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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.