Taking Charge of Your Health: Advice From a Hematologist

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Topics include: Treatment and Understanding

Continuing with our coverage of the 2015 American Society of Hematology (ASH) meeting, Dr. Robert Hromas, hematologist at the University of Florida College of Medicine, discusses the enormously exciting advances in blood cancers.  He shares feedback on how patients can access the latest information on their condition and other important advice. Listen as Dr. Hromas offers specific questions that patients could and should be asking their oncologists and hematologists. 

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Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Carol Preston:

Hello everyone and welcome.  I'm Carol Preston.  I'm at ASH, the American Society of Hematology, the largest blood cancer meeting in the world and a very exciting time to be here.  Dr. Rob Hromas from Florida is with us.  And will you identify yourself, please?  

Dr. Hromas:

Yes.  Thank you for having me.  My name is Rob Hromas.  I'm Chair of Internal Medicine at the University of Florida College of Medicine, which is just up the road here from Orlando. 

Carol Preston:

Oh, nice for you.  You can commute to the meeting.  We just attended a press conference.  You just moderated a news conference, several of the blood cancer diseases.  Rather than speaking specifically about each one, I mean, the excitement was palpable as to what we're hearing.  Last year at ASH for CLL with several drugs approved, this year with multiple myeloma in the last couple of weeks.  Talk to me about that excitement.  

Dr. Hromas:

It's an enormously exciting time.  Out of over 4,000 abstracts, we chose seven to present at this media session that I just moderated that you were at, and they were—each of them in advance in AML, ALL, CLL, multiple myeloma, it's a very exciting time. 

What's interesting to me, though, is that these advances are to specific genetic molecular defects in each of those cancers.  The drugs are not necessarily—some of the drugs are good for everyone in that cancer, but some of those drugs were targeted to the molecular defect in the cancer.  So if you have a patient that has CLL or AML, ask your doctor, What are my molecular defects, and—because there are drugs coming down the pipeline specifically for molecular defects in many types of blood cancers. 

And then the other really exciting thing is our years and years of investment in medical research by the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute is paying off, because we've identified all of these molecular defects. And now we have great drugs that target those molecular defects in the specific patients that have those specific mutations, and they're very effective.  

Carol Preston:

You and I discussed that many patients are not able to go to a major research center, but they're seeing their oncologist in their community, local oncologist, sometimes a hematologist.  What do patients need to do to get this information? Because not every oncologist is up to speed second by second on all of the advances, which are breathtaking? 

Dr. Hromas:

So the patient should take charge of their own health, and they should ask their oncologist, “Doctor, do I have the 17p deletion in my chronic leukemia cells?  How many cells is that 17p deletion present in?”  They should ask their oncologist, “Do I have the FLT3 mutation in my acute myeloleukemia?  And if so, have you considered this new drug that's out for the acute myeloleukemia?”

Patients are empowered to ask those questions, and community oncologists everywhere only want to help patients. And they would be thrilled to have patients take part in their own healthcare, and so I think patients have feel free to ask those questions of any oncologist they see.  

Carol Preston:

Do you like it when your patients ask you those questions? 

Dr. Hromas:

Absolutely.  And if I can't—don't have a good answer, I say, I don't have a good answer, and I'll go find out.  I've had patients bring in research papers to me and say, “Doc Hromas, what about this, and I haven't even seen the research paper, so I appreciate the help.” 

In addition, I need to tell you a quick two?sentence story on how important this is in multiple myeloma.  There was a wife of a patient who came to Dr. Bart Barlogie at the University of Arkansas more than 20 years ago.  Dr. Barlogie is one of my former professors, and she said, Dr. Barlogie, in rats this drug called thalidomide was effective in treating myeloma.  My husband has myeloma.  Would you try this drug, which is used for leprosy in my husband with myeloma? 

Dr. Barlogie, did, and the rest is history.  We had thalidomide, lenalidomide (Revlimid), pomalidomide (Pomalyst), and it's a remarkably effective drug because a patient, family member came to their loved one's oncologist and said, “Hey, do you know about this?”  And the oncologist was humble enough to be able to say, “No, let's try it.”

And now, of course, today it's different with clinical trials and compliance and regulations.  It would be a little bit more difficult to try today, but the point is that one patient made a difference for thousands of myeloma patients all over the world, and I would challenge your patients to do the same.  

Carol Preston:

All right.  So you heard it here.  Our Patient Power audience, you want to make sure that you ask the questions.  Don't be shy about doing it because if you don't ask the questions nobody else will. 

I'm Carol Preston reporting for ASH.  Thanks for watching. 

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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Page last updated on February 3, 2016