Tag Archive for: Side effects

What Are the Risks of CAR T-Cell Therapy?

What Are the Risks of CAR T-Cell Therapy?  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Melissa Alsina, a myeloma expert from Moffitt Cancer Center, reviews the potential side effects of CAR T-cell therapy for myeloma patients, and discusses how these side effects may be managed.

Dr. Melissa Alsina is an associate professor of medicine in the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida where she also serves as head of the Multiple Myeloma Transplant Program. Learn more about Dr. Alsina, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

What are the risks of CAR T-cell therapy? 

Dr. Alsina:

So, in myeloma, it is, in general, pretty safe. There are two main – well, actually, I would say three main side effects that we can see with CAR-T. Number one is called cytokine release syndrome, and we are getting these cells from the patient’s immune systems, sending them a lab to be manufactured so that they can recognize this protein, BCMA, in the myeloma cells. 

And then, those cells are grown, so essentially, what we’re doing is that we’re taking the immune system of the patient, and we’re making it very specific against the myeloma cell. And then we’re growing it, so we’re making a hyperactive immune system, and then giving it back to the patient. And then, those cells, they are going to go ahead and react against the myeloma cells and start killing the myeloma cells, and in doing that, that reaction, that immune reaction will elicit release of a lot of proteins – cytokines – and that can cause side effects. 

When that happens, that is called cytokine release syndrome, and the most common finding with that is a fever. Patients can have a high fever. And then, it varies depending on the CAR-T that the patients are getting. So, for example, with this Abecma, usually, the reaction happens right away after you get the cells – the next day, so that’s why these patients, we admit them to the hospital because we know that this cytokine release syndrome is going to happen right away.  

And, it could be just a fever. In the majority of the patients, it happens like this, is just a fever, but it may be about 20 percent of the patients, that reaction can be more severe, and it could be a fever with low blood pressure or shortness of breath, and it could be a fatal complication, but that’s very, very rare.  

And we know – we can identify, obviously, when it’s happening, and there’s a medication that we can give to actually sort of counteract that reaction and don’t let it progress, and in the majority of the patients, that works quite well.  

Katherine:

What other side effects are there for CAR T-cell therapy? 

Dr. Alsina:

Yeah, so besides the main one that I discussed, cytokine release syndrome, the other thing that could happen is neurotoxicity, meaning that T cells can actually cross to the brain and cause toxicity in the brain, and depending on the type of CAR-T that the patient is getting, it could be less or more risk.  

But essentially, what could happen is that the patient could have some aphasia, like for example, difficulty finding words. It could also be just a headache. Patients could have seizures, so we do give the patients medication to prevent seizures while they are undergoing CAR-T. 

They can have difficulty writing, so we make every patient write a sentence every day to make sure that’s not being affected. And we do a mini mental status every day. Every day, we’ll go see the patient and ask them 10 different questions, like “Where are you? What day is it? Who’s the president?”, we show them an object, and so on so we can monitor these things very closely. If we see any changes, then we can intervene. Usually, for neurotoxicity, we give steroids. 

The good news, though, is that this is very rare. With Abecma, it’s very rare that a patient would have severe neurotoxicity. With ciltacabtagene autoleucel (Carvykti), which is the one that was approved more recently, from 100 patients that were treated, there were five patients that had this delayed neurotoxicity, some of them with movement disorders, like Parkinson’s-like systems, and these were delayed. These didn’t happen in the first few weeks. 

But we learned what are the risks associated with these, the majority of the patients that have very high tumor burden, so what we do is that we monitor the patients very closely, especially the patients with high tumor burden. The ideal situation is that we can control the disease a little bit better before taking them to CAR-T, but even when that’s not possible, what we do is that we intervene early on if we see that these patients are getting any side effects and being more aggressive with the intervention. 

And then, the third, more important side effect is these CAR-T cells can prevent blood counts to recover. For CAR-T, we give chemotherapy.  

That would allow the T cells to expand, and this chemotherapy can drop the blood counts, but usually, they recover quickly, but in some patients, this recovery doesn’t happen quickly, and patients can have low counts for months, and obviously, that would bring increased risk of infection. 

So, that is a potential complication, especially in patients that have received a lot of prior therapies, and it’s not common that a patient would take a long time, but it could happen, and sometimes, occasionally, we’ve had to give these patients a stem cell boost from stem cells that we have stored to actually make their counts recover. So, those are essentially the three most common complications, but in general, it’s a treatment that is well tolerated and very manageable, and I can tell you the majority of the patients that I’ve treated, they’ve said this is easier than a transplant.  

Considering Joining a Myeloma Clinical Trial? Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Team.

Considering Joining a Myeloma Clinical Trial? Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Team.  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Considering participation in a clinical trial can bring up a lot of questions. Myeloma expert Dr. Melissa Alsina shares advice and key questions patients should ask their healthcare team before joining a myeloma clinical trial.

Dr. Melissa Alsina is an associate professor of medicine in the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida where she also serves as head of the Multiple Myeloma Transplant Program. Learn more about Dr. Alsina, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

When a patient is considering participating in a clinical trial, what sorts of questions should they ask their healthcare team? 

Dr. Alsina:

I think the number one thing is “How can this help me? What is the potential for this treatment?” The other very important thing is “What are the potential side effects? Has this been done before in other patients? Do you have any experience? What do you think are going to be the side effects or additional risk compared to getting the standard of care?” 

And then, I think the third thing is “How much commitment do you need from me?” Because there is no doubt that clinical trials require a lot of commitment. When we are doing a clinical trial, we, for example, have to give all the drugs in the center, usually. Let’s say I’m testing Revlimid (lenalidomide), Velcade (bortezomib), and dexamethasone (Decadron) followed by CAR-T, for example in patients with high-risk myeloma. That’s one of the studies. 

Yeah, you could get Revlimid, Velcade, and dexamethasone anywhere. Those are approved drugs. But if you are participating in a clinical trial, you have to get it at Moffitt or at the center, which means patients traveling back and forth, so that is very important because it requires a lot of commitment from the patients. And I think, on that line also, you can ask as a patient, “Well, what are the resources there in the clinical trial that can help me make that commitment?” 

Frequently, clinical trials help patients by paying for their transportation, their gas, their accommodations if they have to stay overnight, to be able to comply and meet all those different visits.  

Understanding the Role of Clinical Trials As a Myeloma Treatment Option

Understanding the Role of Clinical Trials As a Myeloma Treatment Option from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When it comes to myeloma treatment options, where do clinical trials fit in? Dr. Melissa Alsina of Moffitt Cancer Center discusses the role of clinical trials in a myeloma treatment plan at every stage of a patient’s care.

Dr. Melissa Alsina is an associate professor of medicine in the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida where she also serves as head of the Multiple Myeloma Transplant Program. Learn more about Dr. Alsina, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

When it comes to myeloma treatment options, where do clinical trials fit in? 

Dr. Alsina:

They fit everywhere, essentially. They fit everywhere because myeloma – even though we have many, many advances, it’s a disease that we cannot cure, so there’s still a lot, a lot of work to do, so we have trials for newly diagnosed patients, improving what we do at newly diagnosed, bringing in some of those therapies, for example, like CAR-T up front, and then we have trials for early relapse/late relapse, because again, yeah, we’ve done a lot and we feel very encouraged by that, but we’re short because we have not been able to cure myeloma. 

So, it’s super important, and it’s super important that patients reach out to myeloma centers to see what is available for them because participating in a clinical trial, number one, gives a patient a unique opportunity to get something more than standard of care, something that might make their response better or their survival better.  

That’s one thing, and the other thing is the only way we’re able to move the field forward is doing clinical trials and having patients participating in clinical trials, and the reason today I can sit here and tell you that the treatment of myeloma has evolved dramatically in the last 20 years, and now we have these responses that are amazing that were unheard of, is thanks to the many patients that have participated in clinical trials. 

Without that, obviously, we would not be here with these results. But that needs to continue. I think we cannot rest because there are still patients that die from myeloma. We cannot lose the perspective that this is still an incurable disease and there’s still a lot of work to do, and the only way to get there is to continue doing the research. 

Katherine:

It sounds like clinical trials are also available for patients who have already been treated with another therapy. Is that right? 

Dr. Alsina:

Absolutely. Clinical trials are available for all the different stages of the disease – when you are newly diagnosed, when you have your first relapse, when you have your second relapse.  

Katherine:

Anytime through the process. 

Dr. Alsina:

Anytime, anytime, and there are clinical trials – the clinical trials not only help us test new drugs or new combinations of drugs, but it also helped us understand the disease better. The majority of clinical trials, we do what we call correlative studies, where we get a sample of the patient, the bone marrow of the patient, for example, before and after therapy, and we see what are the changes that we see there and what are the genes that dictate that response or lack of response. 

So, clinical trials not only help us improve outcomes in patients, but it also helps us understand the disease better that leads to other new therapies and other clinical advances. This can translate into new clinical advances 

What is YOUR Role in Choosing a CLL Treatment Approach?

What Is YOUR Role in Choosing a CLL Treatment Approach? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Jean Koff shares her perspective on the role of patient when deciding on a CLL treatment approach and reviews key factors that should be considered.

Dr. Jean Koff is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Hematology and Oncology at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. Learn more about Dr. Koff, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

What is the patient’s role in deciding on a treatment plan? 

Dr. Jean Koff:

So, it’s very important that the patient be involved in deciding on a treatment plan. Especially in first-line. Because we have these two excellent classes of agents, the BTK inhibitors and the venetoclax- containing regimens. Both of them have been shown to have very good what we call efficacy CLL, meaning that they’re able to control the disease, patient’s symptoms largely at bay for long periods of time. You know, we’re talking an average of years that – that patients are on these therapies. And they each, like I said have different side effect profiles.  

And they’re given in slightly different ways. And so, right now we don’t have data from our clinical trials comparing a BTK inhibitor regimen to a venetoclax-containing regimen in CLL patients to tell us one is better than the other. And so, for that reason, a lot of the decision-making about which therapy is going to be better for you, or which therapy you would prefer, lies with the CLL patient rather than with the doctor. And the things that I ask my patients to consider, there are a couple different things. One is the side effect profile. So, patients may be more or less comfortable with certain  

side effects of one drug compared to another. Or there may be something in the patient’s medical history that puts them more at risk for a certain side effect than another. 

The other major player in this decision-making process is how these drugs are given. So, with ibrutinib (Imbruvica), the ibrutinib is given as a pill that you take once a day, and you take it indefinitely. Meaning you take that pill once a day for as long as it’s doing what it’s supposed to do, which is keeping your CLL under control, and as long as the patient is tolerating it well, meaning you’re not having a lot of uncomfortable side effects from the ibrutinib. So, I have patients who have been on ibrutinib for years and years and years and years.  

The venetoclax-containing regimen for patients who are getting their first-line treatment in CLL is different. It is designed as a – what we call time-limited therapy. And so, this regimen is given in – over about 12 months, 12 or 13 months, and then stopped, as long as the patient has had a good response. The other thing to consider with the venetoclax r egimen, it’s not just the pill. You do take a pill every day, but you also get a – an infusion for about six months of the monoclonal antibody. Meaning that you’ll have to come into the infusion center and get an infu – an IV infusion of this drug called obinutuzumab. The last consideration with the venetoclax regimen that differs in how it’s administered, is the venetoclax often works so well that it can break down the CLL cells a little bit too quickly. And so, for patients who have a very, very high white count, or large lymph nodes due to their CLL, there is a risk of something we call tumor lysis syndrome, which refers to the process where the tumor cells break down very, very quickly, and they produce molecules that are released into the bloodstream that can be dangerous if they get too high or too low. And so, sometimes, in some patients we have to monitor for the tumor lysis syndrome by checking labs fairly frequently after we start the venetoclax. And for some patients that means they have to stay overnight for a night or two in the hospital for lab monitoring.  

So, for some of my patients that I talk to about venetoclax, they say I want to stay out of the hospital, I just want to take a pill, I’m fine taking a pill, I’ll go with the BTK inhibitors. For other patients, they say I don’t want to be on a pill every single day, I will go through this year of therapy, I’m comfortable with that, and I’m happy that I’ll be able to take a break from therapy after one year. So, that ends up being a large factor in many of the conversations I have with my patients about which therapeutic approach we’re going to use in front-line therapy.  

How Does Immunotherapy Treat Bladder Cancer?

How Does Immunotherapy Treat Bladder Cancer?  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Fern Anari from Fox Chase Cancer Center explains immunotherapy and how this therapy works to treat bladder cancer. Dr. Anari also discusses the importance of communicating how you’re feeling with your healthcare team.

Dr. Fern M. Anari is a genitourinary medical oncologist and assistant professor in the Department of Hematology/Oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Anari, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

What is immunotherapy and how does it work to treat bladder cancer?  

Dr. Anari:

So, immunotherapy, the analogy that I often use when I see patients is immunotherapy goes in by IV, and it acts as the drill sergeant. And it trains your own body’s immune system or the soldiers to find and fight the cancer cells. So, that’s really how it really works. The drug itself is training your own body to do the work. 

Most people will have no side effects from this. And they tolerate it really well. However, because the immune system is getting a little bit activated, sometimes those soldiers or your immune cells can go rogue. And they can start attacking normal healthy tissue in the body, almost like an autoimmune disease. 

So, when on these drugs, it’s really important if anything is new or different to let your doctors know, because it’s often easy to troubleshoot over the phone or at a quick office visit if it’s related to immunotherapy or not. So, it’s really important that you keep that in mind whenever a new symptom or anything may pop up.  

Katherine Banwell:

That’s great information – it’s really important to communicate any issues you may be having. So, who is immunotherapy right for? Is it right for every bladder cancer patient?  

Dr. Anari:

So, immunotherapy is used in several different settings for bladder cancer treatment. It’s used in the metastatic bladder cancer treatment world mostly. Often, we use it as either a second-line treatment after chemotherapy or in a maintenance-type approach after someone’s completed their chemotherapy, meaning we plan for about two years of treatment. And patients that can’t get chemotherapy for whatever reason we can use immunotherapy as a first-line treatment.  

And it’s also used in localized bladder cancer meaning cancer that’s contained only to the lining of the bladder in patients who’ve gotten treatments that go inside the bladder called BCG. When their cancer isn’t responding, immunotherapy is also an option there.  

Katherine Banwell:

And what might be some of those side effects that patients should look out for?  

Dr. Anari:

So, what I tell everyone is they can get inflammation or an “itis” of anything. So, some examples of that: If someone has a rash, that’s called dermatitis. That can be mild, or it can be severe. If someone has inflammation of the bowels or colitis, they can have diarrhea that starts all of a sudden.  

Another example is pneumonitis or inflammation of the lungs. People may have cough, trouble breathing, low oxygen levels. It really can affect any organ system that you have. So, that’s why it’s really important if something feels different to let your doctors know.   

It’s also really important if you’re not near your doctor for whatever reason and you end up seeing a local doctor, let’s say, at an emergency room that you let them know that you’ve received immunotherapy because they’ll think about the problems that you’re having a little bit differently.  

How Can Myeloma Treatment Impact Kidney Health?

How Can Myeloma Treatment Impact Kidney Health? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Joshua Richter discusses the impact of myeloma treatment on the kidneys and provides key advice for optimal kidney health.

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:

Are kidneys impacted by any of the medications that patients take? 

Dr. Richter:

So, kidneys are an excruciatingly important part of myeloma, and in my mind, one of the keys to long-term survival and outcome. So, there are three things that I tell all of my patients to help preserve long-term kidney health. Two of them are easy to wrap the head around. One is a little bit harder. Number one, keep yourself well hydrated. The kidneys are like a filter. Think, like, the filter for your car. If you drove 100,000 miles in the desert and didn’t change your oil, there’d be problems. So, especially now that there’s warmer weather, by the time you already feel yourself dehydrated, you’re about 10 to 15 percent low on the total amount of body water you need.  

So, especially if you’re going out there doing yard work, playing with the kids or grandkids, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water. Two, avoid NSAIDs. Drugs like Aleve, or naproxen, or Advil, or ibuprofen can be harmful to the kidneys. So again, please discuss with your care team. There may be better alternatives to treat your pain without hurting the kidneys. And the third is when all else possible, avoid intravenous contrasts for CAT scans. Now, the IV contrast you get for MRIs is called gadolinium. It’s not harmful to the kidneys. But the contrast for CAT scans is iodine-based, and although the newer formulations are better, it can still hurt the kidneys.   

So, my advice is the following. If you’re in the ER at 2:00 a.m. in the morning and they want to do an urgent CAT scan with IV contrast, let them do it. It’s likely not going to be an issue. If you go to see an orthopedist and they say, “I want to get a better look at that leg that’s bothering you. I’m going to get a CAT scan with IV contrast,” tell them to call me. We’ll find an alternative. 

What Are Common Myeloma Treatment Side Effects?

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

Myeloma specialist Dr. Joshua Richter reviews common side effects of myeloma treatment and strategies for managing them. 

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:

Can you help us understand some of the common issues that myeloma patients experience and how they might be managed? 

Dr. Richter:

Sure. So, fatigue is an absolutely huge one. And fatigue can come from a lot of different things. One, fatigue can come from other medicines. A lot of patients have cardiac issues and may be on other medicines causing fatigue. So, optimizing your other clinical status is important. Anemia can lead to fatigue, so we monitor your blood counts very closely, and if they drop, can we provide medicines to boost them up? Drugs. Some of the therapies we have can cause fatigue, and one of the biggest ones is Revlimid.  

And I tell people what actually tends to help is you take the Revlimid at night instead of the morning because if you take it at night, it tends to maximize the fatigue while you’re already sleeping. If you take it in the morning, it tends to maximize at that horrible, coffee-needing hour of 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., or 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. where you’re like, “Oh, I’ve gotta lie down.” So, fatigue is a really big one. Neuropathy. Neuropathy is really getting less and less in our new patients because more of our modern drugs don’t cause it, but unfortunately, some patients still have neuropathy, and they may be using drugs like gabapentin or Lyrica.  

There’s some other really old drugs and new drugs that can help. Drugs like Pamelor, which is nortriptyline, or Cymbalta may help quite a bit, or another drug called Effexor. And many of these drugs may be used for anxiety and depression, but also work for neuropathy. And then, even going to things like the cannabinoids; things like marijuana derivatives may actually be able to help both in salves or even edibles may actually help some of the neuropathy issues. And then, we get into some kind of out there stuff like compounding ketamine to help with some of these salves or oral combinations. So again, a little bit of neuropathy, let us know because there may be some ways to help.  

Exciting Advances in Waldenström Macroglobulinemia (WM) Treatment

Exciting Advances in Waldenström Macroglobulinemia (WM) Treatment from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What new therapies are on the horizon for patients with Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM)? Dr. Shayna Sarosiek from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute reviews promising developments in WM treatment, including immunotherapy and BTK inhibitors.

 Dr. Shayna Sarosiek is a hematologist and oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute where she cares for Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM) patients at the Bing Center for Waldenstrom’s. Dr. Sarsosiek is also Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Learn more about Dr. Sarosiek, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

What are you excited about when it comes to Waldenstrom’s research? 

Dr. Sarosiek:

So, there a couple of things that I find really exciting right now. One thing in particular is currently for treatment for Waldenstrom’s, we often use BTK inhibitors. So, the group of medications that includes zanubrutinib (Brukinsa), ibrutinib (Imbruvica), acalabrutinib (Calquence). And that class of medications has really revolutionized treatment for Waldenstrom’s. But sometimes patients become resistant to those medications. And there’s a new group in that same class of what’s called BTK inhibitors.  

And those are non-covalent BTK inhibitors. And those drugs actually work often for patients who progress on initial therapy with ibrutinib or zanubrutinib. So that really, I think is game changing. There are some early Non-Covalent BTK inhibitors that are in trials. And I really think it’s going to lead to use of those medications very commonly in the future for Waldenstrom’s. So, that I think is exciting to have a next oral therapy to go to after progression on the current therapies. I’m also excited about new combinations that are being tried in Waldenstrom’s.  

So, using combinations of different oral therapies together that would offer deep responses and also offer a time-limited therapy. Because right now many of our treatments are given indefinitely. And so, offering a limited therapy. So, I think that, and there are many other things I could go on for a long time about this. But there are many things that I think are really exciting and we’re going to be changing the field in the coming years. 

Katherine:

Dr. Sarosiek, what is immunotherapy? Could you define that and also, how does it work to treat Waldenstrom’s? 

Dr. Sarosiek:

So, immunotherapy includes many different types of medications. But these are all medications that either use the patient’s immune system or use something from the immune system, like an antibody to help fight off a cancer. And this plays a huge role currently and I think it will continue to in the future. So, probably the most common immunotherapy that patients are familiar with, with Waldenstrom’s now is rituximab (Rituxan). So, that’s a monoclonal antibody.  

And that’s used in many combinations in Waldenstrom’s and is a very important therapy currently. And that antibody is essentially just goes into where the cancer cells are located and attacks that type of cell.  

But the other immunotherapies that are up and coming – which I think are important for patients to know about – one is CAR-T cell therapy. So, a lot of patients ask me about that. and that’s essentially, a T cell is part of the immune system that every patient has. And what CAR T-cell therapies do is patients can collect from their bloodstream – the physicians can collect T cells and then they modify those T-cells in a way so that they’ll recognized the cancer and attack the cancer.  

And so then, those T cells are given back to the patient and then that T  cell can go and work with the patient’s immune system to destroy the cancer. And that’s been very successful in a lot of other cancers and is being used in Waldenstrom’s now. And I think we’re going to be learning a lot about that and it’s going to be an important part of the future with immunotherapy involved in Waldenstrom’s. Another therapy similar is something called BiTE therapies. So, Bispecific T-cell engagers.  

So, that’s essentially two antibodies together. One antibody kind of pulls in the cancer cell and one antibody pulls in the immune system. So, when that treatment is given to patients it kind of brings the immune system close to the cancer cells. So, your own immune system can help fight off the cancer. So, those are just kind of two of the newer immunotherapies that are up and coming that I think will play an important role in the future in this disease. 

Katherine:

Who is this treatment right for? 

Dr. Sarosiek:

Immunotherapies in general currently we’re using them – currently immunotherapies are being used in patients who have had a relapsed disease. So, they have already had current available therapies, like BTK inhibitors or rituximab. And there are clinical trials that can use CAR-T cell therapy. And there are up and coming trials with BITE therapy. So, right now it’s being used in their relapse setting. But as we learn more about it, it’s possible those we moved earlier on to patients who are earlier in their disease course. 

Katherine:

What kind of side effects should patients be aware of? 

Dr. Sarosiek:

So, the side effects can vary depending on what the therapy is. So, patients who are getting rituximab, the currently available immunotherapy, patients can have infusion reactions. So, as your body is kind of getting used to that monoclonal antibody coming in, you can have a reaction. And in that case, we have to stop the infusion, wait for the side effects to settle down, and then restart.  

Katherine:

What type of side effects would they be? 

Dr. Sarosiek:

So, side effects from rituximab infusions can really vary. In some patients it can be similar to an allergic reaction. So, let’s say itchy throat or a rash or hives. Sometimes it can be pain in the chest or the back or trouble breathing. So, they can really vary. But most of the time, those can – when the infusion is stopped, we can give patients medications like Benadryl or Tylenol to help with symptoms. And then we can restart the Rituximab at a lower rate. And that lower rate allows the patient’s body to kind of get used to the medication and continue on the treatment. So that’s generally the things we watch for with Rituximab. 

An Expert Debunks Advanced Prostate Cancer Myths

An Expert Debunks Advanced Prostate Cancer Myths from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Atish Choudhury debunks common myths about advanced prostate cancer, including concerns about genetics, treatment, and side effects.

Dr. Atish Choudhury is the Co-Director of the Prostate Cancer Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham & Women’s Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Choudhury here.

See More from Engage Prostate Cancer

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When Should Prostate Cancer Patients Consider a Clinical Trial?


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

I’d like to address a list of common concerns about treatment that we’ve heard from the community. So, I’d love to get your take on these. “There’s nothing that can be done about advanced prostate cancer.” Is that true?

Dr. Choudhury:           

So, that is very much untrue in that even patients with pretty advanced prostate cancer – even what we call “high-volume” kinds of prostate cancer – can live for years, and years, and years with appropriate treatments.

And the concern, oftentimes, is that the way that we get those years, and years, and years are with treatments that lower levels of testosterone, and I’m guessing that some of your questions coming up are related to concerns around side effects of treatment. But many of our patients tolerate those side effects pretty well and can live quite a good, and vigorous, and fulfilling life even with pretty advanced prostate cancer.

Katherine:                  

The next one: “Clinical trials are a last-resort treatment option.”

Dr. Choudhury:   

Yeah, so, as I’d mentioned before, clinical trials can be appropriate anywhere along the treatment trajectory of prostate cancer, and they are often being compared against standards which are often pretty good, but can we make them better? And certainly, participating in clinical trials isn’t for everyone, but for a long of our patients who are interested in seeing if an experimental approach might be beneficial to them or contributing some knowledge to patients down the line really do find trial participation to be quite fulfilling.

Katherine:                  

All right. The next one is: “Prostate cancer isn’t genetic, so I don’t need to be tested.” Is that the case?

Dr. Choudhury:        

No. So, it turns out that prostate cancer is actually one of our most heritable cancers. Somewhere between 40% and 50% of the predisposition to prostate cancer is actually genetic, or inherited based on family. So, the part that’s tricky and the part that is hard to maybe explain to patients is that a lot of that heritability is not encompassed in particular cancer genes in the way that many people are familiar with with breast and ovarian cancers, which are often linked to genes called “BRCA-1” and “BRCA-2.” So, a small subset of patients with prostate cancer do have alterations in that BRCA-2 gene, or BRCA-1, or ATM, or some other genes involved in breast and ovarian cancers.

And that does impact, potentially, their treatments down the line, and certainly is impactful for themselves, their siblings, their children as far as, potentially, screening recommendations for other cancers. But oftentimes, we’ll do one of these tests in patients who have a pretty extensive family history of prostate cancer, and they come out negative, and the patient is very confused because they clearly have a family history, but it’s because not all the risk of prostate cancer is actually encompassed in these gene tests that we run.

Katherine:                  

Ah, okay. The next concern is “I’ll lose all sexual function when I receive treatment.”

Dr. Choudhury:         

So, it very much depends exactly what the treatment is, and what’s being offered, and what the recovery is like.

So, for example, for patients who go into a prostatectomy and have very good erectile function, it’s not inevitable that you’ll lose your sexual functioning after a prostatectomy. There is a process – we kind of refer to it as “penile rehab” – of using medications like a Viagra or Sialis to restore the blood flow. You could use certain things like vacuum pump devices to restore the blood flow, and again, it’s not inevitable that people are going to lose their sexual functioning after a prostatectomy.

Even with testosterone suppression, while it plays a role in libido and erectile function, it’s not inevitable that people lose their libido and erectile function completely, even on these drugs. But certainly, more often than not, people will lose their erectile function on testosterone-lowering medications.

And so, there are alternative ways to get erections – involving, again, use of vacuum pump devices or injections that people can give themselves into the penis. People can have penile implant surgery to be able to get erections that way. And so, it’s really dependent on what the situation is.

Again, none of those more mechanical interventions are really ideal, but particularly when people have a defined course of treatment – for example, a surgery or radiation with a brief course of hormones – people can recover erectile function even after those sorts of interventions. And if they can’t, then we do have other approaches that will allow people to still be able to be sexually intimate with their partner after all of the treatments are completed.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Choudhury, one more concern: “My symptoms and side effects can’t be managed.”

Dr. Choudhury:           

Yeah. So, again, it’s very rare that we run into situations where there are side effects or symptoms that can’t be managed at all, in the sense that we have very effective medications against hot flashes, or moodiness, or pain, or –just fatigue. And certainly, lifestyle plays a big role in this. Also, a lot of the symptoms that people express are related to underlying depression and anxiety issues, and certainly, engaging with a mental health provider can be helpful in terms of managing those as well.

And then, there’s a lot of nonpharmacologic treatments – meaning nonmedication approaches that can provide people a lot of benefit in terms of their quality of life, and we have an integrative center called the Zakim Center for Integrative Medicine that helps with the relaxation techniques, and massage, and yoga, and acupuncture…

And people find different approaches to help manage these symptoms and side effects. And so, it’s very unusual where we run into a situation where the side effects are unbearable and unmanageable. Usually, we can manage them in some form of way that allow people to have, again, a good quality of life and a meaningful life, even on prostate cancer treatment.

What Is Prostate Cancer Palliative Care?

What Is Prostate Cancer Palliative Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is palliative care? Dr. Atish Choudhury discusses what palliative care involves for advanced prostate cancer patients.

Dr. Atish Choudhury is the Co-Director of the Prostate Cancer Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham & Women’s Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Choudhury here.

See More from Engage Prostate Cancer

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Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Dr. Choudhury, we received this question from an audience member prior to the program: What is palliative care?

Dr. Choudhury:           

So, palliative care is really a branch of medicine that helps with symptom management. And so, that symptom management doesn’t necessarily have to be end-of-life sort of symptoms relating to death and dying. It can be just along the way to help with managing the symptoms related to cancer and its treatment, but also to be kind of another medical provider to help with communication of goals of care – what’s really bothersome, what’s really important – so that we kind of incorporate those wishes and desires into the management decisions that we make.

So, a patient does not have to be at end-of-life to engage with palliative care. Certainly, even earlier engagement with palliative care can be helpful to maximize quality of life along the treatment journey. But as symptoms become more bothersome, certainly, our palliative care colleagues can be incredibly helpful – not just in helping manage pain, but also nausea, also depression and psychological side effects. So, they’re a really critical part of our treatment team.

What Helps Determine a Patient’s DLBCL Treatment Path?

What Helps Determine a Patient’s DLBCL Treatment Path? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Since no two patients are exactly alike, how is DLBCL treatment determined? Dr. Jason Westin explains what factors he considers when determining a patient’s treatment path. 

Dr. Jason Westin is the Director of Lymphoma Clinical Research in the Department of Lymphoma/Myeloma in the Division of Cancer Medicine at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Westin, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Since no two patients are exactly the same, I imagine then that their treatment approaches are different. So, what do you consider when determining the best treatment option for an individual patient?

Dr. Westin:                 

That’s a very important question. How can we personalize treatments in a way that gets us down to what a single patient needs, not both populations of thousands of patients, but the person sitting across the exam room.

Katherine:                  

Right.

Dr. Westin:                 

For first line DLBCL, someone who’s newly diagnosed, unfortunately the one size fits all of R-CHOP being the standard, or versions of R-CHOP, the new treatment that I mentioned having a slight improvement not yet approved by the FDA, there’s not as much customization or personalization outside of clinical trials as I would like. We’d love to be smarter and to be able to say, “Well, you have the subtype A of large B-cell, therefore you should get subtype therapy A,” or subtype B and you get subtype therapy B. We have more of a one-size-fits-all approach in our frontline treatment outside of clinical trials.

On clinical trials, sometimes patients will have a subtype of large B-cell. We talk about things called the cell of origin. We talk about things called double hit. There are specific subtypes of DLBCL that occasionally a clinical trial will target that subtype and have a therapy that’s supposed to work better in that subtype.

So, that’s another reason to consider clinical trials, is the ability to potentially to customize or personalize your therapy to go more specifically after what’s wrong with your cancer cells as opposed to having something that’s given as a shotgun approach to everyone. And the reason that R-CHOP is around for this long is that it works fairly well across the board in different subtypes. It’s not something that’s completely effective in one and completely ineffective in another.

But, in terms of personalizing therapies, clinical trials are an important thing to be considered. In the relapse space, with patients that have relapsed disease, there we have more potential to customize treatments and often that’s done based upon characteristics of the tumor or the patient’s preferences in terms of frequency of treatments, in terms of potential for side effects. There’s more that can be done if somebody’s already had a treatment and it came back. But clinical trials are a great way to try and customize, or to drill down in terms of specifics about your particular cancer.

Katherine:                  

Can you touch upon treatment side effects?

Dr. Westin:                 

Yes. Treatment side effects, obviously, are very important to our patients in terms of what does their quality of life look like while the therapy’s ongoing to try to get rid of this dread cancer. The side effects really depend upon what treatment we’re talking about. And if we focus on frontline treatments, the initial treatments being R-CHOP based treatments, side effects are chemotherapy side effects. And that includes low blood counts, white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets, risk of infection along with the low white blood cells, and risk of fevers prompting a trip to the emergency department for an evaluation.

Thankfully, that’s rare. Maybe one out of four or one out of five patients would have an infection during treatments. But if it happens, it can be serious. Fatigue, nausea – which is usually very well controlled with medications, but nonetheless has to be something we watch out for. And for many patients, it’s important to note that hair loss can occur from the chemotherapy. And that’s something that it’s easy to say, “Oh, I don’t care about that.” But for many people, when you look in the mirror and you see somebody else looking back at you, somebody that has a different physical appearance than you’re used to, it can be quite distressing.

That’s unfortunately part of many patients’ journey with the therapy for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. In nonchemotherapy treatments – the targeted ones that I mentioned – these are the antibody drug conjugates, the targeted immune therapies, or in CAR T-cells, side effects can be very different, sometimes much less in terms of the side effects, other times completely different types of side effects. So, it really matters what type of treatment you’re talking about. And this is something you really want to clarify with your physician, with the nurse, with the PA.

“Tell me a lot of details about what I should expect when I’m feeling this. And give me reading materials so I can digest it, think about it, and figure out what questions I need to ask after we first discuss this.”

Katherine:                  

Yeah.

Dr. Westin:                 

The side effects really are an important part of the patient’s journey.

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.

The Importance of Patient Self-Advocacy in Bladder Cancer Treatment

The Importance of Patient Self-Advocacy in Bladder Cancer Treatment from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Bladder cancer expert Dr. Shilpa Gupta encourages patients to advocate for themselves and to become active members in their treatment and care decisions.

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:                  

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

Dr. Gupta:                  

Yeah, I think the patients have to be their own advocates, right? Unless they do tell their team about what they are going through, many times action will not be taken unless they’re actually seeing their team in real-time.

And sometimes that visit may not be happening for months so it’s very important to never feel that you’re bothering the teams. And nowadays, with all these electronic ways where patients can communicate with their teams, I think patients are very aware that they can send a MyChart message, for example, and someone will get back to them within a day. So, I think that is really important and the way they can communicate with their teams has also evolved.

Katherine:                  

How do you think patients can feel confident in speaking up and becoming a partner in their own care?

Dr. Gupta:                  

I think they have to tell their doctors during their visit that they would like to – whatever their expectations are and what they would like their teams to do to fulfill those expectations.

I think that’s the best way I can say this. That they should always speak up no matter what and if they feel that their concerns about treatment are not being heard, then they should let their treatment teams know and ask what alternative treatments there may be. Or, if their life goals have changed, sometimes patients want to get aggressive treatment and sometimes they just don’t want to go through it anymore. They should let their teams know so, adequately; the goals of care can be modified.

Katherine:

Right. If a patient isn’t feeling confident with their treatment plan or their care, should they consider a second opinion or consulting a specialist?  

Dr. Gupta:

Absolutely. I think every patient has a right to consult a second opinion or get second opinions, or even more opinions if they want to make the right decision. Many times, patients are told about one treatment option, and then they want to know, “Well, what alternative options do I have?” “What if I really don’t want my bladder out?” “Is there anything else that can be done?” So, they should be seeing a radiation oncologist in that case.  

I think the way we can really make a difference and offer multidisciplinary care is to have the patient see a surgeon, a radiation oncologist, and a medical oncologist. That’s true multidisciplinary care for anybody with localized disease. For metastatic disease, we have a lot of options and usually medical oncologists are the ones who manage it.   

Patients can always get second opinions if they feel they want to do something less or more aggressive.   

Katherine:

What advice to have for patients who may be nervous about offending their current doctor by getting a second opinion?  

Dr. Gupta:

That’s a great question, Katherine, and I know a lot of patients feel that their doctors may feel offended, but in my experience when – if my patients are not local or they – I actually encourage them to go get second opinions and even make referrals to places which may have trials if we don’t have that. It’s always good to have the patients be able to decide and I don’t think nowadays doctors take offense if patients want to get another opinion. In fact, we try to collaborate with our community oncologists.  

Where, let’s say patients are currently being treated and they come to us to discuss trials or just to discuss if they’re on the right track. We reassure them and reach out to the community doctors that – yes, we totally agree with what the patient is doing, and these are some other options down the line. And, with the advent of virtual health it’s really become a lot more collaborative because patients are still getting treated locally. When the have their scans and have questions they can schedule a virtual appointment with their doctors in institutions where we have more treatment options like trials.  

Katherine:

Dr. Gupta, if patients want to learn more about bladder cancer, or if their families want to learn more what are some credible resources that you would send people to?  

Dr. Gupta:

Yeah, I think it’s always good to get credible information than just Googling things which may or may not be true. Bcan.org is a very powerful resource that is a Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network, and as the name implies it’s for the patients, made by bladder cancer advocates.   

That’s one of the resources that we highly recommend. Then there’s the resource that you all are working on. So, I think these collectively are the best sources of information which patients should try to stick to.   

Katherine:

Right. That’s good advice. To close, what would you like to leave our audience with? What are you hopeful about?  

Dr. Gupta:

I think I would like to say that there’s a lot of good information, there’s a lot of advocacy resources. Patients should try to get their information from these verified sources and bring it to their care teams. And never hesitate to reach out for whatever they need during their diagnosis and treatment phase. Always ask questions. Ask about clinical trials. Ask about alternative options. That’s what I would leave the message to be.   

Katherine:

Thank you so much for joining us today, Dr. Gupta. We really appreciate it.   

Dr. Gupta:

Thank you, Katherine.   

Why Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Patients Should Speak Up About Symptoms and Side Effects

Why Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Patients Should Speak Up About Symptoms and Side Effects from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. David Carbone, a lung cancer expert, emphasizes the importance of speaking up, advocating for yourself, and being an active member of your non-small cell lung cancer health care team. 

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

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Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Patients can sometimes feel like they’re bothering their healthcare team with their comments and questions. Why is it important for patients to speak up, and become a partner in their own care? 

Dr. Carbone:              

So, it’s a fact that when patients get the diagnosis of lung cancer, everything changes in their lives. They suddenly have a whole new vocabulary thrown at them. It’s like their doctor is speaking French to them. They have to trust their life to a person they’ve never met before, and a whole cadre of people coming in and talking to them and poking them and running through scanners. 

It’s very difficult for someone whose biggest concern was what to make for dinner that night, and now has a diagnosis of lung cancer, to really comprehend what’s going on. And lung cancer is complicated, so I recommend that patients really try their best to have at least a basic understanding of what’s going on, where their cancer is. I always show the patient their scans.  

“Your cancer is here; this is what it looks like; that’s why you’re having that pain over there, because you have this spot here. Your genetic testing shows this and this, and that’s why it’s important, and that’s why we’re using this drug to match this mutation.” And these are things patients will understand if doctors will explain it to them.  

And similarly, the side effects. Lung cancer patients tend to be tough people. They’ll say, “It’s not so bad, I feel better; but the side effect is not so bad. I’m just not going to tell them.” And it even happens in clinic that they’ll tell me they feel fine, and then they’ll tell the nurse that they hurt in their left elbow. And I have to go back in and ask them some more questions on that.  

So, it’s extremely important to feel comfortable in communicating with your doctor, asking questions; “Why am I getting this scan? Why are we using this treatment? Is this the best treatment? Are there clinical trials available? I have this new symptom, x, y, z,” because symptoms are often much easier to treat when you catch them early than when you catch them late.  

And you don’t get a medal for being a tough guy in this situation. Tell your doctor if you have pain, and they can manage it. Tell them if you’re short of breath, and they can help you feel better. They can’t help you if you don’t tell them, and you are your own best advocate in this situation. Ask questions about the treatment, and why that’s the best one for you; and, as I said, about clinical trials. 

Katherine:                  

Excellent. Thank you so much. It’s important for people to remember that.  

What Are the Advantages of Newer Lung Cancer Treatment Approaches?

What Are the Advantages of Newer Lung Cancer Treatment Approaches? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lung cancer expert Dr. Heather Wakelee shares insight about how newer treatments, such as targeted therapy and immunotherapy, impact quality of life and patient outcomes.

Dr. Heather Wakelee is a thoracic medical oncologist and deputy director of the Stanford Cancer Institute where she also serves as the division chief of medical oncology. Learn more about Dr. Wakelee, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Right. What are the advantages of these new treatment approaches compared to standard chemotherapy?

Dr. Wakelee:

Well, I think the most exciting news that we’ve seen in lung cancer over the last few years is that we’re actually helping more people live longer. And the way that we’re doing that is through these newer treatments. So, when we can personalize treatment by recognizing that a person’s cancer has a specific gene mutation and we can give them the right targeted pill drug, we can help them live longer and feel better because those often have fewer side effects. Wish I could say they were curing the disease, but they’re helping people live longer.

And, that can be measured in years for some folks, which is fantastic. And then, with immune therapy, again, they’re not working for everybody, but they were for a large number of patients with lung cancer with non-small cell to help them live longer with their cancer controlled. And so, we’ve actually improved the overall survival rates for lung cancer with these new developments. Where we can make even more of an impact is also by finding more of the cancers earlier, and that’s where cancer screening is so important also. So, by having more choices, chemotherapy can still help a lot of people. Targeted therapies can help probably close to 20, 30, 40 percent of people with non-small cell lung cancer that’s the adenocarcinoma type.

And then, the immune therapies can help other people living with lung cancer. Usually immune therapies don’t work on the same tumors the way the targeted pills work. So, you’re kind of getting at different groups of people with those different strategies. It’s not completely true, but it’s a kind of general principle about it.

Katherine:

What about side effects for some of these treatment choices?

Dr. Wakelee:

So, chemotherapy is one people fear the most, but I think it has a bit more of a bad reputation than it needs. A lot of the lung cancer therapies that are chemotherapy can be reasonably tolerated. I mean, I’m not signing up to go get chemotherapy just because. There definitely are side effects. The biggest one is people get fatigue, get really tired. Though, if they’re feeling horrible because of the cancer, a lot of times people feel dramatically better. But, tiredness, it can impact appetite a little bit, though cancer does that also. There can be nausea, vomiting, but we’re much better at controlling that with the newer drugs. Some cancer therapies cause hair loss, but a lot of our non-small cell lung cancer therapies don’t cause hair loss. So, there are a lot of options there you can talk about with your doctor. And then, when the blood counts are low, there can be risk for infection, low red blood cells with anemia.

So, there are a lot of different things. But in general, chemotherapy is better tolerated than people think it’s going to be because in the movies, they make it look horrendous.

With the pill therapies, again, lots of variability depending on the specific pill. Some of them cause rash. Some don’t. Some of them can cause some changes to the heart that we have to monitor with EKGs, electrocardiograms, some don’t. Some cause some changes to labs like for liver tests that we have to monitor. Some don’t. Some cause hair color changes. Some don’t. It’s always to gray, unfortunately.

So, there are a lot of different variations in what different treatments can do. And so, it’s just really important if your doctor is talking with you about starting one of the targeted pill drugs that you really ask what are the side effects I need to be watching for, what are the ones I need to know to call you about, and which are the ones I just know, “Okay, this is happening and it’s okay. It’s going to cause swelling in the ankles,” no, just a huge range of them. And then, with the immune therapy drugs, they tend to be mostly fatigue, just like with chemotherapy, though some people feel fine.

What we have to watch for is that they can cause what we call autoimmunity. So, it’s talking about the fact that the way they work is they help the immune system better recognize the cancer, and they do that by taking away one of the stop signals. But that stop signal, the PD-1, PD-L1, that stop signal is also used by a lot of normal cells to tell the immune system to back off.

So, when you remove it, when you block it, the immune system can get confused and start to attack normal cells. So, you can get a rash, people can end up with gut symptoms like diarrhea, they also can end up with it attacking the lungs and causing what we call a pneumonitis lung inflammation or brain symptoms, so, almost anything. Now, those are rare, and we can treat them with steroids. But, people need to be aware that if something new is happening, they need to alert their doctor. I think sometimes, there’s this false impression that immune therapy is completely safe, but, it’s not. And, all of the treatments that I’m talking about are designed to help people live better and live longer when they’re dealing with lung cancer, but they all also have risk.

And so, it’s just really important to have those discussions with the care team as you’re starting something new about what are the things I need to be watching for and to know how to reach people if you’ve got a new and concerning symptom, especially if you’re starting on something new.