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How Can You Insist on Better Prostate Cancer Care?

How Can You Insist on Better Prostate Cancer Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

How can prostate cancer patients access the best care in an evolving treatment landscape? Prostate cancer survivor Jim Schraidt shares his advice for staying up-to-date about treatment developments and for accessing support and resources

Jim Schraidt is a prostate cancer survivor and Chairman of the Board of Directors for Us TOO International. Learn more about Jim Schraidt here.

See More From INSIST! Prostate Cancer

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How Does Us TOO International Support Prostate Cancer Patients and Their Loved Ones?

How Does Us TOO International Support Prostate Cancer Patients and Their Loved Ones?

How Could You Benefit from Joining a Prostate Cancer Support Group?

Newly Diagnosed with Prostate Cancer? Consider These Key Steps

Newly Diagnosed with Prostate Cancer? Consider These Key Steps

 


Transcript:

Jim Schraidt:              

The really great news is that sort of across the board, from early stage disease through metastatic prostate cancer patients, there are advances that are occurring very rapidly at this point, so rapidly that practitioners have difficulty keeping up with them.

And, honestly, those of us who do some patients support likewise have difficulty keeping up with them. I think, once again, these support groups can serve a useful function in that you have specific questions, you hear about it, you bring together a group of individuals, and somebody in that group may know something about it.

And they can tell you, they can give you information, or they can give you direct Internet links where you can find more information. The other source of information is some of the Us TOO publications, our monthly hot sheet, as well as the website.

There are a couple other websites that I personally regard as excellent. The first would be the Prostate Cancer Foundation. The second would be Prostate Cancer Research Institute. And then finally, ZERO. So, I think if you attend a support group, and talk to other guys, and look at some of these websites, I think that’s a very good starting point for research and trying to get the best and most up-to-date information possible.

There’s a lot of progress being made across the disease spectrum, and it’s very exciting. I mean, for many years, all we had was surgery, radiation, and hormone therapy. But new things are coming online all the time. There are immunotherapies that are frequently genetically based. And there’s new knowledge about the disease itself and making active surveillance available to more patients.

And this is extremely critical because many men can go on with prostate cancer, with low-grade disease, really for their entire lives, and avoid the side effects of treatment.

And even if they don’t, if they delay definitive treatment for a period of years, there may be something new that comes down the pike that is both effective and has a better side-effect profile. This is the kind of research that is a part of what Prostate Cancer Foundation is funding.

So, there’s a lot out there. There’s a lot that’s happening. And I think that should give encouragement to prostate cancer patients. In terms of somebody who is later in the process and having difficulty coping with side effects or disease progression, I think the encouragement is that there are people out there that you can talk to about it, that you’re really not alone, and there are people out there that are anxious to help you, to hear from you, and provide assistance.

For those of us who have been at it a while, we find that helping others enhances our own healing. And so, don’t be reticent about asking for help. Because it’s out there, and it can really make a difference.

Newly Diagnosed with Prostate Cancer? Consider These Key Steps

Newly Diagnosed with Prostate Cancer? Consider These Key Steps from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

For those who are newly diagnosed with prostate cancer, figuring out what to do next can be overwhelming. Prostate cancer survivor Jim Schraidt outlines advice for patients to encourage self-advocacy and to access resources and support.

Jim Schraidt is a prostate cancer survivor and Chairman of the Board of Directors for Us TOO International. Learn more about Jim Schraidt here.

Related Resources

How Does Us TOO International Support Prostate Cancer Patients and Their Loved Ones?

How Does Us TOO International Support Prostate Cancer Patients and Their Loved Ones?

How Could You Benefit from Joining a Prostate Cancer Support Group?

How Can You Insist on Better Prostate Cancer Care?


Transcript:

Jim Schraidt:

If you’re newly diagnosed, get a second opinion on your biopsy slides. Because reading those slides is as much an art as it is a science. And we’ve had people who will come to our support groups who then went on to have their slides reviewed on a secondary basis. And it’s changed their diagnosis. In one case, a guy discovered that he actually did not have prostate cancer.

And in other cases, it’s changed the grading of the cancer that’s identified in the biopsy, which of course then impacts treatment decisions, whether it’s active surveillance, surgery, radiation, or systemic therapy. So, that would be the first thing. I think the other thing, and I that think this is true for most medical issues, is to get a second opinion, take the time to get a second opinion.

And in the case of prostate cancer, try to do it at a medical center that takes a multi-disciplinary approach to the disease. So, you would be meeting at the outset with a urologist, a radiation specialist, and perhaps a medical oncologist who can really take you through the options, the treatment options for your situation.

And then I guess the final of three items that I would say is find a support group. And even if you want to just join one of the virtual groups and listen and learn, that’s perfectly fine. But learn about the disease you have, and learn about the treatment options, and learn the things that you need to ask your medical practitioners to help you get the best outcome.

Because the happy patient is going to be the one that knows what he’s getting into and makes and accepts that as part of his decision and can focus after treatment on healing and not on treatment regret.

How Could You Benefit from Joining a Prostate Cancer Support Group?

How Could You Benefit from Joining a Prostate Cancer Support Group? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are some of the benefits provided by prostate cancer support groups? Prostate cancer survivor Jim Schraidt shares his perspective on how support groups can help patients with the emotional aspects of the disease as well as serve as a resource for information sharing.

Jim Schraidt is a prostate cancer survivor and Chairman of the Board of Directors for Us TOO International. Learn more about Jim Schraidt here.

See more from The Pro-Active Prostate Cancer Patient Toolkit

Related Resources

How Does Us TOO International Support Prostate Cancer Patients and Their Loved Ones?

How Does Us TOO International Support Prostate Cancer Patients and Their Loved Ones?

Newly Diagnosed with Prostate Cancer? Consider These Key Steps

How Can You Insist on Better Prostate Cancer Care?


Transcript:

Jim Schraidt:              

I think there are two primary ways that support groups are helpful. In the best case, a man will come to a support group as a newly diagnosed patient. And we’re actually working with a pilot project at Northwestern in Chicago where we have a support group that’s been in existence for a little over a year at this point.

But one of things that we’re working with the urology department there on is to get the urologists to refer newly diagnosed patients to the support group. And I think the primary benefits to a newly diagnosed patient are first, sort of removing some of the anxiety by talking to people who have been through the process and reminding them that in 90 percent of the cases they have some time to do some research, talk to people, and make a good decision that they can live with.

Because all of the treatments for prostate cancer, with the possible exception of active surveillance, come with side effects that a person undergoing this kind of treatment is going to have to live with for the rest of this life.

So, it’s a decision that’s very important. And to have the best possible outcome for a patient, they need to know what those side effects are. And they need to hear from men who have actually been through it.

I think the second important function of support groups is just support; after treatment, or if a patient is unfortunate enough to have recurrence or progression of his disease. And we’re not practitioners. We’re not medical practitioners. We don’t give medical advice. But there are lots of tricks of the trade, if you will, that men who have been coping with side effects can share with other men and help them get through it.

And part of that is just having a place to talk about what they’re going through, whether it’s things that they’re embarrassed to talk with their friends about, or things where they’re having difficulty communicating with their partner. I know from experience also that anger is a big thing that many patients experience, anger, and depression, post-treatment. And for me, one of the huge benefits of a support group was finding a place where that anger could go.

Because, I mean, even the best and most well-intentioned spouse, partner, or whatever, is going to grow tired of an angry patient partner.

And that can impact communication and can isolate a patient. So, it’s really important to have a place where some of that can go. And that’s part of the second piece, as far as I’m concerned.

The whole mental health piece really is under-emphasized, under-discussed by practitioners, but is very real for a lot of men undergoing this treatment. And the good news is that, that there is help available, and you can get through this. But many, many, many times you can’t do it on your own.

And you can’t do it solely with the help of your partner many times. So, this is one way you can talk to other people who have been through it, and they may have suggestions about therapy or talking to mental health practitioners.

How Does Us TOO International Support Prostate Cancer Patients and Their Loved Ones?

How Does Us TOO International Support Prostate Cancer Patients and Their Loved Ones? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are the ways that Us TOO International can help prostate cancer patients and their loved ones? Jim Schraidt, a prostate cancer survivor and chairman of Us TOO’s board of directors shares how his involvement with support groups evolved after his diagnosis and how Us TOO is working to improve support for both patients and care partners.

Jim Schraidt is a prostate cancer survivor and Chairman of the Board of Directors for Us TOO International. Learn more about Jim Schraidt here.

See more from The Pro-Active Prostate Cancer Patient Toolkit

Related Resources

How Could You Benefit from Joining a Prostate Cancer Support Group?

Newly Diagnosed with Prostate Cancer? Consider These Key Steps

How Can You Insist on Better Prostate Cancer Care?


Transcript:

Jim Schraidt:              

My name is Jim Schraidt. I am now a 10-year, almost 11-year prostate cancer survivor. I was diagnosed in January of 2010 and had surgery in March of that year. Since then I’ve been involved in various support groups and some of those activities.

I found my way to a support group probably about three or four months after I was treated. And I was very active in that support group for a number of years. They helped me with a number of issues I was having at the time. And eventually I went on to become the facilitator of that group, and I’ve been in that role now for about five years.

Us TOO helped me find my initial support group. And we currently sponsor a network, a nationwide network of about 200 support groups. I became very interested in the work that Us TOO was doing, and I ran for Board, their Board of Directors. And I was elected, and I’m now finishing my sixth year on the Board and my second year as Chairman of that Board.

So, we’ve been very active in looking at the entire prostate cancer community and trying to develop new and better ways to serve patients. One of the things that we’ve accomplished in the last couple years is a partnership with a prostate cancer foundation, with is the leading private-research funder of prostate cancer research. So, we’ve worked with them to help make education about clinical trials available, for example. And they are contributing to our monthly newsletter with research news that’s actually put in laymen’s language so that people can understand it.

We’ve collaborated with other prostate cancer organizations, and we believe that this is critically important, that by working together we can amplify the patient voice and develop the best possible educational materials. So, in addition to the support groups, we have that going on. We also have a website that has a great deal of information about prostate cancer, support groups, and that sort of thing.

We are the prostate cancer sponsor for the Inspire site, which is an online community where prostate cancer patients can type in a question and have that question answered by other prostate cancer patients, or people who are knowledgeable in the field.

We actually have some practitioners that occasionally check in on that. So, then I think the final thing is that we have a couple of dial-in support groups that are for subspecialty types of patients and caregivers.

The first is called A Forum for Her, and it’s exclusively for women partners and caregivers. It gives them a separate and safe place to go and talk about the disease from a woman’s perspective. And then the second, newer dial-in support group we have is for gay men. And this is a group of men that for various reasons are less comfortable than they need to be in a broader kind of support group.

So, we’re working on that as well. One of our key initiatives as we look to celebrating our 30th year next year is support group leader education. And the goal here is to teach support group leaders best practices and make resources available to them so that they can either direct patients where to find information, or they can go back and find information and give that to patients directly.

So, the goal, once again, is to bring some standardization to the support group experience, and make sure that men are getting the best possible support and information.

Caregiver Support: Taking Care of YOU

Caregiver Support: Taking Care of YOU from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Prostate cancer caregivers support patients in many ways, but also need support for themselves. Social worker Linda Mathew details the role of caregivers and shares resources to help them maintain their own self-care.

Linda Mathew is a Senior Clinical Social Worker at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Learn more here.

See more from The Pro-Active Prostate Cancer Patient Toolkit

Related Resources

How Can a Prostate Cancer Social Worker Help You?

Why You Should Speak Up About Your Prostate Cancer Care

Tools for Managing Prostate Cancer Fear and Anxiety


Transcript:

Linda Mathew:

So, caregivers have a really important role in caring for their loved ones, so whether it’s their spouse, or a sibling, or a child, they – their role 1). Is to advocate as well for the patient in terms of saying, “Hey, you know what? Let me call the doctor’s office. This side effect was on the list, but I’ve noticed that it’s ongoing, so let me reach out to the office for you if you’re not feeling well.”

They are the eyes and ears for their patient or for their loved one in terms of just saying, “Something is not right. Let me call.” And, most of our nurse practitioners or nurse office practice nurses will say to the caregiver, “You are our eyes and ears when you’re at home. When the patient is here, we’re the eyes and ears for that person to assess what’s going on.”

But also, the caregiver really – sometimes, what happens is there’s a role reversal, so they become that emotional support for the loved one, the financial support, practical support, and also the spiritual support for their loved one, and we remind them that is your – that is a huge role to play, and there’s no handbook for it, but we have resources for you, so you’re not alone in that process.

And, the one thing we really stress is here at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, we recognize the important role of our caregivers and how important they are to the loved one that they’re caring for. So, with that resource-wise, the social work department has a program called Reach for Caregivers, and it’s a hospital-wide program that we offer support groups as well as educational workshops.

And then, in November, being Caregiver Month, we put on a lot of different programs just for our caregivers to know we recognize you, we know you need the support, so here it is. So, in terms of support groups we offer, it’s all online because we know that sometimes, the caregiver is also working outside of the home, so to help meet them where they are, we’ve offered an online support group that they can tap into during their lunch hour, or even after work.

Why You Should Speak Up About Your Prostate Cancer Care

Why You Should Speak Up About Your Prostate Cancer Care from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are the benefits of prostate cancer patients speaking up about their care? Linda Mathew discusses the impact of patients taking an active role in their care.

Linda Mathew is a Senior Clinical Social Worker at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Learn more here.

See more from The Pro-Active Prostate Cancer Patient Toolkit

Related Resources

How Can a Prostate Cancer Social Worker Help You?

Tools for Managing Prostate Cancer Fear and Anxiety

Caregiver Support: Taking Care of YOU


Transcript:

Linda Mathew:

Our medical team is really open about having discussions. So, 1). Our team is not blind to knowing that our patients may want a second opinion just to validate “Hey, is this – do I have all of the information laid out in front of me?”, and we always say it’s like – it’s always good to have that second opinion just to say, “Ah, what’s been told to me is correct, and it goes in line with what I’m reading on the different websites for these places that I’m going to for possible treatment.”

I always tell our patients also that you are your best advocate, so you know what your needs are, and if it means that you need more information before you make a final decision, then do it.

So, if it means talking to other people or going for a second opinion, then go ahead and do that, but I also tell our patients if you’re scared about asking a question, if you’re not – that’s a huge issue. If you’re scared to ask a question to your medical team, that means that, in itself, says, “Hey, is this the right fit?” So, I always encourage our patients, “Our team knows that you want to ask a question. Just go ahead and ask it. You’re not going to embarrass them; you’re not going to embarrass yourself. That’s what your physician and the nurse are there for.”

I think the one thing I would want to stress is that you, the patient, knows themselves. They know what their needs are more so than anybody else, so if that means that you feel like something is missing, then speak up, let us know, and if you don’t feel saying it to the nurse at the moment when you’re in a visit, you can always reach out to the social worker, who can help direct that question back to the team or help you find a way to ask that question either via the portal or an email to the medical team.

Tools for Managing Prostate Cancer Fear and Anxiety

Tools for Managing Prostate Cancer Fear and Anxiety from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Fear and anxiety are common feelings that arise while living with prostate cancer. Social worker Linda Mathew explains how she helps patients improve quality of life while living with prostate cancer.

Linda Mathew is a Senior Clinical Social Worker at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Learn more here.

See more from The Pro-Active Prostate Cancer Patient Toolkit

Related Resources

How Can a Prostate Cancer Social Worker Help You?

Why You Should Speak Up About Your Prostate Cancer Care

Caregiver Support: Taking Care of YOU


Transcript:

Linda Mathew:

The common fears and worries that they have are – form the support group itself, the main ones that we always hear are the incontinence and erectile dysfunction. So, we really focus on what that means for them as men because it is their manhood, and their biggest concern is “No one told me I was going to have incontinence for this long. I thought it was going to end after a couple months of recuperation from surgery.”

And, we remind them your body has just gone through a shock in terms of having a prostatectomy, and so, it’s your body having to realign and remember what to do again in terms of taking care of itself. Just the same way as in erectile dysfunction, that is possible after having a prostate surgery – prostatectomy, so we remind them there are resources we have here to help address sexual health. So, I am obviously going to refer our patients to our men’s sexual health clinic, which is run by Dr. Mulhall and his team. So, those are the two areas that they really bring up, and it’s also in terms of “Can I have a relationship?” if they’re single, or “How do I let my significant other know that I’m having these issues?”

And, I always – I’m always encouraging our patients “Let’s talk about how to have that conversation if you’re scared of having it. What does that look like for you? What do you think is the worst thing that would be said to you? Let’s approach it from that end in terms of saying here’s some tools for you to have that discussion with your significant other.”

I start off with validating their feelings. I think that’s really important for our male population, is just that it’s okay to feel anxious, and anxiety is real, and with this population, PSA anxiety is very real. So, it’s going in for those three-month checkups to say, “How is my PSA doing? Am I in the right track?”, and just giving them that validation like, “It’s normal. What you’re feeling is normal.”

It relieves a lot of their anxiety because then, they’re thinking, “Okay, I’m not the crazy one here. Yes, what I’m going through – this uncertain journey that I’m on – everyone’s feeling this, no matter what the diagnosis is.” And then, I just – we talk about what it means for them, like what does this cancer diagnosis mean for them. Most of our men are always like – they want something that can be like there’s a solution-oriented process to it, and there’s no solution-oriented process to this, so it’s about how do you sit in that ambiguity, that uncertainty of this journey, and what can you do for yourself that you feel like you’re in control of?

So, for our prostate cancer patients, knowing that there are other people out there that they can talk to is a relief for them, that they’re able to know that there might be a group of men who can say, “Hey, I was there right where you were when I was initially diagnosed in terms of anxiety, in terms of not knowing how to make a decision about treatment plans or treatment options, but maybe my two cents can help you.”

A lot of patients that come to my support group, which is through the Resources for Life After Cancer program, really find that connection helpful because you’ve been given so much information, and you’re feeling overwhelmed by “How do I make this choice – a good choice – for myself?”, connecting with other men who’ve been given the same options, and made a decision, and see where they are now in treatment helps release – decrease the anxiety, but also gives them some relief in terms of not feeling like there’s pressure to how to choose the right answer, or the right recommendation, or the right treatment plan.

How Can a Prostate Cancer Social Worker Help You?

How Can a Prostate Cancer Social Worker Help You? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can a prostate cancer social worker help patients and their families? Linda Mathew, a senior social worker, shares how she provides support for patients and their loved ones after diagnosis, during treatment, and beyond.

Linda Mathew is a Senior Clinical Social Worker at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Learn more here.

See more from The Pro-Active Prostate Cancer Patient Toolkit

Related Resources

Tools for Managing Prostate Cancer Fear and Anxiety

Why You Should Speak Up About Your Prostate Cancer Care

Caregiver Support: Taking Care of YOU

 


Transcript:

Linda Mathew:

Hi, I’m Linda Mathew, and I am a senior social worker here at MSK. I am a supervisor in the Department of Social Work, but I also have a service, and I work with the urology service, so, both medicine and surgical patients.

 And, really, it’s just – I’m here as clinical support to our patients in terms of individual counseling, couples counseling, family counseling.

So, what we really do is we provide supportive counseling to our patients. So, in terms of when we say “supportive counseling,” if patients are anxious, or have some depression around the diagnosis, or have just fears around what that – what it means to have a cancer diagnosis and the uncertainty about what that journey will look like, they are referred to me to just process that out loud in terms of questions about themselves and how – how are they going to manage a diagnosis if they’re going to be on chemotherapy or questions about how to support their family around this diagnosis if they don’t even know how to have this conversation with their family.

Most times, if it’s a couple that come in, it’s around how do I support the patient as well as the caregiver through the trajectory of this patient’s treatment. So, the patient is dealing with their own diagnosis and treatment and what all that means, and the caregiver is also having a parallel process with this where they are caring for the loved one, but also have their own fears about “How do I navigate being a support to them? I don’t know what it means to be a caregiver for somebody who’s going through medical treatment.”

So, we help slow that down for them and say, “These are the things that you need to look out for. Just – you are their extra advocate. You are that person – their eyes, their ears – when they are not able to call the doctor’s office to be able to say, ‘I can call the doctor’s office with this information. Just tell me what you want me to say.’”

But, you’re also just there as a support, so it’s a really weird kind of…reminding our patients the tools that they already have, but because they feel like they’re in a crisis, they forget what those tools are.                

Please don’t feel like you have to figure this out on your own. Your medical team is here for you, social work is here for you, we have an ancillary service – like, services available in terms of the men’s sexual health clinic integrated medicine counseling venture, all in terms of supporting our patients. So, when in doubt – and, if you don’t know who to turn to, just turn to your social worker and ask them. Say, “I need help,” and we’ll guide you through it.

When Is a Full Mastectomy Appropriate for Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients?

When Is a Full Mastectomy Appropriate for Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Dr. Stephanie Valente discusses mastectomy for metastatic breast cancer patients, including common misconceptions around breast cancer surgery.

Dr. Stephanie Valente is the Director of the Breast Surgery Fellowship Program at Cleveland Clinic. More about this expert here.

See More From INSIST! Metastatic Breast Cancer


Transcript:

Dr. Valente:                

So, there are a lot of reasons that a woman undergoes a mastectomy. The first one is choice. So, anytime somebody is diagnosed with breast cancer, they actually have the choice of whether or not they want to remove their whole breast. So, even if their cancer is small, they do have the option of removing the whole breast. If the cancer is smaller, they might have the option to save the breast, which is called a lumpectomy.

Sometimes cancer is found, and it’s a little bit more advanced where saving the breast is not an option. So, the cancer is larger than a lumpectomy would allow. And sometimes that’s what’s called the extent of disease. So, the amount of breast tissue that’s involved requires a majority of the portion of the breast to be removed.

So, just because a woman has breast cancer that’s made its way out of the breast, into the lymph nodes, or beyond – so, metastatic cancer – doesn’t necessarily mean that she needs a mastectomy. So, just because you’ve got metastatic cancer doesn’t necessarily mean that the breast needs to be completely removed.

So, I think that one of the biggest misconceptions is that the more aggressive somebody is with their surgery, the better their chances with survival.

And again, taking a step back and saying you can choose a more aggressive surgery, but a more aggressive surgery doesn’t necessarily mean it gets you out of chemotherapy or it gets you out of radiation therapy. Those things are recommended, independent of a woman’s choice for the type of surgery that she may or may not pick.

Metastatic Breast Cancer: Accessing the Best Treatment For YOU

Metastatic Breast Cancer: Accessing the Best Treatment For YOU from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How could genetic testing results impact your metastatic breast cancer treatment options? In this INSIST! Breast Cancer webinar, Dr. Julie Gralow discusses essential testing, the latest targeted therapies and emerging breast cancer research.

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

Download Program Resource Guide


Transcript:

Katherine:

Welcome to Insist Breast Cancer, a program focused on empowering patients to take an active role and insist on better care. Today, we’ll discuss the latest advances in metastatic breast cancer, including the role of genetic testing and how this may affect treatment options. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program, and joining me is Dr. Julie Gralow. Welcome, Dr. Gralow. Would you introduce yourself?

Dr. Gralow:   

Hi, thanks, Katherine. I’m Dr. Julie Gralow. I’m the Jill Bennett Endowed Professor of Breast Medical Oncology at the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

Katherine:    

Excellent, thank you. Before we begin the discussion, a reminder that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your own healthcare team. Well, Dr. Gralow, let’s start by helping people understand how breast cancer is staged. Could we go through those stages?

Dr. Gralow:     

The staging of breast cancer has traditionally been by something we call anatomic staging, which has the tumor size, the number of local lymph nodes involved, and whether it has metastasized beyond the lymph nodes. So, that’s TNM – tumor, nodes, metastases. And so, that’s the classic staging, and based on combinations of those things, you can be a Stage 0 through Stage 4. Stage 0 is reserved for ductal carcinoma in situ, which is a noninvasive breast cancer that can’t generally spread beyond the breast, so that’s Stage 0, and then we go up for invasive cancer.

Interestingly, just a couple years ago, the big group that oversees the staging of cancers decided that in breast cancer, that TNM – the size, the lymph nodes, and the location beyond the lymph nodes – is not good enough anymore, so they came up with a proposal for what we call a clinical prognostic stage, which is a companion to the traditional TNM staging.

What they were getting at here was it’s not just how big your cancer is, how many lymph nodes, or whatever, it’s also at the biology of your cancer. So, this new clinical prognostic stage takes into account the estrogen and progesterone receptor of your cancer, the HER2 receptor at the grade, which is a degree of aggressiveness, and then, if your tumor qualifies, one of the newer genomic testing profiles that we use in earlier-stage breast cancer, such as the Oncotype DX 21-gene recurrence score or the MammaPrint 70-gene assay.

So, all of that goes into account now, and the whole point here is that the estrogen receptor, the HER2, the grade, and some of these genomics may actually make more difference than how many lymph nodes you have, where the cancer is, and how big it is, so it’s not just the size, but also the biology of the cancer that we’re trying to include in the new staging systems.

Katherine:    

In this program, Dr. Gralow, we ’re focusing on metastatic breast cancer. Would you explain when breast cancer is considered to have metastasized?

Dr. Gralow:  

That’s a great question because technically, if the lymph nodes in the armpit – the axillary area – are involved, that does represent spread beyond the breast, but if it stays in the local lymph node areas, it’s not technically called a metastatic or Stage 4 breast cancer. So, metastatic breast cancer would have traveled beyond the breast and those local lymph nodes, and some common sites would be to the bone, to the lungs, to the liver, less commonly – at least, up front – to the brain, and it could also travel to other lymph node groups beyond those just in the armpit and the local chest wall area as well.

Katherine:   

What about subtypes? How are they determined?

Dr. Gralow:   

The main way that we subtype breast cancer right now is based on the expression of estrogen and progesterone receptor, the two hormone receptors, and the HER2 receptor, the human epidermal growth factor receptor. So, to date, those are the most important features when we subtype, and so, a tumor can either express estrogen and progesterone receptor or not, and it can overexpress or amplify HER2 or not, and if you think that through, you can come up with four different major subtypes, in a way, based on estrogen receptor positive or negative and HER2 positive or negative.

When all three of those are negative, we call that triple negative breast cancer, and that’s about 18-20% of all breast cancers as diagnosed in the U.S. And then, when all three are positive, we sometimes call it triple positive, and the reason that we subtype is because we know that those different subsets act differently and that we have different drugs to treat them with, and we’ve got great drugs in the categories of hormone receptor positive and HER2 positive, and increasingly, some recently hope in a new drug approval or two in triple negative breast cancer as well.

Katherine:     

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

Dr. Gralow:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:  

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

Dr. Gralow:    

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

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

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

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

Katherine: 

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

Dr. Gralow:  

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

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

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

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

Katherine:

So, it’s something that patients live with.

Dr. Gralow:  

Right.

Katherine:  

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

Dr. Gralow:    

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

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

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

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

Katherine:       

How is testing administered?

Dr. Gralow: 

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

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

Katherine:      

What advances have there been in testing?

Dr. Gralow: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:  

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

Dr. Gralow:  

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

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

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

Katherine:  

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

Dr. Gralow:    

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine: 

How do these mutations affect disease progression and prognosis?

Dr. Gralow:          

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine: 

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

Dr. Gralow:   

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:    

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

Dr. Gralow: 

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:    

For patients who may be hesitant to speak up – to advocate for themselves in the process – I’m gonna start again. For patients who may be hesitant to speak out for themselves and advocate for their own care and treatment, what advice do you have?

Dr. Gralow:   

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine:     

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

Dr. Gralow:    

Thank you, Katherine.

Katherine:       

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

Diagnosed with Lung Cancer? An Expert Outlines Key Steps

Diagnosed with Lung Cancer? An Expert Outlines Key Steps from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Heather Wakelee outlines key steps that patients should consider taking following a lung cancer diagnosis. Find your voice with the Pro-Active Patient Toolkit Resource Guide, available here.

Heather Wakelee, MD is Professor of Medicine in the Division of Oncology at Stanford University. More about this expert here.

See More From the The Pro-Active Lung Cancer Patient Toolkit

Related Programs:

Diagnosed with Lung Cancer? Why You Should Seek a Second Opinion

Trustworthy Resources to Help You Learn More About Lung Cancer

Critical Questions to Ask Your Lung Cancer Doctor


Transcript:

Dr. Wakelee:

For a patient who is facing a new diagnosis of lung cancer, there are a lot of really important things to keep in mind. But really thinking about top three of them, the first one is that you wanna know what stage the cancer is. And when we talk about stage, we’re talking about how far the caner has spread. So, sometimes a cancer is found at Stage I when it’s still just a mass, a tumor in the lung.

Stage II means that it’s spread into some of the lymph nodes that are still in the lung. And for Stage I and II, for most people, we know that that means surgery is the treatment option. The next stage is Stage III, and that means that the cancer has started to spread into these lymph nodes.

And lymph nodes are just normal part of the body, but it’s a place cancer often will go. And if it goes into the lymph nodes in the center of the chest, called the mediastinum, then it becomes Stage III. And that changes the treatment. It’s usually more complicated. You wouldn’t normally just have surgery. There’s still sometimes surgery, and sometimes radiation, and almost always some sort of treatment like chemotherapy.

But it’s very complex. And usually we recommend that if you know it’s Stage III that you have a team that’s surgeons and radiation oncologists and medical oncologists to think about it. And then Stage IV means that’s it’s spread. So, knowing – meaning that it’s spread in a way where treatments are gonna involve chemotherapy or targeted treatment or immune therapy, and sometimes radiation, but not normally surgery.

And so, because it’s such a big difference in how things are treated based on stage, that’s the most important question to talk to your treating team about. The next most important question, assuming that it’s metastatic or Stage IV because that’s the most common way that we find lung cancer.

If it is metastatic or Stage IV then you wanna find out well, are there any markers, any tumor markers or cancer genetic changes, that are gonna help pick the treatment. And when I say that, I’m talking about gene changes in specific genes. The ones we think about a lot is something called EGFR, or epidermal growth factor receptor; or ALK, which is A-L-K; KRAS. There’s a whole list of them. But the most important are EGFR, ALK, and ROS, and BRAF.

And why that’s so critical is that if you have metastatic cancer and the tumor has one of those mutations then instead of chemotherapy, the best treatments are gonna be pill drugs, so basically, medications that you take my mouth. And we know that when the tumor has one of those specific mutations, the pill drugs are gonna be more likely to shrink the tumor and have that last longer. So, that’s why it’s so important to know about that. And then the other thing that we look at a lot is something called PD-L1, and that helps us determine about the immune therapy.

So, there’s been a lot on the news about this new class of treatments called immune therapy. And those can work for a lot of different people with a lot of different kinds of cancers. But they don’t always work. And this PD-L1 test can help us know a little bit more about when it might be the best choice, or when it might be something we can add to chemotherapy. And so, getting that information back is important, too.

And I’m gonna add a little bit extra to that. A lot of times that PD-L1 result will come back faster than the gene changes of the tumor, the molecular changes to the tumor. And it’s important to have the whole picture, so you wanna know not just what stage, not just the PD-L1, but also if there are any gene changes in the tumor, so that the best treatment choice can be talked about with the care team.