Tag Archive for: genetic testing

Should All MPN Patients Undergo Molecular Testing?

Should All MPN Patients Undergo Molecular Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Gabriela Hobbs discusses the necessity of molecular testing for myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patients, including the pros and cons of this in-depth testing for patients with polycythemia vera (PV) and essential thrombocythemia (ET).

Dr. Gabriela Hobbs is a hematology-oncology physician specializing in the care of patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN), chronic myeloid leukemia, and leukemia. Dr. Hobbs serves as clinical director of the adult leukemia service at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn more about Dr. Hobbs.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

How useful is having a genetic panel done? Should all patients get molecular or genetic testing? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Great question. And I think that it is very important to have genetic testing.   

And genetic testing involves more than just testing the JAK2 mutation. So, we know that the JAK2 mutation is the most common mutation in patients with MPN. But that being said, there are other mutations that also occur such as the calreticulin mutation and the MPL mutation.   

And so, I think having genetic testing that at least tests for those three mutations is very important so that we can actually help a patient know that they have an MPN. In addition to those three main mutations, many clinicians now have access to what’s called extended next-generation sequencing, where there’s a panel that tests for many different genes at the same time and can test for a variety of other mutations.  

And this is particularly relevant for patients with myelofibrosis. As we know that having other mutations, like, for example, mutations in IDH or ASXL1 and others, can increase the risk of that disease in terms of its risk of transforming to leukemia or how long a patient may live with their myelofibrosis. 

And so, I do recommend having extended next-generation sequencing done at least at diagnosis.  

When I generally think about repeating that, if there’s something that looks like it’s changing within the patient’s disease, to be honest, also on the flipside of that argument, sometimes this next-generation sequencing will mostly contribute to adding anxiety and will not necessarily directly impact how a patient is treated. And this is particularly true in patients with PV and ET, where we’ll sometimes order these tests, and we get a bunch of mutations back, but we don’t know what to do with that information yet.  

And so, as a researcher – not a clinician – as a researcher, I think it’s very important to have that information so that we can then do studies and understand the patterns of mutations and how that affects outcome. But as a clinician, and you as a patient, you need to really be aware of how that’s going to impact the patient in front of you and how that may impact you as a patient. Do you want to know if you have these mutations if nothing can be done about it? So, I would say, take a moment to reflect upon what I said and also to ask your clinician, how is this information going to help me? Do I need to have this information?  

Maybe you want to have it done so that it’s in your record. But maybe you don’t necessarily want to know those results. And everybody’s very different. And I think it’s absolutely wonderful to talk to my patients about all the information. But there may be some patients that really are just, like, do the test but don’t tell me the results, because I know that I’m just going to be very anxious knowing that I have something that I can’t do anything about. So, just take a minute to talk about it with your doctors. I think that’s really important.  

Does Maintenance Therapy Have a Role in AML Care?

Does Maintenance Therapy Have a Role in AML Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) expert Dr. Farhad Ravandi-Kashani discusses the role of new and developing maintenance therapies that may improve remission and how this treatment phase may fit into the future of AML care.

Dr. Farhad Ravandi-Kashani is professor of medicine and Chief of the Section of Developmental Therapeutics in the Department of Leukemia at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX. Learn more about Dr. Ravandi-Kashani.

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Transcript:

Laura Beth:

Dr. Ravandi, does maintenance therapy have a role in AML?  

Dr. Ravandi:

Maintenance therapy is something that has been used in other leukemias for a long time, and other types of cancer, particularly in ontological cancers. In AML, it hasn’t been normal practice, traditionally, mainly because in AML, we haven’t had many good relatively nontoxic, easily taken drugs.  

So, about 30 years ago, some groups, for example, a German group actually tried to do maintenance with cycles of chemotherapy, and you can imagine if a patient is in remission, and somebody says to you, “I’m going to give you cycles of chemotherapy for the next three years,” most patients wouldn’t take it because they say, “Well, you know, maybe I have three years to live. I want to go to Bahamas and be on the beach rather than getting cycles of chemotherapy.” But over the last several years, in a number of effective, highly effective oral agents that have been developed, and one specific agent that has been developed for maintenance. Now, this specific agent is not curative, as it’s not that if you take it, you will live forever.  

But it does improve survival, and it’s relatively well-tolerated. And there are other clinical trials of maintenance. Agents are being developed, and I think it’s a very important area in AML. And I think in the next several years, it will actually become common practice to do maintenance regimens.  

Laura Beth:

That’s good news. So, once an AML patient is in remission how are they monitored? 

Dr. Ravandi:

So, I mean, I usually tell my patients that once you’re in remission, you’re in remission until something goes wrong with your blood counts. So, in my opinion, it’s not important to do – definitely not important to do weekly blood counts, for example.  

Depending on patient’s anxiety levels and comfort, we do check their labs maybe once a month, once every two or three months, depending on how far they are from their remission. And in my opinion, routine bone marrows are not necessary during remission, unless the patient is a part of a clinical trial that they have accepted to participated in, because we do get a lot of information by doing those bone marrows. So, some studies have follow-up bone marrows, but that’s really as a part of a clinical trial and to help further the knowledge in therapy.  

How Does the Presence of Molecular Markers Affect AML Care?

How Does the Presence of Molecular Markers Affect AML Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Farhad Ravandi-Kashani reviews how the presence of gene mutations can influence acute myeloid leukemia (AML) treatment choices and discusses new molecular markers being researched for future AML care.

Dr. Farhad Ravandi-Kashani is professor of medicine and Chief of the Section of Developmental Therapeutics in the Department of Leukemia at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX. Learn more about Dr. Ravandi-Kashani.

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Transcript:

Laura Beth:

How do test results impact AML care and treatment decisions?  

Dr. Ravandi:

So, in the first place, the presence or absence of certain mutations can be predictable outcome. Some subsets of leukemias are, for the lack of a better term, more favorable.  

I personally don’t think there is anything favorable about any leukemia, but some are easier to treat, and some are easier to cure than others. There is one specific subtype called acute promyelocytic leukemia that we actually completely treat differently. We don’t use even chemotherapy in that subset of leukemia.  

It has almost 100 percent success rate. And the treatment of other subsets can also be tailored, depending on these molecular and chromosomal changes. So, the initial therapy can be actually changed. There are now, for example, targeted agents that can be added to the chemotherapy, during initial chemotherapy.  

And also, once the patient is in remission, depending on favorable or unfavorable their leukemia is, they may be offered allogeneic stem cell transplant. So, yes, this information is highly important. In fact, I would say crucial for our decision-making in leukemia therapy these days.  

Laura Beth:

So, what is new in AML research related to molecular markers?  

Dr. Ravandi:

Well, it depends on your definition of new, but FLT3 mutations are very important because they’re now several FLT3 inhibitors, and as I mentioned, the initial therapies are different, to some extent. The IDH mutations are very important, again, because they are specific targeted agents.  

TP53 mutations are important because, unfortunately, they are particularly unfavorable.  

This is completely hot off the press, but there are subsets of AML called MLL rearranged leukemias that can respond to these drugs called Menin inhibitors.  

There are other mutations that have been discovered, many other ones, that there are no specific treatments for at the moment, but there’s a lot of research on.  

Diagnosing and Treating AML: What Testing Is Essential?

Diagnosing and Treating AML: What Testing Is Essential? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How do test results affect the diagnosis and care of patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML)? Dr. Farhad Ravandi-Kashani reviews essential testing for AML patients, including molecular testing and what these test results might reveal about the disease.

Dr. Farhad Ravandi-Kashani is professor of medicine and Chief of the Section of Developmental Therapeutics in the Department of Leukemia at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX. Learn more about Dr. Ravandi-Kashani.

See More From INSIST! AML


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How Does the Presence of Molecular Markers Affect AML Care

Advances in AML Research _ Where Do Clinical Trials Fit In

Does Maintenance Therapy Have a Role in AML Care


Transcript:

Laura Beth:

Dr. Ravandi, can you define molecular testing for AML patients?  

Dr. Ravandi:

We have progressed on our understanding of cancer, in general. And we have progressed in our technology, so we know that various cancers are likely caused by a number of molecular events, and this is best characterized in leukemias because we have been doing this in leukemia for many years now, simply because leukemias are much more accessible than other cancers. Leukemic cells are in blood and easily obtained and even in bone marrow, are much easier obtained than other solid tumor cancers.  

And so, we’ve been able to identify a number of gene and chromosome changes that we have discovered to be prognostic, but also, have become the targets for developing effective drugs.  

Laura Beth:

Beyond molecular testing, what other testing should take place following an AML diagnosis?  

Dr. Ravandi:

I mean, the classical patient presents because there is something in their blood counts, so they usually have had a blood count testing done. And, of course, you need to do a number of other tests, for example, the chemistry profile, because that can show us some of the problems that can be caused by leukemia.  

And the most important thing is bone marrow aspiration and biopsy, which is still, unfortunately, absolutely necessary, first to make the diagnosis, and second, to obtain the specimens for those biomarker testing that you mentioned.  

Laura Beth:

If a patient relapses, does all of this testing need to be repeated?  

Dr. Ravandi:

Unfortunately, yes. And so, when you said all of these testing, actually, again, compared to some other cancers, this is limited testing. Taking blood for the blood tests, and even doing a bone marrow is generally much easier than taking tissue in a colonoscopy for a colon cancer, or doing a biopsy, a lung biopsy in lung cancer, etc.  

But yes, they all need to be tested, and actually, we do like to repeat the genetic testing because leukemias are dynamic, and after initial therapy, they may change in ways. They may develop new targets or new molecular changes that may be potentially amenable to new targeted therapies.  

Laura Beth:

And is it common for a mutation to appear at a relapse?  

Dr. Ravandi:

It is, yes. I mean, I would say it’s – I wouldn’t say it’s common, but it is frequent.  

How Do Genetic Mutations Impact a CLL Patient’s Prognosis?

How Do Genetic Mutations Impact a CLL Patient’s Prognosis? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is the best approach for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients with genetic mutations? CLL expert Dr. Seema Bhat shares how mutations impact prognosis and treatment.

Seema Bhat, MD is a hematologist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Bhat.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Okay, that’s great. Here’s one from Phil, “How do mutations affect longevity when surviving CLL? What new treatments help with P53 mutation?”  

Dr. Bhat:

So, there are certain prognostic markers for CLL, meaning certain tests that can tell us how a particular patient is expected to do. Some of these tests detect presence or absence of mutations in certain genes. For example, the IGHV gene can be mutated or unmutated. 

In patients with mutated IGHV, they do well, and patients with unmutated IGHV tend to have a more aggressive disease and may require treatment sooner. Similarly, TP53 mutations also tend to require treatment sooner, and more of these mutations do not respond well to conventional chemotherapy. However, targeted therapy has changed the outlook for these mutations, and it works very well for both these mutations. 

Managing CLL Symptoms and Treatment Side Effects

Managing CLL Symptoms and Treatment Side Effects from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) expert Dr. Seema Bhat reviews common CLL symptoms and treatment side effects and approaches for managing them. Dr. Bhat stresses the importance of sharing any issues they may be having with their healthcare teams.

Seema Bhat, MD is a hematologist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Bhat.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Can you please talk about common side effects of CLL – which, of course, we’ve covered already, but both the ones from the disease itself and then ones related to treatment, and what can be done about these? 

Dr. Bhat:

So, disease-related side effects, or we call them disease-related symptoms, include fatigue as a common symptom. Unintentional weight loss can happen. Fevers, chills, or drenching night sweats can happen. We call them, “B symptoms.” Spleen can enlarge, and the enlargement can cause belly pain or feeling of fullness quickly after a meal since spleen is close to our stomach, and as it enlarges, it limits the space stomach can take up in the belly. Lymph nodes can enlarge and can get uncomfortable. So, if any of these symptoms happen, then we have to treat the CLL, and once we start treating the CLL these symptoms should go away. 

As far as treatment-related side effects are concerned, for example, BTK inhibitors are associated with a certain set of side effects. For example, patients can have muscle cramping, muscle pain, joint pain. Patients can have diarrhea. Some of the side effects that we worry about is change in heart rhythm, for example, atrial fibrillation. We talked about that, or increased risk of bleeding.  

Those are some of the side effects we worry about, and if those were to develop, then, of course – for example, a patient has atrial fibrillation, and if it’s symptomatic, we hold the medication. We take care of the atrial fibrillation, usually in collaboration with cardiologists, and once that’s under control, then we have to decide what to do with the treatment. If the atrial fibrillation is under control, we can re-initiate the treatment, or we can go to one of the next-generation BTK inhibitors – the acalabrutinib (Calquence), the pirtobrutinib (LOXO-305), which have less of those side effects. 

Bleeding tends to be a concern, but anything that reduces the risk of bleeding like other medications, aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), other blood thinners, we can avoid them, monitor these patients very closely for any of these side effects, so that’s critical. With venetoclax, it’s usually very well-controlled. It’s the initial part of treatment that tends to be a little bit intensive because of the specific side effect called, “tumor lysis syndrome,” which means that the drug works very quickly, and cells die off quickly, they can release stuff in the blood, and things can collect in the blood. 

Uric acid can go up, electrolytes can be up, any number can go up. So, we are aware of this side effect, and we actually pre-emptively have things in place that can prevent this from happening, or if it happens, we manage it right away. For example, venetoclax has a specific dose initiation. For example, it’s called, “dose ramp-up.” We start it at a lower dose, 20 milligrams, for one week. Escalate it to 50 the next week, 100 the third week, 200 fourth week, and 400 the last week, which is the standard dose. They continue on 400 from there onward. 

And even with the slow dose escalation, in the early couple of weeks, we monitor them very closely. Once we initiate a dose, we bring them back to the clinic to recheck their blood work to see if there are any changes. If any changes have happened, we hydrate them, initiate medication for their tumor lysis syndrome. 

If the risk of tumor lysis is very high, then we monitor then admit them to the hospital. Otherwise, long-term side effects of venetoclax, what we have noticed mostly is gastritis, most side effects – mostly diarrhea. But that’s usually well-controlled. We can manage it well with supportive care. 

Emerging CLL Treatment Approaches

Emerging CLL Treatment Approaches from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Are there emerging CLL treatments that are showing promise? Dr. Seema Bhat provides an overview of ongoing research and discusses when CLL patients should consider clinical trials. 

Dr. Seema Bhat is a hematologist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Bhat here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:  

Dr. Bhat, where do clinical trials fit into treatment? 

Dr. Bhat:  

So, clinical trials play a very important role to advance treatments. Clinical trials for CLL are done to test new treatments, new combinations of treatments, compare different treatments to each other. The goal of these clinical trials is to continue to do better than what we currently have available. This is how treatments improve. Despite all the advancements that we have had in CLL, in the recent years, it continues to be an incurable disease, even today. Our goal as researchers is never to stop until we get to that cure, and clinical trial is that pathway to that cure.

Katherine:

Are there emerging therapies that are showing promise? 

Dr. Bhat:

Yes, of course. There are a number of emerging therapies that are showing promise. So, we all know about ibrutinib and other BTK inhibitors. These work very well, but sometimes the disease can get resistant to these medications, meaning that it stops responding to these treatments. We are excited about this new kind of BTK inhibitor called, “pirtobrutinib,” which has shown great promise in these resistance cases, and we are hopeful that it’ll be approved soon. 

Katherine:

Are there other options that patients have? 

Dr. Bhat:

So, we all hear about what is called, “chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy,” or CAR-T therapy. This is studied under clinical investigation for CLL and looks very promising. The therapy uses the person’s own immune cell called, “T cell” to identify and attack cancer cells. 

T cells are taken from the patient’s blood and sent to a specific lab. There, the cells are modified so that they can better find and attack cancer cells. These modified T cells are then re-injected back into the patient to find and fight that cancer, to eradicate the disease. So, this looks very promising.  

How Are Targeted CLL Treatments Administered?

How Are Targeted CLL Treatments Administered? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) expert Dr. Seema Bhat explains how self-administered oral treatments work for CLL patients and what potential side effects doctors are watching out for. 

Dr. Seema Bhat is a hematologist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Bhat here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

How are targeted therapies administered? 

Dr. Bhat:

So, most of the targeted therapies that we have, we are happy to say that these are oral agents. The BTK inhibitors, the three that we have available, are oral agents. Ibrutinib is taken once a day, zanubrutinib and acalabrutinib are twice a day. Venetoclax, similarly, is an oral agent and is taken once a day. Monoclonal antibodies are also considered targeted agents. These are given as infusions in the clinic or in the clinician’s office.  

Katherine:

The oral medications, patients take that at home? They don’t have to go into the hospital?  

Dr. Bhat:

They do not have to go into the hospital. However, venetoclax is associated with a specific side effect called, “tumor lysis syndrome,” where this medication works so well that initially the cells with die off quickly and then things can collect in the blood.  

For example, uric acid can go up, electrolytes can be up, any number can go up. So, we monitor what those initial weeks of starting venetoclax, we monitor patients very closely. We have them come back and forth to the clinic for monitoring, bloodwork, maybe hydration. And sometimes, if we think they’re at a very high risk for this tumor lysis syndrome, we admit them to the hospital.  

After we cross that, those are administered at home. They can take these at home. 

Understanding CLL Treatment Classes

Understanding CLL Treatment Classes from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) expert Dr. Seema Bhat explains the different treatment classes available for CLL patients and how the standard of care has evolved.

Dr. Seema Bhat is a hematologist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Bhat here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Bhat, when it’s time to start therapy, what types of treatments are available for CLL patients? 

Dr. Bhat:

So, when we think about treatment for cancer, we think about chemotherapy – the conventional chemotherapy that’s associated with side effects like hair loss, nausea, or vomiting. I’m very happy to say that conventional chemotherapy is no longer the standard of care for patients with CLL. Patients who need treatment for CLL are nowadays treated with what are called, “targeted agents.” 

And we have, in general, two different classes of targeted agents that have been approved for treatment for CLL. We have the BTK inhibitors, Bruton’s tyrosine kinase inhibitors, of which we have three. We have ibrutinib, we have acalabrutinib, and we have zanubrutinib. Then we have BCL-2 inhibitors, of which we currently have one approved, of which is called venetoclax. These treatments can be combined with monoclonal antibodies, which are directed towards the antigen called CD20. For example, rituximab or obinutuzumab. 

Typically, venetoclax is combined with monoclonal antibody as a time-limited therapy. BTK inhibitors usually are not combined with monoclonal antibody. 

Katherine:

What about stem cell transplant, does that fit in there? 

Dr. Bhat:

So, stem cell transplant still has a role for treatment of patients with CLL, but it has moved down the line with such highly effective and well-tolerated oral agents available. 

But, for refractory patients – what we call dual-refractory patients, we definitely are, especially in high – patients who have higher risk features, we do refer them to stem cell transplant. 

Katherine:

And what is a dual-refractory patient, exactly? 

Dr. Bhat:

Dual-refractory patients mean patients who have had a BTK inhibitor, be it ibrutinib, acalabrutinib, or zanubrutinib, and the disease has progressed on that. And then we give them venetoclax, which is a BCL-2 inhibitor. So, these are the two classes of targeted agents that we have available. If they have received ibrutinib, acalabrutinib, or zanubrutinib, and after that, a venetoclax, or venetoclax followed by a BTK inhibitor, and the disease has progressed on both. These patients are called dual-refractory, and currently they tend to be very resistant to whatever treatments we have available. And we looked at other modalities of treatment, be it clinical trials or stem cell transplants for that.  

What Happens During CLL “Watch and Wait”?

What Happens During CLL “Watch and Wait”? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Many patients diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) are put on “watch and wait” until it is time to treat their disease. Dr. Seema Bhat explains what it is and why sometimes this is the only approach patients need.

Dr. Seema Bhat is a hematologist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Bhat here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

First, CLL patients are often put in “watch and wait” when they’re first diagnosed. What does that mean? 

Dr. Bhat:

So, “watch and wait” means observation. CLL is a slow-growing cancer, generally, and one of the few cancers that’s managed by observation if it’s not causing any problems to the patient. These problems could include symptoms in the form of fatigue, unintentional weight loss, symptomatic enlargement of their lymph nodes or spleen, or we could see changes in their blood work in the form of decreased hemoglobin or decreased platelets. 

If this is not happening, observation is still the standard of care. And data from this comes from a number of clinical trials where patients were treated based on just having the disease without having any of the symptoms or signs I just mentioned. 

All these studies had negative results, meaning that starting treatment at diagnosis did not affect the overall survival of these patients. These patients – these studies were, however, done in chemoimmunotherapy era. Now, we have targeted agents. And also, now we are able to define CLL better, which means that we are able to predict who has higher risk disease. 

So, there’s renewed interest in these – what these are called, early intervention studies. But until we have those results are matured and available, “watch and wait” is still the standard approach. And during “watch and wait,” we see patients at regular intervals, we assess them for symptoms, we look at their bloodwork, and one of the main reasons for seeing these patients at regular intervals is to reinforce what symptoms we want them to pay attention to. So, educating patients at each visit is a very important part of these visits. 

“Watch and wait” may be all that one-third of our patients may need through their lifetime. They may never need any CLL-directed treatment.  

Should Prostate Cancer Patients Consider a Treatment in Clinical Trials?

Should Prostate Cancer Patients Consider a Treatment in Clinical Trials? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Prostate cancer expert Dr. Andrew Armstrong explains how prostate cancer clinical trials work and discusses why patients should feel confident exploring this option at any stage of their cancer journey.

Dr. Andrew J. Armstrong is a medical oncologist and director of clinical research at the Duke Cancer Institute’s Center for Prostate and Urologic Cancers. For more information on Dr. Armstrong here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

At what point should a prostate cancer patient consider participating in a clinical trial? 

Dr. Armstrong:

Sure. If you look at the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, NCCN guidelines, you’ll see that clinical trials should be discussed along all parts of the journey. 

And that’s because clinical trials often can change how we think about cancer, how we treat cancer, can improve cure rates, can improve survival. Most of our drugs and treatments that have been successful in all cancer have been the result of clinical trials. 

And it’s not always appropriate, though. We have very many treatments that can cure patients, and we don’t want to interfere with that, but sometimes a clinical trial can layer on top of that cure rate. 

But many patients, their cancer becomes resistant to proven therapies. That’s certainly an area where clinical trials can make a big difference, either to put off chemotherapy or more toxic therapies, or in patients who have exhausted proven therapies. That’s certainly appropriate. 

But sometimes clinical trials do not involve placebos. They involve combination therapies, they involve layering on top several approaches to try to improve the survival on top of standard of care.  

And so as a director of a research program, we have all sorts of trials. They come in Phase I, Phase II, Phase III. Really only the Phase IIIs involve placebo controlled or controlled trials. Phase II tend to be early studies, where everybody gets a therapy and it’s preliminary to determine efficacy. Phase I is really trying to determine the safety and dosing of an experimental drug. But patients can benefit across the spectrum. 

So, it’s important, particularly if you have advanced disease, to go to a site, like a comprehensive cancer center, for a second opinion to see if there is alternatives to what you might get in the community.  

Katherine Banwell:

Yes. What would you say to someone who might be hesitant to participate in a trial? 

Dr. Armstrong:

Participation in a trial involves shared decision-making, just like being diagnosed, embarking on initial treatment, even embarking on standard of care treatment. Everything is shared decision-making in terms of risks and benefits.  

Sometimes a trial is not in a patient’s best interest, and it’s important for a physician to be upright about that and up front about the risks of a trial. 

I think when patients have exhausted proven therapies, it’s quite appropriate to talk about therapies that might be in the research pipeline that are showing some promise, that have demonstrated at least success in the laboratory or in small numbers of patients coming before.  

For example, in 2022, a brand-new drug just got approved called Pluvicto, or PSMA lutetium. This is a new smart bomb for prostate cancer. Just last year it was a research drug, but this year it’s successful and being used in the clinic. All those hormone drugs I mentioned earlier, those were research drugs five years ago. So, we don’t make advanced, we don’t extend lives without participating in research. We’re not happy with the way things are, we want them to be better. 

And the only way to make them better is by studying them. And not all of these trials are successful, unfortunately, but many are, and that’s why we are seeing men live longer and have better survivorship nowadays. 

An Expert’s Perspective on Emerging Prostate Cancer Research

An Expert’s Perspective on Emerging Prostate Cancer Research from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What do prostate cancer patients need to know about emerging research? Dr. Andrew Armstrong discusses developing treatments and their potential impact on prostate cancer care.

Dr. Andrew J. Armstrong is a medical oncologist and director of clinical research at the Duke Cancer Institute’s Center for Prostate and Urologic Cancers. For more information on Dr. Armstrong here.

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How Can Prostate Cancer Patients Access Clinical Trials?


Transcript:

Katherine:

Are there any recent developments in treatment and research that patients should know about? 

Dr. Armstrong:

Absolutely. I would say the number one research advance has been the use of these really strong hormonal therapies in earlier and earlier disease setting. So, you may have heard of drugs like Zytiga or abiraterone, or Xtandi or enzalutamide, apalutamide or Errleada, or derolutamide or Nubeqa. Those are mouthfuls. Those are very potent hormonal pills that when used in men with advanced disease improves survival. 

And the data has supported the fact that the early use of those agents extends life even more than waiting until hormone resistance develops.  

So, if you are unlucky enough to have metastatic disease and you’re in need of hormonal therapy, giving injections that lower testosterone, which is the fuel for most prostate cancers, and then blocking testosterone with some of these newer pills extends life by years, not months. And it does so with pretty good quality of life over time.  

Of course, there are negative consequences of having no testosterone, and it’s important as part of shared decision-making to review those side effects and how that can impact quality of life negatively while extending survival.  

So, that’s a major advance. Another major advance is genetic testing and personalized medicine. In men with advanced prostate cancer, it’s now uniformly recommended that all men get hereditary testing to figure out if they inherited prostate cancer risk genes.  

These are genes such as the BRCA I and II genes, BRCA II being the most common. And these are not just breast or ovarian cancer genes. It’s important for men to realize that you can inherit these from a mother or a father, that they can create risks for multiple cancers, not just female cancers, but prostate cancer in particular. 

And now we have guided therapies, targeted therapies that can improve survival in men with these certain mutations, and if you are found to have those mutations, your family members could be tested so that they could be screened, and cancer can be picked up earlier, and perhaps they could be cured rather than suffering the fate of a more advanced diagnosis. So, really important both for yourself and for family members. 

So, those are two major advances. A third one is imaging.  

Imaging keeps getting better and better. We used to just do CAT scans, bone scans, very insensitive tests that in men with advanced disease have a hard time seeing prostate cancer, even when it’s spread. But with the advent of new technologies, like PSMA PET scan, that got approved last year. So, very new technologies. That’s transforming the way we visualize where cancer may be hiding, and for men particularly that have high-risk disease or recurrent disease or even resistant disease, we’re using those scans to guide therapy. 

An Overview of Prostate Cancer Treatment Approaches

An Overview of Prostate Cancer Treatment Approaches from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How is prostate cancer currently treated? Dr. Andrew Armstrong provides an overview of treatment options for prostate cancer patients across various stages of the disease.

Dr. Andrew J. Armstrong is a medical oncologist and director of clinical research at the Duke Cancer Institute’s Center for Prostate and Urologic Cancers. For more information on Dr. Armstrong here.

See More from Engage Prostate Cancer

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An Expert’s Perspective on Emerging Prostate Cancer Research


Transcript:

Katherine:

What are the treatment options that are currently available for prostate cancer patients? 

Dr. Armstrong:

It’s a really important question, and I would say it depends. In early disease, when cancer is picked up early, many patients are cured. Prostate cancer is the number one survived cancer in the United States. It’s important to realize that and kind of take a deep breath and realize that most patients beat prostate cancer. Only about one out of six men will suffer a relapse or develop metastatic disease or Stage IV disease that requires more of a lifelong journey of therapy. 

So, most men come into this because they’ve been screened by their primary care doctor. They had a high PSA, they underwent a biopsy, they were found to have cancer.  

And the first decision, particularly for example at our Duke multidisciplinary clinic, the first decision that we always share with the patient, and as part of shared decision-making, is we give information about prognosis and risk using the PSA level, the biopsy information, staging information if imaging is done.  

And then giving a category or a risk group to that patient can help them decide what are the options that are nationally recommended, internationally recommended by evidence-based guidelines. The most important decision is whether that prostate cancer needs treatment right now at all, and the initial observation or active surveillance is a very valuable “first do no harm” approach for men with very low risk or low risk types of prostate cancer. With a low-grade cancer, low PSA, low stage, and that’s about a third of all patients.  

That’s a huge number of men are told they have cancer, but they actually don’t need initial treatment. 

And they need to be explained to, why we’re not going to treat that cancer, why it’s so safe, and why mortality is not high in that patient population when we don’t treat it, and how we do active surveillance. For example, imaging with MRI, repeat biopsies. And a lot of patients do appreciate that because they’re not undergoing surgery or radiation and they’re not being harmed by those treatments. That would be called overtreatment. That’s not for everybody, though. 

So, just like prostate cancer comes in different flavors, treatments come in different flavors. So, there’s things where the Gleason score is higher, the stage may be higher, the PSA is higher, and the risk to the patient is higher. And when we get into that more intermediate- and high-risk situation, treatment is going to be necessary. But then we’ll have a menu of treatment options that is important to talk through. Typically surgery, radiation, sometimes alternatives to that. 

Sometimes combinations with hormonal therapy, which we call systemic therapy. The drugs that work throughout the body. 

Katherine Banwell:

What about for patients who have advanced disease? 

Dr. Armstrong:

The word “advanced” can mean different things to different people. Advanced can mean metastatic disease. It can mean disease that’s not curable. But advanced can also mean that it’s high risk. That the disease is still confined to the prostate, but it’s aggressive, and that if it’s not handled quickly with a multidisciplinary approach, for example, it has a high risk of occurrence.  

So, advanced disease can mean aggressive, in need of treatment. Sometimes it can be cured if it’s confined to the prostate. Sometimes it requires more than just one treatment modality, such as surgery followed by radiation, or radiation plus some of the newer hormonal therapies.  

For men with stage IV disease, that means disease that has left the prostate and gone to distant sites, we have very effective therapies that can still control this type of advanced disease for many, many years, so it is important to realize how far we’ve come with all of our therapies and to reassure the patient and their family about the good prognosis, even in the worst-case scenario, for many patients. 

Prostate Cancer Shared Decision-Making: How Does It Work?

Prostate Cancer Shared Decision-Making: How Does It Work? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Prostate cancer researcher Dr. Andrew Armstrong describes the benefits of the shared decision-making process and encourages patients to take an active role in their care.

Dr. Andrew J. Armstrong is a medical oncologist and director of clinical research at the Duke Cancer Institute’s Center for Prostate and Urologic Cancers. For more information on Dr. Armstrong here.

See More from Engage Prostate Cancer

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Why Should Prostate Cancer Patients Be Empowered?

An Overview of Prostate Cancer Treatment Approaches

An Overview of Prostate Cancer Treatment Approaches

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An Expert’s Perspective on Emerging Prostate Cancer Research


Transcript:

Katherine:

Patients may have heard the term “shared decision-making” Let’s go into – let’s define it, though. What is it, and how does it work? 

Dr. Armstrong:

Sure. So, if you imagine you’re a patient faced with the daunting task of a new cancer diagnosis and trying to navigate decision-making around treatment, or whether you need a certain test, and those tests or treatments have harms and they have benefits, shared decision-making is really the process of communication. You know, open, transparent communication between the doctor or provider and that patient and their family and supportive spouse and others, significant others, so that everybody has complete information around the risks and benefits of a certain treatment course or management course.  

In prostate cancer, this would mean for a newly diagnosed patient, commonly first giving information about what the risks of their cancer might be, but then what the risks and benefits of various treatment algorithms might be, and explaining in ways that a patient can understand those different journeys.  

Dr. Armstrong:

And ultimately the patient makes a shared decision-making with the doctor that’s in their best interest. 

Katherine Banwell:

In your view, what role do patients have in care decisions and why should they feel empowered to speak up and be a partner in their care? 

Dr. Armstrong:

Sure. Just like there’s many different types of doctors, there’s many different types of patients, and you have some patients that have PhDs, you have some patients that are not even sure what cancer is, and it’s really important to empower every patient to understand at a level that will help them make a decision. And some patients wish to have those decisions made for them. I hear that a lot. Some patients really just want to ingest the information, not make a rash decision 

Maybe get three or four second opinions, travel around to really get the right decision. And sometimes it can take a very long time. But every patient has a different journey, and it’s important for the provider, the doctor or the nurse practitioner or the surgeon, to really understand that patient and their values to help them arrive at the decision for themselves. Because sometimes treatment decisions may have equal efficacy but different side effects.  

For example, in prostate cancer, the most common decision is between active surveillance or a radical prostatectomy or radiation of different forms, or the robot versus the open procedure, or intensity modulated radiation or brachytherapy. And these are complex decisions, and I’ve had patients go for months without making decisions. And the shared decision-making approach really can help patients make a decision as quickly as possible. 

So that they can move on and either be cured from their cancer or make the best treatment decision. 

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Armstrong, why is it so important that patients tell their doctor about any symptoms they’re experiencing? 

Dr. Armstrong:

Certainly symptoms may or may not be related to the prostate cancer, and doctors are well-trained to sift through all of that. You know, back pain could be from a herniated disc or arthritis, but it could be a sign of metastatic disease. Weight loss could be a sign of other metabolic problems, but it can also be a sign of really advanced prostate cancer. Urinary symptoms could just be a sign of a big prostate, may have nothing to do with the cancer, or it could be a big tumor that’s blocking off your bladder.  

So, being transparent and open and just describing what symptoms and letting that physician sort through that with you to help understand what symptoms may or may not be related to the cancer, that’s really important.  

Disease Monitoring: Is My AML Treatment Working?

Disease Monitoring: Is My AML Treatment Working? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Eytan Stein explains how AML treatment effectiveness is monitored and why it’s essential for patients to report any symptoms or side effects to their healthcare team.

Dr. Eytan Stein is a hematologist oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and serves as Director of the Program for Drug Development in Leukemia in Division of Hematologic Malignancies. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Once treatment has begun, Dr. Stein, how do you know if it’s working?  

Dr. Eytan Stein:

So, that’s a good question. So, the good thing about acute myeloid leukemia when it comes to understanding what’s going on, you know, it’s a disease of the bone marrow cells. And we do bone marrow biopsies to see how things are doing. But no one likes a bone marrow biopsy. It can be a somewhat uncomfortable procedure.  

Katherine Banwell:

How often would a patient need to have a biopsy? 

Dr. Eytan Stein:

Yeah, so they have bone marrow biopsies at diagnosis, and then they often will have bone marrow biopsies two weeks to a month later.  

And then, if they’re in remission, basically any time you think if you want to check to see if they’re in remission or if you suspect the patient is relapsing. Then, you would do a bone marrow biopsy. But what I was getting at is that but you have blood. And the blood is kind of like the bellwether of what’s going on in the bone marrow.  

So, the analogy I use for my patients is, you know, when you’re driving your car and you have – you know, you don’t open the hood every day to make sure the car is running okay. You know, you’re driving your car, and if your car starts making a funny clinking sound, that’s when you open the hood.  

So, the blood is like the clinking sound. If you see something going wrong in the blood, that’s when you know you’ve got to open the hood and look under the hood. If the car is running just fine and you don’t see anything wrong in the blood, using the analogy, maybe you don’t need to do a bone marrow biopsy. 

Katherine Banwell:

What if a treatment isn’t working? What if it stops working or if the patient relapses? What do you do then? 

Dr. Eytan Stein:

Yeah, so when a patient relapses, which unfortunately happens more than we want it to, it’s important number one to do another bone marrow biopsy and at that point, do that mutational testing again because the mutations that are present at the time of diagnosis are not necessarily going to be present at the time of relapse, and sometimes, a new mutation might occur at the time of relapse.  

And again, what that mutational profile shows can help determine what the next best treatment for the patient is. There might be standard-of-care therapies. More chemotherapy might be recommended.  

When a patient relapses, I usually – excuse me – try to get them on a clinical trial because that’s the point where I think clinical trial drugs really have potentially major benefit for the patients, to help get them back into remission.