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July 2021 Digital Health Roundup

Patients are reporting that they are as satisfied with telehealth care as they are with in-person care, but as the Covid-19 related restrictions are being lifted and the emergency telehealth policies are beginning to expire, things are getting complicated. Patients are already experiencing difficulties in accessing care and are looking to lawmakers to ensure that easy and affordable access to the benefits of telehealth becomes a permanent option.

A recent Cleveland Clinic study surveyed patient satisfaction levels, comfort and ease using technology, and patient-clinician engagement, reports mhealthintelligence.com. The study found that more than 80 percent of patients found that their virtual visits were as good as in-person visits, and more than 53 percent found their visit to be a better experience than an in-person visit. The survey also revealed that patients found virtual visits made it easy to get care and also saved time. Not having to travel and being able to have appointments from home were reasons given for why patients liked virtual healthcare. Patients also noted that their care provider was interested in them and understood their healthcare needs. Some patients had a lower overall satisfaction rate based on experiencing technical difficulties during their visits, and some felt the interface could be improved. Overall, the study confirmed that telehealth continues to enhance healthcare for patients. Learn more here.

Telemedicine may not only be beneficial to patient health, but it could also benefit the health of the planet, reports healthcareitnews.com. A recent study showed that an increased use of virtual healthcare resulted in a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The study found that as the use of telehealth increased and healthcare-related transportation decreased, the resulting greenhouse gas emissions were reduced. Researchers are hopeful that continued use of telemedicine could reduce the impact the healthcare industry has on the changing climate. Read more here.

Expansion of insurance coverage for telemedicine occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic with 22 states changing laws or policies, reports commonwealthfund.org. However, due to the methods used to change the policies, most of the changes are temporary and set to expire after the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, a 2018 survey of physicians found that 18 percent had used telemedicine to provide care, and less than one percent of medical care was provided by telemedicine in January 2020. The pandemic created a need to increase virtual care, and states voluntarily took steps to encourage telemedicine use by patients and providers. While telehealth provided many benefits during the pandemic, the benefits were not equitable to all groups. Other challenges included practitioners charging for services such as short phone calls that would not have been charged prior to the pandemic. Going forward, policymakers will need to monitor data collected during the pandemic to determine the best ways to permanently provide coverage for telemedicine services. Get more information here.

While the temporary telehealth changes are beginning to expire and new measures are not in place, patients and providers are being caught in the middle, reports statnews.com. Telemedicine rules that were in place before the pandemic are coming back into play, and they are making telehealth more costly and inaccessible. Doctors are struggling to keep up with the changing rules, and patients are going to extremes to ensure care – including driving across state lines to rest stops or parking lots to call in for telehealth appointments. Some states are extending the temporary telehealth guidelines, but many have already put an end to them, and that leaves doctors and patients scrambling. With the mounting evidence pointing to the benefits of telemedicine, everyone is left wondering if those benefits will be accessible with the shift in regulations and licensing. The article, which includes examples of how the telehealth policy changes affect patients and providers, is well worth the read. Find it here.

Without federal and state lawmakers continuing to allow for flexible telehealth policies, some of the most vulnerable patients will have a harder time accessing care, reports telecomreseller.com. A study by the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) showed that the majority of health centers predict millions of health center patients could lose access to care if expanded telehealth policies don’t continue. In order to ensure they can continue to reach some of the most vulnerable patients, health centers need lawmakers to permanently adopt policies that will allow for the continuation of remote care, including recognizing health centers as distant site providers and allowing them to provide audio-only telehealth visits. Vulnerable seniors and patients who are in rural areas and below the poverty level will suffer the most. Learn more here.

Whatever happens regarding access to care, healthcare relies heavily on digital infrastructure that could be vulnerable to cybercrime. Senators have introduced a bill that will address the threat of cybercrime, reports healthcareitnews.com. The International Cybercrime Prevention Act was first introduced in 2018 but was reintroduced in 2021 after recent notable cybersecurity attacks including the Colonial Pipeline attack. The bill is aimed at protecting against attacks on critical infrastructure and includes hospitals. Learn more here.

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. 

NCCN Guidance on Safety and Effectiveness of COVID-19 Vaccines for Cancer Patients

NCCN Guidance on Safety and Effectiveness of COVID-19 Vaccines for Cancer Patients from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine recommended for people living with cancer? Dr. Erin Roesch shares recommendations from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) for those undergoing cancer treatment, including guidance on mask wearing and advice for family members.

Dr. Erin Roesch is a breast medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Roesch here.


Transcript:

Katherine: 

Many cancer patients have questions about the COVID vaccine. Is it safe? Do we need to continue wearing masks? Here to address these questions is cancer expert, Dr. Erin Roesch. Dr. Roesch, would you introduce yourself?

Dr. Roesch: 

Hello. And thank you for inviting me to participate in this very important conversation. My name is Erin Roesch. I am a breast medical oncologist at Cleveland Clinic.

Katherine: 

Excellent. Thank you so much for joining us today. I’d like to run through a list of concerns that cancer patients have about vaccines in general and the COVID vaccine specifically.

So, let’s start with a basic question. Should people get vaccinated if they have cancer?

Dr. Roesch: 

Yes. All individuals diagnosed with cancer should get the COVID-19 vaccine as recommended by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network or NCCN.

An immunocompromised state makes many people with cancer at higher risk of serious COVID-19 illness. Those who are vaccinated are less likely to become sick with COVID-19. And, also, vaccinated people who do get COVID-19 are much less likely to become seriously ill.

I would also mention that those living in the same household as a person diagnosed with cancer and caregivers or other close contacts should also get vaccinated.

Katherine: 

Another common question is whether people with cancer should wait for any reason to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Roesch: 

Most people with cancer should get the vaccine as soon as they can with a few exceptions according to NCCN.

People in the process of receiving stem cell transplant or cellular therapy should wait at least three months after they finish treatment to get vaccinated.

Those diagnosed with certain forms of leukemia should also wait a few weeks after receiving treatment to allow their immune system to recover so the vaccine can be effective.

It’s not been clearly defined exactly how chemotherapy affects responses to COVID-19 vaccines. But some data suggests that immune responses may not be as robust. However, it is still recommended that those receiving chemotherapy and also immunotherapy and radiation should get vaccinated whenever they can.

Katherine:

I think a lot of people are concerned too about whether one vaccine is better than another. What would you say to them?

Dr. Roesch:

And that is a common question that I often get in my clinic. And I advise my patients to receive or take whatever vaccine they are offered.

We don’t really have any studies or data at this point suggesting one being better than another in cancer patients.

Katherine: 

Some people are wondering if the vaccine can give a person COVID-19. How would you address that?

Dr. Roesch: 

I would say that as none of the currently available vaccines are made with a live virus, the vaccine itself can’t give a person COVID-19. By getting vaccinated, actually, those who are immunocompromised are really helping society to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Immunocompromised people who get COVID-19 may be more likely to infect others due to prolonged shedding of the virus after infection.

Katherine:

What about side effects? Are the vaccine’s side effects worse for people with cancer?

Dr. Roesch:  

No. Side effects do not appear to be worse for those diagnosed with cancer. Results to date suggest that the vaccine’s side effects in people with and without cancer are really no different.

These side effects, as we have seen, may include arm soreness, rash, fatigue, chills, fever, headache, for example.

Katherine: 

And, finally, can cancer patients stop wearing a mask after they’ve been vaccinated?

Dr. Roesch:

Cancer patients should continue to wear a mask post-vaccination. Many people with cancer may have a harder time actually fighting infections and may not respond as well to vaccines. So, people diagnosed with cancer and their close contacts should get vaccinated and then continue to follow precautions, which include wearing masks, social distancing, hand hygiene.

Katherine:

Is there a certain length of time that people need to continue wearing a mask after being vaccinated?

Dr. Roesch:  

At this time, I would recommend patients continue to follow the CDC guidelines that are currently in place. And at this point, I don’t think we have a projected end time for that yet.

Katherine:    

Is there anything else you’d like to share with cancer patients who may be concerned about vaccinations?

Dr. Roesch:    

I would encourage those diagnosed with cancer to not only themselves get vaccinated but to also really voice and stress the importance of vaccination to those that surround them, including, again, members of their household, close contacts, and even beyond their inner circle.

I would also advise people to try and avoid letting the concern of possible side effects related to the shot deter them from getting it. The symptoms of COVID-19 can be much worse and potentially serious for some compared with the relatively minor side effects that we’ve seen with the vaccine itself.

I also would mention I’ve had personal patients that have expressed concern about functioning of their immune system while receiving chemotherapy and how this might affect their response to the vaccine. I do emphasize to them that even though responses might not be as strong as they may be in the absence of active treatment, I feel like the potential benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks in my mind.

Katherine:   

Thanks so much for joining us today, Dr. Roesch.

Dr. Roesch:

Thank you for having me.

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.

How Cancer Patients Can Protect Themselves Against COVID-19 Variants

The arrival of several COVID-19 vaccines is giving the people of the world hope that we can eventually move past this deadly pandemic. However, while the future is promising, we are not out of the woods quite yet. As the primary virus is seeing a decline, many COVID variants are still spreading, and while doctors are still trying to understand these strains, caution is still required.

Cancer patients need to be extra vigilant during this time as the virus is dangerous for those with existing comorbidities. This fact doesn’t mean that you have to hide from society, but you do need to show caution as you go about your days during these still-dangerous times. To assist, we have compiled some information about situations that could increase the risk of contracting a COVID variant and how you can avoid exposure.

The Current COVID-19 Situation

While we are starting to see an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, we still have a ways to go, especially with several variants making their way around the world. Researchers are still learning about the severity of these variants, but in many cases, they are more transmissible, quicker to spread, and potentially undeterred by current vaccines. When it comes to the risks of COVID with cancer, it is not completely about the disease itself but about the weakened immune system that cancer creates.

Luckily, cancer patients can get the vaccine as long as components of that vaccine are not contraindicated or the patient doesn’t have specific allergies. The only real concern is that with a weakened immune system, the vaccines may be less effective, but it is better than no vaccine at all. It is also a smart idea for caregivers to get the vaccine so they can’t get the virus themselves and transmit it to the patient.

If cancer patients leave the house, they must follow the general safety guidelines that have been recommended throughout the duration of the coronavirus, including wearing masks when in public and staying socially distanced. It is also imperative to wash your hands often for 20 seconds or more at a time. Finally, clean and sanitize the surfaces in your home to avoid excess germs.

Clean Air is Key

Although it has been around for over a year, scientists are still trying to understand the true nature of COVID-19, including how it is transmitted and what factors make it as deadly as it has proven to be. During this research, experts have found a connection between the virus and hazardous air pollutants, and when the two combine, there is a noticeable 9% increase in the death rate. The issue is that particles in bad air can carry the disease, making it easier for people to breathe them in.

There are many signs that you may have poor air quality, including a build-up of dust in vents and corners, unpleasant odors, and an increased humidity around the home that has no explanation. A couple of the most common culprits of bad air quality are mold or asbestos. In both cases, you can have professionals come out to test and determine if they pose a danger, which is a smart idea as both harmful substances are often found in the walls where they can’t be seen. You can also bring in professionals to clean out the mold.

Asbestos is a chemical that was once incorporated into common building materials such as roofing and bathroom tiles. It is incredibly dangerous because once it is inhaled and makes contact with the lungs, prolonged exposure can lead to serious issues, including mesothelioma. If you live in an older home build before the 1980s, have it inspected, and if found, vacate immediately until proper renovations take place.

Needless to say, as a cancer patient, you must be aware of the dangers and make a concentrated effort to maintain clean air within the home. You can do this by placing air purifiers around the house and enforcing proper ventilation with open windows and exhaust fans in the bathrooms.

Avoid Excess Stress

There is no doubt that this is a troubling time in your life. Coming to terms with sickness, managing your medications, and dealing with your family all at once can be especially complicated, but as much as you can, it is important to try and stay as calm as possible and avoid excess stress during this time. The reason is that researchers are beginning to see a link between chronic stress and the severity of COVID-19.

When we get stressed, our bodies develop an increased level of the hormone cortisol. When someone is under a constant state of anxiety, the cortisol levels can remain high and lead to physical ailments, including rapid weight gain, bruising of the skin, and even diabetes. These conditions can affect your immune system and make you vulnerable to COVID-19 and other dangerous conditions and diseases.

While it may be easier said than done, stress management is essential during this challenging moment in your life. You can mitigate your stress by communicating with those you love and taking time to do activities you enjoy to keep your mind off of things. Also, focus on a healthy diet and get exercise when you can, as doing so will boost your mood and keep you busy.

It is also important to be careful of the supplements you take for stress relief and ensure that they don’t conflict with your cancer medications. For instance, many people take medications like Zantac to fight the gastrointestinal issues that can come from stress. However, Zantac has been found to create N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) in the body, which is a dangerous carcinogen that has been known to lead to other forms of cancer. It is a smart idea to speak to your primary oncologist before trying other medications.

As someone on the journey of overcoming cancer, it is especially important to protect yourself against the dangers of COVID-19. By being aware of the risks and making smart decisions, you will get through this and see the light at the end of the tunnel.

How Has Cancer Research Evolved in Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic?

How Has Cancer Research Evolved in Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What have been some benefits for cancer research during the COVID-19 pandemic? Expert. Dr. Shaji Kumar describes some of the clinical trial changes that have been born from the pandemic to improve access to care and to decrease the risk of infection for cancer patients.

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Transcript:

Mary Leer:

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:

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, 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. So I think a lot of the care of the patients with cancer in general, and particularly cancer patients, 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.

Jeff Bushnell:

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:

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.

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.

How Can People Help Achieve COVID-19 Herd Immunity?

How Can People Help Achieve COVID-19 Herd Immunity? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

How can community members help work toward COVID-19 herd immunity? Expert Dr. Shaji Kumar explains why some are hesitant to get COVID-19 vaccines and ways that members in the community can educate others about COVID-19 infection and how vaccine access can be increased in remote areas.

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Transcript:

Jeff Bushnell:

Vaccine hesitancy has really become sort of the issue to the potential of achieving herd immunity, 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? 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:

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

What Information Is There for Those Hesitant About COVID-19 Vaccines?

What Information Is There for Those Hesitant About COVID-19 Vaccines? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

For those cancer patients who have COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, what information is there about vaccine development? Expert Dr. Shaji Kumar shares details about development and clinical trials of the COVID-19 vaccines – and the reasons why testing could be carried out at a rapid rate compared to other vaccines.

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Transcript:

Mary Leer:

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:

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 vaccine doses that have been given, and overall the risk of vaccine related side effects have been very, very minimal.

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 you’d immediately be aware of side effects should that happen.

What Actions Should Cancer Patients in Treatment Take With COVID-19 Vaccination?

What Actions Should Cancer Patients in Treatment Take With COVID-19 Vaccination? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What actions should cancer patients in active treatment take in terms of COVID-vaccination and other measures? Expert Dr. Shaji Kumar shares information about cancer patients undergoing various types of treatment and advice about precautions for cancer patients after full COVID-19 vaccination.

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Transcript:

Jeff Bushnell:

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:

I think there’s one other important aspect 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 some time 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.

What COVID-19 Vaccine Efficacy and Side Effects Do Cancer Patients Experience?

What COVID-19 Vaccine Efficacy and Side Effects Do Cancer Patients Experience? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What do cancer patients experience in COVID-19 vaccine side effects and effectiveness? Expert Dr. Shaji Kumar explains side effects reported in both cancer patients and non-cancer patients, what’s known about immune response from the vaccines, and current COVID-19 vaccine recommendations. 

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Transcript:

Jeff Bushnell:

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?

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. 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, there’s going to be a wide variation in terms of how strong an immune response one might develop against vaccines. 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 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 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

How Can Cancer Patients Protect Themselves During COVID-19?

How Can Cancer Patients Protect Themselves During COVID-19? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can cancer patients and their loved ones protect themselves from COVID-19 infection? Expert Dr. Shaji Kumar shares information about the risk of infection for cancer patients and advice for precautionary measures against the virus.

See More From the Best Care No Matter Where You Live Program

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Transcript:

Mary Leer:

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.

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. 

See More From the Best Care No Matter Where You Live Program

Related Programs:

How Can Cancer Patients Protect Themselves During COVID-19


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.

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.

See More from Engage CLL


Related Resources:

 

Who Is on a Patient’s CLL Care Team?

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.