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How Is Lung Cancer Treated?

How Is Lung Cancer Treated? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lung cancer expert Dr. Jyoti Patel provides an overview of lung cancer treatment approaches, including radiation therapies, targeted therapies, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and surgery.

Jyoti Patel, MD, is Medical Director of Thoracic Oncology and Assistant Director for Clinical Research at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. She is also Associate Vice-Chair for Clinical Research and a Professor in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Dr. Patel is a leader in thoracic oncology, focusing her efforts on the development and evaluation of novel molecular markers and therapeutics in patients battling non-small cell lung cancer. Learn more about Dr. Patel.

See More from Thrive Lung Cancer

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Understanding Lung Cancer Treatment Goals

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Personalized Medicine: Making Lung Cancer Treatment Decisions


Transcript:

Katherine:

I’d like to walk through the types of treatments that are used today to treat lung cancer. Let’s start with surgery.  

Dr. Patel:

We think about local therapies as things like surgery. So, surgery has evolved, again, significantly.  

Now with videoscopic approaches and robotic approaches we’re able to remove a tumor either with a larger incision – more traditional incision – or some of the smaller incisions. And the goal of doing the surgery is often to want to diagnosis the cancer. So, to do a biopsy. But when it’s used in terms of cancer treatment, the goal of surgery is to get a complete resection.  

So, we only do surgery if we can remove a tumor and mass with clear margins and not compromise other vital functions. Sometimes we’ll, again, do a more palliative surgery if we need to, if there’s a problem that’s causing significant symptoms. But in that case, the surgery is generally not improving the survival of the patient. It’s trying to palliate symptoms.  

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. What about other types of therapy? 

Dr. Patel:

Other localized therapies predominately include radiation therapy. And, again, radiation has significantly changed over the past years. We’ve been able to incorporate new technologies, truly target tumors, and to minimize toxicity, with two kinds of radiation. Photon therapy, which is more traditional therapy, and proton therapy, which we see administered in a very small subset of patients.  

Primarily, photon therapy, we treat tumors, sometimes over many weeks, to decrease toxicity versus sometimes we give one or two doses of radiation in a high-dose fashion that’s very targeted.  So, often for the chest in stage III cancer, for example, a patient may end up getting six weeks of radiation Monday to Friday with chemotherapy.  

And that, again, is curative intent. It’s to ablate the cancer and to provide the best local treatment. 

Often, we’ll do something called stereotactic radiation therapy. And that is if there is a discreet mass, often that could be if the cancer is metastasized to the brain, we can give very targeted radiation there, again, to ablate the tumor.  

In patients who may not be candidates for surgery because lung surgery is a big deal, right? Removing part of your lung can lead to morbidity in someone with other medical issues. Sometimes we can use pinpoint radiation in the lung and see really good outcomes for patients with good disease control.  

Katherine:

You’re also using chemotherapy still, I would imagine? 

Dr. Patel:

The other part of treatment for lung cancer are systemic therapies. And there a number of systemic therapies. So, I sort of break it down into three major parts. One is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy remains a backbone of treatment for lung cancer.  

It’s a lot more tolerable and much more personalized than ever before. Often chemotherapy can be given to patients without significant toxicities. Not everyone loses their hair. Not everyone has neuropathy. Often, I have patients who are working and taking care of their families on chemotherapy. So, it is a good and very reasonable option. But two things that we’re really most excited about – and I think have changed the field most dramatically – are targeted therapies and immunotherapies.  

Katherine:

Mm-hmm.  

Dr. Patel:

These targeted therapies are rationally designed molecules or antibodies that block proteins that may be overexpressed in lung cancer.  

So, some of them are the byproducts of mutated genes that are upregulated and causing a cancer to grow. Others may just be that we’re seeing a high level of protein expression on the cancer cell. But these targeted therapies preferentially bind to their targets that are present on cancer cells and not so much normal cells. Because of this, often there is less toxicity to normal cells. But because we can find specific targets – and the best targets are ones that are only expressed on cancer cells.  

But because we can find a direct target, sometimes we’re able to design drugs that may have significant efficacy. So, 80 percent or 90 percent of people who have a particular target and are able to get a targeted therapy may have a response to treatment. Targeted therapy can be great for some patients. And patients may be on oral medications, sometimes for years, to control their cancer.  

The other real game-changer in the past decade for lung cancer has been the integration of immunotherapy. Approved immunotherapies currently are primarily antibodies that we give to patients. And these antibodies block proteins that are expressed by cancer cells which downregulate the immune system. By shutting down these proteins, your own immune system is able to kind of re-see the cancer cell and kill it.  

And so, now we know in patients with more advanced disease that immunotherapy or immunotherapy with chemotherapy leads to better outcomes than we’ve ever seen. We also use immunotherapy for patients with stage III lung cancer after chemotherapy and radiation. And this improves their survival significantly.  

And most recently, we’ve now integrated immunotherapy after surgery for patients with early-staged disease to decrease their chance of relapse from cancer.   

Katherine:

So, are there options for relapsed patients? 

Dr. Patel:

So, absolutely. Most of our therapies in the metastatic setting work for some time. And then cancer is a difficult adversary. It figures out how to overcome whatever strategy we’re using and becomes resistant. When that happens, often we need to change course. We need to try a new therapy. We have a number of therapies that we’re looking at in the first- and second-line settings. And we’re trying to understand best therapies for subsequent lines of treatment.  

Generally, I say treatment is appropriate if you’re feeling pretty well, right? If you’re able to tolerate treatment, then the likelihood that you would be able to benefit from therapy is significant. How that changes over time weighs heavily on our decision. So, if someone’s having more fatigue or more symptoms from their cancer, it may be that even a little bit of toxicity proves too much.  

Whereas if someone is feeling still really good, we may be willing to say, okay, I’m going to take a little bit more of a risk for the benefit of improved cancer control.  

What Patients Should Know About Developing MPN Treatments and Research

What Patients Should Know About Developing MPN Treatments and Research from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN expert Dr. Gabriela Hobbs provides an update on developments in myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) treatment and research. Dr. Hobbs explains how clinical trials and global research collaborations advance MPN care.

Dr. Gabriela Hobbs is a hematology-oncology physician specializing in the care of patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN), chronic myeloid leukemia and leukemia. Dr. Hobbs serves as clinical director of the adult leukemia service at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn more about Dr. Gaby Hobbs.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Hello and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today we’re going to discuss the advancements in MPN research through clinical trials. Before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you. Well, let’s meet our guest today. Joining me is Dr. Gabby Hobbs. Dr. Hobbs, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Hi, how are you? Thank you so much for having me. My name is Gabby Hobbs. I’m the clinical director of the Adult Leukemia Service at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. And I dedicate my clinical time and research efforts to the care of patients with Myeloproliferative Neoplasms.  

Katherine:

Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.  

Dr. Hobbs:

Thank you.  

Katherine:

I’d like to start by discussing your role as an MPN researcher. You’re on the front lines for advancements in the field. What led you to there and why is it so important to you?  

Dr. Hobbs:

Many things in my life led me to becoming an MPN clinician. First, I wanted to be a clinical investigator since I was very little, and I read a Louis Pasteur book about – you know. And I was fascinated by the fact that you could be both a scientist and a clinician. And after that, I had phenomenal teachers and mentors. And I was really always drawn to patients with hematologic malignancies. I thought that that interaction was very intense and intimate.  

And I was honored to be a part of that interaction. And then from a research perspective and from a scientific perspective, I very clearly remember seeing when the first targeted therapy, Imatinib, was approved when I was an undergrad. And I just thought that was the most fascinating thing. And so, I’ve basically continued to feel that way as I’ve gone through my training and I’m thrilled to be able to have actually become an MPN clinician so many years later.  

Katherine:

With the American Society of Hematology or ASH meeting taking place this month, it demonstrates how researchers work together around the world to advance care.   

Can you share with the audience how this collaboration works?  

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. So, the American Society of Hematology meeting – or the ASH meeting – is really one of my favorite events of the year.  

And it really highlights what you said. It is such a positive environment, and it’s so exciting to use that opportunity to talk to my collaborators from across the globe. And I really think that that’s where the scientific community shines because really all of us are actually trying to figure out how to work together and overcome sometimes a lot of obstacles – bureaucratic obstacles, regulatory obstacles – to make sure that we can share data, do it the right way. But really we always have one thing in mind.  

And that is to be able to advance the care that we give our patients. And so, that collaboration and really that collaborative environment is always very positive. And I always come back home very energized from that. And then just seeing all my colleagues presenting all the wonderful things that they are working on and getting updates on their research is just an exciting environment.   

Katherine:

In your view, why is it essential to present and share data at these larger conferences like ASH? 

 Dr. Hobbs:

So, for many different reasons. I mean, there are many different ways of presenting data that can be done through just publishing a paper. But the nice thing about conferences – and especially large conferences – is that you really get an opportunity to present work in progress. And some of these research projects may not end up turning into bigger projects or they may not become bigger trials. But all of them have at least an opportunity to learn something from them, whether or not they worked or they didn’t work.  

Oftentimes when things are published in journals, especially the high-impact journals, we are seeing trials that had positive results. But sometimes we don’t see those smaller trials that never went anywhere. And so, having a forum when we can discuss work that’s ongoing, discuss about projects that are maybe having issues, all those things actually really help us to change our research questions or develop new research questions based on what’s working and also really what’s not working. And so, having this large forum to present all of that data, I think, is really, really important to helping us design future clinical trials and projects.  

Katherine:

Yeah. Well, this is a great way to begin our clinical trial discussion, Dr. Hobbs. This research all requires MPN patients to participate in clinical trials. So, what should be considered when deciding whether to join a trial? 

Dr. Hobbs:

What a great question. Many things need to be considered when joining a trial. And I think some patients are really eager to join a trial, and they just need to be aware that they may be either too healthy, or they may have other things going on that may not make them eligible.  

And that’s okay. There are actually many ways of participating in research, even if it’s not a clinical trial that requires a medicine. For example, we often can send patients to what’s called a tissue bank where they have patients just give a sample of blood.  

So, patients can participate in research in many different ways. When considering whether or not a patient should enroll in an actual clinical trial with a new medicine, I think it’s really important for the patients to be informed and to not be afraid to ask questions. First, what is a clinical trial? Second, what will this trial involve? Is this a drug that has never been given to people before, or is this a drug that has already undergone many different clinical trials? And this trial that’s being offered is a Phase III trial where the purpose of the study is to get the drug to be approved.  

So, I think learning about the risk of the study, how it’s been utilized. And also the other more practical things. What is the time commitment of this clinical trial? How often are you going to have to be going to the office because of the clinical trial? Because there’s certainly a big investment in the part of the patients in terms of their time. Participating in a clinical trial most of the time requires more time than not participating in a clinical trial. That’s not always the case. There are some studies that definitely don’t require that many visits.  

But most clinical trials will require at least something extra from the patient. And I think it’s really important to ask about that, to read the consent that’s given to the patients. Oftentimes these consents are very long.  

And so, they can be overwhelming. I personally find them overwhelming. And I review a lot of those consents. And so, I think taking a minute to really ask those questions, speaking to the research staff, and getting the clarification on that is really important.  

Like you said, it is impossible to approve new therapies and improve the care that we offer our patients without patients participating in the clinical trial. But that doesn’t mean that absolutely every single patient needs to participate in a clinical trial if it just doesn’t make sense for them. [14:17]  

Katherine:

There have been huge developments in the last 10 to 15 years in the field of MPN. So, I’d like to dig a little deeper. We hear about the common driver mutations in MPNs like JAK2, CALR, and MPL. How are these being studied , and what is being discovered? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. So, it’s amazing how in the last 15 years really so much has been discovered. You know. The JAK2 mutation was first published out in 2005 and calreticulin in 2013. So, those are relatively recent discoveries. And I think a lot of efforts has been put into learning about what these mutations are doing and how they lead to disease. And so, we have the JAK inhibitors, which block the signaling through a pathway called JAK-STAT. And all of these mutations will activate that pathway within cells.  

And so, many of the approved drugs, for example, ruxolitinib (Jakafi), fedratinib (Inrebic), and pacritinib (Vonjo), work on blocking that pathway.  

But since then we’ve also learned that there are other mutations and other pathways that are likely involved in the development of myeloproliferative neoplasms and also their progression. And so, what we’re seeing now is that many of the clinical trials that are being conducted don’t just target the JAK-STAT pathway or the pathway that’s influenced by these main mutations.  

But also block other pathways to try to really block all the variant expression of signaling in the myeloproliferative neoplasms. And so, we’re trying to attack it by many different angles.  

Katherine:

Yeah. Is there a possibility of specific targeted therapies at MPNs similar to those in AML such as FLT3 inhibitors? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Absolutely. So, similarly to AML, we know that we have mutations in similar types of genes called tyrosine kinases. So, these are enzymes that are turned on and always active. And so, I think there is definitely hope that we can develop some targeted agents. For example, ruxolitinib or the other JAK inhibitors are similar. They’re tyrosine kinase inhibitors where they block an enzyme, specifically the JAK2 enzyme.  

But I think that we can definitely do better and develop more specific inhibitors, for example, a molecule that just blocks the JAK2 mutation and not just every JAK2 molecule in every cell. Similarly to AML, there are mutations, for example, in enzymes called IDH.  

And we have IDH inhibitors for AML. And there are some studies that are using IDH inhibitors for MPN. So, I think we’re going to continue to see more targeted therapies specific to the mutations that occur in MPN.  

Katherine:

Yeah. Let’s talk about ET for a moment. Is there any research being done to help better manage this condition? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. I would say that of the three MPNs, ET is certainly the one that has the least amount of drugs that are being currently studied for this group. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any research. Ropeginterferon (Besremi), which was recently approved in polycythemia vera, is now being studied in essential thrombocythemia.  

So, I would expect in the next couple of years, if those trials are successful, to have ropeginterferon as a therapy to offer patients. There is also a clinical trial that we have at our site.  

We’re using ruxolitinib or Jakafi for patients with ET that have symptoms of their disease to see if it can help them in the same way that it can help PV or myelofibrosis patients. So, there’s definitely some research going on in ET. But probably less than for PV and myelofibrosis.  

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. While ET is typically well-managed, what patient type might benefit from joining a trial? 

Dr. Hobbs:

It really depends on what the patient is experiencing. I think there are some patients that really are very asymptomatic and can expect to have an excellent outcome with their disease. But they can also participate in research, for example, by participating in a tissue bank and offering a sample of their blood or if they have a bone marrow by offering some bone marrow if there’s extra. Because that can really help to understand the disease biology, if a patient is going to progress from ET to myelofibrosis.  

So, we can learn a lot from that. But then there are maybe some ET patients that need to be on a medication to reduce their blood counts or a cytoreductive agent.  

And that’s a patient that could ask about participation in a clinical trial. For example, the ropeginterferon study or, like I mentioned, there may be some patients that maybe are already on a medication and their blood counts aren’t well controlled on the first drug that was used.  

So, before considering switching to a second-line agent or a second medication, that could inquire with their clinician if there’s a clinical trial available for second-line use. Or those patients that have a lot of symptoms with ET, they could potentially be eligible for a study that addresses just symptoms.  

Katherine:

Right. That’s really good news. I’m glad you talked about that.  

Dr. Hobbs:

Mm-hmm.  

Katherine:

There was recently an interferon approved for use in patients with PV. What other studies are showing promise for patients with PV?  

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. So, we as a community, there’s been a lot of excitement about this new interferon that was approved, the ropeginterferon study. And there are still some ongoing studies utilizing ropeginterferon to see if we can use it differently. Because currently the way that that drug is approved is that it has to be titrated up very slowly to get to the maximum dose. So, that’s something that is still ongoing. In addition, there’s a new drug that’s being studied called Rusfertide (PTG-300) from a company called Protagonist. And this drug has been very interesting. It acts through iron metabolism.   

And so far in preliminary results, it has shown that a lot of the participants that receive this medication no longer need phlebotomy. And I think what’s exciting about this is that phlebotomy is a very archaic way of treating patients.  

And I hope that we can stop utilizing it. So, it’s nice to have a compound that’s specifically asking that question. And the other thing to keep in mind is that this drug has been used in combination with other drugs, which is really reflective of how participants or patients show up to clinics.  

Some patients are not going to be on any medications. Some patients may be on hydroxyurea.  

Some patients may be on an interferon. Some patients may be on Jakafi. And these trials allow participants to be on a variety of different medications. So, that’s an exciting new compound.  

Katherine:

What about myelofibrosis, Dr. Hobbs? What advances are being made in the care of patients with this more advanced MPN?  

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. So, in myelofibrosis, I would say it is almost difficult to keep track of how many clinical trials are currently open. So, in 2011, we had ruxolitinib approved, or Jakafi. That was the first JAK inhibitor. Since then we’ve had two more JAK inhibitors approved, fedratinib and most recently pacritinib. And we’re currently awaiting the fourth JAK inhibitor to be approved, and that’s called momelotinib.   

And in addition to the JAK inhibitors, there are lots of other clinical trials underway right now that are either alone – a drug by itself or a drug in combination with ruxolitinib.  

So, there are several Phase III studies. And the reason why that’s important is that after Phase III we usually see a drug approval. So, we can expect, hopefully in the next couple of years, to see many more drugs available on the market to treat patients with myelofibrosis. Some of those include agents that block different pathways within a cell. And that includes a drug called parsaclisib. There’s a drug called pelabresib, which is a BET inhibitor.  

There’s another drug called navitoclax, which is a cousin of venetoclax (Venclexta), which is a drug that we’ve been using a lot in leukemia. So, there’s lots of different drugs that are being used in combination with Ruxolitinib. There’s also a drug called luspatercept (Reblozyl) that’s also been approved for myelodysplastic syndromes. And I suspect that that’ll be approved as well to help patients with anemia. So, really, there’s lots of drugs that are being studied right now. And I think the question that we’re all asking is, well, how are we going to use all of these different drugs? So, I look forward to seeing the results of those studies.  

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. Will some drugs work better for some patients and others not? 

Dr. Hobbs:

That is such a good question. And so, what I’m hoping to see is exactly that. I’m hoping to see that for patients, for example with anemia, perhaps we’re going to be using luspatercept and momelotinib. Perhaps we’re going to see that patients with certain mutations may respond better to certain medications like the BET inhibitors or navitoclax or the PI3 kinase inhibitor, parsaclisib. But as of now, we don’t have enough information.  

We haven’t seen enough results of these studies to start to be able to know, you know, what is the patient that’s going to do better with two drugs versus one drug? And so, I think that over the next couple of years we’re going to start to have answers to those questions.  

Katherine:

Yeah. I’d like to get specific about your research. What are you excited about right now? 

Dr. Hobbs:

A few different things. There’s a clinical trial that I’ve been leading for several years now that got somewhat delayed due to the pandemic that’s utilizing ruxolitinib before, during, and after transplantation for patients with Myelofibrosis.  

And that study is hopefully going to finish accrual in the next couple of months. So, I’m excited to see the results of that study. That study was presented at ASH of last year, the interim results of that study. And so far, we’ve seen exciting results. Patients have done well with transplant while receiving ruxolitinib.  

We’ve seen that patients that have undergone transplant and have received ruxolitinib have had very low rates of a complication of transplant called graft-versus-host disease.   

And that’s been very exciting, because we know that graft-versus-host disease is really very difficult to deal with after transplant. It can really impact quality of life. And so, that’s been exciting to see that we can help our patients to better tolerate this difficult treatment. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, we’re treating patients that have low-risk essential thrombocythemia and polycythemia vera with ruxolitinib also to see if their quality of life can improve.  

We know that patients with ET and PV live with a lot of symptoms. And often times patients that are considered low-risk can still have a lot of symptoms. And therapies haven’t really specifically been studied just to improve symptoms. Really, therapies are usually used to reduce the risk of having blood clots.  

Katherine:

What about checkpoint inhibitors? You’ve done a study about that? Or it’s ongoing? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Yes. Great question. So, a few years ago we utilized a checkpoint inhibitor called Pembrolizumab for patients with advanced myeloproliferative neoplasms. And that study was open at Mass General and also at Mount Sinai. We were worried that it wouldn’t be well tolerated. But it was actually very well tolerated. But unfortunately patients didn’t have a response. And a group at MD Anderson utilized another checkpoint inhibitor, Nivolumab, for these patients. And similarly they also didn’t see a response.  

So, that was disappointing. However, I do think that there is a role for immunotherapy in patients with MPNs. I think that we probably need to think about utilizing the checkpoint inhibitors maybe earlier or maybe in combination with other agents. This has been done, for example, in solid tumors where two checkpoint inhibitors are sometimes utilized together. So, I think their area of investigation is still worth pursuing even though that was a disappointing result.  

Katherine:

Yeah. Yeah. Any other research that’s going on that you’re doing? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. We are looking forward to opening some clinical trials using different drugs in combination with ruxolitinib to offer different treatments to our patients up front. And so, instead of offering just single-agent JAK inhibitor, we can combine that with one of the new agents. And so, I’m looking forward to seeing how that’s going to work for my patients and to be able to offer them another treatment. I’m also thinking of developing a clinical trial for use in patients that have clonal hematopoiesis.  

So, patients that have this entity called CHIP where they have a JAK2 mutation but maybe don’t have overt disease. We know that they have a high rate of transformation to an actual MPN. So, we’re working to develop clinical trials for those patients with the hope of maybe preventing the MPN from ever happening. 

Katherine:

That’s great. We have some questions from the audience that were sent in prior to the program. Carl asks, “Are MPNs inherited? And why does one sibling develop an MPN and the other does not?”  

Dr. Hobbs:

Great question. So, historically, we’ve always said MPNs are very rarely inherited. Now that we’re able to test for JAK2 mutations more commonly, we have, I think over the last decades, probably found that there are more families where the MPNs kind of run in the family.  

Katherine:

Mm-hmm.  

Dr. Hobbs:

Generally speaking, it’s very rare for MPNs to run in the family. I would say less than 10 percent of the case. And this is why a sibling can have an MPN and one doesn’t, even if they’re identical twins.  

Katherine:

Is research being done to learn more about who may be at risk for developing an MPN? 

Dr. Hobbs:

So, over the list, there’s been a lot of attention placed on this entity called clonal hematopoiesis of indeterminate potential. And through those types of investigations, we’ve learned that people can actually live with a JAK2 mutation for many years, even decades, before they develop a myeloproliferative neoplasm. And so, indirectly, I think that type of research will help us understand why some people get the JAK2 mutation to begin with and what else needs to happen in a patient’s life for that person to develop an MPN.  

Because clearly there are many more people walking around with a JAK2 mutation than there are people with an actual MPN. So, there’s something else other than that JAK2 mutation that predisposes patients to then develop an MPN.  

Katherine:

Angela has another question. “What are the long-term effects of JAK inhibitors? And what happens when JAK inhibitors are no longer effective?” 

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. Great question. So, so far the patients that have been on JAK inhibitors for a long time don’t seem to have the development of additional toxicities that we didn’t know about. So, I’ll just comment on some of the things that we do know about. Weight gain is a common complaint that I have from patients, especially those that have polycythemia vera, because maybe they didn’t want to gain weight when they were put on a JAK inhibitor compared to the myelofibrosis patients who maybe had lost a lot of weight before being on a JAK inhibitor.  

There are certainly higher risk probably of developing infections with some of the JAK inhibitors. And we see, for example, shingles reactivation being a common one. And there’s the concern of development of skin cancers, which has been seen with some JAK inhibitors. But generally speaking, long-term use seems to be safe. That being said, ruxolitinib, which is the oldest one to be approved, has only been around since 2011, so we don’t have decades worth of experience to know.   

When JAK inhibitors stop working – to answer the second part of your question – until fairly recently we really didn’t have a whole lot to offer because there was only one JAK inhibitor. Now we have two others. We have fedratinib and also pacritinib. And we know from the studies that have been done with both of these agents that some patients that lose response to Jakafi, meaning that their spleen starts to grow or their symptoms start to come back, can be treated with these other JAK inhibitors.   

And many patients will, again, have control of their spleen and symptoms. Now losing response to a JAK inhibitor can come in many different ways. And so, some patients may also develop signs of having leukemia or progression of their disease to leukemia. And, unfortunately, for those patients, being on another JAK inhibitor doesn’t make sense. So, those patients may need to receive other types of medications or a stem cell transplant.   

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. Gary has two questions for you. The first is, “How useful is having a genetic panel done? Should all patients get molecular or genetic testing?” 

Dr. Hobbs:

Great question. And I think that it is very important to have genetic testing.  

And genetic testing involves more than just testing the JAK2 mutation. So, we know that the JAK2 mutation is the most common mutation in patients with MPN. But that being said, there are other mutations that also occur such as the calreticulin mutation and the MPL mutation. And so, I think having genetic testing that at least tests for those three mutations is very important so that we can actually help a patient know that they have an MPN. In addition to those three main mutations, many clinicians now have access to what’s called extended next-generation sequencing, where there’s a panel that tests for many different genes at the same time and can test for a variety of other mutations.  

And this is particularly relevant for patients with myelofibrosis. As we know that having other mutations, like, for example, mutations in IDH or ASXL1 and others, can increase the risk of that disease in terms of its risk of transforming to leukemia or how long a patient may live with their myelofibrosis. 

And so, I do recommend having extended next-generation sequencing done at least at diagnosis.  

When I generally think about repeating that, if there’s something that looks like it’s changing within the patient’s disease, to be honest, also on the flipside of that argument, sometimes this next-generation sequencing will mostly contribute to adding anxiety and will not necessarily directly impact how a patient is treated. And this is particularly true in patients with PV and ET, where we’ll sometimes order these tests, and we get a bunch of mutations back, but we don’t know what to do with that information yet.   

And so, as a researcher – not a clinician – as a researcher, I think it’s very important to have that information so that we can then do studies and understand the patterns of mutations and how that affects outcome. But as a clinician, and you as a patient, you need to really be aware of how that’s going to impact the patient in front of you and how that may impact you as a patient. Do you want to know if you have these mutations if nothing can be done about it? So, I would say, take a moment to reflect upon what I said and also to ask your clinician, how is this information going to help me? Do I need to have this information?  

Maybe you want to have it done so that it’s in your record. But maybe you don’t necessarily want to know those results. And everybody’s very different. And I think it’s absolutely wonderful to talk to my patients about all the information. But there may be some patients that really are just, like, do the test but don’t tell me the results, because I know that I’m just going to be very anxious knowing that I have something that I can’t do anything about. So, just take a minute to talk about it with your doctors. I think that’s really important.  

Katherine:

Yeah. Yeah. Here’s Gary’s second question. “Is allele burden a key predictor of progression?” And before you answer that, Dr. Hobbs, what does “allele burden” mean, and how does it impact progression? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Great questions. And I hope that in the next couple years I have a much better answer for you. So, maybe I’ll come back again and maybe we can talk about this again. So, allele burden – just simply put – is basically, like, how many of the stem cells in your bone marrow have that JAK2 mutation. And that’s a concept that’s not obvious. So, not all of a patient’s blood with an MPN has that JAK2 mutation. There are some stem cells that have the JAK2 mutation and produce JAK2-mutated blood. And then there are some stem cells that are normal that just make normal blood and don’t have a JAK2 mutation.  

And so, we can measure, what is a proportion of cells in the blood that has that JAK2 mutation? Now the next question should be very obvious and straightforward. But it really is not. So, what do we do with allele burden, and how do we measure that, and what does it mean if the allele burden goes up or it goes down? At this moment, we don’t necessarily know that. There have been some studies showing that maybe higher JAK2 mutation burden is maybe associated with progression or more with PV as opposed to ET.  

And we’d all like to think that lowering that JAK2 mutation level or that JAK2 allele burden has to be good and maybe will decrease progression or improve survival. We haven’t seen that yet. And so, I think we’re all really waiting to see, what does it mean to lower that JAK2 allele burden? And then how often should we be measuring that? But right now we really don’t know.  

Katherine:

Yeah. One more question for you. This one from Joseph. “I have PV and had adverse side effects from peginterferon alfa-2a (Pegasys). Is it likely that similar side effects would be experienced with Besremi?” 

Dr. Hobbs:

Good question. It’s hard to know. And it really depends on the severity of the side effects that you had and the type of side effect that you had. In my experience, ropeginterferon or Besremii is very well-tolerated compared to the other interferons that were available. But if you really had a severe side effect it may be difficult to consider trying it. But it’s worth considering it. I’ve definitely had patients that have gone from Pegasys to ropeginterferon without any difficulty. But just because you had a bad side effect to one doesn’t mean that you’ll have a bad side effect to the other.  

Katherine:

This is from Paul who lives in the United Kingdom. “How important is it to see an MPN specialist rather than a general hematologist? Right now I’m currently seeing a general hematologist who makes a note of my side effects but offers no coping strategies or solutions.” 

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. That is a great question. And one with not one answer. I would say that if you’re an MPN patient and you have a clinician that treats you that feels comfortable treating you or you feel heard and you’re being offered different ways of dealing with symptoms or side effects, etc., then perhaps you don’t have to go out of your way to find an MPN clinician. And participating in webinars like this or learning online may be sufficient to know how to advocate for yourself and how to monitor your disease. That being said, I do think that it’s nice for patients to at least have a one-time opinion with a specialist.  

And I would say that with the advent of virtual care, that has become increasingly more accessible. And so, if that’s something that’s available to you, that’s something you should consider. You know. Sometimes it’s very difficult to travel a long distance to meet with a specialist. But if you can avoid the travel by having a virtual visit, that often times can be very helpful in just knowing that you’ve met with somebody once. And then you can meet with that person periodically throughout your care can be very helpful. And I’ll tell you personally I see patients in the neighboring states to where I live.  

And I like to see those patients periodically or communicate with their local providers. And so, it just helps to offer care that’s very specialized in maybe areas of the country that don’t necessarily have access to specialized care. So, I would encourage patients to seek that out if that’s something that they’re interested in because it’s really become, I think, easier to access the specialists.  

Katherine:

Thank you for your thoughtful responses. And viewers please continue to send in your questions to question@powerfulpatients.org. Before we end the program, Dr. Hobbs, I’d like to hear why you’re hopeful about the future MPN care.   

Dr. Hobbs:

Thank you so much. Those are great questions. I feel very hopeful about the future of MPN. As we mentioned at the beginning of this webinar, the scientific community and the MPN community of clinicians and investigators, it’s such a nice example of how scientists can work together to improve the care of patients. That I always feel very inspired by my colleagues. And now that ASH is around the corner, I can tell you that I feel very hopeful for the future of MPNs because I know that we’re going to learn about a variety of different clinical trials that are showing promising results that are going to ultimately impact the way that we are able to treat our patients with MPN.   

And lastly, I feel very hopeful for the future of MPN because I know that the MPN community is very active. Patients participate in webinars like this, belong to different online groups, and are excellent advocates for themselves. I’ve seen firsthand in my clinic how when a drug gets approved, patients learn about new treatments online and come and ask for them. And so, I just feel very honored to be a clinician that is able to treat a group of patients that can advocate so well for themselves. And so, I definitely see lots of changes in the next couple years.  

Katherine:

This is from Paul who lives in the United Kingdom. “How important is it to see an MPN specialist rather than a general hematologist? Right now I’m currently seeing a general hematologist who makes a note of my side effects but offers no coping strategies or solutions.” 

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. That is a great question. And one with not one answer. I would say that if you’re an MPN patient and you have a clinician that treats you that feels comfortable treating you or you feel heard and you’re being offered different ways of dealing with symptoms or side effects, etc., then perhaps you don’t have to go out of your way to find an MPN clinician. And participating in webinars like this or learning online may be sufficient to know how to advocate for yourself and how to monitor your disease. That being said, I do think that it’s nice for patients to at least have a one-time opinion with a specialist.  

And I would say that with the advent of virtual care, that has become increasingly more accessible. And so, if that’s something that’s available to you, that’s something you should consider. You know. Sometimes it’s very difficult to travel a long distance to meet with a specialist. But if you can avoid the travel by having a virtual visit, that often times can be very helpful in just knowing that you’ve met with somebody once. And then you can meet with that person periodically throughout your care can be very helpful. And I’ll tell you personally I see patients in the neighboring states to where I live.  

And I like to see those patients periodically or communicate with their local providers. And so, it just helps to offer care that’s very specialized in maybe areas of the country that don’t necessarily have access to specialized care. So, I would encourage patients to seek that out if that’s something that they’re interested in because it’s really become, I think, easier to access the specialists.   

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. Dr. Hobbs, thank you so much for joining us today.  

Dr. Hobbs:

Thank you so much for having me.  

Katherine:

And thank you to all of our partners. To learn more about MPNs and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for joining us today. 

What You Should Know About DLBCL Treatment Side Effects

What You Should Know About DLBCL Treatment Side Effects from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Once a patient begins diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) treatment, what side effects could they experience? Dr. Kami Maddocks, reviews potential side effects and how they may be managed.

Dr. Kami Maddocks is a hematologist who specializes in treating patients with B-cell malignancies at the The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Maddocks.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

What are the side effects that patients can expect with these treatments?  

Dr. Maddocks:

So, when they get the treatment, on the day they get it, there can be an infusion reaction to the rituximab or antibody therapies. So, the first treatment, that treatment is given very slowly and titrated up. If patients have a reaction, we stop it, treat the reaction, and then they’re able to continue therapy but again, that first day, it can take several hours for that one antibody to get in. And then, later, therapies are given at a more rapid pace.   

So, about 70 percent of people who react, it can be really almost anything. Some people get flushing, some people will get a fever, some people –have shortness of breath or their heart rate will go up. 

Katherine:

Okay. All right. Any other side effects? 

Dr. Maddocks:

Yeah. So then chemotherapy is meant to kill cells during the cell cycle. So, cancer cells divide more rapidly, chemotherapy is targeting them, but it also effects good cells in the body, specifically those that divide at a more rapid pace. The biggest risk of chemotherapy is infection.  

So, it effects the good white blood cells that fight infections. It can affect your red cells that carry your iron, gives you your energy. Or your platelets which help you to clot or not bleed when you get caught. So, infection is the biggest risk of chemotherapy. So, usually, with this regimen, that infectious risk is highest within the second week of treatment, that treatment is given every three weeks.  

So, we tell patients they should buy a thermometer, check their temperature, they have to notify their doctor or go to the ER if they have a fever. Besides infection, there’s a small percentage of patients who might need a transfusion. GI toxicity. So, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, mouth sores, constipation, all of which we have good treatments for. So, we give medication before chemo to try to prevent people from getting sick and then give them medicine to go home with, if they have any nausea. We can alter those medications as time goes on, if they’re having any problems. So, we just need to know about it. Most patients will lose their hair with this regimen.  

It can affect people’s tastes, it can make their skin more sensitive to the sun, and then, less common but potential side effects are it can cause damage to the nerves. Or something we call neuropathy, which most often patients will start with getting numbness or tingling in their fingers and toes, and we can dose adjust if that’s causing some problems.  

And then, there’s a risk to the heart with one of the drugs. So, the heart should pump like this. The heart pump function can go down. So, we always check a patient’s heart pump function before they get their chemo, to make sure that they’re not at higher risk for that to happen.  

Katherine:

So, all of these approaches are used in initial treatment?  

Dr. Maddocks:

Mm-hmm. 

Katherine:

Okay. 

How to Treat PV-Related Itching

How to Treat PV-Related Itching  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Jeanne Palmer, from the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, explains pruritis, which is the itching related to polycythemia vera (PV), and discusses strategies for managing this MPN symptom.

Dr. Jeanne Palmer is a hematologist specializing in myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) and bone marrow transplant at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. Dr. Palmer also serves as Director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program and is Vice Chair and Section Chief for Hematology. Learn more about Dr. Palmer, here.

 

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

We received some audience questions prior to the program today. This one is from Jacqueline, “What can I do to minimize pruritus or itching due to PV? A typical histamine blocker like Claritin or Zyrtec has done nothing whatsoever.” 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Yeah. Unfortunately, the itching of this is not as much mediated by an allergic type reaction or histamine. It’s a lot related to that microvasculature, those tiny little blood vessels. Things like avoiding hot showers, as we talked about, taking cooler showers or not even taking showers, just like cleaning yourself with a washcloth can be helpful. There are certain medications that we can use sometimes that help. 

Now, first of all, Jakafi is extremely effective for itching. Of course, it does have side effects. It’s not always approved for your disease, so for example, it’s not approved for essential thrombocythemia. But JAK inhibitors can be helpful in that setting. There are also medications like gabapentin, which is a medicine that we use to treat peripheral neuropathy and that can actually be helpful because actually the itching, a lot of it is related to nerves not functioning right, so gabapentin can be helpful. 

And a really old-school medicine that I sometimes use, especially if the itching is most prevalent at night, is a drug called doxepin, and that’s been around for a very long time, but it can be extremely sedating and has to be used with caution, especially in patients who are older. 

What Are Common MPN Symptoms?

What Are Common MPN Symptoms? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Jeanne Palmer, an MPN specialist, reviews the most common symptoms associated with essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV), and myelofibrosis (MF).

Dr. Jeanne Palmer is a hematologist specializing in myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) and bone marrow transplant at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. Dr. Palmer also serves as Director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program and is Vice Chair and Section Chief for Hematology. Learn more about Dr. Palmer, here.

 

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Would you walk us through the common symptoms of each of the MPNs? Let’s start with essential thrombocythemia. 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Right. So, there are a number of shared symptoms throughout all the diseases and when we start to figure out how to categorize them, they call into several different categories. The first one is inflammation-related symptoms. We know that the inherent pathway that’s dysregulated or that causes these diseases to happen can also result in significant inflammation in a person, that can result in things like fevers, night sweats, weight loss, and overall feeling really fatigued and poorly, which is something that it seems to be much more prevalent in patients with MPNs, all sorts of them, actually. 

The next set of symptoms is related to microvasculature, so all the little blood vessels. And sometimes we think, oh, maybe that’s because there’s too many red blood cells or platelets and the blood become viscous. It’s probably more related to the actual dysregulation of that JAK2 pathway, which is inherent to all the myeloproliferative diseases and as a result, the little blood vessels can clamp down and that can give people headaches, visual changes, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, and even can cause sort of a painful rash called erythromelalgia in the body. 

So, these are things that can happen that are probably less appreciated side effects of the disease. And finally, there’s spleen-related symptoms. The spleen is in the left upper quadrant of the abdomen and it’s an organ that generally is about 12 centimeters in length, 10 to 12, but in patients with myeloproliferative diseases it can be enlarged. And as a result of an enlarged spleen people can have feeling like they get fuller early. So, if you’re eating a meal, all of the sudden you can only eat half of that meal versus the whole meal. 

Discomfort or pain in the left upper quadrant. Sometimes it’s much more noticeable when you like bend over to tie your shoes. And then sometimes people can actually, when the spleen gets really big, the blood flow can be impaired towards the end of it which can cause some of the spleen tissue to die, and that can be painful. So, these are things that if somebody does start to notice that they’re having fullness in the left upper quadrant, pain, stuff like that, that that may be related to spleen symptoms.  

Katherine Banwell:

What about PV or polycythemia vera, what are the symptoms? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, all of these sorts of relate to all of the myeloproliferative diseases. So, one other one that I didn’t mention, and this is actually more in PV than others, is itching. Itching can be absolutely unbearable when somebody has PV. It’s particularly noticeable after taking a shower. So, a lot of times I’ve met patients who are like I haven’t been able to take a shower in years, because it causes such a high degree of itching. 

Katherine Banwell:

Why a shower? Is it different from having a bath?  

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Water on the body that can cause the problem. So, if people take hot showers, it’s even worse. Although I think that people sort of react to it differently. Usually what patients end up doing is more like sponge bath type of things, rather than actually being exposed to the water. 

 Taking colder showers or cooler showers can sometimes help mitigate that. But the itching, and even in the absence of a shower, people can have pretty severe itching, and that can also be one of the major side effects. 

What Are Common Side Effects of DLBCL Treatment?

What Are Common Side Effects of DLBCL Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lymphoma expert Dr. Matthew Matasar reviews common side effects of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) treatment.

Dr. Matthew Matasar is a lymphoma expert at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Chief of Medical Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Bergen. To learn more about Dr. Matasar, visit here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

What are common side effects of DLBCL treatment approaches? 

Dr. Matasar:

Like anything, the side effects are dependent upon the treatments that we use. So, treatments that use chemotherapy-based approaches will often have the side effects that we associate with chemotherapy. And obviously not all chemotherapies are created equally. But treatments like R-CHOP or R-CHP-pola, or Polarix regimen, these are treatments that use traditional cytotoxic chemotherapy agents and anthracycline based chemotherapy that have well-characterized side effects that are unfortunately unavoidable but often temporary things like hair loss.  

And hair loss is unavoidable with these treatments although temporary.   

The Oncovin or polatuzumab treatments can lead to a problem called neuropathy, which can manifest as numbness or tingling in the fingers or toes or constipation because our intestines have nerves too that are affected by these treatments. Certainly fatigue and lowering of the immune system are common with these and other chemotherapy medicines as well. And your doctors will always talk to you about ways to reduce the risk of infection such as vaccination and such as anti-infective medicines or immune boosting medicines to try to limit the risk of infection while receiving such treatments.  

Why Patients Should Speak Up About WM Symptoms and Side Effects

Why Patients Should Speak Up About WM Symptoms and Side Effects from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM) causing fatigue? Dr. Jorge Castillo shares why WM patients should share any symptoms and side effects they experience with their healthcare team.

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

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Factors That Affect Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Treatment Decisions


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

Or if it’s something else.

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

Oh, absolutely.

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

Katherine:                  

Oh, yeah.

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

Understanding Common Bladder Cancer Treatment Side Effects

Understanding Common Bladder Cancer Treatment Side Effects from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Shilpa Gupta of the Cleveland Clinic reviews the most common side effects of bladder cancer therapies.

Dr. Shilpa Gupta is the Director of the Genitourinary Medical Oncology at Taussig Cancer Institute and Co-Leader of the Genitourinary Oncology Program at Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Gupta’s research interests are novel drug development and understanding biomarkers of response and resistance to therapies in bladder cancer. Learn more about Dr. Gupta, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:                  

I imagine side effects vary among patients. What side effects should someone undergoing treatment be aware of?

Dr. Gupta:                  

Yeah, and that also depends on what kind of treatment they’re getting, Katherine. So, if somebody’s getting chemotherapy, some of the usual chemotherapy related side effects.

Again, it depends on what chemotherapy they are getting, but usually it’s nausea, vomiting, peripheral neuropathy, hair loss, low count, so we try to prevent their counts from going down to prevent infection. If they’re undergoing a local therapy like BCG, they may get irritation in the bladder, something called urinary tract infections can happen, or just an inflammatory state.

Immunotherapy is not as hard as chemotherapy, any day it’s easier but it can cause some rare and infrequent side effects because the immune system can turn against other organs which can sometimes be life threatening or fatal. That could be inflammation of the lung, of the colon, of the different organs in the brain, of the thyroid gland, of muscles, of heart. It can be pretty much anything. We educate the patients accordingly for that.

And, as far as the newer antibody drug conjugates are concerned, they can cause neuropathy or low counts, hair loss. So, every treatment depending on what treatment we’re choosing has a different treatment side – related toxicity profile and we go about reducing or modifying doses as we go along treating the patient.

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

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

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

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

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Download Guide

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Transcript:

Katherine:      

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

Before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you. Joining us today is Dr. Jorge Castillo. Dr. Castillo, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Castillo:               

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

Happy to be here.

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

Katherine:                  

It is.

Dr. Castillo:               

I can just call it WM for ease.

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

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

Katherine:                  

Yes. How is it staged?

Dr. Castillo:               

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

Katherine:                  

How does the condition progress?

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

That’s what it sounds like.

Dr. Castillo:               

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

Katherine:                  

Are there test results that can impact options?

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

Knowledge is power.

Dr. Castillo:               

That’s right.

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

Or if it’s something else.

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

Oh, absolutely.

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

Katherine:                  

Oh, yeah.

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Castillo:               

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

Katherine:                  

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

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

Key Considerations When Making Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decisions

Key Considerations When Making Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decisions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Making metastatic breast cancer treatment decisions involves weighing key factors. Dr. Jane Lowe Meisel shares important considerations that aid in choosing the best treatment for an individual patient.

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

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

Related Resources:

Which Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Is Right for You? Guide

Factors That Guide a Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decision

What Is the Role of Genetic Testing in Breast Cancer?


Transcript:

Katherine:

Yeah. Yeah. So, what factors are considered when deciding on the best treatment approach for an individual patient?

Dr. Meisel:

So, I think certainly the tumor type that we were talking about. Is it estrogen-positive or HER2-negative or HER2-positive?

I think response to past treatments, both in terms of if someone has had metastatic disease for a long time and has had a few treatments already, how long did they respond to those treatments and how completely did they respond to those treatments?

Did they have stable disease for a while, or did their cancer actively shrink?

And then I think other than that, it would be some of the things I touched on. Side effect profiles. Do patients have pre-existing neuropathy from other chemotherapy? If so, maybe you want to avoid a regimen that causes more neuropathy. Schedule. Some patients, it’s really important to be on a certain schedule, as opposed to a different schedule. I think whether there are clinical trials available instead of whatever the standard of care regimen would be is also important.

Because for some patients who are interested in pushing the envelope or who might be a great candidate for a particular trial, if there is one that they’re a candidate for that’s not horribly inconvenient from a logistics standpoint, then trials I think are also a great option to consider. So, I think from an effectiveness standpoint, you want to think about the tumor type response to past treatments. And then potentially, if the patient has had, what we call genomic profiling, where the tumor has been sent for basically genomic analysis, to see what genes might be mutated in the tumor that could potentially drive a response to a newer, different therapy.

All those things can be taken into account as we think about the cancer. But then there are the patient-specific factors, and I think those would be mainly side effects, schedule, clinical trials and desire or not to pursue those. And then, just what the patient’s perspective is on the plan that you’re offering them. 

Myeloma Treatment Decisions: What Should Be Considered?

Myeloma Treatment Decisions: What Should Be Considered? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When deciding on a myeloma treatment, what factors affect your choice? Dr. Joshua Richter shares key considerations, the patient role in making decisions, as well as key questions to ask about treatment

Dr. Joshua Richter is director of Multiple Myeloma at the Blavatnik Family – Chelsea Medical Center at Mount Sinai. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Medicine in The Tisch Cancer Institute, Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology. Learn more about Dr. Richter, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Dr. Richter, would you please start by introducing yourself?

Dr. Richter:

Sure, my name is Dr. Joshua Richter. I’m an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Tisch Cancer Institute Icon School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the Director of Myeloma at The Blavatnik Family Medical Center at Chelsea at Mount Sinai.

Katherine:

Great. Thank you. When making a treatment choice, what are three key considerations for myeloma patients?

Dr. Richter:

Absolutely. So, whenever we decide on treatment options, we consider three main topics: patient-related factors, disease-related factors, and treatment-related factors. So, patient-related factors are easy. How old or young are you? How fit or frail? Do you have any comorbidities, meaning other medical problems like heart disease or diabetes?

Disease-related factors are another important one. How aggressive is your disease? Is it rising up very quickly? Is it very slowly? Do you have something that we call extramedullary disease which means myeloma outside the bone marrow in the mass that we call a plasmacytoma? And that influences how we treat things.

And the last is treatment-related factors. What treatments have you, previously, had, how did you respond to them, and what side effects did you have?

If you developed a lot of neuropathy with one drug, we may not want to choose a drug that continues to have that type of side effect profile.

Katherine:

What’s the role as a patient in making treatment decisions?

Dr. Richter:

The role, from my standpoint of the patient, is honesty. You don’t get extra points for being in pain. I want to hear from you. I want you to tell me what your concerns are, short-term, long-term. I want you to tell me about little problems that you don’t – it’s not that you don’t want to bother your care team, we want to know.

Because something little may mean something big to us. So, all we want is for your well-being. And the better we keep those lines of communication open, the better.

Katherine:

Are there questions that patients should consider asking about their treatment plans?

Dr. Richter:

Absolutely. I think in a day and age where there’s so many different options, I think it’s always important to ask the care provider, what are the alternatives to this? Or why did you select this treatment for me? Because many times, there are alternative answers. So, in myeloma, there are a lot of options that may be good for someone. And the physician team may say we recommend this drug, and the patient may have trouble getting back and forth to clinic for logistical reasons. And there may be an all-oral alternative that if you don’t ask, we may not know that that’s going to be your preference. So, really that dialog is crucial.

Fact or Fiction? Myeloma Treatment & Side Effects

Fact or Fiction? Myeloma Treatment & Side Effects from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When it comes to online myeloma information, how do you separate fact from fiction? Dr. Irene Ghobrial shares facts about current myeloma treatments, common side effects and emerging research. Download the Program Resource Guide, here

Dr. Irene Ghobrial is Director of the Clinical Investigator Research Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ghobrial specializes in multiple myeloma (MM) and Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM), focusing on the precursor conditions of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) and smoldering myeloma. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Patricia:

Welcome to Fact or Fiction: Multiple Myeloma Treatment and Side Effects. Today, we’ll review common misconceptions about myeloma. I’m Patricia Murphy, your host for today’s program. Joining me is Dr. Irene Ghobrial. Dr. Ghobrial, why don’t you introduce yourself?

Dr. Ghobrial:

My name is Irene Ghobrial. I’m a professor of medicine at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School.

Patricia:

Great, thanks so much. Before we get started, just a reminder: This program is not a substitute for medical advice, so please consult your care team before making any treatment decisions. Okay, Dr. Ghobrial, let’s get started.

Let’s talk about some of the things, first, that we hear from patients. You tell me whether or not this is fact or fiction. Here’s one: “There are a number of treatment options for myeloma.”

Dr. Ghobrial:

Fact. It’s amazing because I trained in the old days – and, this shows you how old I am – when we only had bad chemotherapy: Vincristine, Adriamycin, and dex. None of you would even know about it.

Then, we had had high-dose dexamethasone, and that was it, and then we had stem cell transplant, and that’s all we had until suddenly, we had thalidomide, lenalidomide, bortezomib, carfilzomib, ixazomib, and you think about it, we are now in an era where we have 15-20 new drugs, we have another 15-20 coming up, we have an amazing time to completely cure myeloma in the future, and that’s just an exciting time to see that happening in the last 15 years of our lifetime, when patients were living three years, when we had – I remember five percent complete remission rate.

Now, we expect that all of our patients should get into a deep remission into potentially MRD-negative disease, and that’s just the beauty of how myeloma has changed completely.

Patricia:

Well, you’ve already busted our second myth, I guess, that there is no cure for myeloma.

Dr. Ghobrial:

That’s correct. There is no cure for myeloma, but there is a long remission, and the question is if someone lives for 20, 25, 30 years without evidence of myeloma and they die from something else, it’s a step forward. I would love to see us say to a patient, “You are cured,” but until then, we’re getting longer and longer remissions.

Patricia:

How about this one? “Only blood relatives can be donors for bone marrow or stem cell transplant.”

Dr. Ghobrial:

That’s not correct at all. If we think about it, what is stem cell transplant? There are two types. There’s something called autologous stem cell transplant, meaning it’s from myself, so that means that I’m taking my own stem cells, and the whole idea of that autologous transplant is basically high-dose chemotherapy.

So let’s take your own cells before we give you that high-dose melphalan, give the chemo, and then give them back to you, so that you’re not with low blood counts for two weeks, four weeks, you’re only with low blood counts for a couple of weeks. So, that’s autologous transplant; that means I’m giving my own stem cells to myself.

Allogeneic stem cell transplant, which we rarely do now in myeloma, is from another person, and that could be from a relative, but also can be from unrelated donors if they are matching us, but that’s very few cases.

Patricia:

Let’s get an overview of available myeloma treatments.

Dr. Ghobrial:

Oh, boy. Okay, how long do we have here? It depends. The moment I see a patient – and again, maybe we can start with smoldering myeloma because that’s an area I’m really excited about.

If you have asymptomatic disease, it does not mean you have to watch and wait until you fall apart, until you have bone lesions, until you have anemia. We want to see those patients early because we have a lot of clinical trials, and potentially, the cure may actually be in an earlier precursor session when we treat you earlier before you have the disease.

But, the standard of care is when you have symptoms – anemia, hypercalcemia, lytic lesions, and renal failure, or other things like 60% plasma cells – we say you have active multiple myeloma, and in that case, we start saying, “Well, are you a transplant candidate or not?” In the old days, it used to be by age, but now, we say age is just a number, so it really depends on if you have good organ function, are you in an active good state, do you have good lungs, good heart, are you willing to take the transplant, because now, there’s a big discussion whether we should transplant patients or not.

And then, at the end of the day, we’re starting to actually blur that, saying that most of our treatments are almost identical, whether you are old or young, whether you’re a transplant candidate or not. It depends on frailty. Can you tolerate this treatment or not? Maybe a few years ago, we used to say a three-drug regimen is the best way to go.

Now, most of us are starting to say four-drug regimen up front is the way to go, which is an antibody – currently, it’s daratumumab – a proteasome inhibitor – it could be bortezomib or carfilzomib – an immunomodulator – likely, this is lenalidomide – and then, dexamethasone. That’s sort of the option that we have right now, at least in the U.S.

If you go to Europe, you’ll find us using different drugs, like thalidomide or other things, but most of us are thinking of a four-drug regimen to think of our up-front myeloma treatment to get you the best remission, eventually MRD-negative disease, and then we talk about transplant or no transplant, and then, of course, we talk about maintenance.

We want to keep everyone on maintenance therapy; the question is how long, which maintenance, do we use one drug or not? So, there is a lot to be discussed in treatment of myeloma, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s truly an art and science together. It’s not just “Here’s a combination because you have this treatment.” We really personalize therapy for you.

We look at your cytogenetics, your FISH. We say you have high-risk cytogenetics or not, you’re young or not, you have good organ function or not.

There are so many things that we put in consideration when we come up with a treatment plan for a patient.

Patricia:

We’ve been talking a little bit about what patients believe when they come in, some of the things they’re thinking about. What else do you hear from patients that you either have to correct or affirm when they come into your office?

Dr. Ghobrial:

A lot of things. I think the first thing is, of course, they say myeloma is fatal, and they’re so scared, and absolutely, I understand that, but the median survival has become so much better, so much longer. There is a lot of hope, enthusiasm, and excitement right now with the treatments we have. The second thing is most of our treatments are not your typical chemotherapy, so unlike breast cancer or other cancers where you lose your hair, you’re throwing up, you cannot work, you have to take time off, most of our drugs now, people are working full-time, they’re active, you don’t lose your hair, so probably, no one has to know unless you tell them.

And, I think that’s something important for a patient to think about. It’s their own personal life, and not having to interrupt that. I think that’s very unique. So, these are a couple things that, as they come in, that anxiety of “Oh my God, I have cancer,” and then, taking a deep breath and saying, “Now, how do I handle this situation?”

Patricia:

Sure. What about clinical trials? What common misconceptions do you hear from patients enrolling in trials?

Dr. Ghobrial:

There’s a lot of misconceptions, and it’s unfortunate. I would say I would absolutely go on a trial if I can. I’m a believer in clinical trials because they’re the way forward to bring in new therapies and new options. I think a lot of people think that we’re experimenting on them when we’re doing clinical trials, meaning that it’s first in human, meaning it’s the first time we try this drug, and I would say that most of our clinical trials are not first in human.

They’re not the very first time we’ve tried them. Likely, those are drugs we’ve tried, we know the side effects, we know the toxicity, but it’s the first time we’ve put it in a different combination or it’s the first time we’ve put it in a specific subset of patients to look at response or at overall survival.

Most of the trials – so, before you decide “Oh, it’s a trial,” just think – is this a phase 1, a phase 2, or a phase 3? Phase 1 are usually that first time that we try in a population. Phase 2 are usually we know already what happens, we know the toxicity, we’re bringing it to look at the response rate in general or the survival, and then, phase 3s are the bigger studies, going to the FDA for approval.

The second thing is you want to think about is there a placebo arm in it. Most of my patients really worry about “Oh my God, you’re gonna give me the placebo,” and I’m like, “No, we don’t have a placebo arm in this trial. You’re taking the drug that we tell you about.” So again, depending on the trial – read it carefully – there may be a placebo arm, but in most of them, it’s not a placebo arm.

So, I would personally go ask the doctor every time, “So, you’re talking about standard of care. What else do you have? Do you have clinical trial options or not? What’s new?” Almost every single new drug that we’re gonna get approved in the next 5-10 years from now is what we have today in clinical trials. It would be cool to try and get access to those earlier.

Patricia:

So, there’s a significant amount of vetting that goes on before clinical trials are actually in process on humans.

Dr. Ghobrial:              

Oh, absolutely.

Patricia:                      

What are the common myeloma misconceptions about treatment side effects?

Dr. Ghobrial:              

I think the biggest thing is the loss of hair, the nausea, and fatigue, and to the point that I cannot travel, I cannot see my family, I’m gonna be so immunosuppressed. And again, that’s a huge misconception. Yes, there is toxicity for every drug. Even if you take aspirin, you have toxicity from it.

But, every drug has risks and benefits, and currently, the combinations we have are just impressive that they are well tolerated in general. I’m not saying there is no side effect – there is, for every different class of agents, there are, and you will go through those side effects with your doctor in detail – but in general, yes, you’re slightly immunosuppressed, you have to take care of it, and I said it yesterday to one of my patients – if someone is looking very sick in front of you, don’t go and hug them.

Christmas is around the corner, and we want to make sure people celebrate and enjoy life and enjoy the holidays with their family members.

Patricia:                      

Dr. Ghobrial, let’s talk about some of the things that patients are concerned about when they come in about treatment side effects, and maybe some of those things aren’t true. You tell me. Treatment side effects are unavoidable – we already talked a little bit about that. How about this one? “Myeloma patients should visit the dentist more frequently.”

Dr. Ghobrial:              

So, there is something about the bisphosphonates that we give patients, and they can cause – in a very rare number of patients – something called osteonecrosis of the jaw.

In the old days, when we didn’t know about that side effect, people would go get a root canal, come back, and have a big problem of osteonecrosis of the jaw with severe pain, and it doesn’t recover.

So, we’ve learned our lesson. We know very well that we hold Zometa or zoledronic acid if they’re getting any procedures. We make sure they don’t get surgical procedures – it doesn’t mean don’t get dental cleaning, please do the usual things for dental health, but don’t go into surgical procedures when you’re getting zoledronic acid – and we’re very careful with that.

We talk to our patients. Most dentists know about it, so I think this is something that in the old days, it was a problem. Now, we know how to medicate that.

Patricia:                      

Sure. How about this one? “Treatment causes increased risk for blood clots.”

Dr. Ghobrial:              

So, a couple of the drugs that we have – especially immunomodulators – can increase your risk for DVTs, blood clots, or pulmonary embolism, PE. So, the first thing we say is, “Let’s assess your baseline risk.

Are you someone who is at risk of clotting anyways?” Remember, myeloma also increases your risk of clotting, so you’re double. So, if you are at a high risk of clotting, then we would give the full anticoagulation. If you are not, then we would say aspirin is good enough to control that inflammation and endothelial damage that happens early on with therapy, and that can take care of it.

Patricia:                      

How about this one? “Side effects can be managed by diet and lifestyle.”

Dr. Ghobrial:              

So, I am a big believer that exercise and good, healthy living helps you in general. It makes your mood better, it makes you feel stronger, it gives you that energy because of the fatigue from the side effects, it helps with the dexamethasone because dex is a steroid, so you’re gonna be hungry, you’re gonna be eating more, and the on-and-off makes you fatigued and tired.

So, absolutely, diet and good healthy living – I’m not saying you have to go into extreme starvation and things like that. We say in general, be good, healthy living; exercise if you can.

Patricia:                      

What do you hear from your patients about side effects and treatments that they may think is true?

Dr. Ghobrial:              

I think neuropathy is very important, and we underestimate the neuropathy, so if you have numbness or tingling, tell your doctor.

That comes from Velcade; it comes from thalidomide when we used to use thalidomide, but it can happen in many patients who have an underlying amyloidosis and we did not diagnose it yet, or it can just happen as you go on from myeloma, rarely. So, tell your doctor about this.

I think the fatigue is very important to know about it because people suddenly change their life, and they want to know about that. I think the rashes that can happen with many of the drugs are very important to know about so that you’re not surprised when you get the rash. We know, for example, Revlimid can cause itching of the scalp, and that’s something that if we don’t tell the patients and they start going like this, then there is a problem.

So, it’s small things, but we want to let them know. We usually tell the patients everything, to a point of just going through all the side effects. It’s better to be aware of it, and then, if you get or not, at least you were aware.

Patricia:                      

Sure. How does one distinguish treatment side effects from comorbidities like fatigue?

Dr. Ghobrial:              

I think that’s important, and again, talking to your doctor is very important. Keeping a diary on the side is very important because you may have had some of those problems, and that could be from myeloma before you even started the drugs, and making sure that we know what’s from myeloma, what’s from your thyroid issue, what’s from your lung problems if you have asthma or COPD, what’s your diabetes if you have that or your other medications, from what are you doing with those medications.

I think that’s why when you start therapy, we tell you, “Try not to take too many other medications that we don’t know about, herbal medicines and other things, because then we don’t know what are the side effects and what’s causing what.”

Patricia:                      

Sure. You mentioned neuropathy. Let’s talk a little bit about what that is.

Dr. Ghobrial:              

So, neuropathy can come in different ways, but the most common one is numbness and tingling that you have in your tips of toes and tips of your fingers, and that can happen from medications, as we said, or from the underlying myeloma or amyloidosis. It can be painful, and we’re careful that if you have this, tell your doctor because if it get worse and worse, it’s very hard for us to reverse neuropathy, so just always tell us because we can stop the drug, we can decrease the dose rather than having you go through it.

31:59

Patricia:                      

What about this one? “An MGUS diagnosis will lead to myeloma.”

Dr. Ghobrial:     

Great question. So, let’s talk about MGUS in general. In the general population, once you’re over the age of 50, there’s a three percent change of having MGUS incidentally found, and that’s known from the big studies from Dr. Robert Kyle. Any of us walking around probably may have MGUS, and we don’t know.

We started recently a big study called the PROMISE study where we actually screen for the first time to look for myeloma – or, for MGUS – and the reason for that is we said, “You go screening for mammography with breast cancer, you go screening with a colonoscopy for colon cancer; we don’t screen for myeloma, which is an easy blood cancer with a blood test. Let’s screen for it.” So, that’s available online – promisestudy.org.

The other thing that we said is if you have MGUS, your chance of progression is only one percent per year. That’s very important to know. So, that means that in 10 years, you have a 10% chance of progression to myeloma. In 20 years, you have a 20% chance. So, if you’re 70 or 80, you may have something else that happens before you even develop myeloma or before you are at risk of myeloma.

However, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have the chance. You have a very small chance; it’s a precursor to myeloma, but it’s one of the biggest precursors to myeloma, so we always tell you, “Please go see your doctor, please do follow up with us because the one thing that’s important is we catch it early before it happens.” So, it does not always go to myeloma, but if we live for another 100 years, it may actually progress to myeloma because of the 1% chance per year.

Patricia:                      

How about this one? “MGUS and smoldering myeloma are the same.”

Dr. Ghobrial:              

That’s not true. That’s a very important question. So, in general, MGUS is diagnosed as having less than 10% plasma cells and a small monoclonal protein, less than 3 grams, and you don’t have any organ damage.

Smoldering myeloma – and, the name says it; it’s almost myeloma, it has a higher chance of progressing to myeloma – in general, it’s about 10% per year, and usually, the bone marrow has more than 10% plasma cells. Now, you start telling me as a patient, “Well, if my bone marrow is nine percent, I’m MGUS, and if it’s 11%, I’m smoldering myeloma, that doesn’t make sense.” So, it’s correct. In general, those demarcations or numbers are more for us as physicians to talk to each other about what we’re calling rather than the patient themselves. The patient is a continuum.

So, you may move from MGUS to smoldering at a certain point, and it’s not really that extra percentage of bone marrow that moves you into the 10% risk. In general, again, smoldering myeloma, you have a higher chance of going to myeloma. So, I saw a patient recently who’s 30 who has smoldering myeloma. The chances of progressing to myeloma is 10% per year. In five years, you have a 50% chance.

You want to make sure that patient is followed up carefully, and you want to offer, potentially, clinical trials because we want to prevent progression. The hope in the future is you don’t want until you have lytic lesions, fractures in your bones, kidney failure, and then we treat. The hope is we treat you earlier and we can make a huge difference in that early intersection for myeloma.

Patricia:                      

It sounds like staying engaged with your care team is critical.

Dr. Ghobrial:              

Absolutely, and I would say myeloma is a specialty field. Come and see a myeloma expert, wherever it is, even for a one-time consult, because it’s really complicated and it’s not a common disease, so it’s not something easy for everyone to know what to do with MGUS, what to do with smoldering, what to do with overt myeloma. I relax for the first time. All of these things are important, and just like you go and see the best specialist in anything, I would say care about your myeloma in a very specific way, ask your doctor questions, go online and look it up, and always ask an expert if you want to have a second opinion.

Patricia:                      

Sure. How about this one? “Myeloma is hereditary.”

Dr. Ghobrial:              

It’s a very good question. So, it’s not hereditary specifically. However, there is a 2x increased risk in family members, and that goes back to that PROMISE study.

We are screening people who have first-degree relatives with myeloma. So, what does it mean? Why do I have a higher risk if I have a family member with myeloma? I recently saw a patient who – the patient had myeloma, the mother had myeloma, and the grandmother had myeloma, and you’re thinking, “Okay, there is something we’re inheriting.”

So, we don’t know. There are some susceptibility genes that we could potentially be inheriting, germ line, and we’ve done something called “germ line,” which means you have it from Mom and Dad, that can increase your risk. It could be other factors come in and we’re still trying to understand all of these factors. What are the genes that can increase your risk? Is there an immune factor that can increase your risk, and can we identify those early in the family members?

Patricia:                      

What about preventing progression from smoldering? Is there anything patients can do?

Dr. Ghobrial:              

I would say enroll on the PCROWD. Study PCROWD is empowering patients themselves to go online. You can look it up – PCrowd with Dana-Farber – so, precursor crowdsourcing.

This is a study where anyone who has MGUS or smoldering myeloma can tell us about their data – so, their clinical information – tell us about their samples – so, give us their samples whenever they’re going to get their peripheral blood or their bone marrow – and by doing that, we can look at 1,000-3,000 people, put it all together, and hopefully give you very soon the answer of what causes progression, what are the specific markers genomically and immune that can predict progression, and can we target them?

Can we develop therapy for you specifically as a smoldering patient and not use the same drugs as myeloma, but target it for one specific patient for one specific operation?

Patricia:                      

When patients come into your office, they’re learning a lot of new things. Are there terms that are confusing to patients that you need to define for them?

Dr. Ghobrial:              

Absolutely. I think a lot of those terms are very hard. The words “complete remission” – was that a cure or not? It’s not.

We decrease all of your M spike, we decrease your plasma cells to zero, but it doesn’t mean that we’ve cured you. I think progression is very important. We use certain numbers. A 25% increase in your M spike or a 0.5-gram increase – even monoclonal protein is important to understand, that that’s the antibody that your plasma cells are secreting.

So, absolutely, there are so many words that could be very daunting for any patient to go through all of this. I think having an advocate with you – don’t go on your own because there’s so much information you’re getting that first time. I personally think if patients are recording us or taking notes, that’s perfectly fine because you go back and think about it, and you want to make sure that the information is clear.

So, it’s a lot of information to take in, especially if you’re not in the medical field, and I would encourage patients to ask questions, take notes, think about it a lot.

Patricia:                      

Tell me what an M spike is.

Dr. Ghobrial:    

So, an M spike – a monoclonal spike – is the protein – the antibodies. So, plasma cells are actually antibody-secreting cells, so they secrete the antibody, it goes in the blood, and when you have a lot of it from the same type of cell, they’re monoclonal, so they’re all the same IgG kappa – IgG kappa because they came all from that same kind of plasma cells.

And, when we run a specific gel, called serum protein electrophoresis, all of those antibodies will run in one area, and they will do a spike instead of going into a bigger area, where we call it polyclonal. So, that tiny little spike, which is a very high level of all of them coming together, we can measure it, and we can say, “Your monoclonal spike is 3 grams per deciliter.” If you don’t have all of them the same type of protein, they will just go around in one big area – big lump, basically, on that electrophoresis, and they will not come out as a spike. So, that’s monoclonal spike. 40:44

Patricia:                      

And, what are some reliable source of information for myeloma? The world wide web is vast.

Dr. Ghobrial:              

Yeah, and it’s unfortunate. So, there is so much information, and you can get lost, and you can also get misinformation. I think some of the big foundations are very important So, I would say the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, the International Myeloma Foundation, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and of course, if you go to clinicaltrials.gov, you will find that information, and you’ll find a lot of the clinical trials. But again, ask your doctor. Ask the experts.

Patricia:

There are a lot of online forums – again, we talked about how vast the internet is. How can a patient identify misinformation online? What are some clues?

Dr. Ghobrial:              

That’s a hard one. I would say again, print it and take it to your doctor. Tell him, “Does that make sense? I’ve read this.” This is where you really need to do your research and go to the sites that you have confidence in so that you’re not lost in the middle of so much misinformation.

Patricia:                      

Do you have patients come in and say things to you that you just have to say, “Whoa, that’s just not accurate”?

Dr. Ghobrial:              

Yeah, but again, this is part of the discussion. I personally think every question is a good question. Even if it sounds completely ridiculous, ask it. That’s why we’re here. We’re here to tell you, “This is right, this is wrong, this one I don’t know, I’m not so sure,” and that’s okay. It’s part of the discussion.

Patricia:                      

Before we finish up, let’s get your take on the future of myeloma. What are you seeing on the horizon?

Dr. Ghobrial:              

Oh, a lot, and I hope I live long enough to see all of the amazing things. I truly think that we will cure myeloma. I think we should treat patients early. That’s an absolute change.

I think immunotherapy is coming in, CAR-T, bispecific antibodies. We will harness our immune system to kill myeloma, and I think there’s so much to be done there. I think precision medicine is very important. The first study is from MMRF [Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation] coming out now, genotyping, asking the questions “Which mutations do you have?”, and then putting them into different buckets so you can understand which disease should be treated with which drug.

We always say we know there is different subtypes of myeloma, then we treat you the same way, so let’s stop doing that, let’s do precision medicine, let’s individualize treatment specifically for you. So, I think that’s another big thing. So, in the future, there will be so many options. The hope is truly we’ll cure myeloma, we diagnose it early, we screen for it, we diagnose it early, and we prevent it from even causing one lytic lesion for a patient. 41:52

Patricia:                      

Dr. Ghobrial, let’s end by talking about why you’re so hopeful about the future of myeloma.

Dr. Ghobrial:              

Well, again, I trained – and, I said that 15 years ago – at Mayo Clinic, where we only had few drugs, when the survival of myeloma was three to five years, when we saw patients having severe fractures and severe pain, and now, we look at it, and it’s only 15 years in our lifetime, and we look at it that myeloma is a completely different disease.

We can diagnose it early – in fact, we’re thinking of screening them early – we can make a huge difference in all of the comorbidities, but the most important thing is we have so many amazing drugs that we’re using together to get an amazing, complete remission, MRD-negative disease, and then, in the next 5-10 years, I think we will change, again, immunotherapy with CAR-T. We will have precision medicine and immunotherapy to completely change how we treat myeloma. So, I am extremely hopeful and extremely excited for our patients.

Patricia:                      

So, how do you talk to your patients about this hope? I would imagine that when they come in, they’re pretty terrified about what’s going on.

Dr. Ghobrial:              

Absolutely. Again, the first thing is you want to say, “Yes, you have a cancer,” and that shocks you. That is a big thing. It makes a big difference in a patient. “I have cancer now” is an important part that you have to acknowledge.

And then, you go to the next step, and now, let’s talk about treatment. Let’s talk about survival. Let’s not say, “I will not see my kids grow up.” These are not things – again, we cannot predict. We’re not gonna play God, and we can never predict if someone will respond or not, but we know from the data that we have so far that we have amazing remissions and long-term survivors. I have many of my patients that I transplanted 15 years ago still alive, doing well. Again, I cannot say that myeloma is cured, but we have a good remission rate currently.

Patricia:                      

Dr. Ghobrial, thank you so much for taking the time today.

Dr. Ghobrial:              

Absolutely. Thank you.

Patricia:                      

And, thanks to our partners. To learn more about myeloma and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Patricia Murphy.