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Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe and Effective for People With Colon Cancer?

Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe and Effective for People With Colon Cancer? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Smitha Krishnamurthi, a colon cancer specialist at Cleveland Clinic, provides vaccine safety information and discusses the effective immune response after COVID-19 vaccination in patients with colon cancer.

Dr. Smitha Krishnamurthi is a gastrointestinal medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Krishnamurthi here.

See More From The Pro-Active Colon Cancer Patient Toolkit


Related Resources:

Should Your Family Members Be Screened for Colon Cancer?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Is the COVID vaccine safe and effective for people with colon cancer?

Dr. Krishnamurthi:

Yes. The COVID vaccine is safe. We have no data that patients with colorectal cancer or patients who are undergoing chemotherapy are at any increased risk of any side effects from the vaccine. People should be able to make a good immune response. Patients who are not able to make a good immune response are those who are getting very high-dose chemotherapy, like a bone marrow transplant or an organ transplant. But chemotherapy for colorectal cancer should not be problem. We basically advise – I ask all my patients to get the vaccine. They should just get it whenever they can. They don’t have to worry about timing in regards to their chemotherapy.

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Dr. Krishnamurthi, thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. Krishnamurthi:

Katherine, thank you so much for having me. It’s been such a pleasure.

Colon Cancer Treatment and Research News

Colon Cancer Treatment and Research News from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What’s the latest colon cancer treatment and research news from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting? Dr. Smitha Krishnamurthi shares updates about research findings that were presented at the meeting along with exciting ongoing research in colon cancer.

Dr. Smitha Krishnamurthi is a gastrointestinal medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Krishnamurthi here.

See More From The Pro-Active Colon Cancer Patient Toolkit


Related Resources:

Should Your Family Members Be Screened for Colon Cancer?


Transcript:

Should Your Family Members Be Screened for Colon Cancer?

Should Your Family Members Be Screened for Colon Cancer? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When should members of your family get colon cancer screening? Dr. Smitha Krishnamurthi from Cleveland Clinic shares screening guidelines for family members and discusses the necessity of genetic counseling.

Dr. Smitha Krishnamurthi is a gastrointestinal medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Krishnamurthi here.

See More From The Pro-Active Colon Cancer Patient Toolkit


Related Resources:

How Is Colon Cancer Treated?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

If you’ve been diagnosed with colon cancer, what is the guidance for screening family members, such as children and siblings?

Dr. Krishnamurthi:

Yes, this is an excellent question. We tell all our patients who have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer that their first-degree relatives should start screening by age 40, but also 10 years younger than the youngest affected member of the family. So, whichever is younger.

If my patient is 45, definitely that person needs to have genetic counseling because they’re young for colorectal cancer. Then we’d recommend at least start by age 35 for their children or siblings, even if no inherited cause is found.

Katherine Banwell:

Okay, all right.

How Speaking Up Can Positively Impact Your Colon Cancer Care

How Speaking Up Can Positively Impact Your Colon Cancer Care from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Why should you advocate for the best care for you? Dr. Smitha Krishnamurthi, a colon cancer specialist from Cleveland Clinic, provides key advice to access better care, including the value of second opinions, and why you should feel empowered to speak up.

Dr. Smitha Krishnamurthi is a gastrointestinal medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Krishnamurthi here.

See More From The Pro-Active Colon Cancer Patient Toolkit


Related Resources:

Should Your Family Members Be Screened for Colon Cancer?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

What is your advice to patients who may feel like they’re hurting feelings by seeking a specialist or even a second opinion?

Dr. Krishnamurthi:

I would advise patients to not worry about that at all. I think that any one of us diagnosed with colorectal cancer would want a second opinion, would want to make sure that we’re getting an opinion from a high-volume cancer. Working here are Cleveland Clinic, I have the luxury of focusing on treatment of gastrointestinal cancers, whereas my colleagues who are in the community are treating patients with all different types of cancers. They have to be knowledgeable in all different types of cancers.

I think that’s actually much harder. I think that if your oncologist is not a specialist, the oncologist may actually appreciate having an opinion from a specialist, which helps them as well.

I think that if the doctor is going to be offended, then that’s probably not the right doctor to see. I think it’s important to just advocate for oneself and go for it.

Katherine Banwell:

That leads to my next question. What advice do you have about self-advocacy, about speaking up for yourself as a patient?

Dr. Krishnamurthi:

I think that’s very important to feel comfortable with your treatment team, with the doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner. If you have the luxury where you have choices where you live, seek out somebody who you can really connect with. I think it’s very important for the treating team to know what the patient is going through.

We have to know how the treatment is going so that we’re dosing properly, making adjustments. We want to know what our patient’s goals are so that we’re providing the best quality care.

I think it’s helpful to bring somebody to appointments. Or if you can’t bring somebody, you’ll call them on the phone. We’re doing that a lot now. People are joining by video call or even speaker phone. Many offices will have a speakerphone. You can ask to have somebody called on your behalf. Especially with COVID and the restricted visitation. Let’s get people on the phone. Somebody else to listen for you. For the patient, I mean, and to take notes. That really helps

Newly Diagnosed With Colon Cancer? Key Advice From an Expert

Newly Diagnosed With Colon Cancer? Key Advice From an Expert from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Smitha Krishnamurthi, a colon cancer specialist from Cleveland Clinic, shares steps to take following diagnosis to ensure patients are receiving optimal care.

Dr. Smitha Krishnamurthi is a gastrointestinal medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Krishnamurthi here.

See More From The Pro-Active Colon Cancer Patient Toolkit


Related Resources:

Your Colon Cancer Care Colon Cancer Toolkit: Office Visit Planner


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

What three key pieces of advice would you have for a patient who has just been diagnosed with colon cancer?

Dr. Krishnamurthi:

Okay. Yes, when somebody received a diagnosis of colon cancer, of course it’s a very serious diagnosis. I would always encourage patients to seek out expert care. Meaning see a person who specializes in treatment of colorectal cancer. So, a colorectal surgeon and a colorectal medical oncologist. I am a medical oncologist who specializes in treatment of patients with gastrointestinal cancer.

These sorts of specialists are typically found at high-volume cancer centers. Look for National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers. That designation implies very high quality of care and that there’s a lot of basic science research, clinical research, and what we call translational research. Like trying to bring lab discoveries to the bedside. I would encourage that for everybody. Of course, not everyone lives near such a center, but what we’ve learned through the pandemic is that we can use telemedicine far more than we ever did before.

We do a lot of virtual visits with patients who may live many hours away. I think it’s important, even if you have one visit for a second opinion, a treatment plan, that you could then receive that treatment with the local oncologist. I think that’s very helpful, and I would encourage everyone to seek out an expert opinion.

Also, I think it’s very important to seek out as much support, because this is a major diagnosis and a lot to go through. There is a lot of support out there that people may not be aware of besides, of course, family and friends. There are excellent patient advocacy groups and groups like your organization, trying to bring information to patients. Patients can ask their doctor or nurse about what’s local in terms of support groups, but there are also large internet presences by patient advocacy organizations. They are giving people high-quality, evidenced-based recommendations, advice.

People get to learn from other peers who have gone through treatment. I can’t name them all, but just for example, like the Colon Town and Colorectal Cancer Alliance. I believe just launching today is My Bluem, B-L-U-E-M.org.

I happen to be executive board member of that, so full disclosure. But it’s an organization created by colorectal cancer survivors for patients to come to one website to access information about all of these different

organizations. There is a huge community out there for people who are diagnosed with colorectal cancer. The third piece of advice, I would just say when you’re looking for information, make sure it’s from a reliable source like these patient advocacy organizations. I tend to look myself for websites that end in .org, .gov, .edu, and also .net.

Our American Society of Clinical Oncologists organization is ASCO.net, where you can get great advice about cancers. Cancer.gov, cancer.org. Because the internet is full of suggestions which may not be based in good science.

It’s important to have a good source.

Katherine Banwell:

Good advice. Thank you for that.

What Should Be Considered When Choosing a Colon Cancer Treatment Approach?

What Should Be Considered When Choosing a Colon Cancer Treatment Approach? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Smitha Krishnamurthi, a colon cancer specialist from Cleveland Clinic, reviews considerations when choosing therapy, including staging and test results, as well as how clinical trials fit into treatment planning.

Dr. Smitha Krishnamurthi is a gastrointestinal medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Krishnamurthi here.

See More From The Pro-Active Colon Cancer Patient Toolkit


Related Resources:

 

Newly Diagnosed With Colon Cancer? Key Advice From an Expert

Your Colon Cancer Care Colon Cancer Toolkit: Office Visit Planner

How Speaking Up Can Positively Impact Your Colon Cancer Care

Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

What are the main factors you take into consideration before a treatment approach is decided on?

Dr. Krishnamurthi:

For treatment of anyone with colorectal cancer, most important, of course, is the stage because stage determines whether it’s surgery alone or do we need to use chemotherapy or radiation? Or if it’s metastatic, is it systemic treatment only? We also look at the biologic features of the cancer, which we’re learning more and more are very important.

For example, we want every patient to know their DNA mismatch repair status. This is basically, is the cancer missing a gene that repairs damage to DNA? Then if that’s true, then we say they are DNA mismatch repair deficient. Or another term is “high microsatellite instability.” Mismatch repair deficient or microsatellite instability high, or you might hear MSI high.

That’s very important that we test that on all patients with colorectal cancer because in the early stage setting, it’s important because this is a way to identify patients who may have Lynch syndrome, the most common type of inherited colorectal cancer.

And also it impairs their prognosis. We know these patients tend to have a better prognosis. For example, for stage 2, we wouldn’t even have a conversation about chemotherapy if we know the patient has abnormal DNA mismatch repair or is MSI high. Then for patients of metastatic disease, it’s very important to know this upfront because those patients do better with immunotherapy as their first treatment.

So, we want to see those results for each patient. Then for our patients with metastatic cancer, we also need to see some other genetic mutations such as RAS, KRAS and NRAS gene mutations, because that affects what treatments we use.

Also, BRAF gene mutations are very important because of the particular regiment we use for treatment of that type of cancer.

We’re looking at the extent of the disease, what are the molecular features, and then also, of very importantly, what can the patient tolerate? What are the patient’s goals? We have a discussion about side effects and help them make the best choice for themselves.

Katherine Banwell:

Where do clinical trials fit in?

Dr. Krishnamurthi:

That’s an excellent question because clinical trials actually could be appropriate at any step along this pathway.

There are clinical trials that may be looking at tests to diagnose cancer better or detect it earlier.

There are treatment trials where they may be looking at standard treatment versus something investigational or standard plus investigational. Those sorts of treatment trials may be very interesting as the initial treatment or they could be used when a person has gone through all the standard treatments. Then there’s nothing left to do but try investigational. There are also studies that are looking at supportive care – a new treatment for nausea, for example. There are studies that are looking at the biologic factors of the cancer. Maybe asking a person to donate blood or give permission to use their tumor sample. By participation in these studies, people who volunteer for that are being so generous with their time and their lives.

But that’s how the field advances, especially for treatment trials. This is a way to access cutting edge treatments because the study is being done because the drug looks promising.

I think it’s very important to ask about clinical trials from the beginning and every time there’s a decision point made in the treatment.

How Is Colon Cancer Treated?

How Is Colon Cancer Treated? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Smitha Krishnamurthi, a colon cancer specialist from Cleveland Clinic, shares an overview of colon cancer treatment and which approaches are used for each stage for optimal patient outcomes.

Dr. Smitha Krishnamurthi is a gastrointestinal medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Krishnamurthi here.

See More From The Pro-Active Colon Cancer Patient Toolkit


Related Resources:


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Can you provide us with an overview of how colon cancer is treated?

Dr. Krishnamurthi:

Yes. Colon cancer is treated based on the stage. It’s a disease that, for the vast majority of patients, is only cured with surgery.

If it can be surgically resected, that’s how this disease is cured. So, it’s very important that we do all we can to maximize early detection because it’s a highly curable cancer when it’s caught early. For early-stage colon cancer, patients are treated with surgery. So, stages 1, 2, and 3.

If it’s rectal cancer, we do some treatment before surgery. We give some chemotherapy and radiation for stages 2 and 3 beforehand to maximally shrink down the tumor to enable the surgeon to take the tumor out of the pelvis with normal tissue all around, like negative margins. Rectal cancer tends to be more complicated surgery because of its location in the pelvis.

So, it’s a little bit different from colon cancer in that we do that chemo radiation and chemotherapy up front. Whereas, for colon cancer, patients who have early-stage disease have surgery. And then, if it’s just stage 1, and this is true for rectal also, they’re done.

Excellent prognosis and go on to surveillance.

But if it’s a stage 2, then in colon cancer we have a discussion about chemotherapy afterwards because that could increase the cure rate for some patients. But for stage 3, we absolutely want to offer chemotherapy to our patients with colon cancer because of this very long, proven track record that chemotherapy can increase the cure rate for stage 3 patients, so when it’s gone to lymph nodes. Then if the disease is metastatic, meaning it’s spread to other distant organs like liver or lung, chemotherapy is the mainstay of treatment, generally speaking.

But there are subsets of patients who benefit from surgery. So, if the cancer is metastasized to just the liver or the lung or both organs, but in limited fashion, there is a track record for patients being cured with surgery.

We always are considering that when we have patients with metastatic disease. My first thought is, is this cancer potentially curable? Then we go from there. In some cases, it’s clear that it’s not curable; it’s widely metastatic. Then there’s no point in subjecting a person to surgery and we know that chemotherapy or drug therapy would be the mainstay of treatment.

What Are the Stages of Colon Cancer

What Are the Stages of Colon Cancer from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Colon cancer specialist, Dr. Smitha Krishnamurthi of Cleveland Clinic, provides an overview of the stages of colon cancer and how these stages are determined.

Dr. Smitha Krishnamurthi is a gastrointestinal medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Krishnamurthi here.

See More From The Pro-Active Colon Cancer Patient Toolkit


Related Resources:

How Is Colon Cancer Treated?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Let’s start with a basic question. What are the stages of colon cancer?

Dr. Krishnamurthi:

Colon cancer is categorized in four stages – stage 1, 2, 3, 4. This takes into account the tumor itself, how thick it is. These tumors start on the inside of the colon, like as a polyp. Then they can grow through the colon wall. The tumor thickness and has it spread to any of the lymph nodes? and has it spread further to a distant organ like liver or lungs?

That’s a tumor node metastasis. Considerations that go into the staging. Stage 1 colon cancer or colorectal cancer would be a very shallow tumor, maybe just in a polyp and hasn’t spread to any nodes or anywhere else. Stage 2 is when the tumor is thicker. It may be involving the full thickness of the colon or rectum but has not spread to any nearby lymph nodes. Stage 3 is when the cancer has spread to regional or nearby lymph nodes. Stage 4 is when it’s metastatic or it’s spread to another organ.

Katherine:

Okay. Thank you.

May 2021 Notable News

The new magic number for colorectal screenings is 45 not 50, parking fees are affecting cancer care, and there are a lot of promising developments regarding potential vaccines, lung cancer treatments and breast cancer screenings, but all the advances in cancer care are not equally available to everyone, and a cancer alliance has issued a call to action.

The disparities in cancer care are profound and widespread, says the Community Oncology Alliance (COA) in a statement posted by journalofclinicalpathways.com. The COA statement notes that an estimated 34 percent of cancer deaths among adults between the ages of 25 to 74 could be prevented if socioeconomic disparities were eliminated. People in groups defined by such things as race and ethnicity, disability, gender identity, income, education, national origin, and geographic location are likely to experience disparities in access to screening, access to care, and ability to pay for care. Read the full COA statement and their call to action here.

Cancer care disparity is also evident in states where fewer people qualify for Medicaid, where, due to lower income eligibility limits, cancer patients have shorter long-term survival rates, reports cancernetwork.com. Medicaid eligibility is not the same in every state. Some states set Medicaid eligibility incomes higher than others, meaning that in order to qualify for Medicaid, income levels have to be at or below the income eligibility level set by each specific state. Texas, for example, has a low income eligibility requirement, so fewer people qualify for Medicaid. A recent study showed that in areas where Medicaid eligibility limits are the lowest, the length of survival was shorter than in the states with high eligibility limits. The study assessed the relationship between state Medicaid income eligibility limits and long-term survival of cancer patients by using the data of 1.5 million adults from the National Cancer Database who were newly diagnosed with 17 common cancers. Researchers noted the study highlights the critical need for equitable care because people who are uninsured are less likely to have regular screenings and are unlikely to start or complete cancer care. Learn more here.

Believe it or not, parking might be affecting quality of cancer care. As pbs.org reports, high parking fees are weighing heavily on many cancer patients and their caregivers, and the negative effects of the cost of parking for cancer treatments are gaining attention from oncology researchers and hospital administrators. Some of the best cancer treatment centers are located where parking is a premium and patients can end up paying up to $40 a day in parking fees. It’s an additional, out-of-pocket expense that no one expects when they get a cancer diagnosis, and it can really add up. A study revealed that some patients pay $1,680 in parking fees during cancer treatment. One patient revealed that he opted not to participate in a clinical trial because he couldn’t afford the cost of parking. Read more about this hot topic here.

While the inequities in care are discouraging, the advances in screenings and treatments continue to be encouraging. There is new hope for people with early-stage lung cancer in the form of an immunotherapy drug, says webmd.com. The drug, an immune checkpoint inhibitor called atezolizumab, is the first to significantly reduce the risk of cancer recurrence or death in people with stage 11 or 111A non-small cell lung cancer. The risk is reduced by 34 percent compared to a 16 percent reduction from currently used chemotherapy. While the findings are promising, the drug can have some serious, life-threatening side effects. Find more information here.

An updated breast cancer screening may be on the way with the development of a new biosensor to help detect early-stage breast, reports medicalxpress.com. The biosensor, developed in Spain, helps detect cancer through a blood test, and it is easy to use, inexpensive, and yields results in 30 to 60 minutes. Learn more about how the biosensor test works here.

The screening methods for colorectal cancer remain the same, but the timeline is changing. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States and experts are now recommending that routine screening start five years earlier, reports npr.org. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent volunteer panel of national experts, now says that screening should begin at age 45 instead of age 50. The recommendation is expected to save lives and give more people access to the screening tests. Learn more here.

The earlier screenings combined with a potential vaccine could put us on the right path to knocking colorectal cancer out of its third-place ranking for cancer deaths. Researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center are using the mRNA technology that was used to create the COVID-19 vaccines to create a vaccine for stage two and stage three colon cancers, reports KHOU 11 News Houston, khou.com. Originally developed many years ago to treat cancer, mRNA vaccines can be personalized to each patient, and through clinical trials this summer, researchers will test if the vaccines can eradicate microscopic cancer cells left behind in colon cancer patients who have had tumors surgically removed. Eradicating the remaining cancer cells will prohibit the cancer from returning. Researchers say the vaccines can be applied to other cancers as well. Watch the KHOU 11 report and learn more about how the mRNA vaccines work here.

There has been a drop in cervical cancers thanks to screening and the HPV vaccine, but other cancers caused by the human papillomavirus are on the rise, reports apnews.com. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus and while most infections have no symptoms and go away without treatment, each year about 35,900 of the infections develop into cancer. It can take decades for an HPV infection to develop into cancer, which might explain the rise in some cancers. Experts say that the cancers we’re seeing now could be a result of the sexual practices of Baby Boomers in the late 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Oral and throat cancers have increased the most in men, and anal cancer and a rare rectal cancer have increased the most in women. Young women, who would have been the first to get the HPV vaccine when it made its debut in 2006, saw the biggest drop in cervical cancer cases. Find more information here.

Notable News February

At this point in the year many of us have already given up on our New Year’s resolutions, but if your resolution was to lose weight this year, it might be time to revisit it, especially if you are a young adult. A study reported by cnn.com reveals that obesity-related cancers are increasing among the 24 to 49 year old age group, and the risk is increasing at progressively younger ages. There are six cancers that showed increases in younger adults — colorectal, endometrial, gallbladder, kidney, pancreatic, and multiple myeloma. These cancers are traditionally found in people in their 60s and 70s, but now the risk of these cancers in millennials is almost double what it was for baby boomers when they were the same age. More information about the study and the connection between obesity and cancer can be found here.

The increase in cancer rates in younger adults is alarming, but being able to detect the disease at an earlier stage increases the chance for survival. Pancreatic cancer is a cancer that is difficult to diagnose early. It is almost always diagnosed at an advanced stage and about 95 percent of people diagnosed with it will die of it. Now, Norwegian researchers may have a clue into better understanding pancreatic cancer which could eventually lead to earlier diagnosis, reports sciencenordic.com. The researchers learned that there may be a connection between blood type and pancreatic cancer. People with blood type A have a slightly increased pancreatic cancer risk and people with blood type O seem to have a slight protection from the disease. The differences in risk are small, but the data is consistent to studies in other countries and may provide insight into better understanding the disease. Researchers hypothesize that intestinal flora, the immune system, and digestive enzymes may play a role in the contraction of the disease and give researchers a direction for further study. Learn more here.

While not on the list of cancers being found more often in younger adults, prostate cancer remains the most common cancer among men. Typically, it can be successfully treated, but the cancer often spreads making more aggressive treatment necessary. Unfortunately, there’s been no way of knowing when or if the cancer will spread — until now. There’s a specific gene responsible for the spread of prostate cancer, reports medicalxpress.com, and a study at Rutgers University has found it. The NSD2 gene, which indicates when patients are at high-risk for the cancer to spread, was found through a computer algorithm. Researchers were able to turn off the gene in mice and prevent the cancer from spreading. Being able to identify when the cancer may spread will allow for more targeted treatment and prevention. Also, it might be possible to use the algorithm for other cancers as well, which is good news for everyone. More information about the NSD2 gene and the computer algorithm can be found here.

No matter what age someone gets cancer, pain can often be a side-effect of the cancer itself or of the treatment. Pain occurs in up to 50 percent of people with cancer. Cancer-related pain is real, and it can last long after treatment, but cancer.gov says that there is renewed interest in seeking new, non-addictive pain medications, as well as other pain management solutions, for cancer patients and survivors. Medications are being developed, and options such as cannabinoids (chemicals found in marijuana), are being explored to treat bone pain and pain in the head and neck from oral cancers. Pain is also a side-effect of treatments such as chemotherapy, and prevention is being sought for that type of pain as well. Non-drug treatments that are being considered are yoga, Tai Chi, and mindfulness meditation. There is much, much more to be explored about the potential for pain management, but more about what is already being done can be found here.

Alleviating the pain of cancer whether through pain management, early diagnosis, or preventing the disease from spreading is definitely a step in the right direction for ensuring that all patients are empowered patients.