Tag Archive for: constipation

What Do You Need to Know About CLL Treatment Side Effects?

What Do You Need to Know About CLL Treatment Side Effects? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

CLL Expert Dr. Jean Koff discusses common side effects of CLL treatment and explains how they can be managed.

Dr. Jean Koff is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Hematology and Oncology at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. Learn more about Dr. Koff, here.

See More from Thrive CLL

Related Resources:

How Are CLL Symptoms Treated?

CLL Treatment Approaches: What Are the Types?

What is YOUR Role in Choosing a CLL Treatment Approach?

Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

What are the common side effects of treatments, and how are they managed? 

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, each of the different classes of agents has a different profile of side effects. The BTK inhibitors, the first class that I mentioned with ibrutinib (Imbruvica) and acalabrutinib (Calquence), are usually very well tolerated. The most common side effects that we tend to see are things that the patients can feel or see, but also things that we can see on the labs when we’re monitoring patients. So, sometimes you can see a lower platelet counts or lower blood cell counts with ibrutinib. That’s something that you may not notice, but your doctor’s going to notice on the – the blood counts when you come to the office. Sometimes ibrutinib can cause a rash or GI upset, this is usually easily managed with supportive care from your physician.  

And then some more – some more common effects of the BTK inhibitors include joint pain and headache. And again, many physicians, because we’ve been using BTK inhibitors for a long time, have a good regimen for treating these side effects. More uncommon side effects of BTK inhibitors, particularly ibrutinib that we look out for would be abnormal heart rhythms and some tendency for bleeding. But these are relatively uncommon and with newer BTK inhibitors, we’re seeing lower rates of these side effects.  

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, in terms of venetoclax side effects we have a little bit of a different profile. This agent is much more likely to cause lower cell counts, especially in a white blood cell count known as neutrophil count, and so your doctor will be monitoring you for that. In terms of patient side effects that you can feel, it can cause a rash, it can cause some GI upset. These are usually relatively easily managed but we want you as the patient if you’re on venetoclax to talk to your doctor about these side effects so that they can help you feel better and help you manage those. In terms of the anti-CV20 monoclonal antibodies, which we use a couple in CLL more frequently, they have very similar side effect profiles.  

So, one is rituximab, and one is obinutuzumab. Obinutuzumab is usually used in combination with venetoclax in front-line CLL.  

Like I mentioned before, this is an infusion and most of the side effects that we think about and most commonly see in these anti-CV20s are side effects that patients have during the infusion. And these are referred to as infusion reaction. And these are relatively common, around 30 percent in these anti-CV20 monoclonal antibodies. So, what is an infusion center react – er sorry, what does an infusion reaction look like? This looks sort of like an allergic reaction. 

Katherine Banwell:

Hm. 

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, your nurses in the infusion center are going to be monitoring you very carefully once you start the infusion, and they’re going to start it at a low dose, very slowly. But the side effects they’re monitoring for, they’re looking for changes in your heart rate or blood pressure. You may start to feel hot or cold or sweaty, you may have chills. Sometimes patients can have swelling in their throat or their tongue. And what will happen is because these are fairly common, is we’re still able to give the anti-CV20, but what we do is the nurse will stop the infusion, they may give you some medications that calm down that infusion reaction. So, medications like antihistamines –  

Katherine Banwell:

Mm-hmm.  

Dr. Jean Koff:

Or steroids that help tamp down that immune response, and then they start the anti-CV20 infusion at a lower rate. The vast majority of patients will be able to receive an anti-CV20 antibody even if they have an infusion reaction. They may just need a little bit more of those immune tamping-down medications like antihistamines and steroids. And then the last thing to consider, which I think we’ve mentioned, especially in the venetoclax-containing regimens, is the tumor lysis syndrome. And so, that is a side effect like we mentioned is kind of like the venetoclax working really, really, really well, of the tumor breaking down too quickly.  

And so, patients who have tumor lysis, if they’re at high-risk, hopefully they’re already being monitored very closely with frequent lab draws, and they may receive medications that – that diminish the risk of adverse events happening because your electrolytes are out balance, for instance, your potassium is too high, or your calcium is too low. Because your doctors are monitoring you closely, they can give you medications that can help balance  out those – those electrolytes and help protect the kidneys. The tumor lysis is typically not a risk after the initial doses of venetoclax.  

So, the first couple weeks is when we typically monitor that, and then once the CLL has been broken down, or as I like to say, once it’s been cooled off a little bit, then you no longer have this risk of tumor lysis and it – it doesn’t require further monitoring. 

Katherine Banwell:

That’s great information, thank you.  

How Are CLL Symptoms Treated?

How Are CLL Symptoms Treated? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Jean Koff reviews common CLL symptoms and explains why patients should discuss any issues they experience with their healthcare teams.

Dr. Jean Koff is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Hematology and Oncology at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. Learn more about Dr. Koff, here.

See More from Thrive CLL

Related Resources:

What Are the Current CLL Treatment Options?

What Do You Need to Know About CLL Treatment Side Effects?

What Do You Need to Know About CLL Treatment Side Effects?

What is YOUR Role in Choosing a CLL Treatment Approach?

Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

One part of thriving with CLL is managing the symptoms of the disease. What are the common symptoms of CLL? 

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, one thing that I see with nearly all of my CLL patients, regardless of where they are in the CLL journey, and regardless of whether they need active medications to manage their CLL, is some degree of fatigue. And this can range from just mild fatigue that patients notice that they need a little bit of a breather in the middle of the day, to needing more sleep at night, to not being able to exercise as much as they’re used to. And that is by far one of the most common symptoms we see. Again, whether or not their disease needs medication to manage it.  

The classic symptoms of CLL that often let us know that it’s time to start medical management are not just this fatigue. But the classic symptoms are  B symptoms. And we describe those as fevers, night sweats, and unintentional weight loss. Those are very common. And then some patients with CLL will also have what we call palpable lymphadenopathy, which is our term for lymph nodes that are enlarged that you can feel. And the most common places to feel these on the body are on the neck, under the arms, and in the groin.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. How are symptoms treated? 

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, if your symptoms progress to the point that your doctor thinks you need medication – they’re becoming disruptive to your life, or they are getting worse and worse over time, then there are a variety of medications that we can use in CLL. And this is actually a very exciting field. Right now, the state of the field is that most patients who are starting on their first treatment for CLL will use some sort of oral medication, and that may be accompanied by an IV – what we call monoclonal antibody, or it may not. But one thing that has really changed even since I very first started practicing, is that we no longer commonly use what I would call conventional chemotherapy to treat CLL – even though this was the standard of care just a few years ago. 

Katherine Banwell:

Wow. So, a lot has changed. 

Dr. Jean Koff:

Yes, definitely. 

Thriving With Prostate Cancer: What You Should Know About Care and Treatment

What does it mean to thrive with advanced prostate cancer? Dr. Rana McKay discusses the goals of advanced prostate cancer care, reviews current and emerging treatment options, and shares advice for playing an active role in healthcare decisions.
 
Dr. Rana McKay is a medical oncologist at UC San Diego Health and an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. McKay, here.
 
 

Katherine Banwell:    

Hello and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today we’re going to focus on how patients can aim to live and thrive with advanced prostate cancer. We’re going to discuss treatment goals and the role patients can play in making key decisions. 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. Well let’s meet our guests today. Joining me is Dr. Rana McKay. Dr. McKay, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Rana McKay:     

Of course. Thank you so much for having me. My name is Rana McKay and I’m a GU medical oncologist at the University of California San Diego.  

Katherine Banwell:    

Excellent. Thanks so much for taking time out of your schedule to join us. Since this webinar is part of PEN’s Thrive series, I’d like to ask you from your perspective, what do you think it means to thrive with advanced prostate cancer?

Dr. Rana McKay:        

That’s a very good question and I think that’s what um, a lot of patients want to actually you know, do in their day-to-day existence. I think it means that they are combatting their disease. They’re taking a proactive role in um, you know, uh tackling um, their illness. They um, are uh, attentive to sort of doing the activities of daily living that really bring them joy and satisfaction and happiness and setting up a treatment plan that is a mutually agreed upon treatment plan with their clinician. That they have buy-in on. That their caregivers have buy-in on. That allows them to do the things that they love to do while keeping their cancer at bay.

Katherine Banwell:    

Okay. Thank you for sharing your insights. Before we move onto treatment, I mentioned that this webinar is focused on advanced prostate cancer. What does it mean for prostate cancer to be considered advanced?

Dr. Rana McKay:        

So, generally what that means is that the cancer may have spread outside of the body – outside of prostate to other parts of the body such as the bone or the lymph nodes which is a common location where prostate cancer um, uh, can go. Additionally, it may mean that the cancer may have come back after um, it was initially treated with an intent um, to cure um, a patient. But then you know the PSA demonstrates um, that you know, there’s a rise in the PSA and the cancer is recurrent.

Katherine Banwell:    

As you mentioned uh, appropriate treatment is part of thriving. We’re going to talk about treatment approaches. But first, how would you define treatment goals?

Dr. Rana McKay:       

So, you know when I look at defining treatment goals it’s focusing on what do we wanna achieve from the standpoint of the cancer? Meaning, you know, what are objectives that are associated with patients living longer?

And then what are objectives um and strategies that we can set-up to make sure that patients are living better? So, I think the treatments are basically set-up to basically help you achieve those two goals. What can we do to help you live longer and feel better?

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. Well, let’s walk through the types of treatments that are used today to treat advanced prostate cancer. What are the treatment causes and who are they appropriate for? Let’s start with surgery, for instance.

Dr. Rana McKay:       

So, surgery is something that’s utilized uh, early on when people are diagnosed with cancer. It tends to be utilized when the cancer has not necessarily spread to other parts of the body but is still localized within the prostate itself or maybe there’s just some little bit of breakthrough in the capsule. Sometimes it can be used in people who have involvement of the prostate cancer in the lymph nodes. But it’s generally not utilized in people who have cancer that’s spread to other parts of the body.

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. What about other treatment classes? What are they?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

So, radiation can also be utilized. Radiation is a treatment modality that can be used for people with localized disease and um, also it can be utilized for people with advanced disease to treat the primary tumor.

Additionally radiation therapy can be used to help treat symptoms um, if there’s a bone lesion causing pain or other areas that are causing discomfort. Sometimes radiation to those areas um, can um, mitigate pain. When I think about the treatment classes for prostate cancer um, they generally break down into several categories. The first um, um, most predominant category is the hormonal therapy category. Hormonal therapies are really the backbone of treatment for men with prostate cancer and they include the more traditional hormonal therapies that really work to just drop testosterone. So, just LRH – L – LRHA agonists and antagonists and also, they include um, newer hormonal therapies in the form of pills that really target um, strategies at also affecting testosterone function and testosterone production. Another class is also the chemotherapy agents. There are two FDA approved chemotherapies for prostate cancer that are life prolonging and um, uh there’s a certain role for uh, chemotherapy for people with advanced disease.

There’s also immunotherapy that can be utilized. Um, there’s a um, uh, vaccine therapy that’s actually one of the first uh, FDA vaccines for any solid tumor that’s proving in prostate cancer that can be utilized. There’s also radio pharmaceuticals.

So, these are specific agents that deliver um, a bits of radiation to specific areas. Whether it be radium 223 which targets the bone or the newest radio pharmaceutical, which was approved called uh, lutecium PSMA that um, basically delivers beta-radiation to little – sites of PSMA expressing cancer cells and the last category that I would highlight is the category of targeted therapy. There are uh, two targeted therapies for prostate cancer for patients who have like genomic alterations. Those include the drugs olaparib and rucaparib. So, as you can see there’s a wide spectrum of drugs that can be utilized to really keep this disease at bay.  

Katherine Banwell:    

Dr. McKay, for these treatment classes, what can patients expect as far as side effects?

Dr. Rana McKay:       

Absolutely. So, I think side effects – discussing side effects is a really important part of the discussion for selecting any one given therapy and in general, I think um, when we talk about the hormonal therapies one of the side effects that people can get is largely fatigue.

But a lot of the symptoms are related to low testosterone. And so, that may mean muscle loss, bone loss, um, you know, uh, hot flashes, um, fatigue, decrease libido, um… So, you those are things to consider with hormonal therapies. With the chemotherapies, I think the big ones we worry about are fatigue, risk of infection, um blood counts dropping a little bit, people getting tired, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet can occur, some swelling in the legs are common side effects for chemotherapy agents. With regards to the um, uh, immunotherapy with the vaccine therapy, it actually tends to be a fairly well tolerated treatment. Maybe some fatigue, rarely some dizziness or some lip – lip sensitivity, numbness with the – the process of kind of collecting the cells. But it actually tends to be fairly well tolerated.

The um, targeted therapies can cause fatigue. They can cause the blood counts to drop and can impact bone marrow function. There can be sometimes GI side effects. Nausea, um, rash, um and then the immune therapy, the pembrolizumab, that is FDA approved sometimes that can cause immune related adverse events which is kind of over activation of the immune system developing you know, what I’d call it as the itises. Colitis or pneumonitis which is inflammation of various organs and symptoms related to wherever that may be.

Katherine Banwell:    

When should a patient consider a clinical trial as a treatment option?

Dr. Rana McKay:        

So, I generally think that a patient should consider a clinical trial at almost every juncture that a – a clinical decision is being made. I think sometimes there’s this misperception that, “Oh. Clinical trials should only be utilized when I don’t have any other options.” Where in fact I would say clinical trials should be an option to discuss every single time a treatment is being changed. Um, because you know the ultimately the goal is to make sure patients are as I said, living longer and living better and um, you know, making sure that clinical trials are an option on the table at every juncture is really a key step in that process.

Katherine Banwell:    

What are the benefits of being part of a clinical trial?

Dr. Rana McKay:       

So, I think there’s a lot of benefits. I think um, you know, uh for patients with advanced disease it may provide access to drugs that they otherwise not necessarily have access to.

Um, so the standard of care therapies you know, we can prescribe those at any juncture. They’re standard of care. But clinical trials um, really offer an opportunity to experiment with a uh, uh another agent um, and doesn’t necessarily take away from the standard of care options.

I think um, the other thing is you know, I think a lot of patients with advanced prostate cancer, they um, they – want to give back to the community. They want to leave a legacy. They want to contribute to the science. They wanna be a part of that mission to make tomorrow better than today for men with prostate cancer and I think participating in clinical trials can really help achieve that goal. Um, and also benefit the individual as well.

Katherine Banwell:    

What about emerging treatments? Are there any that patients should know about?

Dr. Rana McKay:       

Absolutely. So, there’s a lot of treatments that I think are currently undergoing extensive testing.

There’s um, additional uh, targeted therapies um, for example CDK46 inhibitors that are being tested broadly in the um, um hormone resistant space and the newly diagnosed setting. Um, there’s um, also AKT inhibitors. There are other targeted therapies that are being tested. There’s novel hormonal treatments that target resistant pathways like the antigen receptor degraders. There’s a slew of immunotherapy options um, cell therapy, bi-specific antibodies that are also being tested. So, there’s a lot of really exciting and novel treatments that are looking at overcoming resistance for people with advanced disease.

Katherine Banwell:    

Hm. Do you recommend that men with advanced prostate cancer get the COVID vaccines and the boosters?

Dr. Rana McKay:       

Very good question and in general, I do recommend the vaccines. Especially for patients with advanced disease and those that are on therapy. Um, several studies have demonstrated that patients with cancer are at increased risk of having complications related to COVID and particularly patients that are on active treatment with cancer are at even greater riskSo, um, I would definitely recommend vaccination as a preventative strategy to prevent really complications related to COVID.

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. Thanks, Dr. McKay. That’s helpful information. Since prostate cancer affects men differently. Let’s review what factors could impact which treatment is right for their individual disease. How about we start with symptoms?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

So, yeah. I mean absolutely. I think symptoms are definitely something that plays into effect.

Um, sometimes when patients are first diagnosed, they may not have symptoms. But, you know, boney pain. Um, Symptoms of urinary obstruction. You know, there’s specific um, uh, treatments and uh, strategies that we can deploy to help with those kinds of things. Um, you know other factors that I think I – we take into account when we’re making decisions about which agent should any one patient receive is where are there sites of metastases? Um, is there disease just in the bones and lymph nodes or are there other organs involved? Um, what’s the genomic make-up of the tumor? Um, there are certain treatments that we would utilize if someone had a certain specific you know, uh genetic make-up for their tumor. You know, other things that are really important are what kind of drugs has the patient seen before or has that tumor been exposed to? Because that also helps us strategize for what to give them in the future.

Katherine Banwell:    

Do you take into consideration the patient’s comorbidities and their age and overall health? Things like that? 

Dr. Rana McKay: 

Absolutely. Yeah. I think we need to absolute take that in account. I think – I think age is one thing. But I think functional status is um, just as – as important as the actual number itself because people are very different regarding um,  the things that they can do at various uh, age limits and so, that absolutely takes into account weighing the side effects of any given therapy and how that may interact with someone’s existing comorbidities and it may be something that we have to work with a team of other doctors to basically make sure that there is comprehensive, well-rounded care for any one patient.

For example, some therapies may increase the risk of hyper-tension or increase the risk of volume overload and so, if somebody has issues with that already we may have them see a cardiologist so we can make sure that um, you know, we’re kind of addressing the totality of the patient experience. 

Katherine Banwell:    

What do you mean by volume overload?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

Uh, volume overload I mean if they’ve got too much fluid on board. So, maybe if they have heart failure or something like that and we have a therapy that’s gonna cause them to retain fluid. And so then, we would have to work with a cardiologist to make sure that they don’t run into issues.

Katherine Banwell:    

Right. That makes sense. What are the common symptoms of advanced prostate cancer?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

So, um, you know, I would probably say there common symptoms and just because somebody has these symptoms doesn’t mean they have prostate cancer. But fatigue, weight loss, urinary symptoms, trouble urinating, you know, benign prostatic atrophy is one of the most common symptoms or most common conditions in men and um –

Katherine Banwell:    

What does that mean?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

Um, so sort of benign enlargement of the prostate. Um, you know that’s a common phenomenon that happens with age and it can affect somebody’s ability to urinate.

Um, but um you know uh, sometimes with prostate cancer it can also impact somebody’s ability to urinate. Their stream, their flow. Um, they may have rectal discomfort. They may feel tired, boney pains. Usually, I tell patients you know persistent progressive symptoms that are just you know not going away, not getting better. Those need to be looked at by a physician to evaluate further. 

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. You mentioned genetic mutations. Should patients advocate for genetic testing if they haven’t had it already?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

Um, it all depends on uh, what kind of uh, where they are in the process. So, for most men who have advanced disease, they should undergo genetic testing of both their tumor, and it is also recommended to do hereditary testing for patients who have advanced disease. Um, and that information may not necessarily be utilized at the exact time that the test is done.

But it may be utilized down the road for treatment options at a later time point. Um…

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. Once a man is undergoing treatment for advanced prostate cancer how are they monitored to see if it’s actually working?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

So, a lot of ways. So, one is by just you know, visiting with the patient. Making sure that their symptoms are in check. Making sure that they’re not developing new um, aches or pains that are worrisome. It’s by checking their labs um, in addition to their organ and bone marrow function. We would check their PSA. Um, and PSA isn’t the whole story. But it is one factor that contributes to us determining whether treatment may or may not be working. It’s also doing intermittent scannings. So, um, you know, uh, CT scans of the organs, of the lymph nodes. Bone scan and now we actually have PSMA based imaging which can be integrated to help um, assess uh, where the disease is and um, not yet being utilized to assess whether something is working because we haven’t really defined the criteria there.

But um, it can be utilized as well.

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. Dr. McKay, how would you define precision or personalized medicine and how close are we getting to personalized medicine for advanced prostate cancer?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

Yeah. So, what I – how I define it is the right treatment for the right patient at the right time. It’s basically you know, based off of somebody’s genomic profile of their tumor and ideally that genomic profiling is done close to the time that that treatment is being initiated. So, within six months or twelve months of somebody starting a given therapy we understand the genetic make-up of the tumor. The tumor has you know, for example a BRCA1 alteration and we know that olaparib is a drug that can be utilized and has demonstrated efficacy for people that have that mutation and then we would use that agent. So, it’s basically trying to um, personalize therapy based on the genomic information of that tumor.

And um, I think we are getting there. There are actually trials now that are being launched that are bio-marker driven trials with bio-marker selected therapies for patients based on -off of not just DNA but also RNA to help with um, allocating a given therapy.   

Katherine Banwell:    

What do you feel are the common obstacles to care for a man with advanced prostate cancer?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

So, I think that there can be a lot of obstacles with regards to um, you know, comprehensiveness of the care. You know it’s one thing to sort of, “Okay. This is the next therapy to treat you with.” But there’s a lot of side effects that can happen with any one given therapy and ensuring that there is open dialogue between um, uh a man and his – his clinician and caregivers.

You know, I think that that can sometimes be a hurdle. Like that open communication can be so important. It’s not just about picking the next best drug but it’s ensuring that there’s sort of comprehensiveness in care. I think a lot of um, you know, patients they may not necessarily know and they’re really kind of dependent on their clinician to sort of go through the compendia of options that may be available and why one may be better than the other for any one given scenario. So, I think it’s like that shared decision-making, that open dialogue.

Um, you know, I think also thinking about advocacy networks, I think um, you know, I can say things until I’m blue in the face like this is what being on ADT feels like. But I think sometimes actually connecting with another patient whose gone through the same experience who can kind of weigh in from the patient perspective like what it actually feels like, I think is not to say a hurdle. But I think we can do a better job as a medical community of making those networking connections available for patients so they can be a part of a broader community of individuals like them going through the same thing they’re going through.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. It helps to know that there are others going through exactly what you’re going through or similar symptoms. We received a patient question prior to the program. What is the difference between my PSA level and Gleason score?     

Dr. Rana McKay: 

Yeah. So, very good question. So, Gleason score is something that is determined based off a pathologic assessment. So, it’s basically you know, a biopsy is done from the prostate or the – the surgical specimen from the removal of the prostate is looked at under the microscope and a Gleason score is based off what something looks like underneath a microscope and ideally, a Gleason score is given really only for the prostate – for tissue derived from the prostate.

So, if somebody has a bone biopsy for example or a lymph node biopsy, they’re not going to necessarily get a glycine score per se. It’s been – been validated from the prostate itself and ideally, also, an untreated prostate. So, if somebody has you know had radiation therapy and then has a biopsy, the Gleason score there is – there should not necessarily be a notation of what a Gleason score is. It’s really an untreated prostate. Now PSA is prostate specific antigen and it’s a protein that’s made from the prostate gland and it’s found in circulation. PSA doesn’t hurt any – the actual you know, molecule itself is – is innocuous. It doesn’t hurt anything. It’s just a marker of um, sometimes can be a marker of burden of disease in prostate cancer and I think sometimes we as clinicians do you know, you know a disservice to some patients because I think we fixate – we can fixate a lot on PSA.

But PSA is not the whole story and it’s one factor of several factors that we take into account in determining whether someone needs treatment or whether a treatment is working or not working.

Katherine Banwell:    

Why should patients feel confident using their voice in partnering in their care? Do you have any advice?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

Um, I mean it’s – it’s absolutely important for patients to share their perspective and for there to be shared decision making at every single juncture along the way. Even around decisions to not treat. So, you know, I think it’s a lot of um – there’s a lot of grays in prostate cancer and a lot of art in deciding what treatment to do and at what specific time and for any given patient given the values that that patient brings to the table, they may come back with a different decision compared to another patient. So, without the patient you know voicing what their values are it’s impossible to make a treatment decision.

So, it is so critically important to have that open communication with your clinician.

Katherine Banwell:    

So, in addition to that – in conjunction with that, should men diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer consider a second opinion or consulting with a specialist?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

I think it’s always a great idea to get a second opinion. Um, you know, I think that um, you know, it will only empower individuals um, when they seek sort of a second opinion to either confirm um what their physician has already told them and then they have reassurance that they’re on the right path or maybe provide some new um, novel insights that they can take into consideration and just think about how that could be applied to them. So, you know, I think that a second opinion is always really valuable.

I will balance that by saying um, sometimes it can be detrimental if there’s lots of opinions because I will say that coming to a consensus when there’s lots of different specialists that are involved, and everybody makes the soup a little bit differently –

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah.

Dr. Rana McKay: 

Sometimes that I think that can actually um, hurt patients in being able to actually come to a decision because then they’re like, “I don’t know what decision to make. This person said do this. This person said do that. This person said do that.” Um, and so that can sometimes be um, detrimental. But a second opinion, I do always encourage it. I do always value it. But I always want the patient to bring it back to me so I can share with them and discuss, “Okay. I understand. This is why x said X-Y-Z. This still aligns. This still doesn’t.” They need a quarterback like you know, it’s one thing to sort of get second opinions. But I think every man with prostate cancer should have a quarterback that’s driving their care and advocating for them.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. How can patients find specialists near them?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

So, um, I will say that they are national comprehensive cancer institutes. They’re all across the country in rural areas and not. I think um, you know finding the closest NCI designated comprehensive cancer center close to you is probably a good place to start and identifying who is seeing um patients with genetic urinary malignancies or prostate cancer at that facility is a good place. I think the prostate cancer foundation is an excellent advocacy group for patients with prostate cancer. They have a tremendous amount of resources um, to help connect patients with um, clinicians, and other resources um, in their journey with cancer.

Katherine Banwell:    

How can caregivers best support their loved ones?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

So, I think being present is one of the first things. Um, you know, I think that uh, um, you know, uh, being you know, supportive, being present.

Like you know, attending the doctor – doctor’s visits. It doesn’t necessarily have to be every single doctor visit. But those critical doctor visits where um, you know clinical decisions are being made. I think it’s really important also um, to there may be some hesitancy on the part of patients to sometimes be open or vocal with their clinicians about various aspects of what they may be experiencing at home, or they may be undermining or sort of – I think caregivers can help in sort of giving an outsider’s perspective. “Well, this is how things are going at home,” and “You know this is how things are,” and “These are the things that we value and we’re gonna go on this family trip,” and “This is a big-ticket item for us. So, how can we work around planning a treatment plan that allows us to do that?” So, I think it’s really important.

Katherine Banwell:    

ASCO was held in June. Is there news from the conference that patients should know about?

Dr. Rana McKay:        

Yeah. So, I think some of the biggest therapies in prostate cancer that was one of the newest therapies that was just FDA approved is um, Lutetium PSMA. It’s um, a radioligand therapy that targets specifically PSMA expressing cells. Um It delivers a little bit of beta radiation to those cells. Um, that therapy was approved this past Spring and there highlights at ASCO about the utility of this therapy. Um, and again, there’s a series of novel compounds that are being tested in prostate cancer not yet ready for prime time but a lot of exciting work that’s being done um, to try to get new drugs that work better for our patients.

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. Going back to ASCO and new developments, how can patients stay informed about research developments like – like these that happen at ASCO.

Dr. Rana McKay:

So, very – very good. I think there’s a lot of networks for people with prostate cancer. I think one like I mentioned, the prostate cancer foundation it’s a wonderful community. Um, that really focuses on making sure that up to date, you know, uh, evidence-based data is uh, distributed to patients in a manner that is – that makes sense. That’s there’s not a lot of medical jargon and so I think that the PCF is really a wonderful resource. Uh, ASCO itself also has um, you know patient interfacing you know, materials through their website.

American Cancer Society does as well. Um, the American Cancer Society can also be a wonderful resource for patients that are newly diagnosed or going through treatment.

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm. Before we end the program, Dr. McKay, I wanted to ask. Are you hopeful that men can thrive with advanced prostate cancer?

Dr. Rana McKay:       

Oh, I am absolutely hopeful that they can thrive. I mean that is um, the name of the game and I think there’s a lot of um, uh, people who can look to for motivation.

Um, uh, to basically show that despite treatment, despite having advanced disease patients can thrive and continue doing all of the things that they love that give them joy and satisfaction in their lives.

Katherine Banwell:    

It seems like there’s a lot of progress and hope in the field which is good. Dr. McKay thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.

Dr. Rana McKay:       

Of course. My pleasure.

Katherine Banwell:    

And thank you to all of our partners. To learn more about prostate cancer and to get tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Thriving With CLL: Your Role in Managing Your Care

Thriving with CLL: Your Role in Managing Your Care from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 How can patients thrive with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)? Dr. Jean Koff discusses CLL treatments approaches, strategies for managing disease symptoms and treatment side effects, and shares advice on how patients can be proactive in their care.

Dr. Jean Koff is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Hematology and Oncology at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. Learn more about Dr. Koff, here.

Download Resource Guide

See More from Thrive CLL

Related Resources:

Setting CLL Treatment Goals WITH Your Team

Expert Advice for CLL Self-Advocacy

Expert Advice for CLL Self-Advocacy

CLL Treatment Approaches: What Are the Types?

Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:  

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today we’re going to discuss what it means to thrive with CLL. And how you can play an active role in your care. 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 webinar, 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 speak to your healthcare team about what might be best for you. Well, let’s meet our guest today. Joining me is Dr. Jean Koff. Dr. Koff, welcome! Would you please introduce yourself? 

Dr. Jean Koff:

Hi, I’m Jean Koff. I’m a lymphoma and CLL specialist from Emory University and it’s a pleasure to be with you here today. 

Katherine Banwell:

Thank you for taking the time to join us. We start all of our webinar in our CLL Thrive series with the same question. In your experience, what does it mean to thrive with CLL? 

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, I think thriving with CLL means that a patient is informed about their disease, they are comfortable with the physician who’s helping them navigate their disease and their management plan. And their management plan, whatever that might be, is really allowing them to focus on their life outside of CLL. So, keeping their symptoms to the absolute minimum, their physician keeping them informed about their disease progress, or lack thereof, in terms of keeping the disease at bay so they can focus on all of those things that bring them enjoyment outside of the CLL world. 

Katherine Banwell:

That’s great. Thank you for your perspective. One part of thriving  with CLL is managing the symptoms of the disease. What are the common symptoms of CLL? 

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, one thing that I see with nearly all of my CLL patients, regardless of where they are in the CLL journey, and regardless of whether they need active medications to manage their CLL, is some degree of fatigue. And this can range from just mild fatigue that patients notice that they need a little bit of a breather in the middle of the day, to needing more sleep at night, to not being able to exercise as much as they’re used to. And that is by far one of the most common symptoms we see. Again, whether or not their disease needs medication to manage it. The classic symptoms of CLL that often let us know that it’s time to start medical management, are not just this fatigue. But the classic symptoms are B symptoms. And we describe those as fevers, night sweats, and unintentional weight loss. Those are very common. And then some patients with CLL will also have what we call palpable lymphadenopathy, which is our term for lymph nodes that are enlarged that you can feel. And the most common places to feel these on the body are on the neck, under the arms, and in the groin.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. How are symptoms treated? 

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, if your symptoms progress to the point that your doctor thinks you need medication – they’re becoming disruptive to your life, or they are getting worse and worse over time, then there are a variety of medications that we can use in CLL. And this is actually a very exciting field. Right now, the state of the field is that most patients who are starting on their first treatment for CLL will use some sort of oral medication, and that may be accompanied by an IV – what we call monoclonal antibody, or it may not. But one thing that has really changed even since I very first started practicing, is that we no longer commonly use what I would call conventional chemotherapy to treat CLL. Even though this was the standard of care just a few years ago. 

Katherine Banwell:

Wow. So, a lot has changed. 

Dr. Jean Koff:

Yes, definitely. 

Katherine Banwell:

Why is it so important for patients with CLL to speak up and communicate with their healthcare team about some of their symptoms? 

Dr. Jean Koff:

Well, for starters we want you to feel better. That’s our number one job as – as physicians, is we want to get you to feeling to – to where you are feeling like your best self. CLL or not. So, we want to make you feel better. But in CLL your symptoms are actually one of the criteria we consider when we’re thinking about whether or not we need to start a new therapy, or if you’re somebody who’s already on therapy, whether we need to change your therapy. So, it’s actually very important and your CLL doctor should be checking in with you regularly to see if you have new or worsening symptoms that might be due to your CLL.  

Katherine Banwell:

Mm-hmm. It sounds like treatment of the disease is key to controlling your symptoms. So, let’s talk about treatment. Many patients are overwhelmed by the different types and classes of treatment. When is it time to treat CLL, and what are the options?  

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, I boil down the criteria to when you need to treat your CLL to two main categories. One category is that the disease is progressing quickly, and the other category is the disease is causing problems of some kind, or getting ready to cause problems of some kind. Those are some of the broad categories that we think about when it’s time to start treatment for CLL. Now, this – the groups that research CLL have put out various criteria that help guide physicians about when it’s time to start treatment and some of those more specific criteria include items like symptoms. So, symptoms are a very important part of that decision-making process.  

And the same symptoms that we mentioned, the B symptoms, fevers, chills, night sweats, weight loss that’s unintentional, or lymph nodes that you can feel, those would potentially be reasons that your doctor would want to start you on CLL therapy. But the CLL can cause issues even in a patient who’s not necessarily having symptoms. So, one of the most common ways that CLL can cause issues is the CLL cells can cause your other blood cells, the normal blood cells, to be low in number. There are several ways the CLL cells can do this. One of the most common ways is that the CLL cells which are often circulating through your bloodstream can also collect or overrun your bone marrow.   

And if you think about it, the bone marrow is the factory that makes all of your blood cells. So, when there are too many CLL cells in the bone marrow, they can crowd out the normal blood cells, like red blood cells or platelets. So, when red blood cells or platelets get low beneath certain thresholds, that’s a reason to start CLL therapy. 

Katherine Banwell:

Mm-hmm.   

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, there are a couple other criteria that we think about. CLL cells can collect in other areas, including the spleen. So – and if you remember, the spleen is a lymphoid organ that sits on the left side of your body that is right below the stomach. And so, if CLL cells collect in the spleen, they can cause it to be too big, it can press on the stomach, it can make it so you feel full, even if you haven’t eaten a full meal, that’s something we call early satiety. It can be uncomfortable, causing some abdominal pain. And if the spleen gets really, really big, it can cause it to not be able to do its normal job, which is to filter out the normal blood cells like it does every day. And so, that would be a reason to start therapy as well. And then the last – the last category I would think about is in CLL we have lots of – of CLL cells that are circulating in the blood that we can check with a routine blood count. And the absolute number of CLL cells is not as important as how fast that number is growing. So, your physician will track how fast that number of CLL cells is doubling.  

And if you meet criteria for what we call rapid doubling time, which is usually thought of as less than 12 months but certainly less than six months. So, if your count goes from 30,000 to 60,000 in under six months, then it may be time for you to start thinking about therapy. 

Katherine Banwell:

Right. So, Dr. Koff, would you briefly review the treatment classes? 

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, for first-line treatment, we have two main treatment classes that we think about at this time. The first is – is called BTK inhibitors which is Bruton tyrosine kinase inhibitors. And these are oral medications, so medications that you take by mouth, and the most well-studied of these is called ibrutinib, we typically prescribe ibrutinib by itself. There are other BTK inhibitors we are also now using in this space, one of them is called acalabrutinib and that is often given with an IV monoclonal antibody called Obinutuzumab.   

The other main class of drugs that we consider for first-line treatment of CLL is the BCL-2 Inhibitors. Right now there’s only one BCL-2 Inhibitor that’s approved for CLL and front-line and it’s called venetoclax. Usually, this drug is also given in the front-line with an anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody. So, the venetoclax itself is a pill you take. And the monoclonal antibody is an – either an IV or a subcutaneous injection.  

Katherine Banwell:

Where do clinical trials fit into CLL treatment? 

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, clinical trials are part of the reason, a big part of the reason that we’ve been able to make so much progress in how we treat CLL over the past few years. Clinical trials are how we figure out what treatments work for CLL, how patients feel on them, what sort of adverse events or side effects they have on individual treatments, and which treatments do better for keeping CLL symptoms under control, keeping the disease under control, and allowing patients to live longer and have a higher quality of life with their disease.  

Katherine Banwell:

Are there any other options available for CLL patients? 

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, there are other options. A clinical trial, if that is available to you as a patient is nearly always a good thing to consider if you have CLL. Because the vast majority of patients will not be cured by CL – by their treatment for CLL. Meaning that the – even though the treatments we have usually work for a very long time in most patients, ultimately the CLL will at some point, perhaps years down the road, progress and need another therapy. For that reason, we know we can do better. And we are hoping that the next clinical trial is going to lead to the discovery of a new agent or a new combinations – new combinations of agents that will allow patients to live longer with a better quality of life with CLL.   

Katherine Banwell:

Mm-hmm. 

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, that’s always a good option to consider. 

Katherine Banwell:

Mm-hmm. What are the common side effects of treatments, and how are they managed? 

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, each of the different classes of agents has a different profile of side effects. The BTK inhibitors, the first class that I mentioned with ibrutinib and acalabrutinib, are usually very well tolerated. The most common side effects that we tend to see are things that the patients can feel or see, but also things that we can see on the labs when we’re monitoring patients. So, sometimes you can see a lower platelet counts or lower cell counts with ibrutinib. That’s something that you may not notice, but your doctor’s going to notice on the – the blood counts when you come to the office. Sometimes ibrutinib can cause a rash or GI upset, this is usually easily managed with supportive care from your physician.  

And then some more – some more common effects of the BTK inhibitors include joint pain and headache. And again, many physicians, because we’ve been using BTK inhibitors for a long time, have a good regimen for treating these side effects. More uncommon side effects of BTK inhibitors, particularly ibrutinib that we look out for would be abnormal heart rhythms and some tendency for bleeding. But these are relatively uncommon and with newer BTK inhibitors, we’re seeing lower rates of these side effects.  

So, in terms of venetoclax side effects we have a little bit of a different profile. This agent is much more likely to cause lower cell counts, especially in a white blood cell count known as neutrophil count, and so your doctor will be monitoring you for that. In terms of patient side effects that you can feel, it can cause a rash, it can cause some GI upset. These are usually relatively easily managed but we want you as the patient if you’re on venetoclax to talk to your doctor about these side effects so that they can help you feel better and help you manage those. In terms of the anti-CV20 monoclonal antibodies, which we use a couple in CLL more frequently, they have very similar side effect profiles.   

So, one is rituximab, and one is obinutuzumab. Obinutuzumab is usually used in combination with venetoclax in front-line CLL.  

Like I mentioned before, this is an infusion and most of the side effects that we think about and most commonly see in these anti-CV20s are side effects that patients have during the infusion. And these are referred to as infusion reaction. And these are relatively common, around 30 percent in these anti-CV20 monoclonal antibodies. So, what is an infusion center react – er sorry, what does an infusion reaction look like? This looks sort of like an allergic reaction.  

Katherine Banwell:

Hm.  

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, your nurses in the infusion center are going to be monitoring you very carefully once you start the infusion, and they’re going to start it at a low dose, very slowly. But the side effects they’re monitoring for, they’re looking for changes in your heart rate or blood pressure. You may start to feel hot or cold or sweaty, you may have chills. Sometimes patients can have swelling in their throat or their tongue. And what will happen is because these are fairly common, is we’re still able to give the anti-CV20, but what we do is the nurse will stop the infusion, they may give you some medications that calm down that infusion reaction. So, medications 

 like antihistamines –  

Katherine Banwell:

Mm-hmm. 

Dr. Jean Koff:

Or steroids that help tamp down that immune response, and then they start the anti-CV20 infusion at a lower rate. The vast majority of patients will be able to receive an anti-CV20 antibody even if they have an infusion reaction. They may just need a little bit more of those immune-tamping down medications like antihistamines and steroids. And then the last thing to consider, which I think we’ve mentioned, especially in the venetoclax-containing regimens, is the Tumor lysis syndrome. And so, that is a side effect like we mentioned is kind of like the venetoclax working really, really, really well, of the tumor breaking down too quickly.  

And so, patients who have Tumor lysis, if they’re at high-risk, hopefully they’re already being monitored very closely with frequent lab draws, and they may receive medications that – that diminish the risk of adverse events happening because your electrolytes are out balance, for instance, your potassium is too high, or your calcium is too low. Because your doctors are monitoring you closely, they can give you medications that can help balance out those – those electrolytes and help protect the kidneys. The Tumor lysis is typically not a risk after the initial doses of venetoclax.  

So, the first couple weeks is when we typically monitor that, and then once the CLL has been broken down, or as I like to say, once it’s been cooled off a little bit, then you no longer have this risk of Tumor lysis and it – it doesn’t require further monitoring.  

Katherine Banwell:

That’s great information, thank you. What is the patient’s role in deciding on a treatment plan? 

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, it’s very important that the patient be involved in deciding on a treatment plan. Especially in first-line. Because we have these two excellent classes of agents, the BTK inhibitors and the venetoclax- containing regimens. Both of them have been shown to have very good what we call efficacy in CLL, meaning that they’re able to control the disease, patient’s symptoms largely at bay for long periods of time. You know, we’re talking an average of years that – that patients are on these therapies. And they each, like I said have different side effect profiles.  

And they’re given in slightly different ways. And so, right now we don’t have data from our clinical trials comparing a BTK inhibitor regimen to a venetoclax-containing regimen in CLL patients to tell us one is better than the other. And so, for that reason, a lot of the decision-making about which therapy is going to be better for you, or which therapy you would prefer, lies with the CLL patient rather than with the doctor. And the things that I ask my patients to consider, there are a couple different things. One is the side effect profile. So, patients may be more or less comfortable with certain side effects of one drug compared to another. Or there may be something in the patient’s medical history that puts them more at risk for a certain side effect than another. 

The other major player in this decision-making process is how these drugs are given. So, with ibrutinib, the ibrutinib is given as a pill that you take once a day, and you take it indefinitely. Meaning you take that pill once a day for as long as it’s doing what it’s supposed to do, which is keeping your CLL under control, and as long as the patient is tolerating it well. Meaning you’re not having a lot of uncomfortable side effects from the ibrutinib. So, I have patients who have been on ibrutinib for years and years and years and years.  

The venetoclax-containing regimen for patients who are getting their first-line treatment in CLL is different. It is designed as a – what we call time-limited therapy. And so, this regimen is given in – over about 12 months, 12 or 13 months, and then stopped. As long as the patient has had a good response. The other thing to consider with the venetoclax regimen, it’s not just the pill. You do take a pill every day, but you also get a – an infusion for about six months of the monoclonal antibody. Meaning that you’ll have to come into the infusion center and get an infu – an IV infusion of this drug called Obinutuzumab. The last consideration with the venetoclax regimen that differs in how it’s administered, is the venetoclax often works so well that it can break down the CLL cells a little bit too quickly.  

And so, for patients who have a very, very high white count, or large lymph nodes due to their CLL, there is a risk of something we call Tumor lysis syndrome, which refers to the process where the tumor cells break down very, very quickly, and they produce molecules that are released into the bloodstream that can be dangerous if they get too high or too low. And so, sometimes, in some patients we have to monitor for the Tumor lysis syndrome by checking labs fairly frequently after we start the venetoclax. And for some patients that means they have to stay overnight for a night or two in the hospital for lab monitoring.  

So, for some of my patients that I talk to about venetoclax, they say I want to stay out of the hospital, I just want to take a pill, I’m fine taking a pill, I’ll go with the BTK inhibitors. For other patients, they say I don’t want to be on a pill every single day, I will go through this year of therapy, I’m comfortable with that, and I’m happy that I’ll be able to take a break from therapy after one year. So, that ends up being a large factor in many of the conversations I have with my patients about which therapeutic approach we’re going to use in front-line therapy. 

Katherine Banwell:

Hm. Dr. Koff, we received a patient question prior to the program. If I’ve had FCR for my first treatment, does that prevent me from having – or having to take an oral drug later on? 

Dr. Jean Koff:

Absolutely not. So, the very first clinical trials that we did studying these regiments, especially the BTK inhibitors, were performed in patients who had received conventional chemotherapy like FCR. And what we saw is that patients who had received conventional chemotherapies and had – and needed retreatment of their CLL responded very, very well to agents like ibrutinib. And ibrutinib was able to control their disease, control their CLL, without them needing additional therapy for a long time. And that was actually the original indication for ibrutinib, was patients who had what we call relapsed CLL, often after these conventional therapies.   

Katherine Banwell:

Hm. Let’s turn to medication management. Excuse me. With oral medications available to treat CLL, patients now have the role of self-administering with their treatment program. How does this work exactly? 

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, just as you would receive a prescription from one of your doctors to manage your high blood pressure with a bottle of pills, you would also receive a special prescription from the doctor who is managing your CLL, a prescription for one of these oral agents. Either the BTK inhibitors or a venetoclax. And you would be – you would have the instructions on the pill bottle, just as you would you know another prescription and you would take the medication by mouth, every day, as instructed. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. What happens if a patient forgets to take their medication? Does it impact efficacy? 

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, forgetting a dose for one day, or having to skip a dose for another reason, or even a few days, shouldn’t have a major impact on controlling the CLL. And that’s true for two reasons. One, you’re going to start taking your medication again, you know fairly soon after you miss that dose. The next day. Or – or in a few days. But also, the – what we call the half-lives of these drugs are relatively long, and so you have some activity of the drug in your system in its ability to control the CLL, even though you haven’t taken the dose that you missed that day. In fact, sometimes we have to hold CLL medications.   

Maybe you’re getting a procedure, some sort of surgical procedure, and you might be at an increased risk of bleeding just in the day or two before and after that surgical procedure, so we would actually recommend that you hold a BTK inhibitor, if that was what you were receiving for your CLL, and then resume it once your risk of bleed had gone down a few days after the surgery.  

Katherine Banwell:

Hm. 

Dr. Jean Koff:

We do recommend that if you are going to miss a dose of your medication that you let your clinical team know, just so they can instruct you on how to resume your dose if you haven’t already gotten instructions from them about that. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. That’s really helpful information. What strategies are there to keep on schedule and remember to take the medication on time and regularly?  

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, I think these strategies are good whether you have CLL or some other type of disorder that you’re taking medication for. My patients often use labeled pill boxes with days of the week and a.m. and p.m., so that you know whether you took your pill that day and what time of day you took it. And so, setting that out for the week can be very helpful in organizing and making sure that you can check back and remind yourself whether or not you took your pill. 

Katherine Banwell:

How are patients monitored during treatment? 

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, your doctor is going to monitor you more closely when you first start a medication. So, I typically monitor my patients within one or two weeks of them starting an oral drug. One to make sure that they’re feeling okay on it, that they’re not having any side effects when they first start, but also to check lab values and make sure that the – the oral medication isn’t causing any problems with their blood counts or with other labs. Then, once we’ve established that they’re doing well on the medication, maybe they’ve come in every couple weeks for a month or six weeks, we start to space out those visits.  

I usually see my patients who are on active therapy about every three to six months to check and see whether they’re feeling okay, whether they’re having any side effects from the medicines, like I said to check their labs, make sure the medications aren’t causing any lab abnormalities. And also in the longer term, to make sure that their CLL is under good control on – on the medications. Because that’s one of our main goals is to keep the CLL under good control.  

Katherine Banwell:

We received another patient question prior to the program. Has there been any progress in helping CLL patients get a better reaction from COVID vaccines? 

Dr. Jean Koff:

That is a great question, and that is one that is near and dear to my heart and my colleagues at – at Emory. You raise a really good point, which is that CLL patients have altered immune systems just by virtue of their CLL. The CLL cells exert their influence on other immune cells and can cause your immune system not to respond to infections or immunizations the way it normally would. That’s without any medication in the mix. Now, when we look at patients who are on medications like the ones we’ve been talking about, the BTK inhibitors, venetoclax, but especially the monoclonal antibodies that react against CD20, we see that those patients really do not have an optimal response to vaccines, especially the COVID vaccine. 

Meaning, that patients who receive the COVID vaccine while they’re on that therapy, or even within twelve months of receiving a monoclonal antibody, often don’t mount the same strong immune response as somebody who’s not on those therapies. So, luckily, we – we don’t have to just depend on the vaccines. I still recommend that my patients get vaccinated, because it is safe and it might impart a little bit of efficacy, and it’s certainly more effective than not getting the vaccine. But we also have other approaches to increasing your protection against COVID, including the – the injection called Evusheld, which can help protect patients specifically whose immune systems are not completely normal and are not expected to mount a strong response to COVID vaccines.  

So, that is definitely a discussion to have with your doctor about how your medications impact your protection from COVID, from vaccines, and whether there are other medications that might be used to help increase your protection.  

Katherine Banwell:

That’s great advice. Dr. Koff I’d like to get your thoughts on where we stand with progress with helping people live longer and truly thrive with CLL. What would you like to leave the audience with? 

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, I think that one thing to remember with CLL is over the past few years we’ve seen an explosion in how we manage the disease because we have newer agents and therapeutic combinations that are helping people control their CLL for much longer than was possible 10 or 15 years ago. We still have a long way to go because ideally, we want every patient to be able to control their CLL and thrive with CLL for as long as possible. And, right now like I said before, we are not curing patients yet. Meaning that we don’t have a therapy that can get rid of the CLL, make it go away, and keep it away forever.  

That’s where clinical trials come in. That’s where we are able to make progress, is we’re able to study what therapies work, what therapies don’t, how they perform against each other, how they make patients feel, and what sort of side effects might be associated with them. And so, that’s really the next step, is continuing the work that has already been done in clinical trials and exploring these new therapeutical approaches. 

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Jean Koff:

Thank you for having me. 

Katherine Banwell:

And thank you to all of our collaborators. 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 more proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks so much for being with us today. 

Clinical Trials As a CLL Treatment Option: What You Should Know

Clinical Trials As a CLL Treatment Option: What You Should Know from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Should you consider participating in a CLL clinical trial? In this webinar, Dr. Adam Kittai provides an overview of the clinical trial process and addresses common misconceptions. Dr. Kittai shares an update on the latest advances in CLL research and discusses key advice for patients considering trial participation.

Dr. Adam Kittai is a hematologist and an assistant professor at the The Ohio State University
Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Kittai, here.

Download Guide

See More from CLL Clinical Trials 201

Related Resources:

What Helps Determine a CLL Patient’s Treatment Options

Setting CLL Treatment Goals WITH Your Team

Expert Advice for CLL Self-Advocacy

Transcript:

Katherine:

Hello and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today we’re going to discuss the latest research advances in chronic lymphocytic leukemia and discuss the role of clinical trials in patient care. 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 a link to a program survey. This will allow you to provide feedback about your experience today and it will help us plan future webinars.  

Finally, before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your health care team about what might be best for you. Okay, let’s meet our guest today. Joining me is Dr. Adam Kittai. Doctor, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?  

Dr. Kittai:

Thanks for having me. My name is Dr. Kittai, I’m an Assistant Professor at the Ohio State University, and I specialize in research and clinical research in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.   

Katherine:

Great. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.  

Dr. Kittai:

Happy to be here.  

Katherine:

I understand that CLL researchers met recently at the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, also known as ASCO, to share their research. Are there highlights from the meeting that patients should know about?  

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah, so this time of year, there are two main conferences actually that are very important to the CLL groups at large, as well as the oncology community. So, there’s ASCO and then there’s EHA, the European Hematology Association. And in general, there was a lot of exciting things at both of these conferences. 

In CLL, we have two main treatments that we’re really focused on. One is called the BTK inhibitors, which is ibrutinib, acalabrutinib, and zanubrutinib that you may have heard about. And the other treatment regimen is called venetoclax, and that’s usually paired with something called obinutuzumab. So, right now we’re either using the BTK inhibitors or the venetoclax as our frontline therapies. And typically, when patients progress on either one of those treatments – their disease gets worse – we switch to the other one. 

And so, what I’m getting to be that right now, that paradigm of starting with one therapy – the BTK inhibitors or the venetoclax – and then switching to the other, or vice versa, is being challenged. How that’s being challenged is combining the two medications together to see if combining them together is better than giving them sequentially. So, I think this is the primary research that’s being looked at in the world of CLL and we got some updates to show that the combination of the BTK inhibitors, plus the venetoclax, is looking quite good. It’s looking like it’s inducing deep remissions in some of our patients.  

Some of the challenges here though that we still need to figure out is that a lot of these combinations are leading to more toxicity. So, ultimately, I think we’re going to have a discussion about who is the appropriate patient for the combination, as opposed to giving it sequentially. 

There’s also a lot more research going on, looking at what we call randomized trials, which we’ll get to in a second, to determine if the combination is better than giving it sequentially. Right now, we just have what we call single-arm studies that kind of show safety and how well the trial works. But really, the definitive clinical trials – and once again, we’ll get to this a little bit later – are going to be randomized study where we randomize patients to the combination versus the sequential therapy to determine if doing it together is better than doing it sequentially.  

So, I would say that this new treatment paradigm of combining our two main treatments up front is looking quite good. We’re worried about some of the toxicities when we combine these medications, and we’re still not quite sure if combining them is the right approach, if it actually is superior to giving them sequentially. So, I think that’s the name in research right now for CLL, whether or not combination therapy is better than sequential therapy. The jury is still out, but some of the new data we saw was exciting. 

Katherine:

So, how can patients stay up to date on research like this as it develops? 

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah, great question. So, for one, you can talk to your physician. A lot of the physicians will go to either ASCO or the European Hematology Association and be able to come back with some of this data to share with their patients. And then also, there’s a lot of smaller conferences that local oncologists will go to get highlights from these particular conferences, where they also will come back to the patient to let them know some of this highlighted research. I think that’s probably the easiest way for patients to get access to this research. And Google’s our friend, right? And so, a lot of things are available on Google if you know where to look for them. 

Katherine:

Right. So, a key part in moving forward with CLL research is clinical trials, right? So, for people who may not know the term, what is a clinical trial? 

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah. So, a clinical trial is an experiment where patients are enrolled to receive a treatment that is either new or new in a new setting – so, an old treatment in a new setting – and we’re looking to see whether or not the treatment leads to improved outcomes for our patients.  

Katherine:

Why would a CLL patient consider participating in a trial? What’s the benefit for them? 

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah, great question again. The benefit of a clinical trial is two-fold. One is that by participating in a clinical trial, we are collecting data to determine what’s best for patients moving forward. [00:07:06] So, in a way, by participating in a trial, you’re contributing to the benefit of CLL patients in the future to help us determine what’s best for everybody moving forward. That’s one reason to go on a clinical trial. Another reason to go onto clinical trials is that it allows for access to therapies that may not be available otherwise, which may work better than what we already have and may be safer.  

Katherine:

Right. So, I’d like to walk through a few common questions that patients have about clinical trials. And here’s a concern we received from a patient prior to the webinar. “I’m nervous that I will receive a placebo if I join a clinical trial.” So, first of all, would you define a placebo?  

Dr. Kittai:

Sure. A placebo is usually a sugar pill or something that has no effect. That’s what a placebo is.  

Katherine:

And is it true then, would a patient possibly get a placebo in a CLL clinical trial? 

Dr. Kittai:

Not typically. So, in terms of clinical trials for CLL, we have a lot of treatments that are effective and safe in CLL. And so, we don’t typically design trials where you’re not getting some kind of active therapy. It would be extremely rare, and I don’t know of any trials currently that involve patients getting a placebo for CLL. Because it wouldn’t be ethical for us to enroll a patient on a trial where they would get a placebo instead of active therapy. 

Katherine:

Right. That makes sense. Here’s another question from an audience member, and I think this is probably a common concern for patients. “Is a clinical trial only something I should consider if there are no other options?” 

Dr. Kittai:

So, in my opinion, you should always consider a clinical trial, even if there are other options. And it’s because of those two reasons that I mentioned earlier. Number one, it benefits the CLL community as a whole to participate in the trial so that way doctors and researchers can collect data to improve outcomes for patients with CLL. And also, even though our drugs currently work really well, we don’t know how well they’ll last for, right? So, they still don’t know for certain how long our current drugs are going to work for in the future.  

And we’re always trying to do better. We’re always trying to create some sort of treatment, some sort of treatment paradigm that might be safer, as well as work better, and either of those goals is approvable. All of our drugs come with toxicity, right? And even though they’re really safe and they work really well, we’re hoping to develop something that is even safer and works even better.  

Katherine:

Yeah. It sounds, then, like trials can be considered throughout a patient’s life with CLL. What concerns do you hear from your patients?  

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah, so I think the primary concern I hear about a trial and the difference between going on a trial and standard of care, is that typically for a trial, it does require a little bit more from the patient. Meaning that there’s usually more visits – whether it is to monitor the effect of the new medication or new medication combination on the patient, whether or not it’s affecting their laboratory values or how they’re feeling.  

Or there might be parts of the trial that require invasive procedures. So, for instance, many trials will require bone marrow biopsies where a standard of care won’t. And the reason why the collection of those bone marrow biopsies is important for the trial is to better get an idea of how the treatment is working on a patient’s body.  

So, I think those are the two primary concerns I hear from the patient. Number one, it typically is a bigger time commitment with more visits to the doctor because we have to closely monitor the patients while they’re on trial. And number two is sometimes the trial involves procedures that otherwise wouldn’t be indicated for standard of care.  

Katherine:

Let’s talk a bit about how trials work, starting with the phases. What happens at each phase?  

Dr. Kittai:

There are actually four phases of clinical trials, although three phases are typically what’s talked about. So, Phase I is when we are first introducing the new medication, the combination, or the old medication in a new scenario for the first time in a human being.  

Phase one encompasses a lot of different things. It could be a first in-human phase one, where we’re giving the drug for the first time in a human being. It could be, as I said, the combination of drugs being used for the first time in a human being. Or it could be that we have this drug that works for this other cancer and we’re trying it out on this new cancer. So, we might have experience with this drug in another scenario, but not in the scenario we’re trying to do.  

And the primary purpose of the phase one clinical trial is to see if it’s safe. So, that’s the primary purpose of a phase one clinical trial – see if this new medication, this old medication in this new scenario, or this new combination is safe to use going forward.  

Katherine:

Right. 

Dr. Kittai:

We are able to see if it works to a small degree in the phase one trial, but typically these trials are very small with somewhere between 10 to 50 patients. And so, it’s hard to know how well this works by looking at such a small amount of patients.  

Once the Phase I trial goes forward, we usually go onto Phase II. So, one of the other points about Phase I is to determine the correct dose. Usually in phase ones, we increase the dose of the drug slowly until it meets some sort of toxicity cut-off for our patients. So, once that dose is discovered, then we move onto Phase II, and Phase II is usually a small study, usually about 50-100 patients where we’re looking at preliminary efficacy, to see if this drug, this new combination, or the drug in a new scenario, is actually working.   

And so, Phase II will tell us we think it’s working and if it looks good in phase two, it gets moved onto Phase III. Phase III is the final part of the drug development, where if it passes Phase III, it usually gets approved by the Federal Drug Administration. And Phase III is usually a randomized trial where you’re giving the new drug, the combo, or the old drug in a new situation, and you’re comparing it to whatever’s used as standard of care in that particular scenario.  

Katherine:

Right. 

Dr. Kittai:

And that’s usually a randomized study where patients are either getting the new thing or the old thing. And then, we’re determining which one works better. Lastly is Phase IV, and this is post marketing. So, after a drug gets approved, the drug company and the FDA requires just a wide scope of just data that’s collected to see how well the drug is working and if it’s safe once it’s brought out to the wider community.  

Katherine:

Okay. You mentioned randomized clinical trials. There are a couple of other clinical trials as well. Would you define them and tell us how they’re different from one another?  

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah. So, a randomized trial is when you enroll onto a study, and you get randomly assigned to either the experimental arm or the control arm. The experimental arm is that new drug that we talked about. And the control arm is usually the standard of care. So, that’s a randomized study. 

And randomized studies are usually Phase III trials, but they can be phase two in some scenarios as well. You have – usually that’s paired with a randomized control study. So, a control study is just there’s a control arm, that’s what that means. But those usually go hand in hand. Those are usually together.  

And then another trial is the double-blind clinical trial. So, a double-blind clinical trial means that once you’re randomized to either the experimental or the control, neither you nor the physician know what drug you’re taking. And that usually is not used in CLL trials. Usually, we know what drug the patient is assigned to. And the reason why that is, is because oftentimes we’re looking out for specific adverse events or toxicities of the drugs we’re implementing at Phase III.  

And then, also, if you’re getting a triplet versus a doublet, meaning three drugs versus two drugs, it’s very hard to blind somebody to know which drug they’re on because obviously you’re getting three drugs versus two drugs. Or if an infusion is involved in one arm but not in the other arm, you obviously know that you’re getting an infusion versus an oral drug. 

Katherine:

Ah, okay. Are there common clinical trial terms that you think patients should know about? 

Dr. Kittai:

I think we covered most of them. So, knowing that phase one is typically the first in the sequence of events that I would ask your physician if this was a first in human study, right, because that comes with some special considerations knowing that you are the first human to receive a new drug is very important. Versus a phase three study where, you know, you know this drug has already gone through phase one and two in development, meaning it’s been given to a lot of patients, and they’re just looking to see if it’s better than standard of care. So, I think knowing those general concepts about what’s the difference between a phase one and a Phase III study, it’s very different. I think it’s important to keep those in mind when talking about clinical trials and discussing with your doctor.  

Katherine:

Patients often have questions about safety. What are the risks of clinical trial participation?  

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah, so before anybody enrolls onto a clinical trial, you should sit with your doctor to talk about the pros and cons of entering this clinical trial. One of the things that they will talk to you about is what the expected safety of this drug is. So, you might ask yourself, well, if it’s a phase one study, first in human study, how do they know what toxicity to expect? 

Katherine:

Right. 

Dr. Kittai:

The answer is that there’s a lot of pre-human studies that occur, both in mice and monkeys and other animals, and researchers often have a good idea of what to expect in human. But there is a lot of unknowns in a phase one clinical trial. And after discussing with your doctor the pros and cons of going on a clinical trial and what side effect profile to expect from whatever drug or combination that you are about to be using, usually you go through a consent.  

Usually, you’ll get a packet, it’s about 10 to 20 pages long, written in a way that patients can understand. And it’ll have a list of toxicities that are associated with the research that is occurring. In terms of knowing what adverse events might happen, the consent is key, because it’ll have those all listed out.  

And also having the conversation with your physician about either what they’ve experienced giving this clinical trial, or what is to be expected after this drug had been introduced pre-humans.  

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. Are there protocols in place to protect patients? 

Dr. Kittai:

Yes. So, remember how we talked about in the phase one trials, we dose escalate the drug until we’ve reached some toxicity limit? There are specifically rules written out in a protocol that the doctor must follow that ensures safety for the patients that enroll in clinical trials. And that dose escalation part where we reach a toxic limit is a key part of those phase one trials that is spelled out before you even enroll.  

Usually, there’s also something called a Data Safety Monitoring Committee, as well as other committees that are looking at patients as they are receiving these drugs and move forward on clinical trials to make sure that the investigators are following the protocol as printed. That if anything happens, they document why it happened and fix the problem before it becomes another problem for a patient. So, there are very specific safety rules and a lot of redundancy to protect our patients, because the number one priority is to protect the patient. 

Katherine:

Yeah. I think you’ve already answered this, Dr. Kittai, but how do you know the medicine is safe before a human trial even begins? 

Dr. Kittai:

The answer is you don’t. There is some risk. As I said, they do test it in animals before they give the drug to humans, and they usually start at the lowest dose possible. But there are certain circumstances where there are surprising side effects that are not expected. And so, when you’re entering a first in human, Phase I trial, that is a specific risk that you do need discussed with your physician about before you enroll. 

Katherine:

Can a patient change their mind once they’ve enrolled in a clinical trial? 

Dr. Kittai:

Always. Always.  

Katherine:

Okay. 

Dr. Kittai:

They can come off the clinical trial at any point if they choose to.  

Katherine:

Okay. Now that we know what trials are and how they work, how can people find out what trials are available to them? 

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah. So, I’ll come back to this, but once again, talk to your physician. They’ll know what clinical trials are available at whatever site you are seeing them in. If there’s a local academic sector, the academic sector typically has clinical trials available there as well. So, it’s always good to get a second opinion in that regard.  

But one of the open access places that you can find all clinical trials is clinicaltrials.gov. This has all active running clinical trials listed out and anyone can access it. There are other societies out there that often post about clinical trials. So, there’s the CLL Society. It’s a website that you can check out that has a lot of information on there about active clinical trials in CLL. There’s also The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the Lymphoma Research Foundation, they all have websites available that have a lot of clinical trials listed and how to access them.  

Katherine:

Are there key questions that you think patients should ask their health care team about participating in a trial?  

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah, for sure. I think one of the key questions to ask is, is the control arm appropriate. So, what do I mean by that? Sometimes people who design a clinical trial will design a trial where the control arm is an easy control arm to beat, meaning that it’s a treatment that we wouldn’t necessarily put you on as standard of care.  

And so, I think this is a real question and an honest question that you should ask your physician prior to enrolling on a trial is, is the control arm something you would give me as standard of care. And if the answer is no, you should really consider not going on that trial or talking about why you would want to go on that trial if the control arm is not something they would put you put you on as standard of care.  

Katherine:

Right. 

Dr. Kittai:

That’s, I think, a key question to ask. And again, asking what phase it is and understanding where we are in the development.  

Katherine:

What do you feel are the barriers to accessing clinical trials for patients?  

Dr. Kittai:

So, unfortunately, a lot of clinical trials are at academic centers, and so there are – and the reason that is, is that the academic centers have the infrastructure to run the clinical trial. So, as we have mentioned before, there’s a lot of visits with a lot of extra science and labs that are done associated with the clinical trial. And a lot of those things and the coordination can only be done at large centers that can open clinical trials and know how to run them.  

Similar explanation could be that that safety monitoring committee that I’d mentioned before, where the academic centers have the infrastructure to ensure safety for the patients. So, access to academic centers is a limitation to enrolling in clinical trials. That being said, there are a lot of centers that are associated with an academic center and do have a lot of the clinical trials that are available at the academic center.  

And there are also cooperative groups. These cooperative groups are called Alliance and ECOG and SWOG. And these cooperative groups are national groups that are headed by multiple academic centers in partnership with pharmaceutical companies and they typically run large Phase III medical trials that help redefine standard of care. And those particular clinical trials are often available at private practices as well.  

Katherine:

Oh, that’s great. So, patients don’t necessarily have to think about traveling to a large educational institution then to become part of the clinical trial?  

Dr. Kittai:

Not always. Not always. Typically for the Phase I, the answer is yes. But for Phase III trials, usually there’s a lot of access available for Phase III trials.  

Katherine:

What would you say to patients who may be hesitant about participating in a trial?  

Dr. Kittai:

I would say that it’s important to at least ask about what’s available. And knowing what’s available and the risks and benefits of going on a clinical trial is how you should make the determination if you should go on a clinical trial.  

Remember what I said earlier that the clinical trial is really meant to help improve safety or efficacy. So, we don’t open clinical trials that we are not hoping to improve one of those two things. And so, that is something that we should be able to put in words to you when inquiring about the clinical trial. What is the goal of this trial, and why do you think it’s going to improve safety or efficacy? And the physician who’s talking the trial with you about it should be able to answer those questions for you. So, if you have some hesitance about going in clinical trials, I would say gather your information first before making a final decision.  

Katherine:

Some patients worry about the financial aspect or impact of a clinical trial. Aren’t trials expensive?  

Dr. Kittai:

So, actually, most clinical trials are less expensive than enrolling a standard of care. So, this is actually a benefit of going on a clinical trial. Often times, the drugs in the clinical trial are a cover. So, that’s something to ask too. And so, if somebody’s having trouble getting access to novel therapy that is looking good in a specific cancer, a clinical trial is actually a way to get access to that drug without paying for it.  

Also, all clinical trials when they’re being developed are looked at by the finance committees of the hospital or wherever it’s being developed. All standard of care options are billed through the patient insurance, but all the extra stuff is usually covered by the pharmaceutical company that’s enrolling those patients onto the trial. Or I should say the supporting the clinical trial, excuse me. 

Katherine:

That’s really good information to have.  

We touched on research at the top of the program, but are there other areas of research that you’re excited about and that patients should know about? 

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah, so one of the things that I think is being really talked about in cancer care – and medical care in general – is if disparities exist between minority patients and white patients. And I think this is a really, really important topic.   

So, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which had the conference recently, really made this a mainstay point of the conference this year and there were a lot of abstracts that were defining whether disparities exist and hopefully, by defining whether disparities exist, we’re able to target those disparities in order to make outcomes equal for all of our patients.  

So, in the CLL world, one of the things that I alluded to is a lot of our therapies can be really expensive. So, these new therapies are really expensive, they really widen the disparity gap for patients who are minorities, as well as patients who come from socioeconomic status.  

Katherine:

Absolutely. 

Dr. Kittai:

And so, there were two abstracts. One was an oral presentation that looked at the National Cancer Database in ASCO that showed that Black patients do have worse overall survival than white patients. And then, I actually did my own study looking at the SEER database, which also showed the same exact thing. Even when controlling for socioeconomic status.  

So, I think addressing these disparities, making sure that there’s equity amongst our patients, that everyone has access to these drugs and can afford them, especially when they make our patients live longer and are safer than chemoimmunotherapy in CLL is very, very important.  

Katherine:

Dr. Kittai, if a patient feels like they’re not getting equitable care, are there resources available for them?  

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah, so one of the things that I love about the CLL society, is that they have a section called Access an Expert, I believe. So, look on the website, I’m not sure it’s actually called Access an Expert, but it’s a way for all patients to get a second opinion from one of the CLL experts listed on the website. And so, if somebody is feeling like they’re not getting access to the most beneficial treatment, for whatever reason, seeking a second opinion and using the CLL Society’s website to find that second opinion, I think would be a great way for someone who feels that way to get access to the care that they deserve.  

I believe there are other ways to do this through the Lymphoma Research Foundation, as well as LLS. But I know for sure on the CLL Society, there is a link that you can click that you can get access to a second opinion.  

Katherine:

Yeah. I’m glad you brought that up. As we wrap up the program, Dr. Kittai, I’d like to get your final thoughts. What message do you want to leave the audience with related to clinical trial participation?  

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah. So, I would say that in the last ten years, there’s been a revolution in the way we treat CLL, and we wouldn’t have gotten here without clinical trials. So, the reason why we have the BTK inhibitors – the ibrutinib, acalabrutinib, and zanubrutinib – and the reason why we have the BCL-2 Inhibitor venetoclax, and the reason why these have changed the way that we treat CLL making our patients live longer with better safety profiles is because of clinical trials. And so, I am a firm believer that if we can enroll a patient onto a clinical trial that’s appropriate, who might benefit from the trial, then they should enroll in the clinical trial if possible.  

So, I strongly encourage everybody to enroll onto clinical trials, to get access to, you know, groundbreaking new therapies. And once again, I want to highlight that the point of a clinical trial is to improve safety or to improve efficacy and that’s why we develop clinical trials and that’s the hope by running it.  

Katherine:

Okay, that’s great advice. Dr. Kittai, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been a pleasure.  

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah, it’s been a pleasure to you. Happy to be here. 

Katherine:

Thank you.  

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 programs in the future.  

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 being with us today. 

Signs It Is Time to Treat Your CLL

Signs It Is Time to Treat Your CLL from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When is it time to treat your chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)? Dr. Catherine Coombs reviews the criteria doctors consider when deciding whether it is time to begin therapy. 

Dr. Catherine Coombs is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology at The UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Coombs here.

See More from Thrive CLL

Related Resources:

What Helps Determine a CLL Patient’s Treatment Options?

Expert Advice for CLL Self-Advocacy

Refractory vs Relapsed CLL: What’s the Difference?

Transcript:

Katherine:

When is it time to treat? What factors do you look at? 

Dr. Coombs:

There’s pretty well-established guidelines for when treatment is indicated. The international workshop for CLL has these published guidelines, so it’s something you could Google. Off the top of my head, the main reasons that I do treatment, which are included in these guidelines, are one, if the patient has low blood counts due to the CLL, so that could be anemia or low platelets. Two, if they have bulky lymph nodes. They actually define bulky as 10 centimeters. So, that’s pretty big.  

Or, if the lymph nodes are being symptomatic in some way, they’re bothering the patient, they don’t have to be that big. Three, if the patient has bulky spleen enlargement or if it’s causing symptoms. The spleen is next to the stomach. So, say some patients may not be able to eat a full meal, that’s another reason we could do treatment.   

Another reason is if the CLL is causing constitutional symptoms. Sometimes these are black and white. One is unintentional weight loss of 10 percent or more of the body weight. The one that’s not always black and white is fatigue. Patients can have fatigue from the CLL, but I’ve found often fatigue can be due to other causes. So, that’s something I consider an important job of mine is to make sure we don’t jump into CLL treatment if say, there’s some other cause for the tiredness, such as, say the thyroid’s off, or there’s a huge amount of stress due to some other factor outside of the CLL.  

Then, some other constitutional symptoms are CLL can cause fever or drenching night sweats. Those two it’s important to make sure that there’s not a concurrent infection because infections can also cause those symptoms. The last indication is patients with CLL can develop autoimmune cytopenias. That’s when the immune system attacks some component of the blood cells. Most commonly that’s an autoimmune anemia or autoimmune thrombocytopenia. That’s the term for low platelets.  

Usually, we can treat that with steroids or occasionally CD-20 by itself like rituximab to calm down the immune system. However, if those immune-based therapies fail the patient, then we could consider treating the CLL to help fix that problem.  

Thriving With CLL: What You Should Know About Care and Treatment

Thriving With CLL: What You Should Know About Care and Treatment from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What does it mean to thrive with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)? CLL expert Dr. Catherine Coombs discusses the goals of CLL care, reviews current treatment options, and shares tools for taking an active role in decisions.

Dr. Catherine Coombs is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology at The UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Coombs here.

See More from Thrive CLL

Download Program Guide


Related Resources:

Thriving with CLL Resource Guide

What Are the Goals of CLL Treatment

What Are the Goals of CLL Treatment?

An Overview of CLL Treatment Types

Transcript:

Katherine:

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today, we’re focusing on how to live and thrive with CLL. We’re going to discuss CLL treatment goals, and how you can plan an active role in your care.  

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. Well, let’s meet our guest today. Joining us is Dr. Catherine Coombs. Dr. Coombs, welcome! Would you please introduce yourself? 

Dr. Coombs:

My name is Catherine Coombs. I am an assistant professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina. My main patient practice is CLL and SLL patients, which make up probably about 80 percent of the patients I see. I do see a couple other types of leukemia and precursor states as well.  

Katherine:

Thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule to join us today; we appreciate it.  

Dr. Coombs:

No problem. My pleasure.  

Katherine:

Since this webinar is part of PEN’s Thrive series, I thought we could start with getting your opinion on what you think it means to thrive with CLL? 

Dr. Coombs:

I’d say the first thing that comes to mind when I hear thriving in CLL is my goal for all my patients, which is to live their lives and enjoy their lives, and to not let CLL take over their lives in any way. But it’s of course important to be knowledgeable and educated about how the disease can impact one’s life. But I think there is a lot of education that can also go with that to help individuals continue to enjoy their lives and do most of the activities they like within reason.  

Katherine:

This helps us guide us through the conversation, so thank you for that. Appropriate treatment obviously is part of thriving. Before we get into the specifics of CLL treatment approaches, how would you define treatment goals?  

Dr. Coombs:

The first thing to jump into prior to going into treatment goals is asking the question, “Is treatment even needed?” CLL, in contrast to pretty much most other cancers, is not one of the cancers that needs to be treated immediately.  

At least in 2022, there’s no proven benefit to early treatment. That is being questioned now that we have drugs that are much better tolerated. There are some nice clinical trials asking that question again, “Is early treatment beneficial?” At least what we know now is that is not the case. As it turns out, probably up to a third of patients with CLL never need treatment in their lifetime. That means that the disease progresses along usually at a slow pace, and individuals die from something else: any number of other potential causes of death.  

The other two-thirds plus do need treatment at some point in their lifetime. The goals of treatment kind of depend on the patient. There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach in my view. I think it depends on what is most important to the patient.  

I’ll give two drastic examples just to show how goals can be different. CLL often is a disease of older individuals. The average age of diagnosis is usually around 70 or so. But many patients have the disease for a few years, if not longer, prior to needing therapy. So, one example patient could be an 85-year-old individual who has had the disease for a decade and finally needs treatment. The goals of that patient may be to control disease, but he or she may not be worried about going into a deep remission, and may be very, totally willing to be on a drug. And definitely in order to control the disease, alleviate disease-related symptoms, but perhaps not get into a deep remission.  

The other patient, just to take it to another far extreme, I work in an academic medical center; I see some very young patients which is not the norm in CLL, but it does happen.  

Say it’s a 40-year-old patient. His or her goals may be very different. They may not like the idea of being on an oral therapy indefinitely or until progression. So, the goals for that patient may be different. They may say, “Gosh, I’d like to do something a bit more intense to be able to be off of therapy.”  

So, I think in the end there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. It generally, for my clinic, comes down to a discussion with the patient talking about what their goals are: is it more important to be off therapy for some period of time and they’re willing to sacrifice a bit more intensive of a schedule? Or are they more appealing to be on a regimen that they’re on indefinitely provided that it still provides disease control and alleviation of the disease-related symptoms.  

Katherine:

That leads me to my next question, which is what is the patient’s role in setting care goals? 

Dr. Coombs:

I think they should have a huge role; it should be a shared decision between the patient and their cancer doctor. I think at least as of now, there’s not one proven best therapy. We have a number of therapies that work extremely well. But they differ quite a bit with respect to the schedule, the possible side effects profile, and sometimes in the cost, depending upon the patient’s insurance. 

Knowing that there’s not a superior therapy, I think the best approach would be to discuss all of the therapies that are highly effective, and then compare and contrast what those therapies may look like for the patient and then make a shared decision.  

Katherine:

I have a follow-up question to what we were talking about a moment ago. What would you say to a patient who has a lot of anxiety about having to wait for treatment? 

Dr. Coombs:

The first thing I would say is that anxiety is normal. More often patients are anxious than not because it’s really hard to be told you have a leukemia and that we’re not going to do anything about it. I think that’s really hard to hear. The way that I try to counsel people is that my role as the doctor is to do no harm. If you have a leukemia and there’s no proven way to make you live longer by giving therapy early on, if you’re in that early stage of CLL where you’re asymptomatic, by offering therapy, all I could do is make you worse.  

I could give you a new side effect, I could add a new cost burden – Until I have data to prove that that’s going to make your life longer, which we do not have yet (maybe that will be different five to 10 years from now, but we do not have that yet), I could only hurt you. So, that’s not what I want to do. I want to have you live and thrive.  

The better thing to do, based on what we know now and what we know our therapies can and can’t do is to do the watchful waiting. But the anxiety is normal. Depending on how severe the anxiety is, I have had patients meet with – at least at UNC we have something called the Cancer Center Support Program, which is a group of psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists that can help talk over what it means to have a cancer diagnosis and not necessarily need therapy.  

Then I also provide education on the other health issues that can come up as part of being a CLL patient even on that watchful waiting program. The thing that we talk about the most is the increased risk for infections, which in the era of the COVID pandemic is a major concern. Luckily, we have a lot of ways to decrease the health risk for COVID, whether it’s due to the administration of vaccines, or monoclonal antibodies, which I think we’ll talk about more later.  

There’re a lot of ways that people can live with it. I do think the anxiety is normal. At least in my own practice, I’ve found that most of the time the anxiety lessens with time. Because it becomes a part of who you are. It doesn’t have to be all of who you are: people can live their lives largely the way they did before with a bit of extra knowledge about things that can come up in the future but may never come up at all.  

Katherine:

Let’s walk through the types of treatments that are used today to treat CLL.  

Dr. Coombs:

So, for the non-watch and wait category, that means we are now thinking about therapy. Most of the time that involves a targeted agent.  

We largely are using a lot less in the way of cytotoxic chemotherapy. Not to say there isn’t a role for it, but in my own practice, it’s not something that I have been using in the past several years because it’s highly toxic. It is effective, but it can lead to some long-term toxicities. And it’s also not quite as effective as these new targeted agents. So, those fall into two major classes.  

The first class is a class of drugs called BTK inhibitors. That stands for brutons tyrosine kinase. That’s an important target in the CLL cells, specifically. The CLL cells are a type of B-cell. So, BTK is important for the signaling of both normal and cancerous B-cells. When we use drugs to block that protein, that impairs the CLL cells’ ability to multiply. Then we ultimately are able to control the disease with prolonged administration of one of these drugs.  

There are two FDA-approved BTK inhibitors. The first FDA-approved agent is a drug called ibrutinib. And then the newer agent is called acalabrutinib. There’s another drug that you may have heard of called zanubrutinib. That is not technically yet FDA-approved for CLL, but it is occasionally used given that it is FDA-approved for other lymphomas, and it is within the national cancer center network guidelines for CLL treatment.  

The big benefit of these drugs is they work phenomenally well at controlling the CLL. I would say the major downside is that they do have to be taken indefinitely. So, patients ask, “Am I going to be on it forever?” Well, it depends on what you mean by forever. We generally keep patients on these drugs as long as No. 1 they’re tolerating them, so no bad side effects, and then No. 2 as long as the CLL is staying under control.  

So, for that 85-year-old patient that I gave as an example, forever may be until the rest of their life. Because they can work for six, seven, eight plus years; so, they’re highly effective. Some patients may go on them and then die from something else years down the road. For the younger patients, or patients who progress faster, we would then put them on something else whenever the drug stopped working, provided that they didn’t have a significant side effect to the drug class. So, that’s a big first class.   

The second large subset of therapies is a drug called venetoclax, which we typically combine with an anti-CD20 drug. The one that we use for patients who are getting their first treatment is called obinutuzumab. Venetoclax is a BCL-2 Inhibitor that inhibits this pathway within CLL cells. It’s not unique to CLL cells, but the CLL cells are particularly dependent upon it called apoptosis.  

So, when they get exposed to this drug, the CLL cells just die; they can’t continue living, they die off. So, venetoclax works really exquisitely well at killing off CLL cells. Probably works better when it’s paired with this drug obinutuzumab. That’s how it was approved in the frontline setting: those two drugs together. The big risk of that therapy, essentially, it’s kind of a weird risk, when the CLL cells die too quickly that can cause some problems in the human body because one has to metabolize all the debris left over from these dead cancer cells. The medical term we use for that is Tumor Lysis Syndrome. 

That can actually be fatal if not done in a safe way. Fortunately, when we do it as per the recommendations by the manufacturer, we’ve not had any adverse severe problems from it. It ends up being that the patient has to come in weekly every five weeks to do a slow ramp-up of the drug to kind of slowly kill off the cancer cells so that the body isn’t overwhelmed by the contents of these dead cancer cells.  

The big advantage of this regimen is that because it kills the CLL so well, people can get into very deep remissions. So, instead of being a therapy that people are on indefinitely, it’s designed as a one-year therapy when given as the first therapy. So, it’s one year and then they’re done. People after that are in remission, they’re not on any treatment. They may feel like they don’t have CLL.  

Most of the time the CLL does come back. It depends on does the patient come back for something else? Which does happen when people are older. But it appears that it keeps people in remission for several years. The median, which is how long it takes for half of patients to have their disease come back, the median progression for survival has not yet been reached for the trial that was done using this therapy.  

So, that’s at least three, four plus years that we’ve been able to follow people. So, very attractive in that you’re done and then you just wait for the disease to come back but largely feel good in the interim.  

Katherine:

When is it time to treat? What factors do you look at? 

Dr. Coombs:

There’s pretty well-established guidelines for when treatment is indicated. The international workshop for CLL has these published guidelines, so it’s something you could google. Off the top of my head, the main reasons that I do treatment, which are included in these guidelines, are 1.) If the patient has low blood counts due to the CLL, so that could be anemia or low platelets. 2.) If they have bulky lymph nodes. They actually define bulky as 10 cm. So, that’s pretty big.  

Or, if the lymph nodes are being symptomatic in some way, they’re bothering the patient, they don’t have to be that big. 3.) If the patient has bulky spleen enlargement or if it’s causing symptoms. The spleen is next to the stomach. So, say some patients may not be able to eat a full meal, that’s another reason we could do treatment.  

Another reason is if the CLL is causing constitutional symptoms. Sometimes these are black and white. One is unintentional weight loss of 10 percent or more of the body weight. The one that’s not always black and white is fatigue. Patients can have fatigue from the CLL, but I’ve found often fatigue can be due to other causes. So, that’s something I consider an important job of mine is to make sure we don’t jump into CLL treatment if say, there’s some other cause for the tiredness, such as, say the thyroid’s off or there’s a huge amount of stress due to some other factor outside of the CLL.  

Then, some other constitutional symptoms are CLL can cause fever or drenching night sweats. Those two it’s important to make sure that there’s not a concurrent infection because infections can also cause those symptoms. The last indication is patients with CLL can develop autoimmune cytopenias. That’s when the immune system attacks some component of the blood cells. Most commonly that’s an autoimmune anemia or autoimmune thrombocytopenia. That’s the term for low platelets.  

Usually, we can treat that with steroids or occasionally CD-20 by itself like rituximab to calm down the immune system. However, if those immune-based therapies fail the patient, then we could consider treating the CLL to help fix that problem.  

Katherine:

We received an audience question prior to the program. They asked, “What does it mean to be refractory, and how is that different from relapsing?” 

Dr. Coombs:

I actually just had a conversation about this. I’m not sure that’s formally defined. I have heard one definition suggested is – I think everyone agrees refractory means you did not respond to your last therapy. That’s actually really bad. Most of our therapies work in almost everyone. So, refractory is a term that is generally accepted means no response. So, whatever therapy you’re on, the CLL did not get better, it got worse. That’s refractory.  

Another definition that I’ve heard based on this recent discussion is if you had a short remission duration, such as six months or shorter. Most of the therapies we use should work for quite a while, usually on the order of years. So, some people also consider refractory a short remission duration, six months or shorter.  

Relapse is probably the more common scenario. That’s a patient who has had some type of therapy, but they had a decent response, but that response wore off, more on a normal pace. Again, not on the order of months, but usually on the order of years.   

Katherine:

There’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach to treating CLL, so how do you decide which treatment is right for a patient?  

Dr. Coombs:

I always look at their underlying disease biology. There’s a couple really important tests that I send for all of my CLL patients by the time that they need therapy. The first is to see what their underlying cytogenetics and molecular findings are. There are certain good findings, and then certain bad findings.  

One of the bad findings is having a deletion in the 17th chromosome in the short arm of that chromosome. The chromosomes are the big pieces of DNA within everyone’s cells. There are findings that are common in CLL: a 17p deletion is a poor prognostic feature. There’s a separate test where we can actually identify mutations in a gene called TP53. And these behave largely the same as 17p deletions, so I always check for both. It’s two different tests.  

Often times patients have both of these findings: a 17p deletion and a TP53 mutation. But sometimes you can have the mutation without the deletion and vise versa. That is one finding that’s important when talking about different therapies. The other really important prognostic test is the IGHV gene mutation status. This is another specialized sequencing test. It looks to see if the patient’s heavy chain, if their immunoglobulin protein has undergone something called somatic hypermutation or not.  

It’s actually good to be mutated. What we know about people who are mutated is that they typically have better responses to most therapies and their disease typically is one that grows slower. So, I use those factors and then I have a conversation with the patient. The two main treatment classes that I spoke about – so the BTK Inhibitors, those work actually really well and even the people with these bad prognostic features. So, people with the 17p deletion, people with the TP53 mutation, they can have disease control for six plus years on a BTK inhibitor, which is really good.   

That was not the case a decade ago when we didn’t have these drugs. That’s something that’s been hugely beneficial for our patients. The venetoclax/obinutuzumab regimen, that still works when people have the 17p or the TP53, but it probably doesn’t work as well.  

I’d mentioned the median time for disease to come back hadn’t been reached yet. It had been reached for that poor risk subset. The expectation for people with that poorest marker is that the median PFS, progression-free survival. So, again, when after someone starts therapy, when the disease then progresses is 49 months. It kind of gives me a rough estimate of, “Gosh, these are your therapy options and based on your underlying biologic factors unique to your disease, this is what you can expect out of therapy A or therapy B.”  

The mutated or unmutated IGHV, similarly, those BTK inhibitors work extremely well, even in people with the bad unmutated finding. I think those are always an option. The other treatment is an option, but the people with that bad finding do have a shorter time until they progress of just under five years.  

Katherine:

Dr. Coombs, why should patients feel confident in speaking up and being a partner in their care? Do you have any advice for helping them find their voice? 

Dr. Coombs:

Great question. I think a patient is their own best advocate. We as their physicians always try to advocate for them, but we often don’t know what their wishes and desires are. I think through speaking to what’s important to you, that can help me know a little more about what path we should take. There’s not always one right path.  

I’ve talked about these two great treatment options we have. I had one patient who loved fishing and he just didn’t want to be in the infusion center. That’s the person that should go on the oral drug, where he doesn’t have to come to and from as often. 

If you tell us about your goals and your desires, that helps us also be your top advocate because then we have a little more background for what’s important to you. I think that’s my main thought. We’re here for you, but we need to know what you value the most. We don’t always know that.  

Katherine:

When should a patient consider a second opinion or a consultation with a specialist? 

Dr. Coombs:

I never discourage a second option. I’m a CLL specialist, but I’ve had patients ask for a second opinion. I’m always enthusiastic about it. If a patient feels that they need another set of eyes on their case. I’ve learned some things from some of my patients who have seen specialists in different areas of the country or locally. We have Duke down the street. Sometimes different providers just have different perspectives.  

Or, sometimes the patient just needs to hear something again if it doesn’t sound right to them. I’ve had patients for example who are one watchful waiting who really just had trouble believing. “I have leukemia, and you’re really telling me to do nothing.” But then they hear it from someone else and it just helps it sink in. I’d say the answer is anytime. Anytime you think you need another set of eyes on the case.  

But I would say especially for people in the community. I do think there’s a lot of value in seeing a CLL specialist once if it’s something that you’re interested in and your insurance pays. I think the community docs have one of the hardest jobs, and I don’t think I could do it. There are so many different cancers that they have to know about. I think, if anything, I have the easy job; I have one tiny slice of the pie that I know a ton about. Not to say they don’t do great jobs; I’m actually phenomenally impressed with most of the community.  

However, they have so much to know, often you can maybe get a little more of a unique view on CLL by seeing a CLL expert. If that’s in your interest. But certainly not mandatory, especially if your goal is to stay away from doctors.  

Katherine:

COVID is of course another factor that impacts a patient’s ability to fully thrive with CLL in today’s world. Many CLL patients are concerned about the effectiveness of the COVID vaccines and their ability to make enough antibodies to fight the virus. So, what do we know about how effective the COVID vaccines are for people with CLL? 

Dr. Coombs:

The COVID vaccines – we were fortunate in being able to build on some earlier research. Even prior to being able to look at the data for COVID vaccines, there have been studies looking at vaccines in general in CLL. That’s actually been a long-term established issue, which is that based on earlier studies we knew most vaccines were not as efficacious in individuals with CLL compared to people without.  

That’s due to this underlying immune deficiency. Since then, they’ve done studies looking at COVID specifically, and we have found lower rates of production of antibodies in individuals with CLL compared to regular, non-CLL controls. There have been a few different studies looking at this. I think the things that have been seen universally is that the CLL patients that are the most severely affected are those that are actively on therapy or have had recent anti-CD20. The CD20 drugs really wipe out the ability to make antibodies probably for a year, if not up to two years.  

The other drug class that can really hamper the ability to make antibodies are these BTK inhibitors. Then, venetoclax to some extent, it’s often paired with the CD20, so it’s hard to tease out the effect. But it likely hampers the ability to make antibodies as well, but just not as much as the CD20, which it’s often given concurrently with.  

CLL patients who have never had therapy can make a decent amount of antibodies, but still quite a bit less than an age-matched control. So, someone also your age without CLL. That was a lot of data based on the original two vaccine series. The Leukemia Lymphoma Society did a study that I actually referred a lot of my patients to, where they collected samples, looked at antibody levels, and they found that giving the booster did seroconvert a good amount of patients who were negative that then became positive for antibodies.  

That’s one of the reasons I’ve really encouraged the booster. This is now talking about the third shot. Now there’s this whole separate discussion about doing a fourth shot. I think the data’s a little too early to say it’s definitely helpful. But I think it’s certainly unlikely harmful. The vaccines don’t quite work as well. I feel very strongly they’re not harmful.  

Not to say any shot can’t cause some issue occasionally. But I think that’s very, very rare. I always encourage my patients to get the vaccine, but I separately say, “Gosh, I wouldn’t use this as an end-all cure because it may not work at its 100 percent efficacy level due to the underlying CLL, and worse when you’re under treatment.” 

Katherine:

We had another audience member send in a related question: “I’ve heard there is a treatment to help boost COVID antibodies. What is it and how can I get access to it?” 

Dr. Coombs:

I was going to bring that up actually, then I figured there was probably another question coming. I’m hugely enthusiastic about the drug that this person is speaking about. It’s called Evusheld. E-V-U-S-H-E-L-D. It got this emergency use authorization designation in December of 2021, so it’s pretty new. The idea behind this drug is that “Gosh, we know that not everyone is going to mount an effective immune response to vaccines, based on their own immune system, inability to make good levels of antibodies.”  

So, it’s two antibodies that were manufactured as this drug. So, it’s a drug that’s actually two different antibodies. It ends up being in two different vials, so you get two shots. It provides really remarkable protection against COVID. They’re long-acting antibodies, so they last for six months.   

The publication from the study that led to this being released showed an approximately 80 percent reduction in COVID for the people who got the shot as opposed to the people who got the placebo.  

Katherine:

It sounds like patients could ask their doctors about where they might be able to access this? 

Dr. Coombs:

Yeah. I think the best person to ask would be your CLL doctor. Because the drug, unless things have changed recently, it’s largely being focused for immunosuppressed individuals. Primary care doctors may not necessarily know a lot about it, but most oncologists are the ones who should have access to it. So, I would say ask your CLL doctor. If you’re in a smaller site that doesn’t have it, they may know in your geographic region where it could be gotten. 

Katherine:

As we close out this conversation, Dr. Coombs, I wanted to hear why you feel patients should be hopeful about the potential to thrive with CLL? 

Dr. Coombs:

There’s just so many reasons to be hopeful. CLL, I’d say more than – obviously it’s the cancer I’m focused on, but I think more than almost any other cancer has had advances that have really changed the lives of our patients in the last decade. And that’s only going to get better.  

We have therapies that work phenomenally well and can get you into remission, get the CLL under control, and let you just live your life as you wish; almost as though the CLL is not there. Though, it is in the background and your doctor can counsel you on special precautions needed. The drugs we have are phenomenal, but we only use them when we need them. Again, we don’t want to give you something you don’t need. But when you need it, the options we have are really phenomenal and they work well.  

They have some side effects, but I’d say they’re much better than the side effects of the older fashion drugs we used to use a decade-plus ago. The disease is there, we have better ways to control it, and I think there’s plenty of reasons to live your life, enjoy your life, thrive. We’ll take care of the CLL with all these tools in our toolbox when we need to.  

Katherine:

Dr. Coombs, thank you so much for joining us today.  

Dr. Coombs:

It’s been my pleasure, thank you.  

Katherine:

And thank you to all of our partners. 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 

An Expert Debunks Advanced Prostate Cancer Myths

An Expert Debunks Advanced Prostate Cancer Myths from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Atish Choudhury debunks common myths about advanced prostate cancer, including concerns about genetics, treatment, and side effects.

Dr. Atish Choudhury is the Co-Director of the Prostate Cancer Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham & Women’s Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Choudhury here.

See More from Engage Prostate Cancer

Related Resources

What Is Prostate Cancer Palliative Care?

What Is Prostate Cancer Palliative Care?

How Is Advanced Prostate Cancer Treated?

How Is Advanced Prostate Cancer Treated?

When Should Prostate Cancer Patients Consider a Clinical Trial?

When Should Prostate Cancer Patients Consider a Clinical Trial?


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

I’d like to address a list of common concerns about treatment that we’ve heard from the community. So, I’d love to get your take on these. “There’s nothing that can be done about advanced prostate cancer.” Is that true?

Dr. Choudhury:           

So, that is very much untrue in that even patients with pretty advanced prostate cancer – even what we call “high-volume” kinds of prostate cancer – can live for years, and years, and years with appropriate treatments.

And the concern, oftentimes, is that the way that we get those years, and years, and years are with treatments that lower levels of testosterone, and I’m guessing that some of your questions coming up are related to concerns around side effects of treatment. But many of our patients tolerate those side effects pretty well and can live quite a good, and vigorous, and fulfilling life even with pretty advanced prostate cancer.

Katherine:                  

The next one: “Clinical trials are a last-resort treatment option.”

Dr. Choudhury:   

Yeah, so, as I’d mentioned before, clinical trials can be appropriate anywhere along the treatment trajectory of prostate cancer, and they are often being compared against standards which are often pretty good, but can we make them better? And certainly, participating in clinical trials isn’t for everyone, but for a long of our patients who are interested in seeing if an experimental approach might be beneficial to them or contributing some knowledge to patients down the line really do find trial participation to be quite fulfilling.

Katherine:                  

All right. The next one is: “Prostate cancer isn’t genetic, so I don’t need to be tested.” Is that the case?

Dr. Choudhury:        

No. So, it turns out that prostate cancer is actually one of our most heritable cancers. Somewhere between 40% and 50% of the predisposition to prostate cancer is actually genetic, or inherited based on family. So, the part that’s tricky and the part that is hard to maybe explain to patients is that a lot of that heritability is not encompassed in particular cancer genes in the way that many people are familiar with with breast and ovarian cancers, which are often linked to genes called “BRCA-1” and “BRCA-2.” So, a small subset of patients with prostate cancer do have alterations in that BRCA-2 gene, or BRCA-1, or ATM, or some other genes involved in breast and ovarian cancers.

And that does impact, potentially, their treatments down the line, and certainly is impactful for themselves, their siblings, their children as far as, potentially, screening recommendations for other cancers. But oftentimes, we’ll do one of these tests in patients who have a pretty extensive family history of prostate cancer, and they come out negative, and the patient is very confused because they clearly have a family history, but it’s because not all the risk of prostate cancer is actually encompassed in these gene tests that we run.

Katherine:                  

Ah, okay. The next concern is “I’ll lose all sexual function when I receive treatment.”

Dr. Choudhury:         

So, it very much depends exactly what the treatment is, and what’s being offered, and what the recovery is like.

So, for example, for patients who go into a prostatectomy and have very good erectile function, it’s not inevitable that you’ll lose your sexual functioning after a prostatectomy. There is a process – we kind of refer to it as “penile rehab” – of using medications like a Viagra or Sialis to restore the blood flow. You could use certain things like vacuum pump devices to restore the blood flow, and again, it’s not inevitable that people are going to lose their sexual functioning after a prostatectomy.

Even with testosterone suppression, while it plays a role in libido and erectile function, it’s not inevitable that people lose their libido and erectile function completely, even on these drugs. But certainly, more often than not, people will lose their erectile function on testosterone-lowering medications.

And so, there are alternative ways to get erections – involving, again, use of vacuum pump devices or injections that people can give themselves into the penis. People can have penile implant surgery to be able to get erections that way. And so, it’s really dependent on what the situation is.

Again, none of those more mechanical interventions are really ideal, but particularly when people have a defined course of treatment – for example, a surgery or radiation with a brief course of hormones – people can recover erectile function even after those sorts of interventions. And if they can’t, then we do have other approaches that will allow people to still be able to be sexually intimate with their partner after all of the treatments are completed.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Choudhury, one more concern: “My symptoms and side effects can’t be managed.”

Dr. Choudhury:           

Yeah. So, again, it’s very rare that we run into situations where there are side effects or symptoms that can’t be managed at all, in the sense that we have very effective medications against hot flashes, or moodiness, or pain, or –just fatigue. And certainly, lifestyle plays a big role in this. Also, a lot of the symptoms that people express are related to underlying depression and anxiety issues, and certainly, engaging with a mental health provider can be helpful in terms of managing those as well.

And then, there’s a lot of nonpharmacologic treatments – meaning nonmedication approaches that can provide people a lot of benefit in terms of their quality of life, and we have an integrative center called the Zakim Center for Integrative Medicine that helps with the relaxation techniques, and massage, and yoga, and acupuncture…

And people find different approaches to help manage these symptoms and side effects. And so, it’s very unusual where we run into a situation where the side effects are unbearable and unmanageable. Usually, we can manage them in some form of way that allow people to have, again, a good quality of life and a meaningful life, even on prostate cancer treatment.

How to Play an Active Role in Your Prostate Cancer Treatment and Care Decisions

How to Play an Active Role in Your Prostate Cancer Treatment and Care Decisions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What steps can you take to engage in your prostate cancer treatment and care decisions? Dr. Atish Choudhury discusses current and emerging prostate cancer therapies, reviews key treatment decision-making factors, and shares advice for self-advocacy.

Dr. Atish Choudhury is the Co-Director of the Prostate Cancer Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham & Women’s Cancer Center.
Learn more about Dr. Choudhury here.

Download Guide

See More from Engage Prostate Cancer

Related Resources

Engage Prostate Cancer

Key Considerations When Making Prostate Cancer Treatment Decisions

Key Considerations When Making Prostate Cancer Treatment Decisions

prostate cancer treatment decisions

Using Your Voice to Partner in Your Prostate Cancer Treatment Decisions


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s webinar. Today, we’re going to explore the goals of advanced prostate cancer treatment and discuss tools for playing an active role in your care decisions.

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 us today is Dr. Atish Choudhury. Dr. Choudhury, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Choudhury:        

Hello. Thank you so much for the invitation. So, I’m a medical oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and I’m the codirector of the prostate cancer center at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center. And I serve as the chair of the Lank Center for Translational Research as well, and ’t’s my pleasure to be here.

Katherine:                  

Thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule to join us. Today, we’re talking about advanced prostate cancer.

What exactly does “advanced” mean in terms of this cancer?

Dr. Choudhury:          

Yeah. So, it’s actually a pretty broad term, and it can mean different things in different contexts. But generally, what it means is that it’s cancer that has extended outside of the confines of the boundaries of the prostate itself – either locally where it is into the surrounding fat around the prostate capsule or to local lymph nodes, where it could also spread to other parts of the body – like lymph nodes, bone, and other organs.

So, it can really mean different things depending on the context.

Katherine:                  

Before we get into the types of treatment available, let’s start by understanding the goals of treatment. What are the goals of advanced stage prostate cancer?

Dr. Choudhury:              

So, in general, the goal of treating any cancer is to a live a long, happy, healthy life with limited quality of life troubles from the cancer itself or its treatments. And so, for localized prostate cancer, that generally means treating with curative intent – that we give radiation or surgery, potentially in combination with hormonal treatments so that the cancer is taken care of and people can be cured and not need further treatments moving forward at all.

And there are situations, even in fairly advanced cases, where that’s a reasonable and accomplishable goal. And there are other situations that we might not be able to cure the cancer completely, but the treatments can be quite effective at keeping it under control and keep people with a very good quality of life so that prostate cancer is not a day-to-day burden for them and that they can survive with cancer for years, and years, and years.

Katherine:                  

It sounds like these goals would be determined with members of your healthcare team. So, who is typically on a patient’s prostate cancer healthcare team?

Dr. Choudhury:            

Yeah. So, generally, the consultations here at Dana-Farber are multidisciplinary, with a medical oncologist, a radiation oncologist, and a urologic oncologist – so, a surgeon.

And so, if a patient is a good candidate for treatment to the prostate itself, then certainly, the surgeon and the radiation oncologist will talk about those treatments. And if the treatment is primarily with medications, then the medical oncologist will generally sort of take the lead. But there is often a role for local treatment to the prostate itself, even in cancer that’s spread beyond the prostate. So, that’s why the multidisciplinary consultation is so important.

Katherine:                  

Right. What do you feel is the patient’s role as a team member?

Dr. Choudhury:           

Absolutely. So, I think it is very important for the patient to make sure that they come into these multidisciplinary meetings with questions around “What is my stage?” “What are the choices?” “What do I expect with treatment? Without treatment? With the various treatment options?” And basically, to take in the advice that they’re getting from the different members of the multidisciplinary team, and really think about how that’s impactful for them and their goals for themselves and what they really hope for the short term and for the long term.

I think what gets tricky is that there’s really very not-great sources of information that’s out there online and in YouTube videos and things like that, and I think it does play an important role for the patient to really understand what are the real high-quality sources of information – they tend to come from academic medical centers like ours. And certainly, we do encourage second opinions at other high-quality, high-volume centers so that the patients understand that the recommendations that are being made are generally made based on the based data and with people with a lot of experience at treating their kind of cancer.

Katherine:                  

What about caregivers? How do they fit into the team?

Dr. Choudhury:             

Caregivers are critical because patients are not always the most expressive at, really, what their wants, and needs, and desires are. And especially when they’re on treatment, sometimes they’re not so expressive around the things that are bothering them on a day-to-day basis.

So, the caregivers are really important for communication with us to be kind of another set of eyes and ears in terms of kind of reporting what the patient’s symptoms are or what their goals or desires are that maybe they themselves don’t feel comfortable expressing. But they also play an important role in helping us with, kind of, lifestyle recommendations to the patient. Because certainly, much of the process of doing well with prostate cancer treatments is kind of lifestyle modifications – makes sure you’re eating healthy, exercising regularly – and the caregivers can play a very important role in making sure that patients stick to that kind of regimen as well.    

Katherine:                  

I would think one of the issues for a patient too is that just having a cancer can be overwhelming and can make it difficult for them to even remember all the questions and concerns that they have.

Dr. Choudhury:            

Yeah, that’s absolutely critical, and the caregivers play a very important role. So, often, people who are not partnered, for example, will just bring a friend to these appointments just to be that second set of eyes and ears.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Choudhury, we received this question from an audience member prior to the program: What is palliative care?

Dr. Choudhury:           

So, palliative care is really a branch of medicine that helps with symptom management. And so, that symptom management doesn’t necessarily have to be end-of-life sort of symptoms relating to death and dying. It can be just along the way to help with managing the symptoms related to cancer and its treatment, but also to be kind of another medical provider to help with communication of goals of care – what’s really bothersome, what’s really important – so that we kind of incorporate those wishes and desires into the management decisions that we make.

So, a patient does not have to be at end-of-life to engage with palliative care. Certainly, even earlier engagement with palliative care can be helpful to maximize quality of life along the treatment journey. But as symptoms become more bothersome, certainly, our palliative care colleagues can be incredibly helpful – not just in helping manage pain, but also nausea, also depression and psychological side effects. So, they’re a really critical part of our treatment team.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. I think we have a pretty good understanding and the goals of treatment. So, let’s walk through the types of therapy that are used today to treat prostate cancer.

If you would start with surgery?

Dr. Choudhury:            

Sure. So, surgery is a radical prostatectomy, and they take out the prostate – they take out neighboring structures called seminal vesicles, they take out the surrounding fat, and they’ll usually take out some neighboring lymph nodes as well. And there are advantages of surgery in that when the prostate is out, the pathologist can examine the whole prostate front to back, side to side, as well as those neighboring structures to really understand the stage of the cancer – “Where is it?” – and also, the grade – “Is it a high-grade cancer, a low-grade cancer, somewhere in the middle?”

And it really helps guide “What is the risk of developing recurrence afterwards, and are there further treatments that we should be giving after the surgery? For example, radiation to the prostate bed to decrease the risk of recurrences. Surgery does have its own set of potential side effects and complications, so it’s not appropriate for everyone, but in general, that’s the process.

Katherine:                  

What other treatment options? You mentioned radiation. What else is there?         

Dr. Choudhury:          

Yeah, so, radiation comes in two forms: there’s seed radiation, which is implantable little radioactive pellets that are implanted throughout the prostate. And then, there’s external radiation, and that can be given in several forms and over several schedules that it’s really important to discuss with the care team.

The other forms of treatment that people on this call might’ve heard about or read about are in a category called “focal treatments,” and these are basically ways to – and the term we use is a blade but zap – an area of the prostate using lasers, or high-intensity ultrasound, or with freezing an area of the prostate, or with something called “irreversible electroporation.”

These are basically all ways to, again, zap an area of the prostate either with heat or with cold with the intention of killing off cancer cells in an area. And the trouble is that none of these treatments have actually been demonstrated to improve outcomes related to prostate cancer compared to just surveillance alone. And it does complicate, sort of, the monitoring afterwards to see if something has come back.

But there might be very selected patients where there’s an area of cancer that’s seen on a scan – like an MRI – with no cancer seen outside of that area who might decide to pursue this possibility of focal treatment with the goal of maybe putting off the need for something like radiation or surgery. But that’s something that really should be discussed with a multidisciplinary team so that people really understand what they’re getting into in terms of risks and potential benefits.

So, those treatments are not really considered standard at this time.

Katherine:                  

What about hormonal therapy?        

Dr. Choudhury:   

Yeah, so, hormonal therapy plays a role in the treatment of prostate cancer, really depending on the stage and the other treatments that are being considered. So, for example, if a patient is going to surgery for a localized prostate cancer, in general, we wouldn’t use hormonal treatment either before or after the surgery unless they’re planned for radiation after the surgery.

However, for patients who have intermediate risk or higher localized prostate cancer and are getting radiation, then we will often recommend hormonal treatments, which are basically testosterone-lowering drugs, to make the radiation work as well as possible. And then, for patients who have advanced cancer beyond where surgery or radiation is going to be of help, then, hormonal treatments are important to treat the cancer wherever it is.

And that’s because prostate cancer cells, wherever they are in the body – wherever they’re in the prostate itself, or in lymph nodes, or bones, or other organs – depend on the testosterone in your body to supply a fuel – to support its growth and survival.

And so, lowering the level of testosterone in the body basically deprives the cancer cells of that fuel and starts a process of killing cancer cells even without any need for radiation, or chemotherapy, or things like that. However, hormonal treatments are not curative. They don’t kill all the cancer – they kill some and put the rest to sleep. And so, if you stop the hormonal treatment, the cancer will grow back, and that’s why it’s not a treatment on its own for localized prostate cancer.

And that’s also why, for prostate cancer that’s spread, we often add on additional medications to the testosterone-lowering drugs to be more effective at really killing the cancer wherever it is compared to the testosterone suppression alone.

Katherine:                  

Oh, I see. For advanced disease, what treatments are available for patients that are hormone-sensitive or -resistant?

Dr. Choudhury:           

Yeah, so “hormone-sensitive” means that the cancer has advanced, but the patient hasn’t started on testosterone-lowering drugs yet. And so, as I had mentioned, testosterone lowering is really the backbone of treatment of these patients. And so, there are additional treatments that have been demonstrated previously to be effective after testosterone-lowering by itself stops working, and these include a chemotherapy drug called docetaxel. And in addition, there are more potent hormonal drugs called abiraterone, enzalutamide, apalutamide, and darolutamide.

And the role of these other drugs is to block hormonal signaling within the cancer cells from hormones other than testosterone. And so, by doing the more potent hormonal drug in conjunction with the testosterone lowering, that leads to a much deeper response – much more tumor shrinkage – and, it turns out, also prolonged survival in patients treated with those combination treatments – compared top people who are treated with testosterone lowering alone and then receive these drugs later.

So, there’s something about treating more aggressively at the beginning in this hormone-sensitive state that plays out in prolongation of survival. And not only prolonged survival, but improved quality of life due to delaying the symptoms of cancer grown and progression.

Katherine:                  

Right.        

Dr. Choudhury:   

When we then talk about castration resistant disease, certainly we use the same classes of drugs, but then, there’s a wider armamentarium of things that we use that include, again, other kinds of chemotherapy.

There are radiation drugs, and an approved drug Radium-223. And there’s another drug on the horizon called Lutetium PSMA. There are immune therapy drugs – something called Sipuleucel-T – and then, this is also a situation where we do genetic testing of the cancer to understand if there’re certain –what we call “therapeutic vulnerabilities.”

Other treatment options that are available based on the genetics of the cancer that might be helpful in some people? And specific options include a chemo-immune therapy called “Keytruda” in a small subset of patients with particular genetic changes involving genes involved in mismatched repair of DNA. And then, there’s another set of targeted treatments called “PARP inhibitors” for certain sets of patients who have alterations in genes involved in homologous recombination repair of DNA.

So, that’s all very complicated, and so that’s why it’s important to get treated with high-volume providers of prostate cancer patients so that they’re really aware and onboard with these various treatment options that are available.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. Where do clinical trials fit in?

Dr. Choudhury:       

So, clinical trials can fit in anywhere along the treatment trajectory for prostate cancer. It’s not something that’s reserved for kind of late-stage disease. So, for example, for people with localized disease, there are different types of treatment strategies that might be available to maybe enhance the activity of the surgery or the radiation that’s planned. And so, we might consider a clinical trial even for localized prostate cancer.

And then, anywhere along the way, there are standard treatments that are available, and then, there are some experimental approaches that might be available. And the experimental approaches might be to add an additional drug to the standard or to actually – what we call “deescalate treatment” – give a little bit less of the medication and see if the outcomes are the same. And these are tests.

And so, the control arm, when there’s a randomized trial, is generally considered a standard of care. And then, the experimental arm is some alteration or deviation from that standard. But many of our trials are also single-arm trials where we’re testing some experimental regimen that all patients who participate in the trial will take part in, and it’s really important for the patient to ask, “What are the clinical trials available?” “What are the alternatives as far as standard treatments?” and “Are there other clinical trials other than the one that’s being discussed,” that might be appropriate for them?

Katherine:                  

Are there emerging approaches that patients should know about?   

Dr. Choudhury:        

Yeah. So, a lot of the emerging approaches are related to the genetics of the prostate cancer, as I just mentioned. And then, these different forms of radiation drugs – in addition to the ones that have already demonstrated survival advantage, there are other ones in the pipeline. And then, one thing that patients are very curious about is immune therapy approaches to prostate cancer.

Now, the standard kind of immune therapy drugs that are approved for lung cancer, and melanoma, and kidney cancers don’t tend to work particular well for prostate cancer. But there are many clinical trials trying to combine those kinds of drugs with other drugs or have newer approaches to immune therapies that patients with advanced cancer can certainly ask about.

Again, all of this is really experimental, and people need to understand that these sorts of approaches aren’t going to help everyone. But participating in a clinical trial allows our patients to contribute to knowledge that can be useful for other patients down the line.

Katherine:                  

Right. Now that we’ve delved into the types of treatment, let’s talk about what goes into deciding on an approach. What do you typically consider when determining the best treatment approach or option for a patient?

Dr. Choudhury:   

So, the starting point and the ending point is the patient themselves. And so, “the patient” means “What is their age? What is their fitness level? What are their activities? What’s the overall life expectancy? What are there other medical issues?” And then, we consider the cancer – “What is the stage? What is the grade? Where has it spread to, if it’s spread?”

And then, we try to incorporate all of those pieces with data – with clinical trials that have already been reported – and we have a lot of data in prostate cancer from patients who’ve participated in clinical trials, often randomized to one approach versus another, that gives us a sense of “What are the approaches that really benefit patients in terms of increasing likelihood of cure or prolonging the survival?”

And so, once we incorporate all of those things, we can come up with some treatment suggestions, and then patient preference on those suggestions obviously plays a very important role. But sometimes, we start down a line, and the patient is having troublesome side effects or it’s not working as well as we’d really hoped, and it’s important to be adaptive and to change things if things are not going down a route that we’d really hoped. So, that’s an ongoing conversation. It’s not that you make a treatment plan at the first visit and that’s the plan that’s stuck with throughout the whole course of things.

It’s a conversation at every visit on how things are going in terms of how the patients are doing and how the cancer is responding. And then, again, try to manage side effects as well as we can and adjust things if we need to along the way – and maybe switch to something that’s potentially going to be better tolerated or more effective, depending on what we see.

Katherine:                  

Right. It sounds like there are many factors to weigh when making this decision. I’d like to address a list of common concerns about treatment that we’ve heard from the community. So, I’d love to get your take on these. “There’s nothing that can be done about advanced prostate cancer.” Is that true?

Dr. Choudhury:           

So, that is very much untrue in that even patients with pretty advanced prostate cancer – even what we call “high-volume” kinds of prostate cancer – can live for years, and years, and years with appropriate treatments.

And the concern, oftentimes, is that the way that we get those years, and years, and years are with treatments that lower levels of testosterone, and I’m guessing that some of your questions coming up are related to concerns around side effects of treatment. But many of our patients tolerate those side effects pretty well and can live quite a good, and vigorous, and fulfilling life even with pretty advanced prostate cancer.

Katherine:                  

The next one: “Clinical trials are a last-resort treatment option.”

Dr. Choudhury:   

Yeah, so, as I’d mentioned before, clinical trials can be appropriate anywhere along the treatment trajectory of prostate cancer, and they are often being compared against standards which are often pretty good, but can we make them better? And certainly, participating in clinical trials isn’t for everyone, but for a long of our patients who are interested in seeing if an experimental approach might be beneficial to them or contributing some knowledge to patients down the line really do find trial participation to be quite fulfilling.

Katherine:                  

All right. The next one is: “Prostate cancer isn’t genetic, so I don’t need to be tested.” Is that the case?

Dr. Choudhury:        

No. So, it turns out that prostate cancer is actually one of our most heritable cancers. Somewhere between 40% and 50% of the predisposition to prostate cancer is actually genetic, or inherited based on family. So, the part that’s tricky and the part that is hard to maybe explain to patients is that a lot of that heritability is not encompassed in particular cancer genes in the way that many people are familiar with with breast and ovarian cancers, which are often linked to genes called “BRCA-1” and “BRCA-2.” So, a small subset of patients with prostate cancer do have alterations in that BRCA-2 gene, or BRCA-1, or ATM, or some other genes involved in breast and ovarian cancers.

And that does impact, potentially, their treatments down the line, and certainly is impactful for themselves, their siblings, their children as far as, potentially, screening recommendations for other cancers. But oftentimes, we’ll do one of these tests in patients who have a pretty extensive family history of prostate cancer, and they come out negative, and the patient is very confused because they clearly have a family history, but it’s because not all the risk of prostate cancer is actually encompassed in these gene tests that we run.

Katherine:                  

Ah, okay. The next concern is “I’ll lose all sexual function when I receive treatment.”

Dr. Choudhury:         

So, it very much depends exactly what the treatment is, and what’s being offered, and what the recovery is like.

So, for example, for patients who go into a prostatectomy and have very good erectile function, it’s not inevitable that you’ll lose your sexual functioning after a prostatectomy. There is a process – we kind of refer to it as “penile rehab” – of using medications like a Viagra or Sialis to restore the blood flow. You could use certain things like vacuum pump devices to restore the blood flow, and again, it’s not inevitable that people are going to lose their sexual functioning after a prostatectomy.

Even with testosterone suppression, while it plays a role in libido and erectile function, it’s not inevitable that people lose their libido and erectile function completely, even on these drugs. But certainly, more often than not, people will lose their erectile function on testosterone-lowering medications.

And so, there are alternative ways to get erections – involving, again, use of vacuum pump devices or injections that people can give themselves into the penis. People can have penile implant surgery to be able to get erections that way. And so, it’s really dependent on what the situation is.

Again, none of those more mechanical interventions are really ideal, but particularly when people have a defined course of treatment – for example, a surgery or radiation with a brief course of hormones – people can recover erectile function even after those sorts of interventions. And if they can’t, then we do have other approaches that will allow people to still be able to be sexually intimate with their partner after all of the treatments are completed.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Choudhury, one more concern: “My symptoms and side effects can’t be managed.”

Dr. Choudhury:           

Yeah. So, again, it’s very rare that we run into situations where there are side effects or symptoms that can’t be managed at all, in the sense that we have very effective medications against hot flashes, or moodiness, or pain, or –just fatigue. And certainly, lifestyle plays a big role in this. Also, a lot of the symptoms that people express are related to underlying depression and anxiety issues, and certainly, engaging with a mental health provider can be helpful in terms of managing those as well.

And then, there’s a lot of nonpharmacologic treatments – meaning nonmedication approaches that can provide people a lot of benefit in terms of their quality of life, and we have an integrative center called the Zakim Center for Integrative Medicine that helps with the relaxation techniques, and massage, and yoga, and acupuncture…

And people find different approaches to help manage these symptoms and side effects. And so, it’s very unusual where we run into a situation where the side effects are unbearable and unmanageable. Usually, we can manage them in some form of way that allow people to have, again, a good quality of life and a meaningful life, even on prostate cancer treatment.

Katherine:                  

Thank you, that’s really helpful. I’d like to talk about the term “shared decision making.” What does that mean to you, exactly?       

Dr. Choudhury:   

So, shared decision-making really means that when the physician conveys information to a patient, that the patient really understands what’s being said, and what, really, the alternatives are – and the real risks and the benefits of the different alternatives. And so, if a patient goes to see a surgeon and they say, “Well, we should take this out,” and there’s never really discussion of what the risks and benefits of the alternatives are –and the alternatives could be just watching, or radiation, or even more intensive treatment, then that’s not really shared decision making.

But what I think is not exactly shared decision making is when the patient is getting information from really non-knowledgeable or non-reputable sources and then starts to come up with conclusions based on hearsay or people trying to sell them a product that really hasn’t been FDA approved or really tested. And so, those are situations where when the information is really not good, then we can run into troubles with communications. But there are a lot of really excellent sources for patient information that’s available, and the Prostate Cancer Foundation is a really good source, and a lot of the academic prostate cancer centers are really great sources of information.

And so, being educated and asking good questions is really the best way for a patient to feel comfortable that they’re not missing anything and that they’re, again, having all the information that they need to make a good choice for themselves.

Katherine:                   

Do you have any advice to help patients speak up if they’re feeling like they’re not being heard?

Dr. Choudhury:           

Sure. So, I mean, there’s never any barrier to bringing up concerns with whoever that you’re seeing, and if you feel like whoever you’re talking to isn’t being receptive to those concerns, then certainly, second opinions are very useful. But if you see multiple doctors and they’re kind of telling you the same thing based on good evidence, then you probably have to take in what they’re saying, and process it, and see if it really does apply to your particular situation.

But any cancer doctor who really has your self-interest in mind will be very open to discussing the concerns that you have, so you should absolutely bring them up.

Katherine:                  

To close, Dr. Choudhury: What would you like to leave the audience with? Are you hopeful?

Dr. Choudhury:          

Yes. I’m actually incredibly hopeful. There’s been such a transformation in our diagnosis and management of prostate cancer compared to when I first started as an independent attending back in 2012. In the last ten years, there’s been so many new treatments that’ve been approved in the last decade and a lot of newer technologies available for staging patients – really finding where their prostate cancer is.

And newer technologies for treating the cancer wherever it is and in a really smart way. And so, we can really individualize our treatments for the patient that’s in front of us being a bit more intensive for people with higher-volume or higher-risk cancers, and actually potentially being able to back off treatment, and actually stopping some of the testosterone-lowering drugs in patients who are responding exceptionally well to the medications and the local treatments that we’re giving them.

And then, also, I’m really hopeful about the newer treatments and newer technologies that are on the horizon. We have newer – what we call “molecularly targeted agents.” We have new approaches involving immune therapies that are being tested – newer radiation approaches. And I feel like all of this put together allows us to, again, satisfy the goal of maintaining patients’ good, healthy, meaningful quality of life moving forward.

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Choudhury:           

Oh, you’re welcome. It’s so wonderful to have this opportunity.

Katherine:                  

And thank you to all of our partners. Please continue to send in your questions to Question@PowerfulPatients.org, and we’ll work to get them answered on future programs. To learn more about prostate cancer and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit PowerfulPatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for being with us today.

Managing Metastatic Breast Cancer Symptoms

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

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

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

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

Related Resources:

Which Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Is Right for You? Guide

Factors That Guide a Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decision

Understanding Metastatic Breast Cancer Resource Guide


Transcript:

Katherine:

How does symptom management play into the treatment decision?

Dr. Meisel:

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

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

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

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

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

Why Should You Ask Your Doctor About Prostate Cancer Genetic Testing?

Why Should You Ask Your Doctor About Prostate Cancer Genetic Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Why is it genetic testing important when it comes to prostate cancer care? Learn how test results could reveal more about YOUR prostate cancer and may indicate that one treatment may be more effective than another.

See More From INSIST! Prostate Cancer

Related Resources

How Does Genetic Testing Impact Prostate Cancer Care?

Treatment Options for Advanced Prostate Cancer

What Is a Prostate Cancer Genetic Mutation?


Transcript:

Why should you ask your doctor about genetic testing?

The test results may predict how your prostate cancer will behave and could indicate that one type of treatment may be more effective than another type.

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

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

  • Germline or hereditary genetic testing, which is conducted via blood or saliva and identifies inherited gene mutations in the body. Germline mutations are present from birth and can be shared among family members and passed on to subsequent generations. Results can identify whether you could be at risk for another type of cancer or if your family members may need genetic counseling and testing to guide their own cancer risk.
  • The second is somatic or tumor genetic testing, which is performed through testing tumor tissue or by testing cancer cells/DNA extracted from blood to identify gene mutations that are unique to the cancer itself. It is also commonly referred to as genomic testing, biomarker testing, or molecular profiling. Somatic mutations are NOT inherited and are NOT passed on to subsequent generations or shared among family members.
  • Depending on your history, your doctor may order one–or both–of these types of tests.

So why do the test results matter?

Both germline and somatic mutation testing can identify the presence of certain genetic mutations that may help to guide your treatment plan, and germline testing specifically can inform cancer risk for you and, potentially, family members.

  • In some cases, mutations can indicate that a newer approach, such as targeted therapy or immunotherapy, may work better for you.
  • Results of these tests may also help you to find a clinical trial that may be appropriate for your particular cancer.
  • And, genetic testing results could also show that your cancer has a mutation or marker that may prevent a certain therapy from being effective, sparing you from getting a treatment that won’t work well for you.

How can make sure you have had essential biomarker testing?

  • First, always speak up and ask questions. Remember, you have a voice in YOUR prostate cancer care.
  • Ask your doctor if you have had or will receive genetic testing, including germline and somatic testing, and how the results may impact your care and treatment plan.
  • Ask whether your family members should meet with a genetic counselor or undergo testing to help gauge their risk of developing prostate cancer.
  • And, finally, bring a friend or a loved one to your appointments to help you process and recall information.

To learn more about your prostate cancer and to access tools for self-advocacy, visit powerfulpatients.org/prostatecancer

Which Prostate Cancer Treatment Is Right for You? What You Need to Know

Which Prostate Cancer 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 prostate cancer? Dr. Maha Hussain discusses the role of key tests in choosing therapy, including biomarker testing, provides tips for partnering with your care team and reviews recent research news.

Dr. Maha Hussain is the Deputy Director of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more about this expert here.

Download Guide

See More From INSIST! Prostate Cancer

Related Resources

How Do Genetic Mutations Impact Prostate Cancer Treatment Options?

What Is a Prostate Cancer Genetic Mutation?

What Is a Prostate Cancer Biomarker?

 


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 prostate cancer therapy 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 on that link to access information to follow along during this webinar. At the end of this program, you’ll receive a link to a program survey. Please take a moment to provide feedback about your experience today in order to help us plan future webinars.  

Finally, before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you. 

All right, let’s meet our guest today. Joining me is Dr. Maha Hussain. Dr. Hussain, would you please introduce yourself? 

Dr. Hussain:

Sure. Thank you, Katherine. 

It’s my pleasure to join you. And to the audience, nice to meet you all virtually. My name is Maha Hussain. I am a genitourinary medical oncologist with a focus on prostate cancer and bladder cancer. And I am a professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Department of Medicine, and endowed professor there. And I also serve as the deputy director for the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. 

Katherine:

Wonderful. Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us today. 

Dr. Hussain:

My pleasure. 

Katherine:

I’d like to start by asking about developments in prostate cancer research and treatment. Experts recently gathered at the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, also known as ASCO, to share their research. 

So, what were the highlights from that meeting that you feel patients should know about? 

Dr. Hussain:

I think probably perhaps I can focus on two major – what I would consider major highlights, and those were the results from two randomized Phase III clinical trials. 

One of the trials is called the VISION trial. And the VISION trial was a Phase III randomized trial evaluating lutetium-PSMA-617 treatment in patients with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer. And the delightful thing about this study is that that study was positive. The PSMA story has been really going on for a few years now. And there’s the PSMA for purposes of scans, imaging, to assess the cancer. And the FDA just approved a PSMA PET imaging this year. 

I think it was in May when it was approved. And that would help better define if the cancer is spread or not, and it help with the decision regarding treatment. But the second part is treatment purposes, so identifying the cancer location and trying to attack it with a specific sort of targeted attack to the tumor is really important. 

And so, the FDA is currently looking at this particular agent. And I am hopeful that we will hear soon from the FDA, hopefully before the end of the year, and maybe – who knows? – maybe by summer, middle summer or end of summer. Because I do think that would be a major benchmark in there. And so, that’s one thing. 

The other clinical trial that I thought was interesting from a data perspective – and for disclosure, I am one of the investigators on this study. And this was an intergroup Southwest Oncology, or SWOG, sponsored clinical trial. So, it’s a federal study that Dr. Aggarwal presented. And this was a study that was aiming at maximizing, again, the anti-tumor therapy with the use of a drug which I call is the younger brother of abiraterone. 

So, abiraterone is a drug that is FDA-approved and has been around for several years right now for both castration-resistant prostate cancer and certainly hormone-sensitive metastatic disease. And so, TAK 700 (Orteronel) is a younger brother, I call it, of abiraterone. And one of the potential advantageous when this trial was designed was the fact that you don’t need to use prednisone. And the trial was completed. It was a national clinical trial. And what was interesting is that there is certainly what appears to be a potential benefit, but not in terms of the conclusive based on the way the study was designed.

Having said that, what I thought was remarkable is that patients who basically were only on the control arm was LHRH therapy, so this could’ve been like Lupron, Zoladex, or something like that plus bicalutamide, which is what we call combined androgen deprivation. And that was sort of like the strongest control arm we could do at the time when the trial was designed. 

Remarkably, the patients who were on that arm had a median survival of basically 70 months. That’s the median. That’s the bell-shaped curve with the number in the middle. Seventy months is probably the longest ever in any other randomized trials in this disease space, in the hormone sensitive space. So, that tells us is that men are living longer with prostate cancer, even though it’s metastatic disease; and, yes, it’s not necessarily curable, but men are living longer. And it’s a function of all of the better treatments that are supportive care and everything that was going on.  

And so, the control arm, as I mentioned, was the 70.2 months. The actual experimental arm was about 81.1 months. And again, I don’t know where things will go from this. Obviously, I’m not the sponsor not the FDA. But the point here is that men are living longer, and so wellness and health become even more so important than we ever did. And as I tell my patients, every day you’ll live longer. The odds of living longer is there because of better treatments coming on. 

So, to me – not to take too much time from the interview – to me, these were the two highlights: new, approved – I’m sorry, new treatment that I’m hoping will be FDA-approved and, obviously, the fact that men are living longer.  

Katherine:

How can patients keep up to date on the research that’s going on? 

Dr. Hussain:

I’m a bit biased, obviously. I’m a member of ASCO. 

And what I would recommend to my patients is to look at the cancer.net website. The cancer.net is a website that is an ASCO-generated website specifically for patients and families to review. It is vetted. The committees are not run just by physicians, oncologists, a multidisciplinary team, but also patient representative. So, the lingo and the presentation are lay-friendly, I call it, there. 

The other part I would say, the NCI website, and the American Cancer Society, the American Urological Association. I would say there’s a lot of stuff on the media. The difficulty is vetting what is sort of fake, what is not so accurate, or bias versus there. I also think that the NCCN has also some resources for patients. 

And one thing I always tell patients: explore, look, but make sure that you talk to your doctor about the meanings of everything because sometimes it can be not – it could be misleading, I should say, or maybe not very clear on what the implications are. 

Katherine:

Right. One thing that’s a topic on the mind of many people right now is COVID. 

Dr. Hussain:

Yeah. 

Katherine:

Is the COVID vaccination safe and effective for prostate cancer patients? 

Dr. Hussain:

The answer is yes and yes. So, I have to say, by default, I deal mostly with older men. Age brings in other comorbidities. And certainly, while I see all kinds of shades of gray in terms of the disease extent, going all the way from newly diagnosed all the way to end-stage disease, the bulk of the patients I end up seeing tend to have more systemic disease and have other issues going on. And I have to say, surprisingly, less than a handful of my patients had the infection. 

Only one required hospitalization with supportive measure, but not even needed incubation; however, he needed a lot of CPAP and other respiratory support. I’m not aware of any of my patients or my colleague’s patients who deal with prostate cancer that have died from COVID. So, I would say that’s the good news and that we have not seen a big hit in the population that I deal with. 

I also know that I would say 99.9 percent of my patients have opted to be vaccinated, and they have tolerated the vaccine just fine. There’s only one case, which I actually even saw just this week, who had been vaccinated but have a very, very severe end-stage disease with significantly compromised bone morrow, who got infected but hospitalized for a few days and is recovering. 

And so, I would say just by the pool of patients I see, my answers are yes and yes. 

Katherine:

Very good. Thank you. 

Dr. Hussain:

And I would encourage all the audience to go get vaccinated. I myself am vaccinated. And I’ve advised all my family members to be vaccinated, just to clarify that too. 

Katherine:

Good. Good to know. Dr. Hussain, we’re going to spend most of this conversation talking about advanced prostate cancer. But before we move on, would you give us a brief overview of the stages of prostate cancer? 

Dr. Hussain:

Absolutely. So, with any cancer, we count sort of like four stages. But I would say in prostate cancer the biggest thing is when the cancer is newly diagnosed, which could be confined to the prostate or locally advanced, meaning the cancer has gotten outside the capsule of the prostate but still within that pelvic region. 

There is the group of patients who have pelvic lymph nodes at time of diagnosis. And of course, that is the patients who have systemic disease, which would be technically stage four. Now, the systemic disease implies any abnormality that is found on scans that is beyond the public region. So, that could be lymph nodes in the back of the belly. That could be thoracic lymph nodes. That could be neck nodes. That could be lung lesions, of course, or bone, or liver. 

Now, the most common area where the cancer goes to is really – when we talk about metastatic disease – is the bone. And then lymph is another area where the cancer goes to. Prostate cancer that is confined to the prostate is curable in the vast majority of patients. There is a category of men who undergo surgery or radiation, and then their PSA begins to go up afterwards. 

And this is what we call biochemical relapse. And this is a situation where we know that, in all likelihood obviously, especially of the patients who have had their prostate out, that the cancer has spread. With the current imagine, a good chunk of times, we do not find anything because we’re able to pick up PSA that goes from undetectable to 0.2 to 0.3, but there’s not enough cancer to show up on the scans. We’re hoping, obviously, the better scans, the PET Axumin scan, the PSMA scans are going to help us to identify sites of metastases. 

But this is a group of men where if there is no cancer visible and the only thing we’re dealing with is PSA that’s going up, if they’ve had surgery, then there’s room for what we call salvage therapy with radiation and hormonal treatment. The case is a bit different if there’s only just the prostate – if radiation was given previously. And of course, we talked about metastatic disease. 

Katherine:

Yeah. Once someone has been diagnosed, what tests are used to help understand the aggressiveness of their disease and their overall prognosis? 

Dr. Hussain:

Well, I think there is different basic things, as in, what was the extent of the cancer? How did it look under the microscope? And what is the PSA levels? So, these are the general things. There are different sort of genomic panels that the urologist will use to kind of decipher and other things to kind of help with figuring out aggressiveness and things like that. What I would say is this, is a patient who is diagnosed and has a cancer, and at a minimum has what we consider a Gleason 7 prostate cancer – so, that’s the scoring system that is done with the original Gleason score, or the new patterns where it’s talking about intermediate risk to high risk – to me, this is a cancer that needs to be treated. 

And again, that’s all to do with if a person has other comorbidities, they have some other terminal condition that’s a separate story. But talking generically, that would be when we would recommend. And these are the patients that are generally not seen by the medical oncologist. They’re seen by the urologist, and then they can refer them to radiation oncology also for consultation. 

Katherine:

Now that we understand how test results can help inform a patient’s cancer and how it may behave. Let’s discuss how they can affect treatment options for men with advanced disease. First, let’s do a brief review of the treatment types currently available. There’s hormone therapy, right. What else? 

Dr. Hussain:

Perhaps, it’s simpler if we focus on advanced disease, specifically metastatic disease. 

So, if that’s the deal, then the backbone of treatment is hormone treatment. And it really is. We call it hormone, but technically it’s an anti-hormone. What we’re trying to do is shut down the hormonal pathway that stimulate the testes, which is the factory that makes testosterone. So, we are looking at shutting down testosterone production from the testes in order to starve the cancer. 

Now, the male hormone is produced predominantly – somewhere about 95 percent of it is made by the testes, and then there are about 5 percent-ish that comes from other sources. These are, again, male hormones like the adrenal gland and so on. And there was a while ago some research – I want to say from the MD Anderson crowd, but this is two years ago – that suggested also that the tumor may start to make sort of in-house production of male hormone to support itself. 

Now, having said that, again, testes continue to be the source of the majority of the male hormone. And so, historically, the first data that showed benefit was actually by surgically removing the testes, which is what we call orchiectomy or bilateral orchiectomy. And then medications began hitting the market and were evaluated in the late ’80s and then 1990s, beginning with Lupron – which by the way, in the ’80s, it was an injection that the patient had to give themselves every day, which is remarkable. 

But even then, there is a personal preference by patients to go and take injections as opposed to go through surgery with orchiectomy. But still, I would say for some patients it may be an option until it ought to be discussed as an option. Then what we know is this, is because of the potential other sources for the male hormone, the concept of what we call combined androgen depravation was being evaluated. 

And again, this goes back to the ’80s when the first drug was flutamide and then bicalutamide, and there are other drugs that became. And they kind of added a sprinkle, I call it, to survival. But it wasn’t dramatic, huge differences in survival. And so, generally, while we used it, everybody believed in using it. Moving forward, the drugs like abiraterone, enzalutamide, apalutamide are the three hormonal drugs that have demonstrated conclusively really an advantage in terms of prolonging life when added to the Lupron. 

So, what I tell my patients is that, when it comes to hormone treatment there is really no way around it. You can delay it. Some people are exploring for some patients who don’t have a lot of cancer, maybe a couple of areas, maybe just do targeted radiation and then leave the person alone to buy them some treatment-free time. 

And, to me, this is where the discussion that has to happen with the patient. What is the objective? Is the objective to kind of be ahead of the game and maximally treat the cancer with the hope of prolonging life? Or is the objective to delay treatment? And I would tell you that, with these types of conversation, nine out of 10 or 9.5 out of 10 men opt for moving aggressively up front with management. So, that’s that. 

Now, the one thing I should point out, one of the trials that also was a landmark trial in this disease was the study CHAARTED, which was an intergroup clinical trial at the time it was designed, led by ECOG, and the PI was Dr. Chris Sweeney. I was part of the team that worked on the design also of the study. 

And that was a trial that looked at adding docetaxel to hormone therapy, versus hormone therapy alone, to try to see if it adds something. Historically, all the chemotherapies prior to that that were added to hormone treatment for patients with newly diagnosed metastatic disease had not delivered. And docetaxel did. 

However, one thing I should point out, based on that trial – and I don’t want to go into too much details for the sake of time – the patients that seemed to be benefiting were the patients that had more aggressive, more disease in their system. And so, liver metastases, lung metastases spread in the bone at different areas, not like few isolated areas in the spine or the pelvis, but much more than that. 

And so, for the patients who have what we call high-volume prostate cancer based on scans – and I’m happy to explain what that means if it’s needed – these are the patients that I would offer either the docetaxel plus hormone treatment, which is the injection, or the injection plus the hormonal pills that I mentioned earlier. 

Katherine:

What about targeted therapy? How is that used? 

Dr. Hussain:

Okay. So, let’s begin with the molecularly targeted therapy. So, as we speak right now, for patients who have newly diagnosed metastatic disease that we call hormone sensitive, molecularly targeted therapy is not standard of care. So, I would encourage patients who may qualify for clinical trial to be involved in those. The flipside is – we can talk about it – is that molecularly targeted therapies, specifically with PARP inhibitors have pretty much entered in the space of prostate cancer with a couple of drugs that were FDA-approved. 

The other way of targeted treatment, which would be what we refer to targeted radiation, this would be a different story. This is not systemic treatment. This is a local treatment. And what is done is basically if patients do not have a lot of cancer in their body based on scans, and only certain areas, and they are starting systemic therapy, they can certainly consult with a radiation oncologist to target radiation to areas that are visible on scan. So, if somebody has a couple of, let’s say, pelvic bone lesions, maybe a lymph node, and they are already starting systemic therapy, they can consult with a radiation oncologist focal radiation. And so, that would be the general scheme. 

Katherine:

Many patients are confused about the role of genetics and biomarker testing in prostate cancer care. 

For people who haven’t heard of some of these terms before, let’s go into the definitions. So, what is genomic or biomarker testing, first of all?  

Dr. Hussain: So, I think there’s one thing. Maybe I can explain because the wording can be confusing. So, there is the genetics, and there is the genomics. The genetics would be what we inherit from our families. So, this would be present in our body. The genomics testing would be to look for what the structure of the genes of the cancer itself, cancer cells itself. Now, that doesn’t mean that this was inherited. It’s just that this is a renegade, and it evolved. And that is what is going to show up. 

The reason these two are important, both of them have implications potentially for treatment or perhaps clinical trials. And again, with the PARP inhibitors, the BRCA-like genes will have implications for treatment sort of for resistance cancers. 

With regard to the genetics, the implications are for, again, inheritance of family and potential risk for blood relatives. Now, there are panels that are FDA-approved for the purpose of genetic testing. And the requirement or the indications right now, anybody who presents with metastatic disease or an aggressive disease and diagnosis, the recommendation is to proceed with the genetic testing, certainly counseling and testing, because there are some people who prefer not to be tested. And that’s something else. 

What I tell my patients is this, even if the testing is done and it was negative for inherited genes that might put the patient family at potential higher risk, the fact that a person has prostate cancer by default puts potential, adds risks to family, to blood relatives. 

And the risks aren’t just for the males with regard to prostate cancer, but certainly breast cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer potentially, and things of that sort. So, this is where I think a patient needs to be discussing with their doctors. And certainly, there are many centers that have genetics counselor, and so that’s where I generally refer my patients to. I counsel them myself, and then refer them also for more discussions with genetics counselor. 

Katherine:

What exactly are genetic mutations? And how do they impact a treatment path? 

Dr. Hussain:

Well, I think, again, it’s the changes that happens in specific genes that may promote the aggressiveness of a cancer. And so, the BRCA gene is one of the oldest genes that have been identified in breast cancer. And essentially, the body regulates itself. 

And when cancer cells come up and they sort of – the body no longer sustains that regulation, the genetic regulation in those cancer cells. Those cancer cells will behave the way they want to. That means that they’re going to grow faster. That means they could be resistant to treatment and things like that. And so, that’s what we check for, these alterations. And there are certain medications that would allow – and again, in prostate cancer, it’s not a lot. It’s just, as I said, right now the only things that are proven is the PARP inhibitors. This is essentially to kinda gang over the cancer cell, preventing from allowing it to repair itself so it can continue to grow. 

Katherine:

Some patients may not know if they’ve received these important tests. So, for patients that aren’t all that sure, what key questions should they be asking their physician or their specialist? 

Dr. Hussain:

So, I would say when it comes to the genetics testing, I believe a patient has to consent. 

Because again, we live in the U.S., and this is a private matter for the patient. So, this generally has to be the case. Otherwise, depending on the institution, sometimes some tests will require for the overall testing for looking for any genetic alterations, general tumor alternation. Different centers have different things. But the patient should ask and say to their doctor, “Have my cancer genes been tested? Have my genes been tested? And if they have, what are the results?” Because we generally share with the patients once it’s been done. 

The other things I should point out, some of the good things that have happened recently. Up until recently, when it comes to the tumor genomic testing, tissue was required. Nowadays, the FDA has approved blood tests that several companies now run that can actually collect blood sample and basically test it for circulating tumor cell genes there. 

Now, no testing is 100 percent perfect. But in situations like patients with prostate cancer who may not have recent tissue or adequate tissue for testing, certainly doing the blood test to verify if there is anything reflective of the genes of the cancer, and that may allow for potential actionable-type treatments. Again, up until now, this is more going to apply for potential clinical trials or resistant metastatic disease. 

Katherine:

Are there other important factors to consider, like a patient’s age, that can help them access the best treatment for their prostate cancer? 

Dr. Hussain:

Yes. And I think that age is one factor. What I say and what I tell my fellows, age is to be respected, but used to discriminate in terms of management. 

 We all age. And certainly, the body reserve is not the same. And so, that’s why I would say that has to be respected. But it doesn’t mean that we cannot treat patients. 

And I’ll tell you, it’s interesting. There are times where you have – I have a gentleman who used to run seven miles a day. He was 87 years old. This was in my days when I used to be in Ann Arbor at University of Michigan. And the gentleman came to me, and he said, “Dr. Hussain, I don’t feel good.” And I said, “Sir, why? What has happened?” “I can’t run like I did before.” And I said, “You’re not running?” “No, I am running. I’m just not able to do seven miles a day. I can do only four miles a day.” I’m like, whoa, that’s about 100% more than I do. 

Now, again, I’m bringing this as an extreme example. But for some of the oral agents, like the Olaparib trial, there were men in there literally late-’80s, early-’90s that were included in the clinical trials. Same thing goes for several of the other trials. 

I do think that functionality is important. So, if somebody comes to you so sick they are in a wheelchair, you really have to be very careful. And again, I’m just using kind of extremes. And so, you have to be careful by what you are able to do. And any time the doctor thinks the odds are going to be more harm than good, this is really where absolutely a situation where the physician needs to be careful about it, and the patient needs to understand it also. At the end of the day, it’s a shared decision. 

Katherine:

Before we close, Dr. Hussain, how do you feel about the future or prostate cancer research, and what would you like patients to know? 

Dr. Hussain:

First, let me say that I would love for the patients to know that they are a partner, a most critical partner in the process.  

That we need to continue the research and investment in research. It is research that will end up curing cancer. Wishful thinking will not do it. And patient volunteering, which I think is remarkable across all cancers. The business I’m in, the way that drug discovery and evolution often happen because patients volunteered. And without testing these new treatments and combinations, we will not be able to get better results.  

And I will tell you that, when I started my training, the median survival for patients with resistant prostate cancer was on the magnitude of about nine months. Now it is three years-plus. Now, you could argue, well, that’s not huge. But that is a huge change because, again, we’re picking up the cancers much earlier. And the patients who had, as I mentioned, metastatic disease, again, the longevity then at the time I was in training, but even afterwards, was give and take in the three years. And now we’re talking six-plus years. 

And so, there’s been tremendous progress. And really partnership with the patients and their families and supportive others is very critical, and investment in research. So, yes, advocate constantly for more investment in research. 

Katherine:

All sounds very promising, Dr. Hussain. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. 

Dr. Hussain:

My pleasure. And be well, all of you.  

Katherine:

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

Which CLL Treatment Is Right for You? 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

See More From INSIST! CLL


Related Resources

 

An Overview of CLL Treatment Types

What Should CLL Patients Know About Clinical Trial Treatment Options?

What Are the Goals of CLL Treatment?


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.

How to Play an Active Role in Your CLL Treatment Decisions

How to Play an Active Role in Your CLL Treatment Decisions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can you partner with your healthcare team to feel confident in your CLL decisions? In this webinar replay, Dr. Matthew Davids discusses CLL treatment approaches, developing research and tools for partnering with your healthcare team. Dr. Matthew Davids is the Director of Clinical Research in the Division of Lymphoma at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Download Guide

See More from Engage CLL


Related Resources:

 

Which CLL Treatment Approach Could be Right for You?

Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Hello and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today we’re going to explore the factors that guide CLL treatment decisions, including your role in making those decisions. 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. And at the end of this program, you will receive a link to a program survey. This will allow you to provide feedback about your experience today, and it will help us plan future webinars.

Finally, before we get into the discussion, please remember that this is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Refer to your own healthcare team. All right, let’s meet our guest today. Joining me is Dr. Matthew Davids. Dr. Davids, would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Davids:                  

Hi, Katherine. Thanks so much for having me. It’s great to be with everyone today. I’m Matt Davids. I’m a CLL-focused physician based at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and I’m also an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. And I get to wear many hats here. First and foremost, I take care of patients, particularly patients with CLL, but I also have some administrative roles. I direct our clinical research program in the lymphoma division. I also run a research laboratory focused on CLL and other lymphoid cancers, and I run about a dozen clinical trials mostly focused on developing new treatment options for patients with CLL.

Katherine:                  

Wow. Sounds like you’re a busy guy. I’m glad you have the time to join us today.

Dr. Davids:                  

My pleasure.

Katherine:                  

Let’s start with a question that’s on the mind of many of our audience members. Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for CLL patients?

Dr. Davids:                 

Very timely question. The simple answer is yes. There are now actually three different vaccines that have been granted emergency use authorization by the FDA.

And I would say that so far, we’ve seen clinical trial evidence suggesting these are very safe vaccines in the general population.

Our own experience with our own CLL patients so far has also suggested safety, so I think it’s very important that our CLL patients get vaccinated as soon as they can. I think the bigger concern more than safety is on the efficacy side of the vaccine, meaning how effective are these vaccines going to be for CLL patients? That’s not something that we know yet from the larger clinical trials that have been done. So, those numbers you see quoted, 95 percent protective, that’s in the general populations.

We do worry a bit based on our experience with other vaccines in CLL patients that they may not be quite as effective, but we don’t know that yet. Fortunately, that’s something that we’re studying now, both at our center and in some nationwide efforts, to look for example at the antibody production that CLL patients can make before and after vaccination. I’m hopeful that over the next few months we’ll start to learn about how effective these vaccines are specifically for CLL patients.

We certainly expect they will have some benefit, so that’s why we recommend vaccination for all of our CLL patients. But once patients are vaccinated, it doesn’t give them a free pass to then take their masks off and go back to normal life. Particularly CLL patients I think need to be careful even after vaccination to continue to do social distancing, hand hygiene, and all these things.

Katherine:                  

Is there one type of vaccine that’s more suited for CLL patients?

Dr. Davids:                 

Nope. As far as we can tell, all three of the approved vaccines so far are safe and should have some good effects for CLL patients.

There’s no benefit of one versus the others, so the best one to get is the one that’s in your muscle and injected. Whatever you can get access to, that’s the best one for you.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Davids, have there been any recent developments in CLL treatment and research that patients should know about?

Dr. Davids:                 

Yeah. We could spend a few hours on this, but I’ll try to summarize it. There’s a lot of exciting developments in the field. and I think we’re going to get into some of the specific treatments in a few minutes, but I would say at a high level obviously, over the last decade the entire field of CLL treatment has been transformed. Whereas we only had chemotherapy-based approaches before, now we have a whole number of different drugs that we call novel agents. And the reason why they’re novel is that they target the CLL cells, but they spare the other cells in the body, so there’s less collateral damage there. What that means is that they have fewer side effects, and they’re more effective, so it’s really a win-win situation for patients.

There’s kind of been two main approaches for this.

One is to start a novel agent drug and to continue it for as long as it’s helping, which fortunately for most patients is a long time, many years. And then, a newer approach is actually to do what’s called time-limited therapy where you start usually at least a couple of these different novel drugs together but hopefully achieve what we call a very deep remission, meaning excellent shrinkage of lymph nodes and improvement of blood counts and bone marrow disease. And by getting these very deep remissions the idea is we can do a finite period of treatment, whether it’s one year or two years, it kind of depends on the regimen. And then, stop therapy and hope that patients can then enjoy many years of remission while off therapy, which can be nice in terms of reducing side effects and costs and all these other things.

So, those are the biggest developments in the field right now, the continuous novel agent therapy and time-limited novel agent therapy. And a lot of the clinical trials that are getting off the ground now are starting to compare these two strategies to figure out really what’s the optimal way to treat CLL patients.

Katherine:                  

How can patients stay up-do-date on developments like these?

Dr. Davids:                 

It’s definitely challenging. It’s challenging even for us who are in the field to keep up with things on the academic side. I think for patients, seeking out patient-friendly sources of information on the web are helpful, but sometimes it can be hard to know what’s reliable information on the web. So websites like this and programs like this I think can be very helpful. Another resource that a lot of my patients find helpful is the CLL Society, so www.cllsociety.org. Brian Koffman really curates a lot of the new developments in the field on that website nicely. He interviews a lot of different CLL experts in this short format that can be very digestible for patients. Patient Power is another great website. So, there are a bunch of them out there, and I think those can be a great resource for our patients.

Katherine:                  

When a person is diagnosed with CLL they have a whole healthcare team. Who’s typically on that team?

Dr. Davids:                 

It’s definitely a multidisciplinary team.

Usually there’s an oncologist-hematologist who’s leading the team as a physician, but there’s a very large team of other people who are involved, whether it’s an advanced practice person such as a nurse practitioner or a physician’s assistant. They’re often very closely involved with the day-to-day patient care. There’s nurse navigators in some places that can help with getting access to these novel agents and with looking into clinical trial opportunities. There’s pharmacy folks who are very helpful sometimes in checking in on side effects, and advising on dosing, and so forth.

That’s more on the provider side of things. But, of course, the care team really includes the caregivers for the patient, whether it’s family members or friends, who are really a crucial part of this. The field is very complicated, and one of the challenges with COVID recently is that I’ve always invited family members and friends to come to visits with patients, because I do think it’s helpful to have many people listening. And that’s been hard because we’ve had to restrict visitors usually to either no visitors or one visitor because of COVID precautions.

Even if that’s the case, you can still have people dial in by phone or use technologies like FaceTime to try to have them there with you, because I think having that extra set of ears can be helpful as you hear all this information coming at you from your oncologist.

Katherine:                  

Yeah, absolutely. So, it really does sound like it’s a whole team approach. We have a question from the audience. Linda writes, “I’ve heard that CLL doesn’t need to be treated right away. Is that true?” 

Dr. Davids:                 

That is true for the majority of CLL patients, and it’s actually a very counterintuitive thing. We’re conditioned that if you have cancer that it’s important to be proactive and get rid of it as quickly as possible, the sooner the better, and that is actually not the case in CLL. And we didn’t just take a guess that that’s the best approach. This is actually something that’s been studied in clinical trials. There were several clinical trials launched in the ‘70s and ‘80s looking at an early intervention strategy using a chemotherapy-based approach to see if treating at the time of diagnosis would be better than waiting until patients developed more significant symptoms.

And all of those studies did not show a benefit to early intervention.

Now, more recently those studies have been challenged as somewhat out of date, which is a fair criticism because they used an older chemotherapy drug. And so, there is a newer study now going on in Europe that is looking at early intervention with the drug ibrutinib, which is one of our novel agents for CLL, looking to see if early intervention with ibrutinib, particularly for patients who have a higher risk form of CLL, may be beneficial.

But we have seen some data now already presented from this study that do not show any improvement in how long the patients live by treating with ibrutinib early, and we do see some of the typical side effects that we’re accustomed to seeing with ibrutinib. So, even with the newer data that we’re seeing, we still do not recommend early intervention for patients with CLL.

Katherine:                  

I’ve heard this term “watch and wait.” What does that mean?

Dr. Davids:                 

Yeah, it’s not the best term because it’s very passive. That refers to this observation strategy. I like to think of it more as “active surveillance.” It seems more proactive because you’re doing something about it.

You’re really checking the blood counts, you’re getting your physical exam, you’re checking in on symptoms, these sorts of things, and really keeping a close eye on the disease. And that’s the approach that we like to take with our patients to really keep them engaged, making sure they’re staying up-to-date on their screenings for other cancers, making sure they’re getting vaccinations, these sorts of things are all the things we do with active surveillance.

Katherine:                  

How is someone monitored during this watch-and-wait period?

Dr. Davids:                 

It varies depending on individual patients. We’ve alluded to the fact that there’s different genetic subgroups of CLL already, so there are some patients that have higher-risk disease. The example of that usually is deletion 17p that people may have heard of on the FISH test. For those patients I usually am seeing them every three months or so, physical exam, checking on their history, checking their bloodwork. But there’s quite a few CLL patients who have lower-risk disease. If they have for example mutated IGHV, if they do not have the 17p for example, those patients may be able to be seen once every six months or so with a similar setup.

 I don’t routinely get CAT scans on a regular basis for most patients. Most patients don’t need bone marrow biopsy tests unless they’re starting treatment. So, it’s mostly it’s exam, talking to patients, and checking the bloodwork.

Katherine:                  

Okay. So, how does CLL progress? When do you know when it’s time to treat?

Dr. Davids:                 

The stages of CLL involve the progression of the disease. When we first meet patients, often they only have cells circulating in the blood, and that’s called stage 0 disease. It’s one of the few cancers where there’s actually a Stage 0 before even Stage I, and the reason for that is that many patients can go for years on Stage 0 disease. But as the burden of the CLL cells begin to accumulate in the body they can start to collect in their lymph nodes, and the lymph nodes can start to swell up whether it’s in the neck or the armpits or elsewhere. That’s stage I disease.

They can accumulate in the spleen, which is an organ in the abdomen. It’s kind of a big filter for your bloodstream, and as the filter traps more of these lymphocytes the spleen can slowly enlarge over time. That’s stage II disease.

And then finally, the CLL cells can get into the bone marrow, which is like the factory for making your blood cells. And if the factory floor gets all gummed up with CLL cells it can’t make the normal red cells, that’s called anemia. Or it can’t make the normal platelet cells, that’s called thrombocytopenia. And when we start to see those more advanced stages III and IV of CLL, that usually does require treatment. And what the treatment does is it clears out the factory floor and it allows for the normal machinery to make the normal blood cells again. So, that’s one of the more common reasons why treatment is needed is due to anemia and low platelets. Second reason can be if the lymph nodes or spleen get so bulky that they’re uncomfortable or threatening organs internally. We want to treat before that becomes a real threat.

And then, the third thing that usually happens as the disease progresses, patients can develop some symptoms, what we call constitutional symptoms. These can be things like unintentional weight loss, drenching night sweats that are happening on a consistent basis, and those sorts of things. So, if that’s happening at the same time as these other factors are progressing, those would be reasons to treat.

And notice that one thing I did not say is the white blood cell count itself.

That’s a common misconception. Some people think that as the white blood cell count goes higher – and people use all different thresholds, 100, 200 – that by crossing that threshold you need to start treatment. And in fact, that’s not the case. We have many patients whose white blood cell count can get very high but then it can kind of level off and plateau for a period of several years, and as long as they don’t meet those other treatment indications, they don’t need to be treated just based on the white count alone.

Katherine:                  

Hmm, okay. Well, once it’s time to treat, of course then it’s time to think about treatment options. Let’s walk through the types of treatments that are used today to treat CLL.

Dr. Davids:                 

As I alluded to before, we historically have had chemotherapy-based approaches to treat CLL. And that was an effective way to temporarily put the disease into remission, but it had a lot of side effects and inevitably the CLL would come back. And the challenge particularly with chemotherapy-based approaches it that when the CLL does come back after chemotherapy, it tends to behave more aggressively and be harder to treat.

So, there have been quite a few studies over the last few years trying to figure out ways that we can avoid using chemotherapy as the first treatment, and this can involve treatments such as monoclonal antibodies. People may have heard of rituximab or a newer drug, obinutuzumab. There are the inhibitors of the B-cell receptor pathway, and this is for example ibrutinib, which targets a protein called BTK, also a newer one called acalabrutinib, which targets BTK. And then, I mentioned at the beginning these fixed-duration therapies that stop after a period of time. Many of those are based on a newer oral drug called venetoclax, which when we give it as a first therapy, we give in combination with that antibody obinutuzumab.

So, a bit of an alphabet soup. I know it gets confusing with all the different treatments, but the good news for CLL patients is, 1.) we have a lot of options, which is great, 2.) we don’t necessarily need to use chemotherapy anymore, and in fact I use it pretty rarely these days. One situation where I do still consider chemotherapy is for younger patients – which in the CLL world is sort of under age 60 or so – if they have very favorable biology to the disease, in particular this mutated IGHV.

That’s a scenario where the older chemotherapy regimen, FCR, can be very effective. It’s a six-month treatment, and we have patients with those molecular characteristics who are now 12, almost 15 years out from their initial six months, and they’re still in a complete remission. So, many of those patients have been functionally cured of their CLL from the six months of treatment. But again, there are some risks to that approach. We worry about other cancers that may be more likely after receiving FCR. We worry about infections, and particularly in the COVID situation, we worry about COVID infection in patients on chemotherapy.

So, it’s been pretty rare that I’ve been using that approach these days. I’ve been opting more for the novel agent-based approaches. So, often now the conversation as an initial therapy comes down to, “Do you prefer more of a continuous treatment strategy with a BTK inhibitor drug like ibrutinib or acalabrutinib, or do you like the idea of a time-limited therapy with one year of venetoclax in combination with obinutuzumab?” And I would say there’s pros and cons to both approaches, and we don’t know which one is the optimal one for CLL patients to start with, but probably I think most patients at some point in their lifetime are going to need one therapy or the other.

So, maybe in the end it doesn’t matter too much which one you start with if you’re going to get both eventually anyway. But we don’t know that yet.

Katherine:                  

Right. Where do clinical trials fit in with the treatment approaches?

Dr. Davids:                 

So, clinical trials are really how we’ve made all these advances in CLL over the last decade. It’s how we learn about new treatments. It’s how we learn about how to optimize the treatments that we have. I think sometimes patients have a misconception that clinical trials are a last resort, the idea that you’ve exhausted all the standard options and then you go to a clinical trial as your last hope. But I actually like to kind of turn that on its head and say that clinical trials are actually the first resort, the first best option for patients. Whenever patients can get access to a clinical trial at any stage of their disease, I would really encourage them to consider it.

We have quite a few clinical trials now in the frontline setting, meaning as an initial treatment for CLL, including some that are in development and will open soon. And these are the studies that are going to really help us define what the optimal regimens are. What’s the optimal sequence of these different novel agents?

And in CLL, really, we’re at a point where the research on the disease is so mature that when you’re in a clinical trial you’re either going to be on one regimen that you know you’re getting and you know it’s going to be an effective regimen, or you might be in a comparative trial where you could be randomized to one of two or three different regiments, but you know that each one of those regimens is one that we think is a great regimen. We just don’t know which one is optimal for individual patients. So, this is not a situation where there’s placebo-controlled trials where you don’t know if you’re going to get an active treatment or not. CLL is an area where we design our clinical trials so that all patients are going to be benefiting from cutting-edge approaches.

And so, not all patients have access to trials, and that’s okay. Again, we’re fortunate that we have many good options that can be given locally, but I do encourage patients even if they’re only able to travel to a CLL specialist once to have an initial consultation to think about doing that to get a CLL specialist on your team, so to speak. That way they can identify clinical trial options that may be a good fit, and even if not, they can advise on what the optimal treatment options are to receive locally with your own oncologist.

Katherine:                  

How do patients find out about these clinical trials?

Dr. Davids:                 

I do think the best way is through a CLL specialist because certainly they would have a great pulse on the trials, they have available at their own center. They should also have a sense for what trials are available maybe at other centers. Some of that can also be, there’s a great resource through The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society where they can help navigate patients toward specific trials that may be applicable to them.

There’s also a website called clinicaltrials.gov. It can be a little challenging if you’re not familiar with it to navigate the site, but it is actually pretty straightforward. You can put in the disease and look at different options for trials based on different drugs, for example. They’ll list the eligibility criteria for the trial. That’s often I find a way that patients can begin to identify whether they may be a candidate. You can’t tell from the website whether you’re definitely a candidate or not. You really need to partner with an investigator who’s on the trial to learn that, but it certainly can be a good starting point to figure out what’s out there.

Katherine:                  

With CLL, what are the goals of treatment?

Dr. Davids:                 

I like to say to patients, “The goals are to make you live longer and live better.” You want to obviously have treatments that prolong life, but you also want to have treatments that are helping with symptoms, and giving patients more energy, and making them feel better, and protecting them from some of the risks of the disease. And so, I think the goals do vary a bit based on the stage of life that patients are at.

I see a lot of patients in their 70s and 80s, and in those patient’s symptom control, having the disease be in a good remission, allowing them to live their life is a good goal. I sometimes see patients in their 40s and 50s, and some of those patients want to be a bit more aggressive and try to do a strategy that will get them a very long-term remission, and even potentially explore potentially curative strategies.

If I have a higher-risk patient with deletion 17p who’s young and fit, and they’ve already had some of the novel treatments, that’s where we start thinking about clinical trials of some of the cellular therapies like CAR-T cells that people may have heard of where you use the T cells from the patient to try to use that as a therapy to kill off the disease. Or even a bone marrow transplant is something that we have used historically in CLL. We don’t use it as often now, but for younger patients with high-risk disease it’s still a consideration to try to achieve a cure of the CLL even though the risks of that are significant.

It sounds like there are several factors to weigh then in making this decision. Lately we’ve been hearing the term “shared decision-making,” which basically means that patients and clinicians collaborate to make healthcare decisions.

And it can help patients take a more active role in their care. What are your thoughts, Dr. Davids, on how best to make this process work?

Dr. Davids:                 

Yeah, I fully support that model. I think for most patients it’s very helpful to be an important decision maker. Really the patient is the ultimate decision maker to say what they want for their own treatment. And sometimes it’s hard for me to predict what a patient will want for themselves, so I see my role for most patients as providing the information that they need to make the best decision possible for themselves.

I do try to steer patients a bit in the directions that I think they should be thinking. I’m not going to necessarily present a laundry list of things to patients. I’m going to try to narrow it down to what I think are the most reasonable choices for a patient to make.

I feel that’s part of my job. I do still have patients who just say, “Just tell me what to do,” and I respect that, too. Not all patients want to be part of shared decision making, and they just want me to decide, and that’s fine. But I do find that most patients like the idea of having a voice and being the one to decide, and that way I can help to guide them, but ultimately, it’s up to them.

Katherine:                  

Well, speaking of patients having a voice, are there questions that patients should consider asking when they’re thinking about a proposed treatment plan?

Dr. Davids:                 

Yeah. I think some of the key ones revolve around basic stuff, but sometimes it’s hard to think of it in the moment. But thinking about, what are the risks of this therapy? What are the specific side effects that are most common? When you look at a package insert or you look at a clinical trial consent form, you’re going to see 100 different side effects listed. I always promise patients, “You won’t have every single side effect that’s listed here, but you may have a couple of them.” And again, my role often is to identify which are the more common side effects that we see and how can those be managed?

And then, I think often you’re just asking simply about what are the potential benefits of this therapy? What are the odds that I’m going to get into remission? How long is this remission likely to last?

And then, something that is often challenging for patients to think about – it can be challenging for me as well – is to think about what’s the next step? So, I think a good question to ask is, “If I choose Therapy A, what happens if I need therapy again in a few years? What are the options at that point?” because we’ve been talking so far mostly about what we call frontline therapy, making that initial choice of treatment. But then, once you get into what we call the relapse setting, a lot of the decision of what to receive at that point depends on what you got as the first therapy. And so, trying to think at least one step ahead as to what the next options are I think can be helpful, certainly for the physicians but also for the patients.

Katherine:                  

Do you have any advice to help patients speak up when they’re feeling like their voice isn’t being heard?

Dr. Davids:                 

That’s always a challenging situation, but I encourage patients not to be shy about asking questions.

There’s often an imbalance in terms of the information where the oncologist may know more than the patient about a particular condition. And so, I think reading up and trying to educate yourself as much as you can. Whenever possible, including a family member or friend as part of the visit to also help advocate for you. And then, if you’re not being heard the way that you think you should be, thinking about seeking out another provider who may be able to listen more.

And sometimes that can be again helpful to have a touchpoint with a CLL specialist who may be able to reinforce some of what you’re thinking. If what you’re reading online or seeing online is different from what your oncologist is telling you, that may be a sign that it’s good to get a second opinion and just make sure you’re on the right track.

Katherine:                  

All really helpful advice, Dr. Davids. Before we end the program, what are your thoughts about the future of CLL treatment and research?

Dr. Davids:                 

I’m very optimistic about where things are right now. We’ve gotten to this point where we have so many different effective options, so it’s fun for us to now design this next wave of clinical trials to really try to optimize the outcomes for patients.

One area I’m particularly interested in is a concept called MRD, which we haven’t talked about yet, but minimal residual disease is a way to look even at a molecular level for tiny amounts of CLL that may be left behind after treatments. And so, one of the things I’m particularly excited about is the idea eventually of using what we call MRD-guided therapy.

So, we talked before about continuous treatment. We talked about what we call fixed-duration treatment where everyone gets a year or everyone gets two years. MRD-guided therapy would actually allow us to vary the length of therapy depending on how a particular patient responds. So, some patients may need one year of a particular combination, but other patients may need two years. This could be a way to really individualize therapy for particular patients. It’s also a way to monitor patients who are in remission after they’ve stopped therapy.

And so, there’s another wave of trials looking at, should we be intervening early when patients develop recurrence of their MRD rather than waiting until they’re having progression of the disease? There’s still a lot of unanswered questions about these sorts of approaches, but I think it’s going to help us get even better at treating CLL.

All of this is contingent though upon the fact that patients continue to be interested in clinical trials and enrolling in trials so that we can really push the boundaries and learn even more about the disease. So, again, if no other message comes through, it’s really to think about clinical trials as a way to continue to improve outcomes for all patients with CLL. I think it’s a great situation where both the individual patient who’s participating in the trial can stand to benefit, but then also you can really be giving back and helping others.

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Davids:                 

It’s my pleasure. Thanks so much.

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. You’ll receive an email when it’s ready. Don’t forget to take the survey immed – don’t forget to take the survey immediately following this webinar. It will help us as we plan programs for the future. 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.

Newly Diagnosed with Prostate Cancer? Consider These Key Steps

Newly Diagnosed with Prostate Cancer? Consider These Key Steps from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

For those who are newly diagnosed with prostate cancer, figuring out what to do next can be overwhelming. Prostate cancer survivor Jim Schraidt outlines advice for patients to encourage self-advocacy and to access resources and support.

Jim Schraidt is a prostate cancer survivor and Chairman of the Board of Directors for Us TOO International. Learn more about Jim Schraidt here.

Related Resources

How Does Us TOO International Support Prostate Cancer Patients and Their Loved Ones?

How Does Us TOO International Support Prostate Cancer Patients and Their Loved Ones?

How Could You Benefit from Joining a Prostate Cancer Support Group?

How Can You Insist on Better Prostate Cancer Care?


Transcript:

Jim Schraidt:

If you’re newly diagnosed, get a second opinion on your biopsy slides. Because reading those slides is as much an art as it is a science. And we’ve had people who will come to our support groups who then went on to have their slides reviewed on a secondary basis. And it’s changed their diagnosis. In one case, a guy discovered that he actually did not have prostate cancer.

And in other cases, it’s changed the grading of the cancer that’s identified in the biopsy, which of course then impacts treatment decisions, whether it’s active surveillance, surgery, radiation, or systemic therapy. So, that would be the first thing. I think the other thing, and I that think this is true for most medical issues, is to get a second opinion, take the time to get a second opinion.

And in the case of prostate cancer, try to do it at a medical center that takes a multi-disciplinary approach to the disease. So, you would be meeting at the outset with a urologist, a radiation specialist, and perhaps a medical oncologist who can really take you through the options, the treatment options for your situation.

And then I guess the final of three items that I would say is find a support group. And even if you want to just join one of the virtual groups and listen and learn, that’s perfectly fine. But learn about the disease you have, and learn about the treatment options, and learn the things that you need to ask your medical practitioners to help you get the best outcome.

Because the happy patient is going to be the one that knows what he’s getting into and makes and accepts that as part of his decision and can focus after treatment on healing and not on treatment regret.