Tag Archive for: germline mutations

How Is Advanced Prostate Cancer Treatment Personalized?

How Is Advanced Prostate Cancer Treatment Personalized? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Tests results, including results of biomarker testing, may help to personalize advanced prostate cancer treatment. Expert Dr. Xin Gao shares an overview of the testing that patients should undergo and how the results are used in determining a treatment plan for optimal care.

Dr. Xin Gao is a Medical Oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn more about this expert Dr. Gao.

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I’d like to talk about what goes into deciding on a treatment path. What testing is used to understand a patient’s individual disease?  

Dr. Gao:

There is a lot of testing that we do for – to try and characterize a patient’s individual disease and try to select an optimal management strategy for their specific cancer and their specific situation.  

We look at the biopsy, the pathology. The most common type of prostate cancer is called adenocarcinoma, but rarely we see certain other types under the microscope, things like neuroendocrine or small cell prostate cancers that tend to be treated in a different way. We look at things like the Gleason score.  

That tells us a bit more about sort of the aggressiveness of this cancer, as well as the PSA, you know, it’s a very good correlate for how the cancer is doing in general once somebody has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For imaging tests, we commonly rely on imaging. We look at prostate MRIs to get an idea of the local extent of the prostate tumor. We get things like bone scans and CAT scans to look at the entire rest of the body to see if or where the cancer may have spread to.  

And there are newer imaging tests like the PSMA PET scan, which we commonly use now, which is a much more sensitive test for detecting prostate cancer in 2023 compared to traditional scans like CAT scans and bone scans. I also commonly make use of genetic testing and molecular information.  

So, for any patient with an advanced prostate cancer, I do recommend both what we call a germline test, which is testing for inherited cancer genes that a patient could have gotten from the parents and pass onto their kids, as well as somatic testing, which is testing the cancer itself to see what genetic mutations or alterations might’ve developed within their cancer. And that can actually factor into certain treatments that the patient may or may not be more likely to benefit from if they have these genetic mutations. 


Dr. Gao, a patient sent in this question prior to the program. What other genetic testing, beside BRCA markers, are important for deciding future targeted therapies and how are each of them used? 

Dr. Gao:

Yeah, that’s a great question. Targeted therapies have been used in a lot of different cancers and it’s only really within the past few years that we’re using them as a standard of care routinely in prostate cancers. So, BRCA2 and BRCA1 mutations are some of the more common mutations or genetic alterations that are targetable in prostate cancer. Recently, there have been multiple FDA approvals of different drugs that are called PARP inhibitor, which are able to target the cancer if they have BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations.  

Beyond BRCA2 and BRCA1, there’s a panel of what’s called homologous recombination repair genes and that’s defined differently in varying extents, depending on the specific drug. That has been FDA approved, but in general, it’s about 12 to 14 genes total and they actually include the BRCA2 and BRCA1 genes.  

So, some of the ones that have been…it seems like the data shows maybe more activity or better efficacy with these PARP inhibitors include a gene called PALB2, P-A-L-B 2. It’s not a very common mutation that we see, but it is something that we should look for because even if it’s not common overall for the patient who has it, it could be a very helpful and useful gene to know that that they have and it certainly would warrant treatment with a PARP inhibitor. 

The other sort of dozen  or so…10-12 genes in this homologous recombination repair pathway, the data, I would say, is still early and it is still somewhat limited in terms of how much people with those gene mutations truly benefit from these PARP inhibitors, but I do think it’s important to look for them, to know that if they do have one of these genetic mutations that it does make a PARP inhibitor an option for them. And then, beyond these HRR genes, I always look for something called a microsatellite instability or mismatched repair deficiency. These are sort of genetic features or really a panel of about four genes involved in a cellular process called – a DNA repair process called mismatch repair.  

For those patients that have either mismatched repair deficiency or microsatellite instability high cancers, I do recommend that they consider an immunotherapy medication called pembrolizumab which is FDA-approved regardless of cancer type for any MSI high or mismatched repair cancer and they’ve shown pretty solid activity for those kinds of cancers. 

What’s the Difference Between Germline and Somatic Breast Cancer Mutations?

What’s the Difference Between Germline and Somatic Breast Cancer Mutations? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Breast cancer expert Dr. Jame Abraham reviews the key differences between germline and somatic genomic testing and explains the role they play in treatment, care, and predicting a recurrence.

Dr. Jame Abraham is the chairman of the Department of Hematology & Medical Oncology at Cleveland Clinic and professor of medicine at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Abraham.

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Dr. Abraham, what’s the difference between germline and somatic genetic mutations?   

Dr. Abraham:

Sure. So, germline, as I said, to see if we carry that gene, and it means, I’m born with that. I’m inherited. I carry that gene. That’s in my DNA. Somatic is, the change is happening within the tumor, within the tumor. 

So, it’s kind of – sometimes, it can be acquired. So, let’s just say, if I’m seeing a patient with breast cancer, and then, it can be early stage. So, I’ll kind of say that – let’s just say, if I’m seeing somebody with a stage II breast cancer, we can do a genomic testing of the tumor to identify the risk of recurrence for the next nine years or so. We do that, mainly in what we call as ER-positive, HER2-negative tumors. So, hormone-positive, HER2-negative tumors. 

In early-stage setting, we do genomic testing to classify the risk of recurrence. And I found the high risk, or low risk, that’s one. And second, this genomic testing will tell us the benefit from chemotherapy. 

So, share prognosis, and treatment decision.  

So, the other genomic testing we commonly do is, let’s just say, she has seen somebody who is metastatic, means the cancer already spread to other part of the body. Again, we can do the genomic testing from the tumor, and then, that’ll kind of give us what, the changes happening within the tumor. That’ll help us to identify potential, and what particular targets within the tumor, so that we can treat them with new treatments, or screen them for clinical trials. 

And then, some of the new treatments have specific mutations that’ll identify if patients benefit from certain medications. So, the genomic testing will help us to select patients for these new treatments, or even clinical trials. 

Prostate Cancer: What’s the Difference Between Hereditary and Biomarker Testing?

Prostate Cancer: What’s the Difference Between Hereditary and Biomarker Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What’s the difference between hereditary testing and biomarker testing? Dr. David Wise explains how biomarker testing and hereditary testing differ – and discusses the impact and potential risks of some mutations.

Dr. David Wise is Director of Genitourinary Medical Oncology at the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Health. Learn more about Dr. Wise.

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Dr. David Wise:

That’s a great question. So, hereditary genetic testing is a test that looks specifically to establish whether a person is born with a gene that predisposed them to develop that cancer, and therefore has two clear implications.  

If the test result is abnormal, then the patient was born with that gene. Therefore, other family members, first-degree relatives, may also have that gene, and that may predispose those other family members to the same cancer or to other cancers. For example, BRCA2 can predispose to the prostate cancer that the patient that we’re discussing has, but it can also predispose to breast or ovarian cancer or pancreas cancer. And if the patient has an abnormal BRCA2 gene, then their first-degree relatives have a 50 percent chance of having that gene and being predisposed to cancer, not necessarily having a guaranteed development of that cancer, but having a higher risk of developing that cancer.  

So, it has implications for family member testing or what we call cascade testing, but it also has potential implications depending on the gene. And we’re looking for, even if it’s a hereditary gene, it can still have implications for how to best treat or monitor that patient’s cancer. And so, that’s the hereditary genetic testing. Now, biomarker testing is a broader umbrella term, and it just refers to any information or test result that we collect that gives us information about how that patient is going to respond to treatment, which means a predictive result. So, it tells us potentially which treatment might work better or worse or what we call a general prognostic information.  

So, information about that patient’s…the important things to what that person is worried about: How long they’re going to live, how well they’re going to respond to treatment, how aggressive their cancer is going to be. So, that’s biomarker testing. Now, what I think is particularly confusing – and maybe I’ll shed light on this – is: Well, what’s the difference between somatic genetic testing and hereditary genetic testing?  

So, somatic genetic testing is actually testing that is focused purely on what genes were mutated in the prostate that promoted the development of that cancer. Abnormal test results on that test are not directly related to hereditary risk. Just because a patient’s cancer has mutated gene X does not mean that their family member has a predisposition to develop to having that gene. They’re completely unrelated. So, really, patients should have both types of genetic testing.  

But there are specific criteria for which patient qualifies for which type of test, and that’s a detailed conversation that needs to happen between the physician and the patient. 

What Do Prostate Cancer Patients Need to Know About Genetic Testing?

What Do Prostate Cancer Patients Need to Know About Genetic Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 What should men with prostate cancer know about genetic testing? Expert Dr. Tomasz Beer explains inherited mutations versus cancer-specific mutations and discusses the roles they can play in the development of prostate cancer.

Dr. Tomasz Beer is Deputy Director at OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. Learn more here: https://www.ohsu.edu/people/tomasz-m-beer-md-facp.

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Excellent. Let’s talk a bit about genetic testing and the role it plays in prostate cancer. I’d like to start by defining a few terms that are often confusing for patients. First of all, what is a somatic mutation?

Dr. Beer:                     

Well, so let’s first start with what is a mutation. So, we all have DNA that is the code of life in every cell in our body in the nucleus of the cell, and that is where all of the encoding for all the genes that then identify the proteins that make up our cells in our body exist. A mutation is a change in the sequence of that gene of that DNA, a missing letter, or a letter that’s been replaced by another letter, that can lead to a faulty protein being made. Sometimes, a mutation can cause a protein to be activated inappropriately.

Otherwise, we can see situations where the protein is silenced and inactive when it’s needed. So, those are mutations. Now, somatic mutations occur in a cancer. The person does not carry those mutations in their genome. They’re not passed along to their children or inherited from their parents. They happen in the cancer itself, and that’s the nature of cancer. Many cancers have a propensity to accumulate mutations, and so, a somatic mutation represents a cancer-specific mutation.


What then is the difference between somatic and a germline mutation?

Dr. Beer:                     

Yeah. So, germline is an inherited mutation. That is a mutation that is in the genetic code that that individual is born with, almost always inherited from their parents.

And I say almost always because in rare circumstances, a new mutation emerges in the fetus and becomes a germline mutation, but almost always this is a mutation that’s inherited.

And an important thing to understand about those is that because it’s in the germline, in the parent DNA, that mutation is present in every cell in the body of that human being, including the eggs and sperm, and that’s how it’s then transmitted to the next generation. Those germline mutations, they predispose people to cancer, can turn out to be deleterious and can lead to the development of cancer, typically when an additional mutation develops, and the two together team up to begin the process of cancer development.

How Do Genetic Mutations Impact Breast Cancer Risk, Prognosis and Treatment?

How Do Genetic Mutations Impact Breast Cancer Risk, Prognosis and Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

For breast cancer patients, how do genetic mutations impact risk, prognosis, and treatment? Expert Dr. Sarah Sammons provides insight about currently known genetic mutations and their impact on breast cancer care.

Dr. Sarah Sammons is an oncologist at Duke Cancer Institute and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Sammons here.

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What are the known genetic mutations that can increase breast cancer risk?

Dr. Sammons:

Very good question. So, about 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers are related to inherited genes. The most common ones that most patients have heard of, or most people have heard of in the media, are the BRCA1 and BRCA2, the BRCA genes. Those genes make patients highly susceptible to developing breast cancer throughout their lifetime. We’re talking 60 to 80 percent risk.

There are, over time, other genes that we have found also predispose patients to developing breast cancer.

There are over 10 at this point. Some of the most common ones are CHEK2, PALB2, PTEN, TP53, and CDH1. There are a few others, but those are kind of the main ones.

So, really when you develop a diagnosis of breast cancer, your oncologist and/or your surgeon will take a family history. They’ll keep into account your age, the type of breast cancer that you have, and we really have specific criteria now in which patients would qualify for genetic testing.

Genetic testing not only has become important to understand if you have a gene that could predispose you or your family to breast cancer, but we now have drugs that specifically target or are biomarkers for BRCA1 and BRCA2.

So, now it’s going to become even more important to test patients with early state and metastatic breast cancer because we have drugs that could actually specifically target BRCA.


How do these mutations impact a metastatic breast cancer patient’s treatment path?

Dr. Sammons:

Sure. Well, we can start with germline. So, really, right now, the only germline mutations that really impact a patient’s treatment are the BRCA1 and the BRCA2 genes. So, for patients that have germline mutations in BRCA1, we have a class of drugs called PARP inhibitors, that have been

shown to be more effective than chemotherapy in those patients. So, really, any patient that has a HER2-negative breast cancer – these genes are approved in HER2-negative breast cancer, so triple-negative or hormone receptor-positive breast cancer in patients that have a BRCA mutation.

It’s pretty critical to have this germline testing done because if they do have a mutation, then we would have a therapy for them that was more effective than chemotherapy. So, that’s why it’s important in that setting.

We’re also learning more and more, and research is evolving, that probably patients that have germline PALB2 mutations also may benefit from PARP inhibitors, but that data is still evolving.

In terms of somatic gene mutations, or next generation sequencing, your doctor might say that, “I want to send your tumor to look at the genes in the tumor that will help me decide what could be the next best therapy for you.” So, we would get a biopsy or use an old biopsy, and send your tumor to a variety of different companies that do this type of sequencing.

Some of them include FoundationOne, Curis, Tempus. And it would come back with a panel that would show what genes were mutated in your breast cancer.

About 40 percent of patients with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer have something called a PIK3CA mutation. And we have a drug called alpelisib (Piqray) that specifically targets that mutation.

Germline mutations usually also show up in the somatic testing. So, a BRCA mutation may also show up. The next generation sequencing also tests something called tumor molecular burden, which tells us basically how many mutations are altered in the DNA of your cancer. And we know that if you have many mutations, that you might be more likely to benefit from immunotherapy.

So, that’s another thing that we look at when we send that genomic sequencing. So, there are a variety of mutations and biomarkers that we can learn from sequencing the breast cancer, that will help us decide what’s the next best treatment for you in your metastatic breast cancer course.


What about prognosis, Dr. Sammons? Do these genes impact how a patient’s cancer may behave?

Dr. Sammons:

That’s a good question. The short answer is: Research is still evolving in this area, but I would say yes.


It sounds like it’s a qualified yet.

Dr. Sammons:

It’s a qualified yes. So, I would say for germline BRCA1 – we know that patients with germline BRCA1 are more likely to have triple-negative breast cancer.

So, in terms of early-stage disease, we know that triple negative breast cancer has a worse prognosis, a higher risk of coming back. But the FDA actually just approved PARP inhibitors in the early-stage setting for patients with BRCA mutations because it reduced the risk of recurrence.

So, where that settles out: Yes, we know that BRCA1 carriers are more likely to have triple-negative. Triple-negative is more likely to relapse, but every year we have newer and newer therapies that reduce the risk of relapse.

In the metastatic setting, BRCA carriers sometimes actually have been shown to live longer than patients without BRCA mutations because they’re more likely to respond to chemotherapy. We have the PARP inhibitor option – for all of those reasons.

In terms of gene mutations in the tumor, we do know that patients that have something called ESR1 mutations – so, if you have a hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, you have something called an ESR1 mutation.

We know that that means that you would be resistant to many of our endocrine therapies. And patients that have ESR1 mutations do usually have a shorter prognosis than patients that don’t.

So, there are a variety of mutations that are appearing to have impact on prognosis. 

How Does Biomarker Testing Impact Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Options?

How Does Biomarker Testing Impact Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Options? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How are metastatic breast cancer treatment options impacted by biomarker testing results? Dr. Jane Lowe Meisel explains germline testing versus somatic testing – and how results may be used to help determine optimal treatment.

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

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What is biomarker testing, and how do results impact treatment options?

Dr. Meisel:

Great question. So, I think people often confuse germline mutations and somatic mutations. So, I’ll talk about that a little bit as we talk ab out biomarkers. So, I think biomarkers in general are factors within the tumor that allow us to make treatment decisions. So, if a biomarker in the tumor can predict response to a certain type off treatment, we want to know what that biomarker is so we can better treat the patient and more elegantly design a regimen. So, for example, having an estrogen-positive tumor, estrogen positivity is a biomarker suggestive of response to anti-estrogen treatments, which is why we give anti-estrogen therapy to ER-positive breast cancers.

But more recently, we’ve been able to move a little bit beyond estrogen, HER2 and triple-negative as our subtypes and think a little bit more in some patients about more sophisticated biomarkers. And that’s where somatic mutation testing comes in. So, there are germline mutations, which are inherited mutations that’re present in every cell in your body. So, for example, if your mother was a BRCA mutation carrier and based that BRCA mutation down to you, you would have a germline BRCA mutation. So, your cancer would carry a BRCA mutation, but so would every other cell you have.

And that’s a biomarker. That would make you a candidate for something like a PARP inhibitor. But in cancers, which the genes in the cancer have gone awry by definition, there are often other biomarkers within that tumor that may make you a candidate for certain treatments. And so, those mutations that arise in the cancer itself are called, somatic mutations. Those are mutations in the tumor, can’t be passed down to your offspring or anything like that and were not inherited by your parents. But mutations that’ve accumulated over time as these cancer cells have gone awry.

And so, genomic testing, or biomarker testing can be done often on a metastatic specimen. So, to be specific about it, say you had a metastatic breast cancer to the liver. You could have a liver biopsy done and that tissue from the liver biopsy could be sent for genomic testing. There are a lot of companies that do this and there are also some larger cancer centers that actually do in house testing for genomics. So, this testing can be done and what it does then is, it helps you determine, do you have a biomarker that predisposes you to a certain treatment.

So, if that metastatic liver tissues, for example contained high levels of PBL1 expression for example and you were triple-negative, that would say to your doctor ooh, this is a great candidate for immunotherapy along with chemotherapy. Or if you’re estrogen-positive for example and your tumor contains a mutation in the gene called PIK3CA and that might make you a candidate for a drug called, Alpelisib. So, these mutations could often be paired to a drug or treatment options, or sometimes to a clinical trial to allow patients to come take advantage of more targeted therapies. That sometimes, because they’re targeted, have fewer side effects than drugs that are a little more discriminate.


Marie sent in this question prior to the program, “Are there some genetic tests that’re more accurate than others?”

Dr. Meisel:

That’s a good question. I would say most genetic testing platforms have been heavily vetted and approved by national organizations and laboratories that’ve been tested multiple times before they’re allowed to be marketed. So, I wouldn’t say that one genetic testing program is necessarily better than another. I think that any of the commercially available platforms that’re used are probably pretty accurate.

I was just going to add one thing to that, if that’s okay. I was going to say that I think it’s important when you’re using genetic testing platforms though to know what you’re testing for. So, there are some platforms that will just test for say, the three most common mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 that Ashkenazi Jews have.

And so, if you get that testing back and you’re negative, you might think, “Oh, I don’t have a mutation in those genes.” Well, we know from that testing, just as an example, is that you don’t have a mutation in those three alleles of that gene. But if you haven’t had full gene sequencing, you could have a mutation somewhere else in that gene. So, I would say all genetic testing that’s commercially available is probably pretty accurate. But it is important when you get testing done to know what you’re testing for and what you’re not testing for so you can interpret your results accurately. And genetic counselors, as well as your doctors can help you do that. 

What Are Biomarkers and How Do They Impact Lung Cancer Treatment Options?

What Are Biomarkers and How Do They Impact Lung Cancer Treatment Options? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are lung cancer biomarkers, and how do they impact treatment options? Dr. Isabel Preeshagul defines biomarkers and explains how different biomarkers may help determine treatment options and aid in predicting treatment response. 

Dr. Isabel Preeshagul is a thoracic medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Preeshagul here.

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Katherine Banwell:

Well, let’s define a few terms that are often confusing for patients. What are biomarkers?

Dr. Preeshagul:

Those are somatic alterations in the tumor just like EGFR, or ALK fusions, or MET exon 14, or MET amplification, or KRAS G12C.

These are all genes that are altered in the tumor. And these are genes that drive the tumor to grow. There are also other markers like PD-L1, which is a marker for response to immunotherapy. And there are various markers.

I could go on and talk about it for hours, but those are the more common ones that we know how to treat and how to handle and prognosticate.

Katherine Banwell:

And another term that’s sometimes confusing, what is a genetic mutation?

Dr. Preeshagul:

So, for genetic mutations, you have germline, and you have somatic. So, a germline mutation may be something like a BRCA1 or a BRCA2 that we see in patients with breast cancer or prostate cancer versus a somatic mutation which would be EGFR that I had mentioned or ALK fusion. So, germline mutations are the ones that we worry about being heritable.

And somatic mutations are those that are not thought to be heritable but thought to happen spontaneously within the tumor itself and cause the tumor to grow. We are constantly learning more about these though, however. But it’s really important to talk with your doctor to see if you have a germline mutation or a somatic mutation or if you have both.

And it is never wrong to seek an opinion with a genetic counselor to make sure that everyone in your family is safe, that you’re up to date on age-appropriate cancer screening, and that your family gets screened appropriately as well if indicated.

Katherine Banwell:

Are there specific biomarkers that affect lung cancer treatment choices?

Dr. Preeshagul:

Oh, definitely. One that I had mentioned is PD-L1. And this is a marker that we look for expression. So, based on FDA approval for pembrolizumab, if you have an expression of 50 percent or more, you are able to get immunotherapy alone in the upfront setting. If you have less than 50 percent, we often give you chemotherapy plus immunotherapy. And that’s based on a clinical trial known as KEYNOTE-189.

Other markers such as EGFR, as I had mentioned, ALK fusions, RET, NTRK, MET exon 14, ROS1, KRAS, HER2, you name it, those are alterations that we look for ideally in the upfront setting as well and can really affect treatment planning.

And those patients that harbor mutations like EGFR and ALK and ROS1 or MET exon 14, we know that these patients do better with targeted therapy upfront, not standard-of-care chemo. So, it’s really important to know about the presence of these alterations before you start treatment if possible.