Tag Archive for: immune system

What Is Myeloma CAR T-Cell Therapy?

What Is Myeloma CAR T-Cell Therapy? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How does CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T-cell therapy work to fight myeloma? Dr. Krina Patel, a myeloma specialist and researcher, explains how this novel therapy uses your immune system to treat the disease.

Dr. Krina Patel is an Associate Professor in the Department of Lymphoma/Myeloma at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Dr. Patel is involved in research and cares for patients with multiple myeloma. Learn more about Dr. Patel, here.

Related Resources:

How Does Immunotherapy Treat Myeloma?

Immunotherapy: Which Myeloma Patients Is It Right For?

Myeloma Treatment & Research Updates From 2022 ASCO and EHA Meetings

Transcript:

Katherine:   

What is CAR T-cell therapy?

Dr. Patel:    

So, CAR-T cells are sort of a biologic immune therapy where we are able to take T cells, a type of lymphocyte which help us, normally. All of us have them in our blood.

They come from our bone marrow, go into our blood, and they sort of go around in the blood and look for bad things, pathogens. So, infections, even cancer cells, our T cells help get rid of all of those bad things that we’re not supposed to have. And they each have a receptor. And so, T cells have this night vision, and they’re made for a specific type of pathogen out there that we aren’t supposed to have that can hurt us.

And so, what we can is to either take your own T cells out, or sometimes with something called allo CAR-T use a normal donor’s T cells. And when we take them, we basically can put a new receptor in there, a new night vision; and so, now they are trained to go after something that’s specific on the myeloma instead of a bacteria or a virus or anything. And basically, we grow those cells, and then we give those cells back to our patient after a low dose of chemotherapy, just so these T cells can go in, find the myeloma, use that night vision to find that myeloma wherever it is, kill, and then it actually causes other immune cells in your system to come there and start helping to kill as well.

And then, they start coming back down again. And so, really, it’s a novel way of using your own immune system, or somebody else’s, but to actually enhance both by the target to get that myeloma precisely as well as making more of them so that there’s enough to go around and kill all the cells that we possibly can.

What Do You Need To Know About Waldenström Macroglobulinemia (WM)?

What Do You Need To Know About Waldenström Macroglobulinemia (WM)? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What should you or your loved ones know following a Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM) diagnosis? This animated video reviews symptoms of WM, current treatment options and provides key advice for becoming a proactive WM patient.

See More From The Pro-Active Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Patient Toolkit

Related Programs:

Understanding Waldenström Macroglobulinemia and How It Progresses

Understanding Waldenström Macroglobulinemia and How It Progresses

Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Treatment Decisions: What’s Right For You? Resource Guide

Current Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Treatment Approaches

Current Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Treatment Approaches


Transcript:

Waldenström macroglobulinemia, also called Waldenström or WM, is a rare, slow-growing type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that starts in a person’s white blood cells. Healthy blood cells are crowded out when the bone marrow produces too many malignant white blood cells, and these produce an excess of a protein called immunoglobulin M or IgM.  

Waldenström can cause symptoms that may include: 

  • Fatigue  
  • Unintended weight loss 
  • Fever 
  • Swollen lymph nodes 
  • Enlarged spleen 
  • Unexplained bleeding 
  • And numbness in the hands or feet, which is called peripheral neuropathy 

It’s important to note that not all patients with Waldenström have symptoms when they are diagnosed, and so those patients won’t need treatment immediately. Instead, they are put on an approach called “watchful waiting” or “active surveillance.” This means patients are monitored regularly for indicators that it is time to begin treatment – such as the onset of symptoms.  

So, how is Waldenström typically treated? 

Every patient is different. When making treatment decisions, factors such as the extent of disease and symptoms can impact available options. And potential side effects, a patient’s age, health, and lifestyle are also taken into consideration. 

The good news is that there are several treatment options for Waldenström, including: 

  • Chemotherapy  
  • Targeted therapies such as proteasome inhibitors, BTK inhibitors and BCL2 antagonists; 
  • Immunotherapy  
  • And, clinical trials, which study emerging treatments for Waldenström. It’s important to ask your doctor if there is a trial that may be right for you. 

Less commonly used treatments for Waldenström are stem cell transplant and radiation. 

In the case of hyperviscosity or other IgM-related symptoms, plasmapheresis, also known as plasma exchange, may be used as a temporary measure to manage the issue.    

Now that you understand more about Waldenström, how can you take an active role in your care?  

  • First, continue to educate yourself about your condition. 
  • Understand the goals of treatment and ask whether a clinical trial might be right for you.
  • It also important to consider a second opinion or consult with a specialist following a diagnosis.
  • And, write down your questions before and during your appointments. Visit powerfulpatients.org/wm to access office visit planners to help you organize your thoughts.
  • Bring one or more friends or loved ones 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. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and to share your concerns. You are your own best advocate. 

 To learn more about Waldenström macroglobulinemia and to access tools for self-advocacy, visit powerfulpatients.org/WM. 

Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Treatment Decisions: What’s Right for You?

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

What determines the best Waldenström macroglobulinemia treatment for YOU? In this 30-minute webinar, Dr. Jorge Castillo reviews key factors that affect treatment decisions, emerging treatment research, and shares tips for partnering with your healthcare team.

Dr. Jorge Castillo is Clinical Director at the Bing Center for Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Learn more about Dr. Castillo, here.

See More From The Pro-Active Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Patient Toolkit

Download Guide

Related Programs:

Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Patient First Office Visit Planner

Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Patient First Office Visit Planner

WM Patient Follow-Up Visit Planner

Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Patient Follow-Up Visit Planner 

Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Treatment Decisions: What’s Right For You? Resource Guide 


Transcript:

Katherine:      

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s webinar. In this program, we’re going to help you learn more about Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia, what it is, and how it’s treated, and we’ll share tools to help you work with your healthcare team to access the best care.

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 us today is Dr. Jorge Castillo. Dr. Castillo, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Castillo:               

Yes, hi. Thank you, Katherine. My name is Jorge Castillo. I’m the clinical director of the Waldenstrom’s Program at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Katherine:                  

Excellent. Thank you for taking the time to join us today.

Dr. Castillo:               

Happy to be here.

Katherine:                  

Before we get into the discussion, I’m sure this has been on the minds of many patients. Is the COVID vaccine safe and effective for Waldenstrom’s patients?

Dr. Castillo:               

Yeah, that’s a great question. I think the short answer is yes. We have a number of studies that not only our center but other centers in the United States and Europe have been doing. And we have seen that patients with Waldenstrom’s do benefit from the administration of the COVID vaccine.

Katherine:                  

Excellent. Let’s start with the very basic. What is Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia?

Dr. Castillo:               

Yeah, Waldenstrom’s macro – it’s a mouthful.

Katherine:                  

It is.

Dr. Castillo:               

I can just call it WM for ease.

It is a blood cancer, and in this blood cancer, the malignant cells are nesting in the bone marrow. And not only that. These malignant cells kind of secrete, produce, a protein called IgM.

IgM is an antibody that should be protecting us from infections, and in a normal state, we all have a little bit of IgM, and that’s a good thing. But in these patients, with these malignant cells, as these cells accumulate in the marrow, they actually increase the levels of IgM in our patients, and that can translate into a number of different symptoms, which we will probably talk about later.

Katherine:                  

Yes. How is it staged?

Dr. Castillo:               

So, the staging is a very interesting aspect. So, when we think about cancer, we think about stage I is in one spot, stage II in another spot, stage III, right, and it gets more extensive as we go along. That doesn’t really apply to Waldenstrom’s. Waldenstrom’s is a whole-body disease right from the start. The main reason for that is because it’s a disease of the bone marrow, and we all have bone marrow in all our bones, from our skull all the way to the great toe, so if you were to get a sample from each bone space, we would find the malignant cells there. So, this is a disease that is a whole-body disease right from the start, so therefore, there’s no stage I, II, or III. That is just the way we envision this.

Katherine:                  

How does the condition progress?

Dr. Castillo:               

So, it’s interesting because a number of the patients that we see in my clinic are actually asymptomatic at the time of the presentation. I would say maybe about a third of the patients I see in my clinic that were diagnosed with this disease for other reasons. They either had an abnormal laboratory value or an abnormal imaging study or some other reason. And when they come, they are worked up. Initially, they are found to have these malignant cells and these IgM elevation, but they have no other problems whatsoever.

So, I would say most patients will be asymptomatic at the beginning of the disease, and probably they will be asymptomatic for years before the symptoms actually do start. So, what happens is the malignant cells start taking over the bone marrow space, and it reaches a point in which the bone marrow, the healthy bone marrow, doesn’t have space to produce the normal cells that they should produce.

So, the first things that we tend to see in these patients is anemia, so the hemoglobin level starts dropping.

The red cells are the first ones that are being affected by this process so that the anemia is being seen first. If we leave that for a long time, then the other blood cells will decrease also, the white blood cells and the platelets over time. But the first one is almost always the anemia. And obviously, that, patients feel tired. They feel short of breath. They feel fatigued and all of that.

Now, the IgM itself can cause other problems on their own. If they have there’s too much IgM, they can actually make the blood a little thick, and that can cause a little bit of problems with the circulation, specifically in the eyes, for example. Some patients have blurred vision. Some patients have nosebleeds or headaches, right, with all that hyperviscosity, which means the blood is too thick. In some other patients, we have nerve damage. You know, they can have numbness in their toes, and then that increases into the – progresses, extends into the feet, into the shins, into the knees and then the fingers.

And so, that happens over years sometimes. Some patients can have enlargement of lymph nodes in their necks and in the axillary areas or in the inguinal areas, or even enlargement of organs, the spleen and liver and things like that. So, when we think about the clinical manifestations of Waldenstrom’s, it varies, very diverse. But I would say most patients would have anemia. I think that’s probably the most important aspect of it.

Katherine:                  

Thank you for that. That’s really helpful. So, now that we know more about Waldenstrom’s and how it progresses, let’s turn to treatment. Help us understand when it’s time to treat. Certain patients, as you said, don’t really need treatment right away because they’re asymptomatic. So, which patient type should begin to get treatment?

Dr. Castillo:               

That’s really the most important aspect of the discussion, I would say, because from my perspective – you know, I’ve been doing this for almost a decade, seeing probably 3,000, 4,000 patients with Waldenstrom’s in my career, I think one of the most important decisions is when to treat.

A number of our patients will be asymptomatic, and they will remain asymptomatic for years. So, really, treatment initiation in this scenario is not reasonable. Number one, we don’t cure the disease. Number two, patient have a long survival. I’m talking about 15, 20 years of survival in a large proportion of patients. So, a treatment that is going to last a year is not going to change a 20-year survival, so we don’t extend the survival of our patients in most cases.

Katherine:                  

Right. If a patient has been on watch and wait, how do you know when it’s time to begin therapy?

Dr. Castillo:               

Yeah, so essentially, when we see patients in whom we decide to monitor, right, watch and wait, which is monitor them, we follow them over time, and we see them sometimes every three months or every six months, and we get bloodwork.

We do bloodwork on those patients to look at the hemoglobin, just to see if there’s anemia or not, to look at the IgM to see if it gets too high or not. And if the IgM is too high, sometimes, we’ll have the patients have eye examinations on a yearly basis to make sure that there’s no changes in the vessels in the back of their eyes, in their retinas. That’s an indication of hyperviscosity. And every time we see them, not only do we look at the numbers, which I think is important, but we also look at the symptoms.

So, I classically ask my patients, “How’s your energy level, how well you’re doing, still able to do everything you want to do? Any numbness in your feet? Right? Any nosebleeds, any headaches, any blurred vision, right? Any lumps? So, I just go over this list of different symptoms that patients can experience. Are you having fevers? Are you having night sweats? Are you losing weight for no reason? Right? So, it’s a monitoring process.

Just to clarify further, for example, a patient can come to see me with anemia, and I know that Waldenstrom’s causes anemia, as I said before. But it is my duty as a doctor to make sure that there’s no other reason why the patient might be anemic. So, even though in the scenario, which is very likely that the disease is causing this problem, I still need to make sure that it is not something else driving this anemia for the patient, and then the anemia is severe enough. You know, some patients say, “Yeah, I’m a little tired, but I’m still able to do everything I want to do.”

So, really that’s a very minor process. And there are people who tell me, “You know what, I cannot play with my children anymore, right, because I’m so tired,” then that’s a different process. So, the severity of the symptom and how related to the disease it is, that combination is what really tells us who needs to be treated or not.

So, what I would say in terms of treatment timing for Waldenstrom’s patients, it’s not that you need treatment and then you don’t need it, and then you need it. It’s not like that. It’s more like you don’t need it; you don’t need it; and then it is reasonable to treat. And there is a period in which it’s reasonable to treat, and that period can last sometimes months to years. Some patients can decide to be treated a little earlier in the process with less symptoms. And some patients can decide to be treated a little bit later with more symptoms.

So, it has to do a lot with the patients, how they feel, how they’re tolerating the symptoms, how dangerous or potentially threatening those symptoms are. And that’s a conversation that it needs to take place between the doctor and the patient, understanding the patient’s preferences.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. Yeah. What are the treatment goals for Waldenstrom’s?

Dr. Castillo:               

So, as I said earlier, we don’t cure patients with Waldenstrom’s. Patients live with Waldenstrom’s, and I said before as well, for many years.

So, I think the goal of the treatment is to get back the patient – to get the patient back to how they were feeling before they became symptomatic. If the patient is not able to play with their children, as I said before, getting them back to play with their children again and have that energy. Or if they’re having all these lumps popping up in their bodies, kind of reduce the size of those lumps. Or if they’re having the neuropathy, have an improvement on the nerve ending damage and the numbness that they’re experiencing. If they’re having nosebleeds and headaches, resolve those symptoms.

So, in many other cancers, we think about complete remissions, cures, and that’s what we need to do. And we need to induce responses in our patients, and our treatments do induce responses in our patients, and responses are measured by IgM levels improvements and hemoglobin improvements and things like that, which is great to have the numbers improve, but I think it’s key to actually control the patient’s symptoms as well.

And I think it’s – from my perspective as a patient, if I were a patient, that would put it more important to me. So, what about my hemoglobin going from 10 to 13 if I’m not feeling better? So, I think feeling better is a very important aspect of what we do here.

Katherine:                  

Yeah, absolutely. Can you walk us through the currently available treatment approaches for WM?

Dr. Castillo:               

Oh, there’s plenty. And that is actually a good message. So, there are many treatment options, and the treatment options are almost equally effective. So, I think we can separate the treatment options in big groups. I think that the big group, the first group that we use, treatments that are very effective, is chemotherapy-based. And we have a number of chemotherapy options that we use routinely for patients with Waldenstrom’s. We typically combine chemotherapy with an antibody called rituximab. And that rituximab is used universally for a lot of different blood cancers out there.

And so, when we combine the chemotherapy with the rituximab, I would say probably 90 to 95 percent of patients that get treated do feel better. Not only their numbers improve, but also the symptoms improve, the treatments. These treatments are typically given intravenously, and they are typically given for about six months of treatments. It’s very easy to tolerate.

I mean, it’s not the classic chemotherapy that we think about with other cancers, right? Losing your hair and vomiting and being very sick. That is not what happens with these chemos. They are very gentle chemos. But the fact that they are gentle doesn’t mean that they do not work. I mean, they are very effective against the disease, but they are more gentle in terms of the side effects. Some other side effects that I think are important with chemo specifically is the small risk of developing another bone marrow disease, and that’s because of how chemo works. It also damages a little bit the good cells, and that can cause other problems, and the risk of infections.

I think nowadays, in the context of the pandemic, I think the risk of infections is something that we need to really talk about a lot with our patients. But these typically are six-month treatments, intravenous treatments, and then done with treatments and very effective regimens. Then, we have the non-chemo treatments, which is you have a lot of those, development of those therapies over the years.

We do have a group of medications called proteasome inhibitors, or PIs. And we borrow those from the myeloma group.

Myeloma is another blood cancer that shares some similarities with Waldenstrom’s, so we use some of those treatments into our treatments. And these are non-chemotherapy agents. We also combine them with rituximab to make them more powerful.

And some of them are intravenous. Some of them are injected under the skin. Some of them are pills. And again, six months of treatments, very nicely tolerated, very effective. I’m talking about 90, 95 percent efficacy rate. And the side effects with this are more like nerve ending damage or more like lung, heart problems, not really secondary malignancies, but infections is also an issue here too.

And then, we have the most – the newer treatments that are the pill form treatment. We call them BTK inhibitors, B as in Boy, T as in Tom, K, BTK inhibitors.

We use that for many other diseases as well, but we use them for Waldenstrom’s too. And we use them alone in most scenarios. Sometimes, we can combine them with rituximab, but the large experience is without rituximab. So, it’s just the pill. Nothing else. No injections or infusions. No risk of secondary bone marrow disease. No risk of neuropathy. But they are pills that you have to take every day, indefinitely.

So, in contrast with the other six-month treatments, duration treatments, these are treatments that tend to last for several years. And we do have some taking these pills sometimes for six, seven, eight years, and they continue on them because they do well, and their response is as good as chemotherapy. But it’s just with a pill that you need to take every day.

Now, these pills have a different set of side effects, and that includes sometimes some irregular heartbeats, some bleeding and bruising. We have a new pill just that we published on recently, a medication called venetoclax, with a V. Again, it’s a different mechanism of action. It’s a BCL-2 inhibitor. It doesn’t have any risk of arrhythmia or bleeding, but it can cause some issues with infections.

But maybe you can take two years of this treatment and not take it indefinitely. So, all these are treatments that we keep advancing, and we will continue running studies with new medications that hopefully have similar or higher efficacy with a better side effect profile.

Now, just to finalize, the last option that should always be in the mind of a patient is clinical trials, investigational agents that are not sometimes – some of them are approved already by the FDA.

Sometimes they’re not. But they are agents that either in the laboratory or in prior experience suggest that they might have efficacy on these patients.

And that’s another treatment option that could be considered in some scenarios.

Katherine:                  

Okay, excellent. Efficacy and many factors coming into play, obviously, when making a treatment decision. How do you decide which treatment is appropriate for a particular patient?

Dr. Castillo:               

Yeah, that’s a million-dollar question. And the reason that is the case is because when we think about other types of cancers, right, breast cancer and lung cancer, we do have these large studies with thousands of patients in which half of the group got one treatment; the other half got the other treatment. And we know that one treatment is better than other in this context of a randomized, large study. We don’t have a lot of that in Waldenstrom’s because it’s a rare disease. So, most of the studies that we do have are studies in which we have maybe 30, 40, 50 patients, 100 if we’re lucky, so comparisons between all these different treatments have not been done.

So, the chemotherapy, for example, versus the PI, there’s no study comparing that. The chemotherapy versus the BTK inhibitors, there’s no study comparing that. So, based on that, since there’s no comparison, we need to kind of understand the profile of the drug, you know. And you need to match that with the patient’s preferences.

So, we need to look at the patient’s age. We need to look at the patient’s comorbidities. We need to look at the patient’s medications that they’re on. Are their insurance going to cover the pills or not? Are they comfortable with getting intravenous infusions? What is the risk of leukemia versus the risk of neuropathy in those patients? So, we need to look at so many factors. Interestingly enough, efficacy is not the problem. We don’t choose treatments based on efficacy because all of the treatments are almost equally effective. We actually choose treatments based on patients’ preferences. We choose treatment based on the medication side effects.

And the newer thing is actually, we’re doing genomic profile in the patients. We’re actually seeing which mutations the patients have, and there are some treatments that work better or worse with specific mutations, so we kind of tailor a treatment option based on all those factors.

So, it’s not an easy job, but I think it’s rewarding to understand that the best treatment for a patient with Waldenstrom’s is a personalized treatment. And as long as –

Katherine:                  

That’s what it sounds like.

Dr. Castillo:               

And as long as the patient understands the best he or she can in terms of the pros and cons of the treatment before going in, an educated decision, I think that’s probably best choice, yeah.

Katherine:                  

Are there test results that can impact options?

Dr. Castillo:               

I would say so. So, for example, in patients who have very high IgM levels, we try to avoid giving rituximab alone, for example, because rituximab can also make the IgM go up in about 40 to 50 percent of the cases, and patients can become more symptomatic if they were symptomatic because of the IgM in the first place.

So, that’s one value that we follow carefully. Sometimes, the kidney function can tell us if there are some chemotherapies that cannot be given with a kidney function that is not normal or close to normal, for example. And again, there are some mutations that can help us understand if a treatment might work better than other treatments too.

So, yeah, there’s a lot of shades of gray in there to be able to pick and choose. And again, the patient’s symptoms are important. I mean, if a patient, for example, already has an arrhythmia, I’m going to try to avoid a medication that can cause more arrhythmias. If a patient has already some nerve damage, I’m less likely to recommend a treatment that can cause more nerve damage. So, yeah, there’s a lot of room there for personalization.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. You’ve mentioned existing conditions. So, how do patients’ specific factors like lifestyle and age and other preexisting conditions impact treatment choices?

Dr. Castillo:               

Well, I think the way that affects it is just because patients who are older age tend to have other problems, you know. And I think having that in mind is important. So, if somebody has a liver dysfunction of some kind, then that will modify my treatment options. And as I said earlier, if someone has a kidney disfunction of some kind or depending on the degree, I can choose a different type of treatment there.

Now, also, we need to be mindful, for example, if somebody’s not so reliable on taking pills because they cannot remember or they don’t know, they are not organized enough or they don’t – you know. So, there are so many other factors playing into that role – maybe a pill form treatment might not be the best option, you know.

If somebody doesn’t have help to transfer him to take him to the infusion room back and forth, maybe an infusion treatment might not be the best there. So, again, another series of factors could be taken into account when making treatment decisions.

Katherine:                  

There’s obviously so much to consider when choosing therapy. What do you feel is the patient’s role in treatment decisions?

Dr. Castillo:               

From my perspective, the patient’s role is very important. I need, as a physician, that the patient feels that it’s part of the team here. So, when patients come to see me, I strongly encourage patients to bring as many people as they want with them. If they want somebody on FaceTime at the same time, I’m happy with that too. And that helps because the amount of data that we provide, the amount of information that we provide, is a lot in terms of quantity. But sometimes, it’s not easy to understand when you just hear it one time, right?

So, having somebody taking notes, having somebody else taking notes, having somebody else listening, somebody else asking questions, and then somebody else explaining back to the patient – the patient is looking for the best for them, but if he’s also affected by the whole process. It would be naïve to feel – or to think – that somebody was told they have an incurable blood cancer, and they are completely paying attention to everything you’re saying, after you said something like that.

So, I think it’s important for patients to be there with family, friends, or whoever wants to be there to help out. I think that’s a really important aspect. Then, number two is you need to know about your own disease. And I am fortunate to work with a group of patients who are highly educated, to the point that they get to know more about their disease than their own doctor. And I think that’s key. I think that’s important. For me, that is not threatening or challenging. I think that is actually a good thing.

And that way, I can have a more direct conversation, meaningful, because I understand that the patient is understanding what I am saying, and we are trying to speak the same language, so I think that is key also. So, bottom line, I think education from the patient perspective, involvement of their care, I think that’s key so they can be their own best advocates.

There is going to be a lot of – since it’s a rare disease, there’s going to be a lot of backs and forths with different physicians. Some physicians are going to be more intensive and trying to treat when the patient doesn’t need to be treated. The opposite is also true in which a patient, they do need treatment, and the physicians are saying, “No, we can wait a little bit longer.” And again, that has nothing to do with the quality of the doctor. It’s just the fact that the disease is rare, and to keep up with it is very difficult. So, the patient being their best advocate is actually a very important role that they should have.

Katherine:                  

Knowledge is power.

Dr. Castillo:               

That’s right.

Katherine:                  

How is treatment effectiveness monitored? How do you know if it’s working?

Dr. Castillo:               

Yeah, so a couple of ways, right? We have the formal way and the informal way. So, the formal way to measure a response is, I mentioned before, the IgM. All right? So, the IgM levels, we use the IgM levels and how they decline over time on treatments to measure the response of the patients. So, based on the IgM decrease, we can actually classify the patients’ response in different depths.

So, we have minor responses, which is 25 to 50 percent decrease in the IgM, and then we have a partial response, which is a 50-90 percent decrease in the IgM, and then we have a very good partial response, which is a 90 percent decrease of the IgM or normalization of the IgM. So, it all depends. So, if your IgM let’s say, is 3,000, right, you will not be in a partial response unless your IgM is below 1,500, and you will not be on a very good response unless your IgM is below 300, for example. And that might be different for somebody who starts with an IgM of 10,000, and that might be different for somebody who start with an IgM of 500, right?

So, that’s the formal response criteria that we use, IgM-based. Having said that, we also have other factors in terms of the quality of life of the patient. So, we can see improvements in hemoglobin levels. We can actually see normalization of hemoglobin, even though the response to the IgM is minor. Right, you say “minor”, and I mean, how great that is?

But if the hemoglobin goes from 8 to 15 on a minor response, I think that patient is doing very well, right? So, we need to have those two hand-in-hand to understand what the benefit of the patient is seeing. If the patient is having hyperviscosity symptoms, for example, and the IgM was 6,000 and went down to 4,000, that’s enough for the patient to be without hyperviscosity symptoms. Then that’s a successful treatment too. So, we need to balance all that out and make sure that we understand it very well. So, yeah, we do have the formal IgM responses, but we do have the physical quality of life response that we should also pay attention to.

Katherine:                  

Fatigue seems to be very common among Waldenstrom’s patients. Here’s a question that we received before the program. Kasey asks, “Why do I feel so tired all the time? Is there anything that can be done about it?

Dr. Castillo:               

That’s a great question, and as I said before and basically kind of summarizing what I put together, I mean, there are many patients why a symptom with Waldenstrom’s could be fatigued. One of them is they could be anemic. The other one, they could have some hyperviscosity symptoms causing some fatigue, maybe some inflammation in the body because of the Waldenstrom’s, but maybe there are other reasons why patients can be fatigued.

And if you go out there in the streets and you start asking people, “Are you tired?” 80 percent of Americans are going to be tired. I’m not trying to minimize the symptoms of the patients. What I’m trying to say is we need to be very careful at understanding what the relation of the fatigue is with the disease. We need to be convinced that there is a relation there.

If that happened in my clinic – for example, a patient comes to see me, and they are fatigued; their hemoglobin is 14, which is normal; their IgM is about 1,000, which is not supposed to cause hyperviscosity. So, I do not know really in that context if the Waldenstrom’s is driving the fatigue or not.

Katherine:                  

Or if it’s something else.

Dr. Castillo:               

Exactly. So, we need to make sure that the patient doesn’t have any iron deficiency, that the patient doesn’t have any thyroid problems, that the testosterone problems are okay, that there’s no sleep disturbances, that there’s no depression. So, there’s so many different other things that we need to make sure are not there before we mount into that. Because if someone is fatigued with a hemoglobin of 8, which is very low, with my treatments, if I make that 8 14, I know the fatigue is going to get better. But if the patient is fatigued with a hemoglobin of 14, which I am not going to improve with my treatments, then how confident do I feel that I’m going to improve the patient’s quality of life with a potentially dangerous treatment?

So, we talked about already secondary leukemias, neuropathy, other problems that the patient can have with the treatments or because of the treatments.

So, we need to balance that out and understand that the potential benefit has to be higher than the potential risk, and that’s why the personalization comes into play. So, fatigue is a big issue, and we try to take a very systematic approach about that, you know, ruling out other conditions, making sure that we understand its relation with the disease before recommending treatment just for fatigue.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. This is one side effect that is so important for patients to share with their healthcare team, right?

Dr. Castillo:               

Oh, absolutely.

Katherine:                  

So that their healthcare team can know how to treat them.

Dr. Castillo:               

That’s right. And again, there are so many interventions that are not medications that could be done in these type of situations, right? Meditation, mindfulness. There are so many other approaches to try to help in these type of situations, changing a little bit sometimes the perspective, trying to be a little bit more on the positive thinking, right?

So, there are so many different ways outside of pharmacological approaches that we can use to try to improve our patients’ quality of life.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. Knowing that one has an incurable disease can be very stressful, right? Knowing that you have to live with this.

Dr. Castillo:               

That’s absolutely correct, and again, what I’ve seen happening in some of my patients is every little thing that happens to them, they do not know if it’s because of the disease or not.

Katherine:                  

Oh, yeah.

Dr. Castillo:               

“So, I have a twitch there. Oh, it’s due to Waldenstrom’s. Do I need to be treated because of that twitch?” And that, I understand it. Well, I try to understand it. I’m not in that same situation, so I cannot understand it completely. But I try to understand how if you don’t trust your body anymore, right? I mean, you have a disease, and you don’t trust your body anymore, then how you trust all these little symptoms here and there?

So, in my conversations with my patients, I discuss these things openly and that you’re going to have a lot of different symptoms here and there. Most of them probably are not going to be related to the disease, but if some of them are concerning enough to you in terms of your activities, in terms of eating, drinking, sleeping, social life, sexual life, you know, working life, then let me know, and then we will be happy to investigate those because anything can happen to anybody.

So, you can have other problems. Waldenstrom’s doesn’t protect you from anything, so, and it’s always important to discuss this with patients and pay attention to the patients, not dismiss their symptoms, think about them with them, talk about them with the patients to try to understand how these are affecting them.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Castillo, are there emerging approaches for treating Waldenstrom’s?

Dr. Castillo:               

Always. And that’s the beauty – that’s the second part of when we talked about clinical trials, right, we talked about clinical trials? Science continues, and we work very closely with an organization called the International Waldenstrom’s Foundation, and they support research all over the world for Waldenstrom’s.

So, their message is since the sun comes up until the sun comes down, there is someone, somewhere in the world working on Waldenstrom’s, and that’s true.

So, there’s a lot of science in the background, and that science helps us understand how the Waldenstrom’s cells behave, and therefore, we can then start targeting some things. That’s how BTK inhibitors came out. That’s how proteasome inhibitors came out. That’s how BCL-2 inhibitors came out. All these are the result of science, applied into the treatments. So, at my institution and many other institutions in the country and outside of the country, there are newer treatments being tried all the time.

We have now – we are looking into combining BTK inhibitors with other agents. Germany is doing a number of different studies. Canada is doing a number of different studies. We are doing some studies in the United States as well, combining chemotherapy and PIs with the BTK inhibitors. We’re doing a study in my institution combining BTK inhibitors with BCL-2 inhibitors. So, and the idea is to try to create a more powerful agent or regimen and hopefully maybe not give patients indefinite treatments, more like fixed duration treatments.

So, I think that’s where it’s coming. It’s coming maybe double, triple combinations, fixed duration treatments. That’s what is coming in terms of that aspect of the research. And then, we do have newer compounds coming out.

We do have now some concepts in what we call immunotherapy, right? We think about antibodies.

We think about bispecific T-cell engagers. CAR-T cells, so all that is actually up and coming in Waldenstrom’s. There are actual clinical trials being done today evaluating all those different treatments for patients with Waldenstrom’s.

So, I think the future is really bright. I’m really optimistic, to be honest with you about the treatment of patients with Waldenstrom’s. Obviously, what we need, what we want, is cure of the disease. And again, we can think about cure in two different ways. We can think about the classic definition of cure in which we treat patients, the disease goes away, you stop treatments, and the disease never comes back, right? That’s one way of looking at cure.

The other way of looking at cure is you treat the disease, the disease is in a remission, you continue treating the patient, and then the patient basically dies of other reasons, right? That is a functional cure. So, I think we’re closer to the latter, much more than the former, but the efforts to continue developing new treatments, it’s not stopping anytime soon.

Katherine:                  

No, because we’re always constantly moving forward, having to find new treatments, definitely. Well, Dr. Castillo, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.

Dr. Castillo:               

It has been my pleasure. I mean, I always enjoy the opportunity to be able to communicate with patients about what I love doing.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. Thank you, and again, thank you to all of our partners.

To learn more about Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for being with us today.

Immunotherapy for Lung Cancer Treatment: What to Expect

Immunotherapy for Lung Cancer Treatment: What to Expect from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. David Carbone responds to a viewer question related to the symptoms, side effects, and efficacy of immunotherapy for non-small cell lung cancer.

Dr. David Carbone is a medical oncologist and professor of internal medicine at The Ohio State University. Dr. Carbone is also co-leader of the Translational Therapeutics Program at the OSUCCC – James, where serves as director of the Thoracic Oncology Center. Learn more about Dr. Carbone, here.

See More From INSIST! Lung Cancer

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Transcript:

Katherine:

We have received some questions from audience members earlier on. And so, David writes, “My care team has suggested immunotherapy to treat my lung cancer. I’m optimistic about the results, but nervous about symptoms and side effects. What can I expect?”

Dr. Carbone:              

The immunotherapy is a potent therapy, but you have to understand, you’re dealing with lung cancer, which is a rapidly fatal disease when untreated. So, there’s a balance there. There’s a risk/benefit calculation that happens in picking any treatment.

And it turns out that I would say most lung cancer patients today have immunotherapy as part of their first treatment. Immunotherapy ramps up your own immune system to make it more effective at seeing the cancer, which has previously grown because it’s hidden itself behind a kind of invisibility cloak, and these immunotherapies remove this invisibility cloak so that the immune system can see it.

But at the same time, this process is a normal process that’s used to keep the immune system in check, and keep the immune system from attacking normal tissues, as well. So, it’s pretty common that we see people on immunotherapy have some kind of autoimmune side effect.

The most common side effect with immunotherapy is a skin rash, and usually it’s mild, and you just treat it with a topic corticosteroid, and it’s not a big issue. But it sometimes can be very severe. Like everything else, there’s a spectrum. I would say most patients have no skin problems; some have severe; and it’s almost always treatable. The next most common side effect is thyroid endocrine disorders. So, people will get thyroid function loss. And so, this is something that we follow carefully in the clinic, and people who are on immunotherapy.

And when we start seeing their thyroid levels going down, we just start them on thyroid medication, and that completely fixes that problem. So, but it’s usually permanent, and even after they stop immunotherapy, they’ll need to take thyroid medicines and adjust their thyroid levels.

And then, there’s a whole slew of other possible side effects that are less common. Some are very severe. Less than one percent of patients have a severe side effect called colitis, which causes diarrhea, which can even be life-threatening, but is also treatable if detected early. Very uncommon to be so severe, but patients should let their doctors know if they experience unusual diarrhea.

You can also have inflammation in your lungs called pneumonitis. So, if there’s an onset of shortness of breath, of course, you’ll tell your doctor, and that can be treated, as well. And anything else, there’s a huge list of other things. Arthritis, uveitis, other things that happen, but are pretty rare.

An Expert Reflects on Hopeful Advances in Myeloma Treatment

An Expert Reflects on Hopeful Advances in Myeloma Treatment from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Research is advancing quickly in myeloma. Donna Catamero, a nurse practitioner specializing in myeloma, shares why she is optimistic about the future of myeloma care and treatment.

Donna Catamero is Associate Director of Myeloma Translational Research at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

When it comes to myeloma research and emerging treatment options, what are you excited about specifically?

Donna:

So, I’m very excited about CAR T therapies, bispecific therapies and even trispecific therapies. And this is really harvesting a patient’s immune system to attack the myeloma cell. And I’m really excited about the results we’re seeing in the clinical trials. We’re seeing for a single agent therapy – and most patients know that with myeloma therapies they’re on combination therapies, but what we’re seeing is, with a single drug, that we can achieve very, very deep responses and very durable remission. So, patients who’ve had several relapses and are on their eighth, ninth, 10th line of therapy – we’re now able to achieve deep and durable remissions, which even five years ago was almost unheard of. So, this is really a very exciting time in myeloma research. 

An Expert Review of DLBCL Research and Treatment Advances

An Expert Review of DLBCL Research and Treatment Advances from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What’s the latest in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) treatment advances? Expert Dr. Robert Dean provides an update about emerging DLBCL research and explains recent treatment approvals for relapsed DLBCL patients.

Dr. Robert Dean is a hematologist/medical oncologist at Taussig Cancer Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Dean, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Is there emerging DLBCL research that you feel patients should know about?

Dr. Dean:

I would say, “yes.” One of the things that has really been striking for me in the last few years alone in caring for patients with large B-cell lymphoma is how we’ve gone from a more surface-level understanding as we’ve been talking about what some of the differences are between different cases of large B-cell lymphoma to being able to get a better readout of why the lymphomas sometimes behave the way they do.

I want to be careful to make sure that patients who might be listening to this understand that we still don’t have a crystal ball. We can’t review their biopsy, look at their scans, and tell you, “I know that if you get R-CHOP you’re going to be cured.” Or if they’re a high-risk situation we can’t look into a crystal ball and tell them, “I know that R-CHOP won’t work for you, and you should do this tougher, more intensive treatment.”

We still see a lot of outcomes that we can’t necessarily predict from those other kinds of tools. They just give us a better sense of what the odds are for people as we’re at the start trying to make decisions about what to do. Another element that has really been striking has been the introduction of engineered T-cell immune therapy, which has provided an option for cure for some patients that otherwise we wouldn’t have had an option, and worked for about half the patients that go through it overall.

What’s coming down the road in clinical trials that are still ongoing is information that’ll help us decide if that approach to treatment should move to being second in line instead of a stem cell transplant for some patients, and they’re even doing studies looking at whether, for very high-risk patients, adding a CAR T-cell treatment onto the end of initial chemotherapy leaves them better off in the long run.

So, those are questions that will take some time to answer with ongoing studies, but I think are really exciting because they’re taking advantage of some of these newer treatment approaches that we know are helping some patients when their first attempts at treatment didn’t work and seeing if they might leave them better off if we use them earlier in the process.

There are other studies ongoing looking at seeing if we can improve upon the results that we get with treatments like R-CHOP as the first pass at treatment. Many such studies have been done and have not shown any benefit by adding this drug or that to the standard R-CHOP treatment, but there have been a few new drugs approved for treating people with large B-cell lymphoma after it’s relapsed in the last few years. For example, one called polatuzumab vedotin. Another combination of the drug lenalidomide and a new antibody-based drug called tafasitamab.

And then there’s another drug called loncastuximab. So, there’re studies going on with all of those looking at whether they offer more benefits to patients if we use them earlier in the game. 

Key Steps Following a DLBCL Diagnosis

Key Steps Following a DLBCL Diagnosis from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are key steps to take after a diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) diagnosis? Expert Dr. Robert Dean shares advice for newly diagnosed DLBCL patients to access optimal care.

Dr. Robert Dean is a hematologist/medical oncologist at Taussig Cancer Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Dean, here

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Yeah, of course. What three key pieces of advice would you have for a patient who’s just been diagnosed with DLBCL?

Dr. Dean:

The first, I would say, is always consider getting a second opinion. I would say that’s true for a patient who’s receiving care with a local oncologist who sees and treats all forms of cancer and who’s very close to home. But I would say that’s true for someone who comes and sees me as an oncologist who treats only lymphoma patients. You should never worry about hurting your doctor’s feelings by going and talking to someone else to get another perspective on their case. The second is that they should make sure that their biopsy has been checked for the other tissue-based predicting factors that we talked about earlier that can help give a better idea of whether their chances of cure are higher or possibly lower with standard R-CHOP treatment.

And if they’re in a higher-risk group that might have a lower chance of cure with R-CHOP, then they should ask, “should I be receiving a different kind of treatment?” And then, the third thing I would say is, they should always ask, “is there a clinical trial that’s a good fit for my situation. And if there isn’t one here, is there one somewhere else that’s worth me considering even if it might mean me traveling somewhere?”

Katherine:

Right.

Dr. Dean:

There’re always a lot of clinical trials around. And if there’s a good clinical trial that’s a fit for someone’s medical situation, and I would say, if it’s pretty close to the care that they need already and is asking an additional question and possibly providing an additional element to the treatment that may be helpful and that will help us learn something along the way, then in my mind that’s the best-case scenario. 

Relapsed DLBCL Treatment: What Are the Options?

Relapsed DLBCL Treatment: What Are the Options? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are the treatment options for relapsed diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL)? Expert Dr. Robert Dean explains approaches for relapsed DLBCL patients and considerations that may alter the treatment course. 

Dr. Robert Dean is a hematologist/medical oncologist at Taussig Cancer Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Dean, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Are treatment considerations different for patients with relapsed disease?

Dr. Dean:

I’d say that they’re similar in a lot of ways. The first is, in my mind, again, is the patient that I’m seeing somebody who could potentially tolerate treatment that would be given with the goal of trying to cure their lymphoma on a second try?

Some patients with relapsed large B-cell lymphoma can be cured with the most common standard second-line approach, which is to get them back into remission with some standard chemotherapy, and then to follow that with a very intensive course of high-dose chemotherapy as a one-time treatment that’s given with a stem cell transplant using the patient’s own preserved healthy bone marrow stem cells. That treatment’s effective in about half of patients that can undergo it and you need to be pretty fit medically and in an overall physical sense to be able to get through that treatment okay and have a good healthy recovery afterward.

So, it’s not for everyone, but it is doable in a lot of patients. The other questions or considerations that I think are important are if a patient is sort of on the border in terms of their overall health and their willingness to undergo really rigorous intensive treatment as a second try.

We have to look, in a balanced way, at what their goals are as an individual and what it’s going to take for them to try to reach those goals. I don’t easily back away from recommending to someone that I think has a shot at cure that they should go for it if they’re medically in reasonable shape to try for that. But there’re some people who, after their initial course of treatment, decide that they don’t want to pursue intensive treatment anymore and would rather go with a lower-intensity approach that might not have the potential for cure, but that wouldn’t be as demanding of them physically or logistically.

The logistics are another factor for some patients because most patients with large B-cell lymphoma can get treated with a standard treatment approach like R-CHOP as their initial treatment at someplace that’s easily accessible to them where they live.

But the advanced treatments that are used to try to cure patients with relapsed large cell lymphoma, like a stem cell transplant, or like engineered CAR T-cell therapy, are only offered at large hospital-based cancer centers. And for some people, signing up to go and undergo that kind of treatment, to go through a long hospital stay, to be far away from family and home for a long time like that, and then have a longer recovery afterward, is something that they aren’t always comfortable with and really need some coaching through to figure out how all that aligns with their goals.

Most people, in my experience, are willing to go through what they have to if we think, and if they feel like, they’ve got a decent shot at getting cured on a second try. But that’s part of the discussion that we have when we’re talking about what their options are because there are less intensive approaches available.

They just don’t carry that same potential for cure.

Factors That Guide a DLBCL Treatment Decision

Factors That Guide a DLBCL Treatment Decision from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What factors impact diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) treatment decisions? Expert Dr. Robert Dean shares key considerations, such as a patient’s health and risk factors, in determining DLBCL treatment options.

Dr. Robert Dean is a hematologist/medical oncologist at Taussig Cancer Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Dean, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

What are the main factors you take into consideration before a treatment approach is decided on?

Dr. Dean:

From the perspective of the biology of the lymphoma itself, it’s making sure that the tissue samples have been worked up in a thorough enough way to give us the information that we’ve already been discussing, especially to rule out or to identify when there’s a double-hit kind of chromosomal change in the lymphoma cells because for most patients that abnormality does call for a different approach from the usual R-CHOP treatment.

And not all treatment centers are equipped to give those more intensive treatments. So, someone who’s got a standard and, what I would consider to be a lower-risk case of large B-cell lymphoma, could be served very well receiving standard outpatient R-CHOP chemotherapy under the care of a local oncologist who’s taking care of patients in their community.

But someone who’s got a higher-risk situation, like a double-hit large cell lymphoma, would probably be better served to at least be seen in consultation by someone who’s got more specialized expertise in treating higher-risk lymphoma patients at a referral center. Beyond that, you have to also take into account a number of patient factors. Because diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is potentially curable with standard treatments, even the high-risk cases that’s true.

The first question that I always ask myself when I’m evaluating a new patient is, “is there anything about this person’s health that would make it impossible or highly risky for them to tolerate the standard treatments that we use to try to cure our patients?” If they’re a candidate for curative-intent treatment, then we decide what the most appropriate treatment would be from there.

The second question is, as we talked about before, is R-CHOP a reasonable standard approach for that patient, or do they have other risk factors that would suggest that you’d need to do something different, such as rituximab and EPOCH treatment or another more intensive regimen for a double-hit case? There’s a subgroup of patients who have large cell lymphoma that arises in the testicle in men and those patients are at increased risk for having the lymphoma show up later as a recurrence in the nervous system. There are studies that suggest that if you add some elements to the treatment to try to prevent that, that it may reduce that risk.

Katherine:

Okay.

Dr. Dean:

And then I think the last thing I would say is, with any patient I consider, are they eligible for a clinical trial that’s looking at a novel approach to treating large cell lymphoma and, if there is a clinical trial that they’d be eligible for, is that a good fit for their situation?

We know that our best treatment approaches that we currently have for standard of care right now still don’t prevent relapses in some patients and we want to continue to be able to offer our patients better treatment approaches and the only way that we can do that is by testing new ideas in clinical trials. So, I always ask myself, “Is this patient eligible for a trial, and do we have a trial or do I know of a trial that would be a good fit for them?” 

How Does Your DLBCL Subtype Impact Your Treatment Options?

How Does Your DLBCL Subtype Impact Your Treatment Options? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How does a patient’s diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) subtype impact their treatment options? Expert Dr. Robert Dean explains the most widely used DLBCL treatment approach as well as options for highly aggressive subtypes.

Dr. Robert Dean is a hematologist/medical oncologist at Taussig Cancer Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Dean, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

So, how does a patient’s subtype impact their treatment options?

Dr. Dean:

It’s getting there slowly. Right now, the most widely used initial treatment for patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is still the monoclonal antibody rituximab (Rituxan) and the combination chemotherapy regimen called CHOP, or R-CHOP as it’s called for short all together. And for patients with lymphomas that are not the so-called double-hit type, at least in our center, R-CHOP is still the standard, most commonly used approach to treat those cases. For the double-hit cases, studies have shown that their results with R-CHOP treatment are significantly worse than what you see with the cases that are not double-hit lymphomas.

And because of that, a lot of lymphoma treatment programs have looked to other approaches to treatment that are a little more intensive, similar to what we use for highly aggressive lymphomas, such as Burkitt lymphoma, to see if we can do better for those patients. And the one that we most commonly use here at our center for the double-hit lymphoma cases is a regimen that’s called R-EPOCH, where you take the drugs that are in the R-CHOP, add an extra chemotherapy medicine, and give them in a different manner that provides a more prolonged exposure to the chemotherapy drugs with each round of treatment and also provides for some tailoring of the chemotherapy doses from one round of treatment to the next.

There aren’t any great controlled trials yet that prove that stronger treatment regimens like R-EPOCH are better for the double-hit cases of large cell lymphoma than the tried-and-true R-CHOP regimen that’s used for most other situations.

But there are what we call uncontrolled studies or retrospective studies that have looked at patients treated with those higher intensity regimens, and they at least suggest that patients treated with those approaches look like they do better than what you would have expected with the R-CHOP approach. And then there are a few less common subtypes of large cell lymphoma that are more specific and are treated in more unique ways.

For example, large B-cell lymphoma can arise in the brain only in rare cases and when that occurs it’s treated using an approach that’s really geared toward ensuring that you’re giving chemotherapy drugs that can effectively get into the brain tissue and attack the lymphoma cells there. Once in a while, you see someone who’s got both of those situations going on at once, lymphoma growing in the lymph node system or other places in the body outside of the nervous system, and lymphoma growing in the nervous system at the same time, and you need to make adjustments in how you treat those cases, too. 

What Are the Subtypes of DLBCL?

What Are the Subtypes of DLBCL? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are the subtypes of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL)? Expert Dr. Robert Dean provides an overview of DLBCL subtypes and how treatments and outcomes can vary by a patient’s individual disease.

Dr. Robert Dean is a hematologist/medical oncologist at Taussig Cancer Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Dean, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Dr. Dean, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Dean:

Certainly, and thank you for having me. My name’s Rob Dean, and I’m a hematologist and medical oncologist and a staff physician at the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute.

Katherine:

Excellent. Thank you. Let’s start with looking at understanding and treating DLBCL. What are the subtypes of DLBCL?

Dr. Dean:

The classification of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma has gotten a little more complicated as our understanding of it has gotten deeper. Once upon a time going back maybe 15, 20 years an awful lot of cases were sort of lumped together under the broad label of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and we always understood in the field that some patients did very well and were cured with the standard treatments of the time and that those treatments didn’t work as well for some patients.

And it’s taken years to get to a somewhat deeper understanding of what the underlying differences are in those cases that help to explain why our treatment outcomes differ for different patients, and I would say that’s feeding forward into trying to identify better treatment options for the patients who are in higher-risk groups. So, one way of understanding the heterogeneity in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, the differences between cases, is to think about the way in which the normal cells of the immune system that turn into this kind of cancer develop. If you think about the old Time-Life Magazine illustration of the evolution of man where you see the series of figures drawn from left to right going from sort of more primitive, kind of a –

Katherine:

Ape-like.

Dr. Dean:

– ape-like figure to a progressively more modern-looking human standing upright and walking on just their legs. The way that these immune cells, which are the antibody-making B cells of the immune system, develop from a more primitive cell, you can think of it in similar terms. And we understand that cases of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma most commonly arise from a couple of points in that process of maturation that these cells are passing through as they go from the most primitive form that they take to their most mature functional form in the end.

So, one of those subgroups is something called the germinal-centered B-cell. And that involves the part of the maturation process where these immune cells have left the bone marrow, passed into a lymph node, and are interacting with other immune cells as part of their education and development process.

When the cells mutate at that stage of their development and turn into diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, the cure rate for patients with large cell lymphomas coming from that stage of immune cell development tends to be a little higher with standard treatments. When the lymphoma cells arise from an immune cell that has passed beyond that point in the maturation process to what is referred to as an activated B-cell, then the cure rates with standard treatment historically have been a little lower.

And so, you can look at markers on the lymphoma cells, or the activation of different genes in the lymphoma cells, to try to determine whether they came from an immune cell that was in one or the other of those points in its maturation process. And we know that that correlates with outcomes. So, that’s one of the main breakdowns that have become possible in understanding sort of what’s going on under the hood in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and why do we see different outcomes in different patients.

Katherine:

Right.

Dr. Dean:

The other major change comes from understanding that for cases of large B-cell lymphoma there are common chromosomal changes that result in turning on specific genes. And if some of those genes are present in the right combination, that can create a much more rapidly growing and more chemotherapy-resistant form of large B-cell lymphoma. The two genes that are most commonly involved in that kind of a change are something called BCL-2 which, when it’s turned on abnormally, helps protect the lymphoma cells from being killed or being sort of triggered into dying by chemotherapy medicine.

And another gene that’s called MYC, or M-Y-C is how that’s spelled, and what that gene does is it tends to cause the cells to proliferate more rapidly.

It turns on other pro-survival figures and controls a pretty broad range of different programs that drive the cells to grow more quickly. So, when you’ve got both of those changes at the same time that’s sometimes referred to as a “double-hit lymphoma.” And large cell lymphomas with that double-hit kind of chromosome change have been shown in studies to have a significantly lower cure rate with our most commonly used standard treatment for this form of lymphoma, what we call R-CHOP.

So, being able to recognize those changes in cases of large B-cell lymphoma is important nowadays, both in terms of being able to share prognostic information with patients, to be able to tell them what we think the likelihood of not just getting into remission but eventually being cured will be. And also, for some situations, considering whether a treatment other than the standard R-CHOP regimen might be a better option. 

Empowered AML Patient: Ask the AML Expert

Empowered AML Patient: Ask the AML Expert from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

For acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients, how can they get the best care no matter location? Watch as expert Dr. Catherine Lai and AML patient Sasha Tanori discuss advancements in AML detection and treatments, the use of remote monitoring, questions to ask if you suspect you have AML, how AML can vary by age, and clinical trials access for optimal care.

See More from Best AML Care No Matter Where You Live

Related Resources:

What Treatments Are on the Horizon for Acute Myeloid Leukemia Patients?

What Treatments Are on the Horizon for Acute Myeloid Leukemia Patients?

What Role Does a Multidisciplinary Team Play in AML Care?

What Role Does a Multidisciplinary Team Play in AML Care? 

How an AML Survivor’s Resilience Saved Her Life 


Transcript:

Sasha Tanori:

I want to start off by saying, thank you so much for joining me, Dr. Lai, I greatly appreciate it.

Dr. Catherine Lai:

Thank you for having me.

Sasha Tanori:

Dr. Lai, early on before my diagnosis, AML, many of my doctors I saw dismissed my symptoms and attributed them to me being plus-sized. Can you share with us how detecting AML has evolved over the last several years?

Dr. Catherine Lai:

Yes, and I’m sorry to hear that, but what I would say about the diagnosis is that how we diagnose patients with AML, unfortunately, hasn’t changed significantly in the sense that we still have to rely on our standard techniques with the bone marrow biopsy. But what I would say is that the technology for how we risk-stratify patients and subsequently treat patients has improved because we have a better understanding of the molecular characteristics of AML now, and so it has helped us in terms of being able to identify more targeted treatments, where patients are more likely to respond and help us with both our short-term and our long-term plan.

Sasha Tanori:

Right, got it. My next question is, can you speak on how monitoring and treating AML has changed during the pandemic?

Dr. Catherine Lai:

Yeah, so unfortunately, as you experience it, you spent your induction in the hospital for several weeks, and when you’re able to be in the hospital with support, either from friends or from family, it makes the experience much, much easier and with COVID, especially at the height of the pandemic, we weren’t allowed our hospital. And I know several of my colleagues as well, the hospitals weren’t allowing any visitors and that put a lot of stress on the patient, on family members, on the staff, the nurses, the physicians, really the whole care team. Just because we were needing to spend extra time to make sure that everybody was updated, so either if we couldn’t do it on FaceTime, having to make sure other phone calls later, which is just…it is what it is. And we made the best of the situation. Currently, we are allowing to have a limited visitor policy, which is helpful. I think the other thing that has really changed is what we consider when we’re starting treatment, if patients obviously need induction chemotherapy and need to be in the hospital, we don’t change the recommendation based on that, but if there are patients who…

Dr. Catherine Lai:

There are options whether or not the patient is done inpatient versus outpatient, I think that that’s a huge consideration in terms of quality of life and how we manage those patients.

Sasha Tanori:

Can you speak to the advances and treatment options for high-risk AML patients?

Dr. Catherine Lai:

Yes, so fortunately, we have made a lot of progress in the AML space, that is one thing that is really exciting, I would say. Since 2017, there have been nine FDA approvals for AML, and prior to 2017, and we have been using the same chemotherapy for the last 40 years. Now, that’s not for lack of trying. There are many leukemia physicians who have been working at this for the duration of their careers, but AML just is very heterogeneous, and it’s very smart. It’s smarter than we are, and it’s constantly changing, and so that has made it challenging in terms of being able to treat it. So, there are newer treatment options, both modifications to traditional chemotherapy as well as other targeted therapies that have improved the landscape for AML and high-risk AML in particular. That’s awesome.

Sasha Tanori:

Dr. Lai, I think another factor that played a role in my diagnosis is somewhat being delayed is my age, I was 24 at the time, what are some questions others who suspect they have AML should ask to rule out the diagnosis?

Dr. Catherine Lai:

So, Sasha, that’s a really good question. And what I would say is that, as you are aware, the median age of AML diagnosis is 68, so not to say that we don’t have young patients…I have plenty of young patients, but it doesn’t come to…it’s not a common thing to think about in younger patients right off the bat, the other thing that contributes to that is also AML compared to other cancers is an uncommon cancer. There are only 25,000 cases of newly diagnosed in the United States per year because it’s not as common in younger patients and because it’s not that common…doctors often want to rule out other simple things rather than just going straight to a cancer diagnosis though, unfortunately, that can lead to some delays, what I would say in young patients who are healthy is that they shouldn’t have low blood counts that can’t be explained for other reasons. So, I think having prompt attention in terms of if their blood counts are abnormal, to really understanding why they’re abnormal, and those are things that can be easily work up, and if all those things are rolled out, then you’re talking about doing a bone marrow biopsy I don’t like to do procedures for unnecessary reasons, but it’s one of those things that you can also…

I mean, I think if you have a physician who is the astute and is thinking about that, that you can…you can get to a diagnosis pretty quickly, I mean AML is a diagnosis in the name acute. It comes on acutely, so that means days to week, so I suspect you are probably feeling very well and over a very short prior of time felt very unwell, and you’re very in tune to your body, and that is very important because patients are smarter than we give them credit for, and so being persistent and knowing that something is wrong goes a long way. Again, I’m sorry that you had to deal with that, and I’m glad that they finally made the right diagnosis, but I think just awareness and education. While it is an uncommon disease, I think having a larger burden and strain that happen on younger patients because you haven’t been working for the majority of your life, and it takes a huge toll on what your potential is, both as a person, but economically and all sorts of things. So it’s a huge problem

Sasha Tanori:

Does prognosis of AML vary by age?

Dr. Catherine Lai:

So, yes and no. So let me answer that in two steps, so it does in the sense that older patients are more likely to have more comorbidities, so more medical problems, and so therefore have a higher likelihood of having complications, and also as patients get older, they acquire more mutations and more abnormality, so those molecular abnormalities, and so therefore, older patients then are become more challenging to treat as well. What I would say though, is that we typically risk-stratify based on molecular factors, so the different mutation than somebody has and the age and the comorbidities don’t necessarily play into that role of stratification, so for example, whether or not you’re receiving a transplant or not…age is a factor, if you’re kind of in that little risk category, the intermediate risk category, the other thing I would say is that for young patients, they are able to tolerate because many don’t have medical problems, so they are able to tolerate treatment better, so when I’m talking about numbers and likelihood of response and overall survival, those…all those mediums assume that somebody is in their mid-60s, and so I adjust the numbers because for younger patients that those numbers are likely higher…

Because they’re less likely to have complications.

Sasha Tanori:

Right. I had many medical professionals that participated early on in my care. Can you speak on the role of the multidisciplinary care team that plays in AML care?

Dr. Catherine Lai:

Yeah, this is…this is an excellent question. I would say that treating leukemia is a team sport, everybody has their role, and it’s not just one person, and this is part of why I love treating leukemia patients, is that we’re able to engage multiple players, everybody is good at their particular thing, and so one analogy is that…we’re kind of like a baseball team, is that you want everybody to be able to do their own…have their own position. What a standard for our center is that we have the leukemia physician, there’s a specific leukemia nurse, we engage our social worker very early on, and also our cancer nutritionists and physical therapist and occupational therapist so we all work together at different parts of the treatment journey to make sure the patient is getting everything that they need and the whole person is being taken care of.

Sasha Tanori:

Right. AML patients, just like anyone else, want to live and live a very long time. Are AML patients at risk for secondary cancers, and are there any studies that speak on this?

Dr. Catherine Lai:

Yeah, so I would say everything has its risk and benefits at the time of diagnosis, you need the chemotherapy in order to get into remission, and then if you need the transplant, whether or not you’re getting radiation and then further some chemotherapy before the transplant, so that’s not without risks, so especially in a young patient, for example, in your particular case, you’re at risk for secondary treatment-related MDS and other bone marrow-related disorders that could occur, most patients who are in their 60s who, if they live long enough would be at risk, but most of those patients will die of something else before you have that opportunity. As a young patient, the other thing to be aware of, especially with, given that you’ve had transplant, is that the increased risk of cardiovascular effects, as well as making sure in patients who have had your whole-body radiation, other effects in terms of their thyroid, lung function, and then screening earlier for other cancers. So in terms of looking at studies, we know that these risks are slightly increased and that monitoring starts a lot sooner, especially in young patients. So I think just being aware of what you need to do.

Dr. Catherine Lai:

We also have a survivorship clinic, which I think is really important to help understand, you know what your risks are, because once your leukemia is in remission, we don’t want you to develop other medical problems, so it’s important just for patients to be educated so that they know how to take care of their body at each stage of their…again, of their journey.

Sasha Tanori:

Alrighty, after getting a bone marrow transplant three years later, I’m still dealing with graft-versus-host disease or GVHD, but there are other obstacles that I’m also facing. Does GVHD ever truly go away or is it something that I’m going to have to learn to live with?

Dr. Catherine Lai:

Yeah, I wish I had a magic answer for you. Our data is that it gives us guidance for each patient, but then also each patient as an individual and how they respond to different medications, and the nuances of that is…it can be different. So what I would say is that there are patients who you have chronic GVHD for years and it can eventually go away, and in some patients, they deal with it for a lifetime, you’re young enough, and I’m hopeful enough that at some point it will improve and get better. So I would be cautiously optimistic that things will improve.

Sasha Tanori:

I’m…I’m trying my best.

Dr. Catherine Lai:

It’s hard.

Sasha Tanori:

Yes, it’s very hard. Yeah, my care team suggested a clinical trial for a new drug focusing on improving my lung function, fortunately, my lungs improved on their own. Dr. Lai, not every AML patient is offered clinical trial as a care option, what advice you have for AML patients who are seeking clinical trial and what’s the best way to locate one?

Dr. Catherine Lai:

Yeah, so this is an area, a huge area of unmet need, I would say in general, across all oncology trials, and I think less than 10  percent of the patient population is on trials, there’s a lot of stigmas around clinical trials and are you getting… Are you getting a drug that we don’t know what’s gonna work, am I being…am I being tested? In oncology, I would say for the most part, we try to make trials where you’re being measured to the standard, so you’re getting the standard plus, or we’re trying not to…just in terms of doing what’s best for the patient, in general, I don’t offer trials to patients where I don’t think that there’s scientifically a rationale for those drugs, but to answer your question, the best place to look is on clinicaltrials.gov. That’s cumbersome. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, I can give you a lot of unnecessary information. There are a lot of other resources out there, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is a great resource. I know that they have online or people that you can talk to in terms of helping you direct specific clinical trials, I know depending on where you live in the country, there are other local New Chapters, oncology chapters that we have that can help patients find…

And have access to clinical trials, and then I think the biggest thing is just if a patient is with the community oncologist, having enough education to say, can I have a referral to an academic institution where they can ask those questions and get that information, and local community oncologists are fantastic, but they see everything, they see breast cancer, they see one cancer where the academic centers were specialized where all I see is leukemia and MDS kind of acute leukemias. So it’s just a different set of knowledge.

Sasha Tanori:

Okay, my next question is, I’ve had one telemedicine visit via my online portal, is the role of the telemedicine in AML care becoming more important?

Dr. Catherine Lai:

Yes, so what I would say…so this is my personal opinion, but in my opinion, that medicine compared to other industries tends to be a little bit farther behind, we’re not as quick to adapt the newest technology where COVID has helped, I think is at least in my practices, help utilize telehealth in the sense that there was a period of time where I was seeing fewer patients and then it really picked up because especially for patients who have a local oncologist but want a second opinion, the telehealth really offers that they don’t have to travel two hours to come see me to get that opinion. So what I would say is that it cannot replace the physical exam, it can’t replace a face-to-face discussion when you’re really talking about new diagnosis and therapy, because I really do think that that should be in person, but where… I have found that it’s been really helpful is if I’ve had an initial visit with the patient, and they either have a local oncologist, so I’m just checking in with them periodically, or if it’s to review results, say they’ve had a bone marrow biopsy and it’s…

They’re further along in their treatment, or if they’re just reviewing imaging results or something where I don’t necessarily need to see them have a physical exam and I’ve seen them recently, and so I do everything else that’s going on, but can I check in to review a specific part of information. I think that telehealth would have a role, and I hope it continues to have a role.

Sasha Tanori:

Yeah, yeah definitely, I agree. It’s really helpful in that sort of way, so you don’t have to actually leave the comfort of her home for something that’s not really super serious. You know?

Dr. Catherine Lai:

Exactly, yeah, I think what happens is patients do tend to…what I’ve noticed patients do is under-report, so it’s for… Not for infrequent visits, so for patients who are followed on a regular basis, it does allow there to be some ease of burden in terms of how we treat our patients.

Sasha Tanori:

Right. So a silent side effect that people facing cancer don’t always talk about is mental health. Are there any treatments or coping methods that you recommend for patients and care partners?

Dr. Catherine Lai:

Yeah, so I would say to get social work involved early on, I think there’s also…it’s silent, ’cause there’s a lot of stigma around it, is that is something that we should be talking about or not talking about or…I can handle it, that sort of thing, so I introduce our social worker very early to know that she is a resource for the patients, no matter how big or how small, just to try to get them used to that idea. What I would also say is just talking with as many people as possible as I’m sure you realize that the network and the community is small and everybody is willing to help each other out, so once you put yourself out there, you’ll realize that there are other resources out there, and you’re not alone in this journey, and what your cancer team offers you is different than what other patients who have gone through exactly what you’ve gone through can offer, and so I know that there are other resources out there in terms of societies that connect other patients who have the same diagnosis, so I would say it’s really just about education and talking and knowing that it’s okay to talk about your diagnosis and no matter what format that is, or if it’s a little bit now and a little bit later, and also just normalizing it, in the sense of the feelings you have are valid and normal, and if you don’t have those feelings is actually when I get worried about patients because you’re supposed to have certain reactions, you were a young patient and you were diagnosed with cancer.

That’s not a trivial thing. And we’re just…we’re all here to help you and help the patients go through everything…

Sasha Tanori:

So for my last question is the future bright in AML treatment and can you speak about any exciting studies that you are working on, that AML patients and their families should stay tuned for?

Dr. Catherine Lai:

Yes, so I am excited. I am excited to say that I think in my lifetime, I will be a part of AML change and we have already seen it. I have mentors who are in their 60s, who have used the same therapies, they use them for the entirety of their career. And so as I mentioned, we only have your 9 FDA approvals. I think there are more coming… I think what I would like to mention is I think the use of immunotherapy, bone marrow transplant is the original immunotherapy, but as you know, there are many risks and benefits and complications, and so how we manipulate the immune system or how we use drugs to help manipulate the immune system, I think it’s a work in progress. It has been more successful in other cancers, not as successful in AML yet, but I think we will get there. The other thing would be, is how… We look at minimal residual disease. So, as you know, but for everybody else, we consider a complete remission is less than anything less than 5 percent blast or 5 percent leukemia cells but we know that anything greater than zero is bad, and you have more than zero, the disease will come back at some point.

So looking to how we monitor, going back to those molecular technologies and how we’re monitoring for residual disease so that we can detect disease faster, so I think really the concept of detection and prevention will come into a huge role because also if we can detect the disease relapse sooner, we’re treating less disease and then there’s less side effects and less toxicity, and then I think the last thing would be health outcomes of a lot of what we’ve been talking about just in terms of the whole picture and how we can better treat these patients I also think there’s a huge role for looking at each individual person and their age and their medical problems, and they’re a physiologic age as opposed to their chronological age and how we can best treat the patient so they can have the best outcome.

Sasha Tanori:

All right, well, thank you so much, Dr. Lai, for taking the time to speak with me and for all you’ve done for the AML community and our patient’s families, everyone.

Dr. Catherine Lai:
Thank you, thank you so much for having me. I’ve really appreciated you putting yourself out there… Thank you.

What Treatments Are on the Horizon for Acute Myeloid Leukemia Patients?

What Treatments Are on the Horizon for Acute Myeloid Leukemia Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What can acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients expect in the future of AML studies? Watch as expert Dr. Catherine Lai shares insight about the state of FDA approvals. what is in pipeline for AML treatment, and disease monitoring technologies for improved patient care.

See More from Best AML Care No Matter Where You Live

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Acute Myeloid Leukemia, Recommended Coping Methods and Mental Health

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What Questions Should I Ask If I Suspect Acute Myeloid Leukemia? 

Are Acute Myeloid Leukemia Patients at Risk for Secondary Cancers?

Are Acute Myeloid Leukemia Patients at Risk for Secondary Cancers? 


Transcript:

Sasha Tanori:

Is the future bright in AML treatment, and can you speak about any exciting studies that you are working on, that AML patients and their families should stay tuned for?

Dr. Catherine Lai:

Yes, so I am excited. I am excited to say that I think in my lifetime, I will be a part of AML change and we have already seen it. I have mentors who are in their 60s, who have used the same therapies, they use them for the entirety of their career. And so, as I mentioned, we only have your nine FDA approvals. I think there are more coming…I think what I would like to mention is I think the use of immunotherapy, bone marrow transplant is the original immunotherapy, but as you know, there are many risks and benefits and complications. And so how we manipulate the immune system or how we use drugs to help manipulate the immune system, I think it’s a work in progress. It has been more successful in other cancers, not as successful in AML yet, but I think we will get there. The other thing would be, is how…we look at minimal residual disease. So, as you know, but for everybody else, we consider a complete remission is less than anything less than 5 percent blast or 5 percent leukemia cells but we know that anything greater than zero is bad, and you have more than zero, the disease will come back at some point.

So looking to how we monitor, going back to those molecular technologies and how we’re monitoring for residual disease so that we can detect disease faster, so I think really the concept of detection and prevention will come into a huge role because also if we can detect the disease relapse sooner, we’re treating less disease and then there’s less side effects and less toxicity, and then I think the last thing would be health outcomes of a lot of what we’ve been talking about just in terms of the whole picture and how we can better treat these patients I also think there’s a huge role for looking at each individual person and their age and their medical problems, and they’re a physiologic age as opposed to their chronological age and how we can best treat the patient so they can have the best outcome.

Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe and Effective for Breast Cancer Patients?

Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe and Effective for Breast Cancer Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What do breast cancer patients need to know about COVID-19 vaccines? Dr. Jane Lowe Meisel offers her advice and perspective about COVID vaccines and precautions for breast cancer patient safety.

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

[Editor’s Note: On August 23, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for individuals 16 years of age and older.]

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

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Metastatic BC Research: How Can You Advocate for the Latest Treatment?

Metastatic BC Research: How Can You Advocate for the Latest Treatment?

What Could Metastatic Breast Cancer Genetic Testing Advances Mean for You?


Transcript:

Katherine:

Let’s shift gears for a moment and talk about another time sensitive topic, COVID. Now that vaccines are available, are they safe and effective for breast cancer patients?

Dr. Meisel:

Yeah, I think the short answer to that is yes, absolutely. I’m encouraging all my patients, no matter what their treatment status is to go ahead and get vaccinated. And with the delta variant being more transmissible, I think it’s all the more time, even if you haven’t considered vaccination up until now, to really go ahead and strongly consider getting a vaccine.

I think some of the hesitations that some of the people have talked to me about is that there were not a lot of active cancer patients, if any, included in the initial trials. And whereas that is true, it’s still the case that now, so many cancer patients have been vaccinated. We haven’t really heard about adverse effects in vaccination being something that’s higher in patients who have cancer who are on active treatment. I think the one challenge is, if you have a compromised immune system because of cancer treatment, there’s the possibility that you might not mount the same immune response to the vaccine as someone who doesn’t have cancer or isn’t getting active treatment.

So, while I would say yes, definitely get vaccinated, I would also at the same time encourage caution in saying, because you might not mount the same, 95 percent or whatever immune response, it may still be a good idea to wear a mask when you go to the grocery store, taking those precautions because no one really knows what’s coming and it’s better to be safe than sorry. But I think we will get a lot of information as the months go on about, do we need boosters? Who might need boosters more soon than others and some of that will get clarified for us, but my short answer would be yes, vaccines for all.

Katherine:

Excellent, that’s very helpful.

Dr. Meisel:

Thank you.

What Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients Should Know About Treatment and Research

What Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients Should Know About Treatment and Research from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What do metastatic breast cancer patients need to know about treatment and research? Dr. Jane Lowe Meisel shares updates and recommends resources for staying abreast of research news.

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

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

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What Could Advances in Breast Cancer Research Mean for You?

Metastatic BC Research: How Can You Advocate for the Latest Treatment?

Metastatic BC Research: How Can You Advocate for the Latest Treatment?

What Could Metastatic Breast Cancer Genetic Testing Advances Mean for You?


Transcript:

Katherine:

So, let’s start by discussing the latest developments in treatment and research updates. Are there recent developments you feel breast cancer patients should know about?

Dr. Meisel:

Absolutely and I think it’s really been such a remarkable time because even during COVID, a pandemic, where I think a lot of people worried that research efforts would shut down or stall. We’ve still seen the approval of a number of drugs in the past year that’ve really already markedly changed lives. And a lot of important findings that’ve come out of other trials that they have opportunity to do that as well.

I think some of the biggest information that was presented at our most recent large meeting, which was the American Society of Clinical Oncology, or ASCO National Meeting in 2021, were a few things that pertain to the metastatic breast cancer population. One was two studies, the PALOMA-3 Trial and the MONALEESA-3 Trial, which looked at a class of drugs called CDK4-6 inhibitors along with anti-estrogen pills in metastatic estrogen-positive breast cancer.

And really confirm for patients that not only do these drugs improve the amount of time that people can stay on treatment before their cancer progresses, but actually improve how long people live. Even when they’re used very, very early on in treatment, they impact survival down the line for many, many years. So, it really confirms for physicians like me that this class of drugs should be used as the standard of care and first line for patients with estrogen-positive stage IV breast cancer, and I think that’s important for patients to know. Along those lines, there’s a drug called sacituzumab govitecan, or Trodelvy, which is a much easier to say name.

Katherine:

Yes.

Dr. Meisel:

A new antibody drug conjugate in triple-negative metastatic breast cancer. And we’ve also seen, since this drug was approved last year, it has markedly changed the lives of many patients with triple negative disease. And the study called the ascent trial, which is what led to that drug’s approval was studied further and some of these additional results presented at ASCO this year.

And found that this drug not only improves again, how long people get before they have to move on to another treatment, but actually improves how long people live as well, even when given later on in the course of therapy. So again, really encouraging use especially in triple-negative metastatic disease, which is hard to treat. And I think another study that’s really worth patients and doctors taking a hard look at, was actually a study that looked at patient outcomes and patient experience. This is a study that actually talked with metastatic patients and gathered their views on treatment related adverse effects.

Talked to patients about what adverse effects they were experiencing from drugs. How they managed those adverse effects. And found that most patients, over 90 percent, will be willing to talk about reducing the dose of drugs or changing dosing schedules, in order to improve quality of life. And I think that’s really important because a lot of times, the doses of drugs that get approved are the doses that are the highest doses that don’t cause extreme toxicity. But sometimes people can have effective, really good outcomes on lower doses and have much better quality of life.

And in metastatic breast cancer where really the goal often times is to help people live as long as they can, but also as importantly, as well as they can, be able to have those open-ended conversations between patients and doctors about what’s really impacting your quality of life now and how can we make that better is important. And this study I think really highlighted that both for patients and physicians, how important that back and forth is to having a successful outcome. Both in terms of how life is lived, but in terms of quality of that life.

Katherine:

Right. Right. How can patients stay up to date on developing research?

Dr. Meisel:

It’s so interesting because there is so much coming out and I think it can be hard to figure out what Phase I study that looks exciting is really going to become something, versus what really could be important in my treatment today. And what I always tell people is actually, the NCI website. So, the national cancer institute, has a phenomenal page looking at advances in breast cancer research. So, if you Google NCI advances in breast cancer research, there’s a great page that comes up. And it’s impressively up to date and I think very patient friendly.

Breaks things down into early stage and metastatic and then in the metastatic section, talks about estrogen-positive, HER2-positive, triple-negative, which we can talk about more today but are the three big subtype of metastatic disease that dictate how we treat them. And then have links to all the different research updates and talk about what these drugs are, what the classes are and what the settings are in which they’re studies.

And so, I think that’s a really great first stop and then the links can take you to all different stuff that’s on the page that you might want to look into more in depth. And then also, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which is a phenomenal organization. They have a great website, too and if you click around on the website, you can see not only who they’ve donated money to that’s doing promising research, they also have podcasts, they have a blog with science and research news. I think that’s a really great site for patients to use to stay updated.