Tag Archive for: Dr. Nicole Rochester

HCP Roundtable: Breaking Barriers and Cultivating Clinical Excellence in Endometrial Cancer Care

HCP Roundtable: Breaking Barriers and Cultivating Clinical Excellence in Endometrial Cancer Care from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are obstacles faced by healthcare providers (HCPs) treating endometrial cancer patients and families? How can HCPs foster a culture of innovation and continuous improvement in clinical practice? Dr. Radhika Gogoi of Karmanos Cancer Institute and Dr. Charlotte Gamble of MedStar Health unravel the complexities of endometrial cancer care, providing HCPs with the insights and tools needed to navigate challenges effectively and to deliver optimal care to their patients and families.

See More from EPEP Endometrial Cancer

Related Resources:

Dr. Charlotte Gamble: Why Is It Important for You to Empower Patients

Dr. Charlotte Gamble: Why Is It Important for You to Empower Patients?

Addressing Disparities in Gynecologic Oncology | Key Challenges and Solutions

Addressing Disparities in Gynecologic Oncology | Key Challenges and Solutions

Overcoming Barriers: Empowering Underrepresented Groups With Endometrial Cancer

Overcoming Barriers: Empowering Underrepresented Groups With Endometrial Cancer

Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Welcome to this Empowering Providers to Empower Patients or EPEP Program. I’m Dr. Nicole Rochester, founder and CEO of Your GPS Doc. EPEP is a Patient Empowerment Network program that serves as a secure space for healthcare providers to learn techniques for improving physician patient communication and to overcome practice barriers. In this endometrial cancer healthcare provider roundtable, we are discussing breaking barriers and cultivating clinical excellence in endometrial cancer care. 

This program aims to improve healthcare provider awareness of screening and access disparities to specialized care in endometrial cancer, while also addressing solutions to overcome practice barriers such as lack of awareness, outdated practices, and inertia. Today, we’ll talk about some of the complexities of endometrial cancer care and we’ll provide healthcare providers with the insights and tools needed to navigate challenges effectively.

Our discussion will cover enhancing healthcare provider awareness of diagnostic and access disparities to specialized care in endometrial cancer, actionable strategies to overcome practice barriers in endometrial cancer care and empowering providers through fostering a culture of innovation and continuous improvement in clinical practice. 

It is my privilege to be joined by Dr. Radhika Gogoi from Karmanos Cancer Institute. Dr. Gogoi is a dedicated clinician and cancer researcher focused on exploring the Hippo pathway in gynecologic cancers, aiming to uncover novel therapeutic approaches. Thank you so much for joining us today, Dr. Gogoi.

Dr. Radhika Gogoi:

Thank you, Dr. Rochester, and thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

It’s also my honor to be joined by Dr. Charlotte Gamble, gynecologic oncologist at MedStar Washington Hospital Center and MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital. Dr. Gamble is dedicated to taking care of patients who have historically been marginalized and are vulnerable to poor health outcomes. Her research examines the role of safety net hospital systems in gynecologic cancer care. Thank you so much for joining us today, Dr. Gamble.

Dr. Charlotte Gamble:

Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

So we’re going to start today’s discussion by diving into enhancing healthcare provider awareness of diagnostic and access disparities in endometrial cancer care. And I want to start by just framing the current situation. Black women are twice as likely to die from endometrial cancer when compared to their white women counterparts.

There is no current screening test for endometrial cancer, and diagnosis is usually made after patients present with symptoms. Sadly, the list doesn’t end there. So I’m going to start with you, Dr. Gogoi. What are the primary barriers to accessing specialized care for endometrial cancer that you’ve observed in your practice and perhaps in others?

Dr. Radhika Gogoi:

So thank you for that question. I guess I just want to start by just level setting a little bit and talking about specifically endometrial cancer disparities. So unlike other gynecologic cancers, which actually have been shown to be decreasing in incidence, endometrial cancer is actually one of the cancers that is increasing. We know that low grade endometrial cancers really have an excellent prognosis, but higher grade endometrial cancers really have a much poorer prognosis.

And that’s the specific subgroup that seems to be increasing in all women. Black women, again, as you mentioned, have the lowest survival rate, and that is even when corrected for the specific type of endometrial cancer and the stage of endometrial cancer. So with that sort of background and problem, the question really becomes how do we allow and educate our patients about the barriers that they face when accessing specialized care?

And so some of the barriers, at least that I’ve noticed, and certainly in the hospital that I practice in is really as you pointed out, that there is no good current screening test. Black women tend to have a delayed onset from the time of their symptoms, which in this case is really postmenopausal bleeding to actually obtaining a diagnosis.

And there are studies that have shown that some of that is education or there is an understanding that perhaps postmenopausal bleeding is not as significant an issue, doesn’t lead necessarily, to obtaining healthcare which as you can appreciate then delays the onset of the diagnosis. There is also that Black women present with more advanced disease. This is, again, likely due to the delay in diagnosis and the delay from diagnosis to getting treated.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Thank you. Thank you, Dr. Gogoi for level setting and for getting us started with a better understanding of those disparities. And I’d love to go to you, Dr. Gamble. In your experience, what are the primary barriers to addressing specialized care for endometrial cancer?

Dr. Charlotte Gamble:

Yeah, thank you so much.  I’ll just add some additional context. I think there are so many places in which these barriers can happen. So as Dr. Gogoi alluded to, sometimes that can happen at the patient level due to just not recognizing that having irregular, unpredictable bleeding, bleeding after menopause, bleeding even before menopause has happened, but really heavy bleeding or heavy periods that any sort of abnormal, heavy irregular bleeding is not normal and has to be evaluated in a timely fashion. But that’s at the patient level.

And sometimes, people have competing priorities where they might recognize that it’s a problem but not be able to make it to their doctor’s office. Have other kinds of things that are happening in their day-to-day lives where they just are not able to prioritize their own health. We also see then how the system can affect that.

If someone hasn’t had a gynecologist in years, or their gynecologist said, bye, you don’t need to see me anymore because you’re over the age of 65, you no longer need pap smears and they’ve fallen out of care, or patients who don’t have health insurance or patients who live really far away from their doctors. Accessing the healthcare system in the year of our Lord 2024 is actually really, really hard. If you lack the resources or lack the wherewithal to navigate that.

Additionally, what we see on the healthcare standpoint is that maybe patients do actually access the healthcare system. They call the gynecologist’s office. They call their primary care doctor, and they’re told by an admin staff or someone else that hears them, but that says, okay, fine, we’ll get you in, but it’s going to be in about three-and-a-half months.

And so sometimes those barriers and those delays come from the health system in general, which is also a challenge. And then even after they present to their doctor, sometimes they’re told, “Okay, let’s go ahead and let’s get an ultrasound first, and based on what your ultrasound looks like, then we’ll decide if we need to do a uterine biopsy to diagnose you.” But we also know that for certain types of these uterine cancers, specifically the really aggressive ones, that sometimes their ultrasound might look totally fine, but there still can be cancer underlying there.

And so I think that there are multiple barriers to getting even. That’s before the diagnosis even happens much less what comes after the diagnosis is had, how one gets from their gynecologist to a surgical subspecialist called the gynecological oncologist that Dr. Gogoi and I, this is our field. And there are multiple barriers and referral pathways there. But that’s to give a little bit more context that these things might start at the patient level, but the healthcare system, unfortunately, can contribute in rarely challenging ways to the barriers that patients face.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Thank you both for that. I think we have a really good idea of the breadth of this issue, and I appreciate both of you pointing out that there are patient level factors, but there are also system level factors that come into play. And, Dr. Gamble, you just kind of ended by talking about referrals.

So I’m going to pick up there. And let’s talk about referral patterns. And I’ll start with you for this question. How do those referral patterns impact access to specialized care gynecologic oncologists like yourself and Dr. Gogoi for women who are diagnosed with endometrial cancer and specifically for those underserved populations?

Dr. Charlotte Gamble:

Yeah, this is a complicated question and multi-layered. Again, I think big picture referral patterns. We know that there are barriers for patients who live rurally. We know there are barriers for patients who don’t have insurance or their insurance might be, they might be underinsured. And so there’s kind of system level barriers that we see on the macro level in some of our referral pathways.

And occasionally, sometimes patients with gynecologic cancers will actually be referred to not gynecologic oncologists, which are surgical subspecialists that work specifically with gynecologic malignancies, but might be referred to a general surgeon first, or a general gynecologist who may or may not know kind of what they’re getting into in terms of the care. I think what I’ve noticed in real life is that when I’m getting referrals, sometimes I’m getting a text message, sometimes I’m getting an email, sometimes getting a message in the medical record system, and the referrals are coming in many different ways.

Occasionally, patients are calling themselves. And so the ways that referrals actually then happen in real life and how those spread to kind of the macro levels is really interesting to me. It can be very complicated, very complex, and I think this is where the role of having healthcare navigators comes into play where folks can really assist patients in getting to the right surgical subspecialists.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Absolutely. And we know there’s a lot of evidence for the role of healthcare navigators in other disease spaces and specifically in cancer. So I appreciate you mentioning that. We’ve talked a little bit about patient level factors, and we’ve talked about system level factors. We haven’t talked a lot about maybe some provider level factors.

And I want to talk about cultural competency and the role that that plays in addressing disparities in endometrial cancer, specifically with regard to diagnosis. And I’m going to start with you, Dr. Gogoi on this one. And if you can share the role that you believe cultural competency plays in addressing some of these disparities that we’ve been talking about.

Dr. Radhika Gogoi:

Yeah, so I think you heard from us a little bit that oftentimes some of the symptoms that our patients have had are either ignored, or patients haven’t had a chance to fully address them, or the providers haven’t fully evaluated kind of the importance of their symptoms. And I think, so again, I think nurse navigators community educators are essential in sort of educating our communities about the importance of seeking care when you have sort of the symptoms that Dr. Gamble talked about and in a really timely fashion. I think that that’s really important as well.

So I think it obviously, cultural competency is important in sort of all facets of a patient’s journey as they kind of have the diagnosis through their treatment. But I think that the other place is really once they enter the healthcare system being aware and mindful of sort of healthcare mistrust both from the provider, from the institution, from a much larger governmental level and being aware of that distrust and really trying to take time to address their concerns.

That specifically at least comes up a lot in terms of clinical trials where we know that minority populations, Black patients are met vastly underrepresented. And so I think specifically in that area, there is really the opportunity to do a much better job in providing transparency about the trial design, about recruiting specifically minority patients. Interestingly, a lot of these landmark trials actually didn’t include race as a measure. And so we know that they’re underrepresented, but we actually don’t know how much minority populations are underrepresented. So important to really understand where patients are coming from when they enter a healthcare institution.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Absolutely. Thank you. Thank you so much for that. Dr. Gamble, can you speak to awareness? You spoke about the fact that sometimes patients are referred to perhaps the wrong provider. You know, there was that sent, you mentioned to a general surgeon instead of to a gynecologic oncologist. And so we can imagine that there may be some challenges both in the primary care setting and perhaps even among general obstetrician gynecologists. So can you speak to how we can elevate the level of awareness to enhance healthcare provider awareness of diagnosis and access disparities and really appropriate referral patterns?

Dr. Charlotte Gamble:

Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s a tough question. I think it’s, again, like all things, it’s a little bit nuanced. Sometimes, again different levels of providers, different parts of the country, everybody practices a little bit differently. So everyone knows once you get a cancer diagnosis, you should probably go to a cancer specialist. And so generally, that’s coming to a gynecologic oncologist generally, or that’s sometimes that’s going to a medical oncologist. But occasionally, sometimes patients will have symptoms where it’s just abnormal bleeding, and they’re seeing a general gynecologist who then does a hysterectomy, and there’s a surprise diagnosis of an endometrial cancer.

Usually they’re, hopefully, they’re not making it too much to kind of the general surgery pathway our general surgery colleagues are awesome, but it’s kind of a different kettle of fish and the type of hysterectomy that’s needed and the type of specific surgery that’s needed to include lymph node assessment is different for somebody who’s getting a cancer surgery for uterine cancer compared to, let’s say, for fibroids or for adenomyosis or a non-gynecologic cancer situation.

I think, again, I’m on the receiving end of all of this, so I see patients who have made it to my doorstep and gotten kind of through the hoops and the barriers, but there’s definitely those out there that we know from the data somehow ended up with their surgery, not exactly in the appropriate hands.

And it’s hard to say, I don’t know if I actually even have advice for like how this is supposed to happen. I think we need to understand kind of the as Dr. Gogoi alluded to earlier, just kind of how prevalent endometrial cancer is right now and how the rates are rising and that abnormal bleeding has to be taken very seriously. And the thing that I harp on the most is a normal ultrasound does not mean there’s nothing else to explore there. There has to be a tissue biopsy.

And really impressing that on both patients as well as the first kind of people that they see, either their primary care doctor or even a nurse practitioner, a physician assistant. Just because there’s a normal ultrasound does not mean that your work is done. And we have studies to really demonstrate how that can delay patient’s care and missed diagnoses can happen. So it’s hard to answer your question, to like, how do we fix the referral pathway system? I don’t know the answer to that, and maybe Dr. Gogoi can speak to that, but I will say from like a screening standpoint, since there’s no great screening test, an ultrasound is not, might be the first step, but it’s definitely not the only step and it cannot be the last.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I appreciate that. As you were talking, I was thinking like this needs to be a major awareness campaign, not just for healthcare providers, but for patients as well. You know, this idea that abnormal or or postmenopausal bleeding is never normal and make sure your doctor gets a tissue biopsy and not just an ultrasound. Dr. Gogoi, we’ve talked already about some of the obstacles and barriers faced by patients. Can you talk about some of the obstacles or barriers that are faced by healthcare providers when treating endometrial cancer?

Dr. Radhika Gogoi:

Yeah, I think that the one other barrier that sort of comes up a lot specifically in terms of maybe even in terms of getting a patient to their referring providers or a G1 oncologist is transportation. I find that transportation is a huge issue for our patients. And it’s mostly associated with cost. So I think that one of the things that really, that we can do as a community is to somehow provide means or ways for our patients to get to us once they’re diagnosed. It’s hard enough to get them to us but when they’re facing challenges of cost and transportation, that becomes even more challenging.

So I think that that’s from a patient standpoint. And then, and then I think what Dr. Gamble mentioned about really the barriers for providers is really education around ultrasound and how those how specifically perhaps even in Black women, that it’s not as predictive of endometrial cancer risk and that an ultrasound alone is not enough of a workup for a number of these patients to rule out some underlying pathology. So that’s huge, and again mistrust of the medical profession is something that all healthcare providers deal with. And allowing time for patients to ask their questions, to be transparent about what it is that you’re doing and why I think goes a long way towards overcoming those challenges.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Thank you both for that. I think we’ve gotten a lot of information around the causes of the disparities and some actions that we can begin taking. Are there any unforeseen or outdated practice-related barriers that may hinder your work and that of your colleagues? And on that same note, are there any solutions or actions related to those? And I’ll start with you on this one, Dr. Gamble.

Dr. Charlotte Gamble:

Well, starting all the way back, I think an outdated practice is not listening to patients, and not recognizing your own privilege as a provider. I think that to Dr. Gogoi’s point that she’s mentioned a couple of times now, I have innumerable patients that just felt that they were not listened to felt that they couldn’t…that their stories were not being heard, that they faced no’s, no’s, no’s at multiple levels in trying to seek care for abnormal bleeding, and come to me very frustrated and kind of weary. And I think just really understanding how vulnerable patients are when they’re seeking care, and being cognizant of the privilege that we have as healthcare providers is something that is more contemporary compared to an outdated practice of being very paternalistic.

I guess sometimes I have had patients who are like, yeah, I was told that I needed a biopsy and I just…the way that they told me and the way that they said that it had to be done tomorrow, it freaked me out, and I couldn’t do it. And it’s just kind of unfortunate when the recommendations might be correct, but the way in which it’s being delivered is not being received by the patients in a way that they’re able to be receptive to.

I think another outdated practice again that I harp on that I’m such a strong believer in is like just the role of the ultrasound. I really, I don’t like it. I hate it. I think it’s useful for knowing uterine size and maybe if there’s some kind of stuff inside the uterus, but abnormal bleeding either before menopause or after menopause has to have a tissued biopsy. So I think that’s outdated to just get an ultrasound and have the patient come back, because it continues to perpetuate delays in care, and I think disparities to an extent. Another outdated…no, I don’t know. Is there anything else, Dr. Gogoi, that you’d add to this?

Dr. Radhika Gogoi:

I feel like this is a lot lot older now. It used to be at one point that we used to do all our endometrial cancer patients with open surgery. I think that now, I guess it’s even more outdated than outdated. Most of the surgeries are now pretty much done either minimally, invasively laparoscopically or robotically. There are obviously extenuating circumstances to both of those things, but I think approach to surgery is also sort of evolved.

The treatment paradigm for patients with advanced endometrial cancers has evolved even more so in the last maybe two years or so with the role of immunotherapy. So encouraging our patients to be educated about their options, both for route of surgery, for treatment and to make sure to ask those questions at the time of their office visit I think is something that we should all encourage.

Dr. Charlotte Gamble:

I would dovetail from that and also say, to kind of harken back to some of the other things we discussed in terms of referral pathways and things like that, and just how gynecologic oncology care is delivered in different parts of the country, there are various models for this, and so classically, patients who have gynecologic cancers, including endometrial cancer are managed solely by the gynecologic oncologist, meaning a surgical subspecialist like myself or Dr. Gogoi, who not only do the surgery, but also deliver if patients need it chemotherapy or specialized systemic therapies afterwards, sometimes with a component in partnership with a radiation oncologist.

But there are parts of the country by institution or by geography where the care that comes after the initial surgery done by the gynecologic oncologist might be shared with a medical oncologist who may or may not actually have super sub-specialized training when it comes to gynecologic cancers, because again, historically, this has been an area that’s been managed really by our subspecialty.

And so I encourage patients as well as referring doctors, et cetera, et cetera, to make sure that whoever, if there’s additional therapies that are needed after the hysterectomy is done, such as chemotherapy or immunotherapy, as Dr. Gogoi alluded to, that that is done in partnership with a gynecologic oncologist, because our field is kind of driving where so much of the contemporary understanding of how to manage these conditions long-term is coming from. And to make sure that if a medical oncologist is doing this, they feel very competent. They do this all the time, and they’re working in close partnership with their gynecologic oncology colleagues.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wonderful. Thank you for that. So as we talk about outdated practices, I guess the other side of the coin is innovation and continuous improvement. And so I’ll turn this question to you, Dr. Gogoi. How can healthcare providers and hospital leaders foster a culture of innovation and continuous improvement? So that’s some of these outdated practices that you all, that you and Dr. Gamble, discussed are really no longer a thing?

Dr. Radhika Gogoi:

Yeah. So I couldn’t agree more.I think that some of those innovative approaches really come from enrolling in clinical trials. And so I think that the importance of having minority populations, equally represented in clinical trials is essential. Otherwise we’re not going to make the progress that we need to make to really equal the playing field here, so to speak. So I think that that really is a huge player trying to educate patients about clinical trial options, being transparent about what those look like, who benefits, what the data suggests, why it’s important to me is again, really key.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wonderful. And Dr. Gamble, if we were to be specific, are there any healthcare provider to healthcare provider strategies, anything that you’ve seen work, maybe things that you’ve done yourself, innovative approaches or protocols with regard to this idea of innovation and continuous improvement?

Dr. Charlotte Gamble:

Yeah, I think different institutions have different cultures, and I think having institutional culture that embraces change that is, desires to be on the vanguard of advancing science, and the science could be in terms of bench research. It could be in terms of clinical trials, it could be in terms of healthcare delivery, really trying to advance and push forward. The science and how we get the best care to our patients in the most timely fashion I think is really important. Culture is hard to change, and we all work in institutions that have various different cultures. I think that healthcare provider to healthcare provider, I think open lines of communication are great. I tell folks, text, call, email, whatever you need to do to get patients in a timely fashion is necessary.

I think the understanding of we are one person working within a team is really necessary. So patients might say, oh, Dr. Gamble this, Dr. Gamble that, but I always, always, always tell them that I cannot do this work without my nurse navigator, without my fellow, without my residents, without my inpatient floor nurses, the oncology nurses, and really understanding that oncology care specifically is a really big team sport.

And healthcare leaders, when we’re thinking about things from a system level, I think sometimes have different like just help making sure that everybody understands how much of a team sport that this is. How much the radiation oncologists, the medical oncologists interface with us on a regular basis, I think is really important. And to understand that we’re all in this together to deliver the best care to our patients. I really think the role of health, like nurse navigators and lay navigators needs to be further pushed forward within our field, including not only gynecologic oncology, but just gynecology in general, and that’s some of the work that I’m doing from a research standpoint now. And so I’d love to see the role of navigators be fully embraced and somehow reimbursed by healthcare systems in general.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Absolutely. Well, it is time to wrap up this roundtable. I have really enjoyed talking with both of you as always. I have learned a lot. I’m sure that our audience will learn a lot from this conversation. And before we go, I’d love to get closing thoughts. So I’m going to start with you, Dr. Gogoi. What is one takeaway message that you would like to leave with the healthcare professionals who will watch this program?

Dr. Radhika Gogoi:

So I guess the one takeaway would be that, as I think about my role in sort of disparities prevention, if you say it is really as an educator, and so the importance of community education on symptoms, on diagnosis, on treatment approaches, I think it’s essential that we don’t think of ourselves as a silo. I’m not just, but I’m part of the larger community as Dr. Gamble spoke about. And to be part of that larger community means that I need to be within that community and function within the community. So whether it’s me, community navigators, health educators to really play a role in educating our patients about how to approach their symptoms.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Wonderful. Thank you, Dr. Gogoi. And what about you, Dr. Gamble, what’s your closing thought that you would like to leave with the audience?

Dr. Charlotte Gamble: 

Yeah, I think for healthcare providers in general, I think the thing that I think is most important is, again, being able to listen to patients, working and encouraging the systems that we are housed into, be able to be responsive to them, so that if patients are educated, do know that there’s something wrong. They’re able to not only get a hold of someone, but also be listened to and heard and taken seriously. And we have a lot to do in that regard. So I think just understanding again, our role and how privileged we are to be in our jobs, in this line of work, and being able to leverage that to listen to patients and get them the timely care that they need.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wonderful. Well, thank you both again, Dr. Gogoi, Dr. Gamble, thank you for this enlightening conversation. We’ve learned so much about endometrial cancer. I think for me, the main takeaway is postmenopausal bleeding, abnormal irregular bleeding is never normal. It needs to be evaluated. You both spoke about the importance of biopsy and not just an ultrasound, and in fact that ultrasound can be normal.

And with regard to disparities, I really appreciate both of your thoughts around community education, and this being a team sport and listening to our patients. So again, thank you so much for being here today, and thank you all for watching the program and tuning into this Empowering Providers to Empower Patients, Patient Empowerment Network program. I’m Dr. Nicole Rochester. Thanks again for watching.


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Improving Communication Around Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing

Improving Communication Around Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can communication around lung cancer biomarker testing be improved? Experts Dr. Heather Wakelee and Dr. Leigh Boehmer share advice for framing conversations with patients about biomarker testing and ways to adjust communication to different learning styles.

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See More from Lung Cancer | Empowering Providers to Empower Patients

Related Resources:

Patient-Provider Relationship Role in Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing

Patient-Provider Relationship Role in Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing

What Challenges Surround Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing

What Challenges Surround Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing?

How Are Barriers in Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing Being Addressed

How Are Barriers in Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing Being Addressed?

Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

I just want to talk a little bit about that communication, because most of you have shared how important that communication is, and we know that there are challenges, inside and outside of cancer with regard to communicating with patients, and certainly as a physician that some of the complexity of the topics that you all have discussed I would admit is even a lot for me, and so we can imagine that for someone without any medical training, this is very difficult, these topics of biomarker testing and genetics and mutations and precision medicine. So I’d love for you, Dr. Wakelee, to start by just sharing some best practices, things you’ve learned over the years with how can providers who are watching this program really engage in effective, thoughtful conversations with patients and their family members about biomarker testing?

Dr. Heather Wakelee:

So that’s a great, great question. And really, the communication is to me, like I said, the core there, when I’m talking about biomarker testing with the patient, I usually try to frame it from the context of what makes the cancer different than the rest of you. And what we’re trying to figure out is what is it about the cancer that makes it different than the rest of you, so we can then target what’s different, and hopefully with that, being able to control the cancer without harming the rest of you. So that’s sort of one framework of it, and depending on the patient’s level of understanding, and then sort of layer in different levels of…for people who are understanding DNA and mutations, then you can start talking about those specifics, and for folks who don’t necessarily want to think about it that way, or haven’t had the education about it that way, then just starting from that framework. And I think about it this way too, is how is the cancer different than the rest of the person? And what can we do to therefore attack the cancer differently than we would the rest of the person?

And then from there, if there is a mutation or a translocation or something else that we found, can use the name of that gene and say, “This is different in the cancer than in the rest of you, and this is a targeted therapy that’s going to go after that, and it’s going to work for a period of time, but the cancer is always evolving.” And so we kind of plant that seed from the beginning also, that it’s not curing, that the cancer continues to evolve, and eventually it’s going to change in a way where that doesn’t work, but for right now, that’s the best treatment. So that’s how I’m going about with that communication with people on it. And then, again, I practice in Silicon Valley, so a lot of people will come in with books, practically, of all the research that they’ve done, and so that’s a very different conversation than someone who comes in and says, “Whatever you think is best, doc.” And even when I hear that, which I don’t happen to hear too often anymore, I really feel it’s critical that the patient is still understanding, why are we picking this treatment for your particular cancer, and what are our expectations from it?

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

I really appreciate the plain language, and I think that’s important, and also your acknowledgment that patients come to us with different levels of knowledge and expertise, and so really it’s about meeting them where they are, so I really appreciate that. And, Dr. Boehmer, we’re going to allow you to wrap up on this topic, I know that the Association of Community Cancer Centers has done research about what patients want to hear and some of the biases around providers, maybe thinking that patients don’t want or don’t need some of this information, that it may be too confusing for them, so I’d love for you to share some knowledge around your experience in this area and some best practices around communicating with patients.

Dr. Leigh Boehmer: 

Thanks very much, I appreciate the opportunity, I’ll try and keep it targeted. I think number one, Dr. Wakelee, you’re correct. We have visual learners, auditory learners, we have people that want more direction and less direction, so simply starting by asking, how do you prefer to learn? It’s a wonderful place to start. It could be drawing pictures, it could be giving them that academic print out of literature published in a cutting-edge journal. But we need to know how patients learn and respect the fact that we’re all individuals and we as providers talking to patients may need to alter our approach based on different patients’ characteristics. I also think our research has shown that consistent terminology must, must be utilized, biomarker testing, molecular profiling, next-generation sequencing, mutation analysis, whatever it is, that you have decided to make your consistent terminology, please in your teams, then in the next level of teams, then in your health system, and then with your colleagues, talk about what it is, why it is, does it go against another group or is it in agreement with A, B, C groups. Because we have to, as a collective, really agree on and start utilizing consistent terminology, because until we do, we’re just continuing to stir the pot and cause confusion amongst patients, caregivers, other patient advocacy organizations and ourselves.

The other thing I’ll say, at ACCC, we’ve got a lot of resources aggregated in one place about shared decision-making, what it is, how to do it, how to assess yourself, health literacy, how do you evaluate your program to make sure you’re asking the right questions before you ever, ever have a conversation with a patient about biomarker testing or different targeted treatments for patients with non-small cell lung cancer? There’s little things that you can do today that’s so important. Little things you can do today that will make a positive influence on your patients’ outcomes and experience just by asking, addressing your own biases, being inclusive with your language and using consistent terminology. All of that is on our website and it’s truly incremental. Go easy on yourself, we’re all learning here, and acknowledging your bias and trying to be more inclusive is very, very worthwhile, and it’s okay if it’s small steps every single day made. 


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Patient-Provider Relationship Role in Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing

Patient-Provider Relationship Role in Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How is lung cancer biomarker testing impacted by the patient-provider role? Experts Dr. Heather Wakelee and Dr. Leigh Boehmer discuss how specific additions to multidisciplinary teams and support resources aid in building communication for biomarker testing and optimal treatment.

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How Are Barriers in Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing Being Addressed?

Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

As we begin to think about how the patient-provider relationship and the patient-provider communication plays a role in addressing some of these barriers that we’ve been talking about and then making sure that patients are appropriately being tested and treated, I’d love to hear from you all regarding the role of the patient-provider partnership as it relates to biomarker testing. So, let’s see, I’ll start with you, Dr. Boehmer.

Dr. Leigh Boehmer:  

So I really, really think this question is critical, and I’m going to bias by saying, an exciting new position on the multidisciplinary cancer care team that we are learning about it, some of our member programs, is that of a precision medicine steward or navigator. So if you’re at all familiar with the idea of a patient navigation service or the services provided by financial advocates or financial navigators, this is really identifying that it is getting so complex in the world of targeted testing, targeted treatments today, that it literally requires in some places and settings an FTE or multiple to try to navigate testing, pathology, external labs, medical oncology, pharmacy services, nursing administration, and then, of course, patients and caregivers, and communication and context building, working with patient advocacy groups who are out there publishing great resources on testing and what they mean and targeted treatments. But trying to put all of that together, I will admit as a community clinician, as you probably see 15, 18, 20 patients a day, sometimes with as many different discrete types of cancers, it gets overwhelming.

And so, having a support person on staff who can help you manage some of that information and the patient-provider conversations, ACCC is very, very much about recognizing multidisciplinary teams of providers, so it’s critical to have navigation, to have social work providing distress screening and psychosocial support, to have pharmacists talking about targeted therapies and how they match with, to Dr. Wakelee’s points, mutations and fusions and rearrangements and everything we’re testing for with our big panels of next-generation sequencing, right? So I really want to encourage us all to utilize as patients and as team members, everybody else on the team, which is also to say patients and caregivers, are team members too, right? They have rights and responsibilities as members of their own team. And I will end with this, I say all of this, and I feel justified in saying all of this because we’ve done research at ACCC, and without that critical infrastructure, there’s potentially a real disconnect. So, for example, we asked patients with lung cancer what resources would be most impactful for you as you embark on your treatment journey, and they said things to us like psychosocial support and financial assistance.

When we asked the provider respondents a similar question in their own survey, the number one thing they identified, they thought patients needed were educational handouts or websites to go seek information about their diagnosis. Now that’s not to shake a finger at anybody or to say that you were right or you were wrong, that’s just to say, we need people who can approach this whole patient-provider construct from different perspectives, because Leigh is going to ask different questions than Heather is going to ask, than Nicole is going to ask, and that’s the beauty of multidisciplinary care coordination. We do need to come at it from different angles, different perspectives, and always make sure we’re remaining open and inclusive and asking what patients need and want right now. Because we don’t always have the answers, we have to remember that. We’re human, we have biases, it’s always better to ask and provide and then ask again.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

You are really speaking my language, Dr. Boehmer.

[laughter]

Dr. Nicole Rochester:  

And I see, Dr. Wakelee, both of us are shaking our heads the entire time that you’ve been speaking and just around this idea of multidisciplinary teams that include the patient and the family, and ideally at the center. Dr. Wakelee, do you have anything to add?

Dr. Heather Wakelee:

Hard to add. That was very impressive, Dr. Boehmer, [laughter] and highlighting that just…we talk about multidisciplinary sometimes, the first version, some people think of it’s just it’s a team of a few different types of doctors. And obviously that’s not at all what we’re talking about, this is to provide the best possible care for a patient dealing with cancer, that physician-to-patient interaction is critical, but the patient to physicians to family is critical. And then you’ve got to also think about all the psycho-social needs and whether that’s going to be with a social worker or… We have a lot of people working in oncology who are psychologists and psychiatrists particularly focused in that because the coping with the disease is such a big part of it. And it’s also the pharmacy teams and the nursing teams. It is…multidisciplinary is many, many different levels of circles, but at the core, it’s the patient and family and the primary physician, that’s kind of the way I think at it, but I’m an oncologist, so perhaps I’m a little biased in my viewpoint there.

But it’s that communication right there where you sort of have all of the information that the physician’s holding, that’s coming from all of the different treatment disciplines, and then you’ve got all the information that the patient’s holding, that’s coming from their understanding of them and all of their other aspects of their life, and that’s sort of that interaction at the core, and making sure that both sides are seeing each other and seeing all of the other layers of that, so that you could make sure that at each point the recommendations and what the patient is actually doing, everyone’s coming from a point of understanding. I think, to me, that’s the most critical piece. And you don’t have that understanding if you don’t also have all the information you need about the tumor, and you’re not making that right decision if you don’t have all the information you need about all the aspects of who that patient is as a person, and that goes into their decisions as well, and that’s to me, that’s what we’re aiming for, right?


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How Are Barriers in Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing Being Addressed?

How Are Barriers in Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing Being Addressed? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Now that barriers to lung cancer biomarker testing are understood, how are they being addressed? Experts Dr. Heather Wakelee and Dr. Leigh Boehmer discuss positive procedural changes that are assisting multidisciplinary teams to reduce time to testing and to overcome financial barriers to care.

Download Resource Guide

See More from Lung Cancer | Empowering Providers to Empower Patients

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Patient-Provider Relationship Role in Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing

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Improving Communication Around Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing

Improving Communication Around Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing 

Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

We’ve talked a lot about the barriers, which are many, what’s on the horizon or what positive trends have you all seen, and specifically what are the opportunities, what are some things that are either happening or that are being explored with regard to removing some of these barriers or all of the barriers that each of you have talked about? I’ll start with you, Dr. Wakelee, give us some hope.

Dr. Heather Wakelee:

All right. Great. Well, I think there is reason to have hope. Absolutely. There always is reason to have hope. And so many organizations, including ISLC, including ACCC, including NCC…I mean, you could name any organization that’s involved in cancer care and education, is really focusing on this issue of making sure that every oncologist knows the importance of doing biomarker testing for patients with non-small cell lung cancer, that we are trying to expand that not just to the oncologist, but also to the folks making the diagnosis, so they can be aware as well. Patient advocacy groups are very engaged in this as well, making sure that when someone is newly diagnosed, if they reach out to an advocacy group, one of the messages they hear is, have you asked about testing what’s happening with the tumor testing?

The more people who are aware that’s a standard of care in treating lung cancer, the more that’s going to happen, and then continuing to explore those financial barriers, and as more agents are FDA-approved, where that becomes a preferred first sign option, but you only know that if the testing’s happened, that leads to campaigning to make sure that the testing is being covered as well, you know, when you can argue, this patient isn’t getting the FDA-approved best care for their cancer because that testing wasn’t done, that’s a really powerful statement. And I think that’s what we’re seeing change happening.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

That is incredible, thank you. Thank you so much. I can smile again.

[laughter]

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

What about you, Dr. Boehmer? I know you’re getting…your organization is doing a lot of work in this area, so tell us about some of the advances, some of the improvements and tackling some of these barriers that both of you have elucidated today.

Dr. Leigh Boehmer:

So Dr. Wakelee, thank you for all of those hope-inducing concepts and methodologies, because I honestly believe that so many of us learn best today by seeing someone like me doing X, Y, Z, so I know I can do it as well. So I think it’s about documentation of justification of testing for prior authorization claims. I think it’s about working together with the multidisciplinary team, pharmacist, advanced practitioners, oncology-certified nurses to help manage that back and forth with testing and external pathology and laboratory companies, to make sure that results show up in the right spot in the electronic health record so that they can be interpreted, shared with patients, communicated and contextualized in real time. I think it’s about greater incorporation as we’ve seen across so many of our programs of the tenets of shared clinical decision-making, and how to have a meaningful conversation with a patient and/or their caregivers about testing and its role on treatment and drug selection, and outcomes, and progression-free survival. And there are a lot of programs out there that are doing bits of this or different points along that continuum.

ACCC for example, building on the research I shared before, recognizes that a lot of community programs don’t have kind of operational best practices for how to incorporate biomarker testing into a patient’s journey, and so for lung, and also, for example, for breast cancer, we’re working on creating care pathways which will help multidisciplinary clinician teams integrate discussions of biomarker testing and its impact at various critical time points along a patient’s diagnosis to treatment, to survivorship or end-of-life care. And those are just examples of us not being overly duplicative, but putting all the resources in one place, talking about timing, talking about when and how to have meaningful conversations, and then doing it with health-literate, vetted resources and through a lens of equity and shared decision-making, because you look like me, you had success with it. I’m going to do it for my at-risk patients as well, because one, it’s the right thing to do. And two, you taught me how to do it, and three, you told me what success looks like so I can measure myself against you, and that’s a successful model for scalability. 


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How Does Data Inform Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing?

How Does Data Inform Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lung cancer biomarker testing now has actionable data for clinicians and patient advocates to utilize for improved patient care. Experts Dr. Heather Wakelee and Dr. Leigh Boehmer discuss barriers to time-critical testing, patient communication advice, and health outcome benefits backed up by data.

Download Resource Guide

See More from Lung Cancer | Empowering Providers to Empower Patients

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What Challenges Surround Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing

What Challenges Surround Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing?

How Are Barriers in Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing Being Addressed

How Are Barriers in Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing Being Addressed?

Improving Communication Around Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing

Improving Communication Around Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing 

Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Both of you have been on the ground floor of research in this area with regard to biomarker testing and availability and disparities. So I’d love for you to talk a little bit about the data and what does the data tell us with regard to biomarker testing? So I’ll start with you this time, Dr. Boehmer.

Dr. Leigh Boehmer:

[chuckle] Thanks, I appreciate it. I’ve been privileged to work with both providers and patients’ caregivers, taking a closer look at some of the barriers and then practical solutions that might be utilized to address some of these concerns around testing. So back in 2021, ACCC used the mixed methods approach to try to understand the motivators of patients and providers, their practice patterns, their attitudes, the educational needs of patients and providers related to biomarker testing and beyond. And you know what’s really interesting, in almost 100 total provider respondents, less than half of community clinicians who responded said that they used biomarker testing to guide patient discussions.

And that was compared to nearly three-quarters of all responding academic clinicians, and it really made us start to think about…so, you know, the impetus for testing in the context of testing. In this particular research, to my earlier comments, we were actually targeting patients with non-small cell lung cancer who were uninsured, underinsured and/or covered by Medicaid. So dual eligible beneficiaries, and it was really interesting because we looked at why and how conversations were happening about biomarker testing between providers and patients, and really identified some tremendous opportunities for education around clinicians’ needs to become more familiar with guideline concordant testing and to have more practical applications of guideline concordant testing, so things like case-based examples, so then ultimately they could have optimal conversations with patients and help coordinate multidisciplinary care.

There’s also data which would suggest a disconnect between ordering testing after initial staging versus ordering testing at the time of initial biopsy. And, Dr. Wakelee, you said something that really resonated with me because if we can identify patients who need to be tested, if we can have access to testing, we still have a disconnect, and this is largely seen in community programs today where clinicians may be waiting 10 days, 14 days, even longer to receive results of testing, and you’re right, we have patients who need treatment initiated sooner than later, and you miss these opportunities because of delays, prior authorizations and a lot of other things, so the data certainly quantitatively, qualitatively is speaking to this hierarchy of problems and there’s definitely some mismatches between patient and provider perceptions of why testing happens, what it’s used for, and timing of the testing and results sharing.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

That is fascinating, and we’re definitely going to get deeper into that, this whole patient-provider interaction, so I really appreciate you introducing that and thank you for all the research that your organization has done in this area. So, Dr. Wakelee, you’re on the academic side of things, and you also have been deeply involved in research in this area, so what would you like to offer from your perspective in terms of the data around biomarker testing?

Dr. Heather Wakelee:

Well, thanks, and, Dr. Boehmer, you have a very comprehensive answer there, I think that the differences between academic and community sometimes are broad and sometimes aren’t that big at all, and I do think we face a lot of the same challenges. It’s just…it’s making sure that when a physician is meeting with a patient, and let’s say it’s with the oncologist, that the oncologist is really mindful that any patient with non-small cell lung cancer could have a tumor with a driver mutation. I think it’s easy to stereotype and think that only certain patients are going to, and therefore we shouldn’t be testing everybody. And that gets dangerous. I think it also is a matter of where you’re in practice, and if you’re in a practice where the prevalence of the driver mutations and the tumors is low, you might just say, “Oh, I’m never going to see it,” and you stop testing, and that’s also very dangerous because we have seen in multiple trials, as we get back to that research question, that if we can identify a driver mutation…

And we know that more than half of patients who’ve developed lung cancer who have never smoked or have a light smoking history are going to have an actionable driving mutation, and even in people who do have a smoking history, of any ethnic background, they’re still 10 to 20 percent or maybe more as we identify more of these driver mutations, where that’s what’s really the force in the tumor, and if you find it and you can start someone on the appropriate targeted therapy, usually across multiple trials, the toxicity is less than you would get with chemotherapy or immune therapy.

Usually the probability of response is over half, you know, if someone’s going to have a benefit that that’s going to help them feel better for a period of time in controlling their cancer, it really drastically changes their whole tumor outcome, they’re going to be living longer, feeling better, and ultimately that’s our goal when we’re helping someone with metastatic disease, and if you don’t know that the tumor has a driver mutation, you’re never going to give them that appropriate treatment, and I think that is the real challenge that we face, and there are multiple different angles to that, right? You have to have the physician aware of the importance of finding the mutation, altering the treatment as necessary, and giving that patient the best possible option for care.

But it also is making sure that the patients are open about this, because I think there’s still a lot of misperceptions about when we talk about driver mutations and the word mutation, making sure that people understand we’re talking about the cancer and not about the person. And in a short conversation that can sometimes be missed, and then people are afraid of getting tested, afraid of what that might mean for them or their family, and so the communication around, we’re going to test your tumor because your tumor might have a mutation that’s going to allow us to give different care.  I think that’s really important that people always remember to talk about the tumor and not about the mutation in the person, that’s really, really critical.

And also to avoid that stereotyping about who do we test and who do we not test, pretty much anyone with a non-squamous, non-small cell lung cancer, their tumor needs to be tested, and many people who have a squamous cytology that’s also reasonable. So that’s the people aspect of it, the insurance barriers and the interpretation of the results, those are still there as well. And even if you have the perfect communication and the patient understands and you get the testing done immediately, you still have to deal with, is it going to get covered or not? And the results come back, is it going to be interpretable or not? Because that can sometimes be tricky also. 


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What Challenges Surround Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing?

What Challenges Surround Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Lung cancer biomarker testing is a vital piece of precision medicine, but what are the challenges around testing? Experts Dr. Heather Wakelee and Dr. Leigh Boehmer discuss the goals of biomarker testing for advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and common barriers to biomarker testing access.

Download Resource Guide

See More from Lung Cancer | Empowering Providers to Empower Patients

Related Resources:

How Does Data Inform Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing

How Does Data Inform Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing?

Patient-Provider Relationship Role in Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing

Patient-Provider Relationship Role in Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing

Improving Communication Around Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing

Improving Communication Around Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing 

Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

So we know that biomarker testing connects the right patient to the right treatment at the right time and potentially to the right clinical trial, but there also are some challenges and interventions are necessary, and that’s going to really frame our conversation today. So I’d like to start with the general landscape, so I’m going to start with you, Dr. Wakelee, what in your opinion and expertise are the existing challenges as it relates to biomarker testing in academic medical centers?

Dr. Heather Wakelee: 

Thanks for that question, Dr. Rochester. I think that the biggest challenge is making sure that every patient with a new diagnosis of advanced stage non-small cell lung cancer gets the testing done and gets the testing results back before they start treatment, right? And that’s the goal. I guess that’s more of the goal than the problem, and the challenges come in each of those different phases. First is making sure that every patient is given access to the testing, and there are barriers if the patient ends up very, very sick in a hospital setting.

There are some regulations that can make that challenging, they might be…their first encounters with the healthcare system are going to potentially be with pulmonologist, general practitioners, interventional radiology. And those people might not be aware of what needs to happen to get the tissue as quickly as possible into testing, they might not be as aware of drawing a blood test, if we’re going to do a liquid biopsy, and so if those things aren’t initiated first, when the patient gets to see the oncologist some days or even a week or two later, we’re already further down the path.

They might be starting to get symptoms, and then when you start the testing, you might have to wait longer than is really acceptable before you have the results that could inform treatment. And as you said, Dr. Rochester, the testing, when we get those molecular results back, that’s going to help us figure out what’s going on in that tumor that might change our treatment options, because there’s a driver mutation where there’s a new drug approved that’s going to be the best efficacious opportunity for that patient. And if they don’t know, they can’t start it, we also run into issues where if the patient’s symptomatic, we can’t wait, and then they get started on chemotherapy and immune therapy, which might otherwise be a standard approach, immune therapy is in the body, chemotherapy is in the body, the toxicity is there, and then if you later find out, oh, there was a driver mutation, your hands are a little tied, because the toxicity can be amplified if you combine agents and the immune therapy is in the system for months.

So these are some of the challenges and really the barrier…the biggest barriers from my perspective are not every patient is being tested with comprehensive testing as early as possible, right?

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Thank you for that, Dr. Wakelee, you’ve really, really outlined how the challenges around access to testing and even the timeliness and the importance of timely testing and the fact that these patients are often kind of making their way through a series of providers before they get to the oncologist. So I appreciate that. Dr. Boehmer, I know you have a lot of experience in the community setting where we know there are a host of additional barriers, so I’d love for you to weigh in on this question, and what challenges are you seeing with biomarker testing in the community setting?

Dr. Leigh Boehmer:

Thanks very much for the question. Yeah, I think the use of precision medicine was initially touted as this opportunity to address care disparities, whether that’s in racial ethnic minorities, differences between academic and community practices, et cetera, by using the technology to try to determine treatment largely based on things like the genetic makeup of a tumor, and unfortunately, in reality disparities have sadly only continued to grow in the setting of targeted and/or testing related to things like ability to pay and insurance coverage for testing, mistrust in the healthcare system and historical injustices related to cancer care delivery. And there’s a significant discordance in literature between patients and clinicians understanding of the importance of biomarker testing relative to treatment planning.

So even now in 2023, as more states are passing legislation to expand coverage of comprehensive testing, we’re hearing from member programs of ACCC running up against increasing prior authorization restrictions and requirements, and there are unfortunate ramifications of that, like additional costs to programs or additional costs to patients, for example, in the setting of reflexive testing, there’s also a lot of ongoing data which suggests concerning continued racial disparities in rates of guideline concordant testing, so there’s a lot of opportunities for us to learn, yes, from what we have done in successful models of rollout of testing, but we’re still confronting some pretty major challenges and barriers, and I gotta say that’s true whether you’re talking about community programs and practices or academic partners as well. 


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HCP Roundtable: Improving Clinician-Patient Conversations in Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing

HCP Roundtable: Improving Clinician-Patient Conversations in Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Comprehensive biomarker testing can play a very important role in the personalized treatment for patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). How do we improve clinician-patient conversations in biomarker testing? And how do we remove barriers that can impede an HCP’s ability to treat patients with personalized care?

Dr. Heather Wakelee, Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Oncology at Stanford University School of Medicine and Dr. Leigh Boehmer, medical director at Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) weigh in on this very important topic. 

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See More from Lung Cancer | Empowering Providers to Empower Patients

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How Can Lung Cancer Experts in Academic and Community Settings Collaborate

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Methods to Improve Lung Cancer Physician-Patient Communication 

What Guidelines Exist for Lung Cancer Genomic Biomarker Testing

What Guidelines Exist for Lung Cancer Genomic Biomarker Testing

Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Welcome to this Empowering Providers to Empower Patients (EPEP) program. I’m Dr. Nicole Rochester, pediatrician and CEO of Your GPS Doc. In this Patient Empowerment Network program, we connect leading lung cancer expert voices to discuss enhancing physician-patient communication and shared decision-making in lung cancer care. Some of the topics we’re going to tackle in today’s conversation include the challenges and solutions for biomarker testing in the community hospital setting and in academic centers.

We’re also going to talk about removing barriers that can impede a healthcare provider’s ability to treat patients with personalized care, improving clinician-patient communication with regard to NSCLC biomarker testing, and we’re also going to explore opportunities to improve access to personalized care for all patients. I am thrilled to be joined by thoracic medical oncologist, Dr. Heather Wakelee, Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Oncology at Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Wakelee is also President of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer. I am also thrilled to be joined by Dr. Leigh Boehmer, Chief Medical Officer at the Association of Community Cancer Centers. Thank you both for joining us today.

Dr. Leigh Boehmer:  

Thank you.

Dr. Heather Wakelee:

Thank you.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

So we know that biomarker testing connects the right patient to the right treatment at the right time and potentially to the right clinical trial, but there also are some challenges and interventions are necessary, and that’s going to really frame our conversation today. So I’d like to start with the general landscape, so I’m going to start with you, Dr. Wakelee, what in your opinion and expertise are the existing challenges as it relates to biomarker testing in academic medical centers?

Dr. Heather Wakelee: 

Thanks for that question, Dr. Rochester. I think that the biggest challenge is making sure that every patient with a new diagnosis of advanced stage non-small cell lung cancer gets the testing done and gets the testing results back before they start treatment, right? And that’s the goal. I guess that’s more of the goal than the problem, and the challenges come in each of those different phases. First is making sure that every patient is given access to the testing, and there are barriers if the patient ends up very, very sick in a hospital setting.

There are some regulations that can make that challenging, they might be…their first encounters with the healthcare system are going to potentially be with pulmonologists, general practitioners, interventional radiology. And those people might not be aware of what needs to happen to get the tissue as quickly as possible into testing, they might not be as aware of drawing a blood test, if we’re going to do a liquid biopsy, and so if those things aren’t initiated first, when the patient gets to see the oncologist some days or even a week or two later, we’re already further down the path.

They might be starting to get symptoms, and then when you start the testing, you might have to wait longer than is really acceptable before you have the results that could inform treatment. And as you said, Dr. Rochester, the testing, when we get those molecular results back, that’s going to help us figure out what’s going on in that tumor that might change our treatment options, because there’s a driver mutation where there’s a new drug approved that’s going to be the best efficacious opportunity for that patient. And if they don’t know, they can’t start it, we also run into issues where if the patient’s symptomatic, we can’t wait, and then they get started on chemotherapy and immunotherapy, which might otherwise be a standard approach, immunotherapy is in the body, chemotherapy is in the body, the toxicity is there, and then if you later find out, oh, there was a driver mutation, your hands are a little tied, because the toxicity can be amplified if you combine agents and the immune therapy is in the system for months.

So these are some of the challenges and really the barriers…the biggest barriers from my perspective are not every patient is being tested with comprehensive testing as early as possible, right?

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Thank you for that, Dr. Wakelee, you’ve really, really outlined how the challenges around access to testing and even the timeliness and the importance of timely testing and the fact that these patients are often kind of making their way through a series of providers before they get to the oncologist. So I appreciate that. Dr. Boehmer, I know you have a lot of experience in the community setting where we know there are a host of additional barriers, so I’d love for you to weigh in on this question, and what challenges are you seeing with biomarker testing in the community setting?

Dr. Leigh Boehmer:

Thanks very much for the question. Yeah, I think the use of precision medicine was initially touted as this opportunity to address care disparities, whether that’s in racial ethnic minorities, differences between academic and community practices, et cetera, by using the technology to try to determine treatment largely based on things like the genetic makeup of a tumor. And, unfortunately, in reality disparities have sadly only continued to grow in the setting of targeted and/or testing related to things like ability to pay and insurance coverage for testing, mistrust in the healthcare system, and historical injustices related to cancer care delivery. And there’s a significant discordance in literature between patients and clinicians understanding of the importance of biomarker testing relative to treatment planning.

So even now in 2023, as more states are passing legislation to expand coverage of comprehensive testing, we’re hearing from member programs of ACCC running up against increasing prior authorization restrictions and requirements, and there are unfortunate ramifications of that, like additional costs to programs or additional costs to patients, for example, in the setting of reflexive testing, there’s also a lot of ongoing data which suggests concerning continued racial disparities in rates of guideline concordant testing. So there’s a lot of opportunities for us to learn, yes, from what we have done in successful models of rollout of testing, but we’re still confronting some pretty major challenges and barriers, and I’ve got to say that’s true whether you’re talking about community programs and practices or academic partners as well.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I really appreciate you adding that layer, Dr. Boehmer. As someone who does a lot of work in health equity, I was just sharing prior to us recording that these disparities are pervasive, and now we’re learning it’s in lung cancer, and for all of the reasons that you stated, and it’s interesting that when we really start to look at our progress, and when we look at it by comparing different racial and ethnic groups, we find, as you stated, that sometimes the disparities actually widen.

And so it’s not that these aren’t great practices and precision medicine is a wonderful thing, but to your point, if we’re not ensuring that everyone has access to this new technology, then in fact, not only do we continue to see disparities, but sometimes that we inadvertently worsen them. So I appreciate you sharing that. Both of you have been on the ground floor of research in this area with regard to biomarker testing and availability and disparities. So I’d love for you to talk a little bit about the data and what does the data tell us with regard to biomarker testing? It’s important, some of the challenges that you both just stated, and so I’ll start with you this time, Dr. Boehmer.

Dr. Leigh Boehmer:

[chuckle] Thanks, I appreciate it. I’ve been privileged to work with both providers and patients’ caregivers, taking a closer look at some of the barriers and then practical solutions that might be utilized to address some of these concerns around testing. So back in 2021, ACCC used the mixed methods approach to try to understand the motivators of patients and providers, their practice patterns, their attitudes, the educational needs of patients and providers related to biomarker testing and beyond. And you know what’s really interesting, in almost 100 total provider respondents, less than half of community clinicians who responded said that they used biomarker testing to guide patient discussions.

And that was compared to nearly three-quarters of all responding academic clinicians, and it really made us start to think about…so, you know, the impetus for testing in the context of testing. In this particular research, to my earlier comments, we were actually targeting patients with non-small cell lung cancer who were uninsured, underinsured and/or covered by Medicaid. So dual eligible beneficiaries, and it was really interesting because we looked at why and how conversations were happening about biomarker testing between providers and patients, and really identified some tremendous opportunities for education around clinicians’ needs to become more familiar with guideline concordant testing and to have more practical applications of guideline concordant testing, so things like case-based examples, so then ultimately they could have optimal conversations with patients and help coordinate multidisciplinary care.

There’s also data which would suggest a disconnect between ordering testing after initial staging versus ordering testing at the time of initial biopsy. And, Dr. Wakelee, you said something that really resonated with me because if we can identify patients who need to be tested, if we can have access to testing, we still have a disconnect, and this is largely seen in community programs today where clinicians may be waiting 10 days, 14 days, even longer to receive results of testing. And you’re right, we have patients who need treatment initiated sooner than later, and you miss these opportunities because of delays, prior authorizations and a lot of other things, So the data certainly quantitatively, qualitatively is speaking to this hierarchy of problems and there’s definitely some mismatches between patient and provider perceptions of why testing happens, what it’s used for, and timing of the testing and results sharing.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

That is fascinating, and we’re definitely going to get deeper into that, this whole patient-provider interaction, so I really appreciate you introducing that and thank you for all the research that your organization has done in this area. So, Dr. Wakelee, you’re on the academic side of things, and you also have been deeply involved in research in this area, so what would you like to offer from your perspective in terms of the data around biomarker testing?

Dr. Heather Wakelee:

Well, thanks, and, Dr. Boehmer, you have a very comprehensive answer there, I think that the differences between academic and community sometimes are broad and sometimes aren’t that big at all, and I do think we face a lot of the same challenges. It’s just…it’s making sure that when a physician is meeting with a patient, and let’s say it’s with the oncologist, that the oncologist is really mindful that any patient with non-small cell lung cancer could have a tumor with a driver mutation. I think it’s easy to stereotype and think that only certain patients are going to, and therefore we shouldn’t be testing everybody. And that gets dangerous. I think it also is a matter of where you’re in practice, and if you’re in a practice where the prevalence of the driver mutations and the tumors is low, you might just say, “Oh, I’m never going to see it,” and you stop testing, and that’s also very dangerous because we have seen in multiple trials, as we get back to that research question, that if we can identify a driver mutation…

And we know that more than half of patients who’ve developed lung cancer who have never smoked or have a light smoking history are going to have an actionable driving mutation, and even in people who do have a smoking history, of any ethnic background, they’re still 10 to 20 percent or maybe more as we identify more of these driver mutations, where that’s what’s really the force in the tumor. And if you find it and you can start someone on the appropriate targeted therapy, usually across multiple trials, the toxicity is less than you would get with chemotherapy or immunotherapy.

Usually the probability of response is over half, you know, if someone’s going to have a benefit that that’s going to help them feel better for a period of time in controlling their cancer, it really drastically changes their whole tumor outcome, they’re going to be living longer, feeling better, and ultimately that’s our goal when we’re helping someone with metastatic disease. And if you don’t know that the tumor has a driver mutation, you’re never going to give them that appropriate treatment, and I think that is the real challenge that we face, and there are multiple different angles to that, right? You have to have the physician aware of the importance of finding the mutation, altering the treatment as necessary, and giving that patient the best possible option for care.

But it also is making sure that the patients are open about this, because I think there’s still a lot of misperceptions about when we talk about driver mutations and the word mutation, making sure that people understand we’re talking about the cancer and not about the person. And in a short conversation that can sometimes be missed, and then people are afraid of getting tested, afraid of what that might mean for them or their family, and so the communication around, we’re going to test your tumor because your tumor might have a mutation that’s going to allow us to give different care. I think that’s really important that people always remember to talk about the tumor and not about the mutation in the person, that’s really, really critical.

And also to avoid that stereotyping about who do we test and who do we not test, pretty much anyone with a non-squamous, non-small cell lung cancer, their tumor needs to be tested, and many people who have a squamous cytology that’s also reasonable. So that’s the people aspect of it, the insurance barriers and the interpretation of the results, those are still there as well. And even if you have perfect communication and the patient understands and you get the testing done immediately, you still have to deal with, is it going to get covered or not? And the results come back, is it going to be interpretable or not? Because that can sometimes be tricky also. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wow. I would say you two have really uncovered a lot of barriers, and it’s enough to make someone feel a little bit discouraged, I would say, however, because of the work that both of you are doing and so many others, we know that there indeed is hope. And so I’d love to shift a little bit. We’ve talked a lot about the barriers, which are many, what’s on the horizon or what positive trends have you all seen, and specifically what are the opportunities, what are some things that are either happening or that are being explored with regard to removing some of these barriers or all of the barriers that each of you have talked about? I’ll start with you, Dr. Wakelee, give us some hope.

Dr. Heather Wakelee:

All right. Great. Well, I think there is reason to have hope. Absolutely. There always is reason to have hope. And so many organizations, including ISLC, including ACCC, including NCC…I mean, you could name any organization that’s involved in cancer care and education, is really focusing on this issue of making sure that every oncologist knows the importance of doing biomarker testing for patients with non-small cell lung cancer, that we are trying to expand that not just to the oncologist, but also to the folks making the diagnosis, so they can be aware as well. Patient advocacy groups are very engaged in this as well, making sure that when someone is newly diagnosed, if they reach out to an advocacy group, one of the messages they hear is, have you asked about testing what’s happening with the tumor testing?

The more people who are aware that’s a standard of care in treating lung cancer, the more that’s going to happen, and then continuing to explore those financial barriers, and as more agents are FDA-approved, where that becomes a preferred first sign option, but you only know that if the testing’s happened, that leads to campaigning to make sure that the testing is being covered as well, you know, when you can argue, this patient isn’t getting the FDA-approved best care for their cancer because that testing wasn’t done, that’s a really powerful statement. And I think that’s what we’re seeing change happening.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

That is incredible, thank you. Thank you so much. I can smile again.

[laughter]

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

What about you, Dr. Boehmer? I know you’re getting…your organization is doing a lot of work in this area, so tell us about some of the advances, some of the improvements and tackling some of these barriers that both of you have elucidated today.

Dr. Leigh Boehmer:

So, Dr. Wakelee, thank you for all of those hope-inducing concepts and methodologies, because I honestly believe that so many of us learn best today by seeing someone like me doing X, Y, Z, so I know I can do it as well. So I think it’s about documentation of justification of testing for prior authorization claims. I think it’s about working together with the multidisciplinary team, pharmacist, advanced practitioners, oncology-certified nurses to help manage that back and forth with testing and external pathology and laboratory companies, to make sure that results show up in the right spot in the electronic health record so that they can be interpreted, shared with patients, communicated and contextualized in real time. I think it’s about greater incorporation as we’ve seen across so many of our programs of the tenets of shared clinical decision-making, and how to have a meaningful conversation with a patient and/or their caregivers about testing and its role on treatment and drug selection, and outcomes, and progression-free survival. And there are a lot of programs out there that are doing bits of this or different points along that continuum.

ACCC, for example, building on the research I shared before, recognizes that a lot of community programs don’t have kind of operational best practices for how to incorporate biomarker testing into a patient’s journey, and so for lung, and also, for example, for breast cancer, we’re working on creating care pathways which will help multidisciplinary clinician teams integrate discussions of biomarker testing and its impact at various critical time points along a patient’s diagnosis to treatment, to survivorship or end-of-life care. And those are just examples of us not being overly duplicative, but putting all the resources in one place, talking about timing, talking about when and how to have meaningful conversations, and then doing it with health-literate, vetted resources and through a lens of equity and shared decision-making, because you look like me, you had success with it. I’m going to do it for my at-risk patients as well, because one, it’s the right thing to do. And two, you taught me how to do it, and three, you told me what success looks like so I can measure myself against you, and that’s a successful model for scalability. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

That is wonderful. You both have nicely taken us into the next part of the conversation, and, Dr. Boehmer, you just talked about shared decision-making, and as someone who works very closely with patient advocates and health advocates, it’s so important that any effort to improve care with regard to any disease or illness, it has to involve the patient and their family, so I really appreciate you all sharing that. So, with that in mind, and as we begin to think about how the patient-provider relationship and the patient-provider communication plays a role in addressing some of these barriers that we’ve been talking about and then making sure that patients are appropriately being tested and treated, I’d love to hear from you all regarding the role of the patient-provider partnership as it relates to biomarker testing. So, let’s see, I’ll start with you, Dr. Boehmer.

Dr. Leigh Boehmer:

So I really, really think this question is critical, and I’m going to bias by saying, an exciting new position on the multidisciplinary cancer care team that we are learning about it, some of our member programs, is that of a precision medicine steward or navigator. So if you’re at all familiar with the idea of a patient navigation service or the services provided by financial advocates or financial navigators, this is really identifying that it is getting so complex in the world of targeted testing, targeted treatments today, that it literally requires in some places and settings an FTE or multiple to try to navigate testing, pathology, external labs, medical oncology, pharmacy services, nursing administration, and then, of course, patients and caregivers, and communication and context building, working with patient advocacy groups who are out there publishing great resources on testing and what they mean and targeted treatments. But trying to put all of that together, I will admit as a community clinician, as you probably see 15, 18, 20 patients a day, sometimes with as many different discrete types of cancers, it gets overwhelming.

And so, having a support person on staff who can help you manage some of that information and the patient-provider conversations, ACCC is very, very much about recognizing multidisciplinary teams of providers, so it’s critical to have navigation, to have social work providing distress screening and psychosocial support, to have pharmacists talking about targeted therapies and how they match with, to Dr. Wakelee’s points, mutations and fusions and rearrangements and everything we’re testing for with our big panels of next-generation sequencing, right? So I really want to encourage us all to utilize as patients and as team members, everybody else on the team, which is also to say patients and caregivers, are team members too, right? They have rights and responsibilities as members of their own team. And I will end with this, I say all of this, and I feel justified in saying all of this because we’ve done research at ACCC, and without that critical infrastructure, there’s potentially a real disconnect. So, for example, we asked patients with lung cancer what resources would be most impactful for you as you embark on your treatment journey, and they said things to us like psychosocial support and financial assistance.

When we asked the provider respondents a similar question in their own survey, the number one thing they identified, they thought patients needed were educational handouts or websites to go seek information about their diagnosis. Now that’s not to shake a finger at anybody or to say that you were right or you were wrong, that’s just to say, we need people who can approach this whole patient-provider construct from different perspectives, because Leigh is going to ask different questions than Heather is going to ask, than Nicole is going to ask, and that’s the beauty of multidisciplinary care coordination. We do need to come at it from different angles, different perspectives, and always make sure we’re remaining open and inclusive and asking what patients need and want right now. Because we don’t always have the answers, we have to remember that. We’re human, we have biases, it’s always better to ask and provide and then ask again.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

You are really speaking my language, Dr. Boehmer.

[laughter]

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

And I see, Dr. Wakelee, both of us are shaking our heads the entire time that you’ve been speaking and just around this idea of multidisciplinary teams that include the patient and the family, and ideally at the center. Dr. Wakelee, do you have anything to add?

Dr. Heather Wakelee:

Hard to add. That was very impressive, Dr. Boehmer, [laughter] and highlighting that just…we talk about multidisciplinary sometimes, the first version, some people think of it’s just it’s a team of a few different types of doctors. And obviously that’s not at all what we’re talking about, this is to provide the best possible care for a patient dealing with cancer, that physician-to-patient interaction is critical, but the patient to physicians to family is critical. And then you’ve got to also think about all the psycho-social needs and whether that’s going to be with a social worker or… We have a lot of people working in oncology who are psychologists and psychiatrists particularly focused in that because the coping with the disease is such a big part of it. And it’s also the pharmacy teams and the nursing teams. It is…multidisciplinary is many, many different levels of circles, but at the core, it’s the patient and family and the primary physician, that’s kind of the way I think at it, but I’m an oncologist, so perhaps I’m a little biased in my viewpoint there.

But it’s that communication right there where you sort of have all of the information that the physician’s holding, that’s coming from all of the different treatment disciplines, and then you’ve got all the information that the patient’s holding, that’s coming from their understanding of them and all of their other aspects of their life, and that’s sort of that interaction at the core, and making sure that both sides are seeing each other and seeing all of the other layers of that, so that you could make sure that at each point the recommendations and what the patient is actually doing, everyone’s coming from a point of understanding. I think, to me, that’s the most critical piece. And you don’t have that understanding if you don’t also have all the information you need about the tumor, and you’re not making that right decision if you don’t have all the information you need about all the aspects of who that patient is as a person, and that goes into their decisions as well, and that’s to me, that’s what we’re aiming for, right? 

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Absolutely, you all have done such an incredible job really highlighting the importance of involving the patient and family, involving this multidisciplinary team, which as you said, Dr. Wakelee, it’s not just a bunch of different types of doctors. So before we conclude, I just want to talk a little bit about that communication, because most of you have shared how important that communication is, and we know that there are challenges, inside and outside of cancer with regard to communicating with patients, and certainly as a physician that some of the complexity of the topics that you all have discussed I would admit is even a lot for me, and so we can imagine that for someone without any medical training, this is very difficult, these topics of biomarker testing and genetics and mutations and precision medicine. So I’d love for you, Dr. Wakelee, to start by just sharing some best practices, things you’ve learned over the years with how can providers who are watching this program really engage in effective, thoughtful conversations with patients and their family members about biomarker testing?

Dr. Heather Wakelee:  

So that’s a great, great question. And really, the communication is to me, like I said, the core there, when I’m talking about biomarker testing with the patient, I usually try to frame it from the context of what makes the cancer different than the rest of you. And what we’re trying to figure out is what is it about the cancer that makes it different than the rest of you, so we can then target what’s different, and hopefully with that, being able to control the cancer without harming the rest of you. So that’s sort of one framework of it, and depending on the patient’s level of understanding, and then sort of layer in different levels of…for people who are understanding DNA and mutations, then you can start talking about those specifics, and for folks who don’t necessarily want to think about it that way, or haven’t had the education about it that way, then just starting from that framework. And I think about it this way too, is how is the cancer different than the rest of the person? And what can we do to therefore attack the cancer differently than we would the rest of the person?

And then from there, if there is a mutation or a translocation or something else that we found, can use the name of that gene and say, “This is different in the cancer than in the rest of you, and this is a targeted therapy that’s going to go after that, and it’s going to work for a period of time, but the cancer is always evolving.” And so we kind of plant that seed from the beginning also, that it’s not curing, that the cancer continues to evolve, and eventually it’s going to change in a way where that doesn’t work, but for right now, that’s the best treatment. So that’s how I’m going about with that communication with people on it. And then, again, I practice in Silicon Valley, so a lot of people will come in with books, practically, of all the research that they’ve done, and so that’s a very different conversation than someone who comes in and says, “Whatever you think is best, doc.” And even when I hear that, which I don’t happen to hear too often anymore, I really feel it’s critical that the patient is still understanding, why are we picking this treatment for your particular cancer, and what are our expectations from it?

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I really appreciate the plain language, and I think that’s important, and also your acknowledgment that patients come to us with different levels of knowledge and expertise, and so really it’s about meeting them where they are, so I really appreciate that. And, Dr. Boehmer, we’re going to allow you to wrap up on this topic, I know that the Association of Community Cancer Centers has done research about what patients want to hear and some of the biases around providers, maybe thinking that patients don’t want or don’t need some of this information, that it may be too confusing for them, so I’d love for you to share some knowledge around your experience in this area and some best practices around communicating with patients.

Dr. Leigh Boehmer:

Thanks very much, I appreciate the opportunity, I’ll try and keep it targeted. I think number one, Dr. Wakelee, you’re correct. We have visual learners, auditory learners, we have people that want more direction and less direction, so simply starting by asking, how do you prefer to learn? It’s a wonderful place to start. It could be drawing pictures, it could be giving them that academic print out of literature published in a cutting-edge journal. But we need to know how patients learn and respect the fact that we’re all individuals and we as providers talking to patients may need to alter our approach based on different patients’ characteristics. I also think our research has shown that consistent terminology must, must be utilized, biomarker testing, molecular profiling, next-generation sequencing, mutation analysis, whatever it is, that you have decided to make your consistent terminology, please in your teams, then in the next level of teams, then in your health system, and then with your colleagues, talk about what it is, why it is, does it go against another group or is it in agreement with A, B, C groups. Because we have to, as a collective, really agree on and start utilizing consistent terminology, because until we do, we’re just continuing to stir the pot and cause confusion amongst patients, caregivers, other patient advocacy organizations and ourselves.

The other thing I’ll say, at ACCC, we’ve got a lot of resources aggregated in one place about shared decision-making, what it is, how to do it, how to assess yourself, health literacy, how do you evaluate your program to make sure you’re asking the right questions before you ever, ever have a conversation with a patient about biomarker testing or different targeted treatments for patients with non-small cell lung cancer? There’s little things that you can do today that’s so important. Little things you can do today that will make a positive influence on your patients’ outcomes and experience just by asking, addressing your own biases, being inclusive with your language and using consistent terminology. All of that is on our website and it’s truly incremental. Go easy on yourself, we’re all learning here, and acknowledging your bias and trying to be more inclusive is very, very worthwhile, and it’s okay if it’s small steps every single day made.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

A wonderful way to end this program. I have learned a lot as always, I’m sure that those of you watching have as well. We have talked about the challenges around biomarker testing on the clinician side, on the patient and family side, we’ve explored some amazing solutions to some of these challenges and barriers, and I just want to really thank both of you for being here, and lastly, give you an opportunity if there’s something that you really feel like we should have talked about that we didn’t get to. Any closing thoughts or anything that you want to leave the audience with. And I’ll start with you, Dr. Wakelee.

Dr. Heather Wakelee:

Thanks. I think just to make sure everyone is always thinking, if you’ve got a patient and they’re coming to see you and they have lung cancer, that you’ve done the biomarker testing, that the patient understands about it, that you’ve had an opportunity to include that as part of the conversation whenever you’re talking about treatment.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Thank you, Dr. Boehmer.

Dr. Leigh Boehmer:  

The only thing I would add is that if you’re thinking about creating resources, if you’re trying to target at-risk populations or communities in your area, please always, always remember to invite those individuals as you are talking, creating and disseminating. Because we don’t have all the answers, and that’s okay. I give you permission, but please invite people in and let them be a part of the discussion and the proposed solutions.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wonderful. Well, thank you again to both of you, Dr. Wakelee, Dr. Boehmer, this has been an amazing conversation. And thank you again for tuning in to this Empowering Providers to Empower Patients program.

Dr. Leigh Boehmer:

Thank you.


Share Your Feedback About the Program

How Do Lung Cancer Patients Benefit From MRD Testing?

How Do Lung Cancer Patients Benefit From MRD Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MRD testing is another tool in the lung cancer care toolkit. Expert Dr. Christian Rolfo from Mount Sinai explains how MRD testing aids in patient monitoring, use of liquid biopsies in patient care, and updates about immunotherapy for early stage lung cancer.

See More from Best Lung Cancer Care

Related Resource:

How Can Specific Biomarkers Impact Lung Cancer Progression?

How Can Lung Cancer Disparities Be Addressed?

Lung Cancer Treatment Landscape Overview


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

There are a few questions from our audience that I would love to present to you, and so one of them comes from MacKenzie and MacKenzie asked, “Can you speak about MRD testing and what that means for lung cancer?”

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, and that we were discussing briefly. So minimal residual disease is the…as I say, when we have an operation, we can have the opportunity to have completely resected a tumor, but we don’t know more than with the CT scan when the patient will recover. So we are without an answer believing every follow-up visit what has happened, seeing if it has gone. So we are trying to reduce this…reduce the anxiety first of all, to try to get the tools that are able to identify patients that they can recurrence, have a recurrence so liquid biopsies, one of them, and we have now the several methods that are trials and several data coming that there are some companies that actually they are a market for some of the options, we are still having validations, required validations, but we will certainly be there very shortly in time to identify these patients and to treat them in the proper time.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Wonderful, and I think you just addressed a question that came in from Harold, which was., “Is liquid biopsy playing a role in monitoring disease recurrence in lung cancer?”

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Sure, we are actually tailoring treatments and checking the patients, and I have several, several experiences in patients that they’re monitoring over the time, and we have actually some of the vendors that are proposing this approach monitoring, liquid biopsy is a great tool because it’s minimally invasive, it’s just a blood draw, and we can continue. Not all the patients have the possibility in terms of they are not all cheaters, that is something we need to know DNA, so it’s the majority of them, we can do it in some minimal proportion, we cannot do it when there are also possibilities to follow them.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:  

And our last question from the audience comes from Laura, and she wants to know, “Are  immunotherapy combinations in the metastatic setting, expanding to treat earlier stage lung cancer?”

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, absolutely, we have actually an FDA approval for us, one of the immunotherapeutic drugs in patients after the resection of the disease with some characteristics, but we are there and actually we are having more and more clinical trials using in earlier stages so we will say in the other stage from the earlier stage from that is the neoadjuvant, and we call that when we are doing a treatment to reduce two months to be operated later on, so we have also some trials that are going there, but we have an approval already for the adjuvant setting that is after the surgery in some patients. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

That’s wonderful. You’ve given us a lot of good news. A lot of hopeful news, Dr. Rolfo, it is time for us to wrap up. I want to thank you again for being here for sharing your expertise. 

How Can Lung Cancer Disparities Be Addressed?

How Can Lung Cancer Disparities Be Addressed? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lung cancer disparities work against care for some patients, but how can they be addressed? Expert Dr. Christian Rolfo from Mount Sinai explains some disparities in patient populations and how care can be improved for these underrepresented patients. 

See More from Best Lung Cancer Care

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How Can Specific Biomarkers Impact Lung Cancer Progression?

How Can Drug Resistance Impact Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer?

What Are the Latest Lung Cancer Treatment Updates?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

So I’d love for you to talk a little bit, Dr. Rolfo, about some of the challenges related to appropriate access to lung cancer care as it relates to different socio-demographic populations, and then how can we begin to address those disparities.

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, this is a topic that is really in my heart because I was coming with you before we start the communication, the recording of this. I was working in Europe before coming to the United States. I was shocked by the disparities that we see in some healthcare situations, so in my position before in Europe, we have a healthcare system that discovering for patients and we have, obviously, difficulties, but here I saw in some communities really under-served in terms of access to different service and healthcare is one of them. 

So we need to be conscious about that when we have patients that are struggling to get transportation, we have patients that are struggling to get approval for some drugs. So, there are a lot of areas that need to be addressed, disparity also in terms of language, we have also patients that are not understanding the doctors, we have patients that are having difficulty when to get to the app information when we are saying, Oh, you can see your report in your app, so it’s not easy for some of them, we have generational gaps as well, these are disparities as well. So taking or being conscious of all these factors is making us take action and how we can take actions in our institutions, and in several institutions in the country, we have the support of an experienced team that is addressing that, and teams are specific that are working for disparities. Some of them are social workers, some of them are advocate patients, so we have a big team of institutions that are helping to the patients to go for different scenarios, and even we have patients that are homeless, so how we treat patients in these conditions when we know that the patient is in a shelter, so if you have toxicity, what will we be doing. So all these things are taken into consideration, believe me, because it is like New York, you have a big disparity of or a big diversity, and we say of populations in one consultation morning, you can see all of them in your waiting room, so we need to try to address all this, and there are politics that are coming from us as a healthcare system, but there are also politics that they need to come from governmental politics, so try to use these…all the tools that we have at our disposal are important, and also we have a very good support of advocacy groups. 

And this is something that I want to really profit their patient to say thanks because we have several, several advocacy groups that are doing a terrific job from testing to helping patients to go through this journey. So it’s really an important job, and obviously families, families are helping to these disparities and patients, so patients themself. So what I say always to the patient, raise your voice, empower yourself. Try to ask for your rights if you don’t understand your doctor… Ask again, if you want to have a second opinion, talk to your doctor, that is the most important thing. We are very open to help the patients, and that is our mission. So if I say to my patients, If you want to have a second opinion, please let me know, and I try to direct you to somebody who is an expert in the field and can help us to learn better your disease or your treatment, but I think it’s a situation that everyone is winning, especially the patient, but also ask for future patients understanding better every case. 

How Can Specific Biomarkers Impact Lung Cancer Progression?

How Can Specific Biomarkers Impact Lung Cancer Progression? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lung cancer progression can be aided by monitoring of biomarkers, but what do they indicate? Expert Dr. Christian Rolfo from Mount Sinai explains biomarker characteristics that help monitor disease progression and how clinical trials help in treatment advances.

See More from Best Lung Cancer Care

Related Resource:

How Do Lung Cancer Patients Benefit From MRD Testing?

How Can Biomarkers Help With Lung Cancer Treatment?

What Are the Latest Lung Cancer Treatment Updates?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

So with regard to the biomarkers, you mentioned that these are kind of unevenly distributed among different populations depending on your origin, and so how does that play into the progression of the disease, what do we know about why patients with specific biomarkers have a different degree of disease progression?

Dr. Christian Rolfo:

Yeah, so we know more or less that the characteristics, I mean more or less in terms of the evolution of the clinical characteristics of these patients, in terms of organ affection in case of progression, but what is most important of this is that we are able to continue to identify, and I say monitoring these patients with liquid biopsy, for example, this is a good tool to understand or to understand it a bit better, which kind of mechanistic involvement. 

So because we have, for example, patients who were receiving the case that I was discussing before EGFR mutations and they received one graft from the very beginning, a third-generation TKI is the one that is approved for the first line, and this patient has a progression. The possibility to have a mechanism of resistance is different, so we can have mutations that are coming in the same pathway, so in the same area, same kind of mutation, but different location, just to the people understand is the kind of line and we have the mutation that is here, the one that we are attacking, but we have another mutation that is in this area, and it’s not covered by the track that is covering this mutation. 

So we have nowadays drugs that are going to, in this area in clinical trials, or we have in other cases other areas of the task of mutations that have nothing to do with the original one. So we are activating another kind of pathway, or we are transforming the tumor from one kind of tumor to another kind of tumor, so for this reason, identify which kind of mechanism of resistance is in place can have an important or have important implications for how we are treating these patients,  so we need to look at that to treat the patients.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: Wonderful. And speaking of resistance, we know that there are some patients who end up trying multiple therapies in order to treat their lung cancer, are there alternative treatment strategies for lung cancer patients who have failed all therapies? 

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, absolutely, we have research in lung cancer is never stopping in oncology generally, but in lung cancer it’s really exciting to see how this research is evolving, and it’s arriving to the patients the meaning of the research when we are doing access to the patients, to the discovery of the finding that we have, and obviously, we have strategies in the clinical practice, but also we have the clinical trials. So clinical trials, and that is something we need to try to define very well because some patients believe that when we are going to clinical trials there are no more options or we don’t have any other options to do. 

We are sometimes using clinical trials even in the first line, so even in patients that are for the first time being treated. Because we know that some of the cases we are treating patients with from some standard of care and using drugs on top, we want to explore it, we can improve these outcomes that we already know. That could be also a clinical trial, that is also a clinical trial. So don’t take the participation in a clinical trial as the last option that you have, sometimes you will go to your doctor and the first time that you see a doctor for your first diagnosis, they can propose a clinical trial. 

And this is really valuable. What we really appreciate is the collaboration of the patients to be in clinical trials, because we need to remember that the drugs that we are using today were analyzing other patients before, so the treatment that you are receiving in a standard of care today were before a clinical trial, it’s really important how we can interact with the research and the clinical practice very easily, so we have also some options that are…for what we call early drug development, that there are some drugs that are in patients who are receiving the standard of care, and they have the opportunity to be treated in new drugs, and you can discuss…believe me there, and 

I know that there is a lot of questions about clinical trials but the clinical trial setting is really restrictive, it’s very well-coordinated, so you would be part of a very coordinated and structured things that they try to protect the patients in the first instance, and try to understand also how we can help the patients and the future generations. So that is really why we appreciate patients that the contribution of patients that are giving to this clinical research because it’s helping to advance the knowledge for the new patients as well.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

And I really appreciate how you described clinical trials, and particularly your distinction about it’s not always this last ditch effort that sometimes you all are using clinical trials as first-line therapy. One of the common things is that clinical trials are tomorrow’s medicine today, and helping patients and families to understand that there’s value in being involved in clinical trials and that…and I think with COVID there’s a little more understanding, but certainly, we have a long way to go, and so I appreciate you sharing that. Do you have any specific examples of patients in your practice, and not names, of course, but examples of…that have benefited from clinical trials?

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Absolutely, we have several of examples, and actually FDA was doing a terrific job in the last year to try to get access quickly access to the drugs for patients, and some of this access that was granted was based in clinical trials that we’re starting for a Phase I or Phase II trials, owe are really doing a very rapid evolution of the drug development, and this is a revolution actually of the drug development because we have access very quickly. I can tell you that it was certainly in my career, several patients in clinical trials that they got benefits. Obviously, clinical trials are answering questions, so that is the way that we can answer questions scientifically and is the only way that we can advance in clinical therapeutics. 

How Can Biomarkers Help With Lung Cancer Treatment?

How Can Biomarkers Help With Lung Cancer Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Biomarkers can assist with lung cancer treatment, but how are they used exactly? Expert Dr. Christian Rolfo from Mount Sinai explains what is examined in biomarkers and how they aid treatment of specific population groups.

See More from Best Lung Cancer Care

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How Do Lung Cancer Patients Benefit From MRD Testing?

How Can Specific Biomarkers Impact Lung Cancer Progression?

What Are the Latest Lung Cancer Treatment Updates?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

We know that no two lung cancers are the same. Can you explain to the audience how biomarkers help with lung cancer treatment and they can be so important? 

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, we have different…as I say, we are looking at specific characteristics from the tumor when I’m referring to genomic alterations that I’m not referring to something that you can get from your family and bring to your descendants. So I’m talking about mutations that are occurring inside the tumors and only for the tumor, and so affecting only the subject that has this patient that has this alteration. So these biomarkers are an important way to identify populations that we can treat specifically, and I would like to be a little bit more specific on that. We have some of the alterations, for example, one of the mutations that we call EGFR or epidermal growth factor receptor mutation that is supported in different populations in different frequencies. For example, if we have patients that are with an Asiatic origin, we have there the possibility to have a…and I’m referring, for example, Chinese, Japanese, this area of the East Asia, we have a hyper-prevalence of these mutations in around 50 percent of the patients with lung cancer, non-squamous we’d say this is another characteristic of the tumor can have this specific alteration. If we are moving, for example to Latinos, the pains of the areas of Latinos they are coming from, if you have Mexican or, for example, Peruvian, they have also due to their ancestry, they are similar to the Asiatic population, 40 percent we’re going to white populations and Anglo-Saxons or Europeans, they have around 7 to 15 percent  according to the different regions. 

African Americans within 15 to 20 percent. So these kinds of alterations are giving us the opportunity to treat and we have nowadays inhibitors and that’s drugs that are from first, second and third generation, so we were evolving in January, this pharmaceutical in January to develop all drugs that are able to penetrate in the brain and acting not only in the tumor, but also in brain metastases. And patients who have this mutation, for example, are treated in first line, in front line, or the first treatment that they receive are pills, no chemotherapy. So for this reason, and that is something that is important because when we know that patients, when they start this journey of lung cancer diagnosis before they see an oncologist, they were struggling to get the diagnosis and then we’re passing through several doctors from the general practitioner or to the emergency room, going to CT scan and then a biopsy then a pulmonologist until they get the diagnosis, it’s a big period of time sometimes that we are very nervous because we want to each patient to have a treatment as soon as possible, and sometimes when they arrive to us, we say they need to wait until we have the results of these biomarkers. 

So it’s difficult to understand, I put in the place of the patients and the families are really difficult to understand that I was passing a lot, I went here, I came here and I want your treatment right away, but this period that we are asking to wait is really important, because we will have information that can change radically the treatment and the history of these patients. So one of the problems that we have in America is the lack of testing, so we have all the tools to test the patients, but if we are looking at some of the statistics, 50 percent of the patients have been tested. 39 percent if we are moving to groups, for example, of AfricanAmericans, so we need to be very careful that don’t push to get the treatment very quickly without having all the elements to this thing, which kind of treatment is the most adequate for the patient. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

That is such important information, and I really appreciate that, I appreciate it. That you put it in the perspective of the patients and family members. And that grueling, long wait, long time to diagnose this, and finally you’re in front of a specialist and the perception is that, Okay, now I’m going to get this treatment that I need, and then like you said to hear, now you have to wait a little bit longer, but also to understand that that wait is important to make sure that you get the treatment that is meant for your specific type of cancer, I think that is so incredibly important.

Dr. Christian Rolfo:

And believe me, we are trying to push as well from the that there are, unfortunately, technical times that we cannot overcome that are for testing and for having these results, and we can do that by like I said liquid biopsy, but also tissue biopsy, so we are sending the tissue that the patients gave for a biopsy in a biopsy or in a resection when they have surgery. We take these small biopsies and we send them for analysis and take longer sometimes, so it’s a pity and we know, but it’s the only way to go for the right treatment. 

What Are the Latest Lung Cancer Treatment Updates?

What Are the Latest Lung Cancer Treatment Updates? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

With lung cancer research advances, what are the latest treatment updates? Expert Dr. Christian Rolfo from Mount Sinai explains treatment and monitoring advances and shares about lung cancer types that need more research funding.

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How Can Biomarkers Help With Lung Cancer Treatment?

How Can Specific Biomarkers Impact Lung Cancer Progression?

How Can Drug Resistance Impact Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Are there any other exciting updates that patients and families should know about related to lung cancer, maybe things that are in the works that we may hear about in 2023?

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, I said, for example, liquid biopsy I was mentioning liquid biopsy, and we are focused obviously, and in patients that have advanced disease or when they have this disease that is already confirmed. But we are now moving the tools that we have to the dedication of cancer using liquid biopsy from the very beginning, so we can use a minimal residual disease, that is patients after the surgery. And I think I hear answering one of the questions that we have in the chat that this minimal residual disease is the quantity of two more that sometimes we are not able to see in the images or is very tiny, and we have equivocal information, the possibility to discover the patients that after surgery, have the possibility to recurrence or have come back of the disease is really important.  

And also we are looking for early detection of lung cancer trying to identify patients with the high-risk populations that they are maybe having the opportunity to be in lung cancer screening because they are smokers, or because they have all the characteristics on top of this model that we can also use the liquid biopsy there. But one of the most important messages that I want to say, because I mentioned it here smokers, and I want to remind you that we have a big proportion of patients around 20 to 25 percent of the patients that they never smoked and that they can develop lung cancer. So we have a motto, we say if you have a lung, you can have it because we want to break this stigma that lung cancer has the only patients who are smoking, obviously smoking and tobacco are related highly with lung cancer. 

But also we have patients that are second-hand smokers or they have other causes of lung cancer. So we need to be aware and we need to try to get attention for that because, in this special population of non-smokers, we know that there is a special characteristic that we can treat them completely different, so it’s very important that we identify those patients as well.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

I really appreciate you sharing that, Dr. Rolfo, because as I’m sure you know, there’s a lot of stigma associated with lung cancer and the assumption that if you have lung cancer, then that automatically means that you are a smoker. And now that we know that people who smoke, those are challenges. But to just acknowledge that not everybody with lung cancer is someone who is a smoker, and also that the approach, the treatment approach may be different, so I really appreciate you pointing that out.

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

And actually, Dr. Rochester, you know this stigma was causing several domino effects. We have less funding for research, we have less support from the community sometimes like other tumors have, for example, breast cancer. So if we are looking specifically in lung cancer, the quantity of women that are dying or are going to a diagnosis of lung cancer, it’s very impressive, but actually it’s killing more people sometimes than other tumors. So we need to be very careful with this stigma because we need…and this is a call for action, now we need more funds, we need more support from the community, because this is a very important area that will need research. 

How Can Drug Resistance Impact Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer?

How Can Drug Resistance Impact Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Drug resistance can develop for some lung cancer patients, but is there impact to non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)? Expert Dr. Christian Rolfo from Mount Sinai explains drug resistance, patients who may be at-risk for this issue, and monitoring that is performed for optimal treatment.

See More from Best Lung Cancer Care

Related Resource:

How Can Biomarkers Help With Lung Cancer Treatment?

How Can Specific Biomarkers Impact Lung Cancer Progression?

How Can Lung Cancer Disparities Be Addressed?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

What have we learned about drug resistance as it relates to non-small cell lung cancer? Are there any new developments in that area?

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, obviously the patients of the…as I just commented, we have different patients with different needs and different scenarios, so we are now fragmenting a lot of the diseases, and we have actually different diseases. And one big disease that is the lung cancer, so now we are treating patients in a different way. And some patients have, for example, patients who are under treatment with targeted therapies, they can develop mechanics of resistance that we can nowadays not only identify but also treat. 

So we can treat and change the recurrence of these patients. One of the tools that we are using for that is liquid biopsy, for example, that is this blood draw that we are going for the patients, and actually, we are trying to do this determination from the very beginning and also monitoring the patients after we have this information to see if we are able to determine the mechanics of resistance, see also the outcomes of some of the therapies and change the treatment when it’s necessary. In immunotherapy, we have alterations that are resistant or refractory, that is another way of definitions so refractory we say patients that are not responding during the treatment and resistance of patients that or simply patients that are after the treatment having a progression in a very short time, so we need to identify these two categories and try to treat them in different ways that we have armamentarium for that as well. 

Lung Cancer Treatment Landscape Overview

Lung Cancer Treatment Landscape Overview from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lung cancer treatments have been rapidly expanding, so what are the current options? Expert Dr. Christian Rolfo from Mount Sinai outlines the lung cancer treatment landscape and which patients might benefit most from some treatments.

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Related Resource:

How Can Lung Cancer Disparities Be Addressed?

How Can Drug Resistance Impact Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer?

What Are the Latest Lung Cancer Treatment Updates?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Now, let’s delve into this very important topic, how can I get the best lung cancer care? And, Dr. Rolfo, we’re going to start with an overview of the lung cancer treatment landscape. We know that this landscape is rapidly changing and keeping up with the pace of developments could be a challenge not only for doctors, but certainly for patients and family members, so I was hoping that you could give us an overview of the current lung cancer treatment landscape.

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

In the last year, lung cancer treatment was changing radically. We have actually, including some of their new concepts as precision medicine or personalized medicine, that we have actually different therapies that are specifically for some group of patients, that they have specific alterations in their tumors.  And when I’m talking about alterations, I refer to mutations, genomic alterations that can be targeted nowadays with specific medications, and currently, some of them are actually, the majority of them are actually pills, for example. So it was changing radically, and we are not using it like before chemotherapy for everyone. Another area of important interest was the introduction of immunotherapy, this is also an important tool for fighting cancer. And there you have a substance that are administered generally, all of them are intravenous, and this is the principle of that is to await from your own inner system, from the patient immune system, they are the tools to fight against the cancer. 

So it’s a very innovative way to approach cancer, and this is…the good thing is that these two approaches targeted therapies, immunotherapy, and also still obviously the combination with chemotherapy in some of the case with immunotherapy, we can use not only metastatic patients, so in patients who have advanced disease, but also we can use in patients who have earlier stage that they were operated, for example, and we want to prevent that this patient is not going to a further process of cancer metastases, or there are several, several innovations. Then we have innovations that are coming also from local treatments and we call local treatments the one that, for example, surgery or radiation, we have new technologies also that are arriving there, and the combination sometimes with the medical treatment or systemic treatments that are going everywhere that is the description of systemic are helping these patients to have not recurrence and improving. Actually, lung cancer survival was really improving in the last years, and we are very excited by that because, unfortunately, it’s very still an aggressive disease that we were able to change with all this armamentarium the prognosis of these patients. 

How Can I Get the Best Lung Cancer Care?

How Can I Get the Best Lung Cancer Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can lung cancer patients access optimal care? Expert Dr. Christian Rolfo from Mount Sinai and Dr. Nicole Rochester discuss the latest lung cancer treatments and research, lung cancer testing, equitable care, and patient-centered care for the best health outcomes.

See More from Best Lung Cancer Care

Related Resource:

Lung Cancer Treatment Landscape Overview

How Do Lung Cancer Patients Benefit From MRD Testing?

What Are the Latest Lung Cancer Treatment Updates?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Hello and welcome. I’m Dr. Nicole Rochester, I’m a pediatrician, a professional health advocate, and your host for today’s Patient Empowerment Network program. We are so happy that you tuned in. How can you access the best possible lung cancer care? What do the latest combination therapies mean for you? Should you consider a clinical trial as a path to enhancing your lung cancer care? This Best Lung Cancer Care program focuses on providing actionable steps to achieving equitable care and connecting to patient-centered care on your path to empowerment. We are joined today by international lung cancer expert, Dr. Christian Rolfo, Professor of Medicine and Associate Director for Clinical Research in the Center for Thoracic Oncology at the Tisch Cancer Institute. Thank you so much for joining us today, Dr. Rolfo.

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Thank you, Dr. Rochester, for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Wonderful. I’m looking forward to our conversation. Now, following this program, you will receive a survey and we would be thrilled to get your feedback because this helps inform future lung cancer programs we produce. Please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical care, so please be sure to connect with your healthcare team regarding the best options for your care. Now, let’s delve into this very important topic, how can I get the best lung cancer care? And, Dr. Rolfo, we’re going to start with an overview of the lung cancer treatment landscape. We know that this landscape is rapidly changing and keeping up with the pace of developments could be a challenge not only for doctors, but certainly for patients and family members, so I was hoping that you could give us an overview of the current lung cancer treatment landscape.

Dr. Christian Rolfo:

In the last year, lung cancer treatment was changing radically. We have actually, including some of their new concepts as precision medicine or personalized medicine, that we have actually different therapies that are specifically for some group of patients, that they have specific alterations in their tumors. And when I’m talking about alterations I refer to mutations, genomic alterations that can be targeted nowadays with specific medications, and currently, some of them are actually, the majority of them are actually pills, for example. So it was changing radically and we are not using it like before chemotherapy for everyone. Another area of important interest was the introduction of immunotherapy, this is also an important tool for fighting cancer, and there you have a substance that are administered generally, all of them are intravenous, and this is the principle of that is to await from your own inner system, from the patient immune system, they are the tools to fight against the cancer, so it’s a very innovative way to approach cancer, and this is.

The good thing is that these two approaches targeted therapies, immunotherapy, and also still obviously the combination with chemotherapy in some of the case with immunotherapy, we can use not only metastatic patients, so in patients who have advanced disease, but also we can use in patients who have earlier stage that they were operated, for example, and we want to prevent that this patient is not going to a further process of cancer metastases, or there are several, several innovations. Then we have innovations that are coming also from local treatments and we call local treatments the one that, for example, surgery or radiation, we have new technologies also that are arriving there, and the combination sometimes with the medical treatment or systemic treatments that are going everywhere that is the description of systemic are helping these patients to have not recurrence and improving. Actually, lung cancer survival was really improving in the last years, and we are very excited by that because, unfortunately, it’s very still an aggressive disease that we were able to change with all this armamentarium the prognosis of these patients.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wow, that’s a lot. I mean it’s exciting to hear that there are so many new developments on the horizon and that so much has happened just in the last year as it relates to therapy. What have we learned about drug resistance as it relates to non-small cell lung cancer? Are there any new developments in that area?

Dr. Christian Rolfo:

Yeah, obviously the patients of the…as I just commented, we have different patients with different needs and different scenarios, so we are now fragmenting a lot of the diseases and we have actually different diseases, and one big disease that is the lung cancer, so now we are treating patients in a different way. And some patients have, for example, patients who are under treatment with targeted therapies, they can develop mechanics of resistance that we can nowadays not only identify but also treat. 

So we can treat and change the recurrence of these patients. One of the tools that we are using for that is liquid biopsy, for example, that is this blood draw that we are going for the patients, and actually, we are trying to do this determination from the very beginning and also monitoring the patients after we have this information to see if we are able to determine the mechanics of resistance, see also the outcomes of some of the therapies and change the treatment when it’s necessary. In immunotherapy, we have alterations that are resistant or refractory, that is another way of definitions so refractory we say patients that are not responding during the treatment and resistance of patients that or simply patients that are after the treatment having a progression in a very short time, so we need to identify these two categories and try to treat them in different ways that we have armamentarium for that as well.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wonderful, thank you for that. So you’ve mentioned a lot about updates, are there any other exciting updates that patients and families should know about related to lung cancer, maybe things that are in the works that we may hear about in 2023?

Dr. Christian Rolfo:

Yeah, I said, for example, liquid biopsy I was mentioning liquid biopsy, and we are focused obviously, and in patients that have advanced disease or when they have this disease that is already confirmed. But we are now moving the tools that we have to the dedication of cancer using liquid biopsy from the very beginning, so we can use a minimal residual disease that is patients after the surgery. And I think I hear answering one of the questions that we have in the chat that this minimal residual disease is the quantity of two more that sometimes we are not able to see in the images or is very tiny, and we have equivocal information, the possibility to discover the patients that after surgery, have the possibility to recurrence or have come back of the disease is really important. 

And also we are looking for early detection of lung cancer trying to identify patients with the high-risk populations that they are maybe having the opportunity to be in lung cancer screening because they are smokers, or because they have all the characteristics on top of this model that we can also use the liquid biopsy there. But one of the most important messages that I want to say, because I mentioned it here smokers and I want to remind you that we have a big proportion of patients around 20 to 25 percent of the patients that they never smoked and that they can develop lung cancer, so we have a motto, we say if you have a lung, you can have it because we want to break this stigma that lung cancer has the only patients who are smoking, obviously, smoking and tobacco are related highly with lung cancer. 

Dr. Christian Rolfo:

But also we have patients that are second-hand smokers or they have other causes of lung cancer, so we need to be aware and we need to try to get attention for that because, in this special population of non-smokers, we know that there is a special characteristic that we can treat them completely different, so it’s very important that we identify those patients as well.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I really appreciate you sharing that, Dr. Rolfo, because as I’m sure you know, there’s a lot of stigma associated with lung cancer and the assumption that if you have lung cancer, then that automatically means that you are a smoker, and not that we know that people who smoke, those are challenges, but to just acknowledge that not everybody with lung cancer is someone who is a smoker, and also that the approach, the treatment approach may be different, so I really appreciate you pointing that out.

Dr. Christian Rolfo:

And actually Dr. Rochester, you know this stigma was causing several domino effects. We have less funding for research, we have less support from the community sometimes like other tumors have, for example, breast cancer. So if we are looking specifically in lung cancer, the quantity of women that are dying or are going to a diagnosis of lung cancer, it’s very impressive, but actually it’s killing more people sometimes than other tumors. So we need to be very careful with this stigma because we need…and this is a call for action, now we need more funds, we need more support from the community, because this is a very important area that will need research.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Absolutely, so that brings me to the next section of our program, you’ve mentioned a lot of these therapies already, I just want to go a little bit deeper into exploring some of the lung cancer treatment strategies and also talk about clinical trials, so you talked about bio-markers. Can you expand a little bit on that? We know that no two lung cancers are the same. Can you explain to the audience how biomarkers help with lung cancer treatment and they can be so important? 

Dr. Christian Rolfo:

Yeah, we have different…as I say, we are looking at specific characteristics from the tumor when I’m referring to genomic alterations that I’m not referring to something that you can get from your family and bring to your descendants. So I’m talking about mutations that are occurring inside the tumors and only for the tumor, and so affecting only the subject that have this patient that has this alteration. So these biomarkers are an important way to identify populations that we can treat specifically, and I would like to be a little bit more specific on that. We have some of the alterations, for example, one of the mutations that we call EGFR or epidermal growth factor receptor mutation that is supported in different populations in different frequencies. 

For example, if we have patients that are with an Asiatic origin, we have there the possibility to have a…and I’m referring, for example, Chinese, Japanese, this area of the East Asia, we have a hyper-prevalence of these mutations in around 50 percent of the patients with lung cancer, non-squamous we’d say this is another characteristic of the tumor can have this specific alteration. If we are moving, for example, to Latinos, the pains of the areas of Latinos they are coming from, if you have Mexican or for example, Peruvian, they have also due to their ancestry, they are similar to the Asiatic population, 40 percent we’re going to white populations and Anglo-Saxons or Europeans, they have around 7 to 15 percent according to the different regions. 

African-Americans within 15 to 20 percent. So these kinds of alterations are giving us the opportunity to treat and we have nowadays inhibitors and that’s drugs that are from first, second and third generation, so we were evolving in January, this pharmaceutical in January to develop all drugs that are able to penetrate in the brain and acting not only in the tumor, but also in brain metastases. And patients who have this mutation, for example, are treated in first line, in front line, or the first treatment that they receive are pills, no chemotherapy. 

So for this reason, and that is something that is important because when we know that patients, when they start this journey of lung cancer diagnosis before they see an oncologist, they were struggling to get the diagnosis and then we’re passing through several doctors from the general practitioner or to the emergency room, going to CT scan and then a biopsy then a pulmonologist until they get the diagnosis, it’s a big period of time sometimes that we are very nervous because we want to each patient to have a treatment as soon as possible, and sometimes when they arrive to us, we say they need to wait until we have the results of these biomarkers.

So it’s difficult to understand, I put in the place of the patients and the families are really difficult to understand that I was passing a lot, I went here, I came here and I want your treatment right away, but this period that we are asking to wait is really important because we will have information that can change radically the treatment and the history of these patients. So one of the problems that we have in America is the lack of testing, so we have all the tools to test the patients, but if we are looking at some of the statistics, 50 percent of the patients have been tested…39 percent if we are moving to groups, for example, of African-Americans, so we need to be very careful that don’t push to get the treatment very quickly without having all the elements to this thing, which kind of treatment is the most adequate for the patient. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

That is such important information, and I really appreciate that, I appreciate it. That you put it in the perspective of the patients and family members. And that grueling, long wait, long time to diagnose this, and finally you’re in front of a specialist and the perception is that, Okay, now I’m going to get this treatment that I need, and then like you said to hear, now you have to wait a little bit longer, but also to understand that that wait is important to make sure that you get the treatment that is meant for your specific type of cancer, I think that is so incredibly important.

Dr. Christian Rolfo:

And believe me, we are trying to push as well from the that there are unfortunately technical times that we cannot overcome that are for testing and for having these results, and we can do that by like I said liquid biopsy, but also tissue biopsy, so we are sending the tissue that the patients gave for a biopsy in a biopsy or in a resection when they have surgery. We take these small biopsies and we send them for analysis and take longer sometimes, so it’s a pity, and we know but it’s the only way to go for the right treatment.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

So with regard to the biomarkers, you mentioned that these are kind of unevenly distributed among different populations depending on your origin, and so how does that play into the progression of the disease, what do we know about why patients with specific biomarkers have a different degree of disease progression?

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, so we know more or less that the characteristics, I mean more or less in terms of the evolution of the clinical characteristics of these patients, in terms of organ affection in case of progression, but what is most important of this is that we are able to continue to identify, and I say monitoring these patients with liquid biopsy for example, this is a good tool to understand or to understand it a bit better, which kind of mechanistic involvement. So because we have, for example, patients who were receiving the case that I was discussing before EGFR mutations and they received one graft from the very beginning, a third generation TKI is the one that is approved for the first line, and this patient has a progression.

 The possibility to have a mechanism of resistance is different, so we can have mutations that are coming in the same pathway, so in the same area, same kind of mutation, but different location, just to the people understand is the kind of line and we have the mutation that is here, the one that we are attacking, but we have another mutation that is in this area and it’s not covered by the track that is covering this mutation. 

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

So we have nowadays drugs that are going to, in this area in clinical trials, or we have in other cases other areas of the task of mutations that have nothing to do with the original one. So we are activating another kind of pathway, or we are transforming the tumor from one kind of tumor to another kind of tumor, so for this reason, identify which kind of mechanism of resistance is in place can have an important or have important implications for how we are treating these patients, so we need to look at that to treat the patients.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Wonderful. And speaking of resistance, we know that there are some patients who end up trying multiple therapies in order to treat their lung cancer, are there alternative treatment strategies for lung cancer patients who have failed all therapies? 

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, absolutely, we have research in lung cancer is never stopping in oncology generally, but in lung cancer it’s really exciting to see how this research is evolving and it’s arriving to the patients the meaning of the research when we are doing access to the patients, to the discovery of the finding that we have, and obviously, we have strategies in the clinical practice, but also we have the clinical trials. So clinical trials, and that is something we need to try to define very well because some patients believe that when we are going to clinical trials there are no more options or we don’t have any other options to do. We are sometimes using clinical trials even in the first line, so even in patients that are for the first time being treated. 

Because we know that some of the cases we are treating patients with from some standard of care and using drugs on top, we want to explore it, we can improve these outcomes that we already know. That could be also a clinical trial, that is also a clinical trial. So don’t take the participation in a clinical trial as the last option that you have, sometimes you will go to your doctor and the first time that you see a doctor for your first diagnosis, they can propose a clinical trial. 

And this is really valuable. What we really appreciate is the collaboration of the patients to be in clinical trials, because we need to remember that the drugs that we are using today were analyzing other patients before, so the treatment that you are receiving in a standard of care today were before a clinical trial, it’s really important how we can interact with the research and the clinical practice very easily, so we have also some options that are…for what we call early drug development, that there are some drugs that are in patients who are receiving the standard of care, and they have the opportunity to be treated in new drugs, and you can discuss…believe me there, and 

I know that there is a lot of questions about clinical trials but the clinical trial setting is really restrictive, it’s very well-coordinated, so you would be part of a very coordinated and structured things that they try to protect the patients in the first instance, and try to understand also how we can help the patients and the future generations. So that is really why we appreciate patients, that the contribution of patients that are giving to this clinical research because it’s helping to advance the knowledge for the new patients as well.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

And I really appreciate how you described clinical trials, and particularly your distinction about it’s not always this last-ditch effort that sometimes you all are using clinical trials as first line therapy. One of the common things is that clinical trials are tomorrow’s medicine today, and helping patients and families to understand that there’s value in being involved in clinical trials and that…and I think with COVID there’s a little more understanding, but certainly, we have a long way to go, and so I appreciate you sharing that. Do you have any specific examples of patients in your practice, and not names of course, but examples of…that have benefited from clinical trials?

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Absolutely, we have several of examples and actually FDA was doing a terrific job in the last year to try to get access quickly access to the drugs for patients, and some of this access that was granted was based in clinical trials that we’re starting for a phase one or phase two trials, so we are really doing a very rapid evolution of the drug development, and this is a revolution actually of the drug development because we have access very quickly. I can tell you that it was certainly in my career, several patients in clinical trials that they got benefits. Obviously, clinical trials are answering questions, so that is the way that we can answer questions scientifically and is the only way that we can advance in clinical therapeutics. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Wonderful. So I want to move into treatment access, we’ve talked a little bit today about some of the differences that we see in lung cancer with regard to the biomarkers, you and I know, and I’m sure that was in the audience, know that health disparities are widely reported here in the United States with really any all conditions, including lung cancer. So I’d love for you to talk a little bit, Dr. Rolfo about some of the challenges related to appropriate access to lung cancer care as it relates to different socio-demographic populations, and then how can we begin to address those disparities.

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, this is a topic that is really in my heart because I was coming with you before we start the communication, the recording of this. I was working in Europe before coming to the United States. I was shocked by the disparities that we see in some healthcare situations, so in my position before in Europe, we have a healthcare system that discovering for patients and we have, obviously, difficulties, but here I saw in some communities really underserved in terms of access to different service and healthcare is one of them. So we need to be conscious about that when we have patients that are struggling to get transportation, we have patients that are struggling to get approval for some drugs. 

So, there are a lot of areas that need to be addressed, disparity also in terms of language, we have also patients that are not understanding the doctors,  we have patients that are having difficulty when to get to the app information when we are saying, “Oh, you can see your report in your app,” so it’s not easy for some of them, we have generational gaps as well, these are disparities as well. So taking or being conscious of all these factors is making us take action and how we can take actions in our institutions, and in several institutions in the country, we have the support of an experienced team that is addressing that and teams are specific that are working for disparities. Some of them are social workers, some of them are advocate patients, so we have a big team of institutions that are helping to the patients to go for different scenarios, and even we have patients that are homeless, so how we treat patients in these conditions when we know that the patient is in a shelter, so if you have toxicity, what will we be doing. 

So all these things are taken into consideration, believe me, because it is like New York, you have a big disparity of or a big diversity, and we say of populations in one consultation morning, you can see all of them in your waiting room, so we need to try to address all this, and there are politics that are coming from us as a healthcare system, but there are also politics that they need to come from governmental politics, so try to use these…all the tools that we have at our disposal are important, and also we have a very good support of advocacy groups. 

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

And this is something that I want to really profit their patient to say thanks because we have several, several advocacy groups that are doing a terrific job from testing to helping patients to go through this journey. So it’s really an important job, and obviously families, families are helping to these disparities and patients, so patients themself. So what I say always to the patient, raise your voice, empower yourself.

 Try to ask for your rights if you don’t understand your doctor… Ask again, if you want to have a second opinion, talk to your doctor, that is the most important thing. We are very open to help the patients, and that is our mission. So if I say to my patients, If you want to have a second opinion, please let me know, and I try to direct you to somebody who is an expert in the field and can help us to learn better your disease or your treatment, but I think it’s a situation that everyone is winning, especially the patient, but also ask for future patients understanding better every case.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Well, as an independent patient advocate, myself, Dr. Rolfo, I always get super excited when physicians like yourself are talking about and emphasizing the importance of patients and families advocating for themselves, so I just want to reiterate a couple of things that you said just to make sure that our audience heard it very clearly and asking questions is one of the things that you said that is, I believe one of the most important ways that we can advocate for ourselves and for our family members in healthcare settings, and I really appreciate that you offer advice around second opinions.

A lot of people feel that they are sending their doctor if they ask for a second opinion, but a confident doctor like yourself and a good doctor is going to encourage that, particularly if the patient or family just needs that extra reassurance, so I just really appreciate that you brought that up. Before we wrap up, there are a few questions from our audience that I would love to present to you, and so one of them comes from MacKenzie and MacKenzie asked, can you speak about MRD testing and what that means for lung cancer?

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, and that we were discussing briefly. So minimal residual disease is the… As I say, when we have an operation, we can have the opportunity to have completely resected a tumor, but we don’t know more than with the CT scan when the patient will recover. So we are without an answer believing every follow-up visit what has happened, seeing if it has gone). So we are trying to reduce this…reduce the anxiety first of all, to try to get the tools that are able to identify patients that they can recurrence, have a recurrence so liquid biopsies, one of them, and we have now the several methods that are trials and several data coming that there are some companies that actually they are a market for some of the options, we are still having validations,  required validations, but we will certainly be there very shortly in time to identify these patients and to treat them in the proper time.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Wonderful, and I think you just addressed a question that came in from Herald, which was is liquid biopsy playing a role in monitoring disease recurrence in lung cancer?

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Sure, we are actually tailoring treatments and checking the patients, and I have several, several experiences in patients that they’re monitoring over the time, and we have actually some of the vendors that are proposing this approach monitoring, liquid biopsy is a great tool because it’s minimally invasive, it’s just a blood draw and we can continue. Not all the patients have the possibility in terms of they are not all cheaters, that is something we need to know DNA, so it’s the majority of them, we can do it in some minimal proportion, we cannot do it when there are also possibilities to follow them.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Excellent, and our last question from the audience comes from Laura, and she wants to know, “Are immunotherapy combinations in the metastatic setting, expanding to treat earlier stage lung cancer?”

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, absolutely, we have actually an FDA approval for us, one of the immunotherapeutic drugs in patients after the resection of the disease with some characteristics, but we are there and actually we are having more and more clinical trials using in earlier stages so we will say in the other stage from the earlier stage from that is the neoadjuvant and we call that when we are doing a treatment to reduce two months to be operated later on, so we have also some trials that are going there, but we have an approval already for the adjuvant setting that is after the surgery in some patients.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

That’s wonderful. You’ve given us a lot of good news. A lot of hopeful news, Dr. Rolfo, it is time for us to wrap up. I want to thank you again for being here for sharing your expertise. In closing, is there any takeaway that you want to leave with our audience today regarding lung cancer and advocating for themselves.

 Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

I will say that, first of all, thanks for the opportunity and it was a pleasure to discuss with you and I’d write to the population and say, Try to ask for your rights as a patient, so ask for your rights, be proactive in terms of your disease, you are the main actor here,  we are tools of trying to help you to arrive to the destination, but the good important thing is to create a good relation with your doctor, and to create a good relation with your doctor is part of the trust from both sides, so having an open communication… Open communication with the family as well. Sometimes we are smuggling or hiding things as a patient for our families to don’t help them, and vice versa that is not helping in this process, absolutely. And if you want, if you have that asking if you’re never deserving, so this is what we are here and all the team is here to help you.

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Wonderful. Well, I just want to echo what Dr. Rolfo said about asking questions about being an active member of your medical team, the doctors are there to assist you, but you are ultimately the expert for your disease for your body, so I just wanna thank you again deferral for being here for sharing such important information thank you all again for tuning into this patient empowerment network program. If you’d like to watch this webinar again, there will be a replay and you will receive an email when that recording is available, and remember, following this program, you will receive a link to a survey, please fill out that survey. Let us know what was helpful so that we can serve you better in the future to learn more about lung cancer and to access tools to help you get the best care no matter where you live. Visit powerfulpatients.org/lung cancer. I’m Nicole Rochester, thank you so much for joining us.