make sure that that translation is available to you so you can read it in your own language, and that is a service that is provided routinely by our cancer center, and I’m sure by a lot of other major academic centers and cancer centers in the country.

So, just I’m trying to wrap this up. I think there is a lot of really exciting things happening in the field, and we would like to get to some of these questions in a little bit, but before we do that, I wanted to ask, William, one thing that we run into is, is that as a patient, when you go in and see a doctor, you are likely to be overwhelmed or intimidated by that person in the white coat, and if the doctor comes in and say, Hey, Mr. Marks, you need X, Y, Z chemotherapy, how do you say no to that? How do you get out of that situation in a nice way, so you don’t offend anyone or do you even care? How was … you changed doctors and you sought another opinion, which is a very difficult thing to do for a lot of patients. How did you manage that? Was it your experience in the healthcare field? Or what made you do that?

Mr. William Marks:

Just a feeling that I had. A feeling that I had on the service that I was getting, and I had told my family when I was diagnosed with CLL some of the treatment that I would not take. And when this other doctor just right off the back said, we need to start you with this treatment, I’m like, well, I have no symptoms, I had no swollen lymph nodes at the time, I’m like, I don’t think that’s good for my body to start this off right now, what will my future be? So, I just quit going, I just quit going to that doctor and researched and asked questions and found the doctor that was right for me. So, I would tell anybody, this is your life. And when I was diagnosed will CLL, I made up in my mind that I was going to fight it, it wasn’t a death sentence for me, and I was going to find the best care I could, and that’s what I did and I think it worked out real well for me.

Dr. Farrukh Awan:

Awesome. So, I think that we cannot stress that enough, it has been studied extensively, it has been shown consistently, it has not just been shown for CLL. It has been shown for breast cancer, it has been shown for prostate cancer, so to give you examples very quickly, the prostate surgeon who does a higher volume of surgeries through a robot or robotic prostatectomy is what it’s called, those doctors who do 100 or more surgeries in a year have better outcomes, similarly for breast cancer patients, if they get care under a best breast cancer specialist have better outcome.

Similarly, for CLL, it has been shown over and over again, that if you go to a CLL specialist or somebody who specializes in that field, you not only get tested better, but you also have better survival outcomes, which is very hard to show in a cancer that usually takes a long time to cause problems like prostate cancer or CLL, it’s the same because these are chronic cancers. They can go on for a long time, but even in that setting, if you get taken care of by a CLL doctor, it has clearly been shown that your survival is better as compared to when you’re taking care of a very competent non-CLL doctor.

So, it’s not necessarily anything wrong with the doctor, it’s just that the guy who’s doing this every day, day in and day out and that’s the only thing he does. There are teams of people around us who specialize in this, my nurses see only patients like you, my dermatology sees only patients like you with CLL. My pathologist sees anything, so my whole team is very used to taking care of a patient in that setting, and I feel that even if it’s not me, it’s my whole team that provides the care that is needed for the patient, and I think that’s the whole point.

That’s where the specialist comes in, not saying anything bad about the doctor that sees every cancer, but they just do not have the volume of patients with your disease to be experts in that, because CLL is not a common mission, it is the most common leukemia, but it’s definitely not the most common cancer, it’s not even in the top five. So, you know the most common patients we will see is breast cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, so the general oncologist, that’s what you will see, and once every three or four months, they will see a patient with CLL versus in my clinic, I will see 40 patients a week with CLL. So completely different ball game.

This is why patients need to be advocates for themselves, push the doctors a little bit and hopefully get better care. So, that will transition to some of the questions that we have, can Dr. Kim, any insights about non-tech tools, born out of the pandemic that might be a model for future cancer care? That’s interesting, ’cause I feel that we may never get, go back to the pre-COVID era, so people have started calling it BC or AC, before COVID, after COVID. I don’t always like connecting to the popular platforms and would like to explore other easy to use tools. So, Dr. Kim, what do you have to say about that?

Dr. Kathy Kim:

Yeah, there are a number of tools. First, I want to re-emphasize something that both of you have said, which is, patients should be advocates and they should ask, what can you give me that can help me through this process, and what tools do you have for me to communicate and stay connected with my doctor? So, you should ask, are there ways for me to get in touch that are not calling, just when the clinic is open, do you have a secure messaging system? Can I message through the patient portal?

Do you have an app that’s available for that patient portal that I can download? Do you have any other research studies where they’re trying as the same way you said patients should ask other clinical trials, are there research studies using technology for cancer patients? So as much as outreach as we do to try to recruit patients into our technology trials, oftentimes somehow patients don’t hear about it, so if you ask and you’re interested, is there a study like that where I can get access to technology to try it out, to see if it will help.

So, you should definitely be an advocate, but I think some specific tools that patients should be asking about that are already available are things like, how can I get an electronic copy of my care plan? Can I get that through the portal or do you have an app where I can download my actual care plan? How do I get electronic copies of my medical records?

Where can I get them? And how can I store them safely? How can I connect to other patients in my area? Do you have an online patient support group? Do you have any services at the hospital where you connect patients like me as close as possible to the kind of patient I am, that you can make a match for me to talk to someone by using either ZOOM like this or an online support group or just one-on-one match maybe introducing by email.

These are all technological tools that already exist that are not, that should not take a huge amount of time for someone to learn a new technology, but you want to make sure that it’s something that your hospital and your provider feel comfortable have tried and know that it’s secure and safe and useful. You don’t want to go off and do something that your provider has no connection to it, you really want to keep these as integrated as possible, and in that way, I think in the future, we won’t just rely on Mr. Marks, you have to come in to the hospital for every single thing. We want to give you all these tools, and then you and your doctor can decide which things you really have to come in person for and which things you can access online.

And so that is the conversation that every time you go talk to a new provider or go to a new hospital or clinic, you should ask, what technologies do you have that are available to the patients? And that that’s how I think we’re going to push forward our new model of cancer care, which I will hope will use the technology to allow patients to collaborate with their healthcare team more easily and more seamlessly and in a way that’s safe and secure.

Dr. Farrukh Awan:

This partly answers the question that Christine raised, that she’s in Hawaii and she wanted to get an opinion at California, and that insurance company denied her referral to the doctor in California, so for Christine, what I would say is exactly like Dr. Kim was saying that we should definitely ask your insurance company what kind of tools you have for remote encounter, I think you should press them a little bit, and if they say absolutely not, we are not covering that. So, then I think in that case, the doctor sometimes can make a suggestion or write a small note to the insurance company that I would be okay with sending the patient for a second opinion.

The third thing you could do is there are lots of societies now in groups now, where you can ask for a remote consultation, and I actually do that for my patients, I get invites from different groups and they say, okay, fine, doctor, can you set up a 15, 30-minute telephone consult to a third party. So, they don’t charge you anything. They don’t charge me anything, they just set up a time and I volunteer my time, and I can connect with my patients in New York and wherever they are, and then if they decide that they want to come down, that’s up to them if insurance approves it, if they want to get care locally, that’s fine, but at the very least, that allows you to talk to somebody face-to-face, they can talk to you about your specific situation, they can suggest what kind of tests you might benefit from.

So, there are all of these tools that are available, I think you just have to search for them a little bit on the Internet at these different societies which provide that service of remote consultation. I know that I do that. The other question, I think they’re all similar to these questions, and I’ll try to go through them quickly, is that well, if I’m sick, what happens if I’m far away? So, a lot of times, we can call in prescriptions and medicines on the phone to prevent you from having symptoms from the disease, and that can be used at home. It’s always good to have a local doctor or a primary care doctor close to where you are, so in the event that you have to get admitted to the local hospital, you have that connection with them.

So, it’s always nice to have one quarterback directing the care of your cancer, but at the same time, having somebody local would also be helpful in these emergencies, hopefully, we won’t be able to have the way the treatment is evolving, I think you would have less and less of those problems, because treatments are so well tolerated, but occasionally, obviously, you can have problems which might need local consultation, and that’s perfectly fine.

We always transfer our patients to the main center once they get admitted to the local hospital for any reason, if that’s required. So, we can work very closely with the local team, and I think that’s really what you want, you want a doctor who’s willing and able to do that. And similarly for CAR-T patients, there was another question that was asked. CAR-T is much more complicated than your regular chemotherapy or immune therapy or the new molecules that we have. I think that’s something that we would like to stress that for CAR-T therapy, since it’s so specialized, it’s always important to have the guy who did it call the shots because testing is specific, the management complications are very unique to CAR-T, so I think that is an option for remote monitoring for those patients but they have to be very closely followed, we can do that.

And so similarly, I feel that right now with the way things are, it should not matter if you’re in a rural area or an urban area, I feel that everyone should have access to all the modern therapies, and people should be able to benefit from them equally. You just have to ask, and there are experts in pretty much every state, and if your state doesn’t have an expert, you can try this remote or remote consultation business.

And then one last thing that I would like Mr. Marks to chime in this is how it works. So, when do you know when to get help? So how did you know that you needed help for your CLL when you did take the decision to go ahead with treatment, obviously one part is the physician telling you but what about your own self, how were you able to know on your own that I think I might be getting to the point where I need to do treatment?

Mr. William Marks:

Well, I started from the beginning, I started doing everything. I started reading everything I could, I started trying to research everything, I changed my eating habits, I lost weight, I did everything I could personally, but I knew that the CLL that I had, I could not conquer by myself and alone. And so that’s when I knew, you can do everything you can, you can take all the herbs and supplements and everything you can, but then CLL is something that you really like you said, you need someone who specializes in it to know. And like I’m saying Dr. Awan you can let them know how I’m doing right now. I know HIPAA and all that, but I’m really doing real well after six years, and I do believe that Dr. Awan saved my life.

Dr. Farrukh Awan:

Well, thank you for that compliment. I think we’re just a tool in this whole process, but my suggestion and recommendation to everyone is, it’s half and half, it’s 50/50, it’s a partnership. Half of the times it’s the patient listening to their body, looking at the lumps, seeing how they feel, and half the time it’s us looking at the blood work, looking at the lymph node size, the spleen and all of that stuff and putting it all together before we make a decision. So, these decisions are not made in isolation. It has to be made as a team. And this is exactly where trust comes in. So, with that, we will try to wrap it up, and so any last thoughts, we’ll start with Dr. Kim and then William, I’ll ask you to just give your thoughts so that our audience can benefit from those.

Dr. Kathy Kim:

Thank you. It’s really been a pleasure to be part of this conversation with all of you, I think my last thought is really for patients to see technology as a tool that can help you communicate, organize information about your health and be as proactive as possible for the things that you can control, as Mr. Marks just talked about all the things that you can do to improve your health. But be an advocate for yourself and ask your hospital, your doctor, your provider organization, what technologies can you give to me, what technologies can you offer me, and even if they don’t have a whole lot, at least they know that you want it, and then they may then invest in tools for patients like yourself, so first, use the technology that you’re comfortable that your doctor is comfortable with, and second, be an advocate and demand the things that you want to have access to.

Mr. William Marks:

Well, I would just like to tell everybody, first of all, thank you Dr Awan for having me on this panel. Dr. Awan and his staff have been just outstanding for me. My diagnosis is positive at a six-year stent with CLL. I do believe in my heart, I would live a very long life, and I don’t believe that I would have if I hadn’t found the right doctor that had the right plan for me. So, just to make sure that you know that you get the right doctor for you that you can trust, because you have to have 100% trust in your physicians, and I do have that in my doctor. So, I have a very prognosis, CLL is not your ending, I’m telling you, I’m a believer that you can conquer anything if you believe that you can, and I’m on that path now, so I just like to close with that.

Dr. Farrukh Awan:

Awesome, and with that I would like to thank everyone for tuning into the program today, and as I mentioned earlier, we will break this down into small segments, and recording of this program will be available for people who might want to listen to it at a later time in smaller clips, and that will be available at the Patient Empowerment Network’s website, and if you like to watch again, it should be there. So, thank you for joining us today. I wish you all the best of health and good afternoon and I’m Farrukh Awan from Dallas, Texas so goodbye.