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Monitoring Follicular Lymphoma Patients During Remission

Monitoring Follicular Lymphoma Patients During Remission from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Tycel Phillips reviews how follicular lymphoma patients are monitored during remission, including frequency of office visits. 

Dr. Tycel Jovelle Phillips is a Medical Oncologist in the Hematology Clinic at The University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Phillips, here.

See More from The Pro-Active Follicular Lymphoma Patient Toolkit

Related Programs:

What are the stages of Follicular Lymphoma?

What Are the Stages of Follicular Lymphoma?

What Treatment Options Are Available for Relapsed Follicular Lymphoma?

What Treatment Options Are Available for Relapsed Follicular Lymphoma?

Why Follicular Lymphoma Patients Should Speak Up About Symptoms and Side Effects

Why Follicular Lymphoma Patients Should Speak Up About Symptoms and Side Effects


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

If someone receives treatment and then goes into remission, how are they monitored?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, there’s a couple of different ways you can go about it.

Historically, what we would do is we would actually sometimes get CAT scans. But we’ve sort of pulled back from that in recent years. So, as of right now, the recommendation is really just clinical observation, meaning what I call well baby visits. Meaning I will see you in clinic at least every three months for the first year after completion of therapy. We do a system assessment, we’ll do a physical exam, we’ll do labs. Unless there is really something that at the completion of therapy that I’m concerned about, we won’t typically do any imaging.

We reserve imaging until there is a concern at some point, whether you have symptoms, there’s a lab issue, or there’s some other finding that comes up that means that we have to repeat pictures. So those visits I’ll do typically every three months for the first year, spaced out that every four months for the second year, post treatment. And then every six months up until about year four. And then it’ll become a yearly visit thereafter, as long as you continue to remain well without symptoms and nothing on an exam that’s concerning.

Follicular Lymphoma: What Treatment Options Are Available?

Follicular Lymphoma: What Treatment Options Are Available? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Tycel Phillips provides an overview of follicular lymphoma treatments available to newly diagnosed patients and reviews the pros and cons of oral regimens and stem cell transplant. 

Dr. Tycel Jovelle Phillips is a Medical Oncologist in the Hematology Clinic at The University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Phillips, here.

See More from The Pro-Active Follicular Lymphoma Patient Toolkit

Related Programs:

What Factors Are Considered When Choosing a Follicular Lymphoma Treatment?

Emerging Follicular Lymphoma Treatment Approaches

Emerging Follicular Lymphoma Treatment Approaches

Why Follicular Lymphoma Patients Should Speak Up About Symptoms and Side Effects

Why Follicular Lymphoma Patients Should Speak Up About Symptoms and Side Effects


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Now that we’ve discussed factors that can impact treatment decisions, would you walk us through the currently available follicular lymphoma treatment approaches? And who they might be right for?

Dr. Phillips:                 

Sure. So, we’ll start with the newly diagnosed or untreated patient. So, again, if you’re newly diagnosed or untreated, your options are the monoclonal antibody, Rituximab. Again, that’s a CD20 monoclonal antibody.

That is typically given once weekly for four weeks and can be repeated, if need be, after a break. And that’s usually reserved for patients who have minimal symptoms, low burden disease. Because, again, data has shown that the bulkier the disease, you’re likely not to have a very durable or deep response with just simulating Rituximab. Additional options include Rituximab plus chemotherapy.

So, we have regimens such as CDP, which is Cytoxan, vincristine, and prednisone. Cytoxan and vincristine being a steroid, prednisone being — sorry, Cytoxan and vincristine being a chemotherapy agent, and prednisone being a steroid. We have our bendamustine, bendamustine being a chemotherapy agent. There’s R-CHOP, which is Cytoxan, vincristine, Adriamycin, and prednisone. And sometimes that is reserved, because unlike the other two, R-CHOP can only be given once because of the accumulation of the anthracycline.

You can only have so much of that in a lifetime before you run a risk of cardiac toxicity.

Katherine:                  

Oh.

Dr. Phillips:                 

And also, R-CHOP as of right now is a standard of care for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. Which every patient with follicular lymphoma has a chance of transforming into diffuse large B-cell lymphoma at some point. So, we tend to try to reserve R-CHOP if we can. Additionally, more recently, there was a study called Relevance, which evaluated RPMO versus an agent called lenalidomide plus Rituximab, what we call R squared.

So, it was designed as a superiority study, but what came out of it is R squared is probably equivalent, not better, than R chemo. So that is also an option up front. With lenalidomide it’s a little bit different than the other agents, which all give it intravenously, meaning through the vein. But lenalidomide is an oral medication, that you would take 21 days on, and seven days off. And that’s given in conjunction with the Rituximab. And you typically would take that for 12 cycles, or about a year of treatment.

Whereas the chemotherapy regimens that I mentioned before, are typically given for six cycles. Meaning you’ll be taking it for a duration of 18 weeks or 24 weeks. So around four and half to six months for the chemotherapy. Thereafter, it’s a bit controversial, but some patients can then transition to what we call Rituximab maintenance.

Where you would get Rituximab every other month for a period of two to three years. Typically, two years, as a way to delay the return of the cancer. So, R maintenance we know of improves your progression of survival, so the time until the cancer comes back. And there is no survival benefit with maintenance at this point. So, it is in some ways a bit controversial. Especially now, given the pandemic.

Katherine:                  

What about stem cell transplant? Is that an option?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, for up front, that’s usually not something that we typically do. So, for stem cell transplantation, there are two types of stem cell transplantation. There’s one called an Autologous Stem Cell Transplantation, which is basically really a stem cell rescue.

You get a high dose of chemotherapy after stem cells are collected from you and those stem cells are given back to rescue your body from the chemo. That is typically reserved for what we call high risk patients. So, we give you an initial up front chemotherapy regimen. And if your cancer comes back within less than 24 months of completion of that therapy, you fall into what we call a POD24 category. Which means Progression of Disease within 24 months.

We do know those patients are at higher risk, than patients who stay in remission for at least 24 months or longer. So, if we look at overall survival for those POD24 patients, about half of those patients will succumb to their disease within a five-year period. Which is much different for what we see with the standard for follicular lymphoma patients. So, and that POD24 category it does appear that Autologous Stem Cell Transplantation is beneficial in that patient population. As well as an Allogenic Stem Cell Transplant. So, an allogenic transplant is when you get immune cells from another donor.

So, “allo” meaning from a different person. So, in that sense, you get sort of temporized, and they would give you donor lymphocytes. And those lymphocytes themselves would try to fight off your cancer. So, an Auto transplant is mainly just chemo; an Allo transplant, the donor cells help fight off the cancer.

Katherine:                  

Right.

Dr. Phillips:                 

There are complications to both, which is why they’re not typically given up front. The Allo transplant probably has more risk of complications as well. Those cells can also recognize your body as being foreign and try to fight them off because they don’t originate from you. And there’s also just a risk of other death from that procedure. So, all those have to be taken with a bit of caution. And for the Allo transplant, it’s generally only recommended if you have that, a sibling donor. Because there’s much less risk of complications than versus you get an unrelated donor.

What Is the Patient Role in Follicular Lymphoma Treatment Decisions?

What Is the Patient Role in Follicular Lymphoma Treatment Decisions? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Tycel Phillips discusses the importance of patient self-advocacy in the treatment of follicular lymphoma. Dr. Phillips reviews shared decision-making, encourages patients to seek second opinions, and to feel confident in their treatment plan. 

Dr. Tycel Jovelle Phillips is a Medical Oncologist in the Hematology Clinic at The University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Phillips, here.

See More from The Pro-Active Follicular Lymphoma Patient Toolkit

Related Programs:

Follicular Lymphoma: What Treatment Options Are Available?

Follicular Lymphoma: What Treatment Options Are Available?

Emerging Follicular Lymphoma Treatment Approaches

Emerging Follicular Lymphoma Treatment Approaches

Why Follicular Lymphoma Patients Should Speak Up About Symptoms and Side Effects

Why Follicular Lymphoma Patients Should Speak Up About Symptoms and Side Effects


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Yeah, right. What do you feel is the patient’s role in treatment decisions?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, I know historically a lot of times, you come into an office, and we tell you what you’re going to get and what you’re not going to get. Patients nowadays are I would say a lot more savvy as far as what drugs are out there. And there are a lot more sort of conversational groups on social media between patients who’ve had treatment before and newly diagnosed patients. So, patients come in with a lot more information than they had historically had before. So, in that point, I think it’s more of an open dialogue about what options we have, what options are best for you, and what our treatment goals are at that point.

But all it means, given that we don’t yet have a standard of care, it leaves it open for discussion about sort of which route we choose to try to get your cancer under control.

Katherine:                  

Mm-hmm. Dr. Phillips, if a patient isn’t feeling confident with their treatment plan or their care, do you think they should consider a second opinion or a consult with a specialist?

Dr. Phillips:                 

I think a second opinion is probably best for all patients. It’s always probably good to get a different opinion about how the disease will be treated. So, I do encourage all my patients, even here, to get a second opinion. Some take me up on it, others won’t. But the option is always there to get a second opinion, just to see if anybody would do things any differently.

And I would say for the most part, most people would tend to treat the same way. Very seldom do we have differences in what our treatment recommendations would be. I think the biggest difference in some situations, it’s really about some patients are very uncomfortable being watched with an active cancer. And so, in that situation, that’s probably the biggest discrepancy we have nowadays.

Because of the anxiety of the watch and wait approach. Some patients would like treatment right away, irrespective of whether they need it or not. So, you’ll sometimes get discrepancies with our patients about that.

Katherine:                  

Mm-hmm. What would you say to a patient who may be nervous about offending their current doctor by getting a second opinion?

Dr. Phillips:                 

You shouldn’t be. If your doctor is offended because you’re getting a second opinion, that’s probably not the doctor for you. Yeah, I think that at this point, any physician that’s confident in their decision they’re giving you should not be offended if you go seek reassurance from somebody else.

What Factors Are Considered When Choosing a Follicular Lymphoma Treatment?

What Factors Are Considered When Choosing a Follicular Lymphoma Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Tycel Phillips provides insight on how to personalize follicular lymphoma treatment decisions. Dr. Phillips discusses the efficacy of some treatment combinations and which factors impact the decision to begin treatment.

Dr. Tycel Jovelle Phillips is a Medical Oncologist in the Hematology Clinic at The University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Phillips, here.

See More from The Pro-Active Follicular Lymphoma Patient Toolkit

Related Programs:

Follicular Lymphoma: What Treatment Options Are Available?

Follicular Lymphoma: What Treatment Options Are Available?

What Is the Patient’s Role in Follicular Lymphoma Decisions?

What Is the Patient’s Role in Follicular Lymphoma Decisions?

What Treatment Options Are Available for Relapsed Follicular Lymphoma?

What Treatment Options Are Available for Relapsed Follicular Lymphoma?


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

What is considered when choosing a treatment? Are there test results that can impact the options?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, there are. So, for the most part we’ll take a couple of things into consideration. So, there is no standard of care for follicular lymphomas. So, there are a couple different options that can be utilized in the upfront setting for the untreated patient. So, comorbidities play a part in what sort of treatment we choose. Patient’s age and fitness will play a part. If there’s any heart disease, that will play a part in the situation as well. And also, as I said, stage will play a part in sort of what our treatment goals are.

So, if our treatment goal for a really unfit patient who we don’t think can tolerate chemotherapy, it’s just symptom control. And they don’t have a lot of disease, we can sometimes treat them with just a monoclonal antibody we call Rituximab as a single agent.

If the patient has a lot of disease, and they are a fit patient, we will tend to combine Rituximab with several different chemotherapy regimens. Because Rituximab plus chemotherapy works better than chemotherapy and also Rituximab alone, especially depending on the amount of the disease that we’re trying to treat. And again, as I mentioned before, if it’s a localized patient there is known to be radiation plus or minus Rituximab in that situation.

But because of some of the side effects of the drugs we use, and obviously now we’re in a pandemic, a lot of those will take sort of some of the consideration of what we use. Some of the drugs that we use are either more sort of immunosuppressants than others, and obviously being in a pandemic, we have to take that into consideration because we’re not treating to cure. Some of the drugs can cause heart damage, some of the drugs can damage nerves, some of the drugs include steroids, which might be prohibited with some patients. So, all that sometimes has to be taken into consideration when we choose our regimen.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. It sounds like there are a lot of factors coming into play here.

Dr. Phillips:                 

Yeah, I mean normally, without a pandemic there’s a lot of factors, and the pandemic just makes things a little bit harder. Just because, again, our patients are already at risk based with some of the treatments we choose.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. Yeah. It’s pretty challenging right now. Does treatment typically start right away?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, that really depends on a stage and also whether we meet certain sort of criteria to treat. So, we don’t have to treat right away. So, if a patient has a disease, and the disease is not in an area where we think it’s curative, for the most part we can enter into what we call a watch and wait. Meaning we will observe a patient very closely and defer treatment until the patient develops symptoms or other indications that warrant treatment.

We do know that there is no impact on longevity by sort of partaking in this approach. So, you won’t live any longer or you won’t live any shorter if we watch and wait versus initiating therapy right away. It just saves you from having some of the toxicities from treatment without any real major benefits.

So, remember the goal for most patients with follicular lymphoma is to alleviate symptoms or problems. If you don’t have a symptom or a problem, me giving you treatment is not going to make you feel any better. Actually, it would probably make you feel a little bit worse. To get you back to where you were when you started.

What Are the Treatment Goals for Follicular Lymphoma?

What Are the Treatment Goals for Follicular Lymphoma? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Tycel Phillips reviews the main treatment goals for follicular lymphoma. Dr. Phillips provides insight on treatment decisions based on the patient’s staging and symptoms. 

Dr. Tycel Jovelle Phillips is a Medical Oncologist in the Hematology Clinic at The University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Phillips, here.

See More from The Pro-Active Follicular Lymphoma Patient Toolkit

Related Programs:

 
Follicular Lymphoma: What Treatment Options Are Available?

Follicular Lymphoma: What Treatment Options Are Available?

What Factors Are Considered When Choosing a Follicular Lymphoma Treatment?

What Is the Patient’s Role in Follicular Lymphoma Decisions?

What Is the Patient’s Role in Follicular Lymphoma Decisions?


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

How about we begin with treatment goals? What does this mean exactly and what are the goals of treatment for follicular lymphoma?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, for the vast majority of patients, follicular lymphoma unfortunately to date is not curable. So, for those patients the goal of treatment when we initiate treatment is to alleviate any symptoms that may be caused by the lymphoma.

So, the patient has fevers, they have night sweats, or there’s some sort of organ damage from the cancer, our goal of treatment is to reverse that and put the cancer into what we call a remission. Remission basically means that from the test that we have currently, we cannot find any evidence of the cancer. That does not mean that you’re cured from the cancer. Patients with earlier stages – so, if you have a patient with stage one or a localized stage two, we approach that with a little bit of a different treatment mindset.

So, if we can catch it early enough, which is very hard given because of the cancer. So, these are really incidentally found, and in some cases, by luck. We can potentially cure follicular lymphoma in these patients. But that’s more of a curative intent with radiation and not systemic therapy. With the advent of PET scans, which have made it a little bit easier to find all the hidden areas of where the follicular lymphoma may hide out, concurrently with a bone marrow biopsy, if a patient is truly stage one, we will initiate therapy with a curative intent.

Whereas, again, with the other patients, our goal is just to control the symptoms and put you into remission.

What Are the Stages of Follicular Lymphoma?

What Are the Stages of Follicular Lymphoma? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How does follicular lymphoma progress? Expert Dr. Tycel Phillips discusses the disease’s stages and the impact on treatment options.

Dr. Tycel Jovelle Phillips is a Medical Oncologist in the Hematology Clinic at The University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Phillips, here.

See More from The Pro-Active Follicular Lymphoma Patient Toolkit

Related Programs:

What Is Follicular Lymphoma?

What Is Follicular Lymphoma?

What Are the Treatment Goals for Follicular Lymphoma?

What Are the Treatment Goals for Follicular Lymphoma?

What Factors Are Considered When Choosing a Follicular Lymphoma Treatment?


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

You’ve touched upon this briefly, but what are the stages of follicular lymphoma? How does it progress?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, when we talk about follicular lymphoma, so, in stages there are four stages. Stage one, which means it’s localized in one general area. Or potentially into one organ. Stage two means that it is on one side of the diaphragm. So, we use your diaphragm as sort of a dividing point. Sort of like a Mason-Dixon line of the body. So, if it’s all on one side, it’s a stage two. If you have disease both above and below the diaphragm, you’d be considered to be stage three. Stage four indicates that you either have an organ involved in a nonadjacent lymph node.

So, let’s just say there’s a spot in your liver and you have a lymph node in your neck, or if your bone marrow is involved. For the most part, most patients with follicular lymphoma, because again, when develops, it doesn’t really develop with symptoms and typically is in there for quite a bit of time. Most patients will have what we consider to be advanced stage of this disease, meaning it’s stage three or four. Because the cancer has quite a bit of time to grow and move around before we find it.

It also comes in a set of grades. So, stage and grades are different. Stage is location, grade is what the pathologist sort of looks at when he looks under a microscope – how angry or big the cells look. So, we typically divide it into grades one and two; it’s very hard to separate one and two, so it’s generally grouped together. Which means there are mostly small round cells and very few big cells. And then we have grade 3A and grade 3B. And grade 3A means that when they look at it under the microscope, they see a fair number of larger cells which means that’s probably a bit more aggressive than the grade one to two.

And grade 3B is sort of separated into a category of its own. And we tend to treat grade 3B as a more aggressive lymphoma. we treat that very closely, like we treat the diffuse large B-cell lymphomas. So, grade 3B is in a category of its own, and then grades one to two and grade three are sort of clumped together.

What Is Follicular Lymphoma?

What Is Follicular Lymphoma? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Tycel Phillips gives his expert definition of follicular lymphoma and explains why this disease is often found incidentally. 

Dr. Tycel Jovelle Phillips is a Medical Oncologist in the Hematology Clinic at The University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Phillips, here.

See More from The Pro-Active Follicular Lymphoma Patient Toolkit

Related Programs:

What are the stages of Follicular Lymphoma?

What Are the Stages of Follicular Lymphoma?

What Are the Treatment Goals for Follicular Lymphoma?

What Are the Treatment Goals for Follicular Lymphoma?

What Factors Are Considered When Choosing a Follicular Lymphoma Treatment?


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

What exactly is follicular lymphoma?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, follicular lymphoma is a malignant growth or tumor in some situations, depending on how you want to describe it, of lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are normal cells that we have in our body and are a very important part of our immune system. For a very generic sort of description, lymphocytes come in what we call B and T-cells. B-cells, as I mentioned, are the cells that help make antibodies and it’s how we fight viruses and other diseases. These antibodies help our immune system recognize and hopefully clear these pathogens quicker.

And then we also have T-cells, which I like to refer to as like jailers, who will survey and sort of try to eliminate any abnormal cells. Lymphoma can come in a B-cell lymphoma or a T-cell lymphoma. For western Europe and the U.S., B-cell lymphomas account for the vast majority of cases of lymphoma; about 85%. When we look at B-cell lymphomas, we have Hodgkin’s Lymphomas, which are a separate category, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas.

And follicular lymphoma is the most common indolent, or what we consider slow growing, of non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas. So, when we talk about indolent as slow growing, these are lymphomas that are more than likely to be found incidentally by CAT scans. Or if you’re going for some other procedure, they’ll notice that you have enlarged lymph nodes and a biopsy will lead to a diagnosis of follicular lymphoma. In most cases, the cancer has probably been there for several years, at least months, before it’s been found. And in most cases, most patients have been living happily unbeknownst to them together with this cancer.

And so, follicular lymphoma being in that way is something that, again, we consider to be slow growing because, again, the more aggressive lymphomas tend to come with symptoms. So, these can come on more insidiously and are typically found incidentally.

Is the COVID Vaccine Safe and Effective for Follicular Lymphoma Patients?

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

Dr. Tycel Phillips discusses the efficacy and safety of the COVID vaccine for follicular lymphoma patients. Dr. Phillips reviews the effects it may have on patients and provides his expert advice.

Dr. Tycel Jovelle Phillips is a Medical Oncologist in the Hematology Clinic at The University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Phillips, here.

See More from The Pro-Active Follicular Lymphoma Patient Toolkit

Related Programs:

What Are the Treatment Goals for Follicular Lymphoma?

What Are the Treatment Goals for Follicular Lymphoma?

What Factors Are Considered When Choosing a Follicular Lymphoma Treatment?

What Is the Patient’s Role in Follicular Lymphoma Decisions?

What Is the Patient’s Role in Follicular Lymphoma Decisions?


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Is the COVID vaccine safe and effective for follicular lymphoma patients?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, the vaccine is safe. The effectiveness of the vaccine does in some part depend on whether the patients are untreated or they’re currently on treatment. Some of the treatments that we use to combat follicular lymphoma and other lymphomas unfortunately targets one of the key cells in the response to the vaccine. So, as follicular lymphoma is a cancer of the malignant B-cell, one of our treatments are directed, you know, obviously killing off malignant B-cells. And unfortunately, we do take some innocent bystanders. So, your normal B-cells will be impacted, which does sometimes impact your abilities to make antibodies.

But we do know from research that the vaccines will also trigger a T-cell response, which most of our treatments will not impact. So, well, we do recommend for our patients to be vaccinated. Because, again, it is safe. And, again, it is effective even if it’s not as effective as it would be if you weren’t on treatment.

Katherine:                  

Mm-hmm. Better to be safe than sorry.

Dr. Phillips:                 

Yes.

Follicular Lymphoma Treatment Decisions: What’s Right for You?

Follicular Lymphoma Treatment Decisions: What’s Right for You? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When considering therapy for follicular lymphoma, what determines the best treatment for YOU? Dr. Tycel Phillips reviews key factors for making treatment decisions, tips for partnering with your healthcare team, and shares an update on emerging treatment and research.

Dr. Tycel Jovelle Phillips is a Medical Oncologist in the Hematology Clinic at The University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center.

See More from The Pro-Active Follicular Lymphoma Patient Toolkit

Download Guide

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Follicular Lymphoma Care Partner Follow-Up Visit Planner 

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Follicular Lymphoma Care Partner First Office Visit Planner

Follicular Lymphoma Patient Follow-Up Visit Planner 


Transcript:

Katherine:             

Hello and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s webinar. In this program, we’re going to learn more about follicular lymphoma. What it is, how it’s treated, and we’ll share tools to help you work with your healthcare team to access the best care. Before we meet our guest, let’s review a few important details. The reminder email you received about this program contains a link to program materials.

If you haven’t already, click that link to access information to follow along during the webinar. At the end of this program, you’ll receive a link to a program survey. Please take a moment to provide feedback about your experience today in order to help us plan future webinars. And finally, before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you. Joining me today is Dr. Tycel Phillips. Welcome, Dr. Phillips. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Phillips:                 

Hi, I’m Dr. Tycel Phillips. I’m an associate professor at the University of Michigan. I look forward to talking today.

Katherine:                  

Good. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule. Before we learn about follicular lymphoma, let’s start with a question we’ve received that’s on the minds of many patients. Is the COVID vaccine safe and effective for follicular lymphoma patients?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, the vaccine is safe. The effectiveness of the vaccine does in some part depend on whether the patients are untreated or they’re currently on treatment. Some of the treatments that we use to combat follicular lymphoma and other lymphomas unfortunately targets one of the key cells in the response to the vaccine. So, as follicular lymphoma is a cancer of the malignant B-cell, one of our treatments are directed, you know, obviously killing off malignant B-cells. And unfortunately, we do take some innocent bystanders. So, your normal B-cells will be impacted, which does sometimes impact your abilities to make antibodies.

But we do know from research that the vaccines will also trigger a T-cell response, which most of our treatments will not impact. So, well, we do recommend for our patients to be vaccinated. Because, again, it is safe. And, again, it is effective even if it’s not as effective as it would be if you weren’t on treatment.

Katherine:                  

Mm-hmm. Better to be safe than sorry.

Dr. Phillips:                 

Yes.

Katherine:                  

Let’s start at the very beginning. What exactly is follicular lymphoma?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, follicular lymphoma is a malignant growth or tumor in some situations, depending on how you want to describe it, of lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are normal cells that we have in our body and are a very important part of our immune system. For a very generic sort of description, lymphocytes come in what we call B and T cells. B cells, as I mentioned, are the cells that help make antibodies and it’s how we fight viruses and other diseases. These antibodies help our immune system recognize and hopefully clear these pathogens quicker.

And then we also have T cells, which I like to refer to as like jailers, who will survey and sort of try to eliminate any abnormal cells. Lymphoma can come in a B-cell lymphoma or a T-cell lymphoma. For western Europe and the U.S., B-cell lymphomas account for the vast majority of cases of lymphoma; about 85 percent. When we look at B-cell lymphomas, we have Hodgkin’s Lymphomas, which are a separate category, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas.

And follicular lymphoma is the most common indolent, or what we consider slow growing, of non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas. So, when we talk about indolent as slow growing, these are lymphomas that are more than likely to be found incidentally by CAT scans. Or if you’re going for some other procedure, they’ll notice that you have enlarged lymph nodes and a biopsy will lead to a diagnosis of follicular lymphoma. In most cases, the cancer has probably been there for several years, at least months, before it’s been found. And in most cases, most patients have been living happily unbeknownst to them together with this cancer.

And so, follicular lymphoma being in that way is something that, again, we consider to be slow growing because, again, the more aggressive lymphomas tend to come with symptoms. So, these can come on more insidiously and are typically found incidentally.

Katherine:                  

You’ve touched upon this briefly, but what are the stages of follicular lymphoma? How does it progress?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, when we talk about follicular lymphoma, so, in stages there are four stages. Stage I, which means it’s localized in one general area. Or potentially into one organ. Stage II means that it is on one side of the diaphragm. So, we use your diaphragm as sort of a dividing point. Sort of like a Mason-Dixon line of the body. So, if it’s all on one side, it’s a stage II. If you have disease both above and below the diaphragm, you’d be considered to be stage III. Stage IV indicates that you either have an organ involved in a nonadjacent lymph node.

So, let’s just say there’s a spot in your liver and you have a lymph node in your neck, or if your bone marrow is involved. For the most part, most patients with follicular lymphoma, because again, when develops, it doesn’t really develop with symptoms and typically is in there for quite a bit of time. Most patients will have what we consider to be advanced stage of this disease, meaning it’s stage III or IV. Because the cancer has quite a bit of time to grow and move around before we find it.

It also comes in a set of grades. So, stage and grades are different. Stage is location, grade is what the pathologist sort of looks at when he looks under a microscope – how angry or big the cells look. So, we typically divide it into grades 1 and 2; it’s very hard to separate one and two, so it’s generally grouped together. Which means there are mostly small round cells and very few big cells. And then we have grade 3A and grade 3B. And grade 3A means that when they look at it under the microscope, they see a fair number of larger cells which means that’s probably a bit more aggressive than the grade 1 to 2.

And grade 3B is sort of separated into a category of its own. And we tend to treat grade 3B as a more aggressive lymphoma. we treat that very closely, like we treat the diffuse large B-cell lymphomas. So, grade 3B is in a category of its own, and then grades 1 to 2 and grade 3 are sort of clumped together.

Katherine:                  

Okay. That’s very helpful, thank you. Now that we know more about follicular lymphoma and how it’s staged, let’s move on to treatment approaches. Many factors come into play, right, when making a treatment decision. Including a patient’s age and overall health. So, let’s walk through these considerations. How about we begin with treatment goals? What does this mean exactly and what are the goals of treatment for follicular lymphoma?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, for the vast majority of patients, follicular lymphoma unfortunately to date is not curable. So, for those patients the goal of treatment when we initiate treatment is to alleviate any symptoms that may be caused by the lymphoma.

So, the patient has fevers, they have night sweats, or there’s some sort of organ damage from the cancer, our goal of treatment is to reverse that and put the cancer into what we call a remission. Remission basically means that from the test that we have currently, we cannot find any evidence of the cancer. That does not mean that you’re cured from the cancer. Patients with earlier stages – so, if you have a patient with stage I or a localized stage II, we approach that with a little bit of a different treatment mindset.

So, if we can catch it early enough, which is very hard given because of the cancer. So, these are really incidentally found, and in some cases, by luck. We can potentially cure follicular lymphoma in these patients. But that’s more of a curative intent with radiation and not systemic therapy. With the advent of PET scans, which have made it a little bit easier to find all the hidden areas of where the follicular lymphoma may hide out, concurrently with a bone marrow biopsy, if a patient is truly stage I, we will initiate therapy with a curative intent.

Whereas, again, with the other patients, our goal is just to control the symptoms and put you into remission.

Katherine:                  

What is considered when choosing a treatment? Are there test results that can impact the options?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, there are. So, for the most part we’ll take a couple of things into consideration. So, there is no standard of care for follicular lymphomas. So, there are a couple different options that can be utilized in the upfront setting for the untreated patient. So, comorbidities play a part in what sort of treatment we choose. Patient’s age and fitness will play a part. If there’s any heart disease, that will play a part in the situation as well. And also, as I said, stage will play a part in sort of what our treatment goals are.

So, if our treatment goal for a really unfit patient who we don’t think can tolerate chemotherapy, it’s just symptom control. And they don’t have a lot of disease, we can sometimes treat them with just a monoclonal antibody we call rituximab (Rituxan) as a single agent.

If the patient has a lot of disease, and they are a fit patient, we will tend to combine rituximab with several different chemotherapy regimens. Because rituximab plus chemotherapy works better than chemotherapy and also rituximab alone, especially depending on the amount of the disease that we’re trying to treat. And again, as I mentioned before, if it’s a localized patient there is known to be radiation plus or minus rituximab in that situation.

But because of some of the side effects of the drugs we use, and obviously now we’re in a pandemic, a lot of those will take sort of some of the consideration of what we use. Some of the drugs that we use are either more sort of immunosuppressants than others, and obviously being in a pandemic, we have to take that into consideration because we’re not treating to cure. Some of the drugs can cause heart damage, some of the drugs can damage nerves, some of the drugs include steroids, which might be prohibited with some patients. So, all that sometimes has to be taken into consideration when we choose our regimen.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. It sounds like there are a lot of factors coming into play here.

Dr. Phillips:                 

Yeah, I mean normally, without a pandemic there’s a lot of factors, and the pandemic just makes things a little bit harder. Just because, again, our patients are already at risk based with some of the treatments we choose.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. Yeah. It’s pretty challenging right now. Does treatment typically start right away?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, that really depends on a stage and also whether we meet certain sort of criteria to treat. So, we don’t have to treat right away. So, if a patient has a disease, and the disease is not in an area where we think it’s curative, for the most part we can enter into what we call a watch and wait. Meaning we will observe a patient very closely and defer treatment until the patient develops symptoms or other indications that warrant treatment.

We do know that there is no impact on longevity by sort of partaking in this approach. So, you won’t live any longer or you won’t live any shorter if we watch and wait versus initiating therapy right away. It just saves you from having some of the toxicities from treatment without any real major benefits.

So, remember the goal for most patients with follicular lymphoma is to alleviate symptoms or problems. If you don’t have a symptom or a problem, me giving you treatment is not going to make you feel any better. Actually, it would probably make you feel a little bit worse. To get you back to where you were when you started.                    

Katherine:                  

Yeah, right. What do you feel is the patient’s role in treatment decisions?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, I know historically a lot of times, you come into an office, and we tell you what you’re going to get and what you’re not going to get. Patients nowadays are I would say a lot more savvy as far as what drugs are out there. And there are a lot more sort of conversational groups on social media between patients who’ve had treatment before and newly diagnosed patients. So, patients come in with a lot more information than they had historically had before. So, in that point, I think it’s more of an open dialogue about what options we have, what options are best for you, and what our treatment goals are at that point.

But all it means, given that we don’t yet have a standard of care, it leaves it open for discussion about sort of which route we choose to try to get your cancer under control.

Katherine:                  

Mm-hmm. Dr. Phillips, if a patient isn’t feeling confident with their treatment plan or their care, do you think they should consider a second opinion or a consult with a specialist?

Dr. Phillips:                 

I think a second opinion is probably best for all patients. It’s always probably good to get a different opinion about how the disease will be treated. So, I do encourage all my patients, even here, to get a second opinion. Some take me up on it, others won’t. But the option is always there to get a second opinion, just to see if anybody would do things any differently.

And I would say for the most part, most people would tend to treat the same way. Very seldom do we have differences in what our treatment recommendations would be. I think the biggest difference in some situations, it’s really about some patients are very uncomfortable being watched with an active cancer. And so, in that situation, that’s probably the biggest discrepancy we have nowadays.

Because of the anxiety of the watch and wait approach. Some patients would like treatment right away, irrespective of whether they need it or not. So, you’ll sometimes get discrepancies with our patients about that.

Katherine:                  

Mm-hmm. What would you say to a patient who may be nervous about offending their current doctor by getting a second opinion?

Dr. Phillips:                 

You shouldn’t be. If your doctor is offended because you’re getting a second opinion, that’s probably not the doctor for you. Yeah, I think that at this point, any physician that’s confident in their decision they’re giving you should not be offended if you go seek reassurance from somebody else.

Katherine:                  

Yeah, good advice. Thank you. Now that we’ve discussed factors that can impact treatment decisions, would you walk us through the currently available follicular lymphoma treatment approaches? And who they might be right for?

Dr. Phillips:                 

Sure. So, we’ll start with the newly diagnosed or untreated patient. So, again, if you’re newly diagnosed or untreated, your options are the monoclonal antibody, Rituximab. Again, that’s a CD20 monoclonal antibody.

That is typically given once weekly for four weeks and can be repeated, if need be, after a break. And that’s usually reserved for patients who have minimal symptoms, low burden disease. Because, again, data has shown that the bulkier the disease, you’re likely not to have a very durable or deep response with just simulating Rituximab. Additional options include Rituximab plus chemotherapy.

So, we have regimens such as CDP, which is Cytoxan, vincristine, and prednisone. Cytoxan and vincristine being a steroid, prednisone being — sorry, Cytoxan and vincristine being a chemotherapy agent, and prednisone being a steroid. We have our bendamustine, bendamustine being a chemotherapy agent. There’s R-CHOP, which is Cytoxan, vincristine, Adriamycin, and prednisone. And sometimes that is reserved, because unlike the other two, R-CHOP can only be given once because of the accumulation of the anthracycline.

You can only have so much of that in a lifetime before you run a risk of cardiac toxicity.

Katherine:                  

Oh.

Dr. Phillips:                 

And also, R-CHOP as of right now is a standard of care for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. Which every patient with follicular lymphoma has a chance of transforming into diffuse large B-cell lymphoma at some point. So, we tend to try to reserve R-CHOP if we can. Additionally, more recently, there was a study called Relevance, which evaluated RPMO versus an agent called lenalidomide plus Rituximab, what we call R squared.

So, it was designed as a superiority study, but what came out of it is R squared is probably equivalent, not better, than R chemo. So that is also an option up front. With lenalidomide it’s a little bit different than the other agents, which all give it intravenously, meaning through the vein. But lenalidomide is an oral medication, that you would take 21 days on, and seven days off. And that’s given in conjunction with the Rituximab. And you typically would take that for 12 cycles, or about a year of treatment.

Whereas the chemotherapy regimens that I mentioned before, are typically given for six cycles. Meaning you’ll be taking it for a duration of 18 weeks or 24 weeks. So around four and half to six months for the chemotherapy. Thereafter, it’s a bit controversial, but some patients can then transition to what we call Rituximab maintenance.

Where you would get Rituximab every other month for a period of two to three years. Typically, two years, as a way to delay the return of the cancer. So, R maintenance we know of improves your progression of survival, so the time until the cancer comes back. And there is no survival benefit with maintenance at this point. So, it is in some ways a bit controversial. Especially now, given the pandemic.

Katherine:                  

What about stem cell transplant? Is that an option?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, for up front, that’s usually not something that we typically do. So, for stem cell transplantation, there are two types of stem cell transplantation. There’s one called an Autologous Stem Cell Transplantation, which is basically really a stem cell rescue.

You get a high dose of chemotherapy after stem cells are collected from you and those stem cells are given back to rescue your body from the chemo. That is typically reserved for what we call high risk patients. So, we give you an initial up front chemotherapy regimen. And if your cancer comes back within less than 24 months of completion of that therapy, you fall into what we call a POD24 category. Which means Progression of Disease within 24 months.

We do know those patients are at higher risk, than patients who stay in remission for at least 24 months or longer. So, if we look at overall survival for those POD24 patients, about half of those patients will succumb to their disease within a five-year period. Which is much different for what we see with the standard for follicular lymphoma patients. So, and that POD24 category it does appear that Autologous Stem Cell Transplantation is beneficial in that patient population. As well as an Allogenic Stem Cell Transplant. So, an allogenic transplant is when you get immune cells from another donor.

So, “allo” meaning from a different person. So, in that sense, you get sort of temporized, and they would give you donor lymphocytes. And those lymphocytes themselves would try to fight off your cancer. So, an Auto transplant is mainly just chemo; an Allo transplant, the donor cells help fight off the cancer.

Katherine:                  

Right.

Dr. Phillips:                 

There are complications to both, which is why they’re not typically given up front. The Allo transplant probably has more risk of complications as well. Those cells can also recognize your body as being foreign and try to fight them off because they don’t originate from you. And there’s also just a risk of other death from that procedure. So, all those have to be taken with a bit of caution. And for the Allo transplant, it’s generally only recommended if you have that, a sibling donor. Because there’s much less risk of complications than versus you get an unrelated donor.

Katherine:                  

Right. Right, that makes sense. If someone receives treatment and then goes into remission, how are they monitored?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, there’s a couple of different ways you can go about it.

Historically, what we would do is we would actually sometimes get CAT scans. But we’ve sort of pulled back from that in recent years. So, as of right now, the recommendation is really just clinical observation, meaning what I call well baby visits. Meaning I will see you in clinic at least every three months for the first year after completion of therapy. We do a system assessment, we’ll do a physical exam, we’ll do labs. Unless there is really something that at the completion of therapy that I’m concerned about, we won’t typically do any imaging.

We reserve imaging until there is a concern at some point, whether you have symptoms, there’s a lab issue, or there’s some other finding that comes up that means that we have to repeat pictures. So those visits I’ll do typically every three months for the first year, spaced out that every four months for the second year, post treatment. And then every six months up until about year four. And then it’ll become a yearly visit thereafter, as long as you continue to remain well without symptoms and nothing on an exam that’s concerning.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. We received this question from an audience member prior to the program. Angela asks, “What if I relapse after treatment? What are my options then?”

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, a lot of that, again, depends on the timing. If you relapse early, obviously whatever we gave you in the frontline we would not repeat. And again, if it’s within the 24-month period, again, that takes you on the road of POD24. Wherein patients who are fit enough, it would take you to a route where you would actually probably get a transplant. It’s consolidation to extend our true progression sabbatical.

If you relapse after 24 months, that would really depend on what you received in the frontline because some of these agents can be repeated. If we don’t repeat what you’ve had in a frontline setting – so again, if you’ve got R chemo, then a second line setting, normally what we would do now, based on published data from the augment study, is we would typically treat these patients with Rituximab and lenalidomide, which is that oral medication.

That’s typically if you did receive lenalidomide in the frontline setting and you would not want to repeat that, then we would typically give you R chemo in a second line setting. Again, in most of those situations, it would be RCP or Bendamustine and Rituximab.

Katherine:                  

Okay. Are there emerging approaches for treating follicular lymphoma that patients should know about?

Dr. Phillips:                 

There are. So, there are some more exciting data that’s coming out, specifically looking at CAR-T, which is chimeric antigen receptor therapy. So, these are augmented T cells that they collect from the patient, they help recognize – they help to modify those cancer cells to recognize the tumor more appropriately. And they target those tumor cells through a receptor called CD19 that’s present on the tumor.

So, that therapy has shown a significant overall response rate in follicular lymphoma. Even in very heavily pretreated patients. Right now, we’re still waiting on a longer follow up as far as the duration of the response, but as of right now it is a very encouraging therapy.

The downside to that therapy is that you can only receive it at select centers because they have to be a therapeutic approved center. So, you can’t just go sometimes to your regular oncologist’s in say, Skoboken or wherever, and get this treatment. So that’s one downside to that and also, it’s a very expensive treatment and you need insurance approval to cover that. Some of the side effects from that treatment we have gotten better at controlling, such as cytokine release syndrome, which can cause fever, low blood pressures, difficulty breathing.

That typically happens within a set period of time after the infusion of the [inaudible] and modified T cells. And then there’s also what we call neurotoxicity, meaning you can have some neurological complications. Which, again, we’ve become better at managing. There are a couple CAR-T products on the market right now; all of them seem very comparable and also effective in follicular lymphoma. There’s also treatments called bispecific antibodies, these are like causally off the shelf products, except they use an antibody.

And in this antibody it has sort of two receptors. So, earlier we talked about Rituximab, which is a CD20 antibody. The bispecifics have a CD20 antibody and a CD3 antibody set. So, they bind to the tumor and also bind to your T cells. And with the binding to the T-cells, they call it T-cell activation and expansion. And it will utilize your own T cells to fight off the cancer. So, because these bispecifics are given as an off the shelf product, they can likely be able to be given in more accessible areas.

So, you won’t have to select centers to be given. There are still some complications with those, such as CRS and neurotoxicity, but early reports indicate that they’re much less severe and less frequency than what we see with CAR-T. But as of right now, neither the duration of responses of these treatments are still to be determined. So, again, these are two exciting sort of avenues that are moving forward for patients with follicular lymphoma that will be further developed and sort of be expanded on in the coming years.

Katherine:                  

What about clinical trials? How do they fit in?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, for patients with relapsed refractory disease and even some patients with untreated disease, clinical trials are sometimes your best avenue for getting some of these new and promising therapeutics before they get approval. I know sometimes patients are very cautious about clinical trials because they don’t want to be guinea pigs. But I would say all treatments that we offer you have started in clinical trials. And this is the only way to really advance the field. So, if your treating physician has a clinical trial for you, I would strongly recommend patients consider that.

Because, again, they are typically offering you something that they can’t offer you as a standard care, insurance approved treatment. And for the most part, they’re either adding drugs to what we do as far as standard of care treatment approach or offer you something that is very promising in the relapsed refractory setting or upfront setting. That compares very favorably to what we would give you as a standard of care option. That allows you to get this option sooner and earlier when you’re in better shape and less sort of beat up from the other treatments that we would give you.

Katherine:                  

I’d like to just go back for a second and ask you about inhibitor treatments.

Dr. Phillips:                 

Sure. So, as of right now, CAR-T with the chimeric antigen receptor therapy treatment is only approved for patients with relapsed refractory disease. The bispecific antibody therapies are only available in clinical trial. There are some other sort of cyclin inhibitors that haven’t gotten approval. So, we have the PO3 kind of Delta inhibitors, which inhibit the PO3 kind of pathway in a patient with follicular lymphoma.

There were four approved agents in this class of drugs. We had umbralisib, duvelisib, copanlisib, and idelalisib. More recently, two of those, idelalisib and duvelisib, have removed their indications for follicular lymphoma.

So, as of right now we have copanlisib which is an IDP kind of three dose inhibitor and umbralisib, which is an oral agent for the PO3 dose kind of inhibitor. So, both of those agents are typically usually targeted in the third line and beyond. So, patients who fail at least two lines of therapy. We also have tazemetostat, which is an EZH2 inhibitor, that was most recently improved. So, EZH2 mutations occur in about 20% of patients for follicular lymphoma.

But tazemetostat was actually approved for those with and without the mutation as it did show some efficacy in both. It appeared that the overall response rate was a bit higher than those who had an EZH2 mutation, with the duration of the response appears to be equivalent. But I do think for most parts in that situation, for those who lack the mutation the drug is typically used for patients who are unfit for other therapies. Whereas those who have the mutation, it typically probably will be used a bit earlier.

Katherine:                  

Okay. Excellent. Let’s take a moment to talk about patient self-advocacy. Patients can sometimes feel like they’re bothering their healthcare team with their questions and their comments. Why is it important for patients to speak up when it comes to symptoms and side effects?

Dr. Phillips:                 

Well, for the side effect part it’s important because your physician can’t potentially prevent the worst thing or further development of side effects. Nobody can. And also, they can’t prevent you from going to the hospital if you don’t let them know you have this certain side effects.

So, it’s very important to communicate side effects, because for the most part there are logical next steps that we can implement to either eliminate the side effects or hopefully prevent them from future treatment regimens. And also, other concerns that you may have. I mean, you only get one life. And this is your body. Then for the best part, it’s best to communicate any concerns that you may have in regard to treatment, or any questions you may have so that you are well aware.

You can’t really fight this appropriately without sort of being well aware of what you’re dealing with, what we’re using to take care of the cancer, and what potential side effects may come up. Again, so we can, again, have you have the best experience possible to try to get your cancer under control. I try to explain to my patients, “I don’t want you to wait until the next visit if you have issues.” I mean, we need to sort of manage these in real time. Even things we don’t take care of right then and there, again, it gives us a heads up and a head start to try to take care of these problems the next time you come to the clinic.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Phillips, to close, what would you like to leave the audience with? Are you hopeful?

Dr. Phillips:                 

So, I think follicular lymphoma, and lymphoma in general, we are having a better understanding of the biology of the cancer, certain things that are important to the cancer, and certain avenues that we can treat the cancer and avoid some toxicities that have sort of plagued us before. So, I think moving forward there is a ton of research going into improving outcomes for patients with lymphoma, and follicular lymphoma, in general. There are a ton of other treatment options that are coming down the pipe way.

So, I think patients with follicular lymphoma should be very hopeful and encouraged that we will just continue to improve the quality of life and also the duration that they can live with this cancer. I mean, as of right now, until we can cure this cancer, our real goal is to continue to buy you more time. And time buys you more treatments. And most of the treatments that we are developing and are coming, again, down the pipeline are less toxic than some of the things we had 5, 10, definitely 15, 20 years ago.

So, your experience and your quality of life will be improved, and these treatments will also give you more longevity than you could have ever expected. So, patients with lymphoma are living a lot longer and that’s not an important thing to remember. Not hopeful, not – sorry, it’s not hopeless, even though we may say we can’t cure your cancer, the goal is as of right now is to turn this into a chronic disease such as any other chronic disease. Something that you can live with, while managing control. Hopefully, you will continue to enjoy your life and your life won’t be cut short by this cancer.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Phillips, thanks so much for joining us today. We really appreciate it.

Dr. Phillips:                 

No, thank you. I really enjoyed it.

Katherine:                  

And thank you to all of our partners. Please continue to send in your questions to question@powerfulpatients.org. and we’ll work to get them answered in future programs. If you would like to watch this webinar again, there will be a replay available soon. You’ll received an email when it’s ready.

And don’t forget to take the survey immediately following this webinar. It will help us as we plan future programs. To learn more about follicular lymphoma, and to access tools to help you become a more proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for being with us today.

What Do You Need to Know About Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL)?

What Do You Need to Know about Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL)? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 After a diffuse large B-cell Lymphoma (DLBCL) diagnosis, what’s important for patients and their loved ones to know? This animated video provides an understanding of DLBCL, available treatment options and lists key steps for becoming an empowered patient.

See More From The Pro-Active DLBCL Patient Toolkit


Related Programs:

Factors that Guide a DLBCL Treatment Decision

 
What Is Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma (DLBCL)?

Essential Testing Following a DLBCL Diagnosis

Essential Testing Following a DLBCL Diagnosis 


Transcript:

Hi, my name is Dr. Williams, and I am a hematologist-oncologist specializing in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma—commonly known as DLBCL.

Today, I’m going to talk about what you need to know if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with DLBCL.

First, it’s important to understand your disease.

DLBCL is the most common form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which is a type of cancer that begins in the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is part of the body’s immune system and includes tissue and organs that create, carry, and store white blood cells. DLBCL is caused when white blood cells called lymphocytes rapidly grow out of control.

It may be localized to the lymph nodes or may occur OUTSIDE of the lymphatic system in areas such as the thyroid, skin, breast, bone, testes, gastrointestinal tract—or even other organs in the body.

In many cases, an early sign of the disease is swollen lymph nodes. Patients may also experience symptoms that can include fever, unintended weight loss, night sweats, and fatigue. These are known as “B” symptoms. Depending on where the lymphoma is in the body, it could cause other symptoms as well.

Next, it’s important to understand how DLBCL is typically treated.

Because it is fast-growing, treatment usually begins quickly to help control the disease and its symptoms. The standard of treatment is a regimen called R-CHOP, which combines chemotherapy and a monoclonal antibody. This approach can lead to disease remission in many patients.

If a patient doesn’t respond to initial chemotherapy treatment or relapses, then several other types of treatment are considered, such as:

  • Alternative chemotherapy
  • Stem cell transplant
  • Targeted treatment
  • CAR T-cell therapy
  • And clinical trials

When making treatment decisions, factors such as where the disease is in your body, and lab test results can impact available options. And potential side effects, a patient’s age, health, and lifestyle are also taken into consideration.

In addition to understanding your disease and treatment options, it’s vital to be an active partner in your care. So, how can you take steps to be an empowered patient?

  • Educate yourself about DLBCL.
  • Consider a second opinion or consult with a DLBCL specialist immediately following a diagnosis.
  • Write down your questions before and during your appointments. Visit powerfulpatients.org/dlbcl to access office visit planners to help you organize your notes.
  • Understand the goals of treatment and ask whether a clinical trial might be right for you.
  • Bring a friend or loved one to your appointments to help you recall information and to keep track of important details.
  • Finally, remember that you have a voice in your care decisions. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and to share your concerns. You are your own best advocate.

DLBCL Treatment Decisions: What’s Right for You?

DLBCL Treatment Decisions: What’s Right for You? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When considering therapy for diffuse large b-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), what determines the best treatment for YOU? Lymphoma expert Dr. Loretta Nastoupil shares key decision-making factors, emerging research, and tools for partnering with your healthcare team.

Dr. Loretta Nastoupil is the Director of the Lymphoma Outcomes Database and Section Chief of New Drug Development in the Department of Lymphoma/Myeloma, Division of Cancer Medicine at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Nastoupil here.

Download Program Guide

See More From The Pro-Active DLBCL Patient Toolkit


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DLBCL Patient First Office Visit


Transcript:

Katherine:

All right. Hello and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today, we’re going to discuss how you can be proactive in your DLBCL care and work with your healthcare team to find the best treatment path for you.

Before we meet our guest, let’s review a few important details. The reminder email you received about this program contains a link to program materials. If you haven’t already, click that link to access information to follow along during this webinar.

At the end of this program, you’ll receive a link to a program survey. Please take a moment to provide feedback about your experience today in order to help us plan future webinars.

Finally, before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please, refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you.

All right. Let’s find out who we’re talking to today. Joining me is Dr. Loretta Nastoupil. Thank you so much for coming on the show with us. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Nastoupil:

Sure. Thanks, Katherine. I’m Loretta Nastoupil. I’m in the Department of Lymphoma and Myeloma at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. I’ve been here since 2013, and I currently lead our new drug development team in our lymphoma section.

Katherine:

Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us. So, let’s start with a basic question, what is diffuse large B-cell lymphoma or DLBCL?

Dr. Nastoupil:

That’s a really important question. And I spend a lot of time when I first meet patients explaining to them there are a lot of different terms that are thrown around in lymphoma. Particularly, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a term many patients will hear and even use. And I remind them that that is sort of an umbrella term that describes essentially every lymphoma that’s not Hodgkin lymphoma.

So, it’s really important to recognize that there are unique types of large cell lymphoma. And almost everything that we care about in terms of what the treatment will look like, whether or not we’re aiming to cure someone, or just maintain adequate disease control is primarily focused on the type of lymphoma someone has.

So, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is the most common lymphoma subtype. Just in terms of its descriptive name, it is a B-cell cancer. And it is comprised of large cells that are essentially effacing or replacing the architecture of a lymph node.

There are different types, which I’m sure we’ll discuss. But, again, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is our most frequent lymphoma we encounter.

Katherine:

What is B cell? What does that mean?

Dr. Nastoupil:

Sure. So, stepping back a little bit, I think most people when they know or have known someone with cancer, it is described as the organ it originates in. So, breast cancer’s a great example. That usually is breast tissue that is abnormal. It has malignant potential. And if it spreads beyond its capsule and specifically goes to a lymph node or another organ, generally that’s bad news.

Lymphoma is a cancer of the immune system. And there are various types of immune cells. B cells – they mature on and become plasma cells when they’re behaving normally. And their job is to generate antibodies so that we can develop immunity from exposures or infections we’ve had and we’ve recovered from.

So, if you develop a cancer in the B cell, depending what stage of development – if it’s a stem cell, for instance, that can lead to acute leukemia. If it’s an immature B cell, meaning it has not developed into a plasma cell, that’s, generally, where diffuse large B-cell lymphoma arises. So, these cells tend to live or spend most of their time in lymph nodes because they’re trying to mimic the behavior of a normal B cell where they’re waiting there for that exposure to happen.

So, these are generally not cancers that we try to cut out before they spread. They’re not spreading cancers in terms of how we generally think of those, meaning you’re not going to use surgery to treat it. And, oftentimes, there are malignant B cells kind of dispersed throughout the body because if you think about how your immune system should work, it should be able to fight off an infection anywhere and everywhere.

So, I think those are key things to keep in mind because oftentimes patients will have widespread involvement or lymph node involvement or bone involvement, and that’s just the nature of the disease and not necessarily something that is so far progressed we didn’t catch it early enough.

Katherine:

I see. Are there subtypes of DLBCL?

Dr. Nastoupil:

Yes, absolutely. So, again, stepping back, over the last 20 years, we have tried to understand why we’re able to cure about 60 percent of patients. But for the 40 percent that were not cured with standard treatment, their outcomes were generally poor, meaning most of those patients died as a result of their lymphoma.

And we’ve approached all of them the same. So, that would imply to us that there’s something inherently different about the large cell lymphoma cases that don’t respond to standard treatment. So, an attempt to try and define who those patients are before we initiate treatment, as technology has evolved, we’ve interrogated some of those biopsy samples to try and understand is there an underlying biologic rationale as to why some patients would have very, very disparate outcomes?

So, what we’ve learned is there are genes that are differentiated between different subtypes of large cell lymphoma. And we’ve described those subtypes based off those gene expression patterns. So, there is a germinal center type of large cell lymphoma. There’s a non-germinal center or activated B-cell type.

And then it gets much more complicated meaning there’s probably far more than just two subtypes. Right now, we’re describing at least five different subtypes. I think what’s important for patients to know is that we view this in terms of being able to predict who’s not going to have the typical course. And if we can define who they are, we might pursue something different, including potentially a clinical trial.

So, the subtypes I care the most about right now in terms of defining are the double hit or double expressors, those with other features that might lend itself to targeted therapy.

So, this is an evolving field and will continue I’m sure – that will have more subtypes defined over time.

Katherine:

Let’s look into testing for a moment. What tests are essential when making a diagnosis?

Dr. Nastoupil:

So, at the beginning, we clearly have to have tissue. I always say, “Tissue is the issue.” So, we may have features that are suggestive of lymphoma. And even sometimes radiologists will describe a CT scan or an x-ray and say, “This looks very suspicious for lymphoma.” But unless we actually have a biopsy that confirms lymphoma, we won’t go as far as to render a diagnosis in the absence of a biopsy.

Now our biopsy approaches have evolved over the last few years. The gold standard or what I would consider to be the best approach currently is to actually have an incisional biopsy meaning we find a lymph node that looks suspicious.

And we either remove the entire lymph node or a large section of that lymph node to render a diagnosis because there’s various things we need to do to that lymph node.

So, generally, we do what’s called immunohistochemistry staining. So, we stain either surface markers of those cells or markers within the cell because cancer is defined as having an abnormal clone or a population of cells that all have the same features. And they’re able to survive even if the host is not thriving.

So, that’s, essentially, what we’re trying to define. Are there cells in this lymph node that are all the same? And what features do they share in common? And then we will also do something called flow cytometry where we’ll take these cells and essentially sort them according to those surface markers. And that will also tell us – is this a B-cell clone, a T-cell clone, and what features would distinguish one lymphoma from another?

And the last thing that we need tissue for are what we call molecular studies, where we may learn about either genes that are rearranged or mutated within those cells that, again, may help us further classify the lymphoma and, again, group them into higher or potentially lower risk groups.

Katherine:

What do the results of these tests tell us about prognosis and treatment choices?

Dr. Nastoupil:

So, again, everything kind of hinges on what type of lymphoma we’re facing. So, for instance, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is what we call an aggressive lymphoma. So, what does that mean? It can grow very quickly. It can take over the patient in terms of resources. So, generally, patients will have weight loss and sometimes even constitutional symptoms or B symptoms, such as night sweats and fevers, fatigue.

In the absence of treatment, it is universally fatal. Now, that timeline can vary from one person to another. But, generally, within a year, if we don’t treat large cell lymphoma, generally, that’s not survivable.

But as I’ve also mentioned for at least 60 percent of patients and potentially even more, we can cure it with standard treatment. There are other types of lymphoma, such as indolent B-cell lymphomas where actually the goal is not cure, but patients may actually have a normal life expectancy meaning they will face multiple treatment courses over their lifetime. But at the end of the day, they should live just as long as someone their same age and sex who doesn’t have lymphoma.

So, again, that’s gonna be a vastly different treatment course and outcome. So, sometimes, when you’re sitting in the waiting room and you’re sharing your journey with others, you have to keep in mind that you may all be using the same term, non-Hodgkin lymphoma. But our expectations in terms of to and outcomes might be vastly different.

Katherine:

From person to person. What are the stages of DLBCL?

Dr. Nastoupil:

So, we currently use what’s called the Ann Arbor staging system. And, again, this is very different from the staging applied in solid tumors.

And so, the way we define stage is based off where the tumor is in relationship to the diaphragm. So, if you have the disease just in lymph nodes and it’s all confined to one side of the diaphragm, it’s either gonna be stage one or two. And how we distinguish between one or two is just really not are they in close proximity and something that we would fit in one radiation field.

If you have disease that’s above and below the diaphragm, that’s generally at least Stage 3. Stage 4 is generally when it’s now outside of the lymph node. So, what we call extranodal location. So, those are generally organs, lung, liver, skin, bone, etcetera.

It can be very complicated in that you could have just one extranodal site. So, say you just have stomach involvement, or you just have one area of the bone. That could be a 1E.

So, it’s important to recognize every patient has a stage. What that means is whether or not we would give a full course of therapy in terms of systemic treatment that goes through the vein or maybe a shortened course in radiation is dependent on that stage.

Katherine:

Now that we understand a bit more about DLBCL and how it’s staged, let’s move on to treatment options. Many factors come in to play when making a treatment decision, including a patient’s age and overall health. So, let’s walk through some of these considerations. Let’s start with treatment goals. What does this mean exactly? And what are the goals of treatment for DLBCL?

Dr. Nastoupil:

Great questions. For diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, my goal was that I want to eradicate this disease with one course of therapy. Now one course of therapy, again, may mean six cycles of treatment, or it may mean three to four plus/minus radiation. And that kind of gets back to the discussion we just had with stage. But the goal is to make it go away and never come back. Now, oncologists are eternal optimists.

And I saw this because we would not be oncologists if we weren’t always focused and hoping for the best outcomes for our patients.

Katherine:

Sure.

Dr. Nastoupil:

So, we, generally, when we’re counseling patients tend to keep the focus on what is the chance that I can cure this, and we use words like cure oftentimes. But there’s always those caveats. And those caveats are – we can’t really look into our crystal ball and predict the future for every given patient. So, we use tools to help us risk stratify patients, meaning if we took 100 people like a given person, we could predict the outcome for the majority of those patients.

So, with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma with no high-risk features – so, that gets back to the molecular subtype. Do they have double hit features – yes or no? The stage and something we call IPI, International Prognostic Index, that takes into account some clinical features. As you mentioned, patient specific factors, their age, their stage, some lab values, whether or not they have more than one extranodal variable. Then we can generally predict.

Again, if I have 100 patients with good risk IPI, 80 percent of them are likely to be cured and alive and well five to 10 years later. If I have someone with poor risk features that may not change exactly what I do for that patient, but that may help them and me in terms of should I be pursuing a trial to potentially have access to something that’s better than this standard option? Or how does this impact their planning?

Some people are close to retirement. Some people have specific life goals, such as a wedding or an anniversary that sometimes we use those sorts of calculators to best predict the future to inform some of that treatment. So, those are what we call sort of the characteristics coming into treatment.

There are comorbidities or sort of concomitant medical problems, such as heart disease, sometimes diabetes. But, generally, more often than not, it’s how healthy your heart is because my objective with treatment is to cure this.

Cure generally results from chemotherapy. And we can spend some time talking about why have we not moved away from chemotherapy in this disease? But, generally, that does involve chemo because that’s generally how I can eradicate this tumor.

But there are certain situations where that chemo may not be beneficial to a given a patient. It usually has to do with how healthy their heart function is at baseline. So, again, we look at all of these factors. What is their risk with the disease? What is their risk from the toxicity of treatment? And am I able to achieve that goal, which is to eradicate the disease?

Katherine: Well, let’s talk about chemotherapy. Why is that still part of the regimen in a treatment plan?

Dr. Nastoupil:

Yes, I’m gonna borrow an analogy that one of my colleagues Jason Westin uses all the time. The CHOP chemotherapy that is the backbone of our treatment for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma was developed in 1976.

There is no other technology that we would commonly use in our day to day. You wouldn’t still be driving your car you had in 1976. Clearly, our methods of communication in regards to phones have changed dramatically. So, why are we still using chemotherapy that was developed in 1976?

Katherine:

True.

Dr. Nastoupil:

Well, it’s not for lack of trying. Over the last four or five decades, we have been trying to improve upon this. And it works. It works for at least 60 percent of patients. When we tack on targeted therapy, such as immune therapy where we use an antibody that will stick to the surface of a marker on that lymphoma cell and then use the immune system to do some of the heavy lifting, we can probably improve those cure rates from 60 percent to potentially as high as 80 percent. That’s really been the only substantial improvement we’ve made.

Now, there is one caveat. So, just recently, we heard a press release of the POLARIX study, which is the first trial in the last four decades that could potentially replace R-CHOP as the standard of care.

We don’t have the full results yet. It’s essentially utilizing a drug called polatuzumab, which is an antibody drug conjugate. It’s essentially chemo on a stick. But we’re delivering chemo specifically to (CD)79b, which is a target on B cell lymphomas and modifying the CHOPs. We’re not getting rid of chemo altogether. We’re dropping one of the chemotherapy agents and replacing it with this targeted agent. So, it’s essentially CHP plus rituximab and polatuzumab might be the new standard.

But, again, that’s based off many, many efforts to try and replace CHOP. And we’re making slow incremental improvements, but we’re still keeping the therapies that tend to work.

Katherine:

And that makes sense. What about biomarker testing results?

Dr. Nastoupil:

So, in a perfect world, we would be able to take a patient’s specific tumor, sequence it, and provide a recipe or a solution to solve the problem. And that’s what a biomarker is.

It’s something that’s unique to the patient’s given tumor that then would inform what is the best treatment. So, we’re lacking in some ways a perfect scenario. What we do have, as what I’ve mentioned, some molecular studies where we can look for specific genes or rearrangements in the genes that may help us predict the future.

And in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, one of the most common examples of this is what we call double hit where we’re looking for two genes – MYC, which is M-Y-C, and either BCL2 or BCL6. These are genes that we all have. It’s just the lymphoma has moved these genes into sort of more of a prime real estate location that makes it a little bit more resistant to standard treatments.

So, if you move those genes in that tumor DNA, we call that our rearrangement. And we pick that up based off a FISH study. And if both of those features or all three of those features are there, we call it a double or triple hit.

That’s a potential biomarker that may suggest that particularly R-CHOP or standard treatment may not be the best strategy. There’s some limitations to that conclusion in that that’s not true for every patient. For about 20 percent to 30 percent of patients with double hit features, they’re gonna do really well with R-CHOP.

So, that’s why we are lacking in how effective these biomarkers are. And it would be great if we had additional biomarkers that were more precise or could tell us more than just that the standard may not be optimal.

So, that’s where we’re spending a great deal of time and effort in our research efforts just trying to identify biomarkers that may tell us what’s the best approach for a given patient or what we like to call personalized medicine.

Katherine:

Exactly. Does treatment typically start right away?

Dr. Nastoupil:

Hopefully. So, what I mean by that is everyone has to have a diagnosis. And a common story that I hear is that patients generally know when they’re not doing well. They may not be able to pinpoint I have lymphoma.

But they usually will see a primary care doctor or depending on the location of a lymph node if it’s palpable. Oftentimes, men when they’re shaving will pick up a lymph node in the neck. Or women if they’re having a mammogram will pick up a lymph node in the axillae or under the arm. So, that may lead to further investigation based off the location of a lymph node.

Or it may just be those constitutional symptoms where people aren’t feeling well, and a primary care doctor is their first stop. Lymphoma is rare. So, usually it’s a diagnosis of exclusion or something that we eventually get around to. That is important, but it’s not that important.

So, what I mean by that is I hope patients don’t have any guilt or regret if they’ve been sitting on symptoms for a while or even if their primary care doctor missed signs and symptoms of lymphoma because, again, it’s not very specific. There are a lot of things that can cause similar presentations.

But once we have imaging that is suggestive of lymphoma and then we have a diagnosis that’s rendered, again, followed by a biopsy, generally, then it is important that they seek care.

And they get that care in a timely fashion. What’s kind of interesting is the longer time from diagnosis to the initiation of treatment in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is usually associated with a better prognosis. So, that’s sort of counterintuitive.

One would think that the sooner you get started on treatment, the better your outcome will be. I think the challenge with interpreting that data is that the longer time from diagnosis to initiation of treatment usually means that that patient’s disease is one that lends itself to the affordability of time to be seen by specialists, have all of your staging studies completed, have a return visit to go over all those results and have a shared decision-making process in terms of deciding what’s the best treatment for you, and then getting started on that treatment.

So, those patients where that is agreeable and acceptable, they’re probably gonna do very well.

For the patients who are really sick and they need to get started on treatment sooner rather later as a result of their disease putting them at risk, either as a result of organs not functioning well or substantial symptom burden as a result of their disease, then they need to get started. So, that’s usually why their course from diagnosis to treatment is generally shorter.

So, again, it all kind of depends on a given situation. But with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, I tell patients usually within three months of knowing you have lymphoma, we need to get you on treatment, or you’re gonna be sick.

Katherine:

I can imagine. You touched on this a few moments ago. But what do you feel is the patient’s role in this whole decision?

Dr. Nastoupil:

So, I’ve actually been a patient myself, and I have mixed feelings about it. I think oftentimes as an oncologist, we share decision-making when we don’t know the exact path forward, meaning if there’s something controversial or you have more than one option, generally, we kind of put out all the information to the patient, and we want you to be part of that decision-making.

And I think that’s important because we’re all humans, and we all want liberties. And we want our patient rights to be acknowledged and respected. And that’s important. I think sometimes though that also burdens patients with making decisions when they may feel they don’t have all of the information to make an informed decision.

But your role as the patient is you know your body better than anyone. And, generally, if there’s something that just doesn’t fit well or sit well with you, be vocal about it. So, I’ve been in a situation where I felt like I had to speak up a few times, and not that I have all the answers. And I am an oncologist. So, I generally have more insight than others.

But, generally, I was right in that, again, I think we know our own bodies. And when you feel that something is being missed or maybe not given the time and attention it deserves, speak up. You also have a role in making sure that the diagnosis is correct.

So, I generally advise all patients because everything hinges on the diagnosis in lymphoma, more so than the staging, more so than sometimes even the treatment itself.

Getting a second opinion can be incredibly valuable because you have another pathologist that will lay eyes on this biopsy. And lymphoma is rare. So, a second opinion can be incredibly valuable, and that’s usually something driven by a patient more so than an oncologist. Though some oncologists – and I would say the majority – are open to an opinion because they too would like information or confirmation that they’re on the right path.

Katherine:

Certainly.

Dr. Nastoupil:

The other thing that I think patients can have role is exploring what trial options are out there and available to them. I think that is sometimes a tough subject to discuss. Clinical trials are not only for patients who have failed all the standard treatments.

And it’s usually not an option of hospice versus a clinical trial. That’s absolutely an inappropriate time to consider a clinical trial. And, generally, there are trials at any point in a patient’s journey where there is some controversy as to the best path forward.

Again, I’ve been discussing the last 40 years of trying to improve upon R-CHOP is because 60 percent of patients were cured, but 40 percent were not. There is always a scenario where we could do better. And, generally, the only way we will improve upon outcomes is to conduct important rational clinical trials.

So, sometimes, it’s as simple as reaching out, participating in programs such as this, reaching out to the Lymphoma & Leukemia society or the Lymphoma Research Foundation to just explore what are your trial options. They may not be appropriate for you right now but at least understanding where there is an opportunity to participate in a trial is worth exploring.

Dr. Nastoupil:

Dr. Nastoupil, now that we’ve discussed factors that go into the treatment choices, can you walk us through the currently available DLBCL treatment approaches and who they might be right for?

Dr. Nastoupil:

Absolutely. So, again, this is changing, and that’s good news. So, up until recently, R-CHOP or rituximab in combination with CHOP, which is an acronym for four different drugs, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine, and prednisone, has been our standard.

Again, what would potentially challenge that is the POLARIX study where we exchange vincristine for polatuzumab. We don’t know the results of that study yet. All we know is that it met its primary endpoint, meaning it met what it set out to do in terms of improving upon some of the outcomes achieved with R-CHOP.

We need to see the details to know if that means now every newly diagnosed diffuse large B-cell lymphoma patient will be offered the polatuzumab in combination with R-CHP study or whether or not there will still be some patients appropriate for R-CHOP.

But that is generally our first approach. Whether you get six cycles or a shortened course plus/minus radiation depends on your state. Once patients have completed therapy, generally, then we pursue what’s called surveillance.

So, we’re monitoring for any signs that the lymphoma has recurred or has not gone away. That’s a controversial topic in terms of how to conduct surveillance and one that I suspect will change over time. But for most patients, if the lymphoma is going to recur, it generally recurs within the first two years.

So, assessing patients either in the form of a CT scan, a PET CT, or a physical exam with labs every four to six months for the first two years is what most practices will pursue. I’m not saying that there is no chance that you would relapse beyond two years. It’s just that the majority of patients, at least 90 percent, if the lymphoma comes back, it usually does so within two years.

And the relapses that occur beyond two years are less predictable. They could happen at three years. They could happen at 10 years, as it’s hard to know how to do surveillance beyond two years.

If the lymphoma recurs, the first thing we need to do is biopsy it because there are many things that can mimic lymphoma on a scan – infection, inflammation, other tumor types. So, if there is ever a question about whether or not the lymphoma has recurred, I generally advise for all patients they undergo a biopsy to ensure that we know what we’re treating.

Depending on when the lymphoma recurs, if it happens within 12 months, this is another area that we are shifting our practice. In the past, for all patients who had relapsed large cell lymphoma, we would pursue what we call salvage or second-line chemotherapy. So, we mix up the chemo. We keep, generally, the rituximab, but we alter the chemotherapy agents. We wouldn’t give CHOP again.

And then we give a shortened course where we give two to three cycles. We repeat the scan. And for patients who’ve achieved what we call chemo-sensitive disease – so, that’s generally a complete response on scan – we would then move forward with high-dose therapy and an autologous stem cell transplant. So, essentially giving different but more intense chemo and rescuing patients from that maneuver with their own stem cells that will go back to the bone marrow and start making white blood cells, red cells, and platelets again.

What has shifted in the last six months is we now know that CAR T-cell therapy is superior to that approach, at least with two CAR Ts for patients whose lymphoma came back within 12 months. Again, we’re eagerly awaiting the full results of those randomized studies. But three trials were conducted. Two of the three suggest CAR T is better than second chemo and transplant for those patients who relapse within 12 months.

So, currently, we think that you’ll have a CHOP-like therapy with plus rituximab frontline. If you progress within 12 months, you potentially would be a candidate for CAR T-cell therapy. If the CAR T-cell therapy fails, which is true for about half of patients, or if you’re deemed to not be a candidate for CAR T, we have several other new options that didn’t exist a year ago, including targeted or non-chemotherapy options.

So, there are at least four options in that setting now that are therapies that target the lymphoma cells, either by targeting CD19, which is another surface marker, augmenting that either with an antibody drug conjugate, such as Lonca, or with an immune therapy, such as lenalidomide and tafasitamab. Polatuzumab is available in that third line or later space combined with bendamustine and rituximab. There’s an oral agent called Selinexor.

So, a lot of that is not to burden patients with information but to let them know they’ve got lots of options. And many of these can be sequenced. So, if we can’t achieve cure with R-CHOP and/or CAR T, there are still very good outcomes in that third line or later space.

Katherine:

We’ve covered a lot of information here so far. And just a reminder that the resource guide I mentioned earlier contains definitions and resources for what we’re discussing today. So, be sure to click on that link if you haven’t already.

Dr. Nastoupil, I’m wondering how patients can feel confident in speaking up and becoming a partner in their care.

Dr. Nastoupil:

So, it’s important to recognize, and I reflect on this all the time. Generally, once patients have been rendered a diagnosis of cancer, that’s a life-altering event. And even if I spend a lot of time trying to reassure patients that outcomes for lymphoma patients are very good, generally we’re aiming for cure, that’s not true for everyone.

And you can’t help but be concerned that you will succumb to this disease or that the toxicity of therapy is gonna be life-altering and impact your quality of life in such a way that it’s no longer the life that you were happy to live.

And so, I recognize that we are partners in this. My job is to choose the most effective therapy that will try and accomplish the goals we set out to achieve. However, sometimes, oncologists make assumptions about what the goal of a given patient is.

We’re assuming that longevity or living is the most important goal. Whereas sometimes, people might care more about the quality of life, or they may need more reassurances about what the options are or their realistic outcomes with therapy. Because, again, I’ve mentioned before, oncologists are generally eternal optimists. We tend to sugarcoat things a little bit.
So, it’s important for patients to recognize that they will have a shared decision responsibility, meaning oftentimes we will provide all the information that we have access to in terms of a given treatment.
What is the likelihood of success, what is the potential risk in terms of toxicity, and what we’re leaning towards one therapy over another, particularly if you have more than one option.
But, ultimately, we need patients to share with us what their goals are in terms of outcome of that treatment so that we can then potentially refine our treatment selection. So, again, being informed, participating in programs like this so that you understand what makes one lymphoma different from another. Why would one oncologist offer one treatment and another discuss something else?

So, understanding what the different lymphomas are, how they might be approached differently, what the new therapies are. I struggle to keep up with just the lymphoma literature and changes. I can’t imagine what it must be like for an oncologist that treats every cancer type. So, again, understanding that new drugs are approved almost every couple of months in lymphoma may provide an opportunity for patients to share new information with their oncologists as well. So, information is key.

Katherine:

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

Dr. Nastoupil:

Well, I appreciate your time as well.

Katherine:

And thank you to all of our partners.

If you would like to watch this webinar again, there will be a replay available soon. You’ll receive an email when it’s ready. And don’t forget to take the survey immediately following this webinar. It will help us as we plan future programs.
To learn more about DLBCL and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for joining us today.

CLL Treatment and Research Update: News from ASCO 2021

CLL Treatment and Research Update: News from ASCO 2021 from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What’s the latest chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) treatment and research news out of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 2021 meeting? Dr. Paul Barr shares study results and explains how they could impact CLL care.

Dr. Paul Barr is Professor of Hematology/Oncology at University of Rochester Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Barr, here.

See More from Engage CLL


Related Resources:

 

An Expert’s Perspective on CLL Research Advances

Transcript:

Katherine:

I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Joining me is Dr. Paul Barr. Dr. Barr, would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Barr:

Sure. Hi, Paul Barr from the University of Rochester. Glad to be here.

Katherine:

Thank you so, much. Cancer researchers came together recently to share findings at the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, also known as ASCO. Is there news from the meeting that CLL patients should know about?

Dr. Barr:

There is. It seems like at every major meeting, we have a potentially practice-changing dataset that we like to scrutinize and talk about. This ASCO is no exception. I think probably the most impactful abstract was a report.

The first time we’ve seen the results from a study that was called The ELEVATE Relapsed Refractory Study. This was a randomized trial, enrolling previously treated CLL patients who had high-risk disease and randomizing them to two of our very important BTK inhibitor treatments.

Half the patients got acalabrutinib (Calquence), and the other half received ibrutinib (Imbruvica). And both groups were treated until the drug essentially either stopped working, the disease became resistant or was stopped for side effects. So, this was a study we have waited on the results for a long time given that we don’t often see these randomized studies comparing two such active agents. And the results showed us that both drugs work really almost equally as well.

The progression-free survival or the roughly the average amount of time patients are taking the drug was just over three years, 38 months in both arms. So, they really work very well and equally as well. But we did see less side effects with the acalabrutinib. And one of the most important side effects that the study was powered around was, atrial fibrillation or flutter.

There was less AFib or less new AFib in patients that were treated with the acalabrutinib. There was also less minor bleeding, arthralgia, diarrhea. So, a number of, perhaps less severe type side effects, were less common. There was more headache and more cough in the acalabrutinib-treated patients. But I think overall, most of us took from this abstract that both drugs work exceptionally well.

And overall, are very well tolerated treatments although there does look to be lower rates of a number of important side effects with acalabrutinib.

Katherine:

Dr. Barr, is there any other news from the conference that patients should know about?

Dr. Barr:

There is. I’ll give you a couple other additional findings. One was an update of a study, we’ve seen the results before. It’s sort of a partner study to the one I just mentioned. It was called The ELEVATE TN or ELEVATE Treatment Naive Study.

These were previously untreated patients, treated with an old standard, randomized study where the patients received either chlorambucil-based therapy (Leukeran). It was combined with a CD20 antibody obinutuzumab (Gazyva). The second arm was single agent acalabrutinib and the third arm was acalabrutinib plus obinutuzumab. Not surprisingly both of the acalabrutinibs continue to perform very well. The treatments work much better than chlorambucil. But now, we have four-year data. And that’s important for us to really understand what to expect as time goes on.

And I think that the major take-homes are that, acalabrutinib continues to work very well in the first-line setting. There is a hint that acalabrutinib, I’m sorry, that obinutuzumub may prolong the remissions, which is a little bit surprising to us.

But again, small differences in the study weren’t powered to really look at that comparison. And also, the major take home from that dataset is that the safety still looks very good at four years for the patients receiving acalabrutinib. So, I think that continues to shape our practice. And I think the last dataset or abstract to comment on, was one actually we saw at a different meeting at the European Hematology Association meeting, EHA. And this was another randomized study comparing two different BTK inhibitors in relapsed CLL patients.

This one compared ibrutinib and zanubrutinib (Brukinsa). Like acalabrutinib, zanubrutinib is another more specific BTK inhibitor. And when you compare it to ibrutinib and perhaps somewhat similarly to The ELEVATE Relapsed Refractory Study in this zanubrutinib-ibrutinib comparison, so-called ALPINE study, we saw similar efficacy.

Zanubrutinib actually looked like it performed a little better than ibrutinib, but also again here, lower rates of side effects. So, the theme continues for the more specific BTK inhibitors. They seem to work just as well, maybe a little better in some respects, compared to Ibrutinib and somewhat lower rates of side effects. So, when you put it all together, all of the BTK inhibitors work exceptionally well.

We have varying degrees of follow-up and confidence. We have the most follow-up in our ibrutinib treated patients so, we know what to expect for patients six, seven years out after being on ibrutinib.

But we’re now seeing in these earlier studies that lower rates of various toxicities for the newer more specific BTK inhibitors. So, kind of a long-winded answer to your simple question, but hopefully that shows how the new and emerging data continues to shape how we take care of patients.

Which CLL Treatment Is Right for You? What You Need to Know

Which CLL Treatment Is Right for You? What You Need to Know from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What do you need to know before deciding which treatment is best for YOUR CLL? Dr. Lindsey Roeker discusses the role of key CLL tests, including biomarker testing, reviews emerging research, and provides tips for partnering with your care team to advocate for the best care. 

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See More From INSIST! CLL


Related Resources

 

An Overview of CLL Treatment Types

What Should CLL Patients Know About Clinical Trial Treatment Options?

What Are the Goals of CLL Treatment?


Transcript:

Katherine:

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today we’re going to discuss how to access the most personalized CLL treatment for your individual disease, and why it’s essential to insist on key testing. Before we meet our guest, let’s review a few important details. The reminder email you received about this program contains a link to program materials. If you haven’t already, click that link to access information, to follow along during the webinar.

At the end of this program, you’ll receive a link to a program survey. Please take a moment to provide feedback about your experience today, in order to help us plan future webinars. And finally, before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you. Joining me today is Dr. Lindsay Roeker. Dr. Roker, thank you so much for joining us. Would you introduce yourself?

Dr. Roeker:                 

Absolutely. So, my name is Lindsey Roeker, and I am a member of the CLL program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Katherine:                  

Excellent, thank you. Let’s start at the beginning. How is CLL diagnosed?

Dr. Roeker:                 

Absolutely. So, for most patients, CLL is diagnosed after a routine blood test shows a high white blood cell count. That’s kinda the most common way that we find people entering into our clinic. Other things that people can notice is they have lumps or bumps that they’ve felt in their neck or under their armpits. Those are some other symptoms that can lead to the diagnosis, but often once a patient finds that their white blood cell count is high, some additional testing is done, and the diagnosis of CLL is made.

Katherine:                  

What are some common symptoms of CLL? You mentioned the lumps and bumps.

Dr. Roeker:                 

Yeah. So, often in early stages, the lumps and bumps in the neck are the most common that people recognize, but fevers or chills, night sweats, where patients are waking up drenched, having to change their pajamas, or weight loss without trying, are some other symptoms that can raise some alarm bells and make people start looking for something.

 And CLL can be a diagnosis that can be found through that, as well.

Katherine:                  

What is watch and wait?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, after diagnosis, about two-thirds of patients enter this period of watch and wait, and what that means is we have good data to say that treating CLL before it’s causing symptoms doesn’t help people live better or live longer. And for that reason, we use the approach of watch and wait, and what that really means is you see your doctor a few times a year. I see people every three to four months. And you have your labs checked, have a physical exam, and through that process, just ensure that there are no symptoms that the CLL is causing that warrant therapy.

Katherine:                  

That’s very helpful. Thank you for that. Now, what tests are necessary to help understand a patient-specific disease, both at diagnosis and prior to treatment?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, a diagnosis flow cytometry is the first test done, and what that means is, you take all of your white blood cells in your blood, and you run them through a fancy machine that puts them into buckets. So, you have a bucket of your normal neutrophils, a bucket of your normal lymphocytes, and then you find this bucket of cells that look somewhat unusual. And those have a specific look, if you will, and if they look like CLL cells, that’s how we make the diagnosis.

As you start reading, you’ll find that people talk about monoclonal B-cell lymphocytosis, which is MVL, CLL, and SLL, and a lot of times, it’s confusing because you start reading, and there are all of these – kind of lingo around it. So, what we’re looking for with flow cytometry is how many cells are in the peripheral blood? If it’s fewer than 5,000 per microliter – so, your doctor will talk to you; they’ll either say five or 5,000, depending on what units they’re using.

If it’s lower than that, and you don’t have any lumps or bumps or lymphadenopathy, meaning enlarged lymph nodes, that’s when we make the diagnosis of monoclonal B-cell lymphocytosis.

So, that’s kind of a pre-cancer diagnosis. Then, CLL, the diagnosis, is made in any patient who has greater than 5,000 cells per microliter, or five, if you’re using that unit, and that’s when the diagnosis of CLL is made. If people have lymph nodes that are enlarged, and there are CLL or SLL cells inside of them, but not a lot of involvement in the blood, that’s when we make the diagnosis of SLL, which is small lymphocytic lymphoma. So, CLL and SLL are really the same disease; it’s just where they manifest, primarily. So, whether it’s mostly in the blood, that’s CLL, or mostly in the lymph nodes, and that’s SLL.

Dr. Roeker:                 

Nope. So, that’s the flow cytometry test, and that’s kind of the test that leads to the diagnosis.

Katherine:                  

Got it. What about FISH and TP53 mutation?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, at diagnosis, I often do this testing. Depending on which provider you go to, you may do it at diagnosis or closer to the time of needing treatment. But FISH is basically a test that looks for big changes in the chromosomes. So, if you remember back to high school biology and you see all of those chromosomes laid out, what FISH is looking for is big changes in those chromosomes. So, is there an entire arm of one of the chromosomes missing? And that’s what FISH does.

There’s also something called karyotyping, or in some institutions, they use something called SNP array. These are more refined tests that look for additional changes in the DNA. So, FISH is kind of a targeted look at a few different chromosomes, whereas karyotype or SNP array looks at all of the chromosomes. Then, there is TP53 mutational testing, and that is done through a bunch of different testing, often next-generation sequencing is what we use.

And we basically use a fancy spellcheck to see if there’s any misspellings, if you will, in TP53.

And TP53 is a gene that we use. It’s called the guardian of the genome. So, its job is basically to make sure that our cells are reproducing. They keep all the genes in working order. If TP53 is missing or misspelled, it doesn’t work as well, and that’s when people can get more issues with their CLL. It tends to be CLL that behaves a little more aggressively.

Katherine:                  

What about IGHV mutation status?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, IGHV mutation status is a really important feature because it really is, of all of the things, what helps us understand the best way to go about therapy. And IGHV mutational status is basically a signature of the CLL that helps you understand how mature or immature the CLL cells are.

In general, mature cells tend to behave a little bit more predictively, and in ways that behave a bit better with therapy. So, the more mature cells are actually mutated IGHV, and I know that’s backward, because usually we think of mutated as being back. But in this case, mutated is actually those cells that are a bit more mature, and that just has to do with how white blood cells develop in our body. If it’s IGHV-unmutated, those tend to be the more immature cells that can behave a little more erratically.

Katherine:                  

Which tests need to be repeated over time?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, IGHV mutational status never changes, so that one does not need to be repeated. TP53 mutational status, FISH, and karyotype or SNP array, are ones that I tend to repeat before we start any therapy. So, at the time that you’re going to start your frontline therapy, and then if you have the disease come back and need to be treated again, I usually repeat those tests because those can change over time.

So, that’s both FISH, karyotype or SNP array, and the TP53 mutational testing.

Katherine:                  

Okay. So, it sounds like it’s important for patients to make sure they’ve had this testing. What do the test results reveal about a patient’s prognosis?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, IGHV mutational status, like I said, really helps us understand how to approach therapy. In general, CLL is a disease that we are increasingly managing with targeted medicines, so drugs that really manipulate the cell biology to either stop the growth of cells or kill the cells so that they pop open. And that has been a trend that has taken place over the last six or seven years, and definitely has revolutionized the treatment of CLL. There is still a small minority of patients, the patients who have IGHV-mutated disease, and are younger, and have fewer other medical problems, that can still be good candidates for chemotherapy.

And the reason that I say that is because in general, chemotherapy for those young, mutated patients cures a subset of patients, so when we look at long-term studies of FCR, which is a combination of chemo and immunotherapy, there are a subset of patients who have a really long period where their disease doesn’t come back, to the point that we call them cured or functionally cured. That’s obviously a word that has a lot of emotional charge around it, and it’s hard because there’s always the possibility of the disease coming back in the future.

But because of those long-term outcomes, we know that there’s some patients that can really have long-term benefit from chemoimmunotherapy.

For IGHV-unmutated patients, and especially for patients with TP53 mutations or deletion of 17p, chemoimmunotherapy really is not the right answer, with all of the medications that we have available to us now.

Katherine:                  

We have an audience question. Mike wants to know, “What does it mean to have high-risk CLL?”

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, great question, and the interesting thing is that I think the answer to that question is evolving. So, deletion of 17p, deletion of 11q, and TP53 mutation have historically been markers of more aggressive disease or unfavorable CLL. In the era where we only had chemo and immunotherapy, we know that patients had less great outcomes. We know that the treatments tended to not work as well, and patients had disease that tended to come back faster, and things like that.

 That’s all evolving in the era of targeted agents. We have some indication that probably patients who have more aggressive underlying disease biology, meaning disease that’s going to behave less well, kind of regardless of what we treat it with, certainly may derive less benefit, meaning that the treatment will work for less long. That being said, these treatments are still really effective for our patients who have traditionally high-risk disease. So, I think it still remains to be seen, in terms of long-term outcomes and what to expect for patients that have these traditionally high-risk characteristics.

Katherine:                  

So, now that we understand how these tests affect prognosis, let’s discuss how they can affect treatment options. Let’s run through a few potential results so we can understand how you might approach each patient type. If someone has deletion 17p, what is the approach?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, there are two totally reasonable frontline treatment options.

So, BTK inhibitors, which are – the current approved ones are ibrutinib and acalabrutinib, are completely a reasonable approach in the frontline setting, meaning the first treatment that someone gets, and those are pills that you take daily. For ibrutinib, it’s once a day. For acalabrutinib, it’s twice a day, for as long as they’re working. And the idea is, with this approach, you keep on those medicines, and they keep the disease suppressed. So, that’s the first option.

The second totally reasonable option is a combination of venetoclax and obinutuzumab. So, venetoclax is a pill and obinutuzumab is an IV medicine, and the way that this was studied was a total of one year of therapy. So, from the time you start until you’re done with all of your treatments, that’s a one-year course. And the drugs have different side effect profiles, and depending on other medical problems, patient preference about, let’s just take a pill and that’s easy, versus the combination of pill and IV medicines, either can be a completely reasonable choice.

It just depends a lot on patient and doctor preference.

Katherine:                  

What about the TP53 mutation?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, both of those treatment options seem to work very well for TP53-mutated patients. We had that discussion about the possibility of chemoimmunotherapy for a small minority of patients, and for patients with a TP53 mutation, using chemoimmunotherapy up front is probably not the correct answer. It’s better to go with one of the targeted drug approaches.

Katherine:                  

You mentioned, Dr. Roeker, the IGHV mutated and unmutated. How would you approach each patient type, if a patient is IGHV unmutated?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, IGHV-unmutated is the same discussion. Chemoimmunotherapy is probably not going to provide a durable, meaning it’s not going to last for a long time. We’re not going to achieve that potential cure. So, for those patients, either the BTK inhibitor approach, or the venetoclax/Obinutuzumab approach is completely a reasonable one to take.

Katherine:                  

And if they’re IGHV-mutated?

Dr. Roeker:                 

IGHV-mutated patients who are young and don’t have a lot of other medical problems, that’s when we add in the third option of chemoimmunotherapy. For many patients, it’s not wrong to choose either a BTK inhibitor or venetoclax/Obinutuzumab, but it does add in that third potential option of chemoimmunotherapy.

Katherine:                  

Are there other markers that patients should know about?

Dr. Roeker:                 

I think those are the big ones.

So, TP53 mutation status, FISH, and karyotype kind of gets you most of them. Some centers do additional next-generation sequencing of other genes that have been associated with higher-risk disease, though really understanding how to interpret those results still remains somewhat unclear, and that’s still an area of research that people are doing, to really understand what those other mutations really mean for people.

Katherine:                  

What about the impact of testing, overall? Why is it so important?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, as we’ve moved from a disease that was really only treated with chemoimmunotherapy, to one that has targeted drugs available, knowing your IGHV mutational status really impacts what your frontline treatment options are. That’s the major therapy-defining risk factor. The other mutations help you know what to expect. So, for patients who have deletion of 17p or TP53 mutation, it’s possible that the treatments are going to, overall, work for a shorter period of time.

All that being said, every person is an individual, and it’s hard to predict exactly how long someone’s going to respond, from an individual basis. So, what I tell my patients is, “I could tell you what 100 of people with exactly your same disease would do, on average, but I can’t tell you exactly what’s going to happen for you. And that’s a journey that we’re going to take together and really understand over time.”

Katherine:                  

These are really great points, Dr. Roeker. Now, we’ve talked about this a little bit. What are other important factors to consider, like a patient’s age, that can help them access the best treatment for their CLL?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, age is important. Other medical problems is actually a very important consideration.

So, these medications have different side effect profiles and behave differently in different people. So, the BTK inhibitors, specifically ibrutinib is the one that we have the most data on, has cardiovascular side effects, so it can cause atrial fibrillation. It can cause high blood pressure. So, for patients who have preexisting heart disease, or preexisting atrial fibrillation that has been hard to control, or blood pressure that has been hard to control, for those people, I think adding in a BTK inhibitor can be a bit more of a higher risk situation than in somebody without those preexisting problems.

Venetoclax is a pill that causes the cell to burst open rapidly, and it kills cells very quickly. Because of that, the major side effect is called tumor lysis syndrome, and tumor lysis syndrome is basically the cell opens up and all of the salt inside of it goes into the bloodstream.

And that salt can actually be really hard on the kidneys. So, for people who have kidney problems, venetoclax can be somewhat more challenging to use and just requires a higher level of vigilance. So, for patients who have preexisting kidney disease or the idea of a lot of monitoring and things like that, is more challenging. Then maybe the BTK inhibitors are a better choice.

Katherine:                  

How do you monitor whether a treatment is working?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, a lot of it has to do with the CBC, so your normal blood count, and what we’re looking for is improvement in hemoglobin and improvement or normalization of platelet count. And for many people, those, either anemia or low platelets, are the symptoms that drive people to be treated in the first place, so we’re looking for those parameters to get better.

With a lot of people with CLL, totally understandably, because it’s the number that’s the most abnormal, really focused on white blood cell count. 100% understandable.

I always tell people that that’s actually the part of the CBC that I care least about, and the reason is that, for patients on BTK inhibitors, we expect to see the white blood count actually get higher before it gets less high. That’s actually just a sign that the drug is working and it’s pulling CLL cells from the lymph nodes into the bloodstream. So, that’s actually a good sign that it’s working, and that lymphocyte count, at least in the beginning, isn’t a great marker of how well the drug is working.

The other thing that’s important is the physical exam, so looking for whether any lymph nodes that were enlarged have normalized or gone away, and also feeling the sides of the spleen, because the spleen can become enlarged with CLL, and it’s important to make sure that’s normalizing, as well.

And then the last piece is talking to people, so making sure that if they were having fatigue, or fevers, or night sweats before they started treatment, to make sure that those symptoms have gone away. And that’s kind of the three things that I use. I use the blood counts, the physical exam, and the interview with a patient to really understand how their disease is responding.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Roeker, why is it important for patients to speak up if they’re experiencing side effects? I know that they sometimes feel like they’re bothering their healthcare team.

Dr. Roeker:                 

Thank you for that question, because it’s really important point. Side effects are easiest to manage when you catch them early. So, when people have, for instance, muscle pain or joint aches, I have lots of tricks up my sleeve to help people, but I need to know about it. So, if people don’t tell me until they have joint pain that’s so bad that they’re not able to exercise or not able to get out of bed easily in the morning, that’s taking it – it’s gone on for a while at that point, and it’s pretty far down the line.

First of all, you wouldn’t have had to suffer for that long because we have ways of fixing it, and second, it’s always harder to fix a problem once it’s further down the line than earlier on. So, I talk to people about what side effects they might experience and what to expect, and then we talk about different management strategies to really nip it early so that we’re not dealing with a really huge problem down the line.

Katherine:                  

We have a question from our audience. Maria asks, “I just found out that I will need to undergo treatment again. I was previously treated with FCR. Does that impact my options now, going forward?”

Dr. Roeker:                 

Great question. So, FCR was a really common treatment strategy before we had all of the drugs that we have available now. We have good data to say that both BTK inhibitors and venetoclax-based treatments work after chemoimmunotherapy. In fact, those were the patients in whom these drugs were really initially studied, so we actually know better in that group of patients how they’re going to work, than in the patients who have never been treated with them, in terms of the amount of data and the long-term follow-up that we have.

So, most likely, your provider will still talk to you about kind of the two therapeutic option being a BTK inhibitor-based approach versus a venetoclax-based approach, and either are completely appropriate in that setting.

Katherine:                  

We have another question from our audience. Eileen is currently in active treatment for her CLL, and she wants to know, “Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for her?”

Dr. Roeker:                 

Great question. So, here is my take on COVID vaccines. We have great data on the safety of these vaccines, so the risk of a life-threatening allergic reaction is very, very low, less than one in a thousand. We know that it can cause some irritation at the injection site, so pain in your arm. We know that it can cause some kinda flu-like, blah symptoms for a couple of days, totally fine to take ibuprofen and kinda get yourself through that period.

But from a safety perspective, I don’t have concerns about these vaccines. There’s a lot of social media coverage on long-term implications that are either not based on data, at all, and just speculation, and people who are trying to raise alarm, or people who are really bringing up bad things that are happening to people really far out from the vaccine. And I think it’s really hard to attribute that to the vaccine. Obviously, any time there is a new technology, there’s the possibility of things happening, and we’re going to know more with time, but I think, overall, from a scientific perspective, there is no data that makes me worried about the safety of this vaccine.

The efficacy question, I think, is more of an open question, and the reason I say that is two-fold. The first is, we know that patients with CLL who get other vaccines, some get 100% coverage, some get zero percent coverage, and some are somewhere in between.

And it’s hard to predict who is going to fall where. So, that’s the first piece. The second piece is, we’ve looked at patients who had CLL and got COVID, and we saw if they made antibodies, which is kind of a marker of an immune response, and it’s not consistent that every patient who got COVID makes antibodies.

So, the combination of those two pieces of data makes me question exactly how well they’re going to work. So, what I’m telling my patients is, “Definitely go ahead and get it. I think it’s safe. And then pretend that you didn’t get it.” So, I know that’s hard advice to hear, but continue wearing a mask, continue social distancing, and continue to wash your hands. And then, every interaction you have is a risk-benefit discussion or decision. So, that’s different for every person, but in general, I recommend that people continue being cautious.

Once the whole population around you is vaccinated and we have less virus circulating in the community, that’s when it’s going to be substantially safer. So, definitely, I recommend that people get it, regardless of whether you are on watch and wait, getting treatment, have just finished treatment, whatever it is, but I do think there’s reason to be cautious even after getting vaccinated.

Katherine:                  

Are there symptoms or issues CLL patients should be looking out for, post-vaccine?

Dr. Roeker:                 

Not particularly, beyond what people are getting in kind of the general population. If you’re having a lot of those kind of flu-like symptoms, just talk to your provider to make sure that ibuprofen is safe, because if your platelets are really low, that can cause bleeding. But Tylenol is typically pretty safe, and talk to your doctor about which medicines are kinda best for you to take in that situation, but no particular concerns in patients with CLL.

Katherine:                  

Okay. Thank you for the clarification. As I mentioned at the start of this program, patients should insist on essential CLL testing. As we conclude, I think it’s important to point out that some patients may not know if they’ve received these important tests, so how can they take action?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, the next time you’re at your doctor, ask, “I just want to know more about the prognosis of my CLL, and can we talk through the genetic markers of my disease, to help me understand what to expect?” That’s kind of code for, “Let’s go through all of these test results,” and it also – if you have a provider who doesn’t routinely test them at diagnosis, and for instance, just tests before treatment, they can also kind of give you their sense of when they do the testing, so you know what to expect. And I think that’s an important discussion to have with your provider, for sure.

Katherine:                  

Are there key questions that patients should ask their physicians?

Dr. Roeker:                 

I’m always impressed with the questions that people come up with. I think one of the best is, what should I expect, based on what we’re doing now? It’s always a hard question to answer because, obviously, for any patient, it’s so individualized, but I think understanding what to expect, as a general sense, is a good way to approach both treatment and prognosis, and all of those kinds of things.

Katherine:                  

I’d like to close by asking about developments in CLL research and treatment. What’s new that you feel patients should know about?

Dr. Roeker:                 

So, there are a lot of exciting drugs coming up in CLL. We have the BTK inhibitors, ibrutinib and acalabrutinib approved. We have more BTK inhibitors with different side effect profiles that are in development.

And there’s also a new class of drugs called noncovalent BTK inhibitors, which seem to work well, even when prior BTK inhibitors have stopped working. So, that’s a really exciting development. There is also just lots of studies about how we combine drugs to maximize efficacy while minimizing side effects, and all of these studies that are underway are really looking at refining how we approach treatment so that we can treat people very effectively but also minimize their side effects.

And as we have more results available, the treatment paradigm for CLL is going to continue to shift and evolve, and I think there are a lot of exciting things coming, and there’s definitely a lot of reason to be hopeful, that the future of CLL is even brighter than the present.

Katherine:                  

It all sounds very promising, Dr. Roeker. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. Roeker:                 

Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Katherine:                  

And thank you to all of our partners. If you would like to watch this webinar again, there will be a replay available soon. You’ll receive an email when it’s ready. And don’t forget to take the survey, immediately following this webinar. It will help us as we plan future programs. To learn more about CLL and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for joining us.

An Overview of CLL Treatment Types

An Overview of CLL Treatment Types from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are the treatment types for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)? Dr. Matthew Davids details each type of treatment – and which type of patients some treatments may be most appropriate for. 

Dr. Matthew Davids is Director of Clinical Research in the Division of Lymphoma at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Davids here.

See More from Engage CLL


Related Resources:

 

How Can CLL Patients Be Active in Their Care Decisions?

Transcript:

Katherine:

Well, once it’s time to treat, of course, then it’s time to think about treatment options. Let’s walk through the types of treatments that are used today to treat CLL.

Dr. Davids:

As I alluded to before, we historically have had chemotherapy-based approaches to treat CLL. And that was an effective way to temporarily put the disease into remission, but it had a lot of side effects and inevitably the CLL would come back. And the challenge particularly with chemotherapy-based approaches it that when the CLL does come back after chemotherapy, it tends to behave more aggressively and be harder to treat.

So, there have been quite a few studies over the last few years trying to figure out ways that we can avoid using chemotherapy as the first treatment, and this can involve treatments such as monoclonal antibodies. People may have heard of rituximab or a newer drug, obinutuzumab. There are the inhibitors of the B-cell receptor pathway, and this is for example ibrutinib (Imbruvica), which targets a protein called BTK, also a newer one called acalabrutinib (Calquence), which targets BTK. And then, I mentioned at the beginning these fixed-duration therapies that stop after a period of time. Many of those are based on a newer oral drug called venetoclax (Venclexta), which when we give it as a first therapy, we give in combination with that antibody obinutuzumab (Gazyva).

So, a bit of an alphabet soup. I know it gets confusing with all the different treatments, but the good news for CLL patients is, 1.) we have a lot of options, which is great, 2.) we don’t necessarily need to use chemotherapy anymore, and in fact I use it pretty rarely these days. One situation where I do still consider chemotherapy is for younger patients – which in the CLL world is sort of under age 60 or so – if they have very favorable biology to the disease, in particular this mutated IGHV.

That’s a scenario where the older chemotherapy regimen, FCR, can be very effective. It’s a six-month treatment, and we have patients with those molecular characteristics who are now 12, almost 15 years out from their initial six months, and they’re still in a complete remission. So, many of those patients have been functionally cured of their CLL from the six months of treatment. But again, there are some risks to that approach. We worry about other cancers that may be more likely after receiving FCR. We worry about infections, and particularly in the COVID situation, we worry about COVID infection in patients on chemotherapy.

So, it’s been pretty rare that I’ve been using that approach these days. I’ve been opting more for the novel agent-based approaches. So, often now the conversation as an initial therapy comes down to, “Do you prefer more of a continuous treatment strategy with a BTK inhibitor drug like ibrutinib or acalabrutinib, or do you like the idea of a time-limited therapy with one year of venetoclax in combination with obinutuzumab?” And I would say there’s pros and cons to both approaches, and we don’t know which one is the optimal one for CLL patients to start with, but probably I think most patients at some point in their lifetime are going to need one therapy or the other.

So, maybe in the end it doesn’t matter too much which one you start with if you’re going to get both eventually anyway. But we don’t know that yet.

Should Patients “Watch and Wait” Before Starting CLL Treatment?

Should Patients “Watch and Wait” Before Starting CLL Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What do chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients need to know about watch and wait? Dr. Matthew Davids shares the meaning of watch and wait, when it’s appropriate for CLL patients, and which factors are monitored to ensure the best care.

Dr. Matthew Davids is Director of Clinical Research in the Division of Lymphoma at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Davids here.

See More from Engage CLL


Related Resources:

 

An Overview of CLL Treatment Types

Transcript:

Katherine:

We have a question from the audience. Linda writes, “I’ve heard that CLL doesn’t need to be treated right away. Is that true?”

Dr. Davids:

That is true for the majority of CLL patients, and it’s actually a very counterintuitive thing. We’re conditioned that if you have cancer that it’s important to be proactive and get rid of it as quickly as possible, the sooner the better, and that is actually not the case in CLL. And we didn’t just take a guess that that’s the best approach. This is actually something that’s been studied in clinical trials. There were several clinical trials launched in the ‘70s and ‘80s looking at an early intervention strategy using a chemotherapy-based approach to see if treating at the time of diagnosis would be better than waiting until patients developed more significant symptoms.

And all of those studies did not show a benefit to early intervention.

Now, more recently those studies have been challenged as somewhat out of date, which is a fair criticism because they used an older chemotherapy drug. And so, there is a newer study now going on in Europe that is looking at early intervention with the drug ibrutinib, which is one of our novel agents for CLL, looking to see if early intervention with ibrutinib (Imbruvica), particularly for patients who have a higher risk form of CLL, may be beneficial.

But we have seen some data now already presented from this study that do not show any improvement in how long the patients live by treating with ibrutinib early, and we do see some of the typical side effects that we’re accustomed to seeing with ibrutinib. So, even with the newer data that we’re seeing, we still do not recommend early intervention for patients with CLL.

Katherine:

I’ve heard this term “watch and wait.” What does that mean?

Dr. Davids:

Yeah, it’s not the best term because it’s very passive. That refers to this observation strategy. I like to think of it more as “active surveillance.” It seems more proactive because you’re doing something about it.

You’re really checking the blood counts, you’re getting your physical exam, you’re checking in on symptoms, these sorts of things, and really keeping a close eye on the disease. And that’s the approach that we like to take

with our patients to really keep them engaged, making sure they’re staying up-to-date on their screenings for other cancers, making sure they’re getting vaccinations, these sorts of things are all the things we do with active surveillance.

Katherine:

How is someone monitored during this watch-and-wait period?

Dr. Davids:

It varies depending on individual patients. We’ve alluded to the fact that there’s different genetic subgroups of CLL already, so there are some patients that have higher-risk disease. The example of that usually is deletion 17p that people may have heard of on the FISH test. For those patients I usually am seeing them every three months or so, physical exam, checking on their history, checking their blood work. But there’s quite a few CLL patients who have lower-risk disease. If they have for example mutated IGHV, if they do not have the 17p for example, those patients may be able to be seen once every six months or so with a similar setup.

I don’t routinely get CAT scans on a regular basis for most patients. Most patients don’t need bone marrow biopsy tests unless they’re starting treatment. So, it’s mostly it’s exam, talking to patients, and checking the blood work.