Tag Archive for: targeted therapy

Which Tests Do You Need Before Choosing a Lung Cancer Treatment?

Which Tests Do You Need Before Choosing a Lung Cancer Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Why is it important to ask about biomarker testing for your lung cancer? Find out how test results could reveal more about your lung cancer and may help determine the most effective treatment approach for your individual disease.

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What Are the Advantages of Newer Lung Cancer Treatment Approaches?


Transcript:

Why should you ask your doctor about biomarker testing?

Biomarker testing, sometimes referred to as molecular testing or genetic testing, identifies specific gene mutations, proteins, chromosomal abnormalities, and/or other molecular changes that are unique to YOU and YOUR lung cancer.

The analysis is performed by testing the tumor tissue or by testing tumor DNA extracted from blood to identify unique characteristics of the cancer itself.

So why do the test results matter?

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

In some cases, biomarkers can indicate that a newer approach, such as targeted therapy or immunotherapy, may work better for you.

Common mutations associated with lung cancer include the EGFR, ALK, ROS1, BRAF, TP53 and KRAS genes, among others. In some cases, there are inhibitor therapies that target specific mutations. For example, if the EGFR mutation is detected, it may mean that an EGFR inhibitor, a type of targeted therapy, may work well for your type of lung cancer.

Another common biomarker associated with lung cancer is PD-L1. PD-L1 is a receptor expressed on the surface of tumor cells. The presence of PD-L1 indicates that a lung cancer patient may respond well to immunotherapy.

The 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.

Identification of biomarkers may also help you to find a clinical trial that may be appropriate for your particular cancer.

How can you insist on the best lung cancer care?

  • First, bring a friend or a loved one to your appointments to help you process and recall information.
  • Before you begin treatment, ensure you have had biomarker testing. Talk with your doctor about the results and how they may impact your care and treatment plan.
  • Finally, always speak up and ask questions. Remember, you have a voice in YOUR lung cancer care.

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

What Could Advances in Lung Cancer Research and Treatment Mean for You?

What Could Advances in Lung Cancer Research and Treatment Mean for You? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lung cancer expert Dr. Manish Patel discusses how lung cancer treatment approaches have evolved, specifically around targeted therapy and immunotherapy. Dr. Patel also provides advice for learning about and participating in clinical trials.

Dr. Manish Patel is a medical oncologist and Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology, Oncology and Transplantation at the University of Minnesota. Learn more about Dr. Patel, here.

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Transcript:

 Katherine Banwell:

When it comes to lung cancer research and emerging treatment options, what are you excited about, specifically?

Dr. Patel:

Well, I’m really excited about the fact that in 2021 chemotherapy is really no longer the backbone of treatment. It’s really now become where we are really focusing on whether immunotherapy is the main modality of treatment or if it’s a targeted therapy.

And while we do still have chemotherapy and we use it, it’s not the main focus of our treatment. So, that’s really exciting. I personally am extremely excited about all of the advances in immunotherapy and the new methods that are coming across in new clinical trials to improve upon immune responses in patients with lung cancer.

Katherine Banwell:

When do you think a clinical trial should be considered for lung cancer treatment?

Dr. Patel:

Well, I think that’s a great question. And I think, honestly, it could be considered at any point in the patient’s treatment plan. Now, just to expound on that a little bit further, I think in the setting where a patient should be cured of their lung cancer with the treatment that we propose, we have to be careful that we are putting in adequate safeguards that the trial that we propose ensures that they’re receiving standard of care treatment but maybe something additional to try to improve upon that treatment.

On the other hand, if a patient has a more advanced cancer, then there is little bit more leeway in terms of the things that we can try to do. But of course, we always want to make sure that whatever we offer them, we have a reasonable expectation of working as well or better than the standard of care.

Katherine Banwell:

How can patients stay up to date on research?

Dr. Patel:

I think there are a couple of very useful resources online to stay abreast of things. A particular website that I think is very useful for patients is something called YouAndLungCancer.com.

And that is a fairly expansive portal that is patient-focused and really provides a lot of video tutorials on lung cancer, different treatments at different stages, new treatments that are available. And that’s a site that gets updated fairly regularly in terms of standard of care. And so, as we are in a phase where lung cancer research is really advancing very quickly, and these updates are important that they’re, you know, sort of sharing all of the new things that are coming along in lung cancer. 

What Do You Need to Know About Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL)?

What Do You Need to Know about Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL)? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 After a diffuse large B-cell Lymphoma (DLBCL) diagnosis, what’s important for patients and their loved ones to know? This animated video provides an understanding of DLBCL, available treatment options and lists key steps for becoming an empowered patient.

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Transcript:

Hi, my name is Dr. Williams, and I am a hematologist-oncologist specializing in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma—commonly known as DLBCL.

Today, I’m going to talk about what you need to know if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with DLBCL.

First, it’s important to understand your disease.

DLBCL is the most common form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which is a type of cancer that begins in the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is part of the body’s immune system and includes tissue and organs that create, carry, and store white blood cells. DLBCL is caused when white blood cells called lymphocytes rapidly grow out of control.

It may be localized to the lymph nodes or may occur OUTSIDE of the lymphatic system in areas such as the thyroid, skin, breast, bone, testes, gastrointestinal tract—or even other organs in the body.

In many cases, an early sign of the disease is swollen lymph nodes. Patients may also experience symptoms that can include fever, unintended weight loss, night sweats, and fatigue. These are known as “B” symptoms. Depending on where the lymphoma is in the body, it could cause other symptoms as well.

Next, it’s important to understand how DLBCL is typically treated.

Because it is fast-growing, treatment usually begins quickly to help control the disease and its symptoms. The standard of treatment is a regimen called R-CHOP, which combines chemotherapy and a monoclonal antibody. This approach can lead to disease remission in many patients.

If a patient doesn’t respond to initial chemotherapy treatment or relapses, then several other types of treatment are considered, such as:

  • Alternative chemotherapy
  • Stem cell transplant
  • Targeted treatment
  • CAR T-cell therapy
  • And clinical trials

When making treatment decisions, factors such as where the disease is in your body, and lab test results can impact available options. And potential side effects, a patient’s age, health, and lifestyle are also taken into consideration.

In addition to understanding your disease and treatment options, it’s vital to be an active partner in your care. So, how can you take steps to be an empowered patient?

  • Educate yourself about DLBCL.
  • Consider a second opinion or consult with a DLBCL specialist immediately following a diagnosis.
  • Write down your questions before and during your appointments. Visit powerfulpatients.org/dlbcl to access office visit planners to help you organize your notes.
  • Understand the goals of treatment and ask whether a clinical trial might be right for you.
  • Bring a friend or loved one to your appointments to help you recall information and to keep track of important details.
  • Finally, remember that you have a voice in your care decisions. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and to share your concerns. You are your own best advocate.

Lung Cancer and COVID-19 Vaccine Effectiveness

Lung Cancer and COVID-19 Vaccine Effectiveness from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What do lung cancer patients need to know about COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness and safety? Expert Dr. Heather Wakelee shares information gathered about lung cancer patients early on in the pandemic and advice regarding COVID-19 vaccination.

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

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Transcript:

Katherine:

I’d be remiss if I did not bring up COVID-19, and, I’m sure a lot of patients are curious whether the vaccine is safe and effective.

Dr. Wakelee:

So, we do believe the vaccine is safe and effective for patients living with lung cancer, and really important to be protected as much as possible. I was part of a group of other physicians around the world looking at the impact of COVID-19 on patients living with lung cancer. And, we collaborated with a group of physicians, Rayna Garcina was the lead. She was living in northern Italy at the time of the first wave, and so, was really face-to-face with it early on when there was so much we didn’t know. And, she gathered a group of us to watch and see, and what we were able to figure out before the vaccine was available was that people living with lung cancer who were overall healthy still except for their cancer were perhaps on a pill, targeted therapy, or immune therapy seemed to really not have that different of an impact compared to people who didn’t have lung cancer.

Chemotherapy was a little bit harder to see that but didn’t seem to be such a big issue. It’s different than people living with, say, leukemias or lymphomas where the treatments are impacting their immune systems even more. They seem to have worse outcomes. A lot of lung cancer patients were okay, but still, it’s a higher risk. And so, we want to protect our patients as much as possible.

So, we are, now that we have the vaccines, strongly advocating vaccines for any patient who was living with cancer really for almost anybody because as a physician, we really think that makes a big impact. We have not seen any negative impacts of the vaccine on any aspect of cancer treatment. It does not have a negative impact on how well the cancer is treated by the therapies. We did notice that when someone gets the vaccine, they can get some enlargement of the lymph nodes. That’s part of having an immune response is your lymph nodes get enlarged. And so, we did get a bunch of scans that the vaccines came out showing, “Well, this person has some lymph nodes in the axilla, which is the armpit.”

And it seemed to be correlating with the side that someone had a vaccine. And then, those go away. And, this was actually an interesting medical literature thing because for people getting screened with mammograms for breast cancer, there were suddenly all these lymph nodes showing up. But that was actually a sign that the person was responding to the vaccine, and it went away over time. And, it was a fine thing. It was just – I remember the first patient I had where that happened, we’re like, “Oh, well, that makes sense. Okay.” So, it’s okay. So, it was not cancer. It was just the immune response. But, yeah, so, we are recommending vaccines. There’s no data showing it is not working for lung cancer patients. The vaccines are less effective in people getting certain types of cancer treatment that are really suppressing the immune system. But even some response is better than none, and we’re still recommending the patients really do their best to stay safe with masks and things like that. 

How Will You Know if Your Lung Cancer Treatment Is Working?

How Will You Know if Your Lung Cancer Treatment Is Working? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How do lung cancer experts determine if a treatment approach is working? Expert Dr. Heather Wakelee explains how treatment effectiveness is monitored and what should be analyzed when treatments stop working.

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

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Transcript:

Katherine:

We have a question that we received from an audience member earlier. Jeff asks, “How do you know if your lung cancer treatment is working?”

Dr. Wakelee:

So, there are a lot of ways of knowing if treatment is helping. So, the one I rely on the most is, “Does the patient overall feel better?” That is difficult to say exactly how. Sometimes people are having breathing problems; they feel that that’s better. Sometimes their energy’s lower. They feel better. It can be vague. We also use scans. So, we tend to get scans, depending on the treatment we’re giving, every couple of months plus or minus, sometimes, every three months to help track what’s actually going on. But occasionally, there are discrepancies.

So, sometimes, the scan, is it better? Is it not better? Can’t really tell. And then, you’re always taking that, “How does the patient feel?” So, usually, if the scans are better, the patient feels better. It’s easy. Usually if the patient’s feeling worse and the scan looks worse, clear decision. Not a good one, but clearly, we need to do something different. But sometimes, you’re left, and especially this happens with the first scan because you get a scan, it takes a little while, you start the new treatment, then you get the next scan, how much of the changes happened before you started the new one and how much didn’t? So, these can be more challenging conversations, but generally if the patient’s feeling a little bit better, the scan’s unclear, we usually say, “You know, let’s give this treatment a little bit more time.” We also, I think your question was specifically around how do we tell if it’s working, but you also often need to be thinking about, “Well, what’s it doing that’s negative to the person and is that potential, those side effects worth the benefits we are or are not seeing?”

So, it’s kind of all of those things together. It can be a bit complex.

Katherine:

What goes into the decision to change therapies if it becomes necessary?

Dr. Wakelee:

So, when we’re thinking about making a change, the way I always look at it is, is where we are today still okay or not? And, if it’s not, that would be because clearly the cancer’s growing or clearly the side effects are just not tolerable. Then, we decide together with the patient we need to do something different. And, when we think about what do we do next, we look at what have we’ve already done, did it work or not, if not, let’s do something more different. And so, let’s think about something that might be somewhat similar. When we’re dealing with targeted therapies, we have ways to try to figure out what changed in the tumor that made it now resistant or not working with that treatment.

And so, with some of the pill drugs, there’s been a lot of research and understanding how does the tumor change that helps it evade, get away from, be resistant to whatever treatment you’re on.

And then, sometimes, we have other pill drugs that work in that particular setting, not always. With immune therapy, we’re trying to better understand why does the immune therapy stop working?

Sometimes you can add back to it, like, you can add chemotherapy back to immune therapy alone or sometimes you can do radiation with immune therapy to get that response back. Or, add other combinations to it. So, that’s another thing that we’re working on. And then, like I said, if someone hasn’t ever had chemotherapy and the tumor’s become resistant, we’re going to be thinking a lot about chemo because that can play a role against so many different reasons that the cancer might not be responding to whatever treatments someone’s on. And then also, looking at how the patient’s feeling and doing, what their overall what we call “performance status, ” their sort of overall health, and how well do we feel with them that they’re going to be able to tolerate the next treatment because, you’re always having to weigh how much is this likely to help, and how might this harm in finding the right balance. 

What Are the Advantages of Newer Lung Cancer Treatment Approaches?

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

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

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

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Transcript:

Katherine:

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

Dr. Wakelee:

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

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

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

Katherine:

What about side effects for some of these treatment choices?

Dr. Wakelee:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Are Targeted Therapy and Immunotherapy Used in Lung Cancer Care?

How Are Targeted Therapy and Immunotherapy Used in Lung Cancer Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Expert Dr. Heather Wakelee explains how targeted therapy and immunotherapy work to treat lung cancer and which patient type each therapy is most appropriate for.

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

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Dr. Wakelee, you mentioned targeted therapies. How do they work?

Dr. Wakelee:

Targeted therapies are something we can use when we find a specific gene mutation in the tumor. So, I mentioned before that in order for a cancer cell to become cancer, something has to happen to the DNA in the cell.

And, there’s a change or a mutation in the DNA of the cell which leads it to be a cancer. And, a lot of the time, that mutation happens in a specific kind of gene that makes a type of protein called a tyrosine kinase. And for those of you who haven’t studied a lot of science, it’s a word you might not have heard before. But basically, these tyrosine kinases are proteins in the body that make a lot of changes to what’s going on in the rest of the cell. So, they’re sort of what we call regulators. And, one way of thinking about them is like on and off switches. So, normally, their job is to sit and if the right molecule comes around, that turns it on, and then it turns on other proteins in the cell. And if that molecule isn’t there, it’s turned off. So, it’s this on and off switch that does a lot of other aspects of what’s going on in the cell. But, sometimes, a mutation happens. It turns it on all the time. So, it’s like if you leave the light on.

It’s on all the time, that’s using a lot of energy, and that’s actually what’s driving the cell to act like a cancer. And so, we can now look for some of those mutations that turn some of these tyrosine kinases on all the time. But we’ve also developed drugs that we can use to turn them off. So, if we find this specific gene mutation that’s turning, say, the EGFR protein on all the time, if we find that, we can have the patient take a pill that then turns that off.

And that helps the cancer slow down, some of it die, some of the cancer cells die, but it doesn’t completely wipe it out. It helps the patient for a long time though by shrinking the cancer, helping them feel better because the symptoms are gone, keeping the cancer from growing. But, cancer cells are clever. They continue to divide, they can continue to make new mutations, and eventually, they figure out ways around that. So, when we talk about targeted therapy, it’s a setting where we find the cancer.

In the cancer, we find the gene mutation, it’s in one of these specific types of proteins, genes that make specific protein that turn something on that we can then turn off, and with those pill drugs, we can have a big impact for people.

Katherine:

And, what exactly is immunotherapy?

Dr. Wakelee:

Immunotherapies are treatments that were used to help keep the immune system more active.

So, the immune system is a very complex mechanism. There are cells that their whole job is to figure out and find things that are not us. So, they are looking for bacteria, they’re looking for cells that have a virus in them, and when they find it, they attack. And, that attack can be in the form of antibodies, it can be cells that actually go in and attack other cells directly, and we are all familiar a little bit with the immune system because we know that if we get a cold, our body, we can get a fever, that’s part of our immune response, and we get better. And then, some people know the bad side of the immune system if they have allergies or certain autoimmune diseases where the immune system gets a little bit too revved up and starts to recognize normal things as foreign.

So, in the setting of cancer, normally, the immune system is able to recognize a cancer cell, see that it’s different from the rest, and get rid of it. But, cancer cells are clever and they figure out ways to evade the immune system. And, one of the ways they do this is they put a protein called PD-L1. So, PD-L1 is a protein that a lot of our normal cells use to say, “Just a normal cell. Ignore me.”

And so, when an immune cell comes in and sees that, it gets turned off it goes away. So, what our immune therapies do is most of them are blocking that PD-L1 protein. And, when they do that, it’s sort of like taking away the stop sign. So, you’ve got a tumor using a stop sign to say, “Go away, immune cell,” you block it so the immune cells can’t see that stop sign, and so then it kills the cancer cell better. So, that’s how these drugs work, and that’s the immune therapy.

There are some other stop signs besides PD-1 and PD-L1, but that’s the most common. So, when we’re talking about immune therapy, it’s drugs that block that. So, they increase the ability for the immune cell to recognize cancers. The risk from them is that you can get the body to recognize normal tissue as a problem sometimes. So, that’s the toxicity that we watch for. 

What Are the Goals of Lung Cancer Treatment?

What Are the Goals of Lung Cancer Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

The goals of lung cancer treatment can vary depending on the stage. Expert Dr. Heather Wakelee explains how lung cancer stage is determined and shares insight about the goals of treatment at each stage.

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

See More From INSIST! Lung Cancer

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Let’s turn to treatment, Dr. Wakelee. On a basic level, what are the goals of treatment for lung cancer?

Dr. Wakelee:

So, with lung cancer, we’d love to cure everybody, that’s the ultimate goal, and do it in a way where people are able to continue living their life as they were before the cancer diagnosis. The ways that we do it, first of all, we’ve got to find the cancer, and that’s where screening is such an important aspect of things. If we can find the cancer at an earlier stage, we’re more likely to be able to cure someone.

So, what do I mean by “earlier stage?” Well, when a tumor first develops, usually, there is a single cell that develops a mutation, meaning a change in the gene, which gives that cell an advantage so it doesn’t die the way it’s supposed to. And then, it keeps growing, and dividing, and making new cells. And those over time get to a large enough size that they are the cancer. And given more time, those cancer cells start to spread into other parts of the body, usually first into what we call the lymph nodes, and from there then into other organs in the body. And this stage refers to health or how the cancer spread. So, the stage I cancer is still in that ball of cancer. Stage II means that it’s spread into some lymph nodes. Stage III is it spread into more lymph nodes, usually in the center part of the chest or mediastinum, and that’s where it starts to be much more difficult for the surgeons to be able to truly remove all of the cancer.

And then stage IV means that the cancer is not something that we’re going to be able to remove with surgery. It’s spread either within the lung to the lining of the lung or it has spread to other organs in the body. And so, when we talk about those stages that I, II, III, IV, it’s a bit more complicated than that. But, I think for most people, if they just think about it as stage I, just the cancer, stage II, lymph nodes and the lungs, stage III, lymph nodes in the center, and then stage IV, elsewhere, that’s a good way to kind of wrap your head around it.

And when we talk about stage I and II, that’s the truly early stage where we hope to be able to cure people with surgery. Surgery alone is enough for the majority of people with stage I cancer, and for maybe half, a little more than half of people with stage II. So, how can we be better than that? Well, that’s where there’s been a lot of new advances. So, adding chemotherapy after surgery can help a lot of stage II patients.

If the tumor genomic testing biomarkers shows that there’s a mutation called EGFR, we now know that there’s a pill drug that people can take that would prolong the time to when the cancer might come back. And then, just very recently, there was stated that that immune therapy drugs

IV can also prolong time to when the cancer comes back and maybe improve cure if the tumor has that biomarker called PD-L1. So, that’s that early stage. So it’s, again, getting more and more complicated and emphasizing that you’ve got to understand the biomarkers of the tumor to know how to best help someone.

When we move to stage III, some have surgery, but when you can’t have surgery, then we do the chemotherapy and the radiation. That’s the key part of the treatment there. And, we also know that immune therapy can be really helpful for a lot of patients when it’s given after the chemo and radiation’s completed. And then for stage IV, I talked about that already, which is you’ve gotta do the biomarkers to figure out the best treatments for some people starting with a targeted pill drug is the right thing if their tumor has those right gene mutations.

For other people, immune therapy alone might be an option if the PD-L1 level is very high and they don’t have one of those gene mutations in the tumor. And for a lot of people, chemotherapy or chemotherapy plus immunotherapy is the right strategy.

Katherine:

Would you help the audience understand the types of therapy for small cell lung cancer specifically?

Dr. Wakelee:

Yes. So, small cell still has the same kind of staging, but it’s a little bit more simple. We talk about extensive stage or limited stage. And what that has to do with is we rarely do surgery for small cell. It tends to have spread earlier. There are a few cases where that’s done, but normally, we divide it up into limited or extensive. And when we talk about that, limited is the radiation doctors can get all of the cancer in one radiation field, and then radiation plus chemotherapy is the standard approach to try to cure. If it’s more extensive than that, then it becomes extensive stage.

And, the best treatment are going to be chemotherapy plus those immune therapy drugs added together.

And so, the chemotherapy drugs that we use for non-small cell and small cell, the platinum drugs play a role in all of it. The drug we partner is a little bit different. There’s a drug etoposide we use a lot in small cell and a lot of other options for non-small cell. And then, the immune therapy drugs, there are a lot of options that are fairly similar for both small cell and for non-small cell. 

In-Depth Testing for Lung Cancer Prognosis and Treatment

In-Depth Testing for Lung Cancer Prognosis and Treatment from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How is in-depth lung cancer testing used in determining lung cancer prognosis and treatment? Expert Dr. Heather Wakelee shares insight about biomarker testing, genomic testing, and how test results may impact treatment options.

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

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Dr. Wakelee, but what is genomic or biomarker testing?

Dr. Wakelee:

So, we are struggling with how to have one unifying way of describing it because it’s so complicated. So, to me, biomarker testing is any aspect of the tumor that helps us choose the best treatment for that patient. And so, it’s a very broad term. And, within biomarker testing, there are several different ways that we look at it.

So, one is to look at what proteins are on the cell’s surface. And, we do that by having stains that we use to stain the tissue. So again, complicated, but when a piece of tissue is taken out of the person, part of the tumor is removed. It’s sliced into little tiny slices, which are then put on glass slides that can be looked at under the microscope. And, that’s how the pathology doctors can look and see, “Ah, this looks like cancer,” or, “It doesn’t look like cancer.” When it does look like cancer, you can then put on stains, so basically, different colored antibodies that will light up if that particular protein is there. And so, that helps us figure out for sure that this started in the lung because there are specific proteins that are only found in lung. So, that’s one way we used it, and this is an older technology. But we also can use that to look for how much of this PD-L1 protein is expressed.

And so, that’s an important biomarker, but it’s not based on genomics, which is when we’re talking about the DNA.

Then, we have the genomic testing, and that’s when we’re looking at the genome of the tumor and how that genome is different. And, that’s that DNA or RNA testing. We talk about it with the next-gen sequencing. So, “sequencing,” any of those terms are all meaning we’re looking at some aspect of what makes the tumor genes and therefore the proteins made by the tumor different than the rest of the genes in the person.

And so, that testing, that genomic testing can be done on either the tumor specimen or that’s where we can do blood tests that will be able to pull out those bits of the DNA that are from the tumor versus from the person and help us figure out what’s going on with the cancer. So, when we talk about biomarkers, the whole picture, and when I’m talking with patients who are diagnosed with lung cancer, we talk about well, there’s chemotherapy treatment, which is good for almost everybody. There is targeted therapy.

Targeted therapy is usually based on those genomic tests, and the genomic tests can be done either on the tissue or on blood. But, they’re really important to have a full understanding of the

tumors to do a comprehensive or next-gen sequencing analysis of the tumor or DNA. And then, you have the immune therapy where that PD-L1 biomarker is important. So, that’s the way I think about it, and the biomarkers are really critical for helping us figure out what’s the best path forward for any individual patient.

When I started treating lung cancer patients 20 years ago, we only had chemotherapy. And now, for metastatic disease, with using the right biomarkers, we can figure out so much more about the cancer to be able to personalize the treatment, for many patients, being able to offer pill therapies that are somewhat less toxic and highly active and give people more time. And now, we’re in the immune therapy revolution, which is helping a whole other group of patients living with lung cancer to be able to live with quality life for much longer. And the pace of discovery is just going up so quickly. And, I think that’s what I’m most hopeful about is just how much attention is being paid on lung cancer and finding better therapies that are going to help more people for a longer period of time. 

Which Tests Do You Need Following a Lung Cancer Diagnosis?

Which Tests Do You Need Following a Lung Cancer Diagnosis? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Which lung cancer tests do patients need after a diagnosis? Expert Dr. Heather Wakelee provides an overview of lung cancer testing, explains how the results are used, and discusses how testing differs for small cell lung cancer versus non-small cell lung cancer.

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

See More From INSIST! Lung Cancer

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Can you provide an overview of important tests following a lung cancer diagnosis?

Dr. Wakelee:

That’s a fabulous question. When we think about the tests that we need to have done, they’re mostly tests that are done on the tumor, so, either if someone has a surgery or at the time of biopsy. and, that’s where we can figure out what we call, again, the histology that’s squamous or non-squamous. That’s when they look at it under the microscope. But, they also, with the tumor specimen, you can pull the DNA out of the tumor and then test for the gene mutations in the tumor. And, I always emphasize these are not changes in the genes that are in the whole person. They are things that are unique to the tumor. They are what make the tumor different from the rest of the person.

So, we look at those gene mutations, or that’s kind of a biomarker. So, there are a lot of terms that we use, and I know it gets really confusing. So, I try to use “biomarker” to mean all of these things, but that gene mutation is what we look at in the tumor tissue to see if there are specific changes that will allow us to give a pill therapy, a targeted pill therapy. And then, there are also aspects of the tumor that help us figure out whether or not the immune therapy might work, and most commonly, that’s something called PD-L1. That’s a protein that we look at on the surface of the tumor, and so again, under the microscope.

Katherine:

And, when you talk about extracting DNA, is that via a blood test?

Dr. Wakelee:

So, we have two different ways to do that. So, what I was talking about before was from the tumor tissue, you can extract the DNA. But now, there are these liquid biopsies where we can draw blood and find the tumor DNA that is different from the rest of the person’s DNA and look for those gene mutations in the tumor.

And that is where there’s a lot of developments happening. And, that’s so fabulous because they’re often faster results for patients, and it means that you cannot have to go through another biopsy. We still need the biopsy to establish whether or not there is even cancer. But, once we know that there’s cancer for sure, then we can use the liquid biopsies to get a faster information result on those gene mutations and to follow over time to see how the tumor evolves because tumors change after they’ve been treated.

Katherine:

Do you use imaging at all?

Dr. Wakelee:

Yes. Always. So, when someone is first diagnosed with cancer, we usually find that because of imaging, so, a CT scan or an X-ray, maybe they had a screening CT scan or maybe they had a cough that led someone to go get an X-ray, an examination. So, the imaging is a part of the original diagnosis. And in addition to CT scans, we’ll often get a PET scan that helps us look for, in a different way, the rest of the body, maybe an MRI of the brain to look in that area.

And then, wherever we’ve found the tumor, we will track that area with scans over time. And, it gets a little complicated for a patient that was found with what we call early-stage disease. So, stage I or II. Many of the times, those patients can have surgery and then we don’t have any tumor we can follow anymore. But we get CT scans to look to see if it could have come back. For patients with more advanced disease, so, stage III that couldn’t have surgery or stage IV, there we have areas that we’re going to continue to follow with the scans. And which scans and how often is going to depend a lot on what treatment the patient’s on and where the tumors are located that we’re tracking.

Katherine:

Do these tests differ for small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer patients? And, I know that non-small cell lung cancer is also known as NSCLC.

Dr. Wakelee:

Yes. So, long ago, the only distinction we had with lung cancer was that small cell versus non-small cell, and that is something that is seen under the microscope when that tissue is taken out from the biopsy. The pathology doctors look at it under the microscope, and the cells look different. And, the small cell lung cancer, those cells are small. It’s not very creative naming. And then, everything else is non-small cell or NSCLC. So, it’s SCLC and NSCLC. So, that was one of the first distinctions.

And, it is still very important because the chemotherapy drugs that we use are slightly different. And, the genetic, those gene mutations, we see them in any cancer. That’s what makes a cancer different from the rest of the body. But in small cell lung cancer, the tumor mutations that we see are not things that we know how to target specifically. In non-small cell, there are targets that we can target specifically for some patients.

So, just there, it’s different in having the targeted pill drugs in non-small cell, not so much in small cell. With immune therapy, those newer immune therapy IV drugs, they can work in both small cell and non-small cell.

But for small cell, the biomarkers, that PD-L1 level is not as important for helping us figure out who’s going to benefit. For non-small cell, with many of the drugs, it is important. So, there are differences there. 

Accessing Personalized Treatment for Lung Cancer

 

Accessing Personalized Treatment for Lung Cancer from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lung cancer expert Dr. Heather Wakelee defines personalized medicine and explains the factors that are considered when determining a treatment approach.

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

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Transcript:

Katherine:

We’ve been hearing the term “personalized medicine” a lot more often. How would you define that term?

Dr. Wakelee:

That’s a great question. So, I think back when I first started taking care of patients living with lung cancer 20 years ago, we really just had chemotherapy for those with metastatic disease. And for those with earlier stage disease, it was just surgery radiation. And since that time, we’ve learned a whole lot and brought in a lot of different types of treatment. Surgery and radiation still have important roles for many patients.

And we think about them as being targeted and personalized based on stage, but it’s a little bit different. When we talk about personalized, we’re thinking more about what are aspects about the tumor that allow us to pick the right systemic treatment. So, “systemic” meaning a pill or something that we give IV.

With chemotherapy, we don’t have much to pick between them as far as specifics for the tumor. We can look at what we call the histology, which is how it looks under the microscope, whether it’s the squamous type or the non-squamous type and some of the chemotherapy drugs matter there. But, in the last 15, 20 years, we’ve learned about the specific what we call “gene mutations” that define the tumor.

And, depending on the gene mutation in the tumor, for some patients, we can give them pill therapy drugs that will work well. So, that’s personalized. Or, immune therapy now is an option for a lot of patients. That’s usually IV therapy.

And, there are some aspects of the tumor that can help us pick that also. 

DLBCL Treatment Decisions: What’s Right for You?

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

When considering therapy for diffuse large b-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), what determines the best treatment for YOU? Lymphoma expert Dr. Loretta Nastoupil shares key decision-making factors, emerging research, and tools for partnering with your healthcare team.

Dr. Loretta Nastoupil is the Director of the Lymphoma Outcomes Database and Section Chief of New Drug Development in the Department of Lymphoma/Myeloma, Division of Cancer Medicine at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Nastoupil here.

Download Program Guide

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Transcript:

Katherine:

All right. Hello and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today, we’re going to discuss how you can be proactive in your DLBCL care and work with your healthcare team to find the best treatment path for you.

Before we meet our guest, let’s review a few 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 this 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 us plan future webinars.

Finally, 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.

All right. Let’s find out who we’re talking to today. Joining me is Dr. Loretta Nastoupil. Thank you so much for coming on the show with us. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Nastoupil:

Sure. Thanks, Katherine. I’m Loretta Nastoupil. I’m in the Department of Lymphoma and Myeloma at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. I’ve been here since 2013, and I currently lead our new drug development team in our lymphoma section.

Katherine:

Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us. So, let’s start with a basic question, what is diffuse large B-cell lymphoma or DLBCL?

Dr. Nastoupil:

That’s a really important question. And I spend a lot of time when I first meet patients explaining to them there are a lot of different terms that are thrown around in lymphoma. Particularly, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a term many patients will hear and even use. And I remind them that that is sort of an umbrella term that describes essentially every lymphoma that’s not Hodgkin lymphoma.

So, it’s really important to recognize that there are unique types of large cell lymphoma. And almost everything that we care about in terms of what the treatment will look like, whether or not we’re aiming to cure someone, or just maintain adequate disease control is primarily focused on the type of lymphoma someone has.

So, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is the most common lymphoma subtype. Just in terms of its descriptive name, it is a B-cell cancer. And it is comprised of large cells that are essentially effacing or replacing the architecture of a lymph node.

There are different types, which I’m sure we’ll discuss. But, again, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is our most frequent lymphoma we encounter.

Katherine:

What is B cell? What does that mean?

Dr. Nastoupil:

Sure. So, stepping back a little bit, I think most people when they know or have known someone with cancer, it is described as the organ it originates in. So, breast cancer’s a great example. That usually is breast tissue that is abnormal. It has malignant potential. And if it spreads beyond its capsule and specifically goes to a lymph node or another organ, generally that’s bad news.

Lymphoma is a cancer of the immune system. And there are various types of immune cells. B cells – they mature on and become plasma cells when they’re behaving normally. And their job is to generate antibodies so that we can develop immunity from exposures or infections we’ve had and we’ve recovered from.

So, if you develop a cancer in the B cell, depending what stage of development – if it’s a stem cell, for instance, that can lead to acute leukemia. If it’s an immature B cell, meaning it has not developed into a plasma cell, that’s, generally, where diffuse large B-cell lymphoma arises. So, these cells tend to live or spend most of their time in lymph nodes because they’re trying to mimic the behavior of a normal B cell where they’re waiting there for that exposure to happen.

So, these are generally not cancers that we try to cut out before they spread. They’re not spreading cancers in terms of how we generally think of those, meaning you’re not going to use surgery to treat it. And, oftentimes, there are malignant B cells kind of dispersed throughout the body because if you think about how your immune system should work, it should be able to fight off an infection anywhere and everywhere.

So, I think those are key things to keep in mind because oftentimes patients will have widespread involvement or lymph node involvement or bone involvement, and that’s just the nature of the disease and not necessarily something that is so far progressed we didn’t catch it early enough.

Katherine:

I see. Are there subtypes of DLBCL?

Dr. Nastoupil:

Yes, absolutely. So, again, stepping back, over the last 20 years, we have tried to understand why we’re able to cure about 60 percent of patients. But for the 40 percent that were not cured with standard treatment, their outcomes were generally poor, meaning most of those patients died as a result of their lymphoma.

And we’ve approached all of them the same. So, that would imply to us that there’s something inherently different about the large cell lymphoma cases that don’t respond to standard treatment. So, an attempt to try and define who those patients are before we initiate treatment, as technology has evolved, we’ve interrogated some of those biopsy samples to try and understand is there an underlying biologic rationale as to why some patients would have very, very disparate outcomes?

So, what we’ve learned is there are genes that are differentiated between different subtypes of large cell lymphoma. And we’ve described those subtypes based off those gene expression patterns. So, there is a germinal center type of large cell lymphoma. There’s a non-germinal center or activated B-cell type.

And then it gets much more complicated meaning there’s probably far more than just two subtypes. Right now, we’re describing at least five different subtypes. I think what’s important for patients to know is that we view this in terms of being able to predict who’s not going to have the typical course. And if we can define who they are, we might pursue something different, including potentially a clinical trial.

So, the subtypes I care the most about right now in terms of defining are the double hit or double expressors, those with other features that might lend itself to targeted therapy.

So, this is an evolving field and will continue I’m sure – that will have more subtypes defined over time.

Katherine:

Let’s look into testing for a moment. What tests are essential when making a diagnosis?

Dr. Nastoupil:

So, at the beginning, we clearly have to have tissue. I always say, “Tissue is the issue.” So, we may have features that are suggestive of lymphoma. And even sometimes radiologists will describe a CT scan or an x-ray and say, “This looks very suspicious for lymphoma.” But unless we actually have a biopsy that confirms lymphoma, we won’t go as far as to render a diagnosis in the absence of a biopsy.

Now our biopsy approaches have evolved over the last few years. The gold standard or what I would consider to be the best approach currently is to actually have an incisional biopsy meaning we find a lymph node that looks suspicious.

And we either remove the entire lymph node or a large section of that lymph node to render a diagnosis because there’s various things we need to do to that lymph node.

So, generally, we do what’s called immunohistochemistry staining. So, we stain either surface markers of those cells or markers within the cell because cancer is defined as having an abnormal clone or a population of cells that all have the same features. And they’re able to survive even if the host is not thriving.

So, that’s, essentially, what we’re trying to define. Are there cells in this lymph node that are all the same? And what features do they share in common? And then we will also do something called flow cytometry where we’ll take these cells and essentially sort them according to those surface markers. And that will also tell us – is this a B-cell clone, a T-cell clone, and what features would distinguish one lymphoma from another?

And the last thing that we need tissue for are what we call molecular studies, where we may learn about either genes that are rearranged or mutated within those cells that, again, may help us further classify the lymphoma and, again, group them into higher or potentially lower risk groups.

Katherine:

What do the results of these tests tell us about prognosis and treatment choices?

Dr. Nastoupil:

So, again, everything kind of hinges on what type of lymphoma we’re facing. So, for instance, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is what we call an aggressive lymphoma. So, what does that mean? It can grow very quickly. It can take over the patient in terms of resources. So, generally, patients will have weight loss and sometimes even constitutional symptoms or B symptoms, such as night sweats and fevers, fatigue.

In the absence of treatment, it is universally fatal. Now, that timeline can vary from one person to another. But, generally, within a year, if we don’t treat large cell lymphoma, generally, that’s not survivable.

But as I’ve also mentioned for at least 60 percent of patients and potentially even more, we can cure it with standard treatment. There are other types of lymphoma, such as indolent B-cell lymphomas where actually the goal is not cure, but patients may actually have a normal life expectancy meaning they will face multiple treatment courses over their lifetime. But at the end of the day, they should live just as long as someone their same age and sex who doesn’t have lymphoma.

So, again, that’s gonna be a vastly different treatment course and outcome. So, sometimes, when you’re sitting in the waiting room and you’re sharing your journey with others, you have to keep in mind that you may all be using the same term, non-Hodgkin lymphoma. But our expectations in terms of to and outcomes might be vastly different.

Katherine:

From person to person. What are the stages of DLBCL?

Dr. Nastoupil:

So, we currently use what’s called the Ann Arbor staging system. And, again, this is very different from the staging applied in solid tumors.

And so, the way we define stage is based off where the tumor is in relationship to the diaphragm. So, if you have the disease just in lymph nodes and it’s all confined to one side of the diaphragm, it’s either gonna be stage one or two. And how we distinguish between one or two is just really not are they in close proximity and something that we would fit in one radiation field.

If you have disease that’s above and below the diaphragm, that’s generally at least Stage 3. Stage 4 is generally when it’s now outside of the lymph node. So, what we call extranodal location. So, those are generally organs, lung, liver, skin, bone, etcetera.

It can be very complicated in that you could have just one extranodal site. So, say you just have stomach involvement, or you just have one area of the bone. That could be a 1E.

So, it’s important to recognize every patient has a stage. What that means is whether or not we would give a full course of therapy in terms of systemic treatment that goes through the vein or maybe a shortened course in radiation is dependent on that stage.

Katherine:

Now that we understand a bit more about DLBCL and how it’s staged, let’s move on to treatment options. Many factors come in to play when making a treatment decision, including a patient’s age and overall health. So, let’s walk through some of these considerations. Let’s start with treatment goals. What does this mean exactly? And what are the goals of treatment for DLBCL?

Dr. Nastoupil:

Great questions. For diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, my goal was that I want to eradicate this disease with one course of therapy. Now one course of therapy, again, may mean six cycles of treatment, or it may mean three to four plus/minus radiation. And that kind of gets back to the discussion we just had with stage. But the goal is to make it go away and never come back. Now, oncologists are eternal optimists.

And I saw this because we would not be oncologists if we weren’t always focused and hoping for the best outcomes for our patients.

Katherine:

Sure.

Dr. Nastoupil:

So, we, generally, when we’re counseling patients tend to keep the focus on what is the chance that I can cure this, and we use words like cure oftentimes. But there’s always those caveats. And those caveats are – we can’t really look into our crystal ball and predict the future for every given patient. So, we use tools to help us risk stratify patients, meaning if we took 100 people like a given person, we could predict the outcome for the majority of those patients.

So, with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma with no high-risk features – so, that gets back to the molecular subtype. Do they have double hit features – yes or no? The stage and something we call IPI, International Prognostic Index, that takes into account some clinical features. As you mentioned, patient specific factors, their age, their stage, some lab values, whether or not they have more than one extranodal variable. Then we can generally predict.

Again, if I have 100 patients with good risk IPI, 80 percent of them are likely to be cured and alive and well five to 10 years later. If I have someone with poor risk features that may not change exactly what I do for that patient, but that may help them and me in terms of should I be pursuing a trial to potentially have access to something that’s better than this standard option? Or how does this impact their planning?

Some people are close to retirement. Some people have specific life goals, such as a wedding or an anniversary that sometimes we use those sorts of calculators to best predict the future to inform some of that treatment. So, those are what we call sort of the characteristics coming into treatment.

There are comorbidities or sort of concomitant medical problems, such as heart disease, sometimes diabetes. But, generally, more often than not, it’s how healthy your heart is because my objective with treatment is to cure this.

Cure generally results from chemotherapy. And we can spend some time talking about why have we not moved away from chemotherapy in this disease? But, generally, that does involve chemo because that’s generally how I can eradicate this tumor.

But there are certain situations where that chemo may not be beneficial to a given a patient. It usually has to do with how healthy their heart function is at baseline. So, again, we look at all of these factors. What is their risk with the disease? What is their risk from the toxicity of treatment? And am I able to achieve that goal, which is to eradicate the disease?

Katherine: Well, let’s talk about chemotherapy. Why is that still part of the regimen in a treatment plan?

Dr. Nastoupil:

Yes, I’m gonna borrow an analogy that one of my colleagues Jason Westin uses all the time. The CHOP chemotherapy that is the backbone of our treatment for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma was developed in 1976.

There is no other technology that we would commonly use in our day to day. You wouldn’t still be driving your car you had in 1976. Clearly, our methods of communication in regards to phones have changed dramatically. So, why are we still using chemotherapy that was developed in 1976?

Katherine:

True.

Dr. Nastoupil:

Well, it’s not for lack of trying. Over the last four or five decades, we have been trying to improve upon this. And it works. It works for at least 60 percent of patients. When we tack on targeted therapy, such as immune therapy where we use an antibody that will stick to the surface of a marker on that lymphoma cell and then use the immune system to do some of the heavy lifting, we can probably improve those cure rates from 60 percent to potentially as high as 80 percent. That’s really been the only substantial improvement we’ve made.

Now, there is one caveat. So, just recently, we heard a press release of the POLARIX study, which is the first trial in the last four decades that could potentially replace R-CHOP as the standard of care.

We don’t have the full results yet. It’s essentially utilizing a drug called polatuzumab, which is an antibody drug conjugate. It’s essentially chemo on a stick. But we’re delivering chemo specifically to (CD)79b, which is a target on B cell lymphomas and modifying the CHOPs. We’re not getting rid of chemo altogether. We’re dropping one of the chemotherapy agents and replacing it with this targeted agent. So, it’s essentially CHP plus rituximab and polatuzumab might be the new standard.

But, again, that’s based off many, many efforts to try and replace CHOP. And we’re making slow incremental improvements, but we’re still keeping the therapies that tend to work.

Katherine:

And that makes sense. What about biomarker testing results?

Dr. Nastoupil:

So, in a perfect world, we would be able to take a patient’s specific tumor, sequence it, and provide a recipe or a solution to solve the problem. And that’s what a biomarker is.

It’s something that’s unique to the patient’s given tumor that then would inform what is the best treatment. So, we’re lacking in some ways a perfect scenario. What we do have, as what I’ve mentioned, some molecular studies where we can look for specific genes or rearrangements in the genes that may help us predict the future.

And in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, one of the most common examples of this is what we call double hit where we’re looking for two genes – MYC, which is M-Y-C, and either BCL2 or BCL6. These are genes that we all have. It’s just the lymphoma has moved these genes into sort of more of a prime real estate location that makes it a little bit more resistant to standard treatments.

So, if you move those genes in that tumor DNA, we call that our rearrangement. And we pick that up based off a FISH study. And if both of those features or all three of those features are there, we call it a double or triple hit.

That’s a potential biomarker that may suggest that particularly R-CHOP or standard treatment may not be the best strategy. There’s some limitations to that conclusion in that that’s not true for every patient. For about 20 percent to 30 percent of patients with double hit features, they’re gonna do really well with R-CHOP.

So, that’s why we are lacking in how effective these biomarkers are. And it would be great if we had additional biomarkers that were more precise or could tell us more than just that the standard may not be optimal.

So, that’s where we’re spending a great deal of time and effort in our research efforts just trying to identify biomarkers that may tell us what’s the best approach for a given patient or what we like to call personalized medicine.

Katherine:

Exactly. Does treatment typically start right away?

Dr. Nastoupil:

Hopefully. So, what I mean by that is everyone has to have a diagnosis. And a common story that I hear is that patients generally know when they’re not doing well. They may not be able to pinpoint I have lymphoma.

But they usually will see a primary care doctor or depending on the location of a lymph node if it’s palpable. Oftentimes, men when they’re shaving will pick up a lymph node in the neck. Or women if they’re having a mammogram will pick up a lymph node in the axillae or under the arm. So, that may lead to further investigation based off the location of a lymph node.

Or it may just be those constitutional symptoms where people aren’t feeling well, and a primary care doctor is their first stop. Lymphoma is rare. So, usually it’s a diagnosis of exclusion or something that we eventually get around to. That is important, but it’s not that important.

So, what I mean by that is I hope patients don’t have any guilt or regret if they’ve been sitting on symptoms for a while or even if their primary care doctor missed signs and symptoms of lymphoma because, again, it’s not very specific. There are a lot of things that can cause similar presentations.

But once we have imaging that is suggestive of lymphoma and then we have a diagnosis that’s rendered, again, followed by a biopsy, generally, then it is important that they seek care.

And they get that care in a timely fashion. What’s kind of interesting is the longer time from diagnosis to the initiation of treatment in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is usually associated with a better prognosis. So, that’s sort of counterintuitive.

One would think that the sooner you get started on treatment, the better your outcome will be. I think the challenge with interpreting that data is that the longer time from diagnosis to initiation of treatment usually means that that patient’s disease is one that lends itself to the affordability of time to be seen by specialists, have all of your staging studies completed, have a return visit to go over all those results and have a shared decision-making process in terms of deciding what’s the best treatment for you, and then getting started on that treatment.

So, those patients where that is agreeable and acceptable, they’re probably gonna do very well.

For the patients who are really sick and they need to get started on treatment sooner rather later as a result of their disease putting them at risk, either as a result of organs not functioning well or substantial symptom burden as a result of their disease, then they need to get started. So, that’s usually why their course from diagnosis to treatment is generally shorter.

So, again, it all kind of depends on a given situation. But with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, I tell patients usually within three months of knowing you have lymphoma, we need to get you on treatment, or you’re gonna be sick.

Katherine:

I can imagine. You touched on this a few moments ago. But what do you feel is the patient’s role in this whole decision?

Dr. Nastoupil:

So, I’ve actually been a patient myself, and I have mixed feelings about it. I think oftentimes as an oncologist, we share decision-making when we don’t know the exact path forward, meaning if there’s something controversial or you have more than one option, generally, we kind of put out all the information to the patient, and we want you to be part of that decision-making.

And I think that’s important because we’re all humans, and we all want liberties. And we want our patient rights to be acknowledged and respected. And that’s important. I think sometimes though that also burdens patients with making decisions when they may feel they don’t have all of the information to make an informed decision.

But your role as the patient is you know your body better than anyone. And, generally, if there’s something that just doesn’t fit well or sit well with you, be vocal about it. So, I’ve been in a situation where I felt like I had to speak up a few times, and not that I have all the answers. And I am an oncologist. So, I generally have more insight than others.

But, generally, I was right in that, again, I think we know our own bodies. And when you feel that something is being missed or maybe not given the time and attention it deserves, speak up. You also have a role in making sure that the diagnosis is correct.

So, I generally advise all patients because everything hinges on the diagnosis in lymphoma, more so than the staging, more so than sometimes even the treatment itself.

Getting a second opinion can be incredibly valuable because you have another pathologist that will lay eyes on this biopsy. And lymphoma is rare. So, a second opinion can be incredibly valuable, and that’s usually something driven by a patient more so than an oncologist. Though some oncologists – and I would say the majority – are open to an opinion because they too would like information or confirmation that they’re on the right path.

Katherine:

Certainly.

Dr. Nastoupil:

The other thing that I think patients can have role is exploring what trial options are out there and available to them. I think that is sometimes a tough subject to discuss. Clinical trials are not only for patients who have failed all the standard treatments.

And it’s usually not an option of hospice versus a clinical trial. That’s absolutely an inappropriate time to consider a clinical trial. And, generally, there are trials at any point in a patient’s journey where there is some controversy as to the best path forward.

Again, I’ve been discussing the last 40 years of trying to improve upon R-CHOP is because 60 percent of patients were cured, but 40 percent were not. There is always a scenario where we could do better. And, generally, the only way we will improve upon outcomes is to conduct important rational clinical trials.

So, sometimes, it’s as simple as reaching out, participating in programs such as this, reaching out to the Lymphoma & Leukemia society or the Lymphoma Research Foundation to just explore what are your trial options. They may not be appropriate for you right now but at least understanding where there is an opportunity to participate in a trial is worth exploring.

Dr. Nastoupil:

Dr. Nastoupil, now that we’ve discussed factors that go into the treatment choices, can you walk us through the currently available DLBCL treatment approaches and who they might be right for?

Dr. Nastoupil:

Absolutely. So, again, this is changing, and that’s good news. So, up until recently, R-CHOP or rituximab in combination with CHOP, which is an acronym for four different drugs, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine, and prednisone, has been our standard.

Again, what would potentially challenge that is the POLARIX study where we exchange vincristine for polatuzumab. We don’t know the results of that study yet. All we know is that it met its primary endpoint, meaning it met what it set out to do in terms of improving upon some of the outcomes achieved with R-CHOP.

We need to see the details to know if that means now every newly diagnosed diffuse large B-cell lymphoma patient will be offered the polatuzumab in combination with R-CHP study or whether or not there will still be some patients appropriate for R-CHOP.

But that is generally our first approach. Whether you get six cycles or a shortened course plus/minus radiation depends on your state. Once patients have completed therapy, generally, then we pursue what’s called surveillance.

So, we’re monitoring for any signs that the lymphoma has recurred or has not gone away. That’s a controversial topic in terms of how to conduct surveillance and one that I suspect will change over time. But for most patients, if the lymphoma is going to recur, it generally recurs within the first two years.

So, assessing patients either in the form of a CT scan, a PET CT, or a physical exam with labs every four to six months for the first two years is what most practices will pursue. I’m not saying that there is no chance that you would relapse beyond two years. It’s just that the majority of patients, at least 90 percent, if the lymphoma comes back, it usually does so within two years.

And the relapses that occur beyond two years are less predictable. They could happen at three years. They could happen at 10 years, as it’s hard to know how to do surveillance beyond two years.

If the lymphoma recurs, the first thing we need to do is biopsy it because there are many things that can mimic lymphoma on a scan – infection, inflammation, other tumor types. So, if there is ever a question about whether or not the lymphoma has recurred, I generally advise for all patients they undergo a biopsy to ensure that we know what we’re treating.

Depending on when the lymphoma recurs, if it happens within 12 months, this is another area that we are shifting our practice. In the past, for all patients who had relapsed large cell lymphoma, we would pursue what we call salvage or second-line chemotherapy. So, we mix up the chemo. We keep, generally, the rituximab, but we alter the chemotherapy agents. We wouldn’t give CHOP again.

And then we give a shortened course where we give two to three cycles. We repeat the scan. And for patients who’ve achieved what we call chemo-sensitive disease – so, that’s generally a complete response on scan – we would then move forward with high-dose therapy and an autologous stem cell transplant. So, essentially giving different but more intense chemo and rescuing patients from that maneuver with their own stem cells that will go back to the bone marrow and start making white blood cells, red cells, and platelets again.

What has shifted in the last six months is we now know that CAR T-cell therapy is superior to that approach, at least with two CAR Ts for patients whose lymphoma came back within 12 months. Again, we’re eagerly awaiting the full results of those randomized studies. But three trials were conducted. Two of the three suggest CAR T is better than second chemo and transplant for those patients who relapse within 12 months.

So, currently, we think that you’ll have a CHOP-like therapy with plus rituximab frontline. If you progress within 12 months, you potentially would be a candidate for CAR T-cell therapy. If the CAR T-cell therapy fails, which is true for about half of patients, or if you’re deemed to not be a candidate for CAR T, we have several other new options that didn’t exist a year ago, including targeted or non-chemotherapy options.

So, there are at least four options in that setting now that are therapies that target the lymphoma cells, either by targeting CD19, which is another surface marker, augmenting that either with an antibody drug conjugate, such as Lonca, or with an immune therapy, such as lenalidomide and tafasitamab. Polatuzumab is available in that third line or later space combined with bendamustine and rituximab. There’s an oral agent called Selinexor.

So, a lot of that is not to burden patients with information but to let them know they’ve got lots of options. And many of these can be sequenced. So, if we can’t achieve cure with R-CHOP and/or CAR T, there are still very good outcomes in that third line or later space.

Katherine:

We’ve covered a lot of information here so far. And just a reminder that the resource guide I mentioned earlier contains definitions and resources for what we’re discussing today. So, be sure to click on that link if you haven’t already.

Dr. Nastoupil, I’m wondering how patients can feel confident in speaking up and becoming a partner in their care.

Dr. Nastoupil:

So, it’s important to recognize, and I reflect on this all the time. Generally, once patients have been rendered a diagnosis of cancer, that’s a life-altering event. And even if I spend a lot of time trying to reassure patients that outcomes for lymphoma patients are very good, generally we’re aiming for cure, that’s not true for everyone.

And you can’t help but be concerned that you will succumb to this disease or that the toxicity of therapy is gonna be life-altering and impact your quality of life in such a way that it’s no longer the life that you were happy to live.

And so, I recognize that we are partners in this. My job is to choose the most effective therapy that will try and accomplish the goals we set out to achieve. However, sometimes, oncologists make assumptions about what the goal of a given patient is.

We’re assuming that longevity or living is the most important goal. Whereas sometimes, people might care more about the quality of life, or they may need more reassurances about what the options are or their realistic outcomes with therapy. Because, again, I’ve mentioned before, oncologists are generally eternal optimists. We tend to sugarcoat things a little bit.
So, it’s important for patients to recognize that they will have a shared decision responsibility, meaning oftentimes we will provide all the information that we have access to in terms of a given treatment.
What is the likelihood of success, what is the potential risk in terms of toxicity, and what we’re leaning towards one therapy over another, particularly if you have more than one option.
But, ultimately, we need patients to share with us what their goals are in terms of outcome of that treatment so that we can then potentially refine our treatment selection. So, again, being informed, participating in programs like this so that you understand what makes one lymphoma different from another. Why would one oncologist offer one treatment and another discuss something else?

So, understanding what the different lymphomas are, how they might be approached differently, what the new therapies are. I struggle to keep up with just the lymphoma literature and changes. I can’t imagine what it must be like for an oncologist that treats every cancer type. So, again, understanding that new drugs are approved almost every couple of months in lymphoma may provide an opportunity for patients to share new information with their oncologists as well. So, information is key.

Katherine:

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

Dr. Nastoupil:

Well, I appreciate your time as well.

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. And don’t forget to take the survey immediately following this webinar. It will help us as we plan future programs.
To learn more about DLBCL and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for joining us today.

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

 

Which Lung 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 lung cancer? Lung cancer specialist Dr. Heather Wakelee reviews key factors that help guide treatment decisions, including biomarker testing, and shares advice for partnering with your team to advocate for the best care.

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

This program is brought to you by the Patient Empowerment Network. It is made possible through support from Daiichi Sankyo, Foundation Medicine, Illumina, Merck, Novartis, and generous donations from people like you.

See More From INSIST! Lung Cancer

Download Guide

Related Programs:

 

What Key Tests Impact Lung Cancer Treatment Choices?

What Are Biomarkers and How Do They Impact Lung Cancer Treatment Options?

Considering a Clinical Trial for Lung Cancer Treatment: What You Should Know

Transcript:

Katherine:

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for you today’s program. Today, we’re going to discuss how to access the most personalized lung cancer therapy for your individual disease and why patients should insist on essential testing. 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.

Let’s meet our guest today. Joining me is Dr. Heather Wakelee. Dr. Wakelee, would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Wakelee:              

Sure. Thank you so much and I’m really delighted to be on this and get to address all of our listeners. So, I am Dr. Heather Wakelee and I am a lung cancer specialist. I work at Stanford University where I’m also the chief of the Division of Medical Oncology.

Katherine:                  

Excellent. Thank you. Before we get into an in-depth discussion on lung cancer treatment, we’ve been hearing the term “personalized medicine” a lot more often. How would you define that term?

Dr. Wakelee:              

That’s a great question. So, I think back when I first started taking care of patients living with lung cancer 20 years ago, we really just had chemotherapy for those with metastatic disease. And for those with earlier stage disease, it was just surgery radiation. And since that time, we’ve learned a whole lot and brought in a lot of different types of treatment. Surgery and radiation still have important roles for many patients.

And we think about them as being targeted and personalized based on stage, but it’s a little bit different. When we talk about personalized, we’re thinking more about what are aspects about the tumor that allow us to pick the right systemic treatment. So, “systemic” meaning a pill or something that we give IV.

With chemotherapy, we don’t have much to pick between them as far as specifics for the tumor. We can look at what we call the histology, which is how it looks under the microscope, whether it’s the squamous type or the non-squamous type and some of the chemotherapy drugs matter there. But, in the last 15, 20 years, we’ve learned about the specific what we call “gene mutations” that define the tumor.

And, depending on the gene mutation in the tumor, for some patients, we can give them pill therapy drugs that will work well. So, that’s personalized. Or, immune therapy now is an option for a lot of patients. That’s usually IV therapy.

And, there are some aspects of the tumor that can help us pick that also.

Katherine:                  

Well, I imagine that much of personalized immunotherapy for a patient requires a number of tests and then a thorough review of the results. So, can you provide an overview of important tests following a lung cancer diagnosis?

Dr. Wakelee:              

That’s a fabulous question. When we think about the tests that we need to have done, they’re mostly tests that are done on the tumor, so, either if someone has a surgery or at the time of biopsy. and, that’s where we can figure out what we call, again, the histology that’s squamous or non-squamous. That’s when they look at it under the microscope. But, they also, with the tumor specimen, you can pull the DNA out of the tumor and then test for the gene mutations in the tumor. And, I always emphasize these are not changes in the genes that are in the whole person. They are things that are unique to the tumor. They are what make the tumor different from the rest of the person.

So, we look at those gene mutations or that’s kind of a biomarker. So, there are a lot of terms that we use, and I know it gets really confusing. So, I try to use “biomarker” to mean all of these things, but that gene mutation is what we look at in the tumor tissue to see if there are specific changes that will allow us to give a pill therapy, a targeted pill therapy. And then, there are also aspects of the tumor that help us figure out whether or not the immune therapy might work, and most commonly, that’s something called PD-L1. That’s a protein that we look at on the surface of the tumor, and so again, under the microscope.

Katherine:                  

And, when you talk about extracting DNA, is that via a blood test?

Dr. Wakelee:              

So, we have two different ways to do that. So, what I was talking about before was from the tumor tissue, you can extract the DNA. But now, there are these liquid biopsies where we can draw blood and find the tumor DNA that is different from the rest of the person’s DNA and look for those gene mutations in the tumor.

And that is where there’s a lot of developments happening. And, that’s so fabulous because they’re often faster results for patients, and it means that you can not have to go through another biopsy. We still need the biopsy to establish whether or not there is even cancer. But, once we know that there’s cancer for sure, then we can use the liquid biopsies to get a faster information result on those gene mutations and to follow over time to see how the tumor evolves because tumors change after they’ve been treated.

Katherine:                  

Do you use imaging at all?

Dr. Wakelee:              

Yes. Always. So, when someone is first diagnosed with cancer, we usually find that because of imaging, so, a CT scan or an X-ray, maybe they had a screening CT scan or maybe they had a cough that led someone to go get an X-ray, an examination. So, the imaging is a part of the original diagnosis. And in addition to CT scans, we’ll often get a PET scan that helps us look for, in a different way, the rest of the body, maybe an MRI of the brain to look in that area.

And then, wherever we’ve found the tumor, we will track that area with scans over time. And, it gets a little complicated for a patient that was found with what we call early-stage disease. So, stage I or II. Many of the times, those patients can have surgery and then we don’t have any tumor we can follow anymore. But we get CT scans to look to see if it could have come back. For patients with more advanced disease, so, stage III that couldn’t have surgery or stage IV, there we have areas that we’re going to continue to follow with the scans. And which scans and how often is going to depend a lot on what treatment the patient’s on and where the tumors are located that we’re tracking.

Katherine:                  

Do these tests differ for small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer patients? And, I know that non-small cell lung cancer is also known as NSCLC.

Dr. Wakelee:              

Yes. So, long ago, the only distinction we had with lung cancer was that small cell versus non-small cell, and that is something that is seen under the microscope when that tissue is taken out from the biopsy. The pathology doctors look at it under the microscope, and the cells look different. And, the small cell lung cancer, those cells are small. It’s not very creative naming. And then, everything else is non-small cell or NSCLC. So, it’s SCLC and NSCLC. So, that was one of the first distinctions.

And, it is still very important because the chemotherapy drugs that we use are slightly different. And, the genetic, those gene mutations, we see them in any cancer. That’s what makes a cancer different from the rest of the body. But in small cell lung cancer, the tumor mutations that we see are not things that we know how to target specifically. In non-small cell, there are targets that we can target specifically for some patients.

So, just there, it’s different in having the targeted pill drugs in non-small cell, not so much in small cell. With immune therapy, those newer immune therapy IV drugs, they can work in both small cell and non-small cell. But for small cell, the biomarkers, that PD-L1 level is not as important for helping us figure out who’s going to benefit. For non-small cell, with many of the drugs, it is important. So, there are differences there.

Katherine:                  

Well, let’s go a little deeper. And, you did mention some of this already, Dr. Wakelee, but what is genomic or biomarker testing?

Dr. Wakelee:              

So, we are struggling with how to have one unifying way of describing it because it’s so complicated. So, to me, biomarker testing is any aspect of the tumor that helps us choose the best treatment for that patient. And so, it’s a very broad term. And, within biomarker testing, there are several different ways that we look at it.

So, one is to look at what proteins are on the cell’s surface. And, we do that by having stains that we use to stain the tissue. So again, complicated, but when a piece of tissue is taken out of the person, part of the tumor is removed. It’s sliced into little tiny slices, which are then put on glass slides that can be looked at under the microscope. And, that’s how the pathology doctors can look and see, “Ah, this looks like cancer,” or, “It doesn’t look like cancer.” When it does look like cancer, you can then put on stains, so basically, different colored antibodies that will light up if that particular protein is there. And so, that helps us figure out for sure that this started in the lung because there are specific proteins that are only found in lung. So, that’s one way we used it, and this is an older technology. But, we also can use that to look for how much of this PD-L1 protein is expressed. And so, that’s an important biomarker, but it’s not based on genomics, which is when we’re talking about the DNA.

 Then, we have the genomic testing, and that’s when we’re looking at the genome of the tumor and how that genome is different. And, that’s that DNA or RNA testing. We talk about it with the next-gen sequencing. So, “sequencing,” any of those terms are all meaning we’re looking at some aspect of what makes the tumor genes and therefore the proteins made by the tumor different than the rest of the genes in the person.

And so, that testing, that genomic testing can be done on either the tumor specimen or that’s where we can do blood tests that will be able to pull out those bits of the DNA that are from the tumor versus from the person and help us figure out what’s going on with the cancer. So, when we talk about biomarkers, the whole picture, and when I’m talking with patients who are diagnosed with lung cancer, we talk about well, there’s chemotherapy treatment, which is good for almost everybody. There is targeted therapy.

Targeted therapy is usually based on those genomic tests, and the genomic tests can be done either on the tissue or on blood. But, they’re really important to have a full understanding of the tumors to do a comprehensive or next-gen sequencing analysis of the tumor or DNA. And then, you have the immune therapy where that PD-L1 biomarker is important. So, that’s the way I think about it, and the biomarkers are really critical for helping us figure out what’s the best path forward for any individual patient.

Katherine:                  

Let’s turn to treatment, Dr. Wakelee. On a basic level, what are the goals of treatment for lung cancer?

Dr. Wakelee:              

So, with lung cancer, we’d love to cure everybody, that’s the ultimate goal, and do it in a way where people are able to continue living their life as they were before the cancer diagnosis. The ways that we do it, first of all, we’ve got to find the cancer, and that’s where screening is such an important aspect of things. If we can find the cancer at an earlier stage, we’re more likely to be able to cure someone.

So, what do I mean by “earlier stage?” Well, when a tumor first develops, usually, there is a single cell that develops a mutation, meaning a change in the gene, which gives that cell an advantage so it doesn’t die the way it’s supposed to. And then, it keeps growing, and dividing, and making new cells. And those over time get to a large enough size that they are the cancer. And given more time, those cancer cells start to spread into other parts of the body, usually first into what we call the lymph nodes, and from there then into other organs in the body. And this stage refers to health or how the cancer spread. So, the stage I cancer is still in that ball of cancer. Stage II means that it’s spread into some lymph nodes. Stage III is it spread into more lymph nodes, usually in the center part of the chest or mediastinum, and that’s where it starts to be much more difficult for the surgeons to be able to truly remove all of the cancer.

And then stage IV means that the cancer is not something that we’re going to be able to remove with surgery. It’s spread either within the lung to the lining of the lung or it has spread to other organs in the body. And so, when we talk about those stages that I, II, III, IV, it’s a bit more complicated than that. But, I think for most people, if they just think about it as stage I, just the cancer, stage II, lymph nodes and the lungs, stage III, lymph nodes in the center, and then stage IV, elsewhere, that’s a good way to kind of wrap your head around it.

And when we talk about stage I and II, that’s the truly early stage where we hope to be able to cure people with surgery. Surgery alone is enough for the majority of people with stage I cancer, and for maybe half, a little more than half of people with stage II. So, how can we be better than that? Well, that’s where there’s been a lot of new advances. So, adding chemotherapy after surgery can help a lot of stage II patients.

If the tumor genomic testing biomarkers shows that there’s a mutation called EGFR, we now know that there’s a pill drug that people can take that would prolong the time to when the cancer might come back. And then, just very recently, there was stated that that immune therapy drugs IV can also prolong time to when the cancer comes back and maybe improve cure if the tumor has that biomarker called PD-L1. So, that’s that early stage. So it’s, again, getting more and more complicated and emphasizing that you’ve got to understand the biomarkers of the tumor to know how to best help someone.

When we move to stage III, some have surgery, but when you can’t have surgery, then we do the chemotherapy and the radiation. That’s the key part of the treatment there. And, we also know that immune therapy can be really helpful for a lot of patients when it’s given after the chemo and radiation’s completed. And then for stage IV, I talked about that already, which is you’ve got to do the biomarkers to figure out the best treatments for some people starting with a targeted pill drug is the right thing if their tumor has those right gene mutations.

For other people, immune therapy alone might be an option if the PD-L1 level is very high and they don’t have one of those gene mutations in the tumor. And for a lot of people, chemotherapy or chemotherapy plus immunotherapy is the right strategy.

Katherine:                  

Would you help the audience understand the types of therapy for small cell lung cancer specifically?

Dr. Wakelee:              

Yes. So, small cell still has the same kind of staging, but it’s a little bit more simple. We talk about extensive stage or limited stage. And what that has to do with is we rarely do surgery for small cell. It tends to have spread earlier. There are a few cases where that’s done, but normally, we divide it up into limited or extensive. And when we talk about that, limited is the radiation doctors can get all of the cancer in one radiation field, and then radiation plus chemotherapy is the standard approach to try to cure. If it’s more extensive than that, then it becomes extensive stage.

And, the best treatment are going to be chemotherapy plus those immune therapy drugs added together.

And so, the chemotherapy drugs that we use for non-small cell and small cell, the platinum drugs play a role in all of it. The drug we partner is a little bit different. There’s a drug etoposide we use a lot in small cell and a lot of other options for non-small cell. And then, the immune therapy drugs, there are a lot of options that are fairly similar for both small cell and for non-small cell. 

Katherine:                  

Dr. Wakelee, you mentioned targeted therapies. How do they work?

Dr. Wakelee:               

Targeted therapies are something we can use when we find a specific gene mutation in the tumor. So, I mentioned before that in order for a cancer cell to become cancer, something has to happen to the DNA in the cell.

And, there’s a change or a mutation in the DNA of the cell which leads it to be a cancer. And, a lot of the time, that mutation happens in a specific kind of gene that makes a type of protein called a tyrosine kinase. And for those of you who haven’t studied a lot of science, it’s a word you might not have heard before. But basically, these tyrosine kinases are proteins in the body that make a lot of changes to what’s going on in the rest of the cell. So, they’re sort of what we call regulators. And, one way of thinking about them is like on and off switches. So, normally, their job is to sit and if the right molecule comes around, that turns it on, and then it turns on other proteins in the cell. And if that molecule isn’t there, it’s turned off. So, it’s this on and off switch that does a lot of other aspects of what’s going on in the cell. But, sometimes, a mutation happens. It turns it on all the time. So, it’s like if you leave the light on.

It’s on all the time, that’s using a lot of energy, and that’s actually what’s driving the cell to act like a cancer. And so, we can now look for some of those mutations that turn some of these tyrosine kinases on all the time. But, we’ve also developed drugs that we can use to turn them off. So, if we find this specific gene mutation that’s turning, say, the EGFR protein on all the time, if we find that, we can have the patient take a pill that then turns that off.

And that helps the cancer slow down, some of it die, some of the cancer cells die, but it doesn’t completely wipe it out. It helps the patient for a long time though by shrinking the cancer, helping them feel better because the symptoms are gone, keeping the cancer from growing. But, cancer cells are clever. They continue to divide, they can continue to make new mutations, and eventually, they figure out ways around that. So, when we talk about targeted therapy, it’s a setting where we find the cancer.

In the cancer, we find the gene mutation, it’s in one of these specific types of proteins, genes that make specific protein that turn something on that we can then turn off, and with those pill drugs, we can have a big impact for people.

Katherine:                  

And, what exactly is immunotherapy?

Dr. Wakelee:              

Immunotherapies are treatments that were used to help keep the immune system more active.

So, the immune system is a very complex mechanism. There are cells that their whole job is to figure out and find things that are not us. So, they are looking for bacteria, they’re looking for cells that have a virus in them, and when they find it, they attack. And, that attack can be in the form of antibodies, it can be cells that actually go in and attack other cells directly, and we are all familiar a little bit with the immune system because we know that if we get a cold, our body, we can get a fever, that’s part of our immune response, and we get better. And then, some people know the bad side of the immune system if they have allergies or certain autoimmune diseases where the immune system gets a little bit too revved up and starts to recognize normal things as foreign.

So, in the setting of cancer, normally, the immune system is able to recognize a cancer cell, see that it’s different from the rest, and get rid of it. But, cancer cells are clever and they figure out ways to evade the immune system. And, one of the ways they do this is they put a protein called PD-L1. So, PD-L1 is a protein that a lot of our normal cells use to say, “Just a normal cell. Ignore me.” And so, when an immune cell comes in and sees that, it gets turned off it goes away. So, what our immune therapies do is most of them are blocking that PD-L1 protein. And, when they do that, it’s sort of like taking away the stop sign. So, you’ve got a tumor using a stop sign to say, “Go away, immune cell,” you block it so the immune cells can’t see that stop sign, and so then it kills the cancer cell better. So, that’s how these drugs work, and that’s the immune therapy.

There are some other stop signs besides PD-1 and PD-L1, but that’s the most common. So, when we’re talking about immune therapy, it’s drugs that block that. So, they increase the ability for the immune cell to recognize cancers. The risk from them is that you can get the body to recognize normal tissue as a problem sometimes. So, that’s the toxicity that we watch for.

Katherine:                  

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

Dr. Wakelee:              

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

And, that can be measured in years for some folks, which is fantastic. And then, with immune therapy, again, they’re not working for everybody, but they were for a large number of patients with lung cancer with non-small cell to help them live longer with their cancer controlled. And so, we’ve actually improved the overall survival rates for lung cancer with these new developments. Where we can make even more of an impact is also by finding more of the cancers earlier, and that’s where cancer screening is so important also. So, by having more choices, chemotherapy can still help a lot of people. Targeted therapies can help probably close to 20, 30, 40 percent of people with non-small cell lung cancer that’s the adenocarcinoma type. And then, the immune therapies can help other people living with lung cancer. Usually immune therapies don’t work on the same tumors the way the targeted pills work. So, you’re kind of getting at different groups of people with those different strategies. It’s not completely true, but it’s a kind of general principle about it.

Katherine:                  

What about side effects for some of these treatment choices?

Dr. Wakelee:               

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

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

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

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

What we have to watch for is that they can cause what we call autoimmunity. So, it’s talking about the fact that the way they work is they help the immune system better recognize the cancer, and they do that by taking away one of the stop signals. But, that stop signal, the PD-1, PD-L1, that stop signal is also used by a lot of normal cells to tell the immune system to back off. So, when you remove it, when you block it, the immune system can get confused and start to attack normal cells. So, you can get a rash, people can end up with gut symptoms like diarrhea, they also can end up with it attacking the lungs and causing what we call a pneumonitis lung inflammation or brain symptoms, so, almost anything. Now, those are rare, and we can treat them with steroids. But, people need to be aware that if something new is happening, they need to alert their doctor. I think sometimes, there’s this false impression that immune therapy is completely safe, but, it’s not. And, all of the treatments that I’m talking about are designed to help people live better and live longer when they’re dealing with lung cancer, but they all also have risk.

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

Katherine:                  

That’s all really helpful information. Thank you, Dr. Wakelee. We have a question that we received from an audience member earlier. Jeff asks, “How do you know if your lung cancer treatment is working?”

Dr. Wakelee:              

So, there are a lot of ways of knowing if treatment is helping. So, the one I rely on the most is, “Does the patient overall feel better?” That is difficult to say exactly how. Sometimes people are having breathing problems; they feel that that’s better. Sometimes their energy’s lower. They feel better. It can be vague. We also use scans. So, we tend to get scans, depending on the treatment we’re giving, every couple of months plus or minus, sometimes, every three months to help track what’s actually going on. But occasionally, there are discrepancies.

So, sometimes, the scan, is it better? Is it not better? Can’t really tell. And then, you’re always taking that, “How does the patient feel?” So, usually, if the scans are better, the patient feels better. It’s easy. Usually if the patient’s feeling worse and the scan looks worse, clear decision. Not a good one, but clearly, we need to do something different. But sometimes, you’re left, and especially this happens with the first scan because you get a scan, it takes a little while, you start the new treatment, then you get the next scan, how much of the changes happened before you started the new one and how much didn’t? So, these can be more challenging conversations, but generally if the patient’s feeling a little bit better, the scan’s unclear, we usually say, “You know, let’s give this treatment a little bit more time.” We also, I think your question was specifically around how do we tell if it’s working, but, you also often need to be thinking about, “Well, what’s it doing that’s negative to the person and is that potential, those side effects worth the benefits we are or are not seeing?”

So, it’s kind of all of those things together. It can be a bit complex.

Katherine:                  

What goes into the decision to change therapies if it becomes necessary?

Dr. Wakelee:              

So, when we’re thinking about making a change, the way I always look at it is, is where we are today still okay or not? And, if it’s not, that would be because clearly the cancer’s growing or clearly the side effects are just not tolerable. Then, we decide together with the patient we need to do something different. And, when we think about what do we do next, we look at what have we’ve already done, did it work or not, if not, let’s do something more different. And so, let’s think about something that might be somewhat similar. When we’re dealing with targeted therapies, we have ways to try to figure out what changed in the tumor that made it now resistant or not working with that treatment. And so, with some of the pill drugs, there’s been a lot of research and understanding how does the tumor change that helps it evade, get away from, be resistant to whatever treatment you’re on.

And then, sometimes, we have other pill drugs that work in that particular setting, not always. With immune therapy, we’re trying to better understand why does the immune therapy stop working? Sometimes you can add back to it, like, you can add chemotherapy back to immune therapy alone or sometimes you can do radiation with immune therapy to get that response back. Or, add other combinations to it. So, that’s another thing that we’re working on. And then, like I said, if someone hasn’t ever had chemotherapy and the tumor’s become resistant, we’re going to be thinking a lot about chemo because that can play a role against so many different reasons that the cancer might not be responding to whatever treatments someone’s on. And then also, looking at how the patient’s feeling and doing, what their overall what we call “performance status, ” their sort of overall health, and how well do we feel with them that they’re going to be able to tolerate the next treatment because, you’re always having to weigh how much is this likely to help, and how might this harm in finding the right balance.

Katherine:                  

I’d be remiss if I did not bring up COVID-19, and, I’m sure a lot of patients are curious whether the vaccine is safe and effective.

Dr. Wakelee:              

So, we do believe the vaccine is safe and effective for patients living with lung cancer, and really important to be protected as much as possible. I was part of a group of other physicians around the world looking at the impact of COVID-19 on patients living with lung cancer. And, we collaborated with a group of physicians, Rayna Garcina was the lead. She was living in northern Italy at the time of the first wave, and so, was really face-to-face with it early on when there was so much we didn’t know. And, she gathered a group of us to watch and see, and what we were able to figure out before the vaccine was available was that people living with lung cancer who were overall healthy still except for their cancer were perhaps on a pill, targeted therapy, or immune therapy seemed to really not have that different of an impact compared to people who didn’t have lung cancer.

Chemotherapy was a little bit harder to see that, but didn’t seem to be such a big issue. It’s different than people living with, say, leukemias or lymphomas where the treatments are impacting their immune systems even more. They seem to have worse outcomes. A lot of lung cancer patients were okay, but still, it’s a higher risk. And so, we want to protect our patients as much as possible.

So, we are, now that we have the vaccines, strongly advocating vaccines for any patient who was living with cancer really for almost anybody because as a physician, we really think that makes a big impact. We have not seen any negative impacts of the vaccine on any aspect of cancer treatment. It does not have a negative impact on how well the cancer is treated by the therapies. We did notice that when someone gets the vaccine, they can get some enlargement of the lymph nodes. That’s part of having an immune response is your lymph nodes get enlarged. And so, we did get a bunch of scans that the vaccines came out showing, “Well, this person has some lymph nodes in the axilla, which is the armpit.”

And it seemed to be correlating with the side that someone had a vaccine. And then, those go away. And, this was actually an interesting medical literature thing because for people getting screened with mammograms for breast cancer, there were suddenly all these lymph nodes showing up. But that was actually a sign that the person was responding to the vaccine and it went away over time. And, it was a fine thing. It was just – I remember the first patient I had where that happened, we’re like, “Oh, well, that makes sense. Okay.” So, it’s okay. So, it was not cancer. It was just the immune response. But, yeah, so, we are recommending vaccines. There’s no data showing it is not working for lung cancer patients. The vaccines are less effective in people getting certain types of cancer treatment that are really suppressing the immune system. But even some response is better than none, and we’re still recommending the patients really do their best to stay safe with masks and things like that.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Wakelee, what are you excited about in lung cancer research right now? And, what do you want to leave the audience with? Are you hopeful?

Dr. Wakelee:              

I’m very hopeful. When I started treating lung cancer patients 20 years ago, we only had chemotherapy. And now, for metastatic disease, with using the right biomarkers, we can figure out so much more about the cancer to be able to personalize the treatment, for many patients, being able to offer pill therapies that are somewhat less toxic and highly active and give people more time. And now, we’re in the immune therapy revolution, which is helping a whole other group of patients living with lung cancer to be able to live with quality life for much longer. And the pace of discovery is just going up so quickly. And, I think that’s what I’m most hopeful about is just how much attention is being paid on lung cancer and finding better therapies that are going to help more people for a longer period of time. And again, I’m going to emphasize the screening is making a big difference also. If we can find the disease early, we can have an even bigger impact on people.

Katherine:                  

Dr. Wakelee, thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. Wakelee:              

Thank you. Really enjoyed talking with you. Thank you.

Katherine:                   

And thank you to all of our partners.

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

Where Do Clinical Trials Fit Into an AML Treatment Plan?

Where Do Clinical Trials Fit Into an AML Treatment Plan? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

AML expert Dr. Eunice Wang discusses the role that clinical trials play in advancing research, the benefits of participation in research, and explains why she recommends trials for AML patients. 

Dr. Eunice Wang is the Chief of the Leukemia Service and Professor of Oncology at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York. Learn more about Dr. Wang, here.

See More From Engage AML


Related Resources:


Transcript:

Katherine:

Where do clinical trials fit in when it comes to choosing treatment?

Dr. Wang:

Clinical trials are the mainstay of everything that we do in cancer care. Every single cancer drug that we’ve developed dating back into the 1970s at the National Institute of Health is the result of some patients and some doctors designing a clinical trial. These FLT3 inhibitors were developed over the last several years, so when I first came out of fellowship and started my training, we didn’t have these targeted therapies. Since 2017, in four years, we’ve had nine different drugs approved.

So, clinical trials are the way that we go from a finding in the laboratory to somebody having an extra birthday or going to their son or daughter’s wedding. That’s really how important it is, and those brave individuals who participate in clinical trials are helping not only themselves, but helping other people. I can’t tell you how many patients I enroll in clinical trials for AML, and I have told them – I said, “These nine drugs that we approved were because of nine different clinical trials which demonstrated benefit involving hundreds of thousands of patients.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a patient say to me, “Look, doctor, I’m going to participate in this clinical trial so that even if I’m not helped, you could learn something from me that could help the next person with their disease.” People are incredibly unselfish when it comes to clinical trials. I recommend a clinical trial for all my patients because I feel like that’s the cutting-edge clinical care.

I had patients here who I had on clinical trial drugs, and I was able to go to them and say, “Good news: Your drug has now been approved.” And, they say, “Doctor, why? I’ve been on this drug for a year.” And, I said, “That’s right, because you were part of that clinical trial, and you’re here now because of that drug, and now, a year or two later, that drug’s potency has been recognized, and now, the fact that you were in that trial has really helped us get this approval, which is going to help every other patient with that disease going down the line.” So, very important.

AML Research and Emerging Treatment Options: An Expert’s Perspective

AML Research and Emerging Treatment Options: An Expert’s Perspective from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

AML expert Dr. Eunice Wang shares exciting advances in the field of AML research, particularly in targeted therapies related to the TP53 and NPM1 mutations. 

Dr. Eunice Wang is the Chief of the Leukemia Service and Professor of Oncology at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York. Learn more about Dr. Wang, here.

See More From INSIST! AML


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Transcript:

Katherine:

What specifically are you excited about in terms of AML research and emerging treatment options?

Dr. Wang:

I am really excited about the advent of newer targeted therapies. Right now, we only have targeted therapies for probably about three mutations out of the many, many mutations that we know exist in AML. So, we know that there certainly are patients that have specific mutations, such as TP53 mutations, or patients who have very complicated series of DNA damage, that just don’t do well with any of our therapies.

I’m looking forward to another bunch of targeted therapies – these inhibitors called menin inhibitors – that might be useful for treating patients that have mutations in NPM1 gene or other chromosome abnormalities.

I’m also really looking forward to us being able to finally unleash the power of the immune system for treatment of AML with a few novel agents coming down the pike which have, for the first time, started to show that immune modulation can work in AML patients.