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November 2021 Notable News

Cancer research has come a long way in the last half century. Each month there is an amazing amount of new knowledge. There’s new information this month about childhood cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and a couple of vaccines. The research and advances we learn about each month are due in large part to the programs and systems that resulted from the National Cancer Act of 1971.

National Cancer Act of 1971

Fifty years ago, a few days before Christmas, President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act of 1971, and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is commemorating the anniversary at cancer.gov. The act established networks of cancer centers, clinical trials, data collection systems, and advanced research. As an amendment to the Public Health Service Act of 1944, by signing the act, Nixon declared a war on cancer. The bill expanded the authority of the director of the NCI and made possible many of the present-day advances in cancer research. Learn more about the National Cancer Act of 1971 and the impact it has had over the past 50 years here.

HPV Vaccine

One of the accomplishments noted by the NCI is the HPV vaccine. The vaccine for the human papillomavirus (HPV) is reducing the number of cervical cancer cases by almost 90 percent, says bbc.com. Almost all cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV, and cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide. More than 100 countries are using the vaccine to help in the World Health Organization’s goal to eliminate cervical cancer. With such positive results in the United Kingdom, the hope is that the vaccine will have an even bigger impact in lower income countries. Read more here.

Covid-19 Vaccines

Covid-19 vaccines are safe and effective for most cancer patients, reports usnews.com. In a study that included more than 1,000 vaccinated cancer patients, researchers found that the vaccines were effective in protecting cancer patients from severe Covid-19. Patients who had been treated with chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants, or corticosteroids had a weaker immune response, but still benefited from the vaccine’s protection. Cancer patients had similar side effects as healthy vaccine recipients. Get more information here.

Pancreatic Cancer Detection

Researchers have identified two additional symptoms of pancreatic cancer that could help with earlier detection of the disease, reports webmd.com. The newly identified symptoms are feeling thirsty and having dark urine, and they are associated with the most common type of pancreatic cancer. Other symptoms include problems swallowing, diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, abdominal swelling, tiredness, constipation, back pain, itching, loss of appetite, change in bowel habits, indigestion, abdominal pain, abdominal mass, nausea, flatulence, heartburn, and fever. Patients can have symptoms for up to a year before diagnosis. Get more information here.

Gut Microbiome and Prostate Cancer

A new study shows that there might be a link between the gut microbiome and deadly prostate cancer, reports medicalnewstoday.com. Researchers analyzed different metabolites in the blood serum of study participants and found a connection between aggressive prostate cancer and three of the metabolites. The metabolites, phenylacetylglutamine, choline, and betaine, are either produced by the gut or found in some foods. The metabolites are mostly found in meat and animal products, but also in beans, nuts, and diet sodas with aspartame. Men with high levels of choline or betaine were two times more likely to die of prostate cancer, and men with high levels of phenylacetylglutamine were 2.5 times more likely to die of prostate cancer. Learn more about the study here.

Childhood Cancer Survivors

Childhood cancer survivors tend to have higher risk of lifelong health problems, reports medicalxpress.com. A new study shows that the type of cancer and how the cancer was treated can affect the type of health issues survivors will have later in life. Researchers found that people who were treated with chemotherapy and radiation were most likely to experience later health problems. The lowest risk was for people who were treated only with surgery. Researchers say the long-term health effects should be considered when discussing treatment options for young people with cancer. Learn more about the study and watch an animated video that explains the study in an easy-to-understand manner here.

Here’s hoping that we will have more preventive vaccines and life-saving measures before the passing of the next 50 years.

Are COVID-19 Vaccines Effective for Myeloma Patients?

Are COVID-19 Vaccines Effective for Myeloma Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma expert Dr. Rafael Fonseca shares what’s currently known about COVID-19 vaccine immune response and what he advises for his patients for their optimal protection.

Dr. Rafael Fonseca is the interim director of Mayo Clinic Cancer Center and serves as the director for Innovation and Transformational Relationships at Mayo Clinic in Arizona. Learn more about Dr. Fonseca here.

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Transcript:

Katherine: 

We’re hearing that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe, but how effective is it for myeloma patients?

Dr. Fonseca:

Thank you. I think that’s a fundamental question. It’s hard to know precisely how to gauge effectiveness when it comes to vaccination because historically, we know that is done by measuring antibodies, and there are a number of publications that are addressing this.

The concern has been two-fold. One is that because the disease itself is something that starts from the person’s immune cells become cancerous, that perhaps that would prevent them from having a very good response. Number two, and perhaps more importantly, will the treatments that are used for myeloma, etc. or lymphoma, can they interfere with our ability to mount an effective immune response? I think the response is mixed right now. I think I tell all my patients the upside is much better than the downside. I think we have a good record now of the safety of this product. I encourage everyone to get their vaccination.

I think it’s important to discuss this with your healthcare provider because sometimes people say, “Should I stop a little bit so that I can get a better response?” While it’s theoretically possible, we don’t want people to stop treatment if they don’t have to do that. Just my very last quick comment, the good news is that the community transmission is clearly going down as more and more people have participated in the vaccination.

We have more people who now have participated in this level of immunity that we have in the community. Hopefully, for patients as well as for their families, the risk of contracting this will continue to decrease.

Is the COVID Vaccine Safe and Effective for Prostate Cancer Patients?

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

 What do prostate cancer patients need to know about COVID-19 vaccines? Expert Dr. Maha Hussain discusses COVID-19 vaccine safety and effectiveness — and what she’s seen with COVID-19 vaccination with her patients.

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

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Transcript:

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.

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

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

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

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

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Krishnamurthi:

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

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Krishnamurthi:

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

Is COVID-19 Vaccination Safe and Effective for DLBCL Patients?

Is COVID-19 Vaccination Safe and Effective for DLBCL Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is COVID-19 vaccination safe and effective for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) patients? Dr. Jean Koff shares what’s currently known about COVID-19 vaccination for DLBCL patients and provides information about studies currently underway on immunocompromised patients.

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

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

A question that’s on many people’s minds right now is if the COVID 19 vaccination is safe and effective for people with DLBCL? 

Dr. Koff:

So, I don’t think we have any reason to believe that it’s not safe. We haven’t seen any signals that it is not safe. I think there are reasonable concerns that for patients who either have active lymphoma where the lymphoma may be impacting their immune system and the immune system’s ability to mount the response that you need to get immunity when you get vaccinated. But even more so patients who are receiving some sort of therapy, especially chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Those types of treatments actually may knock out the same normal bystander immune cells that help you mount that immune response when you get vaccinated.   

And so, the concern there is that in those individuals either with active DLBCL or who are receiving treatment for DLBCL, that their immune systems might be somewhat compromised and not able to mount as robust of an immune response when they get vaccinated. 

And by extension, the vaccine may not work as well to protect them against COVID as it would in somebody who doesn’t have a compromised immune system. But what I’m counseling my patients is that if they are not actively receiving treatment that impacts their immune system like chemo or immunotherapy, I am recommending that they go ahead and get the vaccine.  Because to me the risk of COVID and COVID-related complications is very high. And the risk of complications from the vaccination is very low. And the protection that it offers – while we are not sure the level of protection that it offers in these special cases, some protection, if it does offer it is better than no protection. And the risk of immunization is low. We are actually doing the studies now at Emory.  

In specifically lymphoma patients who get the COVID vaccine. Whether they have active lymphoma or getting treatment in lymphoma, we’re doing the studies now to take a look and see whether they’re able to adequately mount immune responses to the COVID vaccine. So, that we can better counsel our patients on how effective these vaccines will be.   

So, once we have more mature data from our studies and from other centers, similar studies, we’ll be able to better estimate what the chances that the vaccine will be protective for an individual patient.

Is the COVID Vaccine Effective for CLL Patients?

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

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

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

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An Expert’s Perspective on CLL Research Advances

Transcript:

Katherine:

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

Dr. Barr:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tools for Living with Cancer and COVID-19

Tools for Living with Cancer and COVID-19 from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Breast Cancer Network Manager Mary Leer highlights the importance of a previous interview with Dr. Shaji Kumar focused on COVID-19 and cancer. In the original interview, Empowered Patient and Care Partner Ask the Expert: Addressing COVID-19 Concerns, vaccine concerns are also addressed and key factors are given for cancer patients, survivors, and care partners.  

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Transcript:

Mary Leer:

Hello, my name is Mary Leer, and I am the Patient Empowerment Network’s [PEN’s] Network Manager for the Breast Cancer Network.  

 As PEN’s Breast Cancer Network Manager, I was proud to sit down with noted Mayo Clinic expert, Dr. Shaji Kumar. The interview helped me think deeply about my own experience as a cancer survivor and how it relates to my experience living through the pandemic that is still around us all. As cancer patients, we’ve had to live with multiple uncertainties and make decisions that can quite literally and figuratively be painful. We’ve had to make decisions about cancer treatment with our medical team, and we’ve had to deal with the fact that it is in our own best interest to at times take a path that we do not want to take in the name of healing ourselves and living a healthier life. We have learned to live with options and making choices with outcomes that are not certain, our experience and roles as survivors and as caregivers can make it hard sometimes difficult to understand the decisions of others who are hesitant or resistant to getting a vaccine. So I listened and learned from Dr. Kumar discussion about the importance of getting vaccinated to reach a significant percentage of our population. He shows compassion for those whose fear of the pandemic has led them to a decision to turn away from getting vaccinated, perhaps out of fear, distrust of medicine and anger about government impinging on personal rights, or perhaps, of course, their own personal health journey, please implore others to listen to the interviews Jeff and I did with Dr. Kumar. 

Dr. Kumar gave us very clear advice.  He answers many of the questions about COVID-19 that cancer patients, and our community have been asking and frankly worrying about. As you listen to the interviews on PEN’s website, you will hear his voice of reason, make it clear how critical it is for cancer patients, indeed all of us to get vaccinated for the sake of our own and for others’ health. As he states there are uncertainties about aspects of vaccination, such as the strength and length of one’s individual protective immune response, but the bottom line is that cancer patients especially need to be vaccinated to protect their health, even if one is well post-treatment. If still in cancer treatment or if one has had the COVID-19 illness, he told us to discuss the optimum time to get vaccinated with your medical team. He truly gave a clear message that there is solid evidence for the efficacy, safety of approved covid vaccines. Listen carefully and share Dr. Kumar’s interview responses with your cancer community and with your family. His answers address lingering questions my family and I had about COVID and cancer, the bottom line, these interviews with Dr. Kumar are once again, a way of giving us the tools to compassionately help ourselves and others through this COVID-19 health crisis. 

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

Is the COVID Vaccine Safe and Effective for MPN Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine effective and safe for myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patients? Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju shares information about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and specific medical data researchers are watching for MPN and blood cancer patients.

Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju is Director of the Blastic Plasmacytoid Dendritic Cell Neoplasm (BPDCN) Program in the Department of Leukemia at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Pemmaraju, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:    

We’re all hearing that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe, but how effective is it for MPN patients?

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

Well, I believe that this is one of the most important issues of our time.

I think the way I would approach the COVID-19 question is, one, is we know that if our patients contract the virus, that can be deadly in actually many of our patients. So, I think it’s actually important to remember that the virus is still out there and that getting the virus is potentially very life-threatening, not only for the general population but for our patients.

For the vaccines, I kind of have two stories to tell you. So, one is my own anecdotal experience in the clinic where it has been surprisingly and remarkably well-tolerated in most of our patients. This is both the mRNA vaccines and as well as the J&J vaccine. And so, overall, we’ve seen a very minimal amount of allergic or other reactions.

I think the most important part, as you said at the top, is for specific medical advice, we need to be talking to our own providers. But I think for our MPN patients, we’re giving some caution, looking at the blood counts, what chemotherapy folks are on. But, in general, I’ve been happy with that rollout.

Now, for the effectiveness of them, sure. That’s a question of ongoing research. There are some data that’s coming out, particularly in CLL and other leukemias that – correct – maybe some of our immunocompromised patients, as you would expect, may not be able to mount the appropriate response. But all that data is moving and fluid, so we’ll see.

And then I think the other point here is with this question of the virus itself and maybe some of these vaccines having a signal for increased blood clots or coagulopathy.

This is something I think we have to follow in our MPN community only because our patients are already at a high risk for both bleeding and clotting. So, the virus itself, COVID-19, post-syndrome coagulopathy, possible side effects – idiosyncratic and rare, for sure, from these vaccines that can lead to a vaccine-induced thrombotic state. I think these are some of the factors that we have to watch out for. So, in general, we don’t yet know the exact answer for each patient, PV, ET, MF, how effective the vaccine may be.

But we are encouraging everyone to go for it unless there’s an obvious contraindication.

Should Cancer Patients Get COVID-19 Vaccines If They’ve Tested Positive for Antibodies or the Virus?

Should Cancer Patients Get COVID-19 Vaccines If They’ve Tested Positive for Antibodies or the Virus? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What are the recommendations for cancer patients on COVID-19 vaccines if they’ve tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies or the virus? Expert Dr. Shaji Kumar shares current vaccine recommendations for cancer patients.

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Transcript:

Mary Leer:

Here’s a question many cancer patients are unclear about if antibodies are present or if I have tested positive before, “Should I still get the vaccine?”

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

I know the recommendation right now is to go ahead and get the vaccine, partly because we don’t know the natural immunity from the infection, how long does it last. So it seems like the antibodies can start to wane off the infection. And again, we don’t have a lot of data on it, but it looks 3 to 6 months, it might start waning at least to the level that they can detect. Now, whether that is sufficient or even the undetectable levels is protective against a future infection, we don’t know. There have been some reports of people getting a second infection even though they have been infected before again, scattered reports, we don’t know how widespread that phenomenon is going to be, so given all these, I think the current recommendation would be to go ahead and get vaccinated. We generally tell people to wait for two to three months after the infection to go ahead with the vaccination.

Jeff Bushnell:

Is the idea of pre-screening, especially for cancer patients, maybe who may be at risk to see whether they have antibodies be an effective thing to decide which vaccine they should get? What are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

You look at the Moderna and the Pfizer trials, and they said, now over 90 percent effective. Look at the AstraZeneca trials, you know, it’s like they recorded 70 to 80, 85 percent, and the J&J about 80 to 90 percent effective. Do these numbers mean much? It’s really hard to know, I think, partly because they have been tested in, again, different countries, different times, as the virus was continually changing its characteristics. So one could argue that maybe the vaccines that were tested later on when this will be some of the mutants were already there might be more effective, but we don’t know.

I think at the end of the day, 80 versus 90 is not something we would decide a vaccine on. The fact that, yes, if something was only 10 percent effective versus 90 percent, it’s a probably different story. So based on the numbers we have seen, I would say whatever you can get to first, if you don’t want to get jabbed twice, maybe you go with something that goes, it’s only one dose, but that may be the only distinguishing factor here, but nevertheless, I think we have to just get the vaccination, the first vaccine that we can get our hands on.

Empowered Patient and Care Partner Ask the Expert: Addressing COVID-19 Concerns

Empowered Patient and Care Partner Ask the Expert: Addressing COVID-19 Concerns from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

With COVID-19 infection and vaccine concerns, what are the key points for cancer patients and care partners to know? Expert Dr. Shaji Kumar from Mayo Clinic shares valuable information about protective measures against COVID-19 infection, vaccine side effects and effectiveness, working toward herd immunity, and cancer research benefits that have emerged from the pandemic. 

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Transcript:

Mary Leer:

My name is Mary Leer. I’m the Breast Cancer Network Manager.

Jeff Bushnell:

And I’m Jeff Bushnell, the MPN Network Manager at the Patient Empowerment Network. I’m a caregiver.

Dr. Shaji Kumar: I

’m Shaji Kumar, a hematologist at Mayo Clinic.

Mary Leer:

Jeff and I are proud to be part of a strong team of compassionate volunteers, helping health communities adapt to the realities of living with a serious illness, living with cancer during a pandemic certainly presents another layer of challenges. So, Jeff and I will drill down to ask the important questions from the community. For this production, Empowered Patient and Care Partner Ask the Expert, we are very lucky to be joined by noted expert, Dr. Shaji Kumar, a consultant in the division of hematology at Mayo Clinic. Thank you for taking the time to join us, Dr. Kumar.

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

Thank you for having me, Mary.

Mary Leer:

Let’s start with the top of mind questions for so many of us right now, what should every patient and care partner facing a cancer diagnosis know during the pandemic?

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

I think it’s a challenging time for everyone, and it’s obviously more challenging for patients dealing with cancer at the same time, thankfully, we have a vaccine at hand that will certainly make the situation a lot better, but I think from a cancer standpoint, I think what we need to keep in mind all the precautions we talk about in terms  of social distancing, masking, hand washing and all those measures apply equally to everyone, even more so to patients with cancer. And the reason why we say that it’s even more important for several reasons, one, and we continue to learn more about the pandemic and its impact on cancer, one thing that has become clear is that patients with underlying conditions including cancer are to other folks were more affected by the infection, more likely to have more severe interactions and poorer outcomes. Now, patients with cancer appear to be at a higher risk of getting the infection and then they get the infection having a more serious disease. Now, it’s hard to know how much of this is also related to the fact that patients with cancer often have to go into the hospital or the clinic, and hence are more likely to get exposed to the infection than someone who is able to just stay at home.

So that’s one thing. And second, we know that the ongoing treatment for cancer definitely suppresses the immune system, and hence places people at a higher risk of the infection itself. Now, even patients who have their past history of cancer, this appears to be some increased risk, even though this is a little bit, unclear how much more it impacts those individuals. But I think the bottom line is keep the awareness that you might be at a higher risk of getting the infection, more serious infection, and the need to take those precautionary measures in a more strict fashion, and getting the vaccination when you can get it is all things that one needs to keep in mind.

Jeff Bushnell:

Well, that’s wonderful, Dr. Kumar, you mentioned the vaccinations, I am a strong proponent of that, I happen to have been involved in the Moderna vaccine trial, which is and still enrolled, they’re doing the follow-up. I guess they’re checking the last time I was in last week, they took 8 vials of blood, I think they’re checking to see whether I have the antibodies and how long it will last, but I was very happy with the way it was conducted, they were very forthcoming with information.

It was very interesting. And out here in San Diego, where I am, we have done pretty well as a county in vaccinating people and Summer got the vaccine as well with myelofibrosis and she feels a lot better. But for cancer patients who have tested positive for COVID, are there notable consistencies amongst that group of people, and have we learned anything from those patients yet about maybe their chances of getting it more, or their reaction to it? That kind of thing.

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

We know that there’s a wide spectrum of reaction to the vaccine. The majority of the people would not notice any symptoms related to that except for some pain at the injection site.  Not there are some folks, number of people who might have more or just myalgia, muscle pains, just feeling fatigue, some low-grade fevers, just feeling blah for 24-48 hours, and it seems to be not too uncommon. The reactions to the vaccine in terms of the side effects or the symptoms, there doesn’t appear to be much of a difference between cancer patients and normal individuals. Now, in terms of the efficacy of vaccination, you just mentioned Jeff, about you being checked for the antibodies, obviously, that is something that we hope will happen to all individuals who get the vaccine, but we know that is not going to be the case, there’s going to be a wide variation in terms of how strong an immune response one might develop against vaccines. Now We know from, not necessarily the COVID vaccine, but the vaccinations that have been used in the past, whether it be flu vaccines or pneumococcal vaccines, that we all get patients with cancer or patients going through treatment for cancer that can suppress the immune system, tend to have a lower response. But again, that varies quite widely from patient to patient now, there are some vaccines where we can clearly look at the antibody response and say, “Oh, this is not adequate, and we need to maybe give an extra shot.”

We just don’t have that information for COVID vaccines yet. So the way I would look at it is, even though the response to the back in a given person might be less than what we eventually would identify to be optimal, it’s likely to be better than not having to see the vaccine, so I would encourage obviously, everybody to get the vaccine. Now, what about someone who has already had an infection, what would be the response? Should we vaccinate those people? We certainly should. Again, we don’t know the immunity from a natural infection, how long would that last? That is still something that is unknown, and the vaccination dose is likely to make the responses more relevant and more durable, so I would recommend the vaccines for everyone. We don’t think one vaccine is any different from another in terms of your underlying cancer or lack thereof. So in terms of assessing for the antibodies, there is no clear guideline in terms of what one should anticipate from  the vaccine, so there is really no way to say, check the antibody, and they can go ahead and get one more dose or you’re fully vaccinated. So I think the bottom line is, get the vaccine, you don’t need to necessarily test for a response, and then we continue with the usual measures for prevention.

Jeff Bushnell:

And so what would you tell the… I guess that’s pretty much the answer to the next question I had. What would you tell the patients who are in active treatment and who planned to get the vaccine just continue as normal after they get it, with all the appropriate precautions?

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

Yeah, no, I think there’s one other important aspect, Jeff, to that question you just raised, which is, what is the right timing to get vaccinated, the vaccine, and that is a question that often comes up. So patients who are not getting active treatment, there is obviously no concern whenever the name comes up, go ahead and get the vaccine. And the second is what if someone is actually getting active treatment for their cancer, is there any role in terms of trying to find the vaccination, with respect to the doses of the medications and for most of the treatment we are using for cancer, there are no clear guidelines in terms of the when they can get the vaccine, that having several guidelines that have been put out by different organizations. The bottom line is, if there is an ability to space out or give sometime between the vaccine and the dose of the medication, do that, don’t modify your treatments, just so that you can get the cross at a particular time. The only place where we would recommend specific guidelines within the context of somebody who may have had a bone marrow transplant or had some other kind of cellular therapies, in those contexts, we often recommend that you wait for a couple of months after the stem cell transplant, before we get the vaccines. But for all the other treatments that we are getting right now, we want to just within the schedule of the treatment that’s already on going, try and get the vaccine in between two doses.

Mary Leer:

For those who have been vaccinated and are living with cancer, you spoke to that in great depth, but I’m also wondering about people that are perhaps in post-treatment and let’s look at social distancing measures or other restrictions, are those different for patients versus the general population?

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

No, I think the proportions are the same, I think the social distancing and the masking should continue to be observed the same way, and I think the only other word of caution I think may be particularly relevant for the cancer patients would be, again, trying to avoid again those kind of being outdoors and larger groups of people, even if when you maintain the social distancing, try and not do that. The outdoors are probably a little better than smaller indoor gatherings, and it’s mostly the common sense proportions, and I think the cancer patients are probably more tuned to this because they have been following some of those things even before the COVID came on and post-vaccination, I would recommend that these steps don’t change at all, partly because we gain for a given person, we don’t know how robust the immune response that those patients have after the vaccination and the lack of good testing to say that, okay, now you’re fully vaccinated, your response is great, you don’t need to worry about getting infected.

Mary Leer:

Wow, thank you so much. That’s so helpful. I’m going to shift to vaccine hesitancy. This is an important topic for many. Drug development takes years, sometimes decades. Can you speak to those who might be hesitant about the speed of vaccine development around COVID. I’ve heard this often from other people saying, “Well, they develop this so quickly, how can we trust it?”

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

Yeah, no, I think those concerns are quite valid, I think vaccines have always been a very controversial topic and not just COVID vaccination but even for childhood vaccinations. There have been long-standing concerns that some of those vaccinations may be responsible for some of the issues that we see in the children and even in the late adulthood. I think what we really want to get across is, again, taking that question apart, and there are multiple different aspects to it, one is the whole concept of how we created the vaccine so quickly, we kept telling everyone from the time that it started that it takes five to 10 years to develop a good vaccine, and now we have something in a year, so obviously that raises concerns amongst people. I think it’s just a testament to how far technology has come. In the past, we had to isolate the protein and use that protein to develop the immune response, and what has been really unique about the COVID situation has been the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine, both of which uses a new technology called the mRNA-based technology. And this is something that has been developed over the past decade to decade-and-a-half, and I would say this is a platform that was perfect, just waiting for the right opportunity to come along.

And the COVID situation really presented that. And even though it was the speed with which this was developed, is just because the technology has come along so much and we can actually do that, and the second is how fast the clinical trials have been done, and I think that speaks to, again, the infrastructure that they have been developed over the years to rapidly develop and implement a clinical trial. So the clinical trials, both Pfizer and Moderna trials had 40 to 50,000 people enrolled in a quick phase and the community transmission that was happening at a very high rate. We could get these trials done in a very rapid manner, so the patients or the people who enrolled in this clinical trial the fact that they were not getting infected could be determined in a much, much faster fashion than what you would have done in the past with any of the other vaccines. So I think the technology is robust. The [COVID]  trials are very well-conducted and the end point in terms of efficacy has been very well-determined or very accurately determined.  And given the size of these trials and the number of people who have been a goal, I think we can feel fairly confident that the risk associated with this vaccine is pretty low, so you can argue that one of the risk of a particular side effect is only 1 in 80,000. So maybe to the 40,000 people enroll in the trial, they may not have adequate numbers of that and that was certainly a concern when they started vaccinating. And we just know a couple of days ago, there was a publication that looked at almost like 63 million vaccination doses that have been given, and overall the risk of vaccine related side effects have been very, very minimal.

So I think that should also boost our confidence.

But on the other hand, we all heard about what would happen with some of those vaccines and the blood clots, and I think that even though…yes, it is, as it is a risk. It is a very, very small risk. And the fact that you were able to identify them right away again, I think tells us that should there be rare side effects, you’re going to find it, and we are going to figure out the mechanics of why those side effects happen. And we’re going to figure out how to avoid those things.

So, I think the information flow is so fast and all the data related to vaccines and the side effects are being captured in a real-time fashion that we would be… You’d immediately be of avail of side effects should that happen.

Mary Leer:

Wow, that’s so reassuring. Thank you.

Jeff Bushnell:

Another question kind of along the same lines, doctor is the last few days, especially, it’s Vaccine hesitancy has really become sort of the issue to the potential of achieving herd immunity, and how can everybody in the medical community, you guys are facing those stuff in a different way, but the average person, how can we help overcome hesitancy and increase the people’s trust in the vaccine, and also increase the equitable distribution amongst all populations? Some populations are hesitant to take it, others have distance problems for being able to get it. What can we do to sort of push ourselves over the hill to get to that herd immunity?

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

Yeah, no, You bring up a very important point, and I hope we are in a much better place than many parts of the world right now because we have one of the few countries where a significant proportion of the people have been vaccinated, but we are not quite at the point where we can claim herd immunity, I think we still need to continue to pursue this, and I think the ideal goal is to get everyone who’s eligible to get a vaccine vaccinated. Now, you bring up some of the very important points, because even though vaccine hesitancy is a real problem, the underlying reason behind this is manifold, and the only way to tackle that is we have a multi-front approach that will take into account what is the reason behind it.

So for the people where it’s hard to get to populations which can live in far from the areas, it may be more the ability to use those vaccines, which does need the complicated storage, for example, the J&J vaccine. You only need one dose. It’s easy to store. So that may be one of the approaches to be taken. And people who believe that this is a vaccine is going to create side effects, or it’s part of some grand scheme to introduce a variety of things. I think it’s a person of education, and I think they really need to tell them what can happen with. Not really just to them, but the fact that if you continue to allow these infections to proceed on stuff, there are going to be increasing numbers of mutations, and that in turn is going to make the pandemic much more difficult to control in the long run. So it’s totally an individual benefit, but it’s on to the society’s benefit to have everyone be vaccinated. And then definitely, I think knowing that should anything unto it happen, there’s going to be medical care that’s going to be available to these individuals, and I think that’s also an important point, so who are near and dear to them is going to be the key thing.

Mary Leer:

Here’s a question many cancer patients are unclear about if antibodies are present or if I have tested positive before, there’s a wondering, “Should I still get the vaccine?”

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

Yeah, I know the recommendation right now is to go ahead and get the vaccine, partly because we don’t know the natural immunity from the infection, how long does it last. So it seems like the antibodies can start to wane off the infection. And again, we don’t have a lot of data on it, but it looks 3 to 6 months, it might start waning at least to the level that they can detect. Now, whether that is sufficient or even the undetectable levels is protective against a future infection, we don’t know. There have been some reports of people getting a second infection even though they have been infected before again, scattered reports, we don’t know how widespread that phenomenon is going to be, so given all these, I think the current recommendation would be to go ahead and get vaccinated. We generally tell people to wait for two to three months after the infection to go ahead with the vaccination.

Mary Leer:

Alright, thank you

Jeff Bushnell:

Should people… Is the idea of pre-screening, especially for cancer patients, maybe who may be at risk, I guess, to see whether they have antibodies or whatever, be an effective thing to decide which vaccine they should get? or I know, as I say, I was in the trial and they were very forthcoming to the participants with what the numbers were, and I was flabbergasted at how effective the vaccine was, it was just amazing to me, and that kind of information that I guess is not available publicly maybe it should be. Does it help to decide which vaccine you get? All I hear on the TV is get the first one you can. What are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

Yeah, no, I completely agree with you. I think even those numbers may mean… You look at the Moderna and the Pfizer trials, and they said, now over 90 percent effective. Look at the AstraZeneca trials, you know, it’s like they recorded 70 to 80, 85 percent, and the J&J about 80 to 90 percent effective. Do these numbers mean much? It’s really hard to know, I think, partly because they have been tested in, again, different countries, different times, as the virus was continually changing its characteristics. So it does it mean… So one could argue that maybe the vaccines that were tested later on when this will be some of the mutants were already there might be more effective, but we don’t know.

I think at the end of the day, 80 versus 90 is not something we would decide a vaccine on. The fact that, yes, if something was only 10 percent effective versus 90 percent, it’s a probably different story. So based on the numbers we have seen, I would say whatever you can get to first, if you don’t want to get jabbed twice, maybe you go with something that goes, it’s only one dose, but that may be the only distinguishing factor here, but nevertheless, I think we have to just get the vaccination, the first vaccine that we can get our hands on.

Mary Leer:

So let’s hope there is some good that comes from the bad. Are there any noticeable trends born out of the pandemic that will be or could be a benefit to the future of cancer care or research?

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

Mary, That’s a very important question, and I think we always learn from adversity, and I think this is going to be no different. I think, especially when the pandemic hit back in the spring of last year, we all had to think fast on our feet to figure out how best to continue to tell about the best care for the cancer patients without compromising the care in any way. And we knew that bringing the patients back into the clinic at the same rate we did before the pandemic would expose them to significant risk for infection, so how do we continue with treatment? There have been very different things people have tried…one of them is to try and get the medications to patients at home. If they are on IV medications, they can be changed to something that’s comparable that can be given by mouth. We already did that for some patients. For some patients who used to come to the clinic very often, so we figure out is there a way for them to get some of those testing done in a clinic much closer to home, so they can avoid the travel, they can avoid being in a bigger city, they can avoid being in a bigger institution, again, reducing the risk of exposure, and then you look at those numbers and then decide on the next course of treatment. We converted many of the clinic visits to video visits. Nothing is as good as having the patient right in front of you, but this is the best we could do under the circumstances.

And I think that helped. So I think the clinical trials was a big problem because in many of those trials were done in a very rigid fashion with very little variability allowed within the protocols. And everybody loosened from the clinical trial sponsors, the pharmaceutical companies, the institutional review board, the investigators to try and build flexibility into those clinical trial structures to allow patients to continue to be on those trials, many of which are important and both helping. So what does that mean for the future? I think the video visits are here to stay, I think we will continue to utilize that and bring patients back to the clinic only when it’s absolutely needed. I think the clinical trials will have in-built flexibility so that patients can enroll on clinical trials remotely, they can potentially be given some of those medications at home, maybe it would be something where we would check into the patients on a regular basis to make sure things are proceeding in the right way. I think there are increasingly technologies that will allow the patients to communicate in real time with the care team and also provide many of the data that we need through iPads or iPhones, Apple watches, whatever we end up using.

So that is that I think that technology will rapidly take off in the next few years, I think. So I think a lot of the care of the patients with cancer in general, and particularly cancer patients, I think is going to look very different five years from now, because of all these things that we have always thought of and we thought, “Yeah it will take time to implement, it’s difficult.” Now we figure it out in a year. We can do a lot of those things.

Mary Leer:

Yeah, thank you.

Jeff Bushnell:

For the final question, you’ve given tremendous information here, Dr. Kumar w What’s the final takeaway for the average cancer patient and caregiver, how to get through this? What’s your bottom line for us all?

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

Bottomline is, I think Your cancer treatment comes first, let’s not compromise on it, let us do it as safe as we can by observing all the instructions in terms of social distancing, masking, avoiding gatherings, getting vaccinated, and make sure you keep connected with your care team. You don’t have to be in the clinic to do that. There’s a variety of different tools, I think every hospital has options to either through their medical records to message their care team, or set up video visits and so forth.

So we want to be in a state where it was before the pandemic in terms of your communications, but use the technology, so we can decrease the risk of exposure without compromising the quality of care.

Mary Leer:

Alright, well, thank you so much, Dr. Kumar, that you have just given us such valuable information, and I want to thank Jeff as well, and the Patient Empowerment Network for putting this together.

Jeff Bushnell:

Thank you, Dr. Kumar, appreciate it.

Dr. Kumar:

Thank you, Jeff.

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

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

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

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

Download Guide

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Transcript:

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Roeker:                 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Roeker:                 

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

                  

What Should CLL Patients Know About COVID-19 Vaccines?

What Should CLL Patients Know About COVID-19 Vaccines? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What should chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients know about the COVID-19 vaccines? Dr. Matthew Davids shares information on COVID-19 vaccine safety and efficacy – and whether a specific vaccine is recommended for CLL patients.

Dr. Matthew Davids is Director of Clinical Research in the Division of Lymphoma at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Davids here.

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Transcript:

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.

What AML Patients Should Know About the COVID-19 Vaccines

What AML Patients Should Know About the COVID-19 Vaccines from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are some key points for acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients to understand about the COVID-19 vaccines? Dr. David Sallman shares advice for patients who are considering the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. David Sallman is an Assistant Member in the Department of Malignant Hematology at Moffitt Cancer Center where he specializes in myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN). Learn more about Dr. Sallman, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe for AML patients, and how does the vaccine affect treatment, if at all?

Dr. Sallman:

Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I think it’s really a rapidly evolving day-by-day update. For example, at our center, we vaccinated a high number of patients and we’re actually in a study trying to understand what their antibody production. So, I think the question is less ‘is it safe or not safe,’ but more is it as effective or worthwhile based on patients that have low blood counts.

I think, in general, if a patient is in remission, either post-therapy or on maintenance-type therapy that has a relatively preserved white count and is it’s very reasonable to utilize it, I think we still have the caveat of is it as effective, of course we don’t know that clearly since all the large trials, these patients weren’t really included. But in general, if you’re not severely leukopenic, we are vaccinating a high percentage of patients that we’re monitoring closely, but anecdotally, we’ve not had significant different adverse events from our perspective.

COVID-19 Vaccination: What Do Breast Cancer Patients Need to Know?

COVID-19 Vaccination: What Do Breast Cancer Patients Need to Know? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is it safe to get the COVID-19 vaccine if you have breast cancer? Dr. Halle Moore of Cleveland Clinic provides valuable insight, including a discussion of side effects and the importance of staying up-to-date with visits and screenings.

Dr. Halle Moore is Director of Medical Breast Oncology at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Moore, here.

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Transcript

Dr. Halle Moore:

For most adults with cancer or with a history of cancer, vaccination against COVID-19 with one of the newly approved vaccines is definitely recommended.

Common side effects after the COVID vaccinations are a sore arm, which is probably one of the most common side effects that we see. Fatigue and muscle aches can occur. Also, some patients will experience fever and chills, and that seems to be especially after the second dose of the vaccine. Rarely, severe allergic reactions can occur. And also, some people will experience enlargement of lymph nodes, typically in the underarm area or in the neck on the side of the vaccination.

This is particularly important for cancer patients to be aware of since enlarged lymph nodes could also be seen with cancer, and that might be alarming to some patients if they experience this side effect without knowing that that is a normal immune response to the vaccine.

In addition, cancer patients who are getting imaging, either a CAT scan or even a routine mammogram, if they get that imaging soon after the vaccine, the lymph nodes could be seen on imaging, and that might raise a concern as well. So, it’s important that patients let their provider know if they’ve had a recent vaccine and they’re getting any kind of imaging or mammogram.

So, breast cancer patients who are on chemotherapy or other treatments that could affect the immune system should definitely discuss with their oncology team the timing of vaccination with respect to their treatments.

This often needs to be individualized based on the planned duration of the cancer treatment as well as how much that treatment actually affects the immune system. In general, it is safe to get the vaccine during chemotherapy. It’s just that there may be a potential for reduced immune response during certain types of chemotherapy.

On the other hand, some chemotherapies are given more long term. And we don’t generally advise interrupting the chemotherapy for vaccination. So, oftentimes, we will recommend vaccination even in the setting of cancer treatment. Certainly, anti-estrogen treatments, hormonal treatments for breast cancer, or radiation treatment for the breast cancer should not alter either the safety or the effectiveness of these vaccines.

So, some of the ingredients in the various vaccinations that have led to these allergic reactions that we’ve heard about are also present in certain chemotherapy drugs. So, for people who have had a life-threatening reaction to chemotherapy, for instance, an anaphylactic reaction, it would be a good idea to discuss with your oncologist whether you should see an allergist prior to vaccination. This is something that we’re recommending for patients who’ve had severe allergic reactions to try to determine what component the reaction was to and whether vaccination with any of the individual vaccines might be safest.

Delaying care for non-COVID-related health concerns has been a major concern over the past year. It’s important for people to know that hospitals and medical clinics have numerous safety precautions in place. And we are really strongly encouraging everyone to continue to address all of their healthcare needs and to receive important treatments, particularly cancer treatments.

February 2021 Notable News

February may be the shortest month, but it is definitely not short on news, and it is full of surprises. From green tea to feces, and genetic testing to fertility, this month has it all and then some. There’s a lot of information to learn, but there are also answers to some pressing questions that many cancer patients have been asking.

Covid-19 Vaccines

Questions about the Covid-19 vaccines are on the minds of many cancer patients these days, and now the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions can be found at cancer.gov. The questions include why cancer patients are considered a high priority group for the vaccine, which cancer patients should not get the vaccine, and how effective the vaccine is in people with cancer. Answered by Steven Pergam, M.D. with the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, the answers provide the latest recommendations regarding the Covid-19 vaccines and cancer patients. Find out more here.

Cancer and Fertility

For younger patients with cancer, fertility can be a concern, and many are relying on non-profit organizations to help them, reports apnews.com. Cancer treatments such as radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy can negatively affect fertility so many patients look into fertility preservation options, but the procedures can cost $15,000 or more. Further, very few states mandate that insurance companies cover fertility preservation costs for patients who will likely become infertile from medical treatments, so coverage is often denied, and many patients end up taking on exorbitant debt to pay for the treatments themselves. However, there are now non-profit organizations that will help pay at least some of the costs of fertility preservation procedures for women with cancer. Advocates say these organizations, often funded on small donations, offer a lifeline to young cancer patients, but that the situation is not ideal. They say a change in the system, creating a federal mandate for fertility protection, is the ultimate goal. Learn more here.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer in women is now the most diagnosed cancer in the world, reports cnn.com. Making up 11.7 percent of all new cancer cases, breast cancer in women has surpassed lung cancer as the most diagnosed cancer. However, lung cancer continues to be the leader in the number of cancer deaths. The increase in breast cancer is likely related to risk factors including excess body weight, physical inactivity, and alcohol consumption. Find more information here.

Neuroblastoma

Researchers are closer to understanding neuroblastoma, an aggressive cancer most often found in young children, reports sciencedaily.com. A study showed that the levels of a chromosome instability gene called USP24 were low in children whose neuroblastoma tumors were extremely aggressive. They also found that USP24 plays a role in protecting cells during cell division. Learn more about the study findings here.

Fecal Transplant to Treat Cancer

Cancer researchers will look just about anywhere to find better treatments, including in fecal matter. A new study shows that patients with cancer that don’t respond to immunotherapy drugs, can benefit from an adjustment to the gut microbiome through a fecal transplant, reports cancer.gov. In the study, some patients with advanced melanoma who did not respond to immunotherapy, did respond after a fecal transplant from a patient who had responded to the immunotherapy. The study shows that altering the gut microbiome can improve a patient’s response to certain types of therapy. More research is needed to determine which microorganisms are involved in creating the response to the immunotherapy, but the findings could lead to better ways to treat patients who don’t initially respond to treatments. Learn more about the study and its results here.

Urine Testing to Detect Cancer

A study shows that DNA fragments found in urine can indicate whether a person has cancer, reports sciencedaily.com. Scientists say there is a lot more research to be done between this new discovery and using urine samples to detect cancer, but the discovery is encouraging. Further research could potentially lead to early, noninvasive detection of cancer. Learn more here.

Genetic Testing

While a consumer-based genetic test might be great for identifying common traits, it is not as reliable in identifying diseases, reports cnn.com. The single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) test is used by consumer DNA and ancestry companies to detect traits people share, such as eye color and height, but when it comes to identifying rare disease-causing mutations, the SNP test wasn’t very reliable. Researchers found the SNP test to perform so poorly in detecting genetic variants for disease that they recommend the results never be used to guide a patient’s medical care. In fact, people who have relied on the SNP test results have endured invasive and unnecessary procedures based on false positive results. Learn more here, and if you think you are at risk for cancer, consult your doctor for proper screening.

Benefits of Green Tea

There is good news for tea lovers. Drinking green tea may be able to prevent the development of cancer, reports goodnewsnetwork.org. An antioxidant in the tea increases the level of a gene called p53, which is known as the “Guardian of the Genome” because it can repair DNA damage and destroy cancer cells. Scientists are hoping to be able to make a drug that would mimic the effects the antioxidant in green tea has on p53. Learn more here.

Benefits of Exercise

It doesn’t matter how hard you exercise as long as you exercise. Physical activity during cancer treatment is known to be beneficial for physical and mental health and may even reduce some of the side effects from treatment, but a new study shows that the intensity of the training does not seem to matter, reports sciencedaily.com. The study followed 577 breast, prostate or colorectal patients, ages 30 to 84, who were randomly assigned either high or low to moderate training programs. While there were some differences in the results, the researchers concluded that the intensity of exercise didn’t differ in a clinically relevant way. Learn more about the study findings here.

Cancer-Related Suicides Decreases

A new study shows that the suicide rate related to cancer has decreased in the United States between 1999 and 2018, reports cancer.gov. Researchers were prompted to examine the cancer-related suicide rates by advances in palliative and supportive care, hospice, and mental healthcare, as well as easier access to resources, but the study cannot make a direct link between improved care and the incidence of cancer-related suicides. While the decreased number of incidences is good news, cancer patients remain in a high-risk group for suicide, and there is now greater focus on screening those who may be depressed. The National Cancer Institute is funding research to develop technology for screening and treatment of depression during oncology office visits. Learn more here, and if you, or someone you know, is in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to anyone. All calls are confidential. You can also contact the Crisis Text Line, a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7, and confidential.