BY ELIZABETH WHITTINGTON | FEBRUARY 20, 2014
After more than a decade as the National Lung Cancer Partnership, the organization rebrands itself as "Free to Breathe," taking the name of its popular nationwide events.
The cancer community has seen rebranding of several non-profits over the years, whether it's to stay relevant to its audience or provide a more recognizable face to the public. It hasn't been that long ago that the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation became Susan G. Komen for the Cure, taking the name of its long-standing and popular races. It has since become known simply as Susan G. Komen. In 2011, Gilda's Club and the Wellness Community came together as the Cancer Support Community, although you'll see that iconic red door of Gilda's, and her name, has remained in some communities.
I questioned why a lung cancer organization would drop the words "lung cancer" from its name. Did this mean it would focus primarily on fundraising for research as opposed to providing support services for patients? And how would that research funding equate into cures?
Thanks to Tracy Fischer at Free to Breathe for answering my questions.
What was the impetus for the name change from the National Lung Cancer Partnership to Free to Breathe?
Hundreds of thousands of people championing the lung cancer cause have come to know the National Lung Cancer Partnership through our Free to Breathe event series. After extensive research and analysis, we've decided to unite the efforts of our entire organization under the Free to Breathe name. Our research revealed that the name Free to Breathe resonates deeply with people whose lives have been touched by lung cancer. It inspires passion, dedication and hope. It is active, engaging, simple, and more clearly conveys who we are and what we do. Plus, it's easier to remember!
To make it clear that our organization is still 100 percent focused on lung cancer, we decided on the tagline "a Partnership for Lung Cancer Survival." This helps people who know us as "The Partnership" recognize our organization, and ensures our purpose and focus are clear to those just getting to know us.
How will Free to Breathe achieve the goal of doubling lung cancer survivorship by 2022? Is it by funding research or will Free to Breathe have a hand in directing specific research?
While our name has changed, our focus has not. We believe that every lung cancer patient deserves a cure, and we remain passionately committed to our vision of doubling lung cancer survival by 2022.
We will continue funding research in addition to helping people living with the disease understand their treatment options and benefit from innovative therapies, with a focus on molecular tumor testing and clinical trials.
While funding research is a key component of our program of work, it is not our only strategy. For example, in collaboration with several partners, we have developed a program to measure and reduce the time it takes patient to go from diagnosis to appropriate treatment (freetobreathe.org/research-grants/other-scientific-programs/access-tlc).
Free to Breathe also plays a crucial role in the administration of the Lung Cancer Mutation Consortium, a partnership of 16 cancer centers across the US working together to test patients' tumors for mutations and characteristics that can be targeted with very specific treatments. This knowledge will help doctors better understand which patients may benefit from which therapies, and help increase clinical trial enrollment which ultimately helps new treatments get to market faster. For example, the LCMC played a key role recently in patient recruitment for a study that led to a "Breakthrough Therapy Designation" from the FDA for a new therapy designed to target BRAF-mutated non-small cell lung cancer. This designation makes it easier for the drug to make its way through the FDA's testing and approval processes and get to patients faster.
Is Free to Breathe a research funding organization or lung cancer support organization? Do you work with other lung cancer organizations to promote awareness, advocacy, education and research funding?
While we don't offer direct patient support, we do offer many patient resources to help patients understand their treatment options and decide which treatment paths are right for them. Our website provides comprehensive information on the disease, diagnosis and various treatment options (freetobreathe.org/lung-cancer-info/understanding-a-diagnosis). We also offer a clinical trials matching service, as well as advocacy tools to help people recognize symptoms of the disease and raise awareness of its true impact. We empower people to get involved and bring the movement to double survival to their own communities through our nationwide event series and a community fundraising program: freetobreathe.org/get-involved
Realizing that collaboration is key to making substantial strides toward doubling survival, we work with other lung cancer organizations in many capacities. For example, this year, we're co-funding our second Impact Award with Uniting Against Lung Cancer. The largest scientific grant offered by both Free to Breathe and UALC, the Impact Award is expected to produce significant improvement for lung cancer patients within the next five years. We are also an active member of LungCAN, a collaborative group of lung cancer advocacy organizations that have come together to raise public awareness about the realities of lung cancer. You can read about other collaborations on our website: freetobreathe.org/about-us/who-we-are/collaborations.RELATED POSTS
BY ELIZABETH WHITTINGTON | FEBRUARY 7, 2014
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the oncology meeting devoted to genitourinary cancers, which includes prostate, kidney and bladder. The American Society of Clinical Oncology's Genitourinary Cancers Symposium (gucasym.org), held Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 in San Francisco, presented several studies that may impact clinical practice and future research in prostate cancer. Here are a few notable findings:
Xtandi, Given Before Chemo, Extends Survival in Patients with Advanced Prostate Cancer
Men with advanced prostate cancer are typically given hormone therapy (androgen deprivation) until the disease progresses, whereas the next option is usually chemotherapy. Because prostate cancer is generally a slow-growing disease, delaying time to chemotherapy has been one goal in treatment. Xtandi (enzalutamide), an oral drug that blocks the androgen receptor, was approved in 2012 after it was shown to extend survival for men whose metastatic, castration-resistant prostate cancer had progressed on docetaxel.
The results of the phase 3 PREVAIL study showed that when men were given Xtandi before chemotherapy, the drug delayed disease progression, improved survival, delayed time to chemotherapy and improved quality of life.
The trial randomized more than 1,700 men who had few or no symptoms of their advanced prostate cancer to receive Xtandi or a placebo. Overall, Xtandi delayed the time to chemotherapy by about 17 months. Side effects were minimal and similar in both groups of patients and included fatigue, back pain, constipation and hypertension.
The interim results of the study clearly showed the benefit of Xtandi, which led an independent data monitoring committee to recommend that the trial be stopped early and patients receiving placebo be offered the investigational drug.
"I think it's safe to say that enzalutimde provided a significant clinical benefit to patients with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer," said Tomasz Beer, lead author of the study, as he concluded the presentation.
After disease progression, participants in the trial went on to other therapies, including docetaxel, Zytiga (abiraterone), Jevtana (cabazitaxel), Xtandi, and Provenge (sipuleucel-T), many of which were approved in the past few years--a testament to the advances occurring in prostate cancer treatment.
Yervoy in Prostate Cancer
Researchers presented findings from a study of Yervoy (ipilimumab), an immunotherapy that helps the body's own immune system attack the cancer. Approved for melanoma, Yervoy is being tested in several different cancer types, including prostate cancer.
In this latest study, approximately 800 men with metastatic hormone-refractory prostate cancer who had already received chemotherapy were randomized to receive a placebo or immunotherapy. The study did not show an overall survival benefit, which was its primary objective. However, progression-free survival, a secondary endpoint, did show improvement with the drug. The presenting investigator noted that patients who had metastases in lung, liver or other organs did not fare well on the drug. Those who had metastasis limited to the bone fared much better, including an improvement in survival.
This echoes other studies that show that immunotherapy may best be used in patients who do not have a heavy disease burden. One expert who commented on the study did suggest that may not be the whole story – it might be the different cellular environments (bone versus soft tissue metastases) that may be the deciding factor and not specifically the level of cancer metastases.
Because the study did not specifically start out by stratifying patients based on the extent of their disease, it will take another study to confirm this effect. An ongoing trial is testing the drug in patients who have not yet received chemotherapy and who do not have metastases in soft organs, such as the liver or the lungs. We'll see results of that study in 2015.RELATED POSTS
BY ELIZABETH WHITTINGTON | JANUARY 29, 2014
When KRAS mutations were found to thwart a response to EGFR-targeted therapies, such as Erbitux (cetuximab) and Vectibix (panitumumab), it was a practice-changing discovery in colorectal cancer. (You can read more about colorectal cancer treatment and the use of personalized medicine in CURE here.) Research presented at an oncology meeting held earlier this month on additional mutations may result in yet another change in the way we treat colorectal cancer.
About 40 to 50 percent of colorectal cancers harbor mutations in a particular part of the KRAS gene called exon 2. (An exon is a genetic piece of information that codes for a protein. If the protein isn't coded correctly, it could turn on cancer growth.)
Researchers have learned that patients with colorectal cancer that contain a KRAS exon 2 mutation are not helped by EGFR-targeted therapies. The plus side is physicians can now test for this biomarker to identify these patients, shielding them from the toxicities and cost of a treatment that wouldn't work, and instead focus on other therapies, such as anti-angiogenic drugs.
Recent studies lend more evidence that it is not a single mutation that affects a tumor's response to Vectibix, but an even wider range of mutations.
A phase 3 study presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's Gastrointestinal Symposium analyzed the response of metastatic colorectal cancers to second-line chemotherapy with or without the EGFR-targeting drug Vectibix. Tumors were analyzed for KRAS mutations in exons 1-4 and NRAS exons 1-4, collectively known as RAS mutations.
Although the majority of mutations were in KRAS exon 2, an additional 18 percent of tumors were found to harbor one of these other mutations. (You can view the abstract here.) Patients with these additional mutations, much like those patients with a KRAS exon 2 mutation, did not benefit from the addition of Vectibix.
In essence, a patient's tumor could test negative for the mutation in KRAS exon 2 and be prescribed Vectibix. However, if the tumor contains one of these other mutations, the treatment would still fail to work. While this study confirmed what researchers have seen in other studies in newly diagnosed advanced colorectal cancer, this was the first large study that showed a similar effect in second-line therapy.
"Based on all the data that we generated, it's clear that today we need RAS testing instead of KRAS exon 2 testing before embarking on an anti-EGFR treatment in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer," said lead researcher Marc Peeters, of Antwerp University Hospital in Belgium, as he concluded his presentation to other gastrointestinal oncologists at the meeting.
Experts expect that expanded RAS testing will soon become the standard of care in treating patients with metastatic colorectal cancer.RELATED POSTS
BY ELIZABETH WHITTINGTON | JANUARY 17, 2014
It's been 50 years since the initial release of the Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health. This report provided a scientific basis for us to work toward reducing the public health impact of tobacco use. Since then, 30 additional Surgeon General reports on tobacco have been released.
Today's report, "The Health Consequences of Smoking--50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General, 2014," adds new evidence that smoking is bad for us, including that it increases the risk of liver cancer, colorectal cancer, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Secondhand smoke increases the risk of stroke. The report notes that while the evidence is suggestive, it's insufficient to conclude breast cancer risk increases with smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke. However, smoking increases the risk of cancer death. And in cancer survivors, it increases the risk of dying from other diseases.
Measures that have been put into place since that first report have more than halved smoking rates. The public's view on smoking has changed drastically. Strategies to reduce tobacco use have included smokefree laws, taxes on tobacco, smoking cessation aids and support and public awareness campaigns. Those measures continue to become more powerful and prevalent.
The report also notes the success of smoking cessation strategies, including nicotine replacement therapy, such as gums, patches, and even electronic cigarettes, which contain nicotine, but not tobacco. During the past few years, electronic cigarette use among current cigarette smokers increased from 9.8 percent to 21.2 percent. While it may be used by smokers in places that don't allow tobacco smoking, I think it's safe to say some current smokers are using the tool as a cessation device. But is it working? Opponents consider it a "gate-way drug" to tobacco use and another marketing tactic by tobacco companies to get people hooked on nictotine, but its use in cessation should be explored. Studies to examine health implications are also needed.
The report also contains a consumer booklet, "Let's Make the Next Generation Tobacco-Free," which aims to helps parents talk to their children about tobacco use.
You can read the full report here.RELATED POSTS
BY ELIZABETH WHITTINGTON | JANUARY 2, 2014
Looking back on 2013, we've compiled CURE's Top 10 blogs of the year. We based the ranking on the number of views for each posting, and noticed that triple-negative breast cancer was a top read this year, along with fear of recurrence and metastatic cancer. There also appears to be a few popular posts from past years that continue to make the list.
What do you think? Did the one that impacted you the most last year make the list?
It's not hard to imagine why this one topped our list. The fear of cancer returning is a common emotion in survivors after treatment ends. Kathy LaTour describes her own experience with recurrence fears after her diagnosis 27 years ago, and how she overcame it.
This post was originally published in 2009, when news of PARP inhibitors as a potential treatment for TNBC excited everyone who had knowledge of the disease. While the original research didn't pan out, there is new "good news" in the field. You can read the latest in our Fall 2013 article "Divide and Conquer."
Continuing on with the TNBC coverage, many of our readers were interested in Patricia Prijatel's account of TNBC research from the 2012 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. Patricia, a survivor of TNBC and a patient advocate, provided a great update that spanned various treatments and the biology of the disease. I wouldn't be surprised if our guest blogger from the 2013 Symposium, Michelle Esser, makes the list next year. Michelle wrote an update from this past year's meeting.
Oncologist Richard Frank shares his experience in treating a family friend, a patient with metastatic liver cancer.
While this post was originally published in 2012, we're understanding more and more that screening, treatment and follow-up is not a "one-size-fits-all." As for guidelines, and whether many physicians follow them, we'll be covering that topic later this year.
Maya Silver was 15 when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Writing about her own experience and other teens facing a parent's diagnosis, she offers helpful advice on how to share the information with friends and receive the support teens need during this time.
Would you? A lot of survivors have weighed in since the post was originally published in 2009.
"When cancer happens to us it's common to feel completely out of control. We go from our "normal" lives to something we reluctantly call the "new normal." The problem is that it doesn't feel normal at all because we are changed suddenly and forever." Debbie Woodbury shares her tips on how to take control over the new normal.
This year, Kathy LaTour introduced us to Carrie Corey, a young wife and mother living with metastatic breast cancer. Carrie has become a regular guest blogger with CURE, sharing her experiences including a first beach trip with young son, Henry. You can read her first guest post at "Young, a new mother and metastatic."
What song describes your cancer experience the best or helped you with treatment? Our readers gave their best "fighting cancer" songs, and we compiled them for you.RELATED POSTS
BY ELIZABETH WHITTINGTON | DECEMBER 6, 2013
Pancreatic cancer, while hard to treat, is gaining awareness, research dollars and inspirational advocates. Learn more about how we're gaining on this aggressive cancer in the Winter issue of CURE.
You can also view an informational video based on the "Changing Course in Pancreatic Cancer" article below.RELATED POSTS
BY ELIZABETH WHITTINGTON | NOVEMBER 26, 2013
Xalkori (crizotinib), a lung cancer drug that was approved in 2011 under the Food and Drug Administration's accelerated approval, has passed the last hurdle to regular approval. On Nov. 20, the FDA gave the ruling after a phase 3 clinical study confirmed that the drug works in patients who have metastatic cancer with a particular genetic mutation called ALK and who had progressed on platinum-based chemotherapy. Specifically, Xalkori works in lung cancers that are driven by a mutation in the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene, which occurs in about 5 percent of non-small cell lung cancers.
Accelerated approval is a conditional approval the FDA grants for drugs that show a significant improvement before a trial is completed. It can be based on survival, delayed disease progression or another endpoint that was pre-determined before the trial began. Efficacy of the drug must be verified in a later study, either a phase 3 or 4 trial before it can be given a regular approval.
Previous results, which led to the accelerated approval, were based on two single-arm studies, meaning all patients in the study received the investigational drug rather than being randomly assigned to receive the investigational drug or a standard of care. These studies showed Xalkori improved objective response rates, meaning the tumors shrunk with Xalkori in 50 percent and 61 percent of the time in the two studies, respectively.
This new approval is based on results that showed the drug delayed disease progression for 7.7 months compared to chemotherapy, which only kept the cancer from growing for 3 months. Side effects included vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue and vision impairments.
Many accelerated approvals later receive regular approval. A paper examining accelerated approvals and post-marketing studies found that from Dec. 11, 1992 to July 1, 2010, the FDA granted 35 oncology products accelerated approval, which accounted for 47 new indications. Clinical benefit was later confirmed in subsequent studies for 26 of the 47 new indications. The average time between accelerated approval and regular approval was more than four years, but ranged anywhere from less than a year to more than 12 years. During that time, three indications were revoked or had a restricted distribution due to follow-up studies.
To better understand this newest approval for Xalkori, we asked the FDA a few questions:
1. What is the significance of the regular approval for Xalkori?
• Xalkori received a broad indication for the treatment of ALK-positive metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in 2011 because this magnitude of high response rates had not been observed with standard approved treatments for lung cancer. Because of this, we didn't want to require patients to progress on chemotherapy before enabling access to a drug that appeared to provide a significant benefit over the standard of care. Xalkori's accelerated approval in 2011 was based on response rates in single-arm trials, and its regular approval is based on a post-marketing trial that provides confirmation of the clinical benefit based on a randomized study against chemotherapy.
2. What does it mean to patients?
• Xalkori's regular approval highlights an evolving paradigm of very rapid drug development, where we are able to get drugs to the patients who need them most at an accelerated pace. Practically speaking for NSCLC patients, Xalkori's regular approval gives access to a therapy that demonstrates superior progression-free survival by about five months and a reduction in the relative risk of progression by about 50 percent. The post-marketing trial provided supporting evidence of higher response rates – 65 percent of tumors shrunk versus 20 percent in those receiving chemotherapy. The randomized trial also provided additional safety data, which helped the FDA determine that its risk-benefit was acceptable.
You can read more about the regular approval at fda.gov.
You can also read more about accelerated approval and other routes to FDA approval in CURE's article "A Primer on How Faster Approval Works."
We'll be featuring advancements in lung cancer in an upcoming issue of CURE, so stay tuned for more updates.RELATED POSTS
BY ELIZABETH WHITTINGTON | NOVEMBER 19, 2013
The stomach cancer community has seen incremental progress over the past year, but the next advancement in treatment research appears to be ramucirumab, a drug that works by cutting off the blood supply to a tumor.
Phase 3 study results, published last month in The Lancet, show that patients with gastric or gastroesophageal junction cancers that had progressed on first-line chemotherapy lived longer on the drug than on placebo (5.2 months versus 3.8 months). It also delayed disease progression. Side effects included high blood pressure and abdominal pain.
Based on these results from the REGARD study, the Food and Drug Administration granted ramucirumab priority review on Oct. 23, which means the agency will make a decision in six months. Typically, it could take up to 10 months for review without the designation.
Laura Goff, a gastrointestinal oncologist at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville, Tenn., says it's likely the drug will be approved because the study showed a small but real improvement in survival in patients taking the drug compared with supportive care, such as pain medication and anti-emetics.
"Helping patients live longer is a very real benefit. However, the question of how much longer is what often spurs debate. On average, the group taking the drug lived about a month and a half longer than the group not taking the drug. Therefore, the treatment group did better, but not a lot better," she says. "The good thing is that there were very few side effects."
Currently, there is no approved treatment once the cancer has progressed on initial therapy, which means the investigational drug fulfills an unmet need--a requirement for the priority review designation. The FDA seems to be on a roll lately, so a decision may come even earlier. However, Goff says there are other chemotherapies that have been shown to be helpful in this setting.
"Going forward, in order to recommend to my patients, I will need to see what the FDA approval looks like. Also, since this drug is a monoclonal antibody, I would anticipate that it would be very expensive," she says.
While the REGARD study looked at ramucirumab used alone, the phase 3 RAINBOW trial is combining ramucirumab with paclitaxel to hopefully further extend survival without increasing side effects. "I am very interested in seeing the results of this agent when given in combination with chemotherapy to see what magnitude of benefit is achieved," Goff concluded.
The drug is also being examined in lung, colorectal and liver cancers.
Update: This blog was updated on Nov. 19 to include an email interview with gastrointestinal oncologist Laura Goff.RELATED POSTS
BY ELIZABETH WHITTINGTON | OCTOBER 3, 2013
The National Brain Tumor Society Summit kicks off today in Cambridge, Mass. While it may be a little late for most of us to attend, there is a live broadcast Friday morning at 8:30 EST. The webcast will include an update on the state of pediatric brain tumor research. If you can't make it, the recording, along with a recap of the entire summit, will be online in a few weeks.
You can find more information at braintumor.org/about-us/nbts-summit.
The National Brain Tumor Society is the combined organization of the National Brain Tumor Foundation and the Brain Tumor Society. The two groups came together in 2008. The organization has provided millions of dollars worth of grants to research groups, including pediatric brain tumor research and initiated the Defeat GBM Research Collaborative, which aims to double the five-year survival rate of patients with glioblastoma multiforme.RELATED POSTS
BY ELIZABETH WHITTINGTON | SEPTEMBER 30, 2013
With enrollment "opening day" of the health insurance exchanges happening on Oct. 1, there is a lot of confusion, misinformation and information overload. Here are a few resources to help you sort it out and get organized.
> The Cancer Support Community and the Association of Community Cancer Centers, along with 16 other cancer and patient advocacy organizations, produced the Cancer Insurance Checklist. This worksheet was created to help people--with either a history of cancer or high risk of cancer--shop for insurance coverage in their individual state's health insurance exchange. The website also includes a list of resources and a glossary.
> The American Cancer Society and its advocacy arm, ACS Cancer Action Network, have put together a fact sheet of tools and information for patients and survivors to help them navigate the Affordable Health Care Act. You can find it at acscan.org/healthcare/learn.
> The LIVESTRONG Foundation has produced a five-step guide to insurance enrollment. It is also partnering with the advocacy group Young Invincibles and the social action news site RYOT to reach the young adult population and encourage them to get insurance coverage. On Oct. 2, the three groups will host an in-person and live Google+ Hangout session geared toward helping cancer survivors navigate healthcare enrollment.
> Naturally, the homepage for WhiteHouse.gov has recently been filled with information on the healthcare law, including a short video of "What Obamacare Means for You," infographics and a summary of healthcare choices and premiums expected in several states (whitehouse.gov/healthreform/map). Healthcare.gov also provides information on the marketplace, along with a tool to determine if a user would qualify for lower insurance costs.
> NPR.org has a great assortment of articles that explains many of the current and upcoming healthcare law pieces.
Do you know of any other tools that help cancer patients and survivors navigate the insurance process? If so, please share!RELATED POSTS