Tag Archive for: immune system

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.

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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.

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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.]

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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.

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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. 

Is the COVID Vaccine Effective for CLL Patients?

Is the COVID Vaccine Effective for CLL Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is the COVID vaccine effective for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients? Dr. Paul Barr shares insight about mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness in CLL patients – both for those in remission and those in active treatment.

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

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Transcript:

Katherine:

I understand that researchers have been looking into whether the COVID vaccination is as effective in people with CLL. What can you tell us about that? The research?

Dr. Barr:

Sure. Everyone knew this was going to be an important question. We’ve known for a long time that riff CLL responses to vaccines in general aren’t as good as some of the normal population. So, there’ve been a whole host of studies over the years where patients didn’t quite respond as well to flu vaccines or pneumonia vaccines. Nonetheless, we typically recommend standard vaccinations, because there’s can be some degree of response. And our testing isn’t always perfect in terms of how well vaccines work.

So, when it typically, is felt to be a relatively safe procedure, is something we typically recommend.

More recently, we looked at studies on the shingles vaccine, and actually that works better than perhaps the flu shot, for example. Because patients probably were previously exposed to that virus earlier in life when they get vaccinated. So, recall response, which is a little bit easier for the immune system.

So, that brings us up to the COVID vaccines, which is obviously critically important ever on everyone’s mind. And the data’s still early. But what we’ve learned so, far is that, like what we might have predicted, our patients, the CLL patients don’t respond as well to the mRNA-based COVID vaccines.

So, in the media we saw, in the larger 20- and 40,000 patients studies that maybe, 95 percent of patients didn’t experience infection. It looks like in the general population, those vaccines work very well. In a cohort of 160, some CLL patients who are vaccinated early on in Israel, it looked like maybe about 40 percent of patients responded.

For the patients who hadn’t previously been treated but had measurable CLL, maybe about half of patients responded adequately in terms of generating antibodies. So, kind of a flip of a coin. For patients who have been treated and were in remission for more than a year, we’ll say the responses were better, maybe 80 percent or so.

For patients who are on active treatment, even our novel treatments, like the BTK inhibitors or venetoclax (Venclexta), the BCL-2 inhibitor, the responses were pretty poor, 18 or so percent.

So, you can see for patients with active disease, their responses are impaired. For those that are in remission, a little better. For those who are on active treatment, the antibody responses aren’t very good. So, I honestly think this is important information, but tell patients, don’t lose hope.

It’s still important to take the precautions. Some degree of wearing masks and social distancing. They will be better protected if their friends and family around them are vaccinated, and they still may respond to some degree. It’s not like the vaccines aren’t working at all. It’s just that the responses aren’t quite as good as the general population. So, again, another long-winded answer, but hopefully that helps patients understand some of the limitations in vaccinations.

But also that generally things are getting safer in that they still can venture out in society, but still have to take some precautions.

NCCN Guidance on Safety and Effectiveness of COVID-19 Vaccines for Cancer Patients

NCCN Guidance on Safety and Effectiveness of COVID-19 Vaccines for Cancer Patients from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine recommended for people living with cancer? Dr. Erin Roesch shares recommendations from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) for those undergoing cancer treatment, including guidance on mask wearing and advice for family members.

Dr. Erin Roesch is a breast medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Roesch here.


Transcript:

Katherine: 

Many cancer patients have questions about the COVID vaccine. Is it safe? Do we need to continue wearing masks? Here to address these questions is cancer expert, Dr. Erin Roesch. Dr. Roesch, would you introduce yourself?

Dr. Roesch: 

Hello. And thank you for inviting me to participate in this very important conversation. My name is Erin Roesch. I am a breast medical oncologist at Cleveland Clinic.

Katherine: 

Excellent. Thank you so much for joining us today. I’d like to run through a list of concerns that cancer patients have about vaccines in general and the COVID vaccine specifically.

So, let’s start with a basic question. Should people get vaccinated if they have cancer?

Dr. Roesch: 

Yes. All individuals diagnosed with cancer should get the COVID-19 vaccine as recommended by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network or NCCN.

An immunocompromised state makes many people with cancer at higher risk of serious COVID-19 illness. Those who are vaccinated are less likely to become sick with COVID-19. And, also, vaccinated people who do get COVID-19 are much less likely to become seriously ill.

I would also mention that those living in the same household as a person diagnosed with cancer and caregivers or other close contacts should also get vaccinated.

Katherine: 

Another common question is whether people with cancer should wait for any reason to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Roesch: 

Most people with cancer should get the vaccine as soon as they can with a few exceptions according to NCCN.

People in the process of receiving stem cell transplant or cellular therapy should wait at least three months after they finish treatment to get vaccinated.

Those diagnosed with certain forms of leukemia should also wait a few weeks after receiving treatment to allow their immune system to recover so the vaccine can be effective.

It’s not been clearly defined exactly how chemotherapy affects responses to COVID-19 vaccines. But some data suggests that immune responses may not be as robust. However, it is still recommended that those receiving chemotherapy and also immunotherapy and radiation should get vaccinated whenever they can.

Katherine:

I think a lot of people are concerned too about whether one vaccine is better than another. What would you say to them?

Dr. Roesch:

And that is a common question that I often get in my clinic. And I advise my patients to receive or take whatever vaccine they are offered.

We don’t really have any studies or data at this point suggesting one being better than another in cancer patients.

Katherine: 

Some people are wondering if the vaccine can give a person COVID-19. How would you address that?

Dr. Roesch: 

I would say that as none of the currently available vaccines are made with a live virus, the vaccine itself can’t give a person COVID-19. By getting vaccinated, actually, those who are immunocompromised are really helping society to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Immunocompromised people who get COVID-19 may be more likely to infect others due to prolonged shedding of the virus after infection.

Katherine:

What about side effects? Are the vaccine’s side effects worse for people with cancer?

Dr. Roesch:  

No. Side effects do not appear to be worse for those diagnosed with cancer. Results to date suggest that the vaccine’s side effects in people with and without cancer are really no different.

These side effects, as we have seen, may include arm soreness, rash, fatigue, chills, fever, headache, for example.

Katherine: 

And, finally, can cancer patients stop wearing a mask after they’ve been vaccinated?

Dr. Roesch:

Cancer patients should continue to wear a mask post-vaccination. Many people with cancer may have a harder time actually fighting infections and may not respond as well to vaccines. So, people diagnosed with cancer and their close contacts should get vaccinated and then continue to follow precautions, which include wearing masks, social distancing, hand hygiene.

Katherine:

Is there a certain length of time that people need to continue wearing a mask after being vaccinated?

Dr. Roesch:  

At this time, I would recommend patients continue to follow the CDC guidelines that are currently in place. And at this point, I don’t think we have a projected end time for that yet.

Katherine:    

Is there anything else you’d like to share with cancer patients who may be concerned about vaccinations?

Dr. Roesch:    

I would encourage those diagnosed with cancer to not only themselves get vaccinated but to also really voice and stress the importance of vaccination to those that surround them, including, again, members of their household, close contacts, and even beyond their inner circle.

I would also advise people to try and avoid letting the concern of possible side effects related to the shot deter them from getting it. The symptoms of COVID-19 can be much worse and potentially serious for some compared with the relatively minor side effects that we’ve seen with the vaccine itself.

I also would mention I’ve had personal patients that have expressed concern about functioning of their immune system while receiving chemotherapy and how this might affect their response to the vaccine. I do emphasize to them that even though responses might not be as strong as they may be in the absence of active treatment, I feel like the potential benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks in my mind.

Katherine:   

Thanks so much for joining us today, Dr. Roesch.

Dr. Roesch:

Thank you for having me.

How Has Cancer Research Evolved in Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic?

How Has Cancer Research Evolved in Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What have been some benefits for cancer research during the COVID-19 pandemic? Expert. Dr. Shaji Kumar describes some of the clinical trial changes that have been born from the pandemic to improve access to care and to decrease the risk of infection for cancer patients.

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Transcript:

Mary Leer:

Are there any noticeable trends born out of the pandemic that will be or could be a benefit to the future of cancer care or research?

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

That’s a very important question, and I think we always learn from adversity, and I think this is going to be no different. I think, especially when the pandemic hit back in the spring of last year, we all had to think fast on our feet to figure out how best to continue to tell about the best care for the cancer patients without compromising the care in any way. And we knew that bringing the patients back into the clinic at the same rate we did before the pandemic would expose them to significant risk for infection, so how do we continue with treatment? There have been very different things people have tried…one of them is to try and get the medications to patients at home. If they are on IV medications, they can be changed to something that’s comparable that can be given by mouth. We already did that for some patients. For some patients who used to come to the clinic very often, so we figure out is there a way for them to get some of those testing done in a clinic much closer to home, so they can avoid the travel, they can avoid being in a bigger city, they can avoid being in a bigger institution, again, reducing the risk of exposure, and then you look at those numbers and then decide on the next course of treatment. We converted many of the clinic visits to video visits. Nothing is as good as having the patient right in front of you, but this is the best we could do under the circumstances.

And I think that helped. So I think the clinical trials was a big problem because in many of those trials were done in a very rigid fashion with very little variability allowed within the protocols. And everybody loosened from the clinical trial sponsors, the pharmaceutical companies, the institutional review board, the investigators to try and build flexibility into those clinical trial structures to allow patients to continue to be on those trials, So what does that mean for the future? I think the video visits are here to stay, I think we will continue to utilize that and bring patients back to the clinic only when it’s absolutely needed. I think the clinical trials will have in-built flexibility so that patients can enroll on clinical trials remotely, they can potentially be given some of those medications at home, maybe it would be something where we would check into the patients on a regular basis to make sure things are proceeding in the right way. I think there are increasingly technologies that will allow the patients to communicate in real time with the care team and also provide many of the data that we need through iPads or iPhones, Apple watches, whatever we end up using.

So that is that I think that technology will rapidly take off in the next few years. So I think a lot of the care of the patients with cancer in general, and particularly cancer patients, is going to look very different five years from now, because of all these things that we have always thought of and we thought, “Yeah it will take time to implement, it’s difficult.” Now we figure it out in a year. We can do a lot of those things.

Jeff Bushnell:

What’s the final takeaway for the average cancer patient and caregiver, how to get through this? What’s your bottom line for us all?

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

Your cancer treatment comes first, let’s not compromise on it, let us do it as safe as we can by observing all the instructions in terms of social distancing, masking, avoiding gatherings, getting vaccinated, and make sure you keep connected with your care team. You don’t have to be in the clinic to do that. There’s a variety of different tools, I think every hospital has options to either through their medical records to message their care team, or set up video visits and so forth.

So we want to be in a state where it was before the pandemic in terms of your communications, but use the technology, so we can decrease the risk of exposure without compromising the quality of care.

Should Cancer Patients Get COVID-19 Vaccines If They’ve Tested Positive for Antibodies or the Virus?

Should Cancer Patients Get COVID-19 Vaccines If They’ve Tested Positive for Antibodies or the Virus? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What are the recommendations for cancer patients on COVID-19 vaccines if they’ve tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies or the virus? Expert Dr. Shaji Kumar shares current vaccine recommendations for cancer patients.

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Transcript:

Mary Leer:

Here’s a question many cancer patients are unclear about if antibodies are present or if I have tested positive before, “Should I still get the vaccine?”

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

I know the recommendation right now is to go ahead and get the vaccine, partly because we don’t know the natural immunity from the infection, how long does it last. So it seems like the antibodies can start to wane off the infection. And again, we don’t have a lot of data on it, but it looks 3 to 6 months, it might start waning at least to the level that they can detect. Now, whether that is sufficient or even the undetectable levels is protective against a future infection, we don’t know. There have been some reports of people getting a second infection even though they have been infected before again, scattered reports, we don’t know how widespread that phenomenon is going to be, so given all these, I think the current recommendation would be to go ahead and get vaccinated. We generally tell people to wait for two to three months after the infection to go ahead with the vaccination.

Jeff Bushnell:

Is the idea of pre-screening, especially for cancer patients, maybe who may be at risk to see whether they have antibodies be an effective thing to decide which vaccine they should get? What are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

You look at the Moderna and the Pfizer trials, and they said, now over 90 percent effective. Look at the AstraZeneca trials, you know, it’s like they recorded 70 to 80, 85 percent, and the J&J about 80 to 90 percent effective. Do these numbers mean much? It’s really hard to know, I think, partly because they have been tested in, again, different countries, different times, as the virus was continually changing its characteristics. So one could argue that maybe the vaccines that were tested later on when this will be some of the mutants were already there might be more effective, but we don’t know.

I think at the end of the day, 80 versus 90 is not something we would decide a vaccine on. The fact that, yes, if something was only 10 percent effective versus 90 percent, it’s a probably different story. So based on the numbers we have seen, I would say whatever you can get to first, if you don’t want to get jabbed twice, maybe you go with something that goes, it’s only one dose, but that may be the only distinguishing factor here, but nevertheless, I think we have to just get the vaccination, the first vaccine that we can get our hands on.