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

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

Katherine Banwell:    

Hello and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today we’re going to focus on how patients can aim to live and thrive with advanced prostate cancer. We’re going to discuss treatment goals and the role patients can play in making key decisions. Before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you. Well let’s meet our guests today. Joining me is Dr. Rana McKay. Dr. McKay, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Rana McKay:     

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay:        

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay:        

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay:       

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

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay:       

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay: 

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

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

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

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay:       

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

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

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay:        

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay:       

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

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

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay:       

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

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay:       

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay: 

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

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay: 

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

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

Katherine Banwell:    

What do you mean by volume overload?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay: 

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

Katherine Banwell:    

What does that mean?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

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

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay: 

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

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay: 

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

But um, it can be utilized as well.

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay: 

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

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay: 

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

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

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay: 

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

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

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay: 

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

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay: 

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

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

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah.

Dr. Rana McKay: 

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

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. How can patients find specialists near them?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

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

Katherine Banwell:    

How can caregivers best support their loved ones?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

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

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay:        

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay:

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

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay:       

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

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

Katherine Banwell:    

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

Dr. Rana McKay:       

Of course. My pleasure.

Katherine Banwell:    

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

What Could Boost COVID Vaccine Effectiveness in CLL Patients?

What Could Boost COVID Vaccine Effectiveness in CLL Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Many patients with CLL worry about whether the COVID vaccine will be effective for them. Dr. Catherine Coombs explains how the vaccine works for CLL patients and available options to boost its efficacy. 

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

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Transcript:

Katherine:

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

Dr. Coombs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Coombs:

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Coombs:

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

Is the COVID Vaccine Safe and Effective for Waldenström Macroglobulinemia (WM) Patients?

Is the COVID Vaccine Safe and Effective for Waldenström Macroglobulinemia (WM) Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Shayna Sarosiek of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute discusses the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine for Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM) patients.

Dr. Shayna Sarosiek is a hematologist and oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute where she cares for Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM) patients at the Bing Center for Waldenstrom’s. Dr. Sarsosiek is also Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Learn more about Dr. Sarosiek, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

This is a question on many people’s minds these days. Is the COVID vaccine safe and effective for people with Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia?  

Dr. Sarosiek:

So, in general, we highly recommend the COVID vaccines for our patients with Waldenstrom’s. We think it’s very helpful; it’s usually very safe for patients. But the one caveat is that it’s sometimes not as effective for patients with Waldenstrom’s as it is for patients who are otherwise healthy. There are a lot of data coming out that the antibodies or the part of the immune system is not responding as well in patients with Waldenstrom’s as in other healthy patients.  

And so, Waldenstrom’s patients often need to get more doses of vaccines to get the same effectiveness as healthy patients might. And so, it’s really important to follow up with your provider to really get a good idea of how many doses you can have or should have. And the other really important part of that is making sure that those are time appropriately with your therapy. Because we know that the effectiveness of the vaccine is really related any recent therapies that patients might have had.  

So, making sure that’s an open conversation with your physician about if it’s the right time to get your next vaccine. And if its’ not the time for the vaccine or if the vaccine is not going to be effective for you, there are potential other options such as Evusheld, which is an antibody against COVID that can offer similar efficacy as a vaccine might in terms of giving you antibodies if your own body can’t make them. 

Katherine:

And when you refer to COVID vaccine doses, are you including the boosters? That people should be getting? 

Dr. Sarosiek:

Yeah. So, initially patients should have a core series of vaccines essentially. So, in most people – in healthy people – that’s generally two doses are considered the core before you start boosters. In patients with Waldenstrom’s or patients who are immunosuppressed, that initial core series is three vaccines. And then the ones after that would be considered the booster vaccines. 

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

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

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

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

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prostate cancer treatment decisions

Using Your Voice to Partner in Your Prostate Cancer Treatment Decisions


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

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

Before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you. Joining us today is Dr. Atish Choudhury. Dr. Choudhury, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Choudhury:        

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

Katherine:                  

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

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

Dr. Choudhury:          

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Choudhury:              

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Choudhury:            

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Choudhury:           

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Choudhury:             

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Choudhury:            

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Choudhury:           

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

If you would start with surgery?

Dr. Choudhury:            

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Choudhury:          

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

What about hormonal therapy?        

Dr. Choudhury:   

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Choudhury:           

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

Right.        

Dr. Choudhury:   

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

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

Yeah. Where do clinical trials fit in?

Dr. Choudhury:       

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

Are there emerging approaches that patients should know about?   

Dr. Choudhury:        

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Choudhury:   

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

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Choudhury:           

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Choudhury:   

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Choudhury:        

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Choudhury:         

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Choudhury:           

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Choudhury:   

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

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

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

Katherine:                   

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

Dr. Choudhury:           

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Choudhury:          

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Choudhury:           

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

Katherine:                  

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

March 2022 Notable News

With all the research done in the field of oncology, we are still learning about the negative impact the pandemic has had on cancer patients. Covid has taken a toll on everyone, but it has hit cancer patients especially hard. March also brings some positive news, an exciting discovery that could lead to important advances in pancreatic cancer treatments. Finally, man’s best friend is also contributing to cancer prevention and cancer screening.

Covid’s Effects on Cancer Care

Cancer patients are more prone to severe coronavirus disease, some do not respond as well to COVID-19 vaccines, and they face delays in diagnosis and treatment due to the pandemic reports CancerHealth.com . During the pandemic and quarantine, people missed screening opportunities, and this is causing an increase in later stage cancer diagnosis. Patients with lung cancers and blood cancers are at a higher risk of having a more severe case of Covid and do not respond well to the vaccine. Cancer patients also face delays in needed treatments during the pandemic. Another negative impact of Covid is the toll it takes on a patient’s mental health due to isolation and financial stress. Racial minorities and people with lower incomes have been hit the hardest during the pandemic. Finally, cancer research has been negatively affected due to labs closing and clinical trials getting delayed. As a nation, we need to look at the toll Covid has taken on the field of oncology and make changes to lessen the impact of a pandemic in the future. Find more information here.

Molecule Discovered that Can Kill Pancreatic Cancer

A research team led by scientists at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center has discovered a molecule that inhibits the growth and metastasis of pancreatic cancer cells through the iron metabolism pathway reports MedicalXpress.com . This molecule works on iron metabolism to kill the cancer cells and proteins that cause cancer growth. A door has now opened for development of a new pancreatic cancer treatment. Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) cells have mutations that make it difficult to treat with chemotherapy. This molecule causes ferroptosis, cell death triggered by iron, in PDAC which can lead to new and effective treatments. Find more information here.

Dogs Help Sniff Out Cancer

Cancer cells give off a specific odor—traces of which can be detected by dogs through human urine, breath, skin, sweat, and feces, reports HealthDigest.com . Dogs can smell this odor before the cancer spreads, allowing for early detection. Currently, there is an eight month long intensive training for detection dogs. The canine scent detection will be used as a screening tool. Research is being done as to what biologic compounds the dogs smell and then screening tests can be created based on those compounds. Find more information here.

What Role Does Telemedicine Play in Acute Myeloid Leukemia Care?

What Role Does Telemedicine Play in Acute Myeloid Leukemia Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

In acute myeloid leukemia (AML) care, how can telemedicine be used? Watch as expert Dr. Catherine Lai shares different situations where telemedicine has served as a helpful tool and instances when in-person visits are optimal for patient care.

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Transcript:

Sasha Tanori:

My care team suggested a clinical trial for a new drug focusing on improving my lung function, fortunately, my lungs improved on their own. Dr. Lai, not every AML patient is offered a clinical trial as a care option, what advice do you have for AML patients who are seeking clinical trials, and what’s the best way to locate one?

Dr. Catherine Lai:

Yeah, so this is an area, a huge area of unmet need, I would say in general, across all oncology trials, and I think less than 10 percent of the patient population is on trials, there’s a lot of stigmas around clinical trials and are you getting…are you getting a drug that we don’t know what’s going to work, am I being…am I being tested? In oncology, I would say for the most part, we try to make trials where you’re being measured to the standard, so you’re getting the standard plus, or we’re trying not to…just in terms of doing what’s best for the patient, in general, I don’t offer trials to patients where I don’t think that there’s scientifically a rationale for those drugs, but to answer your question, the best place to look is on clinicaltrials.gov. That’s cumbersome. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, I can give you a lot of unnecessary information. There are a lot of other resources out there, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is a great resource. I know that they have online or people that you can talk to in terms of helping you direct specific clinical trials, I know depending on where you live in the country, there are other local new chapters, oncology chapters that we have that can help patients find…

And have access to clinical trials, and then I think the biggest thing is just if a patient is with the community oncologist, having enough education to say, can I have a referral to an academic institution where they can ask those questions and get that information, and local community oncologists are fantastic, but they see everything, they see breast cancer, they see one cancer where the academic centers were specialized where all I see is leukemia and MDS kind of acute leukemias. So, it’s just a different set of knowledge.

Lung Cancer Advocate Shares How to Optimize Your Telemedicine Visit

Lung Cancer Advocate Shares How to Optimize Your Telemedicine Visit from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can lung cancer patients optimize their telemedicine visits? Watch as lung cancer patient Jill shares her top tips for how to prepare for virtual visits and how to advocate for yourself when communicating for optimal care.

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Transcript:

Jill:

One thing that someone else recently mentioned to me is to be patient with the doctor who might be late, and I don’t mind actually, the doctor’s late or early. I’ve had a doctor be up to half an hour early or up to an hour late, and that doesn’t bother me, I just go on living life and doing other things while I wait for the call, but I do book a bigger chunk of time on my calendar with the expectation that doctors are really busy people and they can’t always predict how long something else will go or what would come up, so it’s good to be understanding about it for sure. 

It’s also helpful for me and a lot of people to write a list of questions, symptoms, and make sure that you get them all answered, so write them down and actually check them off, or cross them off while you’re in the appointment, because you don’t wanna walk away from there thinking, oh shoot, there was that one big question I had and some doctors are okay with getting an email or something between appointments, and some nurses are great to call, but not everyone has that opportunity. 

So, I would say, make the most of your appointment just like you would in-person. Take good care to make sure that you’re advocating for yourself, and if the doctor says words after you ask your cost your question, you don’t feel like you understood them. Don’t be embarrassed or afraid or anything… just ask again, ask for clarification. Sometimes these doctors talk in big words, and my doctor has been great, my oncologist he would like draw pictures and I ask him often to write words down for me if I don’t know how to spell them because why would I know how to spell that? I don’t have a medical and oncology degree, so there’s no shame in asking questions, asking questions is smart, and it helps make us better informed, and it’s true that a better informed and a better-informed patient is a more empowered patient, and we tend to have better outcomes, when we know what’s going on in our treatment, so take the time to ask your questions.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Lung Cancer Patient Shares Top Tips for Utilizing Telemedicine

Lung Cancer Patient Shares Top Tips for Utilizing Telemedicine from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Stage IV lung cancer survivor and nurse Gina has taken advantage of telemedicine opportunities in her care. Watch as she shares her perspective about the benefits of telemedicine and her hopes for the future. In Gina’s words, “..no matter where they are in the world, I don’t think that where you live should determine if you live, I think everyone should have access to the very best care…”

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Transcript:

Gina:

When it comes to telemedicine, I think that we have to think of it as an adjunct to care, so it wouldn’t replace your actual care with your doctor, and so I think that utilizing telemedicine would really just be kind of like getting a second opinion, getting somebody else to look at your case, and it would have been an opportunity really for you and your community doctor to work with an expert in the field, wherever, whatever disease state you’re being treated it with, and I think that’s one of the silver linings of COVID that we can use, so it wouldn’t necessarily be that telemedicine is taking over your care, but it’s really just an adjunct to your care. So, you would still be touched by your doctor, you still would be assessed by your community doctor, but that community doctor would be leaning on the expertise of the doctor in which you’re getting a second opinion or you’re consulting with…so I think that’s the way that we have to think of telemedicine and diversifying and really making sure that everybody has access to the best care, it’s not really in placement of your normal care, but just an adjunct, so in addition to your care. 

One thing that I really hope that we can benefit from is…I hope that we can really learn from COVID. We learned that really there is a disease that is not defined by borders, and so I hope that we can use the opportunities and the things the way that we were, so I guess we persevered in spite of a disease, I hope we can use that for clinical trials to and so what I mean by that is I feel like the silver lining of COVID was telemedicine, and we were able to provide telemedicine to patients no matter where they were, no matter how they felt, they were able to have the best of the best care right in the comfort of their own home. And so one of the things that I actually personally benefited from was because of COVID, telemedicine was open up everywhere, and so I was able to actually get care from some of the best ALK cancer experts in Boston through telemedicine, and so I wasn’t actually required to travel to Boston instead, I could meet with that doctor by Zoom, and sadly, once the COVID mandates were lifted, that hospital was no longer providing telemedicine, so I was getting this great care, this expert advice in my disease process, and all of a sudden it was stopped, and so I hope that one of the things that we can do is figure out ways to utilize telemedicine to really bring the best care to patients no matter where they are in the United States or really…no matter where they are in the world, I don’t think that where you live should determine if you live, I think everyone should have access to the very best care, and I think it can be delivered through telemedicine.

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

Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe and Effective for Breast Cancer Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What do breast cancer patients need to know about COVID-19 vaccines? Dr. Jane Lowe Meisel offers her advice and perspective about COVID vaccines and precautions for breast cancer patient safety.

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

[Editor’s Note: On August 23, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for individuals 16 years of age and older.]

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Let’s shift gears for a moment and talk about another time sensitive topic, COVID. Now that vaccines are available, are they safe and effective for breast cancer patients?

Dr. Meisel:

Yeah, I think the short answer to that is yes, absolutely. I’m encouraging all my patients, no matter what their treatment status is to go ahead and get vaccinated. And with the delta variant being more transmissible, I think it’s all the more time, even if you haven’t considered vaccination up until now, to really go ahead and strongly consider getting a vaccine.

I think some of the hesitations that some of the people have talked to me about is that there were not a lot of active cancer patients, if any, included in the initial trials. And whereas that is true, it’s still the case that now, so many cancer patients have been vaccinated. We haven’t really heard about adverse effects in vaccination being something that’s higher in patients who have cancer who are on active treatment. I think the one challenge is, if you have a compromised immune system because of cancer treatment, there’s the possibility that you might not mount the same immune response to the vaccine as someone who doesn’t have cancer or isn’t getting active treatment.

So, while I would say yes, definitely get vaccinated, I would also at the same time encourage caution in saying, because you might not mount the same, 95 percent or whatever immune response, it may still be a good idea to wear a mask when you go to the grocery store, taking those precautions because no one really knows what’s coming and it’s better to be safe than sorry. But I think we will get a lot of information as the months go on about, do we need boosters? Who might need boosters more soon than others and some of that will get clarified for us, but my short answer would be yes, vaccines for all.

Katherine:

Excellent, that’s very helpful.

Dr. Meisel:

Thank you.

What Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients Should Know About Treatment and Research

What Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients Should Know About Treatment and Research from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What do metastatic breast cancer patients need to know about treatment and research? Dr. Jane Lowe Meisel shares updates and recommends resources for staying abreast of research news.

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

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Transcript:

Katherine:

So, let’s start by discussing the latest developments in treatment and research updates. Are there recent developments you feel breast cancer patients should know about?

Dr. Meisel:

Absolutely and I think it’s really been such a remarkable time because even during COVID, a pandemic, where I think a lot of people worried that research efforts would shut down or stall. We’ve still seen the approval of a number of drugs in the past year that’ve really already markedly changed lives. And a lot of important findings that’ve come out of other trials that they have opportunity to do that as well.

I think some of the biggest information that was presented at our most recent large meeting, which was the American Society of Clinical Oncology, or ASCO National Meeting in 2021, were a few things that pertain to the metastatic breast cancer population. One was two studies, the PALOMA-3 Trial and the MONALEESA-3 Trial, which looked at a class of drugs called CDK4-6 inhibitors along with anti-estrogen pills in metastatic estrogen-positive breast cancer.

And really confirm for patients that not only do these drugs improve the amount of time that people can stay on treatment before their cancer progresses, but actually improve how long people live. Even when they’re used very, very early on in treatment, they impact survival down the line for many, many years. So, it really confirms for physicians like me that this class of drugs should be used as the standard of care and first line for patients with estrogen-positive stage IV breast cancer, and I think that’s important for patients to know. Along those lines, there’s a drug called sacituzumab govitecan, or Trodelvy, which is a much easier to say name.

Katherine:

Yes.

Dr. Meisel:

A new antibody drug conjugate in triple-negative metastatic breast cancer. And we’ve also seen, since this drug was approved last year, it has markedly changed the lives of many patients with triple negative disease. And the study called the ascent trial, which is what led to that drug’s approval was studied further and some of these additional results presented at ASCO this year.

And found that this drug not only improves again, how long people get before they have to move on to another treatment, but actually improves how long people live as well, even when given later on in the course of therapy. So again, really encouraging use especially in triple-negative metastatic disease, which is hard to treat. And I think another study that’s really worth patients and doctors taking a hard look at, was actually a study that looked at patient outcomes and patient experience. This is a study that actually talked with metastatic patients and gathered their views on treatment related adverse effects.

Talked to patients about what adverse effects they were experiencing from drugs. How they managed those adverse effects. And found that most patients, over 90 percent, will be willing to talk about reducing the dose of drugs or changing dosing schedules, in order to improve quality of life. And I think that’s really important because a lot of times, the doses of drugs that get approved are the doses that are the highest doses that don’t cause extreme toxicity. But sometimes people can have effective, really good outcomes on lower doses and have much better quality of life.

And in metastatic breast cancer where really the goal often times is to help people live as long as they can, but also as importantly, as well as they can, be able to have those open-ended conversations between patients and doctors about what’s really impacting your quality of life now and how can we make that better is important. And this study I think really highlighted that both for patients and physicians, how important that back and forth is to having a successful outcome. Both in terms of how life is lived, but in terms of quality of that life.

Katherine:

Right. Right. How can patients stay up to date on developing research?

Dr. Meisel:

It’s so interesting because there is so much coming out and I think it can be hard to figure out what Phase I study that looks exciting is really going to become something, versus what really could be important in my treatment today. And what I always tell people is actually, the NCI website. So, the national cancer institute, has a phenomenal page looking at advances in breast cancer research. So, if you Google NCI advances in breast cancer research, there’s a great page that comes up. And it’s impressively up to date and I think very patient friendly.

Breaks things down into early stage and metastatic and then in the metastatic section, talks about estrogen-positive, HER2-positive, triple-negative, which we can talk about more today but are the three big subtype of metastatic disease that dictate how we treat them. And then have links to all the different research updates and talk about what these drugs are, what the classes are and what the settings are in which they’re studies.

And so, I think that’s a really great first stop and then the links can take you to all different stuff that’s on the page that you might want to look into more in depth. And then also, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which is a phenomenal organization. They have a great website, too and if you click around on the website, you can see not only who they’ve donated money to that’s doing promising research, they also have podcasts, they have a blog with science and research news. I think that’s a really great site for patients to use to stay updated. 

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

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

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

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Transcript:

Why should you ask your doctor about genetic testing?

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

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

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

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

So why do the test results matter?

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

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

How can make sure you have had essential biomarker testing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Transcript:

Katherine:

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

Dr. Hussain:

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

Very good. Thank you.

Dr. Hussain:

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

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

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

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

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

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

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

Dr. Koff:

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.