ASH 2013: Dr. Claire Dearden Discusses CLL Treatment in the Elderly
At ASH 2013, Dr. Dearden and I reviewed the new studies on the treatment of the most common group in CLL but the most underrepresented in clinical research, namely the elderly patients.
At ASH 2013, several papers made significant progress addressing this gap and that is what we discussed.
We can hear echoes of my discussions with Dr. Jeff Sharman in a recent post on the trial of idelalisib with and without rituximab. In that interview, we focused on the ethics of that placebo controlled trial.
We may also recall that Dr. Jennifer Brown and I discussed in another ASH 2013 post the very exciting trial of chlorambucil alone, with rituximab or with obinutuzumab that Dr. Dearden mentioned.
There was also important information of relevance for this population group in the long awaited study comparing FCR versus BR. For another thoughtful discussion on this, check out Dr. Jeff Sharman's excellent blog post. Here is a link to the actual study data presented at ASH. In the over 65 group, there was no progression free survival (PFS) advantage for FCR over BR despite the former's greater toxicity, especially in this age group. This is news we can use.
But before we get started in deconstructing the data, one of the first issues we must address is exactly how to define old. Turns out there is much research on looking at the biological versus chronological age. The CIRS scale is commonly used to look at co-morbidities, but as Tait Shanafelt out of Mayo Clinic pointed out in his important educational paper at ASH on this topic, we need to look at quality of life, life expectancy (approximately 20 years for those us 65 years old), and frailty. It's not just calendar years.
This is the biggest reason I push for a healthy lifestyle. It is not that a plant based diet and regular exercise will cure our cancer, but we are sure to do better if we have fewer co-morbidities, and living healthy helps with that. We don't need to add diabetes or renal disease or heart trouble to our list of woes that come pre-packaged with CLL. More problems unrelated to CLL lead to more problems related to the CLL.
Here is the interview with Dr. Dearden.
The news is good. Options are improving. I am not thrilled with chlorambucil as the backbone of the therapy, an admittedly gentler but still old school alkylating agent in the same class as bendamustine or cyclophosphamide (cytoxan or the C in FCR) or mustard gas. Just because it's a pill, doesn't mean that it's safe. Moreover, I am sure that the heavy lifting in this trial was done by the immunotherapy agents, rituximab and especially obinutuzumab. But chlorambucil is cheap (as little as $1.50 a day for the lowest dose) and easy to take. It is very popular in Europe and was a favorite of the late great Dr. Hamblin.
One more point.
As we hear from the end of our discussion, the choices are complex and nuanced. As I have said before and as has been proven in a study out of Mayo, we do better with a CLL expert as part of our team guiding us through our therapeutic decisions.
Finally, Dr. Dearden reminds us of the many unanswered questions and that's why we need more research.
I have been traveling and meeting with fellow CLL friends, but I am back and trying to catch up on a backlog of videos and personal stories and adventures to share.
Stay tuned. Posting should be more frequent over the next month.