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Conversations With Prostate Cancer Experts


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Clinical Trial: Free Genetic Testing

Dr. Heather Cheng is an Assistant Professor at the University of Washington and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the Director of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Prostate Cancer Genetics Clinic.

Prostatepedia spoke with her about a clinical trial she’s running that looks at inherited genetics of men with metastatic prostate cancer.

What attracted you to medicine?

Dr. Heather Cheng: There are a couple of things I love about medicine and especially oncology. One is getting to know patients, finding out what’s most important to them as people, and using that information to help guide discussions and decisions about their treatment in a way that is true to what is most important to them. These days I guess you call this shared decision-making. That’s the most rewarding part about what I do.

Have you had any patients over the years who have changed how you see your own role or how you view the art of the medicine?

Dr. Cheng: I have a lot of patients who fit those criteria. My interest in this area started when I was a first-year Hematology and Oncology fellow. I was in the clinic and it was when we were at the beginning of this wave of new exciting drugs that prolong survival, such as Zytiga (abiraterone) and Xtandi (enzalutamide).

I met this patient who was 43 years old; he had new, aggressive metastatic prostate cancer. His disease blew through every one of the new drugs. It was extremely humbling and disappointing because we were so excited about these drugs, but they didn’t do much to slow his disease. And it was heartbreaking because he was so young. He had a family history of cancer but not prostate cancer. He had a teenaged son. We had a lot of discussions about the effect of his disease on his son. I wondered if there was something genetic, something that was making his cancer so aggressive. And then, what could this mean for his son? His memory has stuck with me.

When I think about the work and research that I do, it’s not just for the individual patient in front of me. I’m also thinking about how we can improve things and advance the field so things can be better for the next generation. How can we make progress as quickly and with as much positive impact as possible?

I met another patient who had a great effect on me. He had just been diagnosed with high-risk prostate cancer, Gleason 9. He was planning to get radiation. As part of a research study, we offered to sequence the DNA of his cancer because he had an unusual appearance of his cancer– ductal histology. He was kind and generous enough to volunteer and participate. It wasn’t going to affect his treatment, but he agreed to help us learn more.

In his cancer, we found a mutation in the BRCA2 gene, the one that many people may have heard of because of its association with breast and ovarian cancer risk. There was suspicion that the mutation could be inherited, so we brought him back for dedicated genetic testing for inherited cancer risk. And, it turns out he did have an inherited version of that mutated BRCA2 gene. He was the first person in his family to be found to carry the mutated version of BRCA2. Neither he nor his family would have known until later if we had not looked in his tumor.

After this, some of his relatives had genetic counseling and were also tested. The sister who had breast cancer had a recurrence and was found to carry the BRCA2 mutation. This information was important for her because it offers additional treatment opportunities for her cancer that might not have otherwise been considered. His daughter was also found to carry the BRCA2 mutation and after learning of this, had a mammogram and was diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s still curable, so she’s going through treatment, but it is possible that she might not have known until much later otherwise.

The importance of test results can extend to relatives in a way that might help more than one person, not just the person that I see in the clinic, but other members of their family. I do want to be clear that these mutations are not found in most people— even those with cancer—but for the people who have these mutations, it can be life saving information for their family members.

What will you be doing, and what can men expect to happen, during your clinical trial?

Dr. Cheng: You can learn about the study from your doctor, support group, or by visiting our website, http://www.GentlemenStudy.org. There is information about the study. You can consent online, confirm that you have metastatic prostate cancer, and check that you’re interested in genetic testing for cancer risk.

There is a questionnaire that many take about 40 minutes to complete, that asks about your knowledge of genetics, basic health, family history of cancer, and demographic information about where you live.

You can upload supporting information about your diagnosis, or you can check a box saying you’d like help from the research team to gather that information on your behalf. Because there are strict privacy laws around medical records, you need to give permission to our team to get medical information for the study on your behalf.

To be eligible, you must have metastatic prostate cancer and must live in the United States. There’s one other exclusion, which is that if you have some blood disorders such as leukemia, we cannot be sure that the test results are valid.

If you meet criteria, you will be mailed a saliva kit, a medical-grade genetic test through Color Genomics, with instructions on how to provide a saliva sample. Follow the instructions carefully and then mail the kit back. Results are typically available within 4 weeks. You will have access to a genetic counselor following your results, and you are invited to follow up in person to our clinic if you live in the area. If you don’t live near us, we can direct you to resources to find a genetic counselor for in-person visit or by telehealth.

The testing for this study is not recreational testing. It is not the same as Ancestry.com or 23andMe. This is clinical, medically appropriate testing if you have metastatic prostate cancer.

Do you share this information with their doctor, or is it up to them to share the information with their doctor?

Dr. Cheng: We strongly encourage participants to share the results and information with their doctors, but our ethical board does not allow us to do this for participants without their specific consent.

Are there any fees for patients?

Dr. Cheng: There is no fee for the patient.

It sounds similar to the process for the Metastatic Prostate Cancer Project, except I don’t think they share their results.

Dr. Cheng: Yes, it is similar to that project. The difference is that the patient or the participant gets results that apply to them individually. The Metastatic Prostate Cancer Project, which is fantastic and an important and innovative study, is de-identified, and the patient doesn’t get individual-level results back.

Their goal is to amass as much data as they can for research.

Dr. Cheng: Correct, yes.

Are you also cataloging the information that you collect?

Dr. Cheng: Yes.

What will you do with the data that you collect?

Dr. Cheng: We’ll be looking at demographics, the proportion of people who have mutations (pathogenic variants), information about family history, and validated measures of knowledge, distress measures and satisfaction with testing.

If patients consent to re-contact, they will be contacted at the conclusion of the study. If there are other follow-up studies, they can opt to learn about those. There will also be an invitation for those who agree to subsequent studies, like treatment studies or PARP-inhibitor studies, for example.

We’re still learning about certain genes, such as ATM mutations and CHEK2 mutations. As we learn more, we may want to update participants on what the field has learned. There are still many important questions that the field needs to answer, and patient engagement and participation will make this happen more quickly. There will be opportunities for those downstream studies.

How many patients are you looking for, overall?

Dr. Cheng: The plan was for 2,000. We have sent kits out to over 350. We still have room for participation!

Join us to read the issue and learn how to participate in Dr. Cheng’s study.

 


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Clinical Trial: Zytiga, Lynparza, + DNA Repair Defects

Dr. Maha Hussain is the Genevieve Teuton Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology, Department of Medicine, and the Deputy Director of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Prostatepedia spoke with her about a clinical trial she’s running, BRCAAway, that looks at Zytiga (abiraterone) and Lynparza (olaparib) in metastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) patients with DNA repair defects. (The trial has a ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier of NCT03012321).

What can you tell us about the trial that you’re running looking at Zytiga (abiraterone) and Lynparza (olaparib)?

Dr. Maha Hussain: In prostate cancer, and specifically in mCRPC, data emerging from multiple resources, including the Stand Up To Cancer initiative from a few years ago, indicate that greater than 20% of mCRPC cancer harbor DNA repair pathway aberrations. These types of defects in the tumor will allow the patient to potentially be a candidate for PARP inhibitors. In this regard, PARP inhibitors have had a track record in ovarian and breast cancer.

They’re currently undergoing multiple clinical trials, including Phase III clinical trials in patients with advanced disease and in different settings of the disease.

A couple of years ago, we published data from an NCI-funded clinical trial where patients with mCRPC underwent a biopsy of their metastatic cancer. The patients were then stratified by the presence or absence of ETS gene fusion and randomized to Zytiga (abiraterone) and prednisone with or without a PARP inhibitor called veliparib.

As part of that study, we also looked at other tumor genomics when extra tissue was available. We discovered that the patients who had tumors with DNA repair defects seemed to respond much better to treatment with Zytiga (abiraterone) with or without veliparib as opposed to the patients who did not have that. This is not something that anyone knew before. After we had published our data, the Johns Hopkins team published data they had on patients who had undergone germline testing and who had received Zytiga (abiraterone) or Xtandi (enzalutamide). They reported similar observations.

This leads me to the current trial, which we call BRCAAway. BRCAAway is a prospective clinical trial for patients who have developed mCRPC for which they have not yet received any specific treatment. Patient will undergo a biopsy, unless they have previous tissue available from either the primary or metastatic disease, and the tissue will then be evaluated for the presence of specific DNA repair defect alterations. Per the US FDA guidance, patients who have BRCA1, BRCA2, and/or ATM are randomly assigned to either Zytiga (abiraterone) + prednisone, Lynparza (olaparib), or combination Zytiga (abiraterone) + prednisone and Lynparza (olaparib). Any patient whose tumors have other DNA repair defects (not BRCA1, BRCA2, or ATM) are enrolled into an exploratory arm where they will receive Lynparza (olaparib). Lynparza (olaparib) is provided by the study. The patients who are randomized to the arm of the Zytiga (abiraterone) or Lynparza (olaparib) can cross over to the other treatment if their cancer is progressing; i.e., if a patient who is randomized to Zytiga (abiraterone) and prednisone and then develops progression of the cancer is interested and his physician deems it appropriate, he can switch over to Lynparza (olaparib). The same is the case for patients who are randomized to Lynparza (olaparib) if they progress on frontline Lynparza (olaparib), they can switch to Zytiga (abiraterone) and prednisone per standard-of-care.

Are you assuming that these patients have already been tested for BRCA1, BRCA2, and ATM, or will you be testing for that?

Dr. Hussain: So long as it was done in a certified and appropriate lab, we can accept the data for patients who have been tested. The study covers a biopsy and the genomic testing for the patients.

Are there any fees associated, or is everything covered?

Dr. Hussain: Anything that’s standard-of-care is billed to insurance. Anything that is a research procedure, as in the biopsy and the genomics testing, is covered by the study. The Lynparza (olaparib) is provided by the study, but the Zytiga (abiraterone) is not because that’s part of standard-of-care. All of these tests to assess the cancer, assess tolerance, and assess the cancer progression in terms of scans, things like blood work or anything for safety assessment, per CMS rules, are billed to insurance.

How many patients have you already enrolled, and how many are you looking to enroll?

Dr. Hussain: In the arm with the BRCA1, BRCA 2, and ATM, we need 60 patients. We’re about halfway there. We have enrolled 40 patients to date. For the exploratory arm, we have expanded our limit, and we’re growing that arm. So far, we have plenty of room to accrue more patients.

How many sites do you have?

Dr. Hussain: We currently have 15 active sites.

That’s a lot.

Dr. Hussain: It’s a lot of sites, but as I’m sure patients appreciate, part of it is that by the time we see an eligible patient, they have to have the specific mutations, whether it’s on new tests or based on previous tissue. When we test, it’s roughly one in five who will likely be positive. Of course, they have to qualify by other criteria, so we have to screen many patients. We’re on track as we forecasted, and we’re hopeful to finish enrollment by a year from now. We also hope to have some important data to share.

Wow! That’s fast.

Dr. Hussain: Of course we need adequate follow-up to assess clinical benefit and its duration. I’m thinking 2020 will be the end of the study, and if there are signals earlier, we will be reporting the data. The Prostate Cancer Clinical Trial Consortium (PCCTC) is acting as the coordinating CRO. The institutional review board (IRB) of record is Northwestern University IRB. If you’re interested in learning more, please visit https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/ NCT03012321?term=brcaaway &rank=1 or email cancertrials@ northwestern.edu.

Is there anything else you want patients to know about this particular trial or about the context in which it’s occurring?

Dr. Hussain: This and other clinical trials are important options for patients to consider. Clearly, they have access to regular standard-of-care treatment. The hope is that we can do better than standard-of-care. We are also trying to validate earlier observations that I mentioned regarding whether the patients who have DNA repair defects have better response to Zytiga (abiraterone) and how does this response compare to Lynparza (olaparib) versus the combination.

Lynparza (olaparib) is a drug that’s available on the market for breast and ovarian cancer, so there’s a fair amount of experience with it. It is not yet FDA approved for prostate cancer, but we have a reasonable understanding for the potential side effects. Certainly, there are multiple clinical trials that are looking at it and other PARP-inhibitors in prostate cancer.

Zytiga (abiraterone) is standard-of-care and FDA approved. It’s been around for many years. All treating oncologists should be very familiar with it and how to monitor and what to expect.

It looks like an exciting trial.

Dr. Hussain: We are very excited. What is clear from the experience with prostate cancer is that one size does not fit all, this is one of the first examples of precision medicine in front line mCRPC. Our goal is to better personalize care and significantly impact disease outcomes.

The patient is our partner. We cannot succeed and deliver better treatments to patients without their partnership, so we are very grateful to them for their participation.

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Frontiers In Prostate Cancer Genomics

Dr. Felix Feng is a physician-scientist at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) keenly interested in improving outcomes for patients with prostate cancer. His research centers on discovering prognostic/predictive biomarkers in prostate cancer and developing rational approaches to targeted treatment for therapy-resistant prostate cancer. He also sees patients through his prostate cancer clinic at UCSF.

Prostatepedia spoke with him about the state of genomics for prostate cancer today.

Not a member? Read the rest of this month’s conversations about prostate cancer genomics + prostate cancer genomics clinical trials.

What would you like prostate cancer patients to know about the state of genomics for prostate cancer today?

Dr. Feng: Genomics is becoming an important reality for patients with prostate cancer. We’ve talked about genomics for years in the context of research and possible advances for patients, but we are now reaching the era when these advances are being used in clinical practice or being assessed in clinical trials.

For patients with metastatic prostate cancer, patients with alterations and mismatch repair genes should be treated with immunotherapy (checkpoint blockade) at some point in the course of their treatment. At some point in their treatment, patients who have alterations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes or other DNA repair genes should also enroll on a trial involving a PARP inhibitor.

There are many other trials testing specific biomarkers for selection for patients. For example, a few years ago, Prof. Johann de Bono presented the results of a study looking at an AKT inhibitor for patients with PTEN deleted prostate cancers. That’s currently being explored in a Phase III trial, and we’re eagerly awaiting the results of that.

In addition, the presence of androgen receptor (AR) splice variants is being used to select patients for studies. These need to be tested out. Some are molecular biomarkers rather than genomic biomarkers. But for patients with metastatic prostate cancer, we can point to definite examples where science is becoming clinical reality.

In the context of patients with localized prostate cancer or non-metastatic prostate cancer, we’re also seeing a number of advances. There are several tissue-based biomarkers that are now covered in various contexts by insurance companies, and they can be ordered as standard-of-care clinically.

In one of my roles, I chair the Genitourinary Cancer Committee for the Clinical Trials group NRG Oncology. A number of our national trials are Phase II and now also Phase III. The trials that we’re developing incorporate these genomic biomarkers for patient stratification or patient selection. When you start to see genomic markers like Decipher incorporated into NRG or PAM50 trials, it means that, sooner or later, these will become standard-of-care, assuming that the trials are positive.

Are there any open and enrolling clinical trials that either focus on prostate cancer genomics or incorporate genomics into their design that you think men reading this may either want to look into or ask their doctors about?

Dr. Feng: Two of the most promising studies are in patients who have had surgery for prostate cancer and now have a PSA recurrence. They are both actively enrolling.

The first trial that I would highlight is NRG-GU006. This study is open at hundreds of hospitals in the United States and Canada; it takes men who have a PSA recurrence after prostatectomy. We go back, we profile the prostate cancer sample from those patients, and we assess a biomarker called the PAM50 classifier, which we helped validate in prostate cancer as predicting response to hormonal therapy. Patients get stratified by this biomarker and are then randomized to standard-of-care, which is radiation alone, or to radiation plus the next-generation antiandrogen Erleada (apalutamide). They get both genomic testing with the PAM50 classifier and randomization, as well as the opportunity to be on Erleada (apalutamide).

Another trial that is actively enrolling is the NRG-GU002 trial, which takes patients who have very aggressive recurrences of their prostate cancer after surgery, and tests them using the genomic classifier Decipher. In the control arm, those with aggressive disease get randomized to radiation and hormone therapy or radiation and hormone therapy plus chemotherapy with Taxotere (docetaxel).

We and other groups have many other trials in development trying to incorporate these biomarkers, but those are the two trials that are open and accruing.

Who are the lead investigators on these two trials?

Dr. Feng: On NRG-GU006, the co-leads are Dr. Daniel Spratt from the University of Michigan and me. On the NRG-GU002 trial, the lead is Dr. Mark Hurwitz from Thomas Jefferson University.

Is there anything else that patients might want to consider?

Dr. Feng: For patients with metastatic disease, there are a number of PARP inhibitor studies in development right now. We’re looking to move PARP inhibitors into earlier and earlier disease spaces in select patients, largely based on the presence of DNA repair alterations.

This study using the Genentech AKT inhibitor is exciting to me. It’s a Phase III study for patients with PTEN alterations. Not all prostate cancers are the same, but we have traditionally put prostate cancer into one disease. But the many different cancers that comprise prostate disease could be genomically selected or stratified.

That is the future, right? Smaller and more precise categories?

Dr. Feng: Yes.

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Prostate Cancer Genomics

This issue is devoted to the genetics and genomics of prostate cancer, which is one of the most promising and exciting areas of prostate cancer research. Already, this line of investigation is having a major impact. For example, by better defining the genomics of patients entering clinical trials, there can be a marked reduction in the number of patients needed to reach statistical significance. This can potentially reduce the costs of drug development dramatically.

Research into the role of genetics and genomic alterations in the biology and treatment of prostate cancer are still at a much earlier stage than it is for breast cancer. While laboratory studies have discovered a wide range of genes that might act to determine prostate cancer behavior in the clinic, proof that these changes actually determine outcome in the clinic are rather limited. There are even fewer examples where drugs attacking these changes have been FDA-approved for the treatment of prostate cancer.

The PD-1 inhibitor, Keytruda (pembrolizumab) is at present the only example. In 2017, this drug was approved to treat cancers that show mismatch repair or microsatellite instability. These mutations are found in a small proportion of prostate cancer patients.

There are a number of mutations targeted by drugs that are in advanced testing, so this list may expand rapidly. One of the more promising targets is BRCA2. Mutations that alter the function of this gene are known to be involved in breast and ovarian cancer. Cancer cells with these BRCA2 mutations become dependent on the protein, PARP, for their survival and drugs that inhibit PARP can be effective therapy. Studies on patients with advanced prostate cancer show that altered BRCA2 is found in 10-30% of cases. PARP inhibitors have shown significant activity in early clinical trials. Randomized controlled trials needed for FDA-approval are in progress.

Genomic information can also be used to determine how likely prostate cancer is to behave aggressively. This can help identify patients who are likely to do well with active surveillance or to be at low risk for recurrence after an initial attempt at curative treatment.

While genomics promises to revolutionize the treatment of prostate cancer, this revolution requires support from the patient community. The key studies can only be done if patients elect to participate in these trials. For this reason, we made sure to provide you with information on how to become involved in this process.

Not a member? Join us to read more about prostate cancer genomics and prostate cancer genomics clinical trials.


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Leading a support group

Mr. Rupen Sheth leads the Silicon Valley Prostate Cancer Education and Support Group  in Mountain View, CA.

Prostatepedia spoke with him about his prostate cancer journey and his experiences in running a local support group for fellow patients.

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How did you find out that you had prostate cancer? What treatment path did you take?

Mr. Rupen Sheth: After about age 50, I missed my annual physicals for a couple of years. I first had my PSA checked at age 52, and that was the first time my PSA reading was taken, which was detected at 24. That was the first alert, so my situation was fairly sudden.

I had no idea what PSA meant. I saw that it had exceeded the normal amount, but I didn’t know anything about the prostate or its function. I just thought it was a reading that’s beyond the threshold, just like blood pressure and cholesterol. I thought there were ways to remedy it.

At first, the urologist gave me some medications to see if I had an enlarged prostate. But when we retested, the readings were about the same. He referred me to a local urologist who did a digital rectal exam (DRE), which came back normal. He suggested doing a biopsy at that time.

Just like any newbie, I proceeded with what he recommended. He did a random 12-core biopsy. It was only later that I learned about scans and doing an MRI-guided biopsy, which would have been better. Five out of twelve cores were positive, with one at Gleason 4+5.

It was only then that I started researching and tried to get an understanding of what all this meant. I had CT and bone scans, which came back negative. After some initial research, I realized that I needed to work with some better doctors, oncologists, and institutions than the ones the urologist referred me to. My experience with that urologist was not positive. I sought out folks at Stanford University in Palo Alto and had discussions with a number of people there.

I was almost on a path for getting surgery, but I learned more about long-term outcomes of other treatment options versus surgery and decided to change my course of care.

Instead of getting surgery, I opted for a tri-modal treatment at Stanford, which included two sessions of high dose-rate (HDR) brachytherapy, with five weeks of intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), followed by androgen deprivation therapy (ADT), which I stayed on for about 18 months. After discussions with my oncologist, we stopped my Lupron (leuprolide) after 18 months. I’m at a point now when we’re monitoring it on a periodic basis.

How has the prostate cancer journey changed you?

Mr. Sheth: There have been a lot of positives from this, despite the initial shock that you typically go through. We have access to a lot of information, which is both good and bad. It can be overwhelming. There is a lot of garbage out there too. You have to be able to filter through that. That requires you to have people who can coach or guide you.

I lean on support groups a lot because there are a lot of people who have been through this journey and have made mistakes. I learn a lot from the missteps that others have taken.

Ultimately, you’ve got to be able to take all of this information and come up with your own road map. I’ve come to realize that you’ve got to take action and control what needs to be done. Others can serve as a guide, but this is about you. That realization has been a positive.

This whole experience has made me a better person in many ways. I’m more conscious of diet and exercise than before. I’m more tolerant and sympathetic. It’s given me a chance to pause and reflect, to determine what is truly important. Those are all good things. Despite 18 months of roller-coaster times, it’s been a good experience.

How did you first become involved with the support group?

Mr. Sheth: As I was trying to determine my treatment options, I looked to speaking to others who had been through this journey. I got some referrals for local support groups. But interestingly enough, it was quite difficult to find out which local prostate cancer support groups were operating. The information online was not current, so it took me a few weeks to get in touch with the individuals who ran the local support groups.

I attended a couple of these. When I attended, I presented the treatment course I thought I would take based on everything that I had researched. It was reassuring to get some validation that the plan that I had chosen seemed to be the right one.

I continued to attend the meeting because I was learning a lot. I found out that the more you know, the more you know you don’t know. I was committed to prostate cancer, so I wanted to know as much as I could about it. There was a wealth of knowledge among the folks who had been through it. I was just observing and learning. It was also an opportunity for me to know enough so that, if by chance there is recurrence, I’ll be better prepared. As I attended, I got more actively involved.

And now you lead the group?

Mr. Sheth: Right. I felt that the group had given me so much and now I had an opportunity to give back.

Our support group has a ton of books and DVDs. A gentleman, Dean Andrus had been our librarian for over a decade. He used to carry all of the material to all of the meetings to facilitate people who wanted to check stuff out.

I started off by taking ownership of the library from him and looked for ways to improve and optimize it. I worked with the El Camino Hospital. They have two library facilities, so we got all of our materials checked in there and set up online so that people can search the catalog, request materials, and check them out.

At first when the previous group leader had retired, the steering committee talked me into leading the group. And again, because of all the support I had gotten from a lot of great members, I felt it was one of the ways for me to do my little community service.

How do you develop programming for and organize the group? Do you have guest speakers? A newsletter?

Mr. Sheth: Our group meets monthly. We also run an advanced prostate cancer group, led by Walter D’Ardenne that meets just prior to ours. A lot of the members from the advanced group participate in my group as well. They serve as a sort of advisory panel because they have a lot of experience and knowledge.

I am a part of the steering committee. We meet more often per month. We talk about how things are going and discuss ideas, topics, and speakers. There’s a good mix of people who are new to this and others who have a number of years’ experience. So, we try to get a mix of relevant topics and some of the new, emerging topics as well. Because there’s a lot of research being done, we try to get others who are doing clinical trials in this space to stay current.

We attend conferences and relevant cancer symposiums. We bring back information on what we learned and discuss it in our meetings. We try to promote and propagate that information through our newsletters and our website.

I took it upon myself to build the website, get the whole layout structure in place, administer it, and host it for the three local support groups.

You’re doing quite a lot.

Mr. Sheth: Yes, but because there are already so many websites, I didn’t want to create yet another one. For us, it was mostly about promoting the resource gems, the topics that are important, useful nuggets, and other things that we discuss in our meetings. Mostly, it’s a collection of references to other sites. We’re not creating new content. We’re merely cataloging and curating other relevant sources.

How many people do you have in these three groups? How many people do you have in your email list?

Mr. Sheth: My email distribution list is about 350. Because I always look for ways to reduce the amount of work that I have to do, especially repetitive work, I didn’t want to manage our list manually. There are a lot of good, free services available, so I chose MailChimp for the newsletter. It allows folks to opt in and out on their own, which keeps it easy. Generally, about 40 members come to each meeting.

Do you get the same 40 people each time, or do you have a core group that comes every time and then newbies?

Mr. Sheth: There are about ten people who are always there. They’re part of the steering committee. There could be a few more who are regulars. And then another 10 to 15 who frequent our meetings but who are not regulars. They try to come to as many meetings as possible. There are about two to five new members. If we have a speaker or a topic of great interest, then there could be more people who attend.

What is it about helping other men with prostate cancer that you find rewarding?

Mr. Sheth: I’ve found that this particular area is more confusing for folks. A lot of the responsibility has been given to the patient because there is no clear choice. I’ve seen folks make decisions prematurely. Everything that I’ve learned from others provides a way for me to guide folks, to help them get out of their fear that leads them to not make those hasty decisions. I try to get them to understand that they’re not alone and that this is a slowly progressing disease. You have time. You can research, gather the information, and make the right decision.

For me, providing that type of coaching, mentoring, and guidance to others is very fulfilling because a few people did that for me, and it helped a great deal. I’ve seen people who didn’t have that, and I want to make sure that we’re doing all we can to make that available to everybody who needs it.

Do you have any advice for men who want to run their own support group or who are running a support group?

Mr. Sheth: See if other existing national groups or organizations have the framework, resources, and guidance that you could take advantage of so that you don’t need to figure everything out on your own. Organizations like the California Prostate Cancer Coalition (CPCC), Us TOO, and the American Cancer Society have affiliations or chapters that you could create. See if you can associate with one of those national organizations because it will help guide you through that process.

Then get other volunteers. Don’t try to do everything yourself. There are plenty of people, and you can delegate and rely on others so that you can do this as a team.

Join us to learn more about how you can help other men with prostate cancer.


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Mr. Tony Crispino: Patient + Research Advocacy

Mr. Tony Crispino found out that he had prostate cancer at age 44. In the years since his treatment, he has become an outspoken prostate cancer advocate. Today, he runs a support group for other patients in Las Vegas, Nevada and is a Patient Advocate at Southwest Oncology Group (SWOG) where he works with leaders in prostate cancer research on cutting-edge clinical trials.

He spoke with Prostatepedia about his own journey as well as ways in which you can get involved in advocacy.

How did you find out that you had prostate cancer?

Mr. Crispino: Like most, I was asymptomatic. I was 44 years old and had no reason to believe that I had cancer. I wasn’t even aware that I had a PSA test taken, and I was unaware of what PSA was. It was by chance that I’d had a diagnostic PSA, which was at 20, and then I found out that I had stage IIIB disease.

Which treatment path did you take?

Mr. Crispino: Being diagnosed in 2006, I had fewer options than patients have today. We didn’t have Zytiga (abiraterone), Xtandi (enzalutamide), or Erleada (apalutamide) then. The path I chose was not considered standard-of-care yet, but eventually, it became that for guys with locally advanced disease. I read papers from Harvard, Stanford, UCSF, UCLA, and more, and I decided that a multimodal approach was reasonable. So radiotherapy, hormonal therapy, and participation in research trials were all reasonable. Today, I would likely be offered Zytiga (abiraterone) [per STAMPEDE], six cycles of Taxotere (docetaxel) [per CHAARTED], or both. But I am fortunate to have a good outcome with what I chose. I have not been treated since 2010, and I have a durable remission.

Has the prostate cancer journey changed you in any way?

Mr. Crispino: A cancer diagnosis is a life changing experience for most. Nearly all who are diagnosed and their families have a new reality. My well-known mantra to others diagnosed is to stay positive. I followed that rule, and once I came to understand my condition, it was time to take that lemon and make lemonade. My negatives are obvious, but my positives outweigh them. I have done well with advanced disease and that helps as there are many who are not as fortunate, and it becomes more difficult for them to stay positive.

I got involved as an advocate, which has been one of the blessings in my life. I have been actively involved in support, mentoring, research, serving on guidelines panels, and lobbying, and I have authored many physician-facing documents. I would have never had those opportunities without that diagnosis, and I would never have dreamed of being a part of them.

How did you first become involved with prostate cancer patient advocacy?

Mr. Crispino: Almost immediately, I was an online surfer like never before trying to regain control of my life. It was through this method that I became educated, a support group leader, and determined to be a part of cancer treatment as more than a patient. But first I had to experience the support I received from all those who paved the way ahead of me.

What do you do with Us TOO and SWOG?

Mr. Crispino: Us TOO is education and support. I am well equipped to help in these areas, and I have run the Las Vegas chapter for over 10 years.

SWOG is a fantastic experience. There are only four such networks in the National Cancer Institute (NCI) group called the National Clinical Trials Network (NCTN). Being included in clinical trial design and evaluation is a very unique experience that very few patient representatives in this area of research get to participate in. SWOG has led me to my membership in societies like ASCO, participation in guidelines panels for ASCO, AUA, SUO, ASTRO, and being elected to the Prostate Task Force for the NCI.

Why do you continue reaching out to other men with prostate cancer?

Mr. Crispino: I have a great deal of experience across the board. It is not only helpful to the diagnosed patient but rewarding to be able to help others. Reaching out to the patient community allows me to help the physician community and vice versa. It is very fulfilling.

Do you have any advice for other men with prostate cancer?

Mr. Crispino: Get educated. I tell all those I mentor that educated decisions are always better than emotional decisions or passing the decision on to your oncologist. Shared decision making requires that you have some knowledge before a decision.

Beware of bias, as there is plenty of it in the patient and physician communities. Beware of conflicts of interest, as there is plenty of it in the physician community. Even with good intentions, biases and conflicts of interests are common.

Do you have any advice for men with prostate cancer who’d like to get involved with advocacy but aren’t sure how to go about it?

Mr. Crispino: Just do it! Many of the positions I hold are elected and have term limits. This means that someone has to grab the baton and move the effort forward when I move on. Being a part of effective advocacy requires many things.

Become educated through peer groups and reading, and by that I mean, listen to all experiences and take notes.

Lose or limit your biases. This is easier said than done. We all think that our decisions are the best and can apply to everyone in the same way. Strong bias might help in the physician and patient communities, but it’s not a good trait in research and guidelines panels. It can be harmful in support and education communities.

Define the area in which you think you can be the best advocate. Being an advocate is a broad role. You can lobby and participate in the political side, which I did but I found it wasn’t my niche. You can be a research advocate, a support advocate, a patient-physician liaison, or even an online poster.

Partake in physician-patient group meetings. Whether it’s attending an ASCO, AUA, ASTRO, or coalition meeting, be there. You will see what it’s about and whether it’s for you. This is not always easy as these types of group meetings can require travel. If you cannot do that, you can still be an effective support advocate in various ways. For example, you could advocate online or by attending support groups meetings.

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How You Can Participate in Genomic Research

Dr. Eliezer Van Allen, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, a clinician at Dana-Farber/Partners Cancer Care, and an Associate Member at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, focuses on computational cancer genomics, using new technology in precision medicine, and resistance to targeted prostate cancer therapies.

Prostatepedia spoke with him about how even those of you in remote areas can participate in nationwide genomic research study for men with advanced or metastatic prostate cancer.

What is it about medicine and caring for patients that keeps you interested and engaged?

Dr. Eliezer Van Allen: There are two answers to that question. One, the scientific answer, is that it’s been so remarkable to see how quickly advances that we’ve learned from studying patients with cancer have immediately translated into the clinic and have impacted my patients’ lives. It’s impacted people I don’t know, and that cycle of innovation is becoming quicker. It’s so exciting. It’s a privilege to be part of that from a professional level.

The other answer is more of a humanistic thing. I went into medicine because of my experiences at Camp Kesem, which is a camp for kids whose parents had cancer. It was a life-changing experience to be involved with that and to help drive it from the beginning. Whether or not any individual therapy works for any of my advanced cancer patients, there’s a human element to this job that’s very profound. That is also a privilege, to be involved with that day-to-day, no matter what.

Camp Kesem is still around, right?

Dr. Van Allen: Yes, it’s growing amazingly. There are over 100 camps now around the country, and thousands of families are involved. It’s wonderful.

Have you had any patients who changed either how you view the art of medicine or your own role?

Dr. Van Allen: Absolutely. At some level, every single patient both challenges and reinforces aspects of what it means to be a doctor and deliver care. Each in their own way has changed the way I think about things. There are obviously some stories that stand out and some experiences.

Some of the patients who’ve had the most catastrophic outcomes and succumbed to the disease in rapid form have taught me the most about what it means to live your life to the fullest, whatever that means to you. I have a lot of respect for them.

It’s a special thing to care for people at the particular moment, when they face big life questions.

Dr. Van Allen: About eight or nine years ago, I wrote a piece for the Journal of Clinical Oncology’s Art of Oncology series. It was about this one patient I had as a first-year fellow who had this positive thinking attitude in the wake of the most potentially catastrophic scenarios up until he passed away. It was such a surreal thing. In that case, it was rare, but I think it teaches you a lot about what it means to be human and how hard this disease is.

What is the goal of the Metastatic Prostate Cancer Project?

Dr. Van Allen: The Metastatic Prostate Cancer Project is a patient-driven research project whereby, rather than expecting the patients to come to us to join and participate in advanced research, we bring the project to their doorstep, and we engage with patients in new ways. We give patients an opportunity to share information about themselves and share their tumor specimens for us to do genetic testing. The goal is building the largest genomic registry of prostate cancer that we can learn from, and in so doing, accelerate that discovery to translation cycle even more.

Can you give us some updates on how the project has been going since you launched?

Dr. Van Allen: We launched this project in January 2018 in a patient population that is known not to talk about their disease in any venue, under any circumstances, to anyone. There’s no social media presence for this disease space, or at least on the surface, and frankly, we would’ve been thrilled had ten people signed up. Our sister project, the Metastatic Breast Cancer Project, has a loud and overt presence of women taking selfies with their saliva kits, so we weren’t sure how this was going to work.

We’re a little past a year from launch and over 700 men have engaged in research, given us consent to access their samples, filled out the patient-reported survey, and joined this Count Me In movement. It’s remarkable, but not only have these 700 men signed up, we’re already at the other end of the cycle of this project now, and we’ve generated complete data sets for the initial wave of these men. By complete data set, I mean genetic, clinical, and patient-reported data, and we’ve put that data out to the entire community in the research setting to learn from.

This proves the principle that we mean what we say when we’re generating data for the community. We’re not trying to build a silo here. This is patient-demanded, and therefore patient-driven, from day one. From every aspect across the board, it’s been remarkable and exciting to see how we’ve done so far.

We are 150% absolutely still looking for patients. We’ll always be looking for patients. Anyone who’s interested should feel comfortable to go to MPCProject.org and click Count Me In.

What kinds of patients should join? Anyone with prostate cancer?

Dr. Van Allen: This project is for advanced or metastatic prostate cancer, which means prostate cancer that’s left the gland. That could be folks with local, regional prostate cancer involved in the lymph nodes, folks with biochemical recurrence only (only PSA detected in the blood), and all the way to patients with heavily pretreated, advanced disease that’s spread to bone, liver, or wherever. Anyone in that spectrum is considered advanced or metastatic from our perspective.

The project is basically unending, right?

Dr. Van Allen: That’s the goal, releasing it as fast as we can.

Do you just release the data, or are you also forming collaborations with other institutions or projects?

Dr. Van Allen: We’ll release the data. We’re obviously going to try to learn from it ourselves and use it to come up with perhaps new drug targets, biomarkers, and whatnot, but also we would like to connect with other efforts that are spiritually aligned in any way that’s feasible.

One of the best outcomes would be that some researcher who is in no way affiliated with our project finds our data useful and uses it for their research to inform what they do. We’re already starting to see that happen with our sister projects where there are scientists and labs that we are not affiliated with who are using the data to inform how they think about their research and their projects. All of those outcomes are on the table, and we’re excited to pursue all of them.

Is there anything else you want patients to know about how the project is doing, about further studies you’re doing, or other studies you think people may find interesting?

Dr. Van Allen: This is a patient-driven project. Some of the patients who’ve given us feedback on their experiences so far have also prompted questions that we can ask that we, in our little academic bubble, probably would’ve never thought of. That’s how we’re starting to dive into things that are driven by patient experiences or that we’re observing in the patients who have signed up, down to questions that might seem curious but are illuminating, ones that we hadn’t intended initially.

For example, in the first patient data release, when asked if they had surgery for their prostate, almost half the patients marked: “unknown.” We can compare that to their medical record and sort that out, but it provides a window into something that wasn’t the initial intent of the project. That feedback opened up a lot of interesting questions and opportunities for research that we hadn’t necessarily anticipated up to that point.

Men didn’t know if they’d had prostate cancer surgery or not?

Dr. Van Allen: It may have been the way we asked the question. It may have been that patients were interpreting what they were supposed to answer. We don’t know. The point is that this is not something we initially set out to do, but it is an early example of how patients can guide where the research needs to go.

I just presented this project at the American Urologic Association meeting, and a gentleman came up to me afterwards. He’s had metastatic prostate cancer for four years and a complete response to cancer immunotherapy, and he wanted to know if he was eligible for this project. Not only is he eligible, but he’s an extraordinary case. We want to understand why. This patient is not within 500 miles of an academic medical center, and he would otherwise never be approachable or available to engage in research. We exchanged information, and he’s going to sign up.

Patients may not realize: they have the power to drive this field forward in this unique way. It’s not something that medicine is used to doing. We want to get the message out that this is all starting with patients and their ability to contribute. That will determine how far this goes.

It’s easy for them to participate: go to the website, fill out the forms, and give a blood sample?

Dr. Van Allen: Yes. You don’t even have to do the blood sample if you don’t want to. It’s exactly what you described. Go to the website, click a few buttons. There’s a very simple online consent form. We’ll send you a saliva kit and a blood biopsy kit and take it from there.

Can you still participate even if you’re in a remote area?

Dr. Van Allen: Yes, anywhere in the United States and Canada. For the blood biopsy, we send you a kit, and you bring it to your next lab draw, PSA test, or whatever, and there are instructions in the kit for the phlebotomist. In some cases, phlebotomists have not been willing or able to participate, so we can provide vouchers to patients to do it at a Quest Diagnostics lab or somewhere convenient to them. The intent here is that the patient bears no financial burden in participating.

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