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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.

See More from Engage CLL


Related Resources:

What Are the Goals of CLL Treatment?

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.

CLL Survivor Shares the Importance of Finding a CLL Physician You Trust

CLL Survivor Shares The Importance of Finding a CLL Physician You Trust from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patient William shares the story of his CLL journey, including how it was traumatic for him. Watch as he shares the experience of his diagnosis and treatment and the benefits he’s experienced by advocating for himself.

See More From Best CLL Care No Matter Where You Live


My name is William. I worked as a first responder in Dallas for 34 years before I was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. My primary care doctor noticed my white blood count was high during a routine physical and sent me to see an oncologist. My CLL diagnosis was traumatic in a few ways. Both my father and my uncle passed away after battling multiple myeloma.And my father passed away one month before I was diagnosed.

After my past trauma with my father and my uncle and their cancer diagnosis, I shared news about my diagnosis right away with my entire immediate family. I didn’t want them to experience what I went through with my father and uncle. I switched my first oncologist after noticing my first doctor wasn’t a good fit. I remained in watch and wait until I started having some symptoms and started seeing a CLL specialist via telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I liked my doctor’s approach and started an experimental treatment. By my second treatment, my lymph nodes were almost back to normal. During the pandemic, I’ve done televisits with my doctor every three months to go over my blood tests. Televisits weren’t a big concern for me. I felt like I was getting the same level of care, and they are also a normal part of care for CLL patients.

My first bone marrow test showed that my cancer was in 90 percent of my bone marrow, but now it’s only 0.23 percent. Along with my care, I made a few lifestyle changes to help my body. I took charge of my health by losing 30 to 40 pounds, by working out and walking. I cut meat and sugar out of my diet to prepare my body to fight CLL. I wanted to do everything I could to be around for my family for many more years. A big part of my life is music. I love playing jazz for others to enjoy and hope to be playing for many years into the future as well.

My advice to other CLL patients:

  • Make the decision to fight this.
  • Be open to clinical trials.
  • Get a physician you trust, someone who is very knowledgeable, and someone who you can rely on 100 percent.

These actions are key to staying on your path to empowerment.

Is the COVID-19 Vaccination Safe for CLL Patients in Treatment?

Is the COVID-19 Vaccination Safe for CLL Patients in Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Are COVID-19 vaccines safe for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients in treatment? Dr. Lindsey Roeker discusses COVID-19 vaccine safety, common symptoms, and the effectiveness in CLL patients.

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

Download Guide

See More From INSIST! CLL


Related Resources

 
What CLL Tests Are Essential and How Do Results Impact Treatment and Prognosis?

What CLL Tests Are Essential and How Do Results Impact Treatment and Prognosis?

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

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

What Factors Impact CLL Treatment Options?

What Factors Impact CLL Treatment Options?


Transcript:

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 kind of flu-like, blah symptoms for a couple of days, totally fine to take ibuprofen and kind of 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 percent 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 (Advil, Motrin) is safe, because if your platelets are really low, that can cause bleeding. But acetaminophen (Tylenol) is typically pretty safe and talk to your doctor about which medicines are kind of best for you to take in that situation, but no particular concerns in patients with CLL.

                  

How Can CLL Patients Insist on Better Care?

How Can CLL Patients Insist on Better Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

How can chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients insist on better care? Dr. Lindsey Roeker shares key advice for discussing testing and provides important questions to ask your doctor for the best care for you.

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

Download Guide

See More From INSIST! CLL


Related Resources

 
How Can I Tell if My CLL Treatment is Effective?

How Can I Tell if My CLL Treatment is Effective?

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

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

What Factors Impact CLL Treatment Options?

What Factors Impact CLL Treatment Options?


Transcript

Katherine:                  

Patients should insist on essential CLL testing. 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.

Why Should CLL Patients Speak Up About Treatment Side Effects?

Why Should CLL Patients Speak Up About Treatment Side Effects? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

How can chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients benefit from speaking up about their treatment side effects? Dr. Lindsey Roeker explains how these important discussions can impact a patient’s quality of life.

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

Download Guide

See More From INSIST! CLL


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What CLL Tests Are Essential and How Do Results Impact Treatment and Prognosis?

What CLL Tests Are Essential and How Do Results Impact Treatment and Prognosis?

the COVID-19 Vaccination Safe for CLL Patients in Treatment?

Is the COVID-19 Vaccination Safe for CLL Patients in Treatment?

What Factors Impact CLL Treatment Options?

What Factors Impact CLL Treatment Options?


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

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.

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.

Download Guide

See More From INSIST! CLL


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Why Should CLL Patients Speak Up About Treatment Side Effects?

Why Should CLL Patients Speak Up About Treatment Side Effects?

the COVID-19 Vaccination Safe for CLL Patients in Treatment?

Is the COVID-19 Vaccination Safe for CLL Patients in Treatment?

What Factors Impact CLL Treatment Options?

What Factors Impact CLL Treatment Options?


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.

Download Guide

See More From INSIST! CLL


Related Resources

 
Why Should CLL Patients Speak Up About Treatment Side Effects?

Why Should CLL Patients Speak Up About Treatment Side Effects?

What Factors Impact CLL Treatment Options?

What Factors Impact CLL Treatment Options?

How Can I Tell if My CLL Treatment is Effective?

How Can I Tell if My CLL Treatment is Effective?


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 CLL Tests Are Essential and How Do Results Impact Treatment and Prognosis?

What CLL Tests Are Essential and How Do Results Impact Treatment and Prognosis? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Which chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) tests are essential for patients? Dr. Lyndsey Roeker shares details about vital tests for CLL and the influence of results on treatment and prognosis.

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

Download Guide

See More From INSIST! CLL


Related Resources

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

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

What Factors Impact CLL Treatment Options?

What Factors Impact CLL Treatment Options?

How Can I Tell if My CLL Treatment is Effective?

How Can I Tell if My CLL Treatment is Effective?


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

What tests are necessary to help understand a patient-specific disease, both at diagnosis and prior to treatment?

Dr. Roeker:                

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

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:                 

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

Katherine:                  

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 are 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:                   

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 are 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.

What Factors Impact CLL Treatment Options?

What Factors Impact CLL Treatment Options? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What are the factors that impact chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) treatment options? Dr. Lindsey Roeker notes important considerations that play a role in providing personalized care.

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

Download Guide

See More From INSIST! CLL


Related Resources

 
Why Should CLL Patients Speak Up About Treatment Side Effects?

Why Should CLL Patients Speak Up About Treatment Side Effects?

the COVID-19 Vaccination Safe for CLL Patients in Treatment?

Is the COVID-19 Vaccination Safe for CLL Patients in Treatment?

How Can I Tell if My CLL Treatment is Effective?

How Can I Tell if My CLL Treatment is Effective?


Transcript:

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:                  

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 (Venclexta) 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.

What Are Common Symptoms of CLL?

What Are Common Symptoms of CLL? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are common signs and symptoms of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)? Dr. Lindsey Roeker reviews how CLL is typically diagnosed and symptoms that patients may experience.

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

Download Guide

See More From INSIST! CLL


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Transcript:

Katherine:                  

How is CLL diagnosed?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, for most patients, CLL is diagnosed after a routine blood test shows a high white blood cell count. That’s kind of 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:                 

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.

How Can CLL Patients Mitigate Distance and Technology Barriers to Care?

How Can CLL Patients Mitigate Distance and Technology Barriers to Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients overcome barriers to their CLL care like distance, technology, and other challenges? Dr. Kathy Kim from UC Davis School of Medicine details the challenges she’s witnessed for patients and some ways that both patients and providers can help bridge the gaps to optimal patient care.

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What Multi-Language Technology Innovations Are Available for Cancer Patients and Families?

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How Can CLL Patients Avoid Pandemic Challenges Without Compromising Quality of Care?


Transcript:

Dr. Awan:

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. 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 , 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, 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 to 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 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.

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

What Multi-Language Technology Innovations Are Available for Cancer Patients and Families?

What Multi-Language Technology Innovations Are Available for Cancer Patients and Families? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are available innovations for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients who speak languages besides English? Dr. Kathy Kim and Dr. Farrukh Awan share their perspectives on interpreter services and multi-language technology innovations for patients who need Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, and other languages for improving their CLL knowledge and care.

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Transcript:

Dr. Awan:

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. 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. 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.

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.

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 wanna 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.

How Can CLL Patients Avoid Pandemic Challenges Without Compromising Quality of Care?

How Can CLL Patients Avoid Pandemic Challenges Without Compromising Quality of Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients ensure that they receive quality care even during high-risk times like pandemics? Dr. Kathy Kim from UC Davis School of Medicine shares her recommendations for providers and information about remote monitoring devices for improved patient care.

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Transcript:

Dr. Awan:

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. Kim:

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 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.

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.

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?

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 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.

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.

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. 

Download Guide

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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.