Why Advanced Lung Cancer Patients Should Be More Hopeful Than Ever Before

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Topics include: Treatments

Dr. Maen Hussein, hematologist and oncologist at the Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, met with Tamara Lobban-Jones at the World Conference on Lung Cancer (WCLC) in Denver, Colorado to discuss the advances currently taking place in the world of cancer.  Dr. Hussein notes that changes in treatments are moving away from chemo and focusing more on targeted therapies, and that patients are becoming smarter and more aware, forcing doctors to stay ahead of the learning curve. Listen as Dr. Hussein offers real hope now and for the future.  

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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. 

Tamara Lobban-Jones:

Joining me is Dr. Maen Hussein.  He is a hematologist and medical oncologist at Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute.  Thank you so much for being with me today, Dr. Hussein.  

Dr. Hussein:

Thank you for having me. 

Tamara Lobban-Jones:

Absolutely.  One thing I want you to talk about is some of the trials that are in motion right now pertaining to immunotherapy.  What should patients be vigilant of?  

Dr. Hussein:

So the treatment of cancer definitely has changed now.  We're trying to get away from chemotherapy, which is general and can cause a lot of side effects, and we're trying to focus on targeted therapy.  That's one thing.  And by targeted therapy I mean we look for some mutations in the cancer cells that drive the cancer to keep growing, and then we give medication to block the mutation.  This way we can stop the cancer from growing. 

And the other venue is immune therapy, and that's very exciting because what we're doing now is we're—we learned that cancer can block the immune system and weaken it. So what we're doing is we are enhancing and strengthening the immune system, so it can fight the cancer.  This is an area where you can use in any cancer if we can make the immune system stronger.  We just have to be careful, so we won't make it too strong to even affect its own host or the patient. 

So that's why immune therapy now is becoming more important.  We are learning the mechanisms, how cancer can block it, and we have different molecules or agents that we are studying in many types of cancer, not only lung cancer.  And most of them are showing promising results, and the patients are tolerating those drugs fairly well. 

Tamara Lobban-Jones:

Well, you speak of tolerating, and I know one thing, you know, we always hear of these breakthrough drugs and, you know, patients, it kind of gets on their radar.  Is this for me?  Is this going to be the right treatment for me?  Should patients be reserving that excitement?  

Dr. Hussein:

Get hopeful.  This could be the drug for you.  Patients are becoming smarter.  Do your research, talk to your doctor about it, and if it's something that you can benefit from—you know, doctors are becoming smarter now in knowing when to stop and which patient will benefit from a certain drug.  And if it doesn't work, don't get discouraged because there are others that are on their way that you might benefit from. 

I think the art now is to make sure that we don't, you know, affect the performance status of the patient where we can always try to make them eligible for more and more drugs because one day you might have that drug, that will be the one for you and maybe help you live for years.  

Tamara Lobban-Jones:

Dr. Hussein, you've been doing this a long time.  How are patients different now than, say, 10 years ago? 

Dr. Hussein:

I've been in practice for almost 10 years now, and I can tell you just in those 10 years a lot of things have changed.  Patients are definitely smarter.  With the Internet and social media and all these support groups on social media, they are more aware of what's going on and what advances are happening. 

I'll give you an example.  I have a patient—a patient navigator who called me one day, asked me about an immune therapy.  She said, “Have you ever heard of that drug?”  And I said, “Yeah, we actually have it in clinical trial.  And how did you know about it?”  She said, “Well, one patient called to ask about this drug because she asked her oncologist, and, of course, they didn't know what she was talking about.”

So the patient came and saw me, and we actually put her in the clinical trial.  She was going to hospice, but then she managed to get that drug, and she was in a clinical trial, and she had another year—actually, she's still alive.  That was a year ago. 

So patients are becoming smarter.  They're forcing their oncologists to learn more.  So I think that's a big change I've noticed from the patient perspective.  They're reading about their disease, they're looking around, they're researching the 'net, and then they go to their doctor and they ask. And if the doctor doesn't have the answer, they're going somewhere else to ask, and that helps them live longer. 

And that actually makes the doctor want to learn more, because you don't want to look stupid in front of your patient.  So those doctors are going back and reading and trying to find out what's new out there. 

Tamara Lobban-Jones:

So what it sounds like are smarter patients, smarter doctors. 

Dr. Hussein:

Right.  

Tamara Lobban-Jones:

Pay attention, and, you know, if you're eligible for a clinical trial, talk to your doctor to see if you are eligible.  So what is your hope for the future? 

Dr. Hussein:

So my hope for the future is that one day we will have a test, maybe a blood test or a swab. And then we can study the genetics of the cancer, and we can exactly define which therapy will work best for this cancer and to even predict what side effects a patient may have and have even treatments for those side effects, so the patients can continue to take their therapy. 

The word "cure" might be a big word, because we have thousands of types of cancers.  

Tamara Lobban-Jones:

Right. 

Dr. Hussein: 

But if we can make cancer as a chronic disease where patients can have the cancer and still function, go to work, go to their kids' games, go to the school events, live life for years—I mean, people have diabetes and they still live life. We can't cure it, so why do we have to cure cancer?  Why can't we just live with it and have the expected life expectancy for anybody, you know, for our population here living with cancer. 

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 September 18, 2015