Tag Archive for: stage I

Understanding Lung Cancer Treatment Goals

Understanding Lung Cancer Treatment Goals from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lung cancer expert Dr. Jyoti Patel explains small cell lung cancer versus non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and how treatment goals may vary by disease stage and patient factors. 

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 here: Dr. Patel.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Before we get into treatment though, I’d like you to walk us through the types of lung cancer if you would.  

Dr. Patel:

Sure. So, over 200,000 Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year. And we break lung cancer down into two major diagnoses. So, the more common one is non-small cell lung cancer. The less common one, which accounts for 13 percent of diagnoses, is small cell lung cancer. Those are descriptive terms but don’t really go beyond that. It’s, essentially, what do the cells look like under the microscope? We know that these two behave very differently. Small cell lung cancer tends to be a cancer which can move a little bit more quickly. It tends to be more aggressive. 

We have certain treatment regimens that are appropriate. Non-small cell lung cancer is one which we further subdivide into adenocarcinoma, squamous cell cancer, or large neuroendocrine cancer. And we treat those a little bit more similarly with different local therapies and different systemic agents.  

Katherine:

Okay. How would you define treatment goals for people with lung cancer? 

Dr. Patel:

So, we hope that the number of patients that we find with earlier stage disease increases as we now at least have evidence to do screening for people who are at high risk. So, for patients with early-stage disease, which we really define as stage I and stage II – so, cancer that’s limited to the lobe of a lung – our best treatment options are surgery and sometimes radiation in appropriate patients. And for those patients, we think that treatment is discreet and curative.  

For the third of patients who present with stage III disease or locally-advanced disease – and here we’ve seen significant advancements with the integration of immunotherapies, improvements in surgery, and radiation. Their treatment course tends to be a bit longer but, again, our intent is curative. So, the cancer has discreet therapy, we complete it, and then patients are in survivorship mode, in which we’re following them periodically.  

Unfortunately, still, a large number of patients present with more advanced disease. Stage IV disease or metastatic disease. Those are all sort of interchangeable. And treatment for those patients is about controlling the cancer. Often, you’ll hear the word “palliative.” So, the goal of treatment is to control the cancer, to decrease the burden of cancer, and to help patients live longer. Certainly, again, with our advancements of immunotherapies and targeted therapies, patients are living longer than ever before.  

And in some patients, it really becomes a chronic disease in which checkups can be periodically done or patients can be monitored off of treatment for long periods.  

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. Do treatment goals vary by lung cancer type?   

Dr. Patel:

So, the goal of cancer treatment is always to make patients live longer and to make sure that that quality of that survival is the best it can be. So, that’s always our overlying goal. For patients with early disease or early stage – stage I to III non-small cell lung cancer – is something we call limited stage. Small cell lung cancer, the intent is, again, curative. For patients with more advanced disease, we tend to think about the cancer as something that we control, that we see a good response to hopefully, and watch patients over time.  

There are a subset of patients with more advanced disease that have really significantly better outcomes. We call these sort of patients “super survivors.” And we hope to make that number greater as we incorporate new science into their treatment paradigms. 

Katherine:

What is the role of patients in making treatment decisions? 

Dr. Patel:

I think all treatment decisions are patient-focused.  

So, again, understanding someone’s goals of treatment are important. But understanding the context in which the cancer is happening. So, the cancer is part of a patient that has a really full life. Family. Work. Other medical comorbidities. Things that they prioritize. And so, having open discussion about the likelihood of achieving curative therapy or what the risks and benefit ratios are in palliative therapy are absolutely essential to having transparent and honest communication with patients. But it is also optimistic and compassionate.  

Should Prostate Cancer Patients Consider a Treatment in Clinical Trials?

Should Prostate Cancer Patients Consider a Treatment in Clinical Trials? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Prostate cancer expert Dr. Andrew Armstrong explains how prostate cancer clinical trials work and discusses why patients should feel confident exploring this option at any stage of their cancer journey.

Dr. Andrew J. Armstrong is a medical oncologist and director of clinical research at the Duke Cancer Institute’s Center for Prostate and Urologic Cancers. For more information on Dr. Armstrong here.

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Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

At what point should a prostate cancer patient consider participating in a clinical trial? 

Dr. Armstrong:

Sure. If you look at the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, NCCN guidelines, you’ll see that clinical trials should be discussed along all parts of the journey. 

And that’s because clinical trials often can change how we think about cancer, how we treat cancer, can improve cure rates, can improve survival. Most of our drugs and treatments that have been successful in all cancer have been the result of clinical trials. 

And it’s not always appropriate, though. We have very many treatments that can cure patients, and we don’t want to interfere with that, but sometimes a clinical trial can layer on top of that cure rate. 

But many patients, their cancer becomes resistant to proven therapies. That’s certainly an area where clinical trials can make a big difference, either to put off chemotherapy or more toxic therapies, or in patients who have exhausted proven therapies. That’s certainly appropriate. 

But sometimes clinical trials do not involve placebos. They involve combination therapies, they involve layering on top several approaches to try to improve the survival on top of standard of care.  

And so as a director of a research program, we have all sorts of trials. They come in Phase I, Phase II, Phase III. Really only the Phase IIIs involve placebo controlled or controlled trials. Phase II tend to be early studies, where everybody gets a therapy and it’s preliminary to determine efficacy. Phase I is really trying to determine the safety and dosing of an experimental drug. But patients can benefit across the spectrum. 

So, it’s important, particularly if you have advanced disease, to go to a site, like a comprehensive cancer center, for a second opinion to see if there is alternatives to what you might get in the community.  

Katherine Banwell:

Yes. What would you say to someone who might be hesitant to participate in a trial? 

Dr. Armstrong:

Participation in a trial involves shared decision-making, just like being diagnosed, embarking on initial treatment, even embarking on standard of care treatment. Everything is shared decision-making in terms of risks and benefits.  

Sometimes a trial is not in a patient’s best interest, and it’s important for a physician to be upright about that and up front about the risks of a trial. 

I think when patients have exhausted proven therapies, it’s quite appropriate to talk about therapies that might be in the research pipeline that are showing some promise, that have demonstrated at least success in the laboratory or in small numbers of patients coming before.  

For example, in 2022, a brand-new drug just got approved called Pluvicto, or PSMA lutetium. This is a new smart bomb for prostate cancer. Just last year it was a research drug, but this year it’s successful and being used in the clinic. All those hormone drugs I mentioned earlier, those were research drugs five years ago. So, we don’t make advanced, we don’t extend lives without participating in research. We’re not happy with the way things are, we want them to be better. 

And the only way to make them better is by studying them. And not all of these trials are successful, unfortunately, but many are, and that’s why we are seeing men live longer and have better survivorship nowadays. 

An Expert’s Perspective on Emerging Prostate Cancer Research

An Expert’s Perspective on Emerging Prostate Cancer Research from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What do prostate cancer patients need to know about emerging research? Dr. Andrew Armstrong discusses developing treatments and their potential impact on prostate cancer care.

Dr. Andrew J. Armstrong is a medical oncologist and director of clinical research at the Duke Cancer Institute’s Center for Prostate and Urologic Cancers. For more information on Dr. Armstrong here.

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How Can Prostate Cancer Patients Access Clinical Trials?


Transcript:

Katherine:

Are there any recent developments in treatment and research that patients should know about? 

Dr. Armstrong:

Absolutely. I would say the number one research advance has been the use of these really strong hormonal therapies in earlier and earlier disease setting. So, you may have heard of drugs like Zytiga or abiraterone, or Xtandi or enzalutamide, apalutamide or Errleada, or derolutamide or Nubeqa. Those are mouthfuls. Those are very potent hormonal pills that when used in men with advanced disease improves survival. 

And the data has supported the fact that the early use of those agents extends life even more than waiting until hormone resistance develops.  

So, if you are unlucky enough to have metastatic disease and you’re in need of hormonal therapy, giving injections that lower testosterone, which is the fuel for most prostate cancers, and then blocking testosterone with some of these newer pills extends life by years, not months. And it does so with pretty good quality of life over time.  

Of course, there are negative consequences of having no testosterone, and it’s important as part of shared decision-making to review those side effects and how that can impact quality of life negatively while extending survival.  

So, that’s a major advance. Another major advance is genetic testing and personalized medicine. In men with advanced prostate cancer, it’s now uniformly recommended that all men get hereditary testing to figure out if they inherited prostate cancer risk genes.  

These are genes such as the BRCA I and II genes, BRCA II being the most common. And these are not just breast or ovarian cancer genes. It’s important for men to realize that you can inherit these from a mother or a father, that they can create risks for multiple cancers, not just female cancers, but prostate cancer in particular. 

And now we have guided therapies, targeted therapies that can improve survival in men with these certain mutations, and if you are found to have those mutations, your family members could be tested so that they could be screened, and cancer can be picked up earlier, and perhaps they could be cured rather than suffering the fate of a more advanced diagnosis. So, really important both for yourself and for family members. 

So, those are two major advances. A third one is imaging.  

Imaging keeps getting better and better. We used to just do CAT scans, bone scans, very insensitive tests that in men with advanced disease have a hard time seeing prostate cancer, even when it’s spread. But with the advent of new technologies, like PSMA PET scan, that got approved last year. So, very new technologies. That’s transforming the way we visualize where cancer may be hiding, and for men particularly that have high-risk disease or recurrent disease or even resistant disease, we’re using those scans to guide therapy. 

An Overview of Prostate Cancer Treatment Approaches

An Overview of Prostate Cancer Treatment Approaches from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How is prostate cancer currently treated? Dr. Andrew Armstrong provides an overview of treatment options for prostate cancer patients across various stages of the disease.

Dr. Andrew J. Armstrong is a medical oncologist and director of clinical research at the Duke Cancer Institute’s Center for Prostate and Urologic Cancers. For more information on Dr. Armstrong here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

What are the treatment options that are currently available for prostate cancer patients? 

Dr. Armstrong:

It’s a really important question, and I would say it depends. In early disease, when cancer is picked up early, many patients are cured. Prostate cancer is the number one survived cancer in the United States. It’s important to realize that and kind of take a deep breath and realize that most patients beat prostate cancer. Only about one out of six men will suffer a relapse or develop metastatic disease or Stage IV disease that requires more of a lifelong journey of therapy. 

So, most men come into this because they’ve been screened by their primary care doctor. They had a high PSA, they underwent a biopsy, they were found to have cancer.  

And the first decision, particularly for example at our Duke multidisciplinary clinic, the first decision that we always share with the patient, and as part of shared decision-making, is we give information about prognosis and risk using the PSA level, the biopsy information, staging information if imaging is done.  

And then giving a category or a risk group to that patient can help them decide what are the options that are nationally recommended, internationally recommended by evidence-based guidelines. The most important decision is whether that prostate cancer needs treatment right now at all, and the initial observation or active surveillance is a very valuable “first do no harm” approach for men with very low risk or low risk types of prostate cancer. With a low-grade cancer, low PSA, low stage, and that’s about a third of all patients.  

That’s a huge number of men are told they have cancer, but they actually don’t need initial treatment. 

And they need to be explained to, why we’re not going to treat that cancer, why it’s so safe, and why mortality is not high in that patient population when we don’t treat it, and how we do active surveillance. For example, imaging with MRI, repeat biopsies. And a lot of patients do appreciate that because they’re not undergoing surgery or radiation and they’re not being harmed by those treatments. That would be called overtreatment. That’s not for everybody, though. 

So, just like prostate cancer comes in different flavors, treatments come in different flavors. So, there’s things where the Gleason score is higher, the stage may be higher, the PSA is higher, and the risk to the patient is higher. And when we get into that more intermediate- and high-risk situation, treatment is going to be necessary. But then we’ll have a menu of treatment options that is important to talk through. Typically surgery, radiation, sometimes alternatives to that. 

Sometimes combinations with hormonal therapy, which we call systemic therapy. The drugs that work throughout the body. 

Katherine Banwell:

What about for patients who have advanced disease? 

Dr. Armstrong:

The word “advanced” can mean different things to different people. Advanced can mean metastatic disease. It can mean disease that’s not curable. But advanced can also mean that it’s high risk. That the disease is still confined to the prostate, but it’s aggressive, and that if it’s not handled quickly with a multidisciplinary approach, for example, it has a high risk of occurrence.  

So, advanced disease can mean aggressive, in need of treatment. Sometimes it can be cured if it’s confined to the prostate. Sometimes it requires more than just one treatment modality, such as surgery followed by radiation, or radiation plus some of the newer hormonal therapies.  

For men with stage IV disease, that means disease that has left the prostate and gone to distant sites, we have very effective therapies that can still control this type of advanced disease for many, many years, so it is important to realize how far we’ve come with all of our therapies and to reassure the patient and their family about the good prognosis, even in the worst-case scenario, for many patients. 

Prostate Cancer Shared Decision-Making: How Does It Work?

Prostate Cancer Shared Decision-Making: How Does It Work? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Prostate cancer researcher Dr. Andrew Armstrong describes the benefits of the shared decision-making process and encourages patients to take an active role in their care.

Dr. Andrew J. Armstrong is a medical oncologist and director of clinical research at the Duke Cancer Institute’s Center for Prostate and Urologic Cancers. For more information on Dr. Armstrong here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Patients may have heard the term “shared decision-making” Let’s go into – let’s define it, though. What is it, and how does it work? 

Dr. Armstrong:

Sure. So, if you imagine you’re a patient faced with the daunting task of a new cancer diagnosis and trying to navigate decision-making around treatment, or whether you need a certain test, and those tests or treatments have harms and they have benefits, shared decision-making is really the process of communication. You know, open, transparent communication between the doctor or provider and that patient and their family and supportive spouse and others, significant others, so that everybody has complete information around the risks and benefits of a certain treatment course or management course.  

In prostate cancer, this would mean for a newly diagnosed patient, commonly first giving information about what the risks of their cancer might be, but then what the risks and benefits of various treatment algorithms might be, and explaining in ways that a patient can understand those different journeys.  

Dr. Armstrong:

And ultimately the patient makes a shared decision-making with the doctor that’s in their best interest. 

Katherine Banwell:

In your view, what role do patients have in care decisions and why should they feel empowered to speak up and be a partner in their care? 

Dr. Armstrong:

Sure. Just like there’s many different types of doctors, there’s many different types of patients, and you have some patients that have PhDs, you have some patients that are not even sure what cancer is, and it’s really important to empower every patient to understand at a level that will help them make a decision. And some patients wish to have those decisions made for them. I hear that a lot. Some patients really just want to ingest the information, not make a rash decision 

Maybe get three or four second opinions, travel around to really get the right decision. And sometimes it can take a very long time. But every patient has a different journey, and it’s important for the provider, the doctor or the nurse practitioner or the surgeon, to really understand that patient and their values to help them arrive at the decision for themselves. Because sometimes treatment decisions may have equal efficacy but different side effects.  

For example, in prostate cancer, the most common decision is between active surveillance or a radical prostatectomy or radiation of different forms, or the robot versus the open procedure, or intensity modulated radiation or brachytherapy. And these are complex decisions, and I’ve had patients go for months without making decisions. And the shared decision-making approach really can help patients make a decision as quickly as possible. 

So that they can move on and either be cured from their cancer or make the best treatment decision. 

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Armstrong, why is it so important that patients tell their doctor about any symptoms they’re experiencing? 

Dr. Armstrong:

Certainly symptoms may or may not be related to the prostate cancer, and doctors are well-trained to sift through all of that. You know, back pain could be from a herniated disc or arthritis, but it could be a sign of metastatic disease. Weight loss could be a sign of other metabolic problems, but it can also be a sign of really advanced prostate cancer. Urinary symptoms could just be a sign of a big prostate, may have nothing to do with the cancer, or it could be a big tumor that’s blocking off your bladder.  

So, being transparent and open and just describing what symptoms and letting that physician sort through that with you to help understand what symptoms may or may not be related to the cancer, that’s really important.  

What Are the Treatment Options for Early Stage Breast Cancer?

What Are the Treatment Options for Early Stage Breast Cancer? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Breast cancer expert Dr. Adrienne Waks reviews available treatment approaches for patients with early stage breast cancer and explains the role of sub types when choosing a treatment plan.

Dr. Adrienne Waks is the Associate Director of Clinical Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. To learn more about Dr. Waks click, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Well, let’s get into the specific treatment options that are available for breast cancer patients. Could you tell us about those?  

Dr. Waks:

So, fortunately, the answer to that question is enormous, because we have so many effective treatment options in breast cancer and generally our patients do very well in the long term when they are diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, so stage I or II or III breast cancer.  

That might involve the breast, it might involve the lymph nodes under the arm, but it hasn’t traveled anywhere else in the body. So I’ll set aside metastatic breast cancer and just talk about stage I, II, and III. 

So, as you may know, we think about as medical oncologists we completely separate treatment considerations for three different subtypes of breast cancer. Those are hormone receptor-positive, HER2-positive and then triple-negative. So, again, highlighting just important developments and not really the overall treatment planning for each of those subtypes, in ER-positive disease or estrogen receptor-positive disease hormonally-driven, estrogen-driven breast cancer – those are all sort of terms for the same thing, I think there have been a couple of important developments over the last few years.  

Probably the most important recent one is the new understanding and demonstration that the CDK4/6 inhibitor abemaciclib, the brand name of that drug is Verzenio. 

That drug when we administer it for two years after a patient has had their surgery and in conjunction with alongside the antiestrogen medicines; the antiestrogen medicines are usually done for a minimum of five years, when we add on to that the CDK4/6 inhibitor abemaciclib, we see that for women with higher risk disease, so maybe some lymph node involvement or a large tumor in the breast or both that the addition of the Verzenio, the abemaciclib seems to decrease their risk of recurrence of breast cancer a couple of years out. So, that’s been an important exciting development. 

Again, not for all women within early stage estrogen-driven breast cancer, but for a little bit more advanced early stage disease like lymph node involvement. You know, we’re obviously always looking for ways to reduce that risk of recurrence for women who have a little bit more risk at diagnosis and the addition of abemaciclib was an exciting and welcome addition to our toolkit there. 

In HER2-positive disease, which is about 20 percent of breast cancers overall, I think what the recent years have brought us is increasing understanding that in many cases we give women too much chemotherapy and that we need to be – so, here it’s less about adding on. Like the Verzenio example I was just talking about and more about individualizing and figuring out in whom and how we can pull back from sort of the kitchen sink approach that we take often to treating a HER2-positive early stage breast cancer and be more thoughtful and more personalized in the amount of treatment that we give women with HER2-positive breast cancer. 

The reason for that is that we’re basically 20 years into understanding that for HER2-positive breast cancers we can treat those cancers very effectively with anti-HER2 antibody drugs like trastuzumab or Herceptin. We didn’t even know that until 20 years ago. And so, Herceptin, trastuzumab and similar drugs have really revolutionized how effectively we can treat women with HER2-positive breast cancers. And so, at this point, it’s becoming more and more clear that we can really lean more on our arsenal of anti-HER2 targeted therapies like Trastuzumab. Pertuzumab (Perjeta) is another one and trastuzumab MTNC and TDM1 is another one. 

So, we have all these excellent smart targeted treatments for women with HER2-positive disease, but yet the standard of care is still to give all those good rational targeted treatments with a whole bunch of chemotherapy that comes with a lot of side effects. 

I think more and more we’re figuring out that we can lean more on our anti-HER2 treatments and require less of the really side effect heavy chemotherapy, but how do we do that thoughtfully? We obviously don’t want to undertreat anybody, so how do we do that thoughtfully? How do we pick out the women who only need the anti-HER2 treatment and can get away with less chemotherapy. I think that’s really what’s exciting in HER2-positive early stage breast cancer right is how do we individualize and take advantage of targeted agents that we have? 

And then finally, in the third subtype of breast cancer which is triple-negative breast cancer which accounts for about 10 percent of breast cancers, the most exciting development there clearly in the last year or so is the realization and the demonstration in randomized clinical trial that we can improve outcomes for those women if we give them not just chemotherapy but also chemotherapy combined with immunotherapy and specifically the immunotherapy agent called pembrolizumab or Keytruda. 

So, up until a year or two ago, the standard for a stage I or II or III triple-negative breast cancer was to get a multiagent chemo regimen and chemo was really the only type of option we had to treat those triple-negative breast cancer patients and now we know from a major important clinical trial called Keynote 522, that if we take a standard chemo backbone and add Pembrolizumab immunotherapy onto it, that we can help those women do better in the long term. So, that’s really a pretty new in the last one or two years standard of care for triple-negative breast cancer. 

And I guess the last thing I’ll say is not about one of those three subtypes of breast cancer but specifically for women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation associated with their breast cancer, which is a minority. It’s about 5 percent of breast cancer patients. Obviously, the proportion changes depending on your subtype of breast cancer and your age when you’re diagnosed, but for women who have a breast cancer associated with BRCA1 or 2 mutation and have a higher risk or early stage breast cancer. 

So, again, they have a number of lymph nodes involved or a big tumor in the breast or something like that, we now know that we can add on one year of the PARP inhibitor medication called olaparib or Lynparza to the postoperative treatment of those breast cancer patients in addition to whatever other treatment they got; the antiestrogen pills, the chemotherapy, or a combination of those two, and with the addition of olaparib or Lynparza for a year that we can again see better long-term outcomes for those patients and help them avoid recurrences. 

So, that’s not a majority of breast cancer patients but is a targeted treatment that we’re very excited about that definitely makes an important contribution to reducing risk for women with a BRCA1- or BRCA2-associated cancer or men for that matter. I’m saying women, but it could absolutely apply to men. 

How Is Metastatic Breast Cancer Treated?

How Is Metastatic Breast Cancer Treated? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Breast cancer expert Dr. Adrienne Waks discusses treatment approaches for metastatic breast cancer and explains how research is evolving.

Dr. Adrienne Waks is the Associate Director of Clinical Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. To learn more about Dr. Waks click, here.

See More from Thrive Breast Cancer

Related Resources:

What Role Do Breast Cancer Patients Play in Care and Treatment Decisions?

Key Questions Patients Should Ask Before Participating in a Breast Cancer Clinical Trial

What Are the Treatment Options for Early Stage Breast Cancer?


Transcript:

Katherine:

What about people who have metastatic disease? What treatment advances are available for them?  

Dr. Waks:

Yeah. You know, I think that’s an incredibly important question and a totally different set of discussions than we have with women with early stage breast cancer and unfortunately and unacceptably at this point for a woman diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer still typically that can become a life-threatening diagnosis. 

So, it’s exceptionally important that we rapidly improve the treatment options that we have for women with metastatic breast cancer. Maybe everybody says this every year, but I think that this year, 2022, has been a particularly exciting year in terms of advances that we’re making in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer, really of all subtypes. I would say the most exciting class of drugs or type of drugs that’s coming out in breast cancer and in all malignancies honestly, is called antibody drug conjugates, which is to say an antibody. So, a molecule that’s targeted to some particular approaching on a cancer cell surface and then is attached to or conjugated to a chemotherapy molecule.  

So, the antibody is like a smart delivery system directly to the cancer cell for what’s call a payload, basically like a sort of action molecule or the killer molecule, which is the chemotherapy. 

Those kinds of antibody drug conjugants have made a huge impact in recent years in improving outcomes for women really with all subtypes of breast cancer, so that drug class I think is a very exciting one to watch in general. In terms of specific recent developments in metastatic breast cancer, so probably the biggest blockbuster development over the past year and really over just the past three months is the understanding that we can break out a subtype of metastatic breast cancer that we really didn’t even talk about before which is called HER2-low breast cancer. So, before if you asked me in May of 2022, there really were only two types of HER2 readouts for a breast cancer tumor. 

There was a HER2-negative breast cancer tumor and there was a HER2-positive breast cancer tumor and as I already told you, the HER2-positive accounts for about 20 percent of breast cancers overall. The other 80 percent are HER2-negative. And so, historically, again you asked me three months ago I would have said if you’re HER2-positive and that 20 percent will give you these different HER2-directed treatments and if you’re not, we can’t use those. And what’s changed is that we’ve developed new antibody drug conjugants. So, drugs that are targeted against in this case the protein HER2 that seem to be so effective and work so well, that you don’t truly have to be HER2-positive.  

You can be HER2-low and still benefit from these treatments, which is to say your cancer has a little bit of HER2 protein on the surface of the breast cancer cells but not a lot. So, not enough to make it positive but enough to make it low in its designation. 

That’s actually a large proportion of breast cancer patients. It’s over 50 percent of breast cancer patients, so it’s significantly more than HER2-positive, so a large proportion of breast cancer patients actually fit into this new category called HER2-low and we now know from data that were presented in June of 2022 and then published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which is our biggest most high profile academic medical journal, we know that for patients who fall into that HER2-low category, again that’s more than 50 percent of breast cancer patients, that they can, if they have a metastatic breast cancer, benefit from this new antibody drug conjugate called trastuzumab deruxtecan (Enhertu).  

When it was compared to the existing chemo options we have for those patients which do have some efficacy but nonetheless, when trastuzumab deruxtecan was compared to the existing chemo options, it clearly looked better for patients with HER2-low breast cancer. So, that was not just an exciting advance in terms of new treatment options which we always love to be able to offer to patients but also in terms of breaking out this entirely new designation and subcategory that captures more than half of our metastatic breast cancer patients and helping us to offer them something new and hopefully will be a pathway for other drugs to be developed in this space and for this new subcategory. 

So, that was very exciting. I’ve been talking about it with patients all the time in the past just three months since those data came out.  

You know, a second antibody drug conjugate that has also been very exciting in recent months and recent years is called sacituzumab govitecan which Trodelvy is the brand name of that one. That’s an antibody drug conjugate that’s targeted against a different protein on the cell surface that’s targeted against the protein Trop-2, so that’s where the Trodelvy comes from. It’s targeting Trop-2. That’s an antibody drug conjugate that we’ve known for probably three or more years now can be very effective in triple-negative metastatic breast cancer. So, we’ve had that option for a number of years in metastatic triple-negative breast cancer. 

But again, just in the past few months have gotten good and exciting data that this Trodelvy or sacituzumab drug also works in estrogen-driven breast cancers.  

And so, it’s giving another option to patients with not just triple-negative but also estrogen-driven breast cancer. So, that was another very recent development just in the last three months or so. 

Katherine:

That’s really exciting. 

Understanding Advanced Prostate Cancer Treatment Approaches

Understanding Advanced Prostate Cancer Treatment Approaches from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What approaches are available to treat advanced prostate cancer? Dr. Rana McKay discusses advanced prostate cancer treatment goals and reviews current options for patients.

Dr. Rana McKay is a medical oncologist at UC San Diego Health and an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. McKay, here.
 
 

Katherine Banwell:

We’re going to talk about treatment approaches. But first, how would you define treatment goals? 

Dr. Rana McKay:

So, you know when I look at defining treatment goals it’s focusing on what do we want to achieve from the standpoint of the cancer? Meaning, you know, what are objectives that are associated with patients living longer?  

And then what are objectives and strategies that we can set-up to make sure that patients are living better? So, I think the treatments are basically set up to basically help you achieve those two goals. What can we do to help you live longer and feel better? 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. Well, let’s walk through the types of treatments that are used today to treat advanced prostate cancer. What are the treatment causes and who are they appropriate for? Let’s start with surgery, for instance. 

Dr. Rana McKay:

So, surgery is something that’s utilized early on when people are diagnosed with cancer. It tends to be utilized when the cancer has not necessarily spread to other parts of the body but is still localized within the prostate itself, or maybe there’s just some little bit of breakthrough in the capsule. Sometimes it can be used in people who have involvement of the prostate cancer in the lymph nodes. But it’s generally not utilized in people who have cancer that’s spread to other parts of the body. 

Katherine Banwell:

Mm-hmm. What about other treatment classes? What are they? 

 Dr. Rana McKay:

So, radiation can also be utilized. Radiation is a treatment modality that can be used for people with localized disease, and also it can be utilized for people with advanced disease to treat the primary tumor. 

Additionally radiation therapy can be used to help treat symptoms if there’s a bone lesion causing pain or other areas that are causing discomfort. Sometimes radiation to those areas can mitigate pain. When I think about the treatment classes for prostate cancer, they generally break down into several categories. The first, most predominant category is the hormonal therapy category. Hormonal therapies are really the backbone of treatment for men with prostate cancer, and they include the more traditional hormonal therapies that really work to just drop testosterone. So, just LRH – L – LRHA agonists and antagonists and also, they include newer hormonal therapies in the form of pills that really target strategies at also affecting testosterone function and testosterone production. Another class is also the chemotherapy agents. There are two FDA-approved chemotherapies for prostate cancer that are life-prolonging, and there’s a certain role for chemotherapy for people with advanced disease. 

There’s also immunotherapy that can be utilized. There’s a vaccine therapy that’s actually one of the first FDA vaccines for any solid tumor that’s proving in prostate cancer that can be utilized. There’s also radio pharmaceuticals.  

So, these are specific agents that deliver bits of radiation to specific areas. Whether it be radium 223, which targets the bone or the newest radio pharmaceutical, which was approved called Lutetium PSMA that basically delivers beta-radiation to little – sites of PSMA expressing cancer cells and the last category that I would highlight is the category of targeted therapy. There are two targeted therapies for prostate cancer for patients who have like genomic alterations. Those include the drugs olaparib and rucaparib. So, as you can see there’s a wide spectrum of drugs that can be utilized to really keep this disease at bay.   

What Is Advanced Prostate Cancer?

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

When is prostate cancer considered advanced? What are the symptoms? Expert Dr. Rana McKay explains.

Dr. Rana McKay is a medical oncologist at UC San Diego Health and an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. McKay, here.
 
 

Katherine Banwell:

What does it mean for prostate cancer to be considered advanced? 

Dr. Rana McKay:

So, generally what that means is that the cancer may have spread outside of the body – outside of prostate to other parts of the body such as the bone or the lymph nodes which is a common location where prostate cancer can go. Additionally, it may mean that the cancer may have come back after it was initially treated with an intent to cure a patient. But then you know the PSA demonstrates, that you know, there’s a rise in the PSA, and the cancer is recurrent.  

Katherine Banwell:

Right. That makes sense. What are the common symptoms of advanced prostate cancer?  

Dr. Rana McKay:

So, you know, I would probably say there common symptoms and just because somebody has these symptoms doesn’t mean they have prostate cancer. But fatigue, weight loss, urinary symptoms, trouble urinating, you know, benign prostatic atrophy is one of the most common symptoms or most common conditions in men and –  

Katherine Banwell:

What does that mean?  

Dr. Rana McKay:

So sort of benign enlargement of the prostate. You know that’s a common phenomenon that happens with age, and it can affect somebody’s ability to urinate. 

But, you know sometimes with prostate cancer it can also impact somebody’s ability to urinate. Their stream, their flow. They may have rectal discomfort. They may feel tired, boney pains. Usually, I tell patients you know persistent progressive symptoms that are just, you know, not going away, not getting better. Those need to be looked at by a physician to evaluate further. 

Thriving With Prostate Cancer: What You Should Know About Care and Treatment

What does it mean to thrive with advanced prostate cancer? Dr. Rana McKay discusses the goals of advanced prostate cancer care, reviews current and emerging treatment options, and shares advice for playing an active role in healthcare decisions.
 
Dr. Rana McKay is a medical oncologist at UC San Diego Health and an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. McKay, here.
 
 

Katherine Banwell:    

Hello and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today we’re going to focus on how patients can aim to live and thrive with advanced prostate cancer. We’re going to discuss treatment goals and the role patients can play in making key decisions. 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 guests today. Joining me is Dr. Rana McKay. Dr. McKay, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Rana McKay:     

Of course. Thank you so much for having me. My name is Rana McKay and I’m a GU medical oncologist at the University of California San Diego.  

Katherine Banwell:    

Excellent. Thanks so much for taking time out of your schedule to join us. Since this webinar is part of PEN’s Thrive series, I’d like to ask you from your perspective, what do you think it means to thrive with advanced prostate cancer?

Dr. Rana McKay:        

That’s a very good question and I think that’s what um, a lot of patients want to actually you know, do in their day-to-day existence. I think it means that they are combatting their disease. They’re taking a proactive role in um, you know, uh tackling um, their illness. They um, are uh, attentive to sort of doing the activities of daily living that really bring them joy and satisfaction and happiness and setting up a treatment plan that is a mutually agreed upon treatment plan with their clinician. That they have buy-in on. That their caregivers have buy-in on. That allows them to do the things that they love to do while keeping their cancer at bay.

Katherine Banwell:    

Okay. Thank you for sharing your insights. Before we move onto treatment, I mentioned that this webinar is focused on advanced prostate cancer. What does it mean for prostate cancer to be considered advanced?

Dr. Rana McKay:        

So, generally what that means is that the cancer may have spread outside of the body – outside of prostate to other parts of the body such as the bone or the lymph nodes which is a common location where prostate cancer um, uh, can go. Additionally, it may mean that the cancer may have come back after um, it was initially treated with an intent um, to cure um, a patient. But then you know the PSA demonstrates um, that you know, there’s a rise in the PSA and the cancer is recurrent.

Katherine Banwell:    

As you mentioned uh, appropriate treatment is part of thriving. We’re going to talk about treatment approaches. But first, how would you define treatment goals?

Dr. Rana McKay:       

So, you know when I look at defining treatment goals it’s focusing on what do we wanna achieve from the standpoint of the cancer? Meaning, you know, what are objectives that are associated with patients living longer?

And then what are objectives um and strategies that we can set-up to make sure that patients are living better? So, I think the treatments are basically set-up to basically help you achieve those two goals. What can we do to help you live longer and feel better?

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. Well, let’s walk through the types of treatments that are used today to treat advanced prostate cancer. What are the treatment causes and who are they appropriate for? Let’s start with surgery, for instance.

Dr. Rana McKay:       

So, surgery is something that’s utilized uh, early on when people are diagnosed with cancer. It tends to be utilized when the cancer has not necessarily spread to other parts of the body but is still localized within the prostate itself or maybe there’s just some little bit of breakthrough in the capsule. Sometimes it can be used in people who have involvement of the prostate cancer in the lymph nodes. But it’s generally not utilized in people who have cancer that’s spread to other parts of the body.

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. What about other treatment classes? What are they?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

So, radiation can also be utilized. Radiation is a treatment modality that can be used for people with localized disease and um, also it can be utilized for people with advanced disease to treat the primary tumor.

Additionally radiation therapy can be used to help treat symptoms um, if there’s a bone lesion causing pain or other areas that are causing discomfort. Sometimes radiation to those areas um, can um, mitigate pain. When I think about the treatment classes for prostate cancer um, they generally break down into several categories. The first um, um, most predominant category is the hormonal therapy category. Hormonal therapies are really the backbone of treatment for men with prostate cancer and they include the more traditional hormonal therapies that really work to just drop testosterone. So, just LRH – L – LRHA agonists and antagonists and also, they include um, newer hormonal therapies in the form of pills that really target um, strategies at also affecting testosterone function and testosterone production. Another class is also the chemotherapy agents. There are two FDA approved chemotherapies for prostate cancer that are life prolonging and um, uh there’s a certain role for uh, chemotherapy for people with advanced disease.

There’s also immunotherapy that can be utilized. Um, there’s a um, uh, vaccine therapy that’s actually one of the first uh, FDA vaccines for any solid tumor that’s proving in prostate cancer that can be utilized. There’s also radio pharmaceuticals.

So, these are specific agents that deliver um, a bits of radiation to specific areas. Whether it be radium 223 which targets the bone or the newest radio pharmaceutical, which was approved called uh, lutecium PSMA that um, basically delivers beta-radiation to little – sites of PSMA expressing cancer cells and the last category that I would highlight is the category of targeted therapy. There are uh, two targeted therapies for prostate cancer for patients who have like genomic alterations. Those include the drugs olaparib and rucaparib. So, as you can see there’s a wide spectrum of drugs that can be utilized to really keep this disease at bay.  

Katherine Banwell:    

Dr. McKay, for these treatment classes, what can patients expect as far as side effects?

Dr. Rana McKay:       

Absolutely. So, I think side effects – discussing side effects is a really important part of the discussion for selecting any one given therapy and in general, I think um, when we talk about the hormonal therapies one of the side effects that people can get is largely fatigue.

But a lot of the symptoms are related to low testosterone. And so, that may mean muscle loss, bone loss, um, you know, uh, hot flashes, um, fatigue, decrease libido, um… So, you those are things to consider with hormonal therapies. With the chemotherapies, I think the big ones we worry about are fatigue, risk of infection, um blood counts dropping a little bit, people getting tired, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet can occur, some swelling in the legs are common side effects for chemotherapy agents. With regards to the um, uh, immunotherapy with the vaccine therapy, it actually tends to be a fairly well tolerated treatment. Maybe some fatigue, rarely some dizziness or some lip – lip sensitivity, numbness with the – the process of kind of collecting the cells. But it actually tends to be fairly well tolerated.

The um, targeted therapies can cause fatigue. They can cause the blood counts to drop and can impact bone marrow function. There can be sometimes GI side effects. Nausea, um, rash, um and then the immune therapy, the pembrolizumab, that is FDA approved sometimes that can cause immune related adverse events which is kind of over activation of the immune system developing you know, what I’d call it as the itises. Colitis or pneumonitis which is inflammation of various organs and symptoms related to wherever that may be.

Katherine Banwell:    

When should a patient consider a clinical trial as a treatment option?

Dr. Rana McKay:        

So, I generally think that a patient should consider a clinical trial at almost every juncture that a – a clinical decision is being made. I think sometimes there’s this misperception that, “Oh. Clinical trials should only be utilized when I don’t have any other options.” Where in fact I would say clinical trials should be an option to discuss every single time a treatment is being changed. Um, because you know the ultimately the goal is to make sure patients are as I said, living longer and living better and um, you know, making sure that clinical trials are an option on the table at every juncture is really a key step in that process.

Katherine Banwell:    

What are the benefits of being part of a clinical trial?

Dr. Rana McKay:       

So, I think there’s a lot of benefits. I think um, you know, uh for patients with advanced disease it may provide access to drugs that they otherwise not necessarily have access to.

Um, so the standard of care therapies you know, we can prescribe those at any juncture. They’re standard of care. But clinical trials um, really offer an opportunity to experiment with a uh, uh another agent um, and doesn’t necessarily take away from the standard of care options.

I think um, the other thing is you know, I think a lot of patients with advanced prostate cancer, they um, they – want to give back to the community. They want to leave a legacy. They want to contribute to the science. They wanna be a part of that mission to make tomorrow better than today for men with prostate cancer and I think participating in clinical trials can really help achieve that goal. Um, and also benefit the individual as well.

Katherine Banwell:    

What about emerging treatments? Are there any that patients should know about?

Dr. Rana McKay:       

Absolutely. So, there’s a lot of treatments that I think are currently undergoing extensive testing.

There’s um, additional uh, targeted therapies um, for example CDK46 inhibitors that are being tested broadly in the um, um hormone resistant space and the newly diagnosed setting. Um, there’s um, also AKT inhibitors. There are other targeted therapies that are being tested. There’s novel hormonal treatments that target resistant pathways like the antigen receptor degraders. There’s a slew of immunotherapy options um, cell therapy, bi-specific antibodies that are also being tested. So, there’s a lot of really exciting and novel treatments that are looking at overcoming resistance for people with advanced disease.

Katherine Banwell:    

Hm. Do you recommend that men with advanced prostate cancer get the COVID vaccines and the boosters?

Dr. Rana McKay:       

Very good question and in general, I do recommend the vaccines. Especially for patients with advanced disease and those that are on therapy. Um, several studies have demonstrated that patients with cancer are at increased risk of having complications related to COVID and particularly patients that are on active treatment with cancer are at even greater riskSo, um, I would definitely recommend vaccination as a preventative strategy to prevent really complications related to COVID.

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. Thanks, Dr. McKay. That’s helpful information. Since prostate cancer affects men differently. Let’s review what factors could impact which treatment is right for their individual disease. How about we start with symptoms?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

So, yeah. I mean absolutely. I think symptoms are definitely something that plays into effect.

Um, sometimes when patients are first diagnosed, they may not have symptoms. But, you know, boney pain. Um, Symptoms of urinary obstruction. You know, there’s specific um, uh, treatments and uh, strategies that we can deploy to help with those kinds of things. Um, you know other factors that I think I – we take into account when we’re making decisions about which agent should any one patient receive is where are there sites of metastases? Um, is there disease just in the bones and lymph nodes or are there other organs involved? Um, what’s the genomic make-up of the tumor? Um, there are certain treatments that we would utilize if someone had a certain specific you know, uh genetic make-up for their tumor. You know, other things that are really important are what kind of drugs has the patient seen before or has that tumor been exposed to? Because that also helps us strategize for what to give them in the future.

Katherine Banwell:    

Do you take into consideration the patient’s comorbidities and their age and overall health? Things like that? 

Dr. Rana McKay: 

Absolutely. Yeah. I think we need to absolute take that in account. I think – I think age is one thing. But I think functional status is um, just as – as important as the actual number itself because people are very different regarding um,  the things that they can do at various uh, age limits and so, that absolutely takes into account weighing the side effects of any given therapy and how that may interact with someone’s existing comorbidities and it may be something that we have to work with a team of other doctors to basically make sure that there is comprehensive, well-rounded care for any one patient.

For example, some therapies may increase the risk of hyper-tension or increase the risk of volume overload and so, if somebody has issues with that already we may have them see a cardiologist so we can make sure that um, you know, we’re kind of addressing the totality of the patient experience. 

Katherine Banwell:    

What do you mean by volume overload?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

Uh, volume overload I mean if they’ve got too much fluid on board. So, maybe if they have heart failure or something like that and we have a therapy that’s gonna cause them to retain fluid. And so then, we would have to work with a cardiologist to make sure that they don’t run into issues.

Katherine Banwell:    

Right. That makes sense. What are the common symptoms of advanced prostate cancer?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

So, um, you know, I would probably say there common symptoms and just because somebody has these symptoms doesn’t mean they have prostate cancer. But fatigue, weight loss, urinary symptoms, trouble urinating, you know, benign prostatic atrophy is one of the most common symptoms or most common conditions in men and um –

Katherine Banwell:    

What does that mean?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

Um, so sort of benign enlargement of the prostate. Um, you know that’s a common phenomenon that happens with age and it can affect somebody’s ability to urinate.

Um, but um you know uh, sometimes with prostate cancer it can also impact somebody’s ability to urinate. Their stream, their flow. Um, they may have rectal discomfort. They may feel tired, boney pains. Usually, I tell patients you know persistent progressive symptoms that are just you know not going away, not getting better. Those need to be looked at by a physician to evaluate further. 

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. You mentioned genetic mutations. Should patients advocate for genetic testing if they haven’t had it already?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

Um, it all depends on uh, what kind of uh, where they are in the process. So, for most men who have advanced disease, they should undergo genetic testing of both their tumor, and it is also recommended to do hereditary testing for patients who have advanced disease. Um, and that information may not necessarily be utilized at the exact time that the test is done.

But it may be utilized down the road for treatment options at a later time point. Um…

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. Once a man is undergoing treatment for advanced prostate cancer how are they monitored to see if it’s actually working?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

So, a lot of ways. So, one is by just you know, visiting with the patient. Making sure that their symptoms are in check. Making sure that they’re not developing new um, aches or pains that are worrisome. It’s by checking their labs um, in addition to their organ and bone marrow function. We would check their PSA. Um, and PSA isn’t the whole story. But it is one factor that contributes to us determining whether treatment may or may not be working. It’s also doing intermittent scannings. So, um, you know, uh, CT scans of the organs, of the lymph nodes. Bone scan and now we actually have PSMA based imaging which can be integrated to help um, assess uh, where the disease is and um, not yet being utilized to assess whether something is working because we haven’t really defined the criteria there.

But um, it can be utilized as well.

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. Dr. McKay, how would you define precision or personalized medicine and how close are we getting to personalized medicine for advanced prostate cancer?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

Yeah. So, what I – how I define it is the right treatment for the right patient at the right time. It’s basically you know, based off of somebody’s genomic profile of their tumor and ideally that genomic profiling is done close to the time that that treatment is being initiated. So, within six months or twelve months of somebody starting a given therapy we understand the genetic make-up of the tumor. The tumor has you know, for example a BRCA1 alteration and we know that olaparib is a drug that can be utilized and has demonstrated efficacy for people that have that mutation and then we would use that agent. So, it’s basically trying to um, personalize therapy based on the genomic information of that tumor.

And um, I think we are getting there. There are actually trials now that are being launched that are bio-marker driven trials with bio-marker selected therapies for patients based on -off of not just DNA but also RNA to help with um, allocating a given therapy.   

Katherine Banwell:    

What do you feel are the common obstacles to care for a man with advanced prostate cancer?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

So, I think that there can be a lot of obstacles with regards to um, you know, comprehensiveness of the care. You know it’s one thing to sort of, “Okay. This is the next therapy to treat you with.” But there’s a lot of side effects that can happen with any one given therapy and ensuring that there is open dialogue between um, uh a man and his – his clinician and caregivers.

You know, I think that that can sometimes be a hurdle. Like that open communication can be so important. It’s not just about picking the next best drug but it’s ensuring that there’s sort of comprehensiveness in care. I think a lot of um, you know, patients they may not necessarily know and they’re really kind of dependent on their clinician to sort of go through the compendia of options that may be available and why one may be better than the other for any one given scenario. So, I think it’s like that shared decision-making, that open dialogue.

Um, you know, I think also thinking about advocacy networks, I think um, you know, I can say things until I’m blue in the face like this is what being on ADT feels like. But I think sometimes actually connecting with another patient whose gone through the same experience who can kind of weigh in from the patient perspective like what it actually feels like, I think is not to say a hurdle. But I think we can do a better job as a medical community of making those networking connections available for patients so they can be a part of a broader community of individuals like them going through the same thing they’re going through.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. It helps to know that there are others going through exactly what you’re going through or similar symptoms. We received a patient question prior to the program. What is the difference between my PSA level and Gleason score?     

Dr. Rana McKay: 

Yeah. So, very good question. So, Gleason score is something that is determined based off a pathologic assessment. So, it’s basically you know, a biopsy is done from the prostate or the – the surgical specimen from the removal of the prostate is looked at under the microscope and a Gleason score is based off what something looks like underneath a microscope and ideally, a Gleason score is given really only for the prostate – for tissue derived from the prostate.

So, if somebody has a bone biopsy for example or a lymph node biopsy, they’re not going to necessarily get a glycine score per se. It’s been – been validated from the prostate itself and ideally, also, an untreated prostate. So, if somebody has you know had radiation therapy and then has a biopsy, the Gleason score there is – there should not necessarily be a notation of what a Gleason score is. It’s really an untreated prostate. Now PSA is prostate specific antigen and it’s a protein that’s made from the prostate gland and it’s found in circulation. PSA doesn’t hurt any – the actual you know, molecule itself is – is innocuous. It doesn’t hurt anything. It’s just a marker of um, sometimes can be a marker of burden of disease in prostate cancer and I think sometimes we as clinicians do you know, you know a disservice to some patients because I think we fixate – we can fixate a lot on PSA.

But PSA is not the whole story and it’s one factor of several factors that we take into account in determining whether someone needs treatment or whether a treatment is working or not working.

Katherine Banwell:    

Why should patients feel confident using their voice in partnering in their care? Do you have any advice?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

Um, I mean it’s – it’s absolutely important for patients to share their perspective and for there to be shared decision making at every single juncture along the way. Even around decisions to not treat. So, you know, I think it’s a lot of um – there’s a lot of grays in prostate cancer and a lot of art in deciding what treatment to do and at what specific time and for any given patient given the values that that patient brings to the table, they may come back with a different decision compared to another patient. So, without the patient you know voicing what their values are it’s impossible to make a treatment decision.

So, it is so critically important to have that open communication with your clinician.

Katherine Banwell:    

So, in addition to that – in conjunction with that, should men diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer consider a second opinion or consulting with a specialist?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

I think it’s always a great idea to get a second opinion. Um, you know, I think that um, you know, it will only empower individuals um, when they seek sort of a second opinion to either confirm um what their physician has already told them and then they have reassurance that they’re on the right path or maybe provide some new um, novel insights that they can take into consideration and just think about how that could be applied to them. So, you know, I think that a second opinion is always really valuable.

I will balance that by saying um, sometimes it can be detrimental if there’s lots of opinions because I will say that coming to a consensus when there’s lots of different specialists that are involved, and everybody makes the soup a little bit differently –

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah.

Dr. Rana McKay: 

Sometimes that I think that can actually um, hurt patients in being able to actually come to a decision because then they’re like, “I don’t know what decision to make. This person said do this. This person said do that. This person said do that.” Um, and so that can sometimes be um, detrimental. But a second opinion, I do always encourage it. I do always value it. But I always want the patient to bring it back to me so I can share with them and discuss, “Okay. I understand. This is why x said X-Y-Z. This still aligns. This still doesn’t.” They need a quarterback like you know, it’s one thing to sort of get second opinions. But I think every man with prostate cancer should have a quarterback that’s driving their care and advocating for them.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. How can patients find specialists near them?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

So, um, I will say that they are national comprehensive cancer institutes. They’re all across the country in rural areas and not. I think um, you know finding the closest NCI designated comprehensive cancer center close to you is probably a good place to start and identifying who is seeing um patients with genetic urinary malignancies or prostate cancer at that facility is a good place. I think the prostate cancer foundation is an excellent advocacy group for patients with prostate cancer. They have a tremendous amount of resources um, to help connect patients with um, clinicians, and other resources um, in their journey with cancer.

Katherine Banwell:    

How can caregivers best support their loved ones?

Dr. Rana McKay: 

So, I think being present is one of the first things. Um, you know, I think that uh, um, you know, uh, being you know, supportive, being present.

Like you know, attending the doctor – doctor’s visits. It doesn’t necessarily have to be every single doctor visit. But those critical doctor visits where um, you know clinical decisions are being made. I think it’s really important also um, to there may be some hesitancy on the part of patients to sometimes be open or vocal with their clinicians about various aspects of what they may be experiencing at home, or they may be undermining or sort of – I think caregivers can help in sort of giving an outsider’s perspective. “Well, this is how things are going at home,” and “You know this is how things are,” and “These are the things that we value and we’re gonna go on this family trip,” and “This is a big-ticket item for us. So, how can we work around planning a treatment plan that allows us to do that?” So, I think it’s really important.

Katherine Banwell:    

ASCO was held in June. Is there news from the conference that patients should know about?

Dr. Rana McKay:        

Yeah. So, I think some of the biggest therapies in prostate cancer that was one of the newest therapies that was just FDA approved is um, Lutetium PSMA. It’s um, a radioligand therapy that targets specifically PSMA expressing cells. Um It delivers a little bit of beta radiation to those cells. Um, that therapy was approved this past Spring and there highlights at ASCO about the utility of this therapy. Um, and again, there’s a series of novel compounds that are being tested in prostate cancer not yet ready for prime time but a lot of exciting work that’s being done um, to try to get new drugs that work better for our patients.

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. Going back to ASCO and new developments, how can patients stay informed about research developments like – like these that happen at ASCO.

Dr. Rana McKay:

So, very – very good. I think there’s a lot of networks for people with prostate cancer. I think one like I mentioned, the prostate cancer foundation it’s a wonderful community. Um, that really focuses on making sure that up to date, you know, uh, evidence-based data is uh, distributed to patients in a manner that is – that makes sense. That’s there’s not a lot of medical jargon and so I think that the PCF is really a wonderful resource. Uh, ASCO itself also has um, you know patient interfacing you know, materials through their website.

American Cancer Society does as well. Um, the American Cancer Society can also be a wonderful resource for patients that are newly diagnosed or going through treatment.

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm. Before we end the program, Dr. McKay, I wanted to ask. Are you hopeful that men can thrive with advanced prostate cancer?

Dr. Rana McKay:       

Oh, I am absolutely hopeful that they can thrive. I mean that is um, the name of the game and I think there’s a lot of um, uh, people who can look to for motivation.

Um, uh, to basically show that despite treatment, despite having advanced disease patients can thrive and continue doing all of the things that they love that give them joy and satisfaction in their lives.

Katherine Banwell:    

It seems like there’s a lot of progress and hope in the field which is good. Dr. McKay thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.

Dr. Rana McKay:       

Of course. My pleasure.

Katherine Banwell:    

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

How Is Advanced Prostate Cancer Treated?

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

What therapies are available to treat advanced prostate cancer? Expert Dr. Atish Choudhury reviews current treatment options.

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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An Expert Debunks Advanced Prostate Cancer Myths

An Expert Debunks Advanced Prostate Cancer Myths


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

So, let’s walk through the types of therapy that are used today to treat prostate cancer. If you would start with surgery?

Dr. Choudhury:            

Sure. So, surgery is a radical prostatectomy, and they take out the prostate – they take out neighboring structures called seminal vesicles, they take out the surrounding fat, and they’ll usually take out some neighboring lymph nodes as well. And there are advantages of surgery in that when the prostate is out, the pathologist can examine the whole prostate front to back, side to side, as well as those neighboring structures to really understand the stage of the cancer – “Where is it?” – and also, the grade – “Is it a high-grade cancer, a low-grade cancer, somewhere in the middle?”

And it really helps guide “What is the risk of developing recurrence afterwards, and are there further treatments that we should be giving after the surgery? For example, radiation to the prostate bed to decrease the risk of recurrences. Surgery does have its own set of potential side effects and complications, so it’s not appropriate for everyone, but in general, that’s the process.

Katherine:                  

What other treatment options? You mentioned radiation. What else is there?         

Dr. Choudhury:          

Yeah, so, radiation comes in two forms: there’s seed radiation, which is implantable little radioactive pellets that are implanted throughout the prostate. And then, there’s external radiation, and that can be given in several forms and over several schedules that it’s really important to discuss with the care team.

The other forms of treatment that people on this call might’ve heard about or read about are in a category called “focal treatments,” and these are basically ways to – and the term we use is a blade but zap – an area of the prostate using lasers, or high-intensity ultrasound, or with freezing an area of the prostate, or with something called “irreversible electroporation.”

These are basically all ways to, again, zap an area of the prostate either with heat or with cold with the intention of killing off cancer cells in an area. And the trouble is that none of these treatments have actually been demonstrated to improve outcomes related to prostate cancer compared to just surveillance alone. And it does complicate, sort of, the monitoring afterwards to see if something has come back.

But there might be very selected patients where there’s an area of cancer that’s seen on a scan – like an MRI – with no cancer seen outside of that area who might decide to pursue this possibility of focal treatment with the goal of maybe putting off the need for something like radiation or surgery. But that’s something that really should be discussed with a multidisciplinary team so that people really understand what they’re getting into in terms of risks and potential benefits.

So, those treatments are not really considered standard at this time.

Katherine:                  

What about hormonal therapy?        

Dr. Choudhury:   

Yeah, so, hormonal therapy plays a role in the treatment of prostate cancer, really depending on the stage and the other treatments that are being considered. So, for example, if a patient is going to surgery for a localized prostate cancer, in general, we wouldn’t use hormonal treatment either before or after the surgery unless they’re planned for radiation after the surgery.

However, for patients who have intermediate risk or higher localized prostate cancer and are getting radiation, then we will often recommend hormonal treatments, which are basically testosterone-lowering drugs, to make the radiation work as well as possible. And then, for patients who have advanced cancer beyond where surgery or radiation is going to be of help, then, hormonal treatments are important to treat the cancer wherever it is.

And that’s because prostate cancer cells, wherever they are in the body – wherever they’re in the prostate itself, or in lymph nodes, or bones, or other organs – depend on the testosterone in your body to supply a fuel – to support its growth and survival.

And so, lowering the level of testosterone in the body basically deprives the cancer cells of that fuel and starts a process of killing cancer cells even without any need for radiation, or chemotherapy, or things like that. However, hormonal treatments are not curative. They don’t kill all the cancer – they kill some and put the rest to sleep. And so, if you stop the hormonal treatment, the cancer will grow back, and that’s why it’s not a treatment on its own for localized prostate cancer.

And that’s also why, for prostate cancer that’s spread, we often add on additional medications to the testosterone-lowering drugs to be more effective at really killing the cancer wherever it is compared to the testosterone suppression alone.

Katherine:                  

Oh, I see. For advanced disease, what treatments are available for patients that are hormone-sensitive or -resistant?

Dr. Choudhury:           

Yeah, so “hormone-sensitive” means that the cancer has advanced, but the patient hasn’t started on testosterone-lowering drugs yet. And so, as I had mentioned, testosterone lowering is really the backbone of treatment of these patients. And so, there are additional treatments that have been demonstrated previously to be effective after testosterone-lowering by itself stops working, and these include a chemotherapy drug called docetaxel. And in addition, there are more potent hormonal drugs called abiraterone, enzalutamide, apalutamide, and darolutamide.

And the role of these other drugs is to block hormonal signaling within the cancer cells from hormones other than testosterone. And so, by doing the more potent hormonal drug in conjunction with the testosterone lowering, that leads to a much deeper response – much more tumor shrinkage – and, it turns out, also prolonged survival in patients treated with those combination treatments – compared top people who are treated with testosterone lowering alone and then receive these drugs later.

So, there’s something about treating more aggressively at the beginning in this hormone-sensitive state that plays out in prolongation of survival. And not only prolonged survival, but improved quality of life due to delaying the symptoms of cancer grown and progression.

Katherine:                  

Right.        

Dr. Choudhury:   

When we then talk about castration resistant disease, certainly we use the same classes of drugs, but then, there’s a wider armamentarium of things that we use that include, again, other kinds of chemotherapy.

There are radiation drugs, and an approved drug Radium-223. And there’s another drug on the horizon called Lutetium PSMA. There are immune therapy drugs – something called Sipuleucel-T – and then, this is also a situation where we do genetic testing of the cancer to understand if there’re certain –what we call “therapeutic vulnerabilities.”

Other treatment options that are available based on the genetics of the cancer that might be helpful in some people? And specific options include a chemo-immune therapy called “Keytruda” in a small subset of patients with particular genetic changes involving genes involved in mismatched repair of DNA. And then, there’s another set of targeted treatments called “PARP inhibitors” for certain sets of patients who have alterations in genes involved in homologous recombination repair of DNA.

So, that’s all very complicated, and so that’s why it’s important to get treated with high-volume providers of prostate cancer patients so that they’re really aware and onboard with these various treatment options that are available.

How to Play an Active Role in Your Prostate Cancer Treatment and Care Decisions

How to Play an Active Role in Your Prostate Cancer Treatment and Care Decisions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What steps can you take to engage in your prostate cancer treatment and care decisions? Dr. Atish Choudhury discusses current and emerging prostate cancer therapies, reviews key treatment decision-making factors, and shares advice for self-advocacy.

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.

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Using Your Voice to Partner in Your Prostate Cancer Treatment Decisions


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s webinar. Today, we’re going to explore the goals of advanced prostate cancer treatment and discuss tools for playing an active role in your care decisions.

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. Atish Choudhury. Dr. Choudhury, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Choudhury:        

Hello. Thank you so much for the invitation. So, I’m a medical oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and I’m the codirector of the prostate cancer center at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center. And I serve as the chair of the Lank Center for Translational Research as well, and ’t’s my pleasure to be here.

Katherine:                  

Thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule to join us. Today, we’re talking about advanced prostate cancer.

What exactly does “advanced” mean in terms of this cancer?

Dr. Choudhury:          

Yeah. So, it’s actually a pretty broad term, and it can mean different things in different contexts. But generally, what it means is that it’s cancer that has extended outside of the confines of the boundaries of the prostate itself – either locally where it is into the surrounding fat around the prostate capsule or to local lymph nodes, where it could also spread to other parts of the body – like lymph nodes, bone, and other organs.

So, it can really mean different things depending on the context.

Katherine:                  

Before we get into the types of treatment available, let’s start by understanding the goals of treatment. What are the goals of advanced stage prostate cancer?

Dr. Choudhury:              

So, in general, the goal of treating any cancer is to a live a long, happy, healthy life with limited quality of life troubles from the cancer itself or its treatments. And so, for localized prostate cancer, that generally means treating with curative intent – that we give radiation or surgery, potentially in combination with hormonal treatments so that the cancer is taken care of and people can be cured and not need further treatments moving forward at all.

And there are situations, even in fairly advanced cases, where that’s a reasonable and accomplishable goal. And there are other situations that we might not be able to cure the cancer completely, but the treatments can be quite effective at keeping it under control and keep people with a very good quality of life so that prostate cancer is not a day-to-day burden for them and that they can survive with cancer for years, and years, and years.

Katherine:                  

It sounds like these goals would be determined with members of your healthcare team. So, who is typically on a patient’s prostate cancer healthcare team?

Dr. Choudhury:            

Yeah. So, generally, the consultations here at Dana-Farber are multidisciplinary, with a medical oncologist, a radiation oncologist, and a urologic oncologist – so, a surgeon.

And so, if a patient is a good candidate for treatment to the prostate itself, then certainly, the surgeon and the radiation oncologist will talk about those treatments. And if the treatment is primarily with medications, then the medical oncologist will generally sort of take the lead. But there is often a role for local treatment to the prostate itself, even in cancer that’s spread beyond the prostate. So, that’s why the multidisciplinary consultation is so important.

Katherine:                  

Right. What do you feel is the patient’s role as a team member?

Dr. Choudhury:           

Absolutely. So, I think it is very important for the patient to make sure that they come into these multidisciplinary meetings with questions around “What is my stage?” “What are the choices?” “What do I expect with treatment? Without treatment? With the various treatment options?” And basically, to take in the advice that they’re getting from the different members of the multidisciplinary team, and really think about how that’s impactful for them and their goals for themselves and what they really hope for the short term and for the long term.

I think what gets tricky is that there’s really very not-great sources of information that’s out there online and in YouTube videos and things like that, and I think it does play an important role for the patient to really understand what are the real high-quality sources of information – they tend to come from academic medical centers like ours. And certainly, we do encourage second opinions at other high-quality, high-volume centers so that the patients understand that the recommendations that are being made are generally made based on the based data and with people with a lot of experience at treating their kind of cancer.

Katherine:                  

What about caregivers? How do they fit into the team?

Dr. Choudhury:             

Caregivers are critical because patients are not always the most expressive at, really, what their wants, and needs, and desires are. And especially when they’re on treatment, sometimes they’re not so expressive around the things that are bothering them on a day-to-day basis.

So, the caregivers are really important for communication with us to be kind of another set of eyes and ears in terms of kind of reporting what the patient’s symptoms are or what their goals or desires are that maybe they themselves don’t feel comfortable expressing. But they also play an important role in helping us with, kind of, lifestyle recommendations to the patient. Because certainly, much of the process of doing well with prostate cancer treatments is kind of lifestyle modifications – makes sure you’re eating healthy, exercising regularly – and the caregivers can play a very important role in making sure that patients stick to that kind of regimen as well.    

Katherine:                  

I would think one of the issues for a patient too is that just having a cancer can be overwhelming and can make it difficult for them to even remember all the questions and concerns that they have.

Dr. Choudhury:            

Yeah, that’s absolutely critical, and the caregivers play a very important role. So, often, people who are not partnered, for example, will just bring a friend to these appointments just to be that second set of eyes and ears.

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.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. I think we have a pretty good understanding and the goals of treatment. So, let’s walk through the types of therapy that are used today to treat prostate cancer.

If you would start with surgery?

Dr. Choudhury:            

Sure. So, surgery is a radical prostatectomy, and they take out the prostate – they take out neighboring structures called seminal vesicles, they take out the surrounding fat, and they’ll usually take out some neighboring lymph nodes as well. And there are advantages of surgery in that when the prostate is out, the pathologist can examine the whole prostate front to back, side to side, as well as those neighboring structures to really understand the stage of the cancer – “Where is it?” – and also, the grade – “Is it a high-grade cancer, a low-grade cancer, somewhere in the middle?”

And it really helps guide “What is the risk of developing recurrence afterwards, and are there further treatments that we should be giving after the surgery? For example, radiation to the prostate bed to decrease the risk of recurrences. Surgery does have its own set of potential side effects and complications, so it’s not appropriate for everyone, but in general, that’s the process.

Katherine:                  

What other treatment options? You mentioned radiation. What else is there?         

Dr. Choudhury:          

Yeah, so, radiation comes in two forms: there’s seed radiation, which is implantable little radioactive pellets that are implanted throughout the prostate. And then, there’s external radiation, and that can be given in several forms and over several schedules that it’s really important to discuss with the care team.

The other forms of treatment that people on this call might’ve heard about or read about are in a category called “focal treatments,” and these are basically ways to – and the term we use is a blade but zap – an area of the prostate using lasers, or high-intensity ultrasound, or with freezing an area of the prostate, or with something called “irreversible electroporation.”

These are basically all ways to, again, zap an area of the prostate either with heat or with cold with the intention of killing off cancer cells in an area. And the trouble is that none of these treatments have actually been demonstrated to improve outcomes related to prostate cancer compared to just surveillance alone. And it does complicate, sort of, the monitoring afterwards to see if something has come back.

But there might be very selected patients where there’s an area of cancer that’s seen on a scan – like an MRI – with no cancer seen outside of that area who might decide to pursue this possibility of focal treatment with the goal of maybe putting off the need for something like radiation or surgery. But that’s something that really should be discussed with a multidisciplinary team so that people really understand what they’re getting into in terms of risks and potential benefits.

So, those treatments are not really considered standard at this time.

Katherine:                  

What about hormonal therapy?        

Dr. Choudhury:   

Yeah, so, hormonal therapy plays a role in the treatment of prostate cancer, really depending on the stage and the other treatments that are being considered. So, for example, if a patient is going to surgery for a localized prostate cancer, in general, we wouldn’t use hormonal treatment either before or after the surgery unless they’re planned for radiation after the surgery.

However, for patients who have intermediate risk or higher localized prostate cancer and are getting radiation, then we will often recommend hormonal treatments, which are basically testosterone-lowering drugs, to make the radiation work as well as possible. And then, for patients who have advanced cancer beyond where surgery or radiation is going to be of help, then, hormonal treatments are important to treat the cancer wherever it is.

And that’s because prostate cancer cells, wherever they are in the body – wherever they’re in the prostate itself, or in lymph nodes, or bones, or other organs – depend on the testosterone in your body to supply a fuel – to support its growth and survival.

And so, lowering the level of testosterone in the body basically deprives the cancer cells of that fuel and starts a process of killing cancer cells even without any need for radiation, or chemotherapy, or things like that. However, hormonal treatments are not curative. They don’t kill all the cancer – they kill some and put the rest to sleep. And so, if you stop the hormonal treatment, the cancer will grow back, and that’s why it’s not a treatment on its own for localized prostate cancer.

And that’s also why, for prostate cancer that’s spread, we often add on additional medications to the testosterone-lowering drugs to be more effective at really killing the cancer wherever it is compared to the testosterone suppression alone.

Katherine:                  

Oh, I see. For advanced disease, what treatments are available for patients that are hormone-sensitive or -resistant?

Dr. Choudhury:           

Yeah, so “hormone-sensitive” means that the cancer has advanced, but the patient hasn’t started on testosterone-lowering drugs yet. And so, as I had mentioned, testosterone lowering is really the backbone of treatment of these patients. And so, there are additional treatments that have been demonstrated previously to be effective after testosterone-lowering by itself stops working, and these include a chemotherapy drug called docetaxel. And in addition, there are more potent hormonal drugs called abiraterone, enzalutamide, apalutamide, and darolutamide.

And the role of these other drugs is to block hormonal signaling within the cancer cells from hormones other than testosterone. And so, by doing the more potent hormonal drug in conjunction with the testosterone lowering, that leads to a much deeper response – much more tumor shrinkage – and, it turns out, also prolonged survival in patients treated with those combination treatments – compared top people who are treated with testosterone lowering alone and then receive these drugs later.

So, there’s something about treating more aggressively at the beginning in this hormone-sensitive state that plays out in prolongation of survival. And not only prolonged survival, but improved quality of life due to delaying the symptoms of cancer grown and progression.

Katherine:                  

Right.        

Dr. Choudhury:   

When we then talk about castration resistant disease, certainly we use the same classes of drugs, but then, there’s a wider armamentarium of things that we use that include, again, other kinds of chemotherapy.

There are radiation drugs, and an approved drug Radium-223. And there’s another drug on the horizon called Lutetium PSMA. There are immune therapy drugs – something called Sipuleucel-T – and then, this is also a situation where we do genetic testing of the cancer to understand if there’re certain –what we call “therapeutic vulnerabilities.”

Other treatment options that are available based on the genetics of the cancer that might be helpful in some people? And specific options include a chemo-immune therapy called “Keytruda” in a small subset of patients with particular genetic changes involving genes involved in mismatched repair of DNA. And then, there’s another set of targeted treatments called “PARP inhibitors” for certain sets of patients who have alterations in genes involved in homologous recombination repair of DNA.

So, that’s all very complicated, and so that’s why it’s important to get treated with high-volume providers of prostate cancer patients so that they’re really aware and onboard with these various treatment options that are available.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. Where do clinical trials fit in?

Dr. Choudhury:       

So, clinical trials can fit in anywhere along the treatment trajectory for prostate cancer. It’s not something that’s reserved for kind of late-stage disease. So, for example, for people with localized disease, there are different types of treatment strategies that might be available to maybe enhance the activity of the surgery or the radiation that’s planned. And so, we might consider a clinical trial even for localized prostate cancer.

And then, anywhere along the way, there are standard treatments that are available, and then, there are some experimental approaches that might be available. And the experimental approaches might be to add an additional drug to the standard or to actually – what we call “deescalate treatment” – give a little bit less of the medication and see if the outcomes are the same. And these are tests.

And so, the control arm, when there’s a randomized trial, is generally considered a standard of care. And then, the experimental arm is some alteration or deviation from that standard. But many of our trials are also single-arm trials where we’re testing some experimental regimen that all patients who participate in the trial will take part in, and it’s really important for the patient to ask, “What are the clinical trials available?” “What are the alternatives as far as standard treatments?” and “Are there other clinical trials other than the one that’s being discussed,” that might be appropriate for them?

Katherine:                  

Are there emerging approaches that patients should know about?   

Dr. Choudhury:        

Yeah. So, a lot of the emerging approaches are related to the genetics of the prostate cancer, as I just mentioned. And then, these different forms of radiation drugs – in addition to the ones that have already demonstrated survival advantage, there are other ones in the pipeline. And then, one thing that patients are very curious about is immune therapy approaches to prostate cancer.

Now, the standard kind of immune therapy drugs that are approved for lung cancer, and melanoma, and kidney cancers don’t tend to work particular well for prostate cancer. But there are many clinical trials trying to combine those kinds of drugs with other drugs or have newer approaches to immune therapies that patients with advanced cancer can certainly ask about.

Again, all of this is really experimental, and people need to understand that these sorts of approaches aren’t going to help everyone. But participating in a clinical trial allows our patients to contribute to knowledge that can be useful for other patients down the line.

Katherine:                  

Right. Now that we’ve delved into the types of treatment, let’s talk about what goes into deciding on an approach. What do you typically consider when determining the best treatment approach or option for a patient?

Dr. Choudhury:   

So, the starting point and the ending point is the patient themselves. And so, “the patient” means “What is their age? What is their fitness level? What are their activities? What’s the overall life expectancy? What are there other medical issues?” And then, we consider the cancer – “What is the stage? What is the grade? Where has it spread to, if it’s spread?”

And then, we try to incorporate all of those pieces with data – with clinical trials that have already been reported – and we have a lot of data in prostate cancer from patients who’ve participated in clinical trials, often randomized to one approach versus another, that gives us a sense of “What are the approaches that really benefit patients in terms of increasing likelihood of cure or prolonging the survival?”

And so, once we incorporate all of those things, we can come up with some treatment suggestions, and then patient preference on those suggestions obviously plays a very important role. But sometimes, we start down a line, and the patient is having troublesome side effects or it’s not working as well as we’d really hoped, and it’s important to be adaptive and to change things if things are not going down a route that we’d really hoped. So, that’s an ongoing conversation. It’s not that you make a treatment plan at the first visit and that’s the plan that’s stuck with throughout the whole course of things.

It’s a conversation at every visit on how things are going in terms of how the patients are doing and how the cancer is responding. And then, again, try to manage side effects as well as we can and adjust things if we need to along the way – and maybe switch to something that’s potentially going to be better tolerated or more effective, depending on what we see.

Katherine:                  

Right. It sounds like there are many factors to weigh when making this decision. 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.

Katherine:                  

Thank you, that’s really helpful. I’d like to talk about the term “shared decision making.” What does that mean to you, exactly?       

Dr. Choudhury:   

So, shared decision-making really means that when the physician conveys information to a patient, that the patient really understands what’s being said, and what, really, the alternatives are – and the real risks and the benefits of the different alternatives. And so, if a patient goes to see a surgeon and they say, “Well, we should take this out,” and there’s never really discussion of what the risks and benefits of the alternatives are –and the alternatives could be just watching, or radiation, or even more intensive treatment, then that’s not really shared decision making.

But what I think is not exactly shared decision making is when the patient is getting information from really non-knowledgeable or non-reputable sources and then starts to come up with conclusions based on hearsay or people trying to sell them a product that really hasn’t been FDA approved or really tested. And so, those are situations where when the information is really not good, then we can run into troubles with communications. But there are a lot of really excellent sources for patient information that’s available, and the Prostate Cancer Foundation is a really good source, and a lot of the academic prostate cancer centers are really great sources of information.

And so, being educated and asking good questions is really the best way for a patient to feel comfortable that they’re not missing anything and that they’re, again, having all the information that they need to make a good choice for themselves.

Katherine:                   

Do you have any advice to help patients speak up if they’re feeling like they’re not being heard?

Dr. Choudhury:           

Sure. So, I mean, there’s never any barrier to bringing up concerns with whoever that you’re seeing, and if you feel like whoever you’re talking to isn’t being receptive to those concerns, then certainly, second opinions are very useful. But if you see multiple doctors and they’re kind of telling you the same thing based on good evidence, then you probably have to take in what they’re saying, and process it, and see if it really does apply to your particular situation.

But any cancer doctor who really has your self-interest in mind will be very open to discussing the concerns that you have, so you should absolutely bring them up.

Katherine:                  

To close, Dr. Choudhury: What would you like to leave the audience with? Are you hopeful?

Dr. Choudhury:          

Yes. I’m actually incredibly hopeful. There’s been such a transformation in our diagnosis and management of prostate cancer compared to when I first started as an independent attending back in 2012. In the last ten years, there’s been so many new treatments that’ve been approved in the last decade and a lot of newer technologies available for staging patients – really finding where their prostate cancer is.

And newer technologies for treating the cancer wherever it is and in a really smart way. And so, we can really individualize our treatments for the patient that’s in front of us being a bit more intensive for people with higher-volume or higher-risk cancers, and actually potentially being able to back off treatment, and actually stopping some of the testosterone-lowering drugs in patients who are responding exceptionally well to the medications and the local treatments that we’re giving them.

And then, also, I’m really hopeful about the newer treatments and newer technologies that are on the horizon. We have newer – what we call “molecularly targeted agents.” We have new approaches involving immune therapies that are being tested – newer radiation approaches. And I feel like all of this put together allows us to, again, satisfy the goal of maintaining patients’ good, healthy, meaningful quality of life moving forward.

Katherine:                  

Yeah. Dr. Choudhury, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.

Dr. Choudhury:           

Oh, you’re welcome. It’s so wonderful to have this opportunity.

Katherine:                  

And thank you to all of our partners. Please continue to send in your questions to Question@PowerfulPatients.org, and we’ll work to get them answered on future programs. To learn more about prostate cancer and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit PowerfulPatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for being with us today.

What Do You Need to Know About Metastatic Breast Cancer Genetic Testing?

What Do You Need to Know About Metastatic Breast Cancer Genetic Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Why is it important to ask about metastatic breast cancer genetic testing? Find out how test results could reveal more about YOUR breast cancer and could help determine the most effective treatment approach.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

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How Can You Ensure You’ve Had Essential Metastatic Breast Cancer Testing?

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What Questions Should Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients Ask Before Starting a Treatment Plan?


Transcript:

Why should you ask your doctor about metastatic breast cancer genetic testing?

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network – also known as the NCCN – recommends that every metastatic breast cancer patient undergo genetic testing. The test results can help predict how your cancer may behave and could indicate that one type of treatment is more effective than another.

This testing identifies specific gene mutations, proteins, chromosomal abnormalities, and/or other molecular changes that are unique to YOU and YOUR breast cancer.

There are two main types of genetic tests used in breast cancer:

  • Germline or hereditary genetic testing, which identifies inherited gene mutations in the body. These mutations are present from birth, can be shared among family members and be passed on to subsequent generations.
  • The second is somatic or tumor genetic testing, which identifies markers that are unique to the cancer itself. It is also commonly referred to as genomic testing, biomarker testing, or molecular profiling. Somatic mutations are NOT inherited or passed down from family member to family member.
  • Depending on your history, your doctor may order one–or both–of these types of tests.

So why do the test results matter?

  • If you have specific gene mutations – such as the BRCA1 or BRCA2 inherited gene mutations – it could indicate that a targeted treatment approach may be the most effective option. For example, there are two oral targeted therapies that are approved specifically for use in metastatic patients with BRCA1-positive or BRCA2-positive breast cancer.
  • Results of these tests may also help you to find a clinical trial that may be appropriate for your particular cancer.
  • Additionally, results from germline genetic testing may suggest that close family members should also be tested to determine their risk.

How can you insist on the best breast cancer care?

  • First, always speak up and ask questions. Remember, you have a voice in YOUR breast cancer care.
  • Ask your doctor if you have had–or will receive–genetic testing, including germline and somatic testing.
  • If you have already undergone genetic testing, bring a copy of your results to your current doctor, so they can understand your results and determine whether additional testing is needed.
  • Have a discussion with your healthcare team about the test results – including which markers were detected and how results may impact your care and treatment plan.
  • Ask whether your family members should meet with a genetic counselor or undergo testing to help gauge their risk of developing breast cancer.
  • And, finally, bring a friend or a loved one to your appointments to help you process and recall information.

To learn more about breast cancer and to access tools for self-advocacy, visit powerfulpatients.org/breastcancer

Why Should You Ask Your Doctor About Prostate Cancer Genetic Testing?

Why Should You Ask Your Doctor About Prostate Cancer Genetic Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Why is it genetic testing important when it comes to prostate cancer care? Learn how test results could reveal more about YOUR prostate cancer and may indicate that one treatment may be more effective than another.

See More From INSIST! Prostate Cancer

Related Resources

How Does Genetic Testing Impact Prostate Cancer Care?

Treatment Options for Advanced Prostate Cancer

What Is a Prostate Cancer Genetic Mutation?


Transcript:

Why should you ask your doctor about genetic testing?

The test results may predict how your prostate cancer will behave and could indicate that one type of treatment may be more effective than another type.

Genetic testing identifies specific gene mutations, proteins, chromosomal abnormalities, and/or other molecular changes that are unique to YOU and YOUR prostate cancer.

There are two main types of genetic tests used in prostate cancer:

  • Germline or hereditary genetic testing, which is conducted via blood or saliva and identifies inherited gene mutations in the body. Germline mutations are present from birth and can be shared among family members and passed on to subsequent generations. Results can identify whether you could be at risk for another type of cancer or if your family members may need genetic counseling and testing to guide their own cancer risk.
  • The second is somatic or tumor genetic testing, which is performed through testing tumor tissue or by testing cancer cells/DNA extracted from blood to identify gene mutations that are unique to the cancer itself. It is also commonly referred to as genomic testing, biomarker testing, or molecular profiling. Somatic mutations are NOT inherited and are NOT passed on to subsequent generations or shared among family members.
  • Depending on your history, your doctor may order one–or both–of these types of tests.

So why do the test results matter?

Both germline and somatic mutation testing can identify the presence of certain genetic mutations that may help to guide your treatment plan, and germline testing specifically can inform cancer risk for you and, potentially, family members.

  • In some cases, mutations can indicate that a newer approach, such as targeted therapy or immunotherapy, may work better for you.
  • Results of these tests may also help you to find a clinical trial that may be appropriate for your particular cancer.
  • And, genetic testing results could also show that your cancer has a mutation or marker that may prevent a certain therapy from being effective, sparing you from getting a treatment that won’t work well for you.

How can make sure you have had essential biomarker testing?

  • First, always speak up and ask questions. Remember, you have a voice in YOUR prostate cancer care.
  • Ask your doctor if you have had or will receive genetic testing, including germline and somatic testing, and how the results may impact your care and treatment plan.
  • Ask whether your family members should meet with a genetic counselor or undergo testing to help gauge their risk of developing prostate cancer.
  • And, finally, bring a friend or a loved one to your appointments to help you process and recall information.

To learn more about your prostate cancer and to access tools for self-advocacy, visit powerfulpatients.org/prostatecancer

Which Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Is Right for You? What You Need to Know

Which Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Is Right for You? What You Need to Know from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What do you need to know before deciding which treatment is best for YOUR metastatic breast cancer? Expert Dr. Jane Meisel reviews recent research news, discusses the role of key tests–including biomarker testing –in determining a treatment plan, and shares advice for self-advocacy.

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

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

Download Program Guide

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer

Related Resources:

 

What Could Advances in Breast Cancer Research Mean for You?

How Can You Advocate for the Best Breast Cancer Care?

Factors That Guide a Metastatic Breast Cancer Treatment Decision

 


Transcript:

Katherine:

Hello and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. In today’s webinar, we’ll discuss how you can access the most personalized metastatic breast cancer therapy for your individual disease and why it’s vital to insist on key testing. Before we meet our guest, let’s review a few more important details. The reminder email you received about this program contains a link to program materials.

If you haven’t already, click that link to access information to follow along during the webinar. At the end of this program, you’ll receive a link to a program survey. Please take a moment to provide feedback about your experience today, in order to help plan future webinars. And finally, before we get into the discussion, please remember, this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team – Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you.

All right, let’s meet our guest today. Joining us is Dr. Jane Meisel. Dr. Meisel, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Meisel:

Absolutely and thank you so much for having me. My name is Jane Meisel and I’m a medical oncologist at the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University. I’ve been here for about six years and before that, I did my training in Boston and at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York. And I specialize in breast cancer and have had a lot of great opportunities to treat amazing patients and participate in a lot of research.

And I’m looking forward to having this discussion with you today.

Katherine:

Thank you for joining us, we really appreciate it. So, let’s start by discussing the latest developments in treatment and research updates. Are there recent developments you feel breast cancer patients should know about?

Dr. Meisel:

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

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

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

Katherine:

Yes.

Dr. Meisel:

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Meisel:

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

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

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

Katherine:

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

Dr. Meisel:

Yeah, I think the short answer to that is yes, absolutely. I’m encouraging all my patients, no matter what their treatment status is to go ahead and get vaccinated. And we are seeing now this third surge in COVID with cases rising all over the country, and really among unvaccinated populations. And with the delta variant being more transmissible, I think it’s all the more time, even if you haven’t considered vaccination up until now, to really go ahead and strongly consider getting a vaccine.

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

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

Katherine:

Excellent, that’s very helpful.

Dr. Meisel:

Thank you.

Katherine:

Since this webinar is focused on metastatic disease, would you define metastatic breast cancer for us?

Dr. Meisel:

Absolutely. And I think metastatic breast cancer is one of those terms that as doctors, we throw around a lot and often times don’t stop to check understanding as to what that means.

And what metastatic breast cancer is and means, is breast cancer that is spread outside of the breast and surrounding lymph nodes to another organ system. So, metastatic breast cancer, some of the most common places where it spreads are to the bone, to the skin, to the lungs, to the liver, to the brain. There are other places it can spread to. I’ve seen it on the ovaries, in the GI tract. But basically, when breast cancer spreads outside of the breast and surrounding lymph nodes to another organ system, that’s when we consider it metastatic.

Katherine:

How can a patient ensure they are getting an accurate diagnosis?

Dr. Meisel:

Another good question. And I think the most important thing when you’re considering whether or not you have a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer is to get a biopsy of that metastatic site. So, you wouldn’t want to assume, just based on a CT scan that shows something in the bone that you have metastatic disease. Ideally, we would biopsy that spot or some spot that was indicative of metastatic disease to actually prove that there is metastatic cancer in that distant site.

Because sometimes it’s nothing. Sometimes you get scans and a little bone abnormality, maybe a scar from a prior fall. And then also, sometimes if it is metastatic, sometimes the breast cancer, the hormone receptor status, for example, can change from the primary site to the metastatic site. And that might impact treatment. So, it’s important to both get a metastatic biopsy to confirm diagnosis. And also, to understand what the treatment plan might be. And I think also for patients, just to make sure that you understand what your stage is, ask your doctor.

Say, what is my stage? Because sometimes doctors think people understand and they don’t actually, so checking that understanding is important. But if your doctor or provider is not actively checking your understanding, you can check it with them to make sure that if you are metastatic or have Stage IV disease, which is another way we define metastatic or talk about metastatic cancer, that you make sure you have the definition right.

Katherine:

Right, right. So, once someone has been diagnosed with metastatic disease, are there key tests that’re used to help understand how their disease may behave and progress?

Dr. Meisel:

Absolutely. So, I think the first thing as I said is that metastatic biopsy. Another thing that’s very important is understanding the hormone receptor status and the HER2 status of the breast cancer. And probably for a lot of you listening, if you have listened to metastatic breast cancer webinars before or maybe know someone or have had a diagnosis yourself, you’re well versed in this. But for some who may not be, I think a quick overview is maybe helpful. Breast cancer can be divided into three different subtypes. So, triple-negative, estrogen-positive or HER2-positive. And estrogen-positive breast cancer is the most common kind.

That tends to be driven by hormones and often treated with what we call, endocrine therapy. So, anti-estrogen pills, things like Tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors are examples of that. And that’s one kind. And then there’s HER2-positive breast cancer, which is a type of breast cancer that over expresses a marker called HER2. And we now, since we know about that marker, have been able to develop a lot of different treatments that target HER2 selectively.

And can be used to treat that subtype. And then triple-negative is basically estrogen-negative, progesterone-negative and HER2-negative. And that type of breast cancer traditionally was treated essentially only with chemotherapy. But now we’ve had some breakthroughs, which we’ll talk about I think later in this program talking about immunotherapy and more targeted therapy for that. But those subtypes help determine how we treat patients. And it also can sometimes predict behavior.

I would say one of the other things that helps us predict behavior of metastatic disease is, if a patient had early-stage disease before, how quickly they developed metastatic disease. So, for example, someone who develops estrogen-positive metastatic breast cancer 12 years out from their original diagnosis is statistically more likely to have a slower progressing course of disease than someone who develops triple-negative metastatic disease very soon after their initial treatment. So, I would say that’s the primary thing we look at in terms of determining treatment plan and then predicting overall course.

Katherine:

Right. Well, let’s talk about treatment options for advanced disease.

Can you review the types of treatments available for metastatic breast cancer?

Dr. Meisel:

Absolutely. And what I’ll do is, I’ll give you a broad overview and then because there’s so much and this is such a rich environment, I mean, I give hour long lectures just about the treatment of metastatic triple-negative breast cancer to our fellows. So, there is so much meaty information here. But I’ll give an overview with some key buzzwords so then people can go look up things that matter more to them or interest them more. So, as I said, we start with thinking about, is this hormone receptor-positive or estrogen-positive breast cancer? Is this HER2-positive or is this triple-negative? And those factors really send us down different paths.

So, if someone is estrogen-positive, I had mentioned before the PALOMA and MONALEESA studies showing that CDK4-6 inhibitors, which is a class of drugs that the first one was approved in 2015 and then two others have been approved subsequently. So, relatively new drugs. But those drugs, which are pills, added to traditional anti-estrogen therapy which would be aromatase inhibitors or fulvestrant.

Are often great first-line options for these patients. And people can do well for years on just that alone, with estrogen-positive metastatic breast cancer. On average, about two years before people progress and need something new. And then after that, there are lots of trials ongoing looking at different ways in which an estrogen-positive breast cancer might progress on that regiment and how do we target that. So that there are multiple other anti-estrogen options down the line that people can use in estrogen-positive breast cancer before they need to even think about going on to something like chemotherapy.

So, really lots and lots of options for those patients, but probably starting with a CDK4-6 inhibitor plus anti-estrogen combination. And then in HER2-positive breast cancer, typically the first-line treatment would be what we call monoclonal antibodies directed at HER2. So, something like Herceptin and Perjeta, which you may have heard of. And often combined with chemotherapy. But again, this is one of those areas that is also very, I think the art of medicine is very important and patient dependent.

Some of these regiments depend a little bit on patient’s age and other medical problems and desires, whether to include chemotherapy along with that frontline anti-HER2 regimen. Or whether to think about something like anti-estrogen therapy if the patient is HER2-positive and estrogen-positive. And then there are a lot of other different things we’re also using in HER2-positive disease after patients progress on that initial therapy, so there are what we call, antibody drug conjugates, where a chemotherapy like drug is attached to an antibody that then brings the chemo to the HER2-positive cell and allows for chemotherapy penetration more directly.

And then a class of drugs called tyrosine kinase inhibitors, which are oral drugs that get directed at HER2. So, another really exciting area to treat and a place where we’ve seen so many advances. And then in triple-negative breast cancer, I’d mentioned that chemotherapy has really been the mainstay of treatment historically because there weren’t great targets. But recently we’ve seen that immunotherapy, along with chemotherapy drugs like Keytruda, which you may have heard of.

Or atezolizumab, which is Mesenteric, can be used along with chemo and patients that overexpress a molecule called, PDL1. And that can actually include not just how long patients spend on the first treatment, but how long they live. So, we’re seeing a lot of triple-negative patients being great candidates for immune-based regimen now. And then for patients who have inherited a BRCA gene mutation, which many of you may have heard of. That gene mutation can actually predispose a triple-negative patient to be more receptive to a class of drugs called PARP inhibitors.

So, drugs like olaparib (Lynparza) or talazoparib (Talzenna) are new drugs that’ve been approved in the last couple of years in triple-negative metastatic breast cancer for patients who carry a BRCA1 mutation or BRCA2 mutation. And then there are also antibody drug conjugates in triple-negative breast cancer as well. The Trodelvy that’s been approved and then of course others that are in clinical trials currently. So, as you can see, it’s complex. I mean, the treatment of metastatic breast cancer is complicated. And so, it’s important I think to really be able to have a dialogue with your provider about what they’re recommending for you and why.

And I think there are often lots of options. And so, as much as you can make your doctor aware of what matters to you in terms of what side effects are you most afraid of or would you like most to avoid, what dosing schedules would be idea for your schedule for the rest of your life. So that you can deal with taking kids to school or the job that you’re currently working on or whatever, I think helps your doctor help you come up with the right regiment for you.

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 regiment 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 regiment 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 is 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.

Katherine:

What is biomarker testing and how do results impact treatment options?

Dr. Meisel:

Great question. So, I think people often confuse germline mutations and somatic mutations. So, I’ll talk about that a little bit as we talk ab out biomarkers. So, I think biomarkers in general are factors within the tumor that allow us to make treatment decisions. So, if a biomarker in the tumor can predict response to a certain type of treatment, we want to know what that biomarker is so we can better treat the patient and more elegantly design a regimen. So, for example, having an estrogen-positive tumor, estrogen positivity is a biomarker suggestive of response to anti-estrogen treatments, which is why we give anti-estrogen therapy to ER-positive breast cancers.

But more recently, we’ve been able to move a little bit beyond estrogen, HER2- and triple-negative as our subtypes and think a little bit more in some patients about more sophisticated biomarkers. And that’s where somatic mutation testing comes in. So, there are germline mutations, which are inherited mutations that’re present in every cell in your body. So, for example, if your mother was a BRCA mutation carrier and based that BRCA mutation down to you, you would have a germline BRCA mutation. So, your cancer would carry a BRCA mutation, but so would every other cell you have.

And that’s a biomarker. That would make you a candidate for something like a PARP inhibitor. But in cancers, which the genes in the cancer have gone awry by definition, there are often other biomarkers within that tumor that may make you a candidate for certain treatments. And so, those mutations that arise in the cancer itself are called, somatic mutations. Those are mutations in the tumor, can’t be passed down to your offspring or anything like that and were not inherited by your parents. But mutations that’ve accumulated over time as these cancer cells have gone awry.

And so, genomic testing, or biomarker testing can be done often on a metastatic specimen. So, to be specific about it, say you had a metastatic breast cancer to the liver. You could have a liver biopsy done and that tissue from the liver biopsy could be sent for genomic testing. There are a lot of companies that do this and there are also some larger cancer centers that actually do in house testing for genomics. So, this testing can be done and what it does then is, it helps you determine, do you have a biomarker that predisposes you to a certain treatment.

So, if that metastatic liver tissues, for example contained high levels of PBL1 expression for example and you were triple-negative, that would say to your doctor, “Ooh, this is a great candidate for immunotherapy along with chemotherapy.” Or if you’re estrogen-positive, for example, and your tumor contains a mutation in the gene called PIK3CA and that might make you a candidate for a drug called, alpelisib (Piqray). So, these mutations could often be paired to a drug or treatment options, or sometimes to a clinical trial to allow patients to come take advantage of more targeted therapies.

That sometimes, because they’re targeted, have fewer side effects than drugs that are a little more discriminate.

Katherine:

Marie sent in this question prior to the program. Are there some genetic tests that’re more accurate than others?

Dr. Meisel:

That’s a good question. I would say most genetic testing platforms have been heavily vetted and approved by national organizations and laboratories that’ve been tested multiple times before they’re allowed to be marketed. So, I wouldn’t say that one genetic testing program is necessarily better than another. I think that any of the commercially available platforms that’re used are probably pretty accurate.

Katherine:

Okay. How does symptom management play into the treatment decision?

Dr. Meisel:

I was just going to add one thing to that, if that’s okay. I was going to say that I think it’s important when you’re using genetic testing platforms though to know what you’re testing for. So, there are some platforms that will just test for say, the three most common mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 that Ashkenazi Jews have.

And so, if you get that testing back and you’re negative, you might think oh, I don’t have a mutation in those genes. Well, we know from that testing, just as an example, is that you don’t have a mutation in those three alleles of that gene. But if you haven’t had full gene sequencing, you could have a mutation somewhere else in that gene. So, I would say all genetic testing that’s commercially available is probably pretty accurate. But it is important when you get testing done to know what you’re testing for and what you’re not testing for so you can interpret your results accurately. And genetic counselors, as well as your doctors can help you do that.

Katherine:

Right, right. Okay, I’m going to ask the question, this question again. How does symptom management play into the treatment decision?

Dr. Meisel:

I think symptom management is huge, because like I said and I tell this to all my patients at the outset of treatment that most of the time, metastatic breast cancer becomes a chronic diagnosis for a patient. You’re dealing with it, essentially like a chronic illness for the rest of your life. And you’re on some form of treatment for the most part, for the foreseeable future.

And so, making sure quality of life is as good as it can be is critically important. And I think symptom management is a huge part of that and we know that if we can treat and manage symptoms well, people can live better and often live longer because then they can stay on treatment for more extensive periods of time comfortably. And so, I always encourage patients, don’t be a martyr.

Don’t think you have to just bounce in here and tell me everything’s okay if it’s not okay. If you’re having symptoms and side effects from treatment, or from the cancer, I want to know about them so that we can really aggressively manage those symptoms just like we’re aggressively managing the cancer. A lot of times oncologists can do that on their own. We are pretty well versed in managing a lot of symptoms and side effects.

But a lot of times also, there are teams of doctors either who do palliative care or here at Emory, we call it supportive oncology where they are specially trained in things like pain management and managing more common side effects like nausea, constipation, diarrhea, appetite suppression, that can go along with cancer and with treatment.

And then they often will co-manage patients with us as well, just to make sure there’s that really strong focus on maintaining as much of a low symptom burden as possible.

Katherine:

So, you mentioned earlier, clinical trials. When should patients consider participating in a trial?

Dr. Meisel:

I think it’s a great question and I think the answer is really, almost any time. There are trials in every setting. So, I think one of the common misconceptions about clinical trials is that you really only should be in a clinical trial, or your doctor might only mention a clinical trial if they don’t have other options for you or if you’re really in stage. And I think that perception is changing. But I think the reality is that there are clinical trials in every setting.

So, we have clinical trails looking at prevention of breast cancer. Clinical trials looking to optimize early-stage treatment of breast cancer. Clinical trials looking at secondary prevention, so once you’ve had breast cancer, how can we reduce your risk of recurrence. And then lots of clinical trials in the metastatic setting both for patients who are initially diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.

And then in second, third, fourth line and even for patients who have had tons and tons of additional therapy that we’re looking at new drugs for. So, I think at almost any juncture where you’re making a treatment change, it’s probably appropriate to say, would there be a clinical trail that you can think of that would be good for me in this setting? And it may be that there’s a one that’s 12 hours away, and it’s not convenient for you or feasible.

And it may be that your doctor doesn’t necessarily know of one but then that prompts them to ask a colleague who may be more involved in clinical trial design and development. Or it may be that there is one, but you ultimately choose not to pursue it because you have a different option. But I think it’s always appropriate to ask, would there be a trail for me? Because if there is, then maybe that opens up an option you hadn’t thought about before.

Katherine:

Sure. For patients who aren’t familiar with the stages of clinical trials, would you give us a brief overview of the stages?

Dr. Meisel:

Yeah. Absolutely. So, in terms of clinical trials that’re being done in humans, we talk about Phase I, Phase II and Phase III typically. So, a Phase II clinical trial is typically an earlier stage trial.

Looking at either a drug that has not been tested in humans before or a drug that has not been tested in a particular combination in humans before. And so, those trials are done only in select institutions, usually academic institutions as opposed to private hospitals. And they often have what’s called a dose finding phase and then a dose escalation phase. So, the earliest part of those trials is actually looking at, what is the safest dose to give to patients?

So, they start the first patients at a low dose of the compound. And if those patients do well, the next patients that’re enrolled get enrolled at a slightly higher dose. And then up until they reach the highest dose they can find where people are tolerating it and doing reasonably well. And in those Phase I trials, doctors and investigators are also evaluating efficacy, is this drug working. But the primary goal of the early phase trial is actually to find the right dose to then study in larger groups. And so, if they find the right dose and there’s good biological rationale for the compound, then the trial would go on to a Phase II.

Which might be just what we call single arm Phase II study, where every patient is getting that experimental drug. And we monitor them to see, is the drug effective, or is it less effective than the standard of care? Or sometimes they’re what we call, randomized Phase II trials where patients are randomized to either get the experimental drug, or to get what the standard of care would be in that situation. I think a lot of people get afraid about the idea of a randomized trial because they’re afraid they’re going to be randomized to a placebo. And that is really not done in the metastatic setting, because it wouldn’t be ethical to give a patient with active cancer a placebo.

So, usually the randomization would be either to the study compound or to a standard of care drug. And then if things look good in a Phase II trial, then a Phase III study is done which is usually what the FDA requires to allow a drug to go on and be administered outside of a study for approval. And those Phase III trials tend to be larger studies that’re done in larger groups of patients with more statistical validity because of their size, to determine, is this drug really better than the standard.

Katherine:

Right. We have another question we received earlier, this one from Eileen. She asks, how will I know whether my treatment is working?

Dr. Meisel:

That’s a really good question. So, I think for patients who have symptoms from their cancer, they often will know the drug is working because their symptoms improve. Say if you have lung metastases and you are short of breath and your shortness of breath gets better. That’s a really good sign that the treatment is working. I would say that often what we are doing, and it depends a little bit on the regimen and what the patient is getting and how often they’re coming in.

But we’re checking labs as well and sometimes there are lab abnormalities when a patient is diagnosed with metastatic cancer that can then improve over time. So, for example, if someone has a heavy burden of bone involvement with breast cancer, there’s a lab value called the alkaline phosphatases that will often be elevated. If that starts elevated and comes down, that’s a really good sign. And some of their liver function tests that we check and if a patient has liver metastases, we often will see those come down if a patient is responding.

There are also, what we call tumor markers that we can check in patients with metastatic breast cancer. Those would be proteins in the blood basically that can be made by the breast cancer in abundance. And those are called CA27-29 and CA15-3. Some doctors check both of them. Some will just check one depending on which one their laboratory at their institution is running. But typically, I will check those at diagnosis of metastatic disease. And then if it’s elevated, I know it’s a good marker to follow for my patient. And then I’ll follow that monthly or every three weeks, depending on when the patient is coming in to see me.

And if I see that marker start to go down, it’s not an absolute, but it can be a good early indicator of improvement with the treatment. And then I think it varies a little bit from practice to practice and based on patient preference. But often there will be scans done when a patient is initially diagnosed to determine the extent of the disease. So, usually a CT scan of the chest and the abdomen and the pelvis or a PET scan, which some of you may have heard of. Either one of those is good.

And that can be done about every 12 weeks usually in the beginning, to make sure a patient is responding and once you feel confident that they are, those can be done sell frequently. So, I would say the scans and the lab work and then the patient’s overall condition are usually the way that we look to see, are we having a response or not.

Katherine:

We’ve talked about several key tests. Some patients may be confused about whether they’ve received these tests. So, what questions should they ask their physician to make sure they’re getting appropriate testing?

Dr. Meisel:

I think it’s probably useful because not everybody needs every test, and I think there are often things you hear about online or from friends or even in a webinar like this, and there may be a good reason why you haven’t had that particular test. So, I wouldn’t assume that if you haven’t had everything that we’ve talked about today even, that someone’s made a mistake or that you need that and aren’t getting it. But I would ask. I think it’s always helpful to know more, knowledge is power. And so, if you have never had a CT scan or a CA27-29 level or a genomic testing.

I think it’s not a bad thing if you’re curious about it, to just ask your treating team, “Hey, I heard about genomic testing, is there a reason I haven’t had that? Or have I had that?” Maybe you have, and they called it something else. I think it is complicated, but I think it helps to understand what you’ve had done and what you haven’t had done. And sometimes, asking about something like that may prompt the team to do things that my benefit you.

Katherine:

Before we wrap up, Dr. Meisel, how do you feel about the future of breast cancer research and what would you like patients to know?

Dr. Meisel:

Yeah, I think one of the most important things and I actually said this to a family this morning where a loved one had received a new diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer is that the field has evolved so much over the past five years. I think often when people get a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, it’s the most dreadful feeling they ever had. They remember that day for the rest of their lives. But we are seeing so many people do so well for so long now and tolerate treatments well because the treatments are better tolerated.

And there’s I think more attention being paid now to symptom management. That people really can do so much better than they’ve been doing. And I would say really, every year, even every six months, when I go to give a lecture on a topic in metastatic breast cancer, I can’t just give the same talk. I’m always having to update my slides because there’s so many new things coming out, so much new research on the table.

And we’re seeing so many new drug approvals now that we’re starting to unlock some of these new mutations and reasons for progression and understanding new drug classes. So, really think it is a bright time to be in breast cancer research, and there’s never been a better time to be a patient if you have to fall into that category.

Katherine:

It all sounds so promising, Dr. Meisel. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. Meisel:

You’re so welcome. Thank you for having me.

Katherine:

And thank you to all of our partners. If you would like to watch this webinar again, there will be a replay available soon. You’ll receive an email when it’s ready. Also, don’t forget to take the survey immediately following this webinar. It will help us as we plan future programs.

To learn more about breast cancer and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit PowerfulPatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell, thanks for joining us.