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How Can I Get the Best Prostate Cancer Care No Matter Where I Live?

How Can I Get the Best Prostate Cancer Care No Matter Where I Live? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can prostate cancer patients ensure they get quality care even if they live in rural areas? Noted experts, Dr. Petros Grivas and Dr. Yaw Nyame share advice and discuss how to receive optimal care no matter your geography or financial status. Learn about resources and digital tools you can utilize to ensure better care no matter where you live. 

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Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Hello and welcome. I’m Dr. Nicole Rochester, your host for today’s Patient Empowerment Network program, and we are so happy that you’ve tuned in. Today we’re going to be talking about how prostate cancer patients can truly get the best care no matter where you and your family live, we’re going to talk about things like how can I remove roadblocks in my care to gain access to state-of-the-art treatment? Will my insurance limit me if I wanna get a second opinion as a care partner, how do I best advocate for my loved one and is a clinical right for me? The answers to some of these questions we receive revolve around awareness, feeling empowered to ask questions and connecting to the right resources at the right time. In this program we’ll be learning just that as we meet our experts. It is my honor and privilege to be joined by Dr. Petros Grivas, Associate Professor and clinical director of the genitourinary cancer program at the University of Washington. And Dr. Yaw Nyame, Assistant Professor in the Department of Urology at the University of Washington. Thank you so much for joining us today, gentlemen. 

Dr. Nyame:

Thank you for having us. 

Dr. Grivas: 

Thank you so much for having us. It’s an honor and pleasure to be with you. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

It is my honor as well. Please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical care, so please be sure to connect with your healthcare team on the best options for you. Now, let’s take a few minutes to set the stage and give a brief overview of barriers in the way of achieving equitable prostate cancer treatment. Doctors Nyame and Grivas, we know that location, socioeconomic status, insurance, financial hardships, lack of urologists in rural areas, geographic distance services and access to transportation all play an important role in the outcomes for patients and families facing a prostate cancer diagnosis. So, I wanna start with our first question, and we’ll start with you, Dr. Grivas, what are some of the barriers that prostate cancer, let me do that one again. What are some of the barriers, both prostate cancer patients and their care partners face when seeking care? 

Dr. Grivas: 

Thank you so much. These are really important discussions, and I’m glad we’re doing this program. I think you covered a number of those barriers in your introduction, and I would definitely agree with all of them because many of them are important. The number of those factors have to do with the location of the patient as you mentioned, patients regardless of race, if they live in a rural community, then they have less communication or contact with a medical care system, and that’s in all reality there’s data suggesting that a cruelty to states this access to care issue is becoming more and more noticeable, and the distance involved in some ways to get a medical facility, let alone a specialized medical facility, specialized in-person culture. It can be a big problem. The other issue that we have seen many times, again, in some communities more than others, is healthcare literacy and the preventive mindset as I call it, and that again, can transpire across races, but maybe even more intense in some of the populations. And when I talk about health literacy and preventive mindset, it’s about the relationship, an individual of the healthcare system, and sometimes the distrust, right, that may take place and also the, I would say comfort that the patient has to enter and access a medical care system that they can allow the providers to take care of them, and these are real, I would say, examples that we have seen based on having this concern of letting sales be taken care of in a medical system, competing problems and barriers include financial contraction, that’s a big one. 

Insurance coverage. We know that patients who… I would say social determinants of health may have not very good coverage, and this may be restricting award medical facilities that they can access, and also the cost of care, co-pays, for example, when diagnostic tests or acute interventions for orderly available agents can be a big carrier and no compliance can be diminished with co-pay. Of course, you mentioned many other factors, transportation issues, finding coverage of work, getting day off work can be a problem for some patients, and also the cost of transportation or lodging or parking sometimes can be a problem or even the anxiety to go to a big city and deal with a traffic of course. So there are many factors, of course, but I think we have to have a systematic approach how to catalog them and address them in a comprehensive way, and I think there are some improvements and we can talk about them today, for example, telemedicine and others, but I think the list is long, and we have to keep an open mind and engaged patient advocates in cataloging those barriers. Maybe Dr. Nyame can comment further in that regard.  

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Thank you so much, Dr. Grivas, yeah, you covered a lot of ground, and I appreciate that Dr. Nyame I’d love for you to either add to that list or maybe expand based on your perspectives. 

Dr. Nyame:

Dr. Grivas didn’t leave me with much to cover, which is great. I think what you hear, in his answer to that question is that this is really a social issue, and I think when we talk about inequities in health, we have to recognize that race in this country, and many places around the world really reflects a social construct, and so the things that really predict how people are going to be able to utilize our services and how well they’re going to do reflect that greater social context, and so to me… You have to meet the patient where they are. And the strength of the relationships that you can build between the healthcare system and the communities that are at risk, especially the ones that have the highest disproportionate risk of bad outcomes or not being able to utilize services is important. And so the barriers include all the things we talked about, but a lot of them that we’ve talked about have been very much healthcare-facing, so we talk about transportation, what we mean that in the source of transportation to our facilities or we talk about money, but we talk about money and the ability to pay for our services, we also miss the other ways in which those social barriers and factors impact the ability to prioritize one’s health. 

And so that is a really big problem. And something that we also need to put in the context of this conversation. I think when we take the covers off and we really see what our patients’ lives are like, sometimes we recognize that it’s not just about their ability to utilize the services that we provide, but that there are bigger issues at hand that also need addressing. Those aren’t in Dr. Grivas and I’s domain, but I think we have to understand those things to meet our patients where they are. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Absolutely, I really appreciate that both of you have really focused on those social determinants of health. I appreciate you mentioning racism, and the fact that the patients being able to prioritize their health, I think historically in medicine, we have blamed our patients for not taking care of themselves, so to speak, without a full appreciation of all of these barriers that both of you have just identified, so I really appreciate that. 

So we started slightly to talk about solutions, but let’s shift to solutions and what are some of the solutions that you all recommend for some of these barriers, and like you said, as physicians, a lot of that is going to be out of your purview, but I’d love for each of you to suggest any solutions for our patients and care who may be facing some of these barriers, so this time we’ll start with you, Dr. Nyame.  

Dr. Nyame: 

This is an area where I think we need to do better in collecting information to understand where the need is, and so I think there is a very much a need for translational health services or patient-centered research, where we do the simple thing, if I was gonna open up a lemonade stand in the middle of Seattle, I’d probably ask a few people what their needs are around lemonade before I open the stand, and I think in medicine, we often offer our services and solutions without having had that simple conversation of What are the needs? I think in addition to that, we have to understand that equitable care might mean offering additional services for certain populations, so for us at our cancer center, for instance, we’ve recently instituted a patient navigator program, something that’s been around for a long time, and other sites but it’s allowing us to do that, go through that exercise of providing some equitable care by helping people coordinate appointments, find their way to financial resources that might support them, and just to be there as a support in the very difficult time of having a new cancer diagnosis, so I think that’s a well-proven and well-established method for helping people get access to care. 

The other thing I’ll add is that we make decisions, I think as humans, we make decisions through community, and sometimes that’s our partner, sometimes that somebody at the gym, sometimes that’s a co-worker, and there are a lot of really fantastic patient advocacy networks that exist that can help people find this new community, and I think cancer patients share a very unique bond and in a very unique way to communicate with one another because they’re living through this particular diagnosis, and so for in the case of prostate cancer, especially prostate cancer in black men, you have the Prostate Health Education Network, you have Zero Cancer, you have Us TOO, you have the Prostate Cancer Foundation, probably leaving some advocacy groups off and I’m probably gonna get in trouble, but I think that there’s that opportunity to reach out to others and just learn… What did you go through, what worked for you? How can I meet my goals of care through just conversation with other patients and survivors, and I’ll try to leave something for Dr. Grivas to the conversation ’cause clearly I could go on and on. 

Nicole Rochester: 

Dr. Grivas? 

Dr. Grivas: 

I’ll tell you that I am learning every day from Dr. Nyame. He’s fantastic work in this important topic, and I think he covered the answer so well, if I can just add a few more things just to expand on this sorts. And these are things that already he’s doing in his programmatic development in our institution as well. I think one of the important things we have to acknowledge is the issue of systemic racism and implicit bias that I think you referred to Dr. Rochester. I think the more we talk about, the more transparent we are with it, the better because we can think about what are unconscious or subconscious thoughts that we may have, you know this patient doesn’t care about themselves. Why should we go the extra mile to help them? We should go the extra mile to help them because this patient may have less inside of the situation, and they need more resources and as a healthcare system, we should try to earn that patient, right? We should not let that patient go because every patient matters, right? And I think every life matters. I think that’s important. I think overall a systemic issue to discuss. The other thing is getting our sense of the community, and I think the examples of studies we have done in the clinic and other areas that we try to utilize the wisdom and the help of local leaders in those communities for example, underserved populations go to local churches or barber shops or gyms as Dr. Nyame mentioned and collaborate, work with the local leaders and see how we can have a dialogue with the patients there. How can we establish this trust that may be missing, how we can convey that health is important, and prevention is important, and treatment is important, how can we help with financial constraints, right? How can we get patients to the cancer center without them having to worry about how to get there, how can we reach out and have screening in the present county screening in the community, if it’s indicated then access to care telemedicine, and that brings an issue, do the patients have equipment for telemedicine, a computer, we take it for granted, but it may not be. So given those resources, organizing some local centers with this Men’s Health Day, just to get people in a room and educate them, but also learning from them what are the barriers to take it into account, not talk down to them, but learning with them and from them. 

The other thing is research and that will have to do a better job to include an offer in an equitable manor clinical trials to our patients including patients from different races and we are doing, I think, overall, okay, but we are not doing enough, we have to do better in order to provide this opportunities to our patients and the role of patient navigators is great. We can set examples, and we have patients who feel much more comfortable when they have a patient navigator. Sometimes if it happens to be in the same race with a patient then the patient feels more comfortable. They have someone that they can trust or it will be easier to talk to, and I think we should definitely improve and work harder to provide access to research inequitable manor to our patients. The last point I would say is, patient co-pay assistance programs and foundations, I think we can definitely include more resources to our patients, philanthropy, foundation support and state programs in order to give those patients the resource they need again to achieve this holy grail, which is equitable health care. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

I love that you all are focusing on equity, which as we know, is giving every patient what they need in order to achieve their optimal health, and as both of you have stated, that’s very different than equality, and so this concept that we really have to meet our patients where they are, and that some of our patients may be a little bit more than others, and that’s okay, in fact, that’s really what we have to do in order to eliminate these disparities, so I really appreciate both of your thoughts and that’s a great lead in to our next segment, which is really focused on racial and ethnic disparities, and both of you have kind of touched on this a little bit already, so we know that there are as with every other type of cancer and every other disease, there are significant health disparities with BIPOC patients, and so Dr. Nyame, I’d love for you to talk about specifically with prostate cancer, some of the disparities that you see in your practice and in your research, and then what are some things that patients of color can do to protect themselves from these inequities? 

Dr. Nyame: 

This is a very important topic for me, it’s something that I am very passionate about, and as Dr. Grivas alluded to am doing a lot of research on, and I think the statistics are so grey. Black men are 80% more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer. So the average man in the United States has a one and nine lifetime risk of being diagnosed prostate cancer, that’s probably one in six or one in seven black men. Black men are twice as likely to die from prostate cancer compared to men of other races and ethnicity in the United States, and a lot of this is driven by the social milieu and factors that we’ve talked about today. What troubles me is when we talk about these statistics, I fear that that in of itself is crippling for some black men. If I have this diagnosis and I’m not gonna do well. Why should I do anything? And I can tell you that the literature and all the research that we do, and it gets refreshed every 10 years or so, someone will do the study and it shows that if we have Black men and men of other races or white men, and we give them the same treatment for the same level of disease, that the outcomes are actually very similar, and a better way to state that for me is if you’re diagnosed early and you get the treatment that you should get irrespective of your race, it seems like outcomes can be quite good. 

And so a lot of what we see with regards to prostate cancer inequities are driven by lower treatment rates and probably an impact of lower quality care. And when I say that, what does that mean? Well, do you get your care at places like the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance or the Cleveland Clinic, or John Hopkins or MD Anderson, where you have providers who are expert and do a lot of prostate cancer care, or are you being seen by someone in the community who I guarantee is an excellent clinician, but doesn’t have the same resources and the same expertise in the sense of being focused on one disease process or one set of cancers, for instance, we are genital urinary cancer specialist, a fancy term for being cancer doctors of the plumbing system, but because that’s all we focus on, we know a lot about the process we know what works, and we know what the standards of care. So I think when you can get the right treatment at the right time, and you can get it from teams that are really specialized in this, that our outcomes are going to not care about what your self-defined races when you check box. 

The problem is, how do we get… How do we close that gap that exists currently that doesn’t allow people to get that care, and I think we’ve talked about rurality, so I think… I grew up in Oklahoma, and I could see that if you are in the sticks in Oklahoma and you’re not near a cancer center, like something down in Dallas, that your care might be impacted, but… Especially if you have to travel a lot and it’s expensive. But we have major US cities like Los Angeles where you may share a zip code with a millionaire but use very different health services, so it’s not always a reflection of how far you have to travel, but it also is factors about how welcoming institutions that provide high quality care can feel for populations like our BIPOC populations who sometimes have been the subject of medical experimentation and lower quality care sometimes because they might not get shuttled to the same services historically, and I think we have a lot to undo to rebuild the trust that is required to have black men not be fearful of seeking care from us, but be trusting. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Absolutely, and certainly the COVID pandemic has really brought that whole mistrust and distrust to light, so I appreciate you touching on that. We’re going to move to talk about treatment access, and I love how this conversation is flowing because so many of these elements have already been discussed, so we’re gonna talk about treatment access for prostate cancer patients, and we know that sometimes the barriers that patients face, as you mentioned actually limit their access to quality care and to appropriate treatment. So, Dr. Grivas, how can we ensure that a patient’s geographic location doesn’t dictate the quality of care that they receive? 

 Dr. Grivas: 

A very important question for sure, and I think as you point it out, we have tasked upon this before, but I think it is definitely much more to be said and done. More importantly, I think the location has to do with multiple differences in social constructs, right? The location of the distance from a cancer center with expertise is one thing at the time to get to the cancer center is related to that, and also the social support that the patient may have, if for example, a particular treatment, for example, a clinical trial, the requires a weekly visit to the cancer center, is that the feasible thing for the patient who lives miles and miles away in the rural areas of Oklahoma as Dr. Nyame mentioned or somewhere else. Can we design a clinical trial that are more friendly to these scenarios that require less frequent visits. Can we provide, if possible, funding for housing closer to the Cancer Center, and there are examples of cancer centers doing that. They provide temporary housing for the patient to be able be close the cancer center, so they don’t even worry about going back and forth across the state lines sometimes. 

The other thing, of course, is insurance coverage, and again, this can have some relation to location, and it’s something we have to think about, how can we help our patients who have significant copays because of the recommended insurance to that location being supported by foundation or all other funds that the cancer center or the state, or again, other foundations, we have. The other issues about diagnostics and treatments, there has been some interesting discussion about particularly prostate cancer, about access to what we call next generation sequencing, which is a diagnostic test aiming to profile or fingerprint the cancer DNA to look for particular mutations that the cancer may have that may lead to a particular treatment options. 

If, for example, mutation A is present, can we use a drug X that might be relevant in that context of a mutation and a recent data that was presented at ASCO 2021 showed that if you look at those mutations, they’re not very different between, for example, white and Black patients, there are similar types and frequencies of mutations. What is different is access to the test and, of course, access to the [inaudible] of the test. So I think we have to do a better job bringing ourselves to the community, extending our opportunities to the patient to get connected with the healthcare system, and they’ll build bridges to bring the patient and closer to the cancer center offering those tests. Work with patient navigation to help patients understand the significant value of the follow-up, but also provide them with a way that there’s equitable access to diagnostics and treatments. 

 Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Thank you, thank you so much, Dr. Grivas and you’ve touched on something that I’m going to ask Dr. Nyame to elaborate on which is these fancy tests and these new technologies and things, and what we know is that a lot of times the patient themselves, if they are not aware of these particular tests, then because of all the disparities that we’ve talked about, they may not even be offered to them. And so a question for you, Dr. Nyame, how can we empower patients so that they don’t feel limited in their care, and how do we make them aware of these treatment options and diagnostic options that Dr. Grivas just spoke of? 

Dr. Nyame: 

You know that’s very challenging because Dr. Grivas, and I see this in our clinical practice, we have patients who are very savvy, that’ll come in and say that I’ve heard that there’s a PSM in San Francisco. Do you have it in Seattle? If you don’t have it in Seattle, I’m gonna go to San Francisco. And for every patient I had like that, who might be, Hey, have you read this latest article, I can have someone who has no idea of what’s going on with their diagnosis, and so how we create opportunities to bring those patients and know very little up to somewhere close, maybe not quite to the demanding the PSMA or a fancy scan level, but sophisticated enough to feel empowered in their health decision-making as something where I think we need to do research because we know that certain tools, navigation, advocacy groups can help in that arena, but I think that we need to understand what the tools are that patients want. What’s interesting is when you query patients, which we’ve done in a study and you say, What are the most pressing issues for you in your prostate cancer diagnosis, whether it’s in the localized setting or in the advanced or metastatic setting, the one thing that has resonated over and over again, irrespective of race is I need help making decisions, I need tools that will make it, me more efficient in how I make my decisions. And so I think without punting the answer too much, we need to do better, and I think part of that starts with listening. I do think that providers can be trained to provide that information in a more efficient manner. We do not… We as clinicians, are built into a system where the number of patients we see really correlates with how we get paid, and there’s not a doctor that doesn’t go to work excited to educate and build relationships with patients, that’s not the case, but there is a time crunch and I feel like in situations where there is a bigger gap and knowledge and understanding, we often don’t have enough time and built into our day to have the discussion, so for me, for a lot of my patients who I feel like have a lower understanding of what’s going on with regards to their prostate cancer diagnosis, it’s really important for me to build into our visit the understanding that whatever we don’t cover can be addressed at a later time and that we don’t have to make a decision with that at particular visit. So when I think about this, it’s sort of like your favorite barbershop or your favorite grocery store, your favorite sandwich place, the relationships matter. 

And I think when we talk about empowering patients to be advocates for themselves in their clinical visits, I think there needs to be an understanding from patients that if it doesn’t feel right, that they have options and to take their time in the decision. Prostate cancer, unlike other diseases, that Dr. Grivas and I treat doesn’t have to have the dial turn to 10 or 11 right away, and we need to make a decision because time is extremely sensitive, even in our most aggressive localized settings, which is what I treat, we have the opportunity to take weeks, if not months, to come to a decision. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Thank you, thank you so much, I appreciate that. And certainly as a physician who’s also a health advocate, I strongly agree with what you said about if the relationship is not working, that there are options, and I know that that may not always be the case depending on where patients live, but I regularly encourage my clients to sometimes you have to look somewhere else, sometimes you have to get a second opinion or maybe even fire your doctor if the relationship is not mutually beneficial, so I appreciate you sharing that. Dr. Grivas, do you have anything to add in terms of how patients can take a proactive approach to their healthcare and how they can build this confidence we’ve been talking about and express their concerns to their medical team? 

Dr. Grivas: 

I think Dr. Nyame covered it so well. I think it’s critically important for all of us to recognize that the finding out the why is probably the key to answer those questions, why there is this distrust, why someone is not paying attention so her own health because they have to try to make ends meet and keep family fed during the day time, and they don’t have time to think about their own health as Dr. Nyame mentioned before, at the same time, empowering the patient that they are the center of this relationship. 

Why doesn’t Dr. Nyame go to the clinic in the morning is because of patients, so our training is patient-centered and our practice is patient-centered and our research is patient-centered, so the patient should feel that right from the door, that this is a service to them. And we’re doing what we’re doing to help their life being longer, longer survival, as we call it, or better, better quality of life, and listening to the patient’s needs is important because of the time crunch that Dr. Nyame mentioned before, I think many of us, probably all of us are within situations where we don’t have enough time to listen advocate, what the person have to say, that’s why I think it’s important to have opportunities for separate visits and utilize better other mechanisms, exact mechanisms, patient navigation I think it’s a critical part of our care, social workers, case managers, financial counselors, nutritionist, genetic counselors, looking at genetics in for the disposition to cancer which is much more common than we think occurrences sometimes we be higher in some certain populations. Having this service available to patients, can help a lot because they will give them knowledge, and knowledge is power by itself, so give them the center, we’re here for them. Why they’re here, it’s because we want to help them and giving them also resources, they need to get now let’s information, when they feel they have more knowledge and they feel that they have control, they can communicate back and give feedback of how we can do better and also, what are the priorities of their needs, so we can address those, what matters to the patient, and this can apply to base and care, and also is what questions we’re asking? Research should be defined by patient priority, so all of those factors should be a dialogue with a patient, I think advocacy groups can be a great liaison to help us disseminate this concept and help again, empowering the patients. I struggle believe that explaining the why and giving knowledge, the data points in a simple and lay manner, can patients think being more in control. 

 
Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Absolutely, thank you, both of you. I love the patient-centered focus, that is something that admittedly, we’ve gotten away from that to some degree in medicine because of the time crunches that both of you have mentioned, and I love that you said knowledge is power. So as we close, I’d love for each of you to share maybe a couple of key questions that patients, our care partners facing prostate cancer should ask of their treatment team to ensure that they’re receiving appropriate care. 

So we’ll start with you, Nyame. Any key questions that patients should be asking their care team when they seek treatment or diagnosis of prostate cancer. 

Absolutely, I think that there’s a long list. Actually, I’ll tell you, my new prostate cancer diagnosis visits are usually my longest because there’s a lot to consider. I do think depending on what you’re having done and what you’re being considered for, so let’s say in the localized setting, prostate cancer is confined to the prostate, and you’re thinking about treatment like a surgery or radiation therapy, you really want to know what that center and what that provider’s experience is because we have a lot of supporting evidence that the more people doing this… No one’s going to be surprised by what I’m about to say, but the more that someone does is the better they’re gonna be at it. Okay, and so making sure your team has a good experience with what you’re seeking to have done is important, and I think it’s well within your rights as a patient to understand that, so I think advocate for that. Secondly, I think basic questions, just to understand the relationship, I think… I like it when patients wanna know a little bit about me because I’m gonna be… They’re gonna be in my hands, and so again, the importance of that relationship building and your visit is crucial. 

Lastly, I think when you come to the visit, have a list of questions based off of what you’ve researched and write them down, I find my most sophisticated patients or crossing off questions as I’m talking, ’cause they came prepared and so that preparation… The act of doing a little bit of reading, there are a lot of resources, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, for instance, has a very nice patient guide that’s written by patients and language that’s really digestible and edited by experts, and so going through that and coming with your list of questions, I think is a really important thing for your visit, and those are just a few things I can think of that can lead to a meaningful clinic visit and exchange. 

 
Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Excellent, I’m a huge fan of questions and being prepared for visits, what about you, Dr. Grivas are there one or two key questions that you feel patients or their care partners should ask? 

Dr. Grivas: 

Great answers by Dr. Nyame, I totally agree. I think started with the basics, What this diagnosis means for me, what is the current extent of the cancer, we call the states, and what is the outlook, what is the overall prognosis or at least estimate of the outcome, that’s a reasonable question to ask and again some places more detail, some others may not, and it’s important for us also to ask the base and what they want to know, how much they want to know, I would take in things of them, they want to know the entirety of the information because it makes… Help them make decisions. The other, I think it’s important point, what are the treatment options and what is the intent of the treatment, what are we trying to achieve by giving treatment, are we trying to cure, eradicate or eliminate the culture, are we to prolong life, are we trying to improve quality of life or are we just trying control the cancer, so what are the goals of the treatment and what are the metrics of success, so what will be a successful outcome of that treatment? How do we measure that? And I think it’s also important. 

Two more points, I would if I may. I think, again, going back to the importance of genetic counseling even more in prostate cancer, I think we recognize the importance in the aspect of patient treatment because some treatment options may depend on finding mutations. But also the importance of the family, how much can prevent cancers in the brother family, close and extended family, if we find the mutation, can we set this mutation for other family members and do screening to prevent cancer prevention is ideal if we can do that and I think that’s a good discussion, so the patient can come to the visit if possible, by doing some homework about the family history. It’s hard for of us now, what’s happening in that chasm, right? But we do have the time to be informed of the importance of the question, this can help and expedite in our resources like to genetic counseling. And the last points, research, I want to again make the point, we should all do a better job to offer innovative clinical trials to patients across races, and it should be a very important point again equitable healthcare. And the patient should ask are clinical trials an option for me and do I have a clinical trial option? And I think it’s a great question, and hopefully this can help the patient get to integrative treatment, but also help the field. 

The research would get important answers, and the important answers can be for all the community and the specific populations, if we do trials, clinical trials with only the white patients, do we have the answer for the black patients, or we have the answer for both and other races and ethnicities as well. 

Dr. Nyame: 

And I do wanna take this opportunity to add one more thing because Dr. Grivas was talked about what does your treatment mean for you, and in this discussion about prostate cancer, we cannot talk about what questions do you bring without mentioning the impact, quality of life of our treatments, and I think that sometimes this is the elephant in the room that leads to the decision to not pursue treatment, and so I want to take this opportunity as the urologist to say, This is the time to talk about what treatment is gonna do for sexual function. This is the time to talk about what treatment means for your urinary symptoms and quality of life, a good and healthy discussion around these things need to happen during your visit, because I think sometimes what patients expect to have happen with treatment and reality don’t match. And you have an expert in front of you that can really give you some input as to what to expect, and in a similar vein, when you meet with survivors, these are some of the things that I know patients tell me they’re worried about, and these are people who are living it, that can give you really valuable information on that piece of quality of life, and I hope that those conversations can help us close that treatment disparity that we see between black men and white men with prostate cancer. 

 Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Such wonderful points. This has been an amazing conversation. Thank you so much, Dr. Nyame and thank you Dr. Grivas for just illuminating so many important issues, just to briefly summarize, we’ve talked about the disparities that exist in prostate cancer, diagnosis and treatment based on geographic location, based on finances, insurance that is access and… Yes, even race and ethnicity, and you all have done a wonderful job providing solutions, we’ve talked about the importance of advocating for yourself and your loved ones, the importance of being educated and doing some research, coming to those visits with your questions, making sure that you form a relationship with your treating physicians and sometimes perhaps seeking someone else, if that’s not possible, so just… So many gems, and I just wanna thank both of you for spending this time with us today, and I wanna thank you all for tuning in to this Patient Empowerment Network program. I’m Dr. Nicole Rochester, and thank you for joining us. 

Dr. Grivas: 

Thank you. 

Tools for Living with Cancer and COVID-19

Tools for Living with Cancer and COVID-19 from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Breast Cancer Network Manager Mary Leer highlights the importance of a previous interview with Dr. Shaji Kumar focused on COVID-19 and cancer. In the original interview, Empowered Patient and Care Partner Ask the Expert: Addressing COVID-19 Concerns, vaccine concerns are also addressed and key factors are given for cancer patients, survivors, and care partners.  

See More From the Best Care No Matter Where You Live Program


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Transcript:

Mary Leer:

Hello, my name is Mary Leer, and I am the Patient Empowerment Network’s [PEN’s] Network Manager for the Breast Cancer Network.  

 As PEN’s Breast Cancer Network Manager, I was proud to sit down with noted Mayo Clinic expert, Dr. Shaji Kumar. The interview helped me think deeply about my own experience as a cancer survivor and how it relates to my experience living through the pandemic that is still around us all. As cancer patients, we’ve had to live with multiple uncertainties and make decisions that can quite literally and figuratively be painful. We’ve had to make decisions about cancer treatment with our medical team, and we’ve had to deal with the fact that it is in our own best interest to at times take a path that we do not want to take in the name of healing ourselves and living a healthier life. We have learned to live with options and making choices with outcomes that are not certain, our experience and roles as survivors and as caregivers can make it hard sometimes difficult to understand the decisions of others who are hesitant or resistant to getting a vaccine. So I listened and learned from Dr. Kumar discussion about the importance of getting vaccinated to reach a significant percentage of our population. He shows compassion for those whose fear of the pandemic has led them to a decision to turn away from getting vaccinated, perhaps out of fear, distrust of medicine and anger about government impinging on personal rights, or perhaps, of course, their own personal health journey, please implore others to listen to the interviews Jeff and I did with Dr. Kumar. 

Dr. Kumar gave us very clear advice.  He answers many of the questions about COVID-19 that cancer patients, and our community have been asking and frankly worrying about. As you listen to the interviews on PEN’s website, you will hear his voice of reason, make it clear how critical it is for cancer patients, indeed all of us to get vaccinated for the sake of our own and for others’ health. As he states there are uncertainties about aspects of vaccination, such as the strength and length of one’s individual protective immune response, but the bottom line is that cancer patients especially need to be vaccinated to protect their health, even if one is well post-treatment. If still in cancer treatment or if one has had the COVID-19 illness, he told us to discuss the optimum time to get vaccinated with your medical team. He truly gave a clear message that there is solid evidence for the efficacy, safety of approved covid vaccines. Listen carefully and share Dr. Kumar’s interview responses with your cancer community and with your family. His answers address lingering questions my family and I had about COVID and cancer, the bottom line, these interviews with Dr. Kumar are once again, a way of giving us the tools to compassionately help ourselves and others through this COVID-19 health crisis. 

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

Metastatic BC Research: How Can You Advocate for the Latest Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What do metastatic breast cancer patients need to know about the latest research news? Dr. Megan Kruse shares highlights from the 2020 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS), along with her advice for advocating for the right testing to help guide treatment options.

Dr. Megan Kruse is a Breast Medical Oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. More about this expert here.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

Related Resources:

 

What Could Advances in Breast Cancer Research Mean for You?

How Can You Advocate for the Best Breast Cancer Care?

Factors That Guide a Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decision

 


Transcript:

Dr. Kruse:                   

At this year’s San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, there were a few interesting presentations about the treatment of first-line metastatic triple-negative breast cancer that I think patients should be aware of.

Two of the presentations centered around trials that were presented in the past. Those reporting, patients reported outcomes from the IMpassion 130 study, which looked at chemotherapy for metastatic triple-negative disease plus the immunotherapy atezolizumab. And then, there was also an update on the results from the KEYNOTE-355 study, which was a study again of chemotherapy for metastatic triple-negative patients in combination with pembrolizumab, a different immunotherapy. And both of these studies showed that there was benefit for women in certain sub-groups of triple-negative breast cancer when looking at addition of immunotherapy.

And so, what I’d like to draw patients’ attention to with these presentations is that you have to be aware of if you fall into one of these categories so you know if you’re a candidate for the particular type of immunotherapy that can be added to chemotherapy. There are two different ways to test for if a patient is a candidate for immunotherapy and they are both tests that can be done on biopsies of metastatic or cancer recurrent sites in the body.

They can also be sent off of original breast cancer tumors. And what we now know is that for patients who do not have markers that suggest immune activation or where the immune system would be responsive to immunotherapy the addition of that extra therapy really does not help to improve cancer control over chemotherapy alone. And I think that’s a really important topic because everyone is very interested in immunotherapy, but it does have side effects of its own and it can actually be lasting side effects in terms of inflammation in organs like the liver, the colon, and the lungs.

And then, the third presentation that I’d like to bring up is the IPATunity study, which looked at the addition of a targeted therapy called ipatasertib to, again, chemotherapy for the first treatment of metastatic triple-negative disease.

And so, this is getting into an area of targeted therapy for metastatic triple-negative disease. And again, only looks at patients that have a particular marker that suggests sensitivity to this drug. And those are certain genetic markers, predominately changes in a DNA marker called PIK3CA. In this study, we actually found that there was no benefit for the targeted therapy added to chemotherapy for patients that had that genetic mutation, which was different than what was seen in earlier studies of the same combination. So, I think there’s more work to be done and it’s probably too early to say that this targeted therapy will not be used in treatment of metastatic breast cancer.

But what all of these research studies show together is that metastatic triple-negative cancer is not really just one disease. It’s very clear that within that one name, there are multiple different patient types and tumor types that need to be cared for differently.

And so, again, I think the theme from these abstracts and these research presentations is that we have to look into the right therapy for the right patient at the right time, which largely involved DNA-based testing.

So, when patients are thinking about their treatment options and how to best help with their providers about what treatment options exist for them, I think it’s important to recognize the type of testing that may be advantageous in your cancer type.

And so, for all metastatic breast cancer patients, we really recommend that they’ve had genetic testing to look for DNA changes like BRCA mutations that will lead to treatment options. For metastatic triple-negative disease, it’s important to make sure that you’re providers are testing for PDL1, which would make you a candidate for immunotherapy. And then, the more we learn about clinical trials, the more we have options for patients that have had drug-based DNA or genome-based testing. So, that’s an important term for patients to become familiar with is genomic testing.

And I think when you bring that up with your providers, they’ll know what you’re talking about and they’ll know that what you’re potentially interested in is new targeted therapy for the cancer that may either come in combination with chemotherapy or as a standalone treatment option. If you don’t have those options that are available, and FDA approved basis for regular routine patient care, there is always the option of clinical trials.

And so, if that is something that you’re interested in, genomic testing will often open the way. So, I think as you’re writing notes when you’re talking to your providers, you might wanna jot down whether or not you’ve had genetic testing and whether or not you’ve had genomic testing in the past, as both of those things will help potentially address all of your treatment options.

I’ve very hopeful about the research that is going to lead to new developments for breast cancer treatment in the next few years.

I think what we’ve seen both at this San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium as well as other conferences in the recent past has been a lot of focus on finding the right treatment for the right patient at the right time. And so, patients seem to be very interested in finding out this information. They often come to clinic armed with the most recent data, which allows their providers to have really informed discussions about what the best treatment might be. And to talk about if the new treatments are not great right now, what treatments might look like in the future.

I think the other thing that’s encouraging about the research that we’ve seen presented at this conference is that some of these trials are very, very large. For example, the RxPONDER trial was a trial of over 9,000 patients. And I really think that’s amazing to get that many patients interested in research that may not directly impact their patient care but will impact the care of others moving forward.

It’s just a sign that our breast cancer patients are empowered, and they want to make a difference in the scientific community as a whole.

 

Breast Cancer Research News: SABCS Conference Highlights

Breast Cancer Research News: SABCS Conference Highlights from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Expert Dr. Megan Kruse shares highlights from the 2020 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS). Dr. Kruse provides an overview of what this news means for early stage breast cancer patients, along with her optimism about the future of breast cancer research and treatment.

Dr. Megan Kruse is a Breast Medical Oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. More about this expert here.

See More From The Pro-Active Breast Cancer Patient Toolkit

Related Resources:

 

Transcript:

Dr. Kruse:                   

The San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium is a national meeting with international presence that combines all of the latest data from research on breast cancer topics. It involves clinical research, basic science research, a lot of patient, and patient advocate support.

And the idea here is to bring together all the different disciplines that are involved in breast cancer patient care and do the best information and knowledge sharing that we can each year.

This year’s San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium brought us a lot of interesting research focusing on early-stage breast cancer patients. I think the most important presentations that were given had to do with the treatment of high-risk lymph node-positive hormone receptor-positive breast cancer patients. And these were really across three abstracts. The first abstract of interest was the Monarch E study, which looked at high-risk women with hormone receptor-positive HER2-negative breast cancer and optimizing their medical therapy.

So, these patients are typically treated with anti-estrogen therapy and the idea of the research that was presented was if the addition of a targeted medication called abemaciclib or Verzenio could help to improve outcomes for women in this population. And what the trial found was that for women who took their anti-estrogen therapy for the usual length of time but added the abemaciclib for the first two years of that anti-estrogen therapy that there is actually an improvement in cancer-free survival time or an improvement in cure rates. And this was important because these women may not benefit from chemotherapy, as we’ll talk about in another abstract.

An addition research presentation that was given that goes alongside of the monarch E study was that of the Penelope B study. And the Penelope B took a similar population to what was studied in Monarch E. So, again high-risk women with lymph node-positive, hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer; however, in Penelope B, all of these patients had received pre-surgery chemotherapy.

And in order to qualify for the trial, the patients had to have some cancer that remained in the breast or the lymph nodes that was taken out at the time of their surgery. So, these are patients clearly in which chemotherapy did not do the whole job in terms of getting rid of the cancer. And again, the idea here was to add a second targeted therapy to the endocrine therapy to see if that would improve cancer-free time for patients in this population. The difference in this study was that the partner targeted therapy that was used was a drug called palbociclib or Ibrance.

And the drug was actually only used for one year in combination with endocrine therapy rather than two years as was used in the Monarch E study with abemaciclib. Interestingly enough, the Penelope B study was a negative study, meaning that it did not improve the cancer-free survival time for women who took the endocrine therapy plus targeted therapy compared to women who took the endocrine therapy alone.

So, I think that these are two interesting studies that one should look at together. And clearly, may impact what we do for the treatment of high-risk hormone receptor-positive women moving forward. The third abstract that I’d like to touch on that I think was important for women with early-stage breast cancer is the RxPONDER study, also known as SWOG 1007. And this study again was looking at lymph node-positive, hormone receptor-positive HER2-negative breast cancer patients and seeing if the addition of chemotherapy helped to improve their cancer-free survival compared to anti-estrogen therapy alone.

And so, in this study, while the study population was all women with early-stage breast cancer, meeting the one to three lymph node-positive criteria, you really have to break the results down into the results for pre-menopausal women and the results for post-menopausal women.

Because overall the study really showed no significant benefit to chemotherapy on top of endocrine therapy for women in this population; however, we did see that there was a clear benefit for women who were pre-menopausal. So, the women who had no benefit from chemotherapy were largely those who were post-menopausal, while those who were pre-menopausal derived extra benefit from chemo on top of anti-estrogen therapy. And that benefit depended on what the Oncotype recurrent score was.

With women that had the lowest of the recurrent scores having a chemo benefit of about three percent going up to over five percent for women who had Oncotype recurrent scores in the mid-teens to 25 range. In both of these groups, women who had Oncotype scores of 26 or above would have chemotherapy as per our standard of care.

So, I think that this abstract is important because in the past women who had lymph node-positive breast cancer generally received chemotherapy no matter what. More recently we’ve understood that not all of these cancers are created equal and that some cancers may not actually have benefit from chemotherapy in terms of improving cure rate. So, this study is a big step forward to help individualize and specify the treatment for women with lymph node-positive, hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative early breast cancer.

I’ve very hopeful about the research that is going to lead to new developments for breast cancer treatment in the next few years.

I think what we’ve seen both at this San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium as well as other conferences in the recent past has been a lot of focus on finding the right treatment for the right patient at the right time. And so, patients seem to be very interested in finding out this information. They often come to clinic armed with the most recent data, which allows their providers to have really informed discussions about what the best treatment might be. And to talk about if the new treatments are not great right now, what treatments might look like in the future.

I think the other thing that’s encouraging about the research that we’ve seen presented at this conference is that some of these trials are very, very large. For example, the RxPONDER trial was a trial of over 9,000 patients. And I really think that’s amazing to get that many patients interested in research that may not directly impact their patient care but will impact the care of others moving forward.                                   

It’s just a sign that our breast cancer patients are empowered, and they want to make a difference in the scientific community as a whole.

 

How Can You Advocate for the Best Breast Cancer Care?

How Can You Advocate for the Best Breast Cancer Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Breast cancer expert Dr. Julie Gralow explains how you can advocate for the best metastatic breast cancer care, through speaking up, utilizing care team members and taking key steps to achieving better care.

Dr. Julie Gralow is the Jill Bennett Endowed Professor of Breast Medical Oncology at the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. More about this expert here.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer


Related Resources:

How Genetic Mutations Affect Metastatic Breast Cancer Disease Progression and Prognosis

Factors That Guide a Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decision

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


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

For patients who may be hesitant to speak out for themselves and advocate for their own care and treatment, what advice do you have?

Dr. Gralow:                

You have a whole team who’s behind you, and I’m the MD on the team, but I’ve got a nurse practitioner, and a nurse, and a scheduler, and a social worker, and a nutritionist, and a physical therapy team, and financial counselors. I’ve got a whole team who works with me. And so, a patient might be hesitant to speak up during the actual appointment with their physician. It’s a short amount of time. I would recommend come into it with written-down questions because things go fast. You don’t get a lot of time with your doctor.

Things go fast, but don’t come in with 25 questions, either. Pick your top few that you want to get taken care of this visit because if you come in with 25 or 30, you’re going to lose the answers to most of them. Maybe bring somebody with you who’s an advocate and a listener for you who could be taking notes, so you can process and you don’t have to write it down, or ask if you can record it. It’s really important if you’re newly diagnosed or maybe there’s a progression and you’re going on a new treatment. That’s okay too.

But, I would also say you have a whole team behind you, so sometimes, if you don’t have time or if you’re hesitant to speak up in your doctor’s visit, you can ask the nurse, or maybe you can ask the social worker for help, even. See if there’s support groups around.

Interestingly, we’ve got a peer-to-peer network where patients can request to talk to somebody else who’s matched to them by some tumor features, and their stage, and things like that. Maybe finding somebody else who’s gone through something similar, and somebody independent to talk to instead of relying on your family.

It can also be really helpful to talk to a therapist or a psychologist about your fears, and sometimes, you want to be strong for your family, strong for your children and all, but you need a safe space with somebody that you can just express your fears and your anger if that’s what’s going on, or your depression or anxiety to while you’re trying to hold a strong face for others in your family. So, I would encourage patients to look at who is the whole team and talk to the other members of the team as well, and sometimes, they can help advocate.

Also, find somebody who might be able to come to your appointments with you, somebody who will help you advocate or remind you – “Didn’t you want to ask this question?” – or be another set of ears that you can process it with afterwards.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Gralow, we’ve covered a lot of useful information today for patients. Thank you so much for joining us.

Dr. Gralow:                 

Thank you, Katherine.

Katherine:                  

And, thank you to all of our partners. To learn more about breast cancer and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell.

Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment and Research News

Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment and Research News from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

As metastatic breast cancer testing approaches continue to expand, new and promising treatments have emerged. Dr. Lisa Flaum shares information on recently approved treatment options and the role of genetic markers in accessing targeted therapy. 

Dr. Lisa Flaum is a Medical Oncologist at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more here.

See More From The Pro-Active Breast Cancer Patient Toolkit

Related Resources:

 

Transcript:

Dr. Flaum:                  

There are a lot of new and promising treatments for metastatic breast cancer. So, the treatments in general and the novel treatments and studies really vary based on the subset of metastatic breast cancer. So, when we’re making our treatment decisions, a lot of it is defined by those markers. So, if someone has a tumor that is hormone receptor, estrogen and progesterone receptor positive, and HER2-negative, the mainstay of treatment is typically drugs that target estrogen and often partnering drugs that target estrogen with other more novel or newer treatments.

So, just in the last five plus years, there have been a number of new drugs and even new drug categories that we didn’t have previously. So, for that population of the estrogen receptor positive tumors, the biggest breakthrough over the last number of years has been a class of drugs called CDK4/6 inhibitors. So, that includes drugs like Ibrance, Kisqali, Verzenio. And they’ve emerged as a very important and effective and often a recommendation for our first-line treatment for these patients combined with anti-estrogen therapies that have vastly improved outcomes for patients. So, a much higher percentage of patients respond to these drugs, the duration of the responses has extended quite a bit. And importantly, patients tend to tolerate this drug class really, really well.

 So, for many patients starting out with that diagnosis, this type of drug class is going to be part of the discussion. Even in the last year, another drug category has emerged with approval of a new drug called alpelisib, which is something called at PI3 kinase inhibitor. So, again, back to defining the options based on the molecular profile of the tumor. So, this newer oral drug also partnered with anti-estrogen therapy, has been an important breakthrough for the treatment of patients who harbor this specific molecular abnormality. So, important to define whether that’s an option by some of these molecular testing.

There’s also newer drugs and studies of newer drugs that affect the estrogen receptor in different ways than some of our traditional medications.

And this is an ongoing area of significant research. So, that’s the estrogen receptor positive tumors.

For patients who have HER2-positive tumors, these are tumors that tend to be more aggressive, that tend to require more aggressive upfront treatment, which usually involves drugs that specifically target HER2. So, again, defining what’s driving the tumor and hopefully having drugs available that can target that specific abnormality. So, HER2 targeted drugs have evolved quite a bit over the last couple of decades.

Initially, we just had a drug called Herceptin and then a drug called Perjeta or pertuzumab was developed. Then more recently a drug called Kadcyla. And then even in just the last six to 10 months, two new drugs that target that HER2 protein. One of them is called tucatinib, the other one is called Enhertu. They’re not necessarily appropriate for the first line of treatment, but really sort of expands our toolbox in terms of how we treat these types of tumors. And these are developments that have occurred, for one of the drugs, just in the last six months, and the other within the last year. So, a lot of progress.

And then for the third subset of tumors, which are the triple-negative tumors, those are the ones that do not over-express estrogen, do not have estrogen or progesterone receptors, and don’t overexpressed HER2. This has been historically an area of unmet need. So, tumors where we can’t use anti-estrogen therapies, we can’t use HER2 targeted drugs. And so, the main stay has always been chemotherapy. And even for this subset, we’ve had progress.

So, one of the drug classes that’s been approved in the last couple years for triple-negative breast cancers is immunotherapy. So, immunotherapy has gotten a lot of press. It’s been really breakthrough treatment for a lot of different cancers, has lagged behind to some degree in breast cancer, but has become now one of the early treatment options for people with metastatic disease, specifically those that harbor a molecular marker, an immune marker, something called PD-L1. So, another example of the tumor’s biology dictating potentially one of the treatment options.

There have been other drugs that have been approved for triple-negative breast cancers in women who have BRCA mutation, so who have germline genetic predisposition to breast cancer. And that opens another array of treatment tools that have been approved in the last few years. And then more recently, just over the last six months, another drug that’s been approved for triple-negative breast cancer, which is a drug called sacituzumab, again, not first treatment, but something that defines potentially future lines of treatment. So, big picture, there has been a lot of progress that increasingly alters our treatment tools for patients and allows us to have sequential treatments that can be effective if their given treatment is no longer effective.

Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decisions: Which Path is Best for You?

Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decisions: Which Path is Best for You? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 For each metastatic breast cancer patient, there are several variables to consider to access the best treatment path. Dr. Lisa Flaum explains key factors to consider, and discusses how the risks and benefits are weighed when making treatment decisions for an individual patient.

Dr. Lisa Flaum is a Medical Oncologist at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more here.

See More From The Pro-Active Breast Cancer Patient Toolkit

Related Resources:

 

Transcript:

Dr. Flaum:                  

So, when we’re determining a treatment approach, there are a number of variables. So, to some degree, based on a patient’s individual characteristics, their age, their other health issues, may guide what treatments are available or indicated or even desirable from a patient’s standpoint. To some degree, the locations and extent of disease are important. So, if someone has cancer and that’s causing a particular symptom, with bony sites being a particular example, there may be a role for something targeted; Something like radiation, and in rare cases, surgery to target a specific symptomatic or worrisome spot of metastatic cancer.

In general, the mainstay of treatment for metastatic breast cancer is what we call systemic treatment or medical treatment, treatment that’s going to go everywhere and treat the cancer wherever it is. In some situations, we may be deciding between more or less aggressive treatment, and the locations and sites of disease may be important in determining that. If someone has extensive disease, for instance in a vital organ like the lung, the liver, the brain, we may start with something more versus less aggressive to try to get it better under control quickly. Whereas people with more limited metastatic disease may be able to start with something less aggressive.

And then beyond that, a lot of the decision-making is based on those molecular markers that I alluded to, which are defined by the hormone receptor status. So, whether the tumor expresses those estrogen and progesterone receptors, and whether the tumor over-expresses HER2. And then to a lesser degree, based on other markers that may be defined by additional tests.

So, every treatment discussion we have is a two-way street. So, our job is to present the data, present options, present recommendations. And often, we have an opinion on where we would fall and if there are a number of different options. But to me, it’s a collaborative discussion. And if there are options, it’s weighing what potential benefit do we get from a single option or from adding something to that particular option versus what are the downsides? And some of it is discussion about logistics. Do we do something IV versus oral? Is there a particular side effect that we’re hoping to avoid, such as hair loss? Which of course, we’re trying to avoid. Some treatments may have a higher likelihood of working, but a higher likelihood of causing hair loss. That may factor into our decision.

So, whether it’s the first decision point when we’re deciding on preliminary therapy or future decision points as we go through this journey, there is always a discussion about this is where we are, these are what our options are. Here’s how we’re going to weigh the pros and cons. And then it comes back to a collaborative decision about how we weigh the risks and rewards and where we’re going with an individual patient.

So, clinical trials are always part of at least the conversation, so they’re always a consideration at each step of our discussion. So, from a preliminary treatment standpoint, we’re always going to go through here are our standard options. Here’s, again, what we think is most appropriate. And if there’s a clinical trial that’s appropriate in that scenario, we’ll lay that out there as an option. So, a clinical trial is always worth discussing. It’s always worth asking that your doctor, “Is a clinical trial appropriate for me at this point?” But it’s not always the right recommendation.

So, there are a lot of scenarios, especially at the beginning of treatment for metastatic disease where we have so many options, and so many new and novel treatment options and drugs that have been approved fairly recently that have defined the standard of care, that the standard is going to be often what we recommend. And a clinical trial may be something that we would use if that treatment fails to work or at some future point down the line. And at other points in time, we have very good, appropriate clinical trials that could be indicated at any step along the way. So, it’s worth the discussion. Whether it’s the recommendation or not depends on the circumstances, it depends on the time. What we have today was very different than what we might’ve had available six months ago and six months from now. But clinical trials are out there, and if the location that a patient is going doesn’t have access to clinical trials, it’s always reasonable to ask too, “Should I be going somewhere else to see if a clinical trial is appropriate?”

Essential Testing Following A Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Essential Testing Following a Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Following a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, what tests are essential? Dr. Lisa Flaum reviews the role of key tests, and the impact of molecular (genetic) test results on treatment decisions.

Dr. Lisa Flaum is a Medical Oncologist at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more here.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

Related Resources:

 

Should You See a Breast Cancer Specialist?

Are You Prepared for Your Breast Cancer Appointment?

What Do Breast Cancer Patients Need to Know About COVID?

 

Transcript:

Dr. Flaum:                  

When someone has either a diagnosis or a suspected diagnosis of metastatic cancer, meaning a diagnosis of cancer that has spread somewhere outside of the breast. And the most important initial step is establishing a tissue diagnosis. So, we could have our suspicions based on imaging, based on symptoms, but the most important thing is to confirm it. And usually that confirmation involves some type of tissue biopsy. So, collecting cells, examining them under the microscope, making sure that the diagnosis in fact, is cancer. Making sure that the cancer has spread from the breast, which is something that is definable under the microscope for the most part. And then evaluating various molecular markers within the tumor itself that are critical to guiding treatment.

So, in addition to the tissue diagnosis, the other important first step is what we call cancer staging. So, establishing the extent of the tumor within the body, which typically involves some type of scans, which may be variable depending on the situation or depending on the physician often could be a CT scan and a bone scan, maybe a PET scan. There may be an MRI.

So, a number of different tests that help us establish where the tumor is at baseline, so we can better understand the anatomy, but also to follow down the road to establish whether any given treatment is working. There are also maybe discussions of other types of molecular testing beyond what we determined in terms of the traditional biologic markers. You might hear the terms next generation sequencing tests like Foundation, Guardant, Tempus, which better define the cancer’s biology, which increasingly is becoming useful in terms of targeting treatment to someone’s specific cancer.

So, the molecular tests are looking at a few different things. So, first and foremost from a breast cancer standpoint, the most important basic molecular markers are what we consider to be the four main receptors, which is the estrogen and progesterone receptor, which dictates whether a given tumor is driven by estrogen and importantly dictates whether anti-estrogen therapy is going to be an appropriate component of the treatment. The other basic marker is called HER2, which is a protein that’s over-expressed.

In about 20% of breast cancer patient cells, and it’s also very critical in terms of guiding treatment. For specific types of breast cancer, once we know those preliminary molecular markers, then there’s an array of other types of anomalies within the tumor itself that could help to guide specific treatment. So, a couple of examples, and I can talk about that when you talk about treatment. If someone has a genetic predisposition to breast cancer with a BRCA mutation, there’s a specific treatment that might be appropriate. More recently, there’s another abnormality that can be detected by these tests called a PI3-Kinase mutation that identifies a population of patients who could be appropriate for another type of targeted therapy. So, for an individual, knowing what their particular profile is, whether or not those treatments are going to be indicated right at the beginning of treatment or maybe something that we use down the road. Inevitably, they’re going to help us understand what our tools are when we’re helping to make those decisions.

What Could Advances in Breast Cancer Research Mean for You?

What Could Advances in Metastatic Breast Cancer Research Mean for You? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What should metastatic breast cancer patients know about emerging approaches to treatment and care? Dr. Julie Gralow reviews developments in metastatic breast cancer research, including advances in genetics, subsetting disease and personalized medicine.

Dr. Julie Gralow is the Jill Bennett Endowed Professor of Breast Medical Oncology at the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. More about this expert here.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

Related Resources:

 

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

What Are Essential Genetic Tests for Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients?

Metastatic Breast Cancer: Debunking Common Misconceptions

 

Transcript:

Katherine:                  

There have been so many advances in breast cancer research. What are you excited about in research right now?

Dr. Gralow:                

Well, every single drug that’s been approved, every single new regimen that’s been approved in breast cancer is the direct result of clinical trials, and this is a major part of my career, is to help patients get access to clinical trials and run important clinical trials that could lead to new discoveries – is this regimen better? What’s the toxicity?

Because until we have a cure for breast cancer, we need to do better, and we need to research better treatment options. So, doing trials, having access to clinical trials where you can participate, help move the science forward is key.

I think where we’re moving with breast cancer is the more we’re understanding the patient and the tumor, the more we’re realizing every single breast cancer is different, actually, and whereas when I started my training 20-plus years ago, breast cancer was breast cancer – we weren’t even using HER2 yet, we were just learning how to use estrogen receptor, and we kind of treated everything the same – now, we’re subsetting, and subsetting, and subsetting. Even in triple negative breast cancer now, which is about 18-20% of breast cancer, we’re subsetting.

Does that triple negative breast cancer have PD-L1, which is associated with being able to get immunotherapy drugs? Does it express androgen receptor? Because sometimes, even a breast cancer that doesn’t have estrogen or progesterone receptor can express the androgen receptor, like prostate cancer, and we can use some prostate cancer drugs. So, even triple negative breast cancer we’re subsetting and subsetting, and could that triple negative breast cancer be associated with a BRCA1 or 2 mutation, and then we can use the PARP inhibitors?

So, I’m actually really excited about that we’re learning more and more, and subsetting, and not treating breast cancer as one size fits all, and if we can better tailor the treatments to the patient and the tumor, that we are going to get to the point where I can tell my patients yes, we can get cures in metastatic breast cancer.

What is the Role of Genetic Testing in Breast Cancer?

What is the Role of Genetic Testing in Breast Cancer? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Breast cancer expert Dr. Julie Gralow discusses the role of genetic testing in metastatic breast cancer care, reviewing the impact of inherited–and acquired–genetic mutations on treatment options.

Dr. Julie Gralow is the Jill Bennett Endowed Professor of Breast Medical Oncology at the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. More about this expert here.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

Related Resources:

 

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

What Are Essential Genetic Tests for Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients?

Metastatic Breast Cancer: Debunking Common Misconceptions

 

Transcript:

Katherine:                  

All right. Dr. Gralow, when you meet with patients, what are some of the more common misconceptions that you hear related to diagnosis?

Dr. Gralow:                

Well, I think people do confuse – especially at an early diagnosis – that the metastases, the travel to the local lymph nodes, is not the same as a metastatic breast cancer, so we spend some time talking about how it’s still curable and not considered a distant metastasis if the lymph nodes are in the armpit or up above the collarbone, and so, that’s something that we spend some time talking about.

This whole term of “metastatic recurrence” – unfortunately, when you start looking online and get your information from Dr. Google, you read right away that it’s no longer curable, and in 2020, yes, that’s true. That’s probably the most specific statement that we can make. We are not going with curative intent, which means we treat for a defined amount of time, and then all the disease goes away, and we stop treatment, and then you go on with your life, and it never comes back. That would be cure.

But, I think it’s really important to point out that much of metastatic breast cancer can be highly treatable, and what we hope to do – and certainly, at least a subset of metastatic breast cancer – we want to convert it more to what we would call a chronic disease, and so, think of it more like hypertension, high blood pressure, or diabetes. These are diseases that we generally don’t cure with treatment, but that we can control with drug therapy, which sometimes has to be adjusted, and if we don’t control it, we can get some bad complications.

So, that’s not all metastatic breast cancer, unfortunately – we can’t convert all of it to something where we can use a therapy for a long time that keeps it in check and where you have a pretty good quality of life – but we’re hoping that more and more, we’re getting targeted therapies and more specific treatments to patients so that we can convert more patients to a more chronic kind of situation.

Katherine:                  

Many people are confused about genetic testing. They often think that it relates to ancestry or physical traits like hair and eye color. What’s the role of genetic testing in breast cancer?

Dr. Gralow:                

Well, you can do genetic testing of the patient’s inheritance, which is how most people think of genetic testing, and that’s actually really important and increasingly important in metastatic breast cancer to do your own inheritance. Have you inherited a gene that was associated with how your cancer developed? Because now, we actually have a class of drugs called PARP inhibitors that are approved for tumors that have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation with them. Most of those mutations were inherited, but not all. Sometimes they can develop as well.

So, now, when my patient – if she didn’t previously have genetic testing for an inherited risk for breast cancer either coming from mom or dad’s side of the family, a lot of people do have that up front, especially if they’re younger at diagnosis or they have a lot of family members with breast cancer. If she didn’t have that genetic testing done previously, at the time of the metastatic occurrence, I’m going to recommend that that be done because knowing if the cancer is associated with one of these DNA repair genes – BRCA1, BRCA2, some other genes – we have a new treatment option, which is an oral pill that actually is highly effective if the tumor has a mutation in one of these.

But, we can also – so, that’s genetic testing of the patient’s own DNA, but we can also do what we call genetic testing – or genomic testing, if you will – of the genes of the cancer. What were the changes in the DNA at the gene level that caused a normal breast cell over time to develop into a cancer cell that’s now growing without responding to our body’s checks and balances? So, what were those mutations, deletions, or amplifications in the tumor itself?

So, we’ve got the patient’s genetics, we’ve got the tumor’s genetics, and both of those come into play when we’re making our best treatment recommendations and trying to understand what the right approach is.

Katherine:                  

How is testing administered?

Dr. Gralow:                

So, for our inherited testing, those gene changes can be found in every cell in the body, so we can do that from a simple blood test where we just look at the blood cells. We can actually do it with our sputum and with a cheek swab, even. You can get enough of the DNA from the inside of the mouth to do that.

For a tumor’s genetics, we need some of the tumor, so that’s either done with a biopsy into the metastatic site or, as I mentioned before, increasingly, we’re exploring the potential for a liquid biopsy – so, drawing some blood and then trying to find pieces of the tumor that are shed into the blood.

Factors That Guide a Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decision

Factors that Guide a Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decision from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Dr. Julie Gralow discusses factors that affect metastatic breast cancer treatment decisions, including the cancer’s biology, the overall health of the patient, and treatment side effects.

Dr. Julie Gralow is the Jill Bennett Endowed Professor of Breast Medical Oncology at the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. More about this expert here.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

Related Resources:

 

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

What Are Essential Genetic Tests for Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients?

Metastatic Breast Cancer: Debunking Common Misconceptions

 

Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Well, Dr. Gralow, what other factors should be taken into consideration with a treatment route?

Dr. Gralow:                

I always like to think of the treatment decision as relying on three factors, and the first relates to the tumor factor, the cancer factor.

So, we talked a lot about the biology, the estrogen receptor, the HER2, the genomic profiling. So, that’s critical, but there are two other components that we need to really strongly consider when trying to devise the right treatment regimen. One of those is patient factors, and not just the patient’s genetics, but are they pre- or post-menopausal?

What is the age? Where are they in life? Are they young with young kids? Are they working, and is that an important priority for them? Are they older and with grandchildren, and they don’t need to work? What is it that would be critical? What are the patient’s priorities here, and what are their fears, what are the things they would – what would be really important as we plan a regimen? And so, the patient factors which would be patient priorities and where they are in life right now.

And then, there’s factors related to the treatment itself, which would include not just how effective it is, but – and, this is really important when trying to decide regimens – what are the side effects of a regimen? For some patients, hair loss is a big deal, and we can put it off as long as possible – maybe choosing the first couple regimens don’t cause hair loss sometimes.

But, for other people, that doesn’t matter to them. For some, we have oral – some regimens, and that could keep them out of the infusion room, and others actually – I’ve had patients who actually like coming into the infusion room regularly so that they can review the side effects and get the reassurance provided by it. So, we’ve got different route of administration of the drugs, different side effects. If you already had, for example, a neuropathy – a numbness/tingling of fingers and toes – from treatment that you might have gotten for early-stage disease, we’d probably want to avoid drugs where that’s their major side effect in the metastatic setting and that would increase that even further.

We’ve got some drugs that cause a lot of toxicity to our GI system – nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea – and other drugs that don’t. And so, understanding what symptoms the patient already has and actually tailoring the treatment based on some of the side effects of the drug could also be done, as well as how they’re administered. So, again, patient factors, tumor factors, and then, factors related to the treatment itself all come into play when we make decisions.

Katherine:                  

There have been so many advances in breast cancer research. What are you excited about in research right now?

Dr. Gralow:                

Well, every single drug that’s been approved, every single new regimen that’s been approved in breast cancer is the direct result of clinical trials, and this is a major part of my career, is to help patients get access to clinical trials and run important clinical trials that could lead to new discoveries – is this regimen better? What’s the toxicity?

Because until we have a cure for breast cancer, we need to do better, and we need to research better treatment options. So, doing trials, having access to clinical trials where you can participate, help move the science forward is key.

I think where we’re moving with breast cancer is the more we’re understanding the patient and the tumor, the more we’re realizing every single breast cancer is different, actually, and whereas when I started my training 20-plus years ago, breast cancer was breast cancer – we weren’t even using HER2 yet, we were just learning how to use estrogen receptor, and we kind of treated everything the same – now, we’re subsetting, and subsetting, and subsetting. Even in triple negative breast cancer now, which is about 18-20% of breast cancer, we’re subsetting.

Does that triple negative breast cancer have PD-L1, which is associated with being able to get immunotherapy drugs? Does it express androgen receptor? Because sometimes, even a breast cancer that doesn’t have estrogen or progesterone receptor can express the androgen receptor, like prostate cancer, and we can use some prostate cancer drugs. So, even triple negative breast cancer we’re subsetting and subsetting, and could that triple negative breast cancer be associated with a BRCA1 or 2 mutation, and then we can use the PARP inhibitors?

So, I’m actually really excited about that we’re learning more and more, and subsetting, and not treating breast cancer as one size fits all, and if we can better tailor the treatments to the patient and the tumor, that we are going to get to the point where I can tell my patients yes, we can get cures in metastatic breast cancer.

How Genetic Mutations Affect Metastatic Breast Cancer Prognosis and Treatment

How Genetic Mutations Affect Metastatic Breast Cancer Disease Progression and Prognosis from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Julie Gralow explains the impact of genetic mutations on metastatic breast cancer progression and prognosis, including how DNA repair genes function. 

Dr. Julie Gralow is the Jill Bennett Endowed Professor of Breast Medical Oncology at the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. More about this expert here.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

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Metastatic Breast Cancer Staging: What Patients Should Know

What Are Essential Genetic Tests for Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients?

Metastatic Breast Cancer: Debunking Common Misconceptions

 

Transcript:

Katherine:                  

You’ve been referring to a number of terms. Patients may have heard the BRCA or “braca” that relate to breast cancer in genetics. Would you give us an overview of common mutations in breast cancer?

Dr. Gralow:

So, of the mutations that we can inherit, the first two that were discovered were BRCA1 and BRCA2, and for all breast cancer – not just metastatic, but all breast cancer – we think that maybe 5-10% of breast cancer is the direct result of the inheritance of a strong gene that gives you a high – not 100%, but a high likelihood of developing breast cancer.

So, for BRCA1 and 2, these two genes are associated predominantly with breast and ovarian cancer, and if you live out your normal lifespan, you could have up to a 75-80% chance of getting one of those two cancers, and breast cancer being more common. Also, some association with some other cancers including, interestingly, prostate cancer, which we’re learning more about.

So, BRCA1 and 2 are the most common, and they tend to be found – because they have such a high association with the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, they tend to be found in families that have a lot of other breast cancers, and also breast and ovarian cancer presenting at a younger age. So, you’ve inherited a gene that leads to a high predisposition, and the cancer occurs earlier.

So, whereas the average age of diagnosis of breast cancer in the U.S. is 61-62 most commonly, in a patient who’s inherited a BRCA1 or 2 gene mutation, it’s closer to 40-42 – so, a lot younger. And then, there are a variety of other genes that can be inherited that are either much less common or have a weaker link. So, for example, there are genes called CHEK2 or PALB2, ATM, P53 – I just mention that because some of the listeners will potentially have one of those mutations or have heard it. Those are either rarer or they’re associated with a weaker chance of getting cancer.

So, those might be more commonly found in a family that doesn’t have a lot of cancer in it because a carrier – the mother or the father – and their other relatives would have maybe only a 30% chance of getting breast cancer in some cases. So, there would be a lot of carriers who don’t get cancer.

So, as I mentioned earlier, I think it’s really important – especially right now in metastatic breast cancer – that pretty much everybody, even if you didn’t have a strong family history, even if you weren’t diagnosed at a young age, get tested because if we find one of these inherited mutations, we now have some additional treatment options, especially right now, approved for BRCA1 or 2, but clinical trials going on for many of these other genes.

Katherine:                  

How do these mutations affect disease progression and prognosis?

Dr. Gralow:                

So, most of the genes I’ve mentioned – in their normal state, they’re critical, actually. They’re called DNA repair genes, and their job in our life is when we accidentally make a mistake when we’re replicating our DNA and two cells are dividing, if there’s a mistake in the DNA, they go in and repair it. And, we’ve got all kinds of mechanisms to try to prevent mutations from happening as cells divide, and BRCA1 and 2 are a key part of that, and so, they’re fixing it.

So, if you inherit a mutation in one of those genes, you still have some ability to repair any routine mistakes that are being made, but over time, you have less ability, and then, if you get a cancer that has a deficiency in BRCA1 or 2, those cancers can be more sensitive to certain kinds of chemotherapy that affects DNA repair.

So, for example a class of chemotherapy agents called the platinum drugs – carboplatin and cisplatin – may be more effective in BRCA1- or 2-mutated cancers, also more generally in triple negative breast cancer because they can be more similar to BRCA1-mutated cancers in a lot of ways.

So, to go back to your original question, once a cancer has developed in a patient who has a BRCA1 or 2 mutation, we treat that cancer for what it is. So, it might have developed estrogen – have estrogen receptor on the surface or HER2, so we treat it as the subtype that developed, and actually, the chance of cure is just the same for BRCA1-associated breast cancer as it would be for one that doesn’t have a BRCA.

But, the chance of getting a second breast cancer – a totally new breast cancer – would be higher unless you chose to remove both of your breasts and the bulk of your breast tissue. So, decisions like surgery – if you had a known BRCA1 mutation, we’d treat the cancer you have now aggressively and for cure, but when you talk about your surgery options, we’d say doing more aggressive surgery, like removing both of your breasts – that’s not going to improve your chance of surviving the cancer you have now, but it will markedly reduce the chance of getting a second breast cancer.

So, you could consider that as an option for surgery – not to improve your chance of this cancer, but to reduce the chance of another breast cancer. So, your surgery decisions might be impacted by knowing your BRCA1 or 2 mutation. And then, clearly, if you had metastatic breast cancer, knowing if you had the option of a PARP inhibitor, one of the drugs in that class could be – you could have a different treatment option for drug therapy.

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

What Could Metastatic Breast Cancer Genetic Testing Advances Mean for You? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How do genetic testing advances impact metastatic breast cancer patients? Dr. Julie Gralow discusses these advances, including treatment developments, and the importance of retesting over time. 

Dr. Julie Gralow is the Jill Bennett Endowed Professor of Breast Medical Oncology at the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. More about this expert here.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

Related Resources:

 

How Genetic Mutations Affect Metastatic Breast Cancer Disease Progression and Prognosis

Factors That Guide a Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decision

How Can You Advocate for the Best Breast Cancer Care?

 

Transcript:

Katherine:                  

What advances have there been in testing?

Dr. Gralow:                

Well, it used to be – just going back a couple of years ago – that we didn’t do a lot of this genetic testing or genomic profiling of the tumor because we didn’t have many – the term is an “actionable mutation.” So, if we found something, would we do something with it? Did we have a drug we could use to do it? But, more and more and more, even in breast cancer, we’re finding actionable mutations that would drive therapy.

For example, in estrogen receptor positive breast cancer, we have a new class of targeted therapies called PI 3-kinase inhibitors – a drug called alpelisib or Piqray was approved in the last couple of years in that category – and it only is effective in estrogen receptor positive breast cancer that has a mutation in the PI 3-kinase gene. So, that would be something we’re looking for in the tumor’s genes, and actually, we need to know that there’s a mutation to even get the drug approved for treatment because it doesn’t work if you don’t have that mutation.

Increasingly, we’re finding some changes that can happen in the estrogen receptor gene and the HER2 gene, interestingly, so that you can have estrogen receptor expressed on your tumor, but over time, that tumor might develop an estrogen receptor mutation so that it stops responding to certain drugs that target the estrogen receptor.

And so, that’s called an ESR1. That’s the name of the estrogen receptor gene – an ESR1 mutation – and that would tell me probably not going to respond as well to a drug in the class we call aromatase inhibitors, but might respond better to a drug in the class that we call the selective estrogen receptor degraders like fulvestrant or Faslodex, is the name of a drug in that class.

We’re also finding that you can have what we call activating mutations in HER2, and they can be present whether the tumor overexpresses HER2 or not, and we’ve got some ongoing clinical trials looking at if the tumor doesn’t have extra HER2 on its surface – so, it doesn’t have extra HER2 protein, but at the gene level, it’s got an activated HER2 gene – we can use certain types of HER2 therapy to treat it, and we’re testing that right now in clinical trials.

So, could we even use some HER2 drugs even though technically, the tumor would be classified as HER2 negative? So, fascinating increasing information that we’re understanding, and I also mentioned before we can inherit mutations in genes such as BRCA1 and 2, but fascinatingly, the tumor can acquire those mutations. Even if we didn’t inherit a mutation, we can see mutations in the BRCA1 and 2 gene – we call those somatic as opposed to germline mutations. So, “germline” means it’s in every cell in your body, but “somatic” means the tumor somehow acquired this over time.

And so, we’ve done – we just presented some very early results of a trial, and we’re expanding this trial, looking at if you didn’t inherit a BRCA1 or 2 mutation, so technically, you don’t qualify for a PARP inhibitor, but if the tumor acquired a mutation and we can prove that with testing the tumor’s DNA, then we have seen responses from these PARP inhibitors, so that opens up another whole class of treatments, and there are other DNA repair genes that actually may be qualified as well that we can inherit or that can be acquired by the tumor.

So, more and more, we’re doing this genomic profiling, and it is leading to results that would give us possible treatment options.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Gralow, the goal of this program is to provide the confidence and tool for patients to advocate for the essential tests to get best care personalized to them. Are there specific tests that patients should make sure they have?

Dr. Gralow:                

Well, there are a lot of assays out there to do this genomic profiling or genetic testing of the tumor, so I don’t promote any one. Various institutions do it and do it well, various companies do it, but I think every metastatic patient should have the tumor looked at in this kind of profiling.

I also think every metastatic patient should advocate for having a biopsy of their cancer, and if a biopsy cannot be done safely in the recurrence, then see if they could get a liquid biopsy – have blood drawn to find it. So, I think that patients should be asking about this. Sometimes, insurance won’t always cover it, and so, my job as a treating physician is to advocate for that, to do an appeal.

More and more, because we have so many actionable mutations in breast cancer now, I’m not having insurance decline, but occasionally, it does, and then it’s our job as the healthcare providers to make the case that yes, this will impact the patient, and yes, it should be covered by insurance.

Metastatic Breast Cancer: Debunking Common Misconceptions

Metastatic Breast Cancer: Debunking Common Misconceptions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Julie Gralow debunks common misconceptions about metastatic breast cancer, including the metastatic diagnosis itself and why genetic tests are important. 

Dr. Julie Gralow is the Jill Bennett Endowed Professor of Breast Medical Oncology at the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. More about this expert here.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

Related Resources:

How Genetic Mutations Affect Metastatic Breast Cancer Disease Progression and Prognosis

Factors That Guide a Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decision

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

 


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

All right. Dr. Gralow, when you meet with patients, what are some of the more common misconceptions that you hear related to diagnosis?

Dr. Gralow:                

Well, I think people do confuse – especially at an early diagnosis – that the metastases, the travel to the local lymph nodes, is not the same as a metastatic breast cancer, so we spend some time talking about how it’s still curable and not considered a distant metastasis if the lymph nodes are in the armpit or up above the collarbone, and so, that’s something that we spend some time talking about.

This whole term of “metastatic recurrence” – unfortunately, when you start looking online and get your information from Dr. Google, you read right away that it’s no longer curable, and in 2020, yes, that’s true. That’s probably the most specific statement that we can make. We are not going with curative intent, which means we treat for a defined amount of time, and then all the disease goes away, and we stop treatment, and then you go on with your life, and it never comes back. That would be cure.

But, I think it’s really important to point out that much of metastatic breast cancer can be highly treatable, and what we hope to do – and certainly, at least a subset of metastatic breast cancer – we want to convert it more to what we would call a chronic disease, and so, think of it more like hypertension, high blood pressure, or diabetes. These are diseases that we generally don’t cure with treatment, but that we can control with drug therapy, which sometimes has to be adjusted, and if we don’t control it, we can get some bad complications.

So, that’s not all metastatic breast cancer, unfortunately – we can’t convert all of it to something where we can use a therapy for a long time that keeps it in check and where you have a pretty good quality of life – but we’re hoping that more and more, we’re getting targeted therapies and more specific treatments to patients so that we can convert more patients to a more chronic kind of situation.

What Are Essential Genetic Tests for Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients?

What Are Essential Genetic Tests for Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Genetic tests can help guide metastatic breast cancer care. Dr. Julie Gralow discusses essential genetic tests for metastatic breast cancer, and how results impact treatment decisions.

Dr. Julie Gralow is the Jill Bennett Endowed Professor of Breast Medical Oncology at the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. More about this expert here.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

Related Resources:

 

How Genetic Mutations Affect Metastatic Breast Cancer Disease Progression and Prognosis

Metastatic Breast Cancer: Debunking Common Misconceptions

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

 


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

For a patient to get diagnosed, what are the essential tests?

Dr. Gralow:                

So, we’re talking about metastatic breast cancer here, and in the U.S., maybe up to 10% or slightly less of breast cancer is technically Stage 4 or metastatic at diagnosis. That means at the time we first found it in the breast, it had already spread beyond. So, an important thing that we’ll do with a newly diagnosed breast cancer is especially if there are a lot of lymph nodes are involved or the patient has symptoms that might say there’s something in the bone, liver, or lung is staging.

So, we’ll use scans – maybe a CAT scan, bone scan, or PET scan – and we will look at whether the disease has gone beyond the breast and the lymph nodes, and if so, where. So, maybe 8-10% of breast cancer diagnosed in the U.S. already has some evidence that it has spread beyond the breast, but the most common way that metastatic breast cancer happens is that a patient was diagnosed possibly years and years ago, treated in the early-stage setting, and now it comes back, and that is the most common presentation for metastatic breast cancer, and sometimes that can be due to symptoms.

As I said, if it comes back in the bone, maybe that’s bone pain. If it’s in the lung, it’s a cough. There are symptoms. Sometimes, it’s because we’ve done a blood test or something and we find some changes there.

And so, when a breast cancer has recurred, it’s really important to document that it’s really breast cancer coming back, first of all, and so, if we can, we generally want a biopsy, and we want to stick a needle in it if it’s safe to do, and look and verify that it looks like breast cancer, and also, it’s really important that we repeat all those receptors that we talked about from the beginning because it can change.

So, a cancer up front 10 years ago could have been positive for estrogen receptor, but the only cells that survived – mutated, changed – were estrogen receptor negative, so what comes back could be different. So, it’s really critical to get that biopsy, repeat the estrogen/progesterone receptor and HER2, and also, in an ideal world, now that it’s 2020 and we’re moving more toward genomics, to do a full genomic profile and look for other changes and mutations that could drive our therapeutic options.

So, staging, knowing where the cancer is, getting a good baseline by understanding where it is and how big it is so that we can follow it and hopefully see that it’s responding to treatment, and then, repeating all of the biology components so that we know what the best options are for treatment are really critical.

Katherine:                  

Right. How can patients advocate for a precise breast cancer diagnosis, and why is that important?

Dr. Gralow:                

Well, all those things I just mentioned are key. Knowing exactly where it is so that we can monitor it – for example, if the cancer has come back in the bones, we would add what we call a bone modifying agent, a drug like zoledronic acid or denosumab – Zometa or Xgeva – which can suppress bone destruction from the cancer, but if it’s not in the bone, we wouldn’t add that.                                   

And, we want to have a good look everywhere so that we can see if it’s responding because sometimes, the tumor can respond differently in one area than another. Also, I think it’s really important to know what your treatment options are by doing that biopsy, getting a full panel, and looking at potentially hundreds of genes that could be mutated, deleted, or amplified so that we know what our treatment options are.

And, we’re not going to use all the treatment options up front, so it’s helpful for knowing that if this treatment doesn’t work or is too toxic, what are the second-line or third-line options? So, we make sure that there’s what we call good staging up front so we know where the cancer is, and then we make sure that we’ve looked at it as best we can in 2020 with all the genomics.

 That would give us the best chance of being tailored – individualized – to the tumor. Sometimes, if we can’t biopsy it, like with a needle that would go into a liver spot, then increasingly, we’re looking at what we call liquid biopsies, and that can be drawing the blood and seeing if we can find parts of the tumor, whether it be the DNA or the RNA that’s floating around in the blood, and sometimes we can get that information out of the blood as well.