Improving Clinical and Emotional Outcomes in Patients With Blood Cancers


CURE spoke with the chief medical officer of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to hear what she thinks are important next steps in improving patient outcomes.

Recent years have brought exciting treatment advances for patients with blood cancers. However, there is still more that needs to be done, both on the clinical and emotional side, to ensure that these patients are living longer and happier lives.

At the 2018 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting, CURE sat down with Gwen Nichols, M.D., chief medical officer of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), to hear what more can be done to continually improve outcomes in this patient population.

We've made a lot of headway in treating blood cancers in the last few years. What still needs to be done, and what kind of steps do we need to take to get there?

There are a couple of things. I think as we are beginning to subdivide almost all of the blood cancers into smaller and smaller subgroups, there's a lot of work to be done to understand how different subgroups respond to therapy. It's great for patients because it means you won't all get the standard treatment that works for some, but not for others.

But it means we have to do smaller studies and better clinical studies to answer those questions, so we need a lot more patients to be involved in clinical research, or we won't answer those questions. That's one of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's really big pushes is to try to help patients find clinical trials and understand the reasons why they might or might not want to become involved in a clinical trial.

While medical advances are improving clinical outcomes, there is still emotional burden that comes with a blood cancer diagnosis. How can patients handle that?

One of the most important things, and one that troubled me most when I was treating patients in the hospital, was how many patients were there by themselves. I think a lot of people wanted to keep their diagnosis private, and sometimes put blinders on about the disease, hoping that the doctor will take care of everything.

Everyone needs an advocate. That can be a friend, it can be a relative, it can be a neighbor, or it can be someone who we hook you up with at LLS. But everyone needs at least one other person who helps them because the shock and overwhelmed feeling that patients have when they get a cancer diagnosis can keep them from hearing the things that they need to hear to help themselves get better.

Having another person in the room really can make sure that you're hearing what the doctor and nurse is saying. And if you're afraid to ask the question or you're so overwhelmed or depressed, your helper can do that. I have to be honest, a lot of doctors are under (a great deal) of time pressure, and don't always spend the amount of time (we need to in order to explain), and we (doctors) all use a lot of jargon. If you have someone else who is willing to say, "Hey, wait a minute, what does that mean?" that can really help immensely. And we can help patients find someone if they feel alone. That's the most important thing: You should never go through a cancer diagnosis or treatment by yourself.

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