Thursday, August 2, 2012

It's Always Something: Secondary Cancer Risk with CLL and CT scans

CLL is bad enough, but about half of us will get a secondary cancer and when we get them our overall survival is inferior. Skin cancers occur to more than one in three and a whopping 16.5% of us must deal with a melanoma.

Here is the gut of an abstract from ASCO this year:

546 CLL patients were included in the study. Median age was 62.5 years. 84 (43%) were Stage 0 and 62 (32%) were Stage 1 RAI at diagnosis indicating earlier disease. 266 (49%) patients had a second or secondary malignancy. A total of 304 cancers were identified. 14% of patients had more than one malignancy. Melanoma was identified in 44 (16.5%) patients and non-melanoma skin cancer was identified in 54 (20%). Lung cancer was identified as the most frequent solid tumor malignancy with 36 (13.5%) cases, followed by prostate (35), breast (21), colorectal (15), and bladder (14). 10 patients had a Richter’s transformation of their CLL. 26 patients developed either myelodysplastic syndrome or acute myelogenous leukemia. Conclusions: Second malignancies are frequent in CLL patients. Immunosupression, increased UV light exposure, longer life expectancy in low risk CLL, and tertiary cancer center referral bias are likely reasons for these increased rates.

And here's the conclusion of the one on how aggressive those secondary cancers can be:

Conclusions: Several common cancers, including breast, colon, and lung, have inferior overall and cancer-specific survival when there is coexistent CLL. 

And our risk is high even when compared to other B-cell cancers such as follicular lymphoma (FL)

Here's part of a Canadian abstract:

CLL patients had a 1.8-fold higher relative risk of a 2nd cancer (95% CI 1.29-2.41) compared to FL patients. SIR (Standardized Incidence Ratiowas 1.9 when non-melanoma skin cancers were excluded. Patients with FL had a similar incidence of second malignancies, as did patients with other invasive cancers. The most common second cancer among CLL patients was non-melanoma skin cancer, followed by cancers of the digestive organs, prostate, breast and lung. Malignancy was the leading cause of death in CLL patients. In patients with a 2nd cancer, cancers of the digestive organs, lung and brain were the most common causes of death. However, in patients without a 2nd cancer, CLL was the primary cause of death. After cancer, cardiovascular complications and infections were the most common causes of death in CLL patients.


We demonstrated that CLL patients have a significantly increased risk of developing a 2nd cancer compared to FL patients, and this increase was similar in both genders and in all age groups. Thus, the poor relative survival of older men with CLL cannot be explained by an increased incidence of 2nd cancersThe increased incidence of malignancy in CLL may be related to the immune suppression in this disease or to an inherited predisposition to cancer.  

Five dear friends have had their CLL complicated by a secondary cancer is the last few months, two lung cancers, one breast, one prostrate, and one possibly renal.  Two are in ibrutinib trials and one is post transplant. Andrew Schorr, a well respected CLL patient and reporter has shared that he has developed MDS. I lost a friend a few years back to AML. And there are so many more.

Secondary cancers usually quickly vault into being the primary concern often demanding urgent therapy as the Canadian article notes. They are, after all, the leading cause of death in CLL.

I don't share this to depress you. I tell you because we are immune suppressed, many of us are on treatments that further compromise the ability of our immune systems to search and destroy potential and early cancers. A few of us must get EPO and other "growth" factors that might accelerate cancer growth. There is one possible positive. We often get more testing (see below re CT scans) that may facilitate finding new cancers sooner and more often.

And remember: we got CLL in the first place, which suggests at least a predisposition to one cancer. Maybe more?

So get your check-ups. See the dermatologist at least annually. Get our annoying choice of gender and age specific cancer screening tests: PAPs, mammos, PSAs, colonoscopies. We are not at normal risk. We are not the people at whom the recent relaxed recommendations for PSA screening were directed. We need to be more vigilant.

Next lab draw I get a PSA and I have a derm appointment scheduled. Colon is fine, thank you. It better be with all the fibrous veggies that I eat.

My news today from my ibrutinib/ofatumumab trial at OSU?  

Palpable nodes are slowly but surely getting smaller. Blood chemistries are completely normal including liver and kidney function and uric acid and LDH. ALC (absolute lymphocyte count) is down to a very normal 2.3, eosinophils are back to normal, platelets are just fine for someone with a history of ITP and single digit counts in the past at  a lofty 348,000, Hgb is almost normal at 13.0, reversing its prior slow downward drift. All good, very good.

So after four plus hours of my ofatumumab infusion, I will be leaving with my three bottles of ibrutinib. YEAH!

The trial protocol may be changing. Nothing is certain until there are written changes to the protocol approved by the independent IRB (Institutional Review Board) that is set up to safe guard us "subjects" from unethical or dangerous therapies.  

First the good news: After next month's and my last ofatumumab infusion, I probably only need to be here every 60 days. That makes perfect sense. 

Now the bad news which unfortunately is pertinent to today's topic of new cancers. I may no longer be able to opt out of the excessive CTs scan, every 60 - 90 days. Why do we need such frequent exposure to a proven cancer promoting procedure that is of questionable value in patients with CLL, already at higher risk for secondary malignancies? 

From the New England Journal of Medicine:

These considerations suggest that the estimated risks associated with CT are not hypothetical — that is, they are not based on models or major extrapolations in dose. Rather, they are based directly on measured excess radiation-related cancer rates among adults and children who in the past were exposed to the same range of organ doses as those delivered during CT studies. 

It is not that bad. The same journal does point out that the risk, while not insignificant, does dramatically decrease with age. Another advantage of being older; I am not likely to live the many decades it takes to get the secondary cancer. Dr. Rick Furman points out the data from that same article that states: One article published (NEJM 2007;357:2277-2284) suggested that the increase risk for developing a cancer during their lifetime for a 40 year old was 0.02% from a single CT scan. Thus, it would take 50 scans to increase one's risk by 1% if they were 40 years old."

I don't want to overreact, but there is no safe minimum amount of radiation.  The radiation exposure from each set of three CT scans ordered here are roughly equivalent to 12 years of background radiation. Do I really need four or six a year? And it is reasonable to assume that the negative synergy of having CLL and a lot of ionizing radiation might make the risks higher for us.

As for the role and value in CLL, from an article that Dr. Bryd co-authored in JCO:
VOLUME 25 􏰆 NUMBER 35 􏰆 DECEMBER 10 2007.

"Current NCI-WG CLL response criteria are a significant predictor of PFS in previously treated CLL patients, with no additional benefit from the inclusion of CT scans."

But there are other ways to look at the issue.

Also from JCO earlier in 2007:
VOLUME 25 􏰆 NUMBER 12 􏰆 APRIL 20 2007

"In this series, an abnormal abdominal CT was a strong predictor of progression in patients with early-stage CLL. The inclusion of CT scans in the initial work-up of patients with early clinical stage on clinical grounds can, therefore, provide relevant clinical information. "

But those of us in this trial are much more similar to the previously treated patients in the first of those two study from JCO.

Finally, again from Dr. Byrd referring to the demands to include CTs in clinical trials in an ASH publication in March 2011:

"The current requirement for CT scans remains problematic to interpreting new study results, as essentially all prior CLL clinical trials did not include CT scans. More importantly, these imaging tests add significant cost and potential morbidity to the very special patients who volunteer to be part of clinical trials exploring new treatment approaches. Reconsideration of the CT requirement in the setting of implementing detailed lymph node and spleen physical exams might offer an opportunity to match our new clinical trial approaches to methods best supported by evidence-based tumor assessment."

I know I am in a trial. It is to get important potentially life saving information, but as Dr. Byrd says so eloquently, trials are for patients, not the other way around.

If push comes to shove, and the imaging is a must to do to in order to receive my meds, then the choice is simple: it is a small risk for a big gain.

Moreover, if it helps get the drug approved sooner, so all those waiting for these game changing meds can benefit, then it is a small theoretical risk for a huge payoff.

Finally, small molecules such as ibrutinib and GS-1101, because they unanchor the B-cells from the safe home in the nodes and send them out in droves onto the less protected environment of the blood stream,  the ALC can shoot up.  That is normally a sign of disease progression with old school therapies, but is not usually the case with these new new drugs. Hence, the need to document shrinking nodes to prove that the therapy is working is even more critical with these treatments.

Still, isn't twice a year enough?

I even opt out of the total body scanners at the airports where the risks are at best minor and more honestly, unknown at this time, so I hope I can continue to opt out of my CTs here. TSA staff can get by with just patting me down at the airport to check for contraband. Why is essentially the same procedure for palpable nodes done by team of medical professionals not sufficient?  

A while back, I suggested to Dr. Byrd that he do a trial that once and for all compares the response to therapy of palpable nodes to that of the nodes seen on CT to see if we can eliminate need for all the scans. Seems even more urgent now.

Finished the airport at Phoenix waiting for my delayed flight home.

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Anonymous jcleri said...

I'm with you no more scan for you my friend......I'd even say ok, one per year unless something major is found.

August 3, 2012 at 7:30 AM  
Blogger Dragon Slayer said...

Excellent research and information on secondary cancers. As one of your friends with secondary breast cancer, I found your article valuable.

Thank you my friend. I continue to wish you all the best


August 3, 2012 at 8:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am of two minds on this. CT scans aren't just for the trial .. they can, in fact, uncover those secondary cancers that can bloom unexpectedly in CLL and perhaps in the further suppressed TKI environment. We need new imaging techniques with much less radiation.

All the best to you,

August 3, 2012 at 9:00 PM  
Blogger Lois Tow said...

As someone with both CLL and a BRCA-2 mutation, I am always interested in information about secondary cancers. I appreciate that you brought together several articles on the topic.

While our risk for secondary cancers is obvious, the way the authors of the ASCO article presented the information seems to overstate the risk. For example, the 44 people with melanoma equals 16.5% (44/266)of those who had a secondary cancer, but only 8.1% of all those with CLL in the study(44/546) and so on for the other cancers listed.

I will continue to follow your "adventure" with great interest. Best wishes for your continued good health.

August 4, 2012 at 10:43 PM  

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