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Conversations With Prostate Cancer Experts


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Dr. John Gore: Why Medicine?

Dr. John Gore is a clinician, surgeon, researcher, and educator specializing in urologic oncology and general urology at the University of Washington.

Prostatepedia spoke with him about how Decipher changes the way doctors treat men with prostate cancer.

Why did you become a doctor?

Dr. John Gore: My initial vision for my life was that I was going to be a lawyer. Then I found that I really enjoyed my experiences while interning at the hospital. That brought about an application to medical school. I think being a doctor offers a chance to have a daily meaningful impact, which is a unique part of the job.

How did you end up working in urology?

Dr. Gore: Urology is a specialty that very few people enter medical school thinking that they want to do. In part, most people are like I was and don’t even know about the specialty. I don’t have any doctors in my family. The only doctor I knew was my own pediatrician. I just assumed I was going to be a pediatrician.

But I really enjoyed surgery. I enjoyed being in the operating room. I just really enjoy the generic construct that someone has a problem and I have the tools to fix it.

Urology is an interesting hybrid. Most surgeries have a homolog in internal medicine. For example, there’s cardiothoracic surgery and cardiology. There’s colorectal surgery and gastroenterology. We don’t really have that in urology. We do a lot of chronic disease management. We do a lot of long-term follow-up of our own patients. It is, in many ways, a hybrid of internal medicine and surgery, which is really cool.

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Dr. Eric Klein: Why Medicine?

Eric A. Klein, MD, is an international leader in the biology and management of prostate cancer. Dr. Klein serves as Chairman of the Glickman Urological & Kidney Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.

Prostatepedia spoke with him about why he became a doctor.

Why did you become a doctor?

Dr. Klein: I don’t really know. I never remember wanting to do anything else.

Even when you were a little kid?

Dr. Klein: When I was in first grade, I missed a month of school because I had what they thought was rheumatic fever. My pediatrician came to see me a couple times a week. That doesn’t happen so much now.

No. It doesn’t.

Dr. Klein: I suspect that’s had some influence because my parents really respected him. But I can’t articulate it for you. I never wanted to do anything else. It was not an intellectual decision. It’s just what I wanted to do. I was born wanting to be a doctor.

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Genetic Testing + Counseling

Ms. Merel Nissenberg is the President of the National Alliance of State Prostate Cancer Coalitions, a nation-wide organization comprised of state prostate cancer coalitions dedicated to saving men’s lives and enhancing the quality of life of prostate cancer patients and their families through awareness, education, and the development of a public policy network.

She talks to Prostatepedia about guidelines for genetic testing in men with prostate cancer.

Much has been written or suggested about the genetic component of some prostate cancers. For example, a family history of prostate cancer can increase a man’s risk of such a diagnosis. There have also been articles about the genetic component of certain breast cancers: BRCA1 and BRCA2 have historically been strongly implicated in the familial pathway for that diagnosis. What is more recent is the now more-firmly established connection between certain mutations like BRCA1 and BRCA2 and prostate cancer. However, guidelines for genetic testing in men with prostate cancer have been limited.

Recently, the Journal of Clinical Oncology published a special article entitled “Role of Genetic Testing for Inherited Prostate Cancer Risk: Philadelphia Prostate Cancer Consensus Conference 2017” following the Prostate Cancer Consensus Conference held in Philadelphia on March 3-4, 2017. Members of the panel strongly agreed that men should engage in shared or informed decision-making on the issue of genetic testing.

Panel members emphasized the strength of the inherited predisposition of prostate cancer, noting higher risks with BRCA1, BRCA2, and HOXB13 genes. The panel noted that prostate cancer patients with BRCA2 mutations have poor prostate cancer-specific outcomes. We now consider the link between prostate cancer and DNA mismatch repair (MMR) gene mutations to be stronger than we suspected, adding a specific opportunity for treatment. In fact, up to 12% of men with metastatic prostate cancer have inherited genetic mutations, mostly with BRCA1, BRCA2, and ATM. And targeted agents for these specific mutations confer better outcomes for these patients.

The panel concluded that: “Identifying genetic mutations of inherited prostate cancer… has implications for cancer risk assessment for men and their families, for precision treatment of metastatic disease, and is being incorporated into guidelines for individualizing prostate cancer screening strategies specifically for male BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers.”

Unfortunately there are no generally accepted standard guidelines for genetic counseling and genetic testing in prostate cancer, or standards on how to fully interpret results of current panels with multiple gene testing. The information discovered through genetic testing not only informs treatment for the prostate cancer patient himself, but is also an aid to other members of his family, including women who may have a genetic disposition for developing breast cancer. As for the patient, not only does the information potentially help guide prostate cancer treatment, but it also makes both him and his clinician aware of the potential for additional cancers.

The results of the Philadelphia Prostate Cancer Consensus Conference can be read in detail in the Journal of Clinical Oncology 36, no. 4 (February 2018), 414-424. Their considerations included the following:

  • which men should undergo genetic testing for prostate cancer;
  • which genes should be tested based upon clinical or family scenarios;
  • how the testing results should be used to inform screening for prostate cancer; and
  • how results should be used to inform treatment of early stage (localized), advanced stage (high-risk), and metastatic prostate cancer. Genetic testing done thoroughly and properly can help guide screening and treatment decisions.

The National Alliance of State Prostate Cancer Coalitions strongly endorses the use of genetic testing and genetic counseling for prostate cancer, and urges clinicians to read, consider, and follow the scientifically sound suggestions of the 2017 Philadelphia Prostate Cancer Consensus Statement on the Role of Inherited Prostate Cancer Risk. NASPCC will be presenting a Webinar on Genetic Testing and Genetic Counseling in Prostate Cancer on May 9, 2018. It is supported by Myriad Genetics. (Visit https://naspcc.org/index.php/may-9-2018-naspccwebinar to register.)


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Patients Help Shape Prostate Cancer Genomics Study

Joel Nowak is a prostate cancer patient and well-known prostate cancer activist.

Prostatepedia spoke with him about his involvement with the Metastatic Prostate Cancer Project.

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What is the Metastatic Prostate Cancer Project?

Mr. Nowak: This is a joint project between the Broad Institute and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. But what is really more important to me is the researchers who are involved: Dr. Corrie Painter and Dr. Eliezer Van Allen are really committed to what they’re doing. They’ve modeled this project off of a metastatic breast cancer project that they also started.

One of the researchers is a cancer survivor, so they understand what it means to have cancer. Their understanding motivates what they’re doing. They’re carrying it forward; they’re not just doing it because they have a grant.

How did you come onboard with the Metastatic Prostate Cancer Project?

Mr. Nowak: My friend Jack Whelan, who I’d worked with at the American Association of Cancer Research Scientist↔Survivor Program, had a very rare blood cancer. Then one day he surprised me by saying he’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer. I thought he was joking at first.

Unfortunately, his cancer progressed really quickly, probably related to all the treatments he had for his blood cancer. The project staff brought me, Jack, and Jan Manarite in to work on the project. They asked me to look at their materials and give a patient’s perspective. They wanted to know if I found value in the project

They asked me to give them specific feedback and suggestions for improvement. Jack, Jan, and I have also brought in two others. Dr. Van Allen’s team has taken all of our suggestions and made the changes.

They also asked us to spread the word, let people know about it, reach out within the prostate cancer community, and help recruit.

What is it about the project that makes it patient-friendly?

Mr. Nowak: The project is patient friendly because once someone consents and says, “Count me in,” the project team does all the work. They send out a package, which we advocates helped redesign, and you just contribute your spit. Then you bring your sample back to the post office or FedEx; it’s all prepaid. Spit it and ship it. That’s the effort.

We also send out blood vials that are also prepaid. Theoretically, you can walk into a lab and they’ll draw your blood for free. Or you can bring the vials to your next doctor’s appointment. You don’t even have to make a special appointment; just ask them to draw an extra tube.

It’s easy.

Mr. Nowak: Yes. It’s easy, and it’s all prepackaged. Either you or the phlebotomist can just put it into the prepaid package and send it off. You don’t have to do much.

Part of the consenting process is the release of the medical records. The project does the sequencing of the blood and saliva, and if applicable, we ask for tissue. There’s not a lot of tissue in prostate cancer, generally, so that was one of the issues I brought up. I wanted to ensure that no one’s tissue is used up and withheld from them for the purposes of this research, because you never know when we’ll need your own tissue for treatment decisions. We advocates said this was a big issue, so the project will only use a small piece and return it. You need to get it back: you just never know when you’ll need it yourself.

You need to look out for yourself.

Mr. Nowak: Yes. It’s appropriate to be selfish in this particular situation. The only thing you have to do as a patient is read the consent, discuss it with the appropriate people at the project, sign the paperwork, spit, and bleed. That’s all we have to do. Everything else is handled by the project. You don’t even know it’s happening; it’s all behind the scenes.

This is a research project, not a clinical trial, but even with clinical trials everything gets de-identified. That means that your personal information is safe, but you also get no follow-up information. As a patient advocate, I asked what they could do to give some feedback to patients. They were very open to having this conversation, but they are sensitive about overpromising anything. We don’t want to mislead anyone.

If we start seeing trends in the data, we will give some feedback. We can’t tell individuals that they have gene mutations or not, for example, because their sample was de-identified. But if, hypothetically, we see samples from 300 people with a combination of at least three gene mutations and that 285 people with a particular mutational sequence respond to Xtandi (enzalutamide) but not to Zytiga (abiraterone), then we will give feedback.

But this is exciting. When we start seeing trends or possible trends, the project will release information to people who participate. There will be aggregate data feedback. We’ll be able to publish relationships. It doesn’t of course stop me as a patient from going to my doctor and getting sequenced. Probably all of us should be sequenced anyway.

The patient can follow up as he chooses…

Mr. Nowak: Exactly. Then they could say, “I’ve been sequenced, and I have this mutation.” That is just an additional talking point with your doctor from the aggregate data. I’m excited about that. That’s going to give some people another thing to consider when deciding between treatments.

Why should men participate? Did you participate?

Mr. Nowak: I did. Jack and I fought over who would be Patient 1. I had respect for Jack, so I told him he could be Patient 0, and I’d be Patient 1. Technically, I’m Patient 2. Men should participate for a number of reasons. First of all, we have to think about the next generation. My prostate cancer is genetically linked. My father had it. His brother died from it, and his only child, who’s older than I, who had been treated. My grandfather had prostate and breast cancers, and my great-grandfather died of prostate problems. Many of us have or are going to have kids, so we should make it a little better for them if we can.

I spend a lot of time working with people and helping them figure out how to have a conversation with their doctor about treatment. Anything that can give us more information and more points of conversation is important. Aggregate data might help us have better conversations that may help make better decisions going forward.

This is one of those rare research projects where I could possibly benefit directly. As I start going through treatment protocols and so forth, I have no idea where they may find something that works better for me. It’s just going to guide my decision-making. Maybe it’ll extend my life because I made a better decision thanks to the project.

We also need to understand cancer more generally in terms of genetics and its microenvironments. We need to understand cancer not only as separate diseases. Prostate cancer only describes the organ from which the cancer originates. It doesn’t really describe my disease or another’s. We need to drill down and understand the type of prostate cancer that one has and how it relates to cancer generally. That is going to guide us in making better decisions.

This type of research is invaluable. There are no risks. There is nothing invasive. The more we understand, the better future research will be, whether for specific treatments or a better understanding of biomarkers, which we have a terrible dearth of knowledge about. To me, it’s a no-brainer for us who are going to benefit at no cost.

I hope men sign up.

Mr. Nowak: Yes. That’s our goal. Now that we have IRB (Internal Review Board) approval, our next step is to get men signed up.

To participate visit https://mpcproject.org/home

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The Making of A Cancer Activist

Joel Nowak is a prostate cancer patient and well-known cancer activist.

Tell us about your own prostate cancer journey and how you came to cancer activism.

Mr. Joel Nowak: Part of my journey to being an advocate pertains not only to having prostate cancer and recurrence but also to the fact that I had multiple primary cancers. I currently have five different primary cancer diagnoses.

I was treated initially for prostate cancer at the end of 2001. I had a Gleason 3 + 4 with a PSA of only 4. I had surgery. I went back in five years and my PSA went crazy, up into the 80s.

At that point, it was a recurrence. We did a bunch of scans. We identified a couple of lymph nodes in the prostate bed, as well as a very significant and large tumor in my kidney. At that moment, the assumption was that I had a prostate cancer tumor in the kidney and that the kidney had stopped functioning and was basically dead. I had a nephrectomy, which is the removal of the kidney. We found out that it was a different diagnosis: clear cell renal cancer.

Looking back, I see that prostate cancer recurrence saved my life because that’s how I found out that I had renal cancer. If it weren’t for my prostate cancer recurring, I would not be here today.

I was in my early 50s, so I was fairly young at the time. I knew I was metastatic with prostate cancer and had been diagnosed with another primary cancer. Knowing that I was metastatic weighed very heavily on me. There was no way to use that C-word—cure—which I don’t like to use. I looked desperately for people in a similar situation. I refer to it as looking like me, but I don’t mean physically. I mean people in their 50s, with a kid in high school, a kid in college, and metastatic prostate cancer that was incurable and possibly terminal.

I found myself becoming angrier and angrier.

Not only did I have metastatic cancer, but also I felt very alone in the sense that I couldn’t find anybody in a similar situation. I went from one cancer support group to another. Though I lived in metropolitan New York where there are options, I still could never find anybody I could relate to directly, someone with a similar experience. I found plenty of older men who were worried about whether or not they would make it to their grandchild’s wedding and things like that, but for me, that had no relevance. I became more isolated, lonelier, and angry.

One night, I was inappropriate with the group leader of one support group. I was overly aggressive and blamed that person for what I perceived as my situation. Instead of reacting to my aggression, the person just sat back in their chair, looked at me, and said, “Why don’t you do something about it?” I went home and discussed it with my wife who tried to stabilize me. “Why don’t you,” she said. I got angrier at first and just stewed for a while.

It has been 10 years, but when I went to bed that night I thought I was going to die within a few years. It’s common for many men with recurrence or metastatic cancer to wonder if they’re going to die in a year or two. I felt terrible and angry. I’m not really an angry person, but I had become a very hostile person.

When I woke up the next morning, I decided that I didn’t want to live my life feeling that way. I was going to find a way to let go of that anger and do something about it. That’s how I got involved with activism.

You decided to channel all the fear, anger, and anxiety into something positive.

Mr. Nowak: Yes. I think that’s what it was. I’m not saying that I still don’t have moments; I do. And since then, I’ve had two additional primary cancer diagnoses. One of them was a rare cancer. But the prostate cancer was the only one that caused that kind of emotional response, probably because that is the only one, so far, that is metastatic.

I spend a lot of time with prostate cancer, but I also work with other cancers—metastatic, advanced, and progressed prostate cancer.

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Join A Prostate Cancer Imaging Clinical Trial

Dr. Peter Choyke, Director of the Molecular Imaging Program at the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute, is keenly interested in translating molecular imaging methods like MRI and PET into practice.

Prostatepedia spoke with him about his clinical trial on 18F-DCFPyL PET/CT imaging in high-risk prostate cancer.

Why did you become a doctor?

Dr. Peter Choyke: I was always interested in science. I came from a family of scientists. It just seemed that medical problems were the kind of problems that I needed to do work on. A lot of the problems in physics and chemistry had been solved, but in biology and medicine we really needed a lot more effort. I wanted to devote my life to that.

Can you explain the thinking behind your clinical trial on 18F-DCFPyL PET/CT imaging in high-risk prostate cancer?

Dr. Choyke: Prostate cancer imaging has been very limited. We’ve only had access to CT and bone scans, both of which had limited sensitivity for picking up prostate cancer. In the beginning of the 2000s, a number of new PET agents—or Positronemission tomography labeled agents—emerged. We started looking at them as they became available. They showed better and better sensitivity and specificity.

About three or four years ago, we accessed a first generation PSMA-targeted PET agent named F-18 DCFBC in collaboration with the person who invented this whole field, Dr. Martin Pomper at Johns Hopkins University.

We formed a collaboration and scanned 135 patients in an earlier protocol. We showed that even though this was a first generation PSMA agent, it was really promising and had much better sensitivity and specificity for prostate cancer than any other agent we had ever looked at.

Then Dr. Pomper, who is partly an imaging specialist and partly a chemist, further developed the compound into F-18 DCFPYL. This is the agent we’re now using in this trial.

F-18 DCFPYL has probably 10 times better sensitivity than the first-generation agent because of the higher affinity of the agent for PSMA and because of lower background. We started using that in the end of the summer of 2017 in a trial looking at high-risk primary cancer and recurrent disease.

If a man enrolls in this trial, what can he expect to happen from beginning to end?

Dr. Choyke: First of all, it’s important to talk about who qualifies for the trial. We have two arms.

In one arm, we’ll have men with high risk cancers, meaning they’re at high risk for metastatic disease or spread outside the prostate. Such men would come to our center and get the scan. They’d also get an MRI of their prostate, because we always correlate the findings of the DCFPyL scan with MRI to anatomically locate where the uptake is occurring. The anatomy is very complex in the low pelvis.

With the MRI in hand, the patient would get an injection of a small amount of radioactivity in the form of this F-18 DCFPyL. About an hour later, they go onto the scanner and simply lie flat for about 20 to 30 minutes until the entire body is scanned from head to toe. Then we’ll report the findings back to his physician.

Part of the reason why this is a research study is that we try very hard to correlate the findings that we see with biopsy specimens. This is still a research agent. We don’t know for sure that the areas of uptake are actually cancer. We can only confirm that with biopsy. We insist that patients undergo biopsy of PSMA-positive lesions as seen on the scan.

We say insist, though of course it may not be medically safe for some people to undergo a biopsy. It may not be feasible. There are exceptions. It’s not an absolute rule. We certainly want to get as much histologic correlation as possible. Otherwise, we could end up in a situation where we think we’re seeing disease, but we are in fact not. That would be very misleading and could possibly cause more harm than good. It’s very important at this stage of development to get as much information as possible.

In the second arm of this trial, we are scanning patients who have already undergone radical prostatectomy or radiation therapy and who now have a rising PSA, which indicates recurrent disease. We would do the scan in the same way as in the first arm with correlation of the MRI. Again, we’re trying to get as much histologic confirmation as possible.

Join us to read the rest of Dr. Choyke’s comments about his clinical trial.

 

 


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Salvage Radical Prostatectomy

Dr. James Eastham, Chief of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Urology Service, is a surgeon who specializes in nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy and salvage radical prostatectomy.

Prostatepedia spoke with him recently about surgical options when cancer comes back after initial treatment.

Can you define salvage radical prostatectomy for us?

Dr. Eastham: A salvage procedure just means something failed beforehand: a salvage radical prostatectomy is surgery done on a prostate that has been treated with something else. That something else can be radiation. It can be prior high-intensity focused ultrasound, meaning the patient had a heat application to the prostate to try to treat prostate cancer. The something else can be cryotherapy that was unsuccessful. But basically, salvage surgery means surgery after a failed non prostate-removing technique.

In what scenario would a man encounter salvage surgery: after a couple of high PSA readings? After another biopsy? After an imaging study?

Dr. Eastham: Most of the salvage surgeries that are done are still done for patients who fail radiation therapy.

A patient underwent radiation therapy for prostate cancer. They’re followed, and then their PSA blood test starts to go up. Typically, as part of the evaluation for a rising PSA after failed radiation therapy, the patient will undergo imaging studies.

There are different imaging studies that we can do to check if there is any evidence of cancer beyond the prostate. If all of those studies are negative, then the patient will typically have a biopsy of his prostate. If that biopsy shows persistent prostate cancer, the patient is at least a candidate for additional local therapy, meaning therapy directed at the prostate. All of these therapies are called salvage. Surgery to remove the prostate is a salvage prostatectomy. Some patients may have cryotherapy. That’s salvage cryotherapy. Patients can have radiation after failed radiation. That would be salvage radiation therapy. There are a variety of options.

Is any of this controversial? Or are there any men in whom this kind of approach might be controversial?

Dr. Eastham: The patient should have a cancer that was potentially curable with local therapy at the time of the original diagnosis. The cancer at the time of treatment failure must still be potentially curable with local therapy.

There are some patients who, at the time of their original diagnosis of prostate cancer, had a big, bulky cancer that was treated with radiation therapy and subsequently failed this treatment. These patients really aren’t appropriate for salvage radical prostatectomy because they were never surgically curable.

To be a good candidate for salvage local therapy, including salvage prostatectomy, the patient would have to have been diagnosed with clinically localized, non-metastatic cancer, have undergone a treatment that didn’t work, and after initial treatment failure, still have a clinically localized, non-metastatic cancer amenable to local therapy.

As our imaging techniques become more and more refined, are we identifying these recurrences earlier? Does that have any kind of impact on who gets a salvage prostatectomy or not?

Dr. Eastham: Most of the follow up is still done with PSA, so routine imaging is typically not done after prostate cancer treatment. Most of the treatments are still based on waiting for a PSA to rise. A rising PSA typically leads to other testing. This other testing has become more sensitive in picking up patients with low-volume metastatic disease. That is where the imaging matters.

If someone already has metastasis, as shown by whatever imaging study, it’s unlikely that salvage radical prostatectomy is going to provide them with any particular benefit because this is a big surgery and has potential risks. That is where the imaging comes into consideration. Imaging looks for metastatic disease and basically excludes patients who won’t benefit.

Is salvage radical prostatectomy a trickier procedure than an initial prostatectomy?

Dr. Eastham: Absolutely. Any prior treatment to the prostate results in the development of scar tissue.

After radiation therapy, high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), or cryotherapy, scar tissue develops. The prostate fuses to organs from which it would typically be easily separated.

The primary concern is the rectum; injury to the rectum is a potentially devastating complication of salvage radical prostatectomy. All of the tissues tend to not heal as well because the scar tissue has an impaired blood supply. There is slower healing. The anastomosis, where we sew the bladder and the urinary tube back together, also tends to heal more slowly. This can lead to a higher risk of urinary leakage, or anastomotic leak. There are higher risks of strictures, or bladder neck contractures, which is scar tissue that develops where the bladder and urinary tube are sewn back together. When that happens, the man just basically can’t urinate. There is much higher risk of incontinence.

Again, the radiation therapy results in scar tissue, so things just don’t heal as well as they should. On top of that, it’s very difficult, even in those men who still have erectile function after radiation therapy, to preserve erectile function in men undergoing some type of salvage surgery. It’s just a far more difficult operation for the surgeon. But from the patient’s perspective, there is a much higher risk involved in terms of side effects and negative consequences.

Is it in a man’s best interest to find a surgeon who has done a lot of these salvage procedures?

Dr. Eastham: Yes. This is not something that is typically undertaken by someone who doesn’t have much experience in terms of doing traditional radical prostatectomy. The surgeon needs a bit of experience and has hopefully been trained in dealing with post-radiation tissue changes.

Do you have any other advice for a man facing salvage radical prostatectomy?

Dr. Eastham: The issue is always: how curable is his cancer. The tendency after radiation therapy is to watch patients’ PSAs rise for much longer than is clinically beneficial. The traditional definition of failure is the lowest PSA the man achieves plus two; this is called the Phoenix definition. Waiting for the PSA to rise two whole points just gives the cancer a chance to grow. But the earlier one treats prostate cancer, the better.

Waiting until the PSA is nadir plus two is too long for the patient to still be an optimal candidate for salvage treatment. The earlier the better. A man with a rising PSA after radiation, even if his PSA hasn’t yet reached nadir plus two, should be considered for imaging studies and potentially a biopsy.

Not a member? Join us to read the rest of this month’s conversations about cancer recurrence.

Members can read all of this month’s conversations in their March issue of Prostatepedia.