Tag Archive for: CT scan

How Does Biomarker Testing Impact Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Care?

How Does Biomarker Testing Impact Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Biomarker testing identifies certain genes, proteins, or other molecules present in a biologic sample. Dr. Tejas Patil, of University of Colorado Cancer Center, discusses how results from these tests can be used to determine a treatment approach for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Dr. Tejas Patil is an academic thoracic oncologist at the University of Colorado Cancer Center focused on targeted therapies and novel biomarkers in lung cancer. Learn more about Dr. Patil, here.

See More From INSIST! Lung Cancer

Related Resources:

Why Do Lung Cancer Patients Need Molecular Testing Before Choosing Treatment?

Lung Cancer Targeted Therapy: What Is It and Who Is It Right For?

What Testing Should Take Place After Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment?


Transcript:

Katherine:

Biomarker testing is important prior to choosing therapy for non-small cell lung cancer. What is this test and how long does it take to get results? 

Dr. Patil:

That is a great question. So, a biomarker is a biological molecule found in blood or other body fluids or tissues that is a sign of a normal or an abnormal process.  

Or let me reframe that as it represents having some kind of medical condition or disease. Now, it’s a very broad definition. Basically, a biomarker can be used to see how well the body responds to a treatment for a disease or a condition. And when we look at it from a genetic perspective, sometimes the term that you’ll see is a molecular marker or a signature molecule.  

So, these are terms that are sort of interchangeable with biomarkers. But the role of a biomarker is to help ascertain how well the body responds to a certain medical intervention, broadly speaking. 

Katherine:

Okay. What question should a patient ask their doctor about test results? 

Dr. Patil:

So that’s a very complicated question, and I will do my best to answer it succinctly. So, my personal view is that for any test to be meaningful, it should impact medical decision-making in some very concrete way.  

Specifically, with biomarkers, the result should either be prognostic or predictive and I’ll define what those terms are. So, a predictive biomarker is one that helps determine if a certain therapy will be effective. So, I’m going to use lung cancer as an example. In EGFR mutation in non-small cell lung cancer allows a doctor to prescribe an EGFR targeted therapy called osimertinib (Tagrisso). Therefore, in this example, the EGFR mutation is predictive.  

It opens the door for this targeted option that would otherwise not have been available if the patient did not have this EGFR mutation. A prognostic marker is a little different. This is the type of marker that helps categorize risk. So, in the same example I used earlier, that patient may have an EGFR mutation.  

They can also have a different mutation called TP53. Now this TP53 mutation doesn’t influence therapy. It’s not targetable, but it does influence risk.  

And so, there’s been a lot of emerging data to show that patients with TP53 mutations have worse outcomes on targeted therapies than patients without TP53. And in that case, that mutation is what we call a prognostic biomarker. 

What Questions Should Patients Ask About Joining a Clinical Trial?

What Questions Should Patients Ask About Joining a Clinical Trial? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Before participating in a clinical trial, what questions should you ask? Dr. Pauline Funchain of Cleveland Clinic shares critical questions patients should ask their healthcare team when considering a clinical trial.

Dr. Pauline Funchain is a medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Funchain serves as Director of the Melanoma Oncology Program, co-Director of the Comprehensive Melanoma Program, and is also Director of the Genomics Program at the Taussig Cancer Institute of the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Funchain, here.

Katherine Banwell:

If a trial is recommended, what questions should a patient ask about the trial itself? 

Dr. Pauline Funchain:

Yeah. I mean, I think when it comes to that, I think that the important things to ask, really, are what are the drugs involved, and what your doc thinks about those drugs. 

I think, what is the alternative? So, again, we were talking about option A, B, and C. Is this option A of A, B, and C, or option C of A, B, and C? Are there ones like Cindi mentioned, where if you don’t do it at this point, you’re going to lose the opportunity, because you started on something else. Because a lot of trials require either that a person has never gone through therapy, and so this is sort of first line trial. But some trials are you have to be at the second thing that you’ve been on.  

So, these are the things that matter to know. Are you going to lose an opportunity if you didn’t do it now, or can you do it later, and what is the preference? And I think, practically speaking, a patient really wants to know what is the schedule? Can I handle this? How far away do I live from the place that is giving this trial? 

What are the locations available? Because if there’s a trial and you have to come in every two weeks, or come in four times in two weeks, and then once every month after that, that makes a big difference depending on where you live, what season it is, weather, that kind of stuff.  

And I think the question that you don’t really have to ask, but a lot of people ask, is about cost. So, medical care nowadays is complex, it costs money when you don’t expect it to, it doesn’t cost money when it’s – you just don’t know what will and what won’t. Financial toxicity is something that we really care about. Every center is really trying its best, but it’s hard to do in this type of environment. So, people then get concerned that clinical trials might be even more complex.  

I think clinical trials are much less complex in that way, because a lot more of it is covered by the sponsor, whatever that sponsor is, whether that sponsor is the National Institutes of Health, as a grant, or a pharmaceutical company.  

But, in general, a clinical trial really should cost the same or less than whatever the standard medical care is; that’s the way they’re built. So, many, many people ask us that question, but I think that is the question that probably is less important than what are the drugs, what does your doc think about this, are you going to lose an opportunity if there’s a different sequence, and does this fit into your life and your schedule, and people who can give you rides.  

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah, right.  Are there resources available to assist with the financial impact of a clinical trial? 

Dr. Pauline Funchain:

There are not specific resources for clinical trials; there are specific resources for patients in general, though. There are things like helping with utility bills sometimes, sometimes with rides, I think a lot of clinical trials do pay for things like parking. In general, many trials themselves have extra financial support in them. There was a trial I remember that paid for airfare and lodging, because there were only five centers in the country, and so we had people fly in, and the whole thing was covered. 

It depends on the trial. But in terms of outside of trials, there are always patient advocacy groups and things like that, where certain things can get covered. But often, the types of things that get covered by those groups are the same things that get covered with normal medical care. 

How to Find a Clinical Trial That’s Right for You

How to Find a Clinical Trial That’s Right for You from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

If you are interested in participating in a clinical trial, where do you start? Dr. Pauline Funchain of Cleveland Clinic shares resources for patients on where to find and access a clinical trial that’s right for them.

Dr. Pauline Funchain is a medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Funchain serves as Director of the Melanoma Oncology Program, co-Director of the Comprehensive Melanoma Program, and is also Director of the Genomics Program at the Taussig Cancer Institute of the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Funchain, here.

Katherine Banwell:

So, if a patient is interested in joining a clinical trial, where should they start? 

Dr. Pauline Funchain:

They can start anywhere. There are many places to start. I think their oncologist is a really, really good place to start. I would say an oncologist, depending on their specialties, will have a general grasp of trials, or a really specific grasp of trials. 

I would say that the folks who have the most specific grasp on trials – what is available, what isn’t available, what’s at their center versus the next state over center – are the academic medical centers; the ones that are sort of university centers, places like the Cleveland Clinic where the docs are specialized by the type of cancer. That group of folks will have the best grasp on what’s current, what’s available. 

And so, Cindi, your friend referred you. many people do say that. Just go to whatever your nearest university center is, just because there’s a lot more specialization in that sense. But I think it’s the age of the Internet, so people can look online. Clinicaltrials.gov is a fantastic place to look. It is not as up to date, I think, as something you can get directly from a person at a medical center, but it is a great place to start.  

There are many advocacy groups and websites that will point people to trials. I mean, there are Facebook groups and things, where people will chat about trials. But I think the detail is better at a site like clinicaltrials.gov, and even better with a cancer-specific oncologist at a academic medical center. 

You’ve Chosen to Participate In a Clinical Trial: What Are Next Steps?

You’ve Chosen to Participate in a Clinical Trial: What Are Next Steps? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is it like to participate in a clinical trial? Dr. Pauline Funchain of Cleveland Clinic explains what to expect when joining a clinical trial and colorectal cancer survivor Cindi Terwoord shares her personal experience.

Dr. Pauline Funchain is a medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Funchain serves as Director of the Melanoma Oncology Program, co-Director of the Comprehensive Melanoma Program, and is also Director of the Genomics Program at the Taussig Cancer Institute of the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Funchain, here.
 
Cindi Terwoord is a colorectal cancer survivor and patient advocate. Learn more about Cindi, here.

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Funchain, once a patient like Cindi decides to participate in a trial, what happens next? 

Dr. Pauline Funchain:

So, there is a lot, actually, that happens. So, there is a lead-in period to a trial. So, once you decide, it’s not like you can start tomorrow on a trial drug. What happens really, there’s a whole safety lead-in that we call an enrollment period, where there’s a long checklist of making sure that a person is healthy, and there’s nothing – no organ or anything in particular – where we would be worried about this particular drug. 

So, there’s a checklist, that way there are usually – sometimes there’s a new scan if the last scan is a little bit too old, just so that we know exactly what somebody looks like right when they walk into the trial and start the drug. There are usually some blood tests and procedures that come before, and some of the stuff – half of the blood is for the trial, and half of the blood is for scientist usually, so that they can work on some of the science behind what’s happening to someone on a trial, which is pretty cool.  

And sometimes there is a procedure – a biopsy or something like that – that’s involved.  

But, in general, the lead-in is somewhere usually between two and four weeks from the time somebody decides they’re willing to be on a trial. And there are some extra safety measures, like if you hear about a trial, you can’t go on the trial right away, there’s got to be sort of a thinking period that’s usually about 24 hours before you can literally sign your name on the line.  

But, yeah, I’d expect something about two to three weeks before going on a trial. And then once folks are on a trial, it’s kind of like treatment. It’s just getting the treatments when you get the treatments. Sometimes there’s extra checks, again for safety, on drug levels and things.  

Katherine Banwell:

Would you review the safety protocols in place for clinical trials?  

Pauline Funchain:

Yeah, sure. So, safety is number one when it comes to trials, really. There are guardrails on guardrails on guardrails. But in any clinical trial protocol, it actually starts even before the trial starts. So, whenever somebody wants to bring in a trial, or wants to start a trial – and this is true at any academic institution, or any institution that runs trials – the trial goes through something called an IRB, or an Institutional Review Board, and that board reviews it and says, “Look, is this safe, are we harming people, are we unnecessarily coercing people?” 

And they read through the whole thing. And usually there’s a protocol data monitoring committee that also looks at it, there’s usually two. And there’s a lot of checks that a trial has to go through to make sure it’s safe, and fair, for all participants. So, that happens first.  

And then once the trial opens, there is continual monitoring. Every visit, every number that’s drawn. Any visit, even if the visit isn’t at the hospital that’s running the trial, even if it’s at a local urgent care, all of those things end up getting reported back, and there’s a whole team of people besides.  

So, a patient will see the doc, or the nurse, or maybe sometimes a research coordinator, research assistant. But then there are all these research coordinators that sit in offices that review everything, put it in the computers, and then record everything that happens to someone on the trial.  

And all of that data actually goes to an external review organization, a clinical trial research organization. And what they do is, they look over all of the data also. So, it’s not just internal people checking, because internal people may be biased for the people that pay them, right? 

Katherine Banwell:

Right. 

Dr. Pauline Funchain:

All of that data goes to an external monitoring board also, to make sure that everything is going the way it’s supposed to go. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. Cindi, in your experience, did you feel like safety was a priority? 

Cindi Terwoord:

Oh, definitely, definitely, yeah. They were very, very careful. Mine was a two-part; I had a vaccine along with this nivolumab (Opdivo).  

And so, they would have to give me the vaccine, sit there and stare at me, to make sure I didn’t faint or something, and that was a good half-hour.  

Then I got the immunotherapy, and I’d have to wait an hour after that before I started on the chemotherapy.  

Katherine Banwell:

Oh. 

Cindi Terwoord:

Yeah, they were in there watching me like a hawk, and I felt very safe, I really did. 

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Funchain, what are a patient’s rights when they participate in a trial? 

Dr. Pauline Funchain:

So, the most important thing, I think, that Cindi mentioned before is, a patient can withdraw at any time. Any time. They can sign the paperwork, and the next second decide not to. They can be almost to the end of the trial and decide that they want to come off. The last word is always with the patient.  

I think the other thing, in terms of safety, you can see – so every patient before starting a trial gets an informed consent. It is multiple pages, there’s a lot of legalese in it.   

But they do try their best to make it as readable and understandable as possible, so that people can, even if they don’t have a medical background, kind of understand what they’ve gotten. The mechanism of what they’ve gotten, and what new drug they’re getting, and generally what are the risks and benefits.  

For instance, let’s say there’s genetic testing involved, there’s always clauses that tell you what that means, and how protected your genetic information is, that kind of stuff.  

So, it’s a very long thing. And again, once someone gets that, they have to have a certain amount of time before they can sign on the line. So, I think information education, and then the ability to come off if they find necessary. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. What happens after a trial is completed? Is a patient monitored? And if so, how? 

Dr. Pauline Funchain:

So, that depends on the trial.  

Most trials do monitor after either the drug is complete, or the course is complete for a certain amount of time, and it depends on the trial. For some trials, it’s six months after; for some trials, it’s years afterwards. So, in melanoma, we have a trial that just reported out their 7-1/2-year follow-up. But it was actually the first immunotherapy combination of its kind that involved the drug that you had to need nivolumab.   

So, it is pretty cool. I mean, that combination changed the face of what patients with melanoma could come to expect from their treatment, so we’re all very interested to know what that kind of follow-up is. But, yeah, it depends on the trial.  

Participating in a Clinical Trial: What You Need to Know

Participating in a Clinical Trial: What You Need to Know from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Are you considering participating in a clinical trial? In this webinar, Dr. Pauline Funchain, cancer expert and researcher, discusses what to expect when joining a clinical trial, including patient safety and questions to ask your healthcare about trial participation. Patient advocate and colorectal cancer survivor Cindi Terwoord shares her experience and advice for other people with cancer considering joining a clinical trial.

Dr. Pauline Funchain is a medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Funchain serves as Director of the Melanoma Oncology Program, co-Director of the Comprehensive Melanoma Program, and is also Director of the Genomics Program at the Taussig Cancer Institute of the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Funchain, here.
 
Cindi Terwoord is a colorectal cancer survivor and patient advocate. Learn more about Cindi, here.
 

Katherine Banwell:    

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. When faced with a cancer diagnosis, could a clinical trial be your best treatment option? Today, we’re going to learn all about clinical trial participation, what’s involved, and how you can work with your healthcare team to decide whether a trial is right for you.

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. Pauline Funchain.

Dr. Funchain, welcome, would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Pauline Funchain:      

Sure. Thank you for the invitation. So, I’m Pauline Funchain, I am a medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. My specialty is melanoma and skin cancers. I also lead our genomics program here at Taussig Cancer Center.

Katherine Banwell:    

Excellent. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. Pauline Funchain:       

Thank you.

Katherine Banwell:    

And here to share the patient perspective is Cindi, who is a colorectal cancer survivor. Cindi, we’re so pleased to have you with us today.

Cindi Terwoord:        

Thank you, nice to be here.

Katherine Banwell:    

Before we learn more about Cindi’s experience, I’d like to start with a basic question for you, Dr. Funchain. Why would a cancer patient consider participating in a clinical trial? What are the benefits?

Dr. Pauline Funchain:        

So, I mean, the number one benefit, I think, for everyone, including the cancer patient, is really clinical trials help us help the patient, and help us help future patients, really.

We learn more about what good practices are in the future, what better drugs there are for us, what better regimens there are for us, by doing these trials. And ideally, everyone would participate in a trial, but it’s a very personal decision, so we weigh all the risks and benefits. I think that is the main reason.

I think a couple of other good reasons to consider a trial would be the chance to see a drug that a person might not otherwise have access to. So, a lot of the drugs in clinical trials are brand new, or the way they’re sequenced are brand new. And so, this is a chance to be able to have a body, or a cancer, see something else that wouldn’t otherwise be available.

And I think the last thing – and this is sort of the thing we don’t talk about as much – but really, because clinical trials are designed to be as safe as possible, and because they are new procedures, there’s a lot of safety protocols that are involved with them, which means a lot of eyes are on somebody going through a clinical trial.

Which actually to me means a little bit sort of more love and care from a lot more people. It’s not that the standard of care – there’s plenty of love and care and plenty of people, but this doubles or triples the amount of eyes on a person going through a trial.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. When it comes to having a conversation with their doctor, how can a patient best weigh the risks and benefits to determine whether a trial is right for them?

Dr. Pauline Funchain:       

Right. So, I think that’s a very personal decision, and that’s something that a person with cancer would be talking to their physician about very carefully to really understand what the risks are for them, what the benefits are for them. Because for everybody, risks and benefits are totally different. So, I think it’s really important to sort of understand the general concept. It’s a new drug, we don’t always know whether it will or will not work. And there tend to be more visits, just because people are under more surveillance in a trial.

So, sort of getting all the subtilties of what those risks and benefits are, I think, are really important.

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. What are some key questions that patients should ask?

Dr. Pauline Funchain:      

Well, I think the first question that any patient should ask is, “Is there a trial for me?” I think that every patient needs to know is that an option. It isn’t an option for everyone. And if it is, I think it’s – everybody wants that Plan A, B, and C, right? You want to know what your Plan A, B, and C are. If one of them includes a trial, and what the order might be for the particular person, in terms of whether a trial is Plan A, B, or C.

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. Let’s learn more about Cindi’s story. Cindi, you were diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer, and decided to participate in a clinic trial. Can you tell us about what it was like when you were diagnosed?

Cindi Terwoord:        

Yeah. That was in September of 2019, and I had had some problems; bloody diarrhea one evening, and then the next morning the same thing. So, I called my husband at work, I said, “Things aren’t looking right. I think I’d better go to the emergency room.”

And so, we went there, they took blood work – so I think they knew something was going on – and said, “We’re going to keep you for observation.” So, then I knew it must’ve been something bad. And so, two days later, then I had a colonoscopy, and that’s when they found the tumor, and so that was the beginning of my journey.

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. Had you had a colonoscopy before, or was that your first one?

Cindi Terwoord:        

No, I had screenings, I would get screenings. I had heard a lot of bad things about colonoscopies, and complications and that, so I was always very leery of doing that. Shame on me. I go for my other screenings, but I didn’t like to do that one. I have those down pat now, I’m very good at those.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah, I’m sure you do. So, Cindi, what helped guide your decision to join a clinical trial?

Cindi Terwoord:        

Well, I have a friend – it was very interesting.

He was probably one of the first people we told, because he had all sorts of cancer, and he was, I believe, one of the first patients in the nation to take part in this trial. It’s nivolumab (Opdivo), and he’s been on it for about seven years. And he had had various cancers would crop up, but it was keeping him alive.

And so, frankly, I didn’t know I was going to have the option of a trial, but he told me run straight to Cleveland Clinic, it’s one of the best hospitals. So, I took his advice. And the first day the doctor walked in, and then all these people walked in, and I’m like, “Why do I have so many people in here?” Not just a doctor and a nurse. There was like a whole – this is interesting.

And so, then they said, “Well, we have something to offer you. And we have this immunotherapy trial, and you would be one of the first patients to try this.”

Now, when they said first patient, I’m not quite sure if they meant the first colon cancer patient, I’m not sure. But they told me the name of it, and I said, “I’m in. I’m in.” Because I knew my friend had survived all these years, and I thought, “Well, I’ve gotten the worst diagnosis I can have, what do I have to lose?” So, I said, “I’m on board, I’m on board.”

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. Did you have any hesitations?

Cindi Terwoord:        

Nope. No, I’m an optimistic person, and what they assured me was that I could drop out at any time, which I liked that option.

Because I go, “Well, if I’m not feeling well, and it’s not working, I’ll get out.” So, I liked that part of it. I also liked, as Dr. Funchain had said, you go in for more visits. And I like being closely monitored, I felt that was very good.

I’ve always kept very good track of my health. I get my records, I get my office notes from my doctor. I’m one of those people. I probably know the results of blood tests before the doctor does because I’m looking them up. So, I felt very confident in their care. They watched me like a hawk. I kept a diary because they were asking me so many questions.

Katherine Banwell:    

Oh, good for you.

Cindi Terwoord:        

I’m a transcriptionist, so I just typed out all my notes, and I’d hand it to them.

Katherine Banwell:    

That’s a great idea.

Cindi Terwoord:        

Here’s how I’m feeling, here’s…And I was very lucky I didn’t have many side effects.

Katherine Banwell:    

In your conversations with your doctor, did you weigh the pros and cons about joining a trial? Or had you already made up your mind that yes, indeed, you were going for it?

Cindi Terwoord:        

Yeah, I already said, “I’m in, I’m in.” Like I said, it had kept my friend alive for these many years, he’s still on it, and I had no hesitation whatsoever.

I wish more people – I wanted to get out there and talk to every patient in the waiting room and say, “Do it, do it.”

I mean, you can’t start chemotherapy then get in the trial. And if I ever hear of someone that has cancer, I ask them, “Well, were you given the option to get into a trial?” Well, and then some of them had started the chemo before they even thought of that.

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. So, how are you doing now, Cindi? How are you feeling?

Cindi Terwoord:        

Good, good, I’m doing fantastic, thank goodness, and staying healthy. I’m big into herbal supplements, always was, so I keep those up, and I’m exercising. I’m pretty much back to normal –

Katherine Banwell:    

Oh, good for you.

Cindi Terwoord:        

– as far as my strength. I like to lift weights, and I run, so I’m pretty much back to normal.

Katherine Banwell:    

Good for you. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us.

Cindi Terwoord:        

You’re welcome.

Katherine Banwell:    

Dr. Funchain, once a patient like Cindi decides to participate in a trial, what happens next?

Dr. Pauline Funchain:    

So, there is a lot, actually, that happens. So, there is a lead-in period to a trial. So, once you decide, it’s not like you can start tomorrow on a trial drug. What happens really, there’s a whole safety lead-in that we call an enrollment period, where there’s a long checklist of making sure that a person is healthy, and there’s nothing – no organ or anything in particular – where we would be worried about this particular drug.

So, there’s a check list, that way there are usually – sometimes there’s a new scan if the last scan is a little bit too old, just so that we know exactly what somebody looks like right when they walk into the trial and start the drug. There are usually some blood tests and procedures that come before, and some of the stuff – half of the blood is for the trial, and half of the blood is for scientist usually, so that they can work on some of the science behind what’s happening to someone on a trial, which is pretty cool.

And sometimes there is a procedure – a biopsy or something like that – that’s involved.

But in general, the lead-in is somewhere usually between two and four weeks from the time somebody decides they’re willing to be on a trial. And there are some extra safety measures, like if you hear about a trial, you can’t go on the trial right away, there’s got to be sort of a thinking period that’s usually about 24 hours before you can literally sign your name on the line.

But, yeah, I’d expect something about two to three weeks before going on a trial. And then once folks are on a trial, it’s kind of like treatment. It’s just getting the treatments when you get the treatments. Sometimes there’s extra checks, again for safety, on drug levels and things.

Katherine Banwell:    

Would you review the safety protocols in place for clinical trials?

Dr. Pauline Funchain:    

Yeah, sure. So, safety is number 1 when it comes to trials, really. There are guardrails on guardrails on guardrails. But in any clinical trial protocol, it actually starts even before the trial starts. So, whenever somebody wants to bring in a trial, or wants to start a trial – and this is true at any academic institution, or any institution that runs trials – the trial goes through something called an IRB, or an Institutional Review Board, and that board reviews it and says, “Look, is this safe, are we harming people, are we unnecessarily coercing people?”

And they read through the whole thing. And usually there’s a protocol data monitoring committee that also looks at it, there’s usually two. And there’s a lot of checks that a trial has to go through to make sure it’s safe, and fair, for all participants. So, that happens first.

And then once the trial opens, there is continual monitoring. Every visit, ever number that’s drawn. Any visit, even if the visit isn’t at the hospital that’s running the trial, even if it’s at a local urgent care, all of those things end up getting reported back, and there’s a whole team of people besides.

So, a patient will see the doc, or the nurse, or maybe sometimes a research coordinator, research assistant. But then there are all these research coordinators that sit in offices that review everything, put it in the computers, and then record everything that happens to someone on the trial.

And all of that data actually goes to an external review organization, a clinical trial research organization. And what they do is, they look over all of the data also. So, it’s not just internal people checking, because internal people may be biased for the people that pay them, right?

Katherine Banwell:    

Right.

Dr. Pauline Funchain:    

All of that data goes to an external monitoring board also, to make sure that everything is going the way it’s supposed to go.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. Cindi, in your experience, did you feel like safety was a priority?

Cindi Terwoord:        

Oh, definitely, definitely, yeah. They were very, very careful. Mine was a two-part; I had a vaccine along with this nivolumab.

And so, they would have to give me the vaccine, sit there and stare at me, to make sure I didn’t faint or something, and that was a good half-hour.

Then I got the immunotherapy, and I’d have to wait an hour after that before I started on the chemotherapy.

Katherine Banwell:    

Oh.

Cindi Terwoord:        

Yeah, they were in there watching me like a hawk, and I felt very safe, I really did.

Katherine Banwell:     

Dr. Funchain, what are a patient’s rights when they participate in a trial?

Dr. Pauline Funchain:    

So, the most important thing, I think, that Cindi mentioned before is, a patient can withdraw at any time. Any time. They can sign the paperwork, and the next second decide not to. They can be almost to the end of the trial and decide that they want to come off. The last word is always with the patient.

I think the other thing, in terms of safety, you can see – so every patient before starting a trial gets an informed consent. It is multiple pages, there’s a lot of legalees in it.

But they do try their best to make it as readable and understandable as possible, so that people can, even if they don’t have a medical background, kind of understand what they’ve gotten. The mechanism of what they’ve gotten, and what new drug they’re getting, and generally what are the risks and benefits.

For instance, let’s say there’s genetic testing involved, there’s always clauses that tell you what that means, and how protected your genetic information is, that kind of stuff.

So, it’s a very long thing. And again, once someone gets that, they have to have a certain amount of time before they can sign on the line. So, I think information education, and then the ability to come off if they find necessary.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. What happens after a trial is completed? Is a patient monitored? And if so, how?

Dr. Pauline Funchain:    

So, that depends on the trial.

Most trials do monitor after either the drug is complete, or the course is complete for a certain amount of time, and it depends on the trial. For some trials, it’s six months after; for some trials, it’s years afterwards. So, in melanoma, we have a trial that just reported out their 7-1/2-year follow-up. But it was actually the first immunotherapy combination of its kind that involved the drug that you had Cindi, nivolumab.

So, it is pretty cool. I mean, that combination changed the face of what patients with melanoma could come to expect from their treatment, so we’re all very interested to know what that kind of follow-up is. But, yeah, it depends on the trial.

Katherine Banwell:    

Dr. Funchain, are there common clinical trial terms that patients should know?

Dr. Pauline Funchain:    

Yeah, there are trial terms that people hear all the time, and probably should know a little bit about. But I think the most common thing people will hear with trials are the type of trial it is, so Phase I, Phase II, Phase III. The important things to know about that are essentially, Phase I is it’s a brand-new drug, and all we’re trying to do is look for toxicity. Although we’ll always on the side be looking for efficacy for whether that drug actually works, we’re really looking to see if the drug is safe.

A Phase II trial is a trial where we’re starting to look at efficacy to some degree, and we are still looking at toxicity. And then in Phase III is, we totally understand the toxicity, and we are seeing promise, and what we really want to do is see if this should become a new standard. So, that would be the Phase I, II, and III.

Another couple of terms that people hear a lot about are eligibility criteria, or inclusion criteria. So, those are usually some set of 10 to 30 things that people can and can’t be. So, usually trials only allow certain types of cancer, and so that would be an inclusion criteria, but it will exclude other types of cancers. Most trials, unfortunately, exclude pregnant women. That would be an exclusion criteria.

So, these are things that, at the very beginning of a trial, will allow someone to enter, or say, “You’re not in the safe category, we should not put you on a trial.” Many trials are randomized, so people will hear this a lot. Randomization.

So, a lot of times, there is already a standard of care. When there’s already a standard of care, and you want to see if this drug is at least the same or better, then on that trial, there will be two different arms; a standard of care arm and experimental arm.

And then in order to be fair, a randomized trial is a flip of a coin. Based on a electronic flip of a coin – nobody gets to choose; not the doc, not the patient. On that type of trial, you’ll either get what you would normally get, standard of care, or something new. So, that’s a randomized trial. Not all trials are randomized, but some are. And those are the things that people will run into often.

Katherine Banwell:    

So, if a patient is interested in joining a clinical trial, where should they start?

Dr. Pauline Funchain:    

They can start anywhere. There are many places to start. I think their oncologist is a really, really good place to start. I would say a oncologist, depending on their specialties, will have a general grasp of trials, or a really specific grasp of trials.

I would say that the folks who have the most specific grasp on trials– what is available, what isn’t available, what’s at their center versus the next state over center – are the academic medical centers; the ones that are sort of university centers, places like the Cleveland Clinic where the docs are specialized by the type of cancer. That group of folks will have the best grasp on what’s current, what’s available.

And so, Cindi, your friend referred you. many people do say that. Just go to whatever your nearest university center is, just because there’s a lot more specialization in that sense. But I think it’s the age of the internet, so people can look online. Clinicaltrials.gov is a fantastic place to look. It is not as up to date, I think, as something you can get directly from a person at a medical center, but it is a great place to start.

There are many advocacy groups and websites that will point people to trials. I mean, there are Facebook groups and things, where people will chat about trials. But I think the detail is better at a site like clinicaltrials.gov, and even better with a cancer-specific oncologist at a academic medical center.

Katherine Banwell:    

If a trial is recommended, what questions should a patient ask about the trial itself?

Dr. Pauline Funchain:    

I mean, there’s so many questions to ask.

Katherine Banwell:    

Safety is definitely one of them, right?

Dr. Pauline Funchain:    

Yeah. I mean, I think when it comes to that, I think that the important things to ask, really, are what are the drugs involved, and what your doc thinks about those drugs.

I think, what is the alternative? So, again, we were talking about option A, B, and C. Is this option A of A, B, and C, or option C of A, B, and C? Are there ones like Cindi mentioned, where if you don’t do it at this point, you’re going to lose the opportunity, because you started on something else. Because a lot of trials require either that a person has never gone through therapy, and so this is sort of first line trial. But some trials are you have to be at the second thing that you’ve been on.

So, these are the things that matter to know. Are you going to lose an opportunity if you didn’t do it now, or can you do it later, and what is the preference? And I think, practically speaking, a patient really wants to know what is the schedule? Can I handle this? How far away do I live from the place that is giving this trial?

What are the locations available? Because if there’s a trial and you have to come in every two weeks, or come in four times in two weeks, and then once every month after that, that makes a big difference depending on where you live, what season it is, weather, that kind of stuff.

And I think the question that you don’t really have to ask, but a lot of people ask, is about cost. So, medical care nowadays is complex, it costs money when you don’t expect it to, it doesn’t cost money when it’s – you just don’t know what will and what won’t. Financial toxicity is something that we really care about. Every center is really trying its best, but it’s hard to do in this type of environment. So, people then get concerned that clinical trials might be even more complex.

I think clinical trials are much less complex in that way, because a lot more of it is covered by the sponsor, whatever that sponsor is, whether that sponsor is the National Institutes of Health, as a grant, or a pharmaceutical company.

But, in general, a clinical trial really should cost the same or less than whatever the standard medical care is; that’s the way they’re built. So, many, many people ask us that question, but I think that is the question that probably is less important than what are the drugs, what does your doc think about this, are you going to lose an opportunity if there’s a different sequence, and does this fit into your life and your schedule, and people who can give you rides.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah, right. Are there resources available to assist with the financial impact of a clinical trial?

Dr. Pauline Funchain:    

There are not specific resources for clinical trials; there are specific resources for patients in general, though. There are things like helping with utility bills sometimes, sometimes with rides, I think a lot of clinical trials do pay for things like parking. In general, many trials themselves have extra financial support in them. There was a trial I remember that paid for airfare and lodging, because there were only five centers in the country, and so we had people fly in, and the whole thing was covered.

It depends on the trial. But in terms of outside of trials, there are always patient advocacy groups and things like that, where certain things can get covered. But often, the types of things that get covered by those groups are the same things that get covered with normal medical care.

Katherine Banwell:    

Okay. Before we wrap up the program, Cindi, what advice do you have for patients who may be considering participating in a trial?

Cindi Terwoord:        

Do it. Like I said, I don’t see any downside to it. You want to get better as quickly as possible, and this could help accelerate your recovery. And everything Dr. Funchain mentioned, as far as – I really never brought up any questions about whether it would be covered.

And then somewhere along the line, one of the research people said, “Well, anything the trial research group needs done – like the blood draws – that’s not charged to your insurance.” So, that was nice, that was very encouraging, because I think everybody’s afraid your insurance is going to drop you or something.

And then the first day I was in there for treatment, a social worker came in, and they talked to you. “Do you need financial help? We also have art therapy, music therapy,” so that was very helpful. I mean, she came in and said, “I’m a social worker,” and I’m like, “Oh, okay. I didn’t know somebody was coming in here to talk to me.”

But, yeah, like I said, I’m a big advocate for it, because you hear so many positive outcomes from immunotherapy trials, and boy, I’d say if you’re a candidate, do it.

Katherine Banwell:    

Dr. Funchain, do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to leave the audience with?

Dr. Pauline Funchain:    

First, Cindi, I have to say thank you. I say thank you to every clinical trial participant, everybody who participates in the science. Because honestly, whether you give blood, or you try a new drug, I think people don’t understand how many other lives they touch when they do that.

It’s really incredible. Coming into clinic day in and day out, we get to see – I mean, really, even within a year or two years, there are people that we’ve seen on clinical trial that we’re now treating normally, standardly, insurance is paying for it, it’s all standard of care. And those are even the people we can see, and there are so many people we can’t see in other centers all over the world, and people who will go on after us, right?

So, it’s an amazing – I wouldn’t even consider most of the time that it’s a personal sacrifice. There are a couple more visits and things like that, but it is an incredible gift that people do, in terms of getting trials. And then for some of those trials, people have some amazing results.

And so, just the opportunity to have patients get an outcome that wouldn’t have existed without that trial, like Cindi, is incredible, incredible.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. Dr. Funchain and Cindi, thank you both so much for joining us today.

Cindi Terwoord:        

You’re welcome, thanks for having me.

Dr. Pauline Funchain:    

Thank you.

Katherine Banwell:    

And thank you to all of our collaborators. To access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell, thanks for being with us today.

Why Lung Cancer Patient Advocacy Is Essential

Why Lung Cancer Patient Advocacy Is Essential from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez, a lung cancer specialist, discusses the importance of patient advocacy in lung cancer care. Dr. Rodriguez shares how self-advocacy can impact cancer care and how being vocal as a patient advocate can help others in the lung cancer community.

Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez is Associate Director of Community Outreach – Thoracic Oncology at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Miami Health System. Learn more about Dr. Rodriguez, here.

See More from Thrive Lung Cancer

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Why is it so important for patients to share their symptoms and side effects that they’re having with their healthcare team? 

Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez:

So, there are two types of advocacy. There’s the advocacy that you do at your personal level, so if the patient is not telling us that they’re having side effects, weeks can go by and these things don’t get addressed. So, you have to be your own advocate, your family can be a great advocate. It doesn’t matter who you are, if we don’t know your side effects, and you’re not communicating that, we’re not able to impact, and intervene early. But there’s a bigger message of advocacy that is extremely important, specifically in lung cancer for decades. 

I mean, I think for a long time we didn’t have a lot of lung cancer advocates because people were not surviving lung cancer. And now, that we have people live years with lung cancer, metastatic cancer, and really are coming off treatment, now we have patients that can be the guiding light. 

They can tell other patients about how they did, their side effects, can tell their story about how targeted treatment impacted their prognosis. So, advocacy is critical, we don’t have a lot of advocacy in lung cancer. We need advocates in every community, rural communities, urban communities, African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans. In every community there is someone who’s impacted by lung cancer.   

I think that you get something out of it, you feel like you’re helping other people, you’re definitely making people aware. And hopefully, if a legislator hears your story, because last night I was at an advocacy summit, and we had a legislator, and we were asking what really moves legislators to invest in research. And he’s like, “It’s not letter, it’s not emails, it’s these personal stories from patients, and patient advocates.” And we don’t have those stories unless people come out and say and tell them. But they really make people invest, and they really prioritize the importance of research. And that would help you also because if there’s more research, then your next treatment will be funded faster. 

Expert Advice for Recently Diagnosed Lung Cancer Patients

Expert Advice for Recently Diagnosed Lung Cancer Patients from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

A lung cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. Lung cancer specialist Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez shares key advice for recently diagnosed patients, including tips related to essential testing and preparing for appointments.

Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez is Associate Director of Community Outreach – Thoracic Oncology at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Miami Health System. Learn more about Dr. Rodriguez, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

What key advice do you have for recently diagnosed lung cancer patients? 

Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez:

I think that a couple of things. When it’s a diagnosis of lung cancer, it’s very overwhelming, and fortunately now there’s a lot of resources online, but at the beginning there’s a lot of information that you don’t know. So, sometimes if you go online all you do is get scared. I think that you need to answer some very specific questions from your doctor. What is your stage? And then, after your stage, my next question is; what is a molecular driver of my tumor, the sequencing of my tumor?  

In the past, we thought all the lung cancers were the same, but now we know they’re many, many different types of lung cancer. And they’re the EGFR-driven cancers, the ALK, the ROS, they’re all different, they all have different treatment options. And when you go and look online, there’s organized advocacy groups around each of these mutations, and then you can get better information, and valuable kind of insight from the information that is out there. So, I think the first thing is to before you go in the internet, talk to your doctor about your stage and require, not ask lightly.  

Require that your genetic mutation, your sequencing is done at the time of diagnosis of advanced lung cancer. Because that would really determine your treatment.  

So, I think that is very important for patients that get diagnosed. And then also, understand that there are a lot of resources out there, so that you need to ask for questions, bring someone with you. During COVID a lot of the clinics were closed, but we were able to have family members join virtually the visits, and now patients can come in with their family members. 

I find that having someone else in the room who wrote answers and wrote notes, will really help you kind of get the most out of your consultation. And also ask questions for the next time you come, or we have a portal where patients ask questions online. So, the first visit where you get the most questions answered, and sometimes it’s part B and part C. So, you have to keep until you feel satisfied that you understand the plan. We also tell patients that doctors don’t know everything, sometimes the doctor that you have is not the one that you feel you have a connection with. So, know that you have rights, and there are other doctors out there, and you can get second opinions. 

So, you are the best advocate, it’s your life, and you can rely on your doctor, and their physician extenders, physician assistants, nurses, to get as much as you can from that. But also, look outside of your institution, maybe there’s a better option for you. 

How Does Immunotherapy Treat Lung Cancer?

How Does Immunotherapy Treat Lung Cancer? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How does immunotherapy work? Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez, a lung cancer specialist, explains how immunotherapy harnesses the immune system to kill cancer cells and how this treatment approach is transforming lung cancer care.

Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez is Associate Director of Community Outreach – Thoracic Oncology at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Miami Health System. Learn more about Dr. Rodriguez, here.

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Understanding Biomarker Testing for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

What is immunotherapy, and how does it work to treat lung cancer?  

Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez:

So, immunotherapy technically can be used to treat almost every cancer. So, it’s this concept that over time the cancer cells learn to bypass the immune surveillance, which is the way that your body identifies cells that are abnormal and gets rid of them.  

Your immune system can do that. And over time cancer grows and grows faster because your immune cells don’t even recognize that the cancer cells are there. So, immune therapy, specifically the checkpoint inhibitors, they target a receptor that is overexpressed in cancer cells, that make cancer cells invisible to the immune system. So, when you use, for example, some of these antibodies that bind the PD-L1, the programmed death ligand-1 receptor, that in itself gets rid of that veil that is covering the tumor cells. And now, your immune system can recognize the cancer. 

And that is one way of activating the immune system against the cancer, checkpoint inhibitors. There are newer drugs that are coming in the market, newer kind of engineered immune cells that will, in the future, be able to be developed for that specific cell. And in a way, immune therapy is more natural because you’re not getting a chemotherapy is that causes nausea or hair loss.  

You’re getting your immune system kind of ramped up, activated, against your cancer cells. It can have side effects of when you activate all these immune cells, you can cause inflammation in the body that has to be monitored, and some patients can be serious. And also, people have developed autoimmune kind of antibody reactions. So, there is a lot of monitoring that needs to be done. It’s given intravenously. We have doses now that last up to six weeks in some of the major immunotherapies that we use, like pembrolizumab, so you don’t have to come all the time. 

And I think the one thing that I’ve seen that is very promising about immunotherapy is that if you activate your immune system, almost like when you were young you got a vaccine, and you don’t have to get it every year, you have a memory response against that virus. Immunotherapy can achieve that for about 20 to 30 percent of patients today, where they get this memory against the cancer cells, and they could potentially come off treatment. 

Lung Cancer Targeted Therapy: What Is It and Who Is It Right For?

Lung Cancer Targeted Therapy: What Is It and Who Is It Right For? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How does targeted therapy work? Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez defines targeted therapy and shares how this personalized treatment approach attacks lung cancer cells.

Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez is Associate Director of Community Outreach – Thoracic Oncology at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Miami Health System. Learn more about Dr. Rodriguez, here.

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Understanding Biomarker Testing for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

What is targeted therapy and who might it be right for? 

Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez:

So, targeted therapy kind of falls under the umbrella of precision medicine, where if you find a genetic driver, a mutation that is making that cancer grow. And out there we have drugs, we already have nine that are targeting specific genetic changes.  

The targeted therapy is really that treatment, either a pill, or an injection that goes after the genetic driver. And that, in a way, I describe to patients like you have a switch that went on and caused the cancer growth, and now with the targeted therapy we can put that switch off. And those treatments are very important because as they have evolved, they have kind of fill the gaps that chemotherapy had for patients. So, the one thing about targeted therapy is that because you’re going after one specific change, many times they’re less toxic. 

So, cytotoxic chemotherapy to kill lung cancer cells has to unfortunately kill a lot of good cancer cells in your body, specifically red cells, white cells, and platelets. So, that your body has to recover from all this normal tissue that dies, the normal cells that get impacted by the cytotoxic chemotherapy. In targeted therapy there is side effects, but a lot of them are decreased compared to chemo. 

And they’re really going after cells that have this mutation. So, preferentially you’re attacking the cancer and not the whole body. So, that’s an extra advantage for patients. And as we have patients live longer on these treatments, toxicity, and cause, all these things are really critical so that we develop better drugs that are even more specific targeting only what needs to be targeted and cause less side effects. 

Why Do Lung Cancer Patients Need Molecular Testing Before Choosing Treatment?

Why Do Lung Cancer Patients Need Molecular Testing Before Choosing Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How do a patient’s genetic mutations impact lung cancer treatment? Lung cancer specialist Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez emphasizes the importance of undergoing biomarker testing, also referred to as molecular testing, to identify genetic mutations, which may lead to a more personalized lung cancer therapy.

Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez is Associate Director of Community Outreach – Thoracic Oncology at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Miami Health System. Learn more about Dr. Rodriguez, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

What is molecular testing? 

Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez:

So, that is very critical for lung cancer patients today. So, molecular testing is when we get tumor cells, and we analyze the genetic changes that lead to that tumor growth. And that can be done today in different ways. The usual goal standard have been to do a biopsy of the tumor, and then do next generation sequencing when we analyze many, many genes that can impact cancer growth, and then we get a signature what drives that cancer. And in doing that, we discovered that some patients, for example, regardless of who they are, women or men, smokes or non-smokers, they may have a genetic driver that we have a treatment for, that does better than chemotherapy. 

So, that is important that you identify that as early as possible.  

Katherine Banwell:

Why is it necessary for patients to undergo molecular testing prior to a lung cancer treatment plan? 

Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez:

So, it is extremely critical because we have data today that several of these targeted treatments, the improvement of survival is not in the span of months, it’s in the span of years. 

People will do years better if they started with the treatment for their specific cancer driver mutation than if they received chemotherapy.  

We also saw that when immunotherapy came in the market a lot of patients, rightly so, doctors thought, “This is the best new thing, let’s put this patient on immunotherapy” and they were not testing patients for mutations before they started. And we found out two things, one is that there is toxicity if you give immunotherapy followed by some of the targeted therapies, specifically one called osimertinib (Tagrisso), so that you could cause harm.  

And then, number two, that immunotherapy doesn’t work in every case. A lot of patients with targeted driver mutations, they do better with a targeted treatment than they will do with chemotherapy and immunotherapy. So, I think it is important to define that early. We also now have approval for at least one targeted therapy after surgery. 

So, even patients that are early stage, which is not the majority of patients, but those patients also will get an improvement if they have an EGFR mutation specifically if they receive that targeted pill treatment after surgery. So, understanding the tumor is important so you can select the right treatment for the patient.  

Now, this is a dynamic thing, so tumors can evolve over time. So, there are many times that patients come to us for second opinions, and we actually recommend a repeat biopsy to understand the new genetic signature of that tumor because we may find a new option that was not there at the beginning. 

Where Do Clinical Trials Fit Into a Lung Cancer Treatment Plan?

Where Do Clinical Trials Fit Into a Lung Cancer Treatment Plan? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Clinical trial participation is essential to advancing cancer care options. Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez shares how clinical trials are providing lung cancer patients with more treatment approaches and discusses the safety protocols in place to protect patients.

Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez is Associate Director of Community Outreach – Thoracic Oncology at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Miami Health System. Learn more about Dr. Rodriguez, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Rodriguez, research advances aren’t possible without patients participating in clinical trials. 

So, where do clinical trials actually fit into a lung cancer treatment plan? 

Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez:

So, clinical trials are really what move the science of all these developments that we saw at the oncology conference, the ASCO conference.  

So, it’s not until patients join trials that we can approve drugs. So, I think clinical trials are very important, so we move the science. But then, for specific patients in lung cancer, now that we’re moving all of our best therapies upfront, we run out of options faster than we did for some patients. So, it is important that A) that we have access to clinical trials, which if we look across the country many of our cancer patients don’t have either Phase I programs near them, they’re very difficult to get to, or very expensive to get to. 

So, we have to do a lot in terms of increasing access to clinical trials. 

But I think your specific question has to do where it comes in. I think if you have advanced lung cancer, where most patients today will not have a cure, clinical trials is at the center of things that should be considered from the get-go. Sometimes some of the drugs are what is called Phase I, that these are new drugs that we’re trying to find a dose, we don’t really understand the efficacy of the drugs. So, those trials are reserved for patients that have failed standard treatment. 

But then we have patients with very difficult situations that are progressing really fast that should join clinical trials. And I think that as we do more biomarker testing, we are learning a lot about the individual patient tumor.  

So, the promise of precision medicine is that you can actually find drugs for specific patients, and that’s what clinical trials that are called basket trials, where if you have a mutation regardless of your tissue of origin. So, for example, we have two large basket trials that we are enrolling patients, one called the TAPUR trial and the other one called MATCH.  

And MATCH is organized by the NCI and TAPUR by ASCO, and these trials if you find you have a biomarker analysis of next generation sequence, you find a specific mutation, you can actually see there’s a trial for this specific patient. So, the trials come in, I think they’re very critical to move the science, they’re very important for individual patients with rare mutations, but I think it’s upon us to make sure that these trials are available.   

Katherine Banwell:

What advice do you have for patients who may be hesitant to participate in a clinical trial? 

Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez:

So, I think you have to ask questions, I think that there’s a lot of misconceptions in different communities. So, we take care of a lot of Hispanic patients, and we have kind of really have to do a lot of education about what patients and patients family’s think about. Because sometimes I feel I have to convince the family members before I can get to really talk to the patient about the trials. 

But I think in the past, trials have been considered only experimental, and patients are used for science but not really getting a benefit. So, I think that’s the first misconception. When we open a trial at our cancer center, and I’m part of the experimental therapeutics’ unit, we are opening trials that we believe that that science will move and offer something in addition. So, I think, that is not because we want to do an experiment, it’s because we really want to offer this patient the latest, or something new, that could potentially offer them a better response than what we are achieving with our standard treatments. 

So, I think that’s the first misconception, that these are experiments on patients and patients don’t benefit. The whole point of the trial is to find better drugs and benefit.  

So, it’s been shown in multiple parts of the country and big cancer centers that patients that join clinical trials do better at the stage of their disease. And part of the reason that they do better is that instead of having one doctor that is making decisions, and they’re running out of options, and kind of coming up with ideas out of nowhere, when you join a Phase I clinical trial or an organized trial, you have at least 10 to 20 doctors that are looking at your case or reviewing your images. There’s a lot of check to make sure that you’re not getting unwanted toxicity and that the trial is stopped if you’re not getting a benefit. 

And this is important so that we don’t expose more patients to toxicity, but that’s another misconception that it’s not safe. And we’ll do our best to make sure that it’s safe. 

Lung Cancer Research Highlights From ASCO 2022

Lung Cancer Research Highlights From ASCO 2022 from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lung cancer specialist Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez shares research updates from the 2022 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting, including the latest advances in immunotherapy and inhibitor therapy.

Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez is Associate Director of Community Outreach – Thoracic Oncology at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Miami Health System. Learn more about Dr. Rodriguez, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Cancer researchers recently came together at the annual ASCO meeting. Were there any highlights at the meeting that you think lung cancer patients should know about? 

Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez:

So, sometimes we look at the conference, and we look at the plenary sessions. And if we don’t see a lung cancer abstract centered at the big plenary session, we feel that nothing happened, but a lot happened. We are learning that all the advances in terms of immunotherapy and targeted therapies can be used earlier and earlier for patients. So, we had data on the NADIM trial, which is a trial out of Spain where they use neoadjuvant, chemo immunotherapy. 

We already have that approved in the United States with nivolumab (Opdivo), and they use also nivolumab with a different combination chemotherapy. What was really amazing is that you can replicate this data that is used in immunotherapy before surgery, patients can have very dramatic pathologic complete responses. Which means that at the time of surgery, we don’t find cancer, and that portends a better prognosis. And obviously, we’re trying to do our best for patients. So, that was really, I think, confirms the data that we have seen that immunotherapy can be used earlier.  

We also saw updates of trials that had been ongoing looking at the use of immunotherapy in difficult settings. So, there was a trial also out of Spain called the ATEZO-BRAIN trial where they look at the use of immunotherapy Atezolizumab for patients that have brain disease and diagnosis of metastatic disease.  

And for a long time, we thought that immunotherapy responses really wouldn’t work in the brain, and we saw that in this trial they were able to control disease in the brain, delay the use of radiation for these patients, and improve their quality of life. So, I think that was, again, a strong message that immunotherapy is here to stay, we can use it in your patients. Then, the third section of trials that were very telling were updates of new drugs for targeted therapy. So, we know today that we have about nine actionable mutations in lung cancer.  

So, that is very important that we understand that when a patient gets diagnosed, do they have an actionable mutation, a genetic change that we can target? And that is really the promise of precision medicine, so they present the data for a new drug for KRAS G12C mutation, positive patients call it aggressive. And we already have a drug that was approved about a year ago called sotorasib. 

And these drugs are used on patients that previously we knew will do very poorly with chemotherapy and immunotherapy because this KRAS G12C mutation is actually a very common mutation in lung cancer, more common than the other mutations that we have approved targeted therapies in the past, and it’s been difficult to treat.  

So now, we have another drug that shows a very good response rate after patients have failed chemo and immunotherapy. It’s still not as a dramatic response as we have seen on the third generation EGFR, ALK and ROS inhibitors, but still a really good promise for patients that didn’t have an option. 

So, that was good, they also updated more data on some of the third-generation drugs for ALK. So, we have seen in a prior conference called ACR the drug lorlatinib (Lorbrena), which a third-generation ALK inhibitor, has showed already improvements for patients that have failed prior therapies.  

But now they’re showing that for patients in the frontline setting when they first diagnose, receiving a third generation ALK inhibitor can improve brain responses. So, they saw a very dramatic has a ratio of .8, so basically over 80 percent of the brain disease was controlled, and in some complete responses were seen. 

And then, patients had a median survival that was over the three-year mark, which had been seen with the prior ALK inhibitors. So, I think it just goes to show that the progress in targeted therapies for lung cancers is exponential, that once we understand the genetic pathways, and we can develop better drugs. 

For example, this lorlatinib drug was actually developed in a way that it will stay in the brain longer, because we know that that’s an area where patients have failed. So, really understanding where the prior drugs have failed, where this resistance has been happened, allows us to develop better drugs for patients. So, I think it’s definitely very hopeful conference. I think the best part of the conference was people coming together, because I think that’s when investigators have the opportunity to collaborate and think of new ideas. 

So, I think that we don’t take it for granted that we were able to have an in-person conference, which hadn’t happened in two years. We had patient advocates that joined as well, so that’s also very important that the patient advocates are part of the research program, and ideas, and presentations. 

Millennial Stage IV Colon Cancer Survivor Urges Earlier Screening

Millennial Stage IV Colon Cancer Survivor Urges Earlier Screening from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Stage IV colon cancer patient Ashley received her diagnosis at age 33. Watch as she shares her story starting with a routine physical, surgery and treatments that she endured, and lessons learned during her cancer journey.

Special thanks to our partner, Colorectal Cancer Alliance, for helping to make this vignette possible.


Transcript:

My name is Ashley, and I’m from West Virginia but currently reside in Nebraska. In February 2021, I was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer at the age of 33.

I decided I wanted to join the Air National Guard and had to complete a physical examination. After visiting a hematologist/oncologist for dangerously low iron and hemoglobin levels, I went in for a routine physical a few months later. The physician’s assistant found a mass in my stomach area, and they sent me for a CT scan. The next morning, my husband Josh got the call that I missed. The CT scan had shown three different masses – and was likely cancer.

I was dumbfounded, shocked, and then I felt the tears rolling down my face. My doctor informed me, “You need surgery immediately, since the tumors are getting close to completely closing up your colon.” I also had a tumor on my liver.

I had surgery to remove the tumor before it closed my colon, but the surgeon couldn’t get to the tumor on my liver. After surgery, they told me the three most important things to do while there that would get me home sooner were eating with no issues, walking, and having a bowel movement.

Finally after two surgeries where my liver, gallbladder, one-quarter of my colon, part of my small intestines, appendix, two large tumors, and a lymph node that turned into a tumor was removed, as well as 12 rounds of chemo.

I received news in March 2022 that my cancer is back but will not be as aggressive as it was before. I am taking things one step at a time and one day at a time, trying to stay optimistic at each step.

When someone gets cancer – the “journey” is never over. The fear NEVER goes away. Even when you are declared to have no evidence of disease, there is a possibility cancer can come back. And if it does come back, the chance of fighting and winning again gets slimmer.

If you know someone that has cancer – be kind – just because they don’t look sick, doesn’t mean they aren’t having challenges. Just because their numbers and scans are good doesn’t mean they are in the clear for the rest of their life. Always, always – BE KIND!

Some of the things I have learned during my colon cancer journey are:

  • Get your colon cancer screenings on time. Or if you’re too young like me, listen closely to what your body tells you and get annual physicals.
  • Say yes to those who want to help by bringing food, checking in, or donating. We are amazed by the support we’ve received from friends, family, and complete strangers.
  • Fighting the cancer fight is much easier knowing how many people are on our side and how much love there is for us out there.
  • Advocate for yourself! Do research on your specific type of cancer and mutations. If you feel you are being told something that just doesn’t seem right, question it – push the bar until you can’t anymore! There are so many options out there when it comes to cancer and survival, you just need to find the right person that will take care of you!

These actions are key to staying on your path to empowerment.

Advice From a Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Patient

Advice From a Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Patient from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Colorectal cancer patient Jessica was surprised but not shocked even after a diagnosis under the age of 40. Watch as she shares her journey from symptoms, diagnosis, her advice to others, and coping methods she’s found helpful for navigating her experience as a patient.

Special thanks to our partner, Colorectal Cancer Alliance, for helping to make this vignette possible.


Transcript

My name is Jessica, and I’m from Chicago, Illinois. Even though my doctors thought I was too young, I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer at age 39.

I’d been experiencing occasional rectal bleeding for about a year when I was finally referred for a colonoscopy.

While my doctors were convinced that I was too young for colorectal cancer, I was still worried because my grandmother died of the disease.

My doctor asked me to go in to get my colonoscopy results. My parents knew what that meant, so we went together. When the GI gave me the results, stage III rectal cancer, I felt so scared. I called my best friend, and I couldn’t even speak. We just cried together.

After I received my diagnosis, my doctor told me it’s very curable. I had a 2-inch mass in my rear. I had a CT scan to confirm the cancer had not spread followed by an MRI. And that’s when the whirlwind began.

I returned to a craft I hadn’t used much in recent years. To sort my thoughts, to update my friends and family, to document the most important year of my life, I started writing again. Beginning a blog was at once a coping mechanism for me and the best way I knew how to share this breathtaking news with friends and family I’d collected from across the country and over decades — and still conserve energy I would need to fight this fight.

Five years later, and I’m thriving.

I want to raise awareness about the rising incidence of colorectal cancer in the under-40 crowd because I was symptomatic and ignored before I was diagnosed. I know that not everyone is as lucky as me, especially young people who are often diagnosed at an even more advanced stage.

Some of the things I have learned during my colorectal cancer journey are:

  • Watch out for signs your body gives you
  • Don’t take “no” for an answer even if doctors think you’re too young for colorectal cancer.
  • Cases of young-onset colorectal cancer are increasing, and that’s why funding colorectal cancer research is so important.
  • Find something to do to help you cope. If you’re unsure whether it’s a healthy activity, ask your doctor or care team member who you trust.

These actions are key to staying on your path to empowerment.

Are Clinical Trials Safe?

Are Clinical Trials Safe?  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Clinical researcher Dr. Seth Pollack explains the safety protocols in place for clinical trials, including how data is reported and protected. Patient advocate Sujata Dutta goes on to share her experience in a clinical trial.

Dr. Seth Pollack is Medical Director of the Sarcoma Program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and is the Steven T. Rosen, MD, Professor of Cancer Biology and associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Pollack, here.

Sujuta Dutta is a myeloma survivor and empowered patient advocate, and serves a Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) board member. Learn more about Sujuta, here.

See More from Clinical Trials 101

Related Resources:

Is a Clinical Trial a Last-Resort Option?

A Patient Shares Her Clinical Trial Experience

If I Participate in a Clinical Trial, Will I Be a Guinea Pig?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Some patients feel that clinical trials aren’t safe, is that the case, Dr. Pollack?  

Dr. Seth Pollack:

No. I mean, we go through, as I was saying before, these clinical trials are extensively vetted. So, the safety is, of course, one of the things that we look most carefully about. But as I was saying before, like with any treatment’s cancer treatments have toxicity, that’s a common problem. So, and when you’re dealing with something brand new sometimes there is a little bit more risk. So, when you’re talking about these very early-stage Phase I trials you probably want to talk to your doctor about what sorts of toxicities you can expect and where they are in the Phase I trial. Are you the first ever to receive this new drug? And if you are nobody’s making you go in the clinical trial, so it can only help to get more information. Right? So, you should ask your team about it, you should find out. 

Most of the time there’s going to be a lot of patients that have been treated already, I mean, they can’t give you definitive data about how things are going but they can maybe say, “Hey. I’ve already treated a few patients on it, and they seem to be doing great.” 

Katherine Banwell:

So, you need to weigh the pros and cons of the trial. 

Dr. Seth Pollack:

You do need to weigh the pros and cons. Now, when you’re talking about these Phase IIs and Phase IIIs, I mean, these are drugs now that have really been vetted for their safety and we have a lot of data about it. And even the Phase Is, it’s not like these things are coming out of nowhere, they’ve been scrutinized, we really expect that they’re going to be safe but we’re doing the trial to prove it. So, it’s a good thing to ask about. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah, yeah. 

Sujata Dutta:

Yeah. I would also add that it’s so closely monitored that safety is a top priority, it’s front and center. So, the advantage, I think, with being on a trial is the close monitoring of the patient exactly for this reason. 

If something is amiss it’s going to be picked up as quickly as possible and you’re any issues are going to be addressed as soon as. So, I think, safety does get addressed pretty quickly.  

Katherine Banwell:

Good. 

Can data from trials even be trusted? Dr. Pollack, is that the case? 

Dr. Seth Pollack:

Well, of course, I mean, it can be trusted. Because the thing with the clinical trial data is that you really see the data and there’s all kinds of scrutiny making sure that the data is reported accurately. Now, there’s a whole other conversation we could have as to whether we could interpret the data differently. And sometimes that is an issue that comes up, but the data is reported very accurately. 

So, and there are statistics that are very well understood, and the bar is actually pretty high to say one arm of the trial was better than the other arm of the trial. So, if patients have better survival on one arm, if we say that, usually it means they did considerably better. Enough better that it wasn’t a random chance that one extra patient did better on the treatment arm. No. There were enough patients that did better that the statisticians can go through it with a fine-toothed comb. And they can be absolutely sure up to exactly how many percent sure they can tell you, 0.05 percent or less chance of error that this was a real difference between the study arm and the standard of care arm. 

Sujata Dutta:

I think you mentioned too that one is trust, and one is data. So, Dr. Pollack mentioned a lot about the data, I think the trust is also a very important thing. I like to go with positive intent because I do not have a reason to believe my doctor has some ulterior motive to suggest a clinical trial. And so, I trust them wholeheartedly. The first hurdle is you have to trust the system or what is being proposed to you because, as Dr. Pollack said, it’s gone through a lot of vetting. A recommendation to be part of a trial itself is vetted by your doctor when they make the recommendation. So, have faith, trust, that they are making a good recommendation. And then, of course, the data, I don’t know much about that, but as I said, I trust it. So, I would trust the data too. 

Katherine Banwell:

Of course. Of course. Some patients feel like they’re going to lose their privacy. Sujata, did you feel that at all? 

Sujata Dutta:

No. Not at all. 

I mean, with everything else that is also taken care of, my information, or whatever, is not made available to anybody. And so, obviously there’s a lot of people will get those, and I had a huge pile of paperwork to go through, but I think that’s a good thing. For my peace of mind that I knew that my information was not going to be shared outside of the study, the trial, etc., and things. So, no, I don’t think that’s a problem. 

Katherine Banwell:

Beyond these misconceptions is there anything else you hear? Dr. Pollack?  

Dr. Seth Pollack:

No. I mean, look, in our crazy modern world there’s concerns everywhere, but the clinical trial is very, very careful. Whenever possible we use the medical chart.  

And then, we have a very stringently protected database that’s storing people’s information, but it’s deidentified. So, I mean, we have a separate key to figure out who the patients are and then we try to limit the use of the patient’s name or any identifying information about them beyond that. So, and your information is not shared. For example, if there’s a drug company involved in the trial, your information is not shared with the drug company, you have a new identifier that is unique and not traceable back to you that is provided to whoever, if there’s outside groups working on the trial with you. So, your information is very carefully protected, and everyone is very conscious about issues regarding privacy.  

Katherine Banwell:

That’s great to know.