Patient participation in #NACLC20 virtual lung cancer conference

The virtual 2020 IASLC North American Conference on Lung Cancer (NACLC 2020) runs October 16-17. Patients will be providing special perspectives throughout the conference.

REGISTRATION IS FREE for all patients and caregivers. Register here: https://naclc2020.iaslc.org/registration/

Check out the full program here. https://naclc2020.iaslc.org/program-at-a-glance/

Don’t miss these two presentations by lung cancer patient research advocates on Saturday, October 17th:

Ivy Horowitz Elkins and Janet Freeman-Daily on “Patient Driven Research” in the Targeted Therapy session (9:50-10:45 am CT)

Jill Libles Feldman on “Adjuvant Treatment: What Does It Mean for Patients” in the Keynote session. (11:50 am -12:40 pm CT)

We can’t legislate math. Or a virus.

Today I find myself remembering the 1897 effort to legislate the mathematical value “pi” to make it more convenient for humans.

It didn’t work. Pi is defined by the existence of a circle. Humans have no say in the matter.

Math does not accommodate the wishes of humans. A natural law supercedes the laws of people. Deciding it should behave differently will not change it. Ignoring it will not make it go away. Our only option is to understand what the law is so we can adapt to it.

A virus does not accommodate the wishes of humans either. Deciding it should behave differently will not change it. Ignoring it will not make it go away. Our only option is to understand it so we can adapt to its existence.

We must adapt to coexist with the virus SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes, COVID-19. The virus will not change to suit our wishes.

Update for Week of October 5, 2020 to the Joint Statement on COVID-19 from Lung Cancer Advocacy Groups

As of October 3, 2020, the US has had close to 7.2 million cases of COVID-19, with over 200,000 deaths. Daily reported cases of COVID-19 have been on the rise. This is not surprising due to social distancing fatigue and mask fatigue.

As the weather becomes cooler and we spend more time indoors, an upward trend in COVID-19 cases is expected. Though a lot of vaccine candidates are showing promise in clinical trials, an effective anti-SARS-CoV-2 vaccine will probably not be available for large-scale community use before the middle of 2021. Even once a vaccine becomes available, we will need close to 660 million doses over the next year or so, because the vaccine candidates furthest along in trials require two doses per person. For the near and somewhat distant future, we will continue to rely on public health measures such as washing our hands, maintaining social distancing, and wearing a mask.

As the leaves turn, the holidays begin. Different holidays present different risks – Halloween typically involves large gatherings of children and young people going to door-to-door to collect candy or to party, other holidays bring loved ones together to share meals or celebrate the end of one year and the start of a new one.

Living during the pandemic does not mean we need to completely cancel our holiday celebrations. With advanced planning and maintenance of public health precautions, we can take measures to ensure a safe and COVID-19-free holiday season.

Here are some ideas for celebrating Halloween safely. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have provided guidelines to ensure that we have a “COVID-free” season[A1] .

  1. Keep a track of community levels of COVID-19 in your area. You can find this information through your local department of health.
  2. If the weather permits, try to have an outdoor gathering where ventilation is not an issue. If you are planning on having an indoor celebration, it might be a good idea to keep a door or windows open – to promote air circulation.
  3. Keep the gathering as short as possible. Longer gatherings equal longer time for exposure.
  4. Smaller gatherings are of course less risky than larger gatherings. Though the CDC doesn’t have specific numbers to guide size of gatherings, they recommend that the size of the gathering be determined by ability to reduce or limit contact between guests (the event space), the risk of spread between guests, and state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, rules, and regulations.
  5. If your guests are attending from another state, check the COVID-19 caseload in that state. The same applies if you are planning to travel. It is always a good idea to check caseload at point of origin and destination. If you plan to drive to a holiday gathering and are able to, quarantine for 14 days before travel.
  6. If you are the host, remind your guests that social distancing, hand washing, and wearing a mask are a part of the celebration .
  7. The National Institutes of Health has developed a rapid COVID-19 antigen test. If you are able to access a rapid antigen test, it may be a good idea to get tested before you attend a celebration (though since these tests are less sensitive than the nasal swab PCR test and a negative test doesn’t rule out an asymptomatic or presymptomatic infection).
  8. Since patients with lung cancer are considered at high risk of developing complications from COVID-19, use your judgement and exercise caution when deciding whether you wish to attend a celebration – especially where you do not know a lot of the guests.

We wish everyone a safe and healthy Fall!


Resources and websites

  1. IASLC’s Guide to COVID-19 and Lung Cancer
  2. The National Cancer Institute has a special website for COVID-19 and emergency preparedness. COVID-19: What People with Cancer Should Know
  3. We are following updates provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  4. Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Resource Center
  5. Interactive map of US COVID-19 cases by state
  6. The One-Two Punch: Cancer And COVID-19 (an important perspective for cancer patients)
  7. You can find information specific to your state or city or town on your health department’s website.
    • Directory of state department of health websites
    • Directory of local health department websites
  8. American Medical Association resources for healthcare providers.

Sep 21, 2020 Update to the Joint Statement on #Coronavirus #COVID19 From #LungCancer Advocacy Groups

 The post below is shared with permission. It can also be found on the websites of the lung cancer advocacy organizations listed at the end of this blog post.

—————————

As of September 18, 2020, the US has had 6.7 million cases of COVID-19, with just over 198,000 deaths. The Midwest is leading new cases, with 8 cities in Wisconsin appearing on The New York Times list of the 20 metro areas with fastest-growing cases.

With the run-up to the US Presidential election now less than two months away, recent weeks have seen a growing national dialog on the potential availability of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. In this week’s update, we want to review some basic concepts on vaccines, the clinical trials process for ensuring vaccine safety and provide an update on the current status of the various vaccine candidates currently under development.

 

What is a vaccine? How long do vaccines last?

 In the most basic terms, a vaccine is a substance that can stimulate the body’s immune response to provide protection against diseases caused by different viruses and bacteria. Some vaccines provide potentially life-long protection (measles) while others provide long-term protection but still require periodic “booster” shots (tetanus being a classic example). Still others require annual vaccination because of the nature of the virus – influenza virus (that causes “flu”) undergoes changes from year to year and so the formulation for the vaccine changes each year to accommodate these changes and offer the best protection possible.

(PSA: don’t forget to get your flu shot this year!)

 

How are vaccines tested?

Everyone feels a great sense of urgency to develop a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 so we can think about returning to some degree of “normalcy” in our daily lives. A concerted global effort is currently underway not only to develop a safe and effective vaccine but to develop other treatments as well (including so called monoclonal antibodies as well as novel antiviral treatments). In the US, the administration has developed what it refers to as “Operation Warp Speed” to try to accelerate vaccine development.

Without getting into a political debate, we want to offer a brief overview of what goes into getting a vaccine approved. Specifically, once a candidate vaccine is identified, its safety and efficacy (how well it works) must be validated through a rigorous clinical trials process as shown in the schematic below:

 

For a great overview of how vaccines are developed, the different types of vaccines, how they are tested and the status of current efforts to develop a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, we refer you to an excellent resource put together by The New York Times.

 

Vaccine Safety

Historically, the United States Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) has been responsible for regulating vaccines in the US.  Recently, the scientific integrity of both the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have come into question over fears that they may be rushing vaccine development in the interest of political expediency. Because of this concern, many of the pharmaceutical companies at the forefront of the effort to develop a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine signed an unprecedented pledge affirming their commitment to vaccine safety.

Politics aside, the scientific community must ensure any potential vaccine is both safe AND effective before it is approved and administered to the public. Past experience with the development of SARS and MERS (Middle-Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) vaccines has taught us that coronavirus vaccines need thorough testing. A recent incident that occurred during the Phase 3 clinical trial of AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate highlights why vaccine safety is paramount. The initial lack of details about the nature of the incident raised concerns about lack of transparency by the drug companies developing these vaccines. In response to mounting pressure, several of the leading contenders have made their protocols public.

 

Hope on the Horizon

 Despite the challenges associated with developing an effective vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, there are several reasons to be hopeful:

  • The science is advancing at a historic and unprecedented pace. Previously, the fastest vaccine ever made (against mumps) took four years to develop.
  • We have access to novel vaccine development platforms and also experience with coronavirus vaccine development with SARS and MERS. Scientists are building on this pool of available knowledge to develop a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2.
  • We have gone from first identifying a novel virus (SARS-CoV-2) as the cause of COVID-19 (Dec 2019) to having the sequence of the viral genome (Jan 2020) and the pursuit of multiple, compelling vaccine efforts within the span of only six months.

 

Resources and websites:

  1. IASLC’s Guide to COVID-19 and Lung Cancer
  2. National Cancer Institute website “Coronavirus: What People with Cancer Should Know
  3. We are following updates provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  4. Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Resource Center
  5. Interactive map of US COVID-19 cases by state
  6. The One-Two Punch: Cancer And COVID-19 (an important perspective for cancer patients)
  7. You can find information specific to your state or city or town on your health department’s website:
    Directory of state department of health websites
    Directory of local health department websites
  8. American Medical Association resources for healthcare providers

GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer (Amy Moore, PhD – amoore@go2foundation.org)
LUNGevity Foundation (Upal Basu Roy, PhD, MPH – ubasuroy@lungevity.org)
Lung Cancer Foundation of America (Kim Norris – KNorris@lcfamerica.org)
Lung Cancer Research Foundation (Cristina Chin, LMSW, MPH – cchin@lcrf.org)
LungCAN (Kimberly Lester – kimberly@lungcan.org)

 

Sep 8, 2020 Update to the Joint Statement on #Coronavirus #COVID19 From #LungCancer Advocacy Groups

 The post below is shared with permission. It can also be found on the websites of the lung cancer advocacy organizations listed at the end of this blog post.

—————————

We hope that all of you had a peaceful Labor Day holiday.  This week marks the six-month anniversary of when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic (March 11). As of September 7, 2020, cases in the US have surpassed the 6 million mark, with over 186,000 deaths.

Nationally, new cases appear to be on a decline but pockets of high COVID activity remain. The figure below shows which states have the most new daily cases and the relative degree of community spread versus containment of the virus:

 

 

PSA: Get your flu shots!

 With the arrival of September, we are strongly recommending that all eligible patients and caregivers get their annual flu shot this year! Public health experts are particularly concerned about the potential for patients to get infected with both influenza and SARS-CoV-2 this winter. Additionally, since the symptoms for these two viruses are similar, many patients experiencing flu-like symptoms may flood already overtaxed healthcare systems. Many doctors’ offices and pharmacies already have flu shots available. It’s also important to remember that it takes approximately two weeks from receiving the shot to have adequate protection. So please make a plan to get your shot as soon as possible.

Some patients, particularly those on checkpoint inhibitors, may be concerned about whether they can take the flu shot – we always recommend asking your doctor but previous studies suggest that it is safe for patients.

 

We want to hear from you!

We are interested in knowing what topics we should cover in future updates. Please share your thoughts with us by taking this short (1-2 minute) anonymous survey.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/LungAdvocacy_COVID19_needs

 

Resources and websites:

  1. IASLC’s Guide to COVID-19 and Lung Cancer
  2. National Cancer Institute website “Coronavirus: What People with Cancer Should Know
  3. We are following updates provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  4. Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Resource Center
  5. Interactive map of US COVID-19 cases by state
  6. The One-Two Punch: Cancer And COVID-19 (an important perspective for cancer patients)
  7. You can find information specific to your state or city or town on your health department’s website:
    Directory of state department of health websites
    Directory of local health department websites
  8. American Medical Association resources for healthcare providers

GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer (Amy Moore, PhD – amoore@go2foundation.org)
LUNGevity Foundation (Upal Basu Roy, PhD, MPH – ubasuroy@lungevity.org)
Lung Cancer Foundation of America (Kim Norris – KNorris@lcfamerica.org)
Lung Cancer Research Foundation (Cristina Chin, LMSW, MPH – cchin@lcrf.org)
LungCAN (Kimberly Lester – kimberly@lungcan.org)

 

Aug 24, 2020 Update to the Joint Statement on #Coronavirus #COVID19 From #LungCancer Advocacy Groups

 The post below is shared with permission. It can also be found on the websites of the lung cancer advocacy organizations listed at the end of this blog post.

—————————

It has been more than 6 months since the first cases of COVID-19 hit the United States. We issued our first update on March 3, a week before the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic on March 11. As of August 24, 2020, cases in the United States continue to rise unabated, with over 5.6 million total cases and 175,000 deaths. Countries in Western Europe that had seen a decrease in case load have recently seen small outbreaks, indicating that community spread continues to be a high possibility.

So we are left to wonder: when can we resume normal activities in our lives?

The straightforward answer to that question is when we have achieved a reasonable level of herd (or community) immunity, which occurs when a high percentage of the community is immune to a disease through vaccination and/or prior illness (natural infection). Herd immunity is critical because it not only prevents the spread of infection but also protects people who may not be able to receive a vaccine (for example, the elderly or the severely immunocompromised in whom the immune system is unable to mount a protective response against the virus).

Epidemiologists are hard at work figuring out what levels of herd immunity will protect us from SARS-CoV-2. Initial models suggested that the percentage of people who need to be immune to the virus to achieve herd immunity was around 70%. However, recent research suggests a lower threshold, on the order of only 40%. It is extremely important to keep in mind that no matter the threshold of immunity required, these estimates are based on mathematical models and not true population-based studies.

Our current level of potential immunity to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is measured using an antibody assay that detects past exposure to the virus whether or not a person had symptoms of COVID-19. Herd immunity through natural infection may depend on location. For example, levels of herd immunity may be lower in rural areas where people are more spread out than in cities, which are more crowded. Also, older people may be more susceptible to the virus and succumb to the disease, whereas younger people may recover from infections and add to the “pool” of herd immunity. Recent research from a COVID-19 hotspot, New York City, looking at the percentage of people who are “antibody-positive” shows a huge variation within the five boroughs of the city. It is therefore possible that the harder hit areas, such as parts of Brooklyn and Queens, may be close to achieving a herd immunity threshold whereas other parts of the city may not (assuming that the antibody tests are accurate and antibodies are long-lasting). This is especially important to keep in mind because it clearly demonstrates that achieving a high percentage of immune individuals through natural infection is not an easy task and comes with a price (please refer to our past update on seropositivity from July 13, 2020).

We are interested in knowing what topics we should cover in future updates. Please share your thoughts with us by taking this short (1-2 minute) anonymous survey.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/LungAdvocacy_COVID19_needs

 

Resources and websites:

  1. IASLC’s Guide to COVID-19 and Lung Cancer
  2. National Cancer Institute website “Coronavirus: What People with Cancer Should Know
  3. We are following updates provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  4. Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Resource Center
  5. Interactive map of US COVID-19 cases by state
  6. The One-Two Punch: Cancer And COVID-19 (an important perspective for cancer patients)
  7. You can find information specific to your state or city or town on your health department’s website:
    Directory of state department of health websites
    Directory of local health department websites
  8. American Medical Association resources for healthcare providers

GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer (Amy Moore, PhD – amoore@go2foundation.org)
LUNGevity Foundation (Upal Basu Roy, PhD, MPH – ubasuroy@lungevity.org)
Lung Cancer Foundation of America (Kim Norris – KNorris@lcfamerica.org)
Lung Cancer Research Foundation (Cristina Chin, LMSW, MPH – cchin@lcrf.org)
LungCAN (Kimberly Lester – kimberly@lungcan.org)

 

Aug 10, 2020 Update to the Joint Statement on #Coronavirus #COVID19 From #LungCancer Advocacy Groups

 The post below is shared with permission. It can also be found on the websites of the lung cancer advocacy organizations listed at the end of this blog post.

—————————

As of August 9, 2020, we are approaching 20 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with almost 5 million cases and 160,000 deaths in the US alone. In this week’s update, we want to shift our attention to another looming healthcare crisis resulting from the pandemic, namely a significant decline in new cancer diagnoses. Given the importance of maintaining appointment schedules, we will also present questions that you may want to ask your healthcare provider in advance of visits to the doctor. Finally, we will highlight ongoing advances in lung cancer research, because cancer doesn’t stop and neither do we.

 

What is the impact of COVID-19 on new cancer diagnoses?

In the early days of the pandemic here in the US, many stakeholders conducted various modeling simulations to look at the short-term and long-term impacts of the pandemic, particularly related to people continuing to get their recommended cancer screenings (mammograms, colonoscopies). These studies highlighted a looming crisis, predicting a rapid decline in the number of new cancer diagnoses. Dr. Ned Sharpless, Director of the National Cancer Institute, highlighted some of this data in a recent presentation at the AACR COVID-19 and Cancer Conference and in an editorial for Science.

This past week, a new study showed an alarming overall drop (46%) in new cancer diagnoses across six different tumor types, including lung cancer, for the period from March 1 to April 18, 2020:

Additional reports from the across the country indicate an even higher drop in new cancer diagnoses. The COVID and Cancer Research Network reported a decline of 74% across 20 sites in the US for April 2020 compared to April 2019.

While people were encouraged to delay these essential screenings during the spring, we know that early detection of cancer is critical for achieving the best outcome and so we want to stress the importance of keeping up with your medical appointments and recommended screenings. To that end, we want to empower you with a set of questions to ask your doctor in advance of any visits so that you feel they are taking appropriate precautions to ensure your safety.

 

What Should I Ask My Doctor About What They’re Doing to Keep Me Safe?

It’s not unusual to be concerned about the risk of exposure to coronavirus when you go to a clinic or hospital during a pandemic. A facility that is currently experiencing a large volume of COVID-19 patients, or limiting certain procedures or services, may have limitations on which patients it can accommodate.  However, most facilities are ready to welcome patients.

Hospital and clinic facilities are taking extra precautions to keep their patients safe. Many facilities are posting videos and information on their websites explaining which precautions they’ve implemented (here is an example video).

If you can’t find information online about the facility you want to visit, call the facility and ask about their precautions.  Here are some questions you can ask your care provider or facility before an in-person appointment:

  • Can the care provider conduct the visit via telemedicine? (This option requires a patient who doesn’t need an in-person consultation or procedure, AND who is comfortable with and has the equipment for conducting video meetings on a computer or smartphone).
  • Can prescriptions be acquired through home delivery, mail order, or curbside pick-up?
  • Does the facility require everyone to wear a face covering at all times?
  • Does the facility direct patients who have COVID-19 to specific entrances or areas to minimize contact with other patients?
  • Does the facility screen all staff for typical COVID-19 symptoms before they start their shifts?
  • Does the facility have screeners at patient entrances to ask about known COVID-19 symptoms, take each visitor’s temperature, and ensure appropriate face coverings are worn (and provided, if necessary)?
  • Does the facility limit nonessential companions for each patient to no more than a single individual who is free of known COVID-19 symptoms?
  • Does the facility promote physical distancing through use of protective barriers, markers on the floor to indicate where to stand to stay 6 feet apart, and separating seats in waiting areas?
  • Is each piece of equipment and appointment area cleaned between each use by a patient?
  • Do enclosed treatment spaces (like MRI machines) have a waiting period between patients?
  • Does the facility adhere to stringent and frequent cleaning protocols, especially in high-touch areas?
  • Does the hospital allow visitors in patient rooms? If so, does it require them to check in at a nursing station or other screening area before entering patient’s room?

Additional steps YOU can take to help keep yourself safe before, during, and after a visit inside a hospital or clinic:

  • Don a clean face covering before entering the facility, avoid touching it or your face during your time in the facility, and keep it on at all times unless a healthcare provider asks you to remove it.
  • Wash your hands frequently. Bring hand sanitizer with you (just in case)
  • Before meeting your healthcare provider, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.
  • When you get back to your car or your home, remove the mask carefully by touching only the ear loops. Use hand sanitizer after removing your mask.
  • To be extra cautious, wash your hands and face covering and change your clothes when you get home. You might even take a shower. Wash the clothes you wore to the facility.

 

And lung cancer research continues in full swing!

This year’s World Conference on Lung Cancer (WCLC 2020), hosted by the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer, went virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally scheduled to be held in Singapore from August 8-12, 2020, the scientific sessions will be available from January 28-31, 2021.

WCLC 2020 was officially kicked off on August 8, 2020 with the Presidential Symposium live telecast at 7 PM Singapore time. The Presidential Symposium is a platform to present practice-changing research in the early detection or treatment of lung cancer. This year’s Symposium had three fantastic Phase III trial presentations on immunotherapy for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), a new targeted therapy for ALK-positive lung cancer, and immunotherapy for mesothelioma.

  1. Currently, a chemotherapy -immunotherapy (pembrolizumab) combination is prescribed as first-line treatment for NSCLC that does not have any targetable driver mutations and that does not express high levels of PD-L1 protein. This is based on the results of the KEYNOTE-189 clinical trial, and the combination is available in the United States and some Western European countries. Results from the Phase III ORIENT-11 trial conducted in China show that addition of an immunotherapy (sintilimab – a PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor) to chemotherapy shows similar benefits seen in KEYNOTE-189. This is an extremely critical finding because results of the ORIENT trial will set the stage for this combination to be available in China and other Asian countries, so that patients can continue to benefit from these advances.
  2. Ensartinib is a 2nd-generation ALK tyrosine kinase inhibitor. Results from the Phase III eXalt3 trial comparing ensartinib to crizotinib as first-line treatment for ALK-positive lung cancer show that this 2nd generation ALK inhibitor is superior to crizotinib, in terms of its effect both on the primary lung cancer and on brain metastases. These exciting results suggest that ensartinib may be another treatment option for ALK-positive lung cancer in the first-line setting.
  3. Malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) is an aggressive type of cancer affecting the lining of the lungs. It has been associated with exposure to asbestos. Results from the phase III CheckMate 743 trial, comparing combination immunotherapy (nivolumab-ipililumab) to chemotherapy showed that immunotherapy combo is superior to chemotherapy, in the first-line setting.

These three presentations will likely set the foundation for new drug approvals and remind us that lung cancer research will continue, no matter what COVID-19 brings!

 

Resources and websites:

  1. IASLC’s Guide to COVID-19 and Lung Cancer
  2. National Cancer Institute website “Coronavirus: What People with Cancer Should Know
  3. We are following updates provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  4. Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Resource Center
  5. Interactive map of US COVID-19 cases by state
  6. The One-Two Punch: Cancer And COVID-19 (an important perspective for cancer patients)
  7. You can find information specific to your state or city or town on your health department’s website:
    Directory of state department of health websites
    Directory of local health department websites
  8. American Medical Association resources for healthcare providers

GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer (Amy Moore, PhD – amoore@go2foundation.org)
LUNGevity Foundation (Upal Basu Roy, PhD, MPH – ubasuroy@lungevity.org)
Lung Cancer Foundation of America (Kim Norris – KNorris@lcfamerica.org)
Lung Cancer Research Foundation (Cristina Chin, LMSW, MPH – cchin@lcrf.org)
LungCAN (Kimberly Lester – kimberly@lungcan.org)

 

July 27, 2020 Update to the Joint Statement on #Coronavirus #COVID19 From #LungCancer Advocacy Groups

The post below is shared with permission. It can also be found on the websites of the lung cancer advocacy organizations listed at the end of this blog post.

—————————

These updates began on March 3, 2020–a week before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic–when concerns arose in the lung cancer community regarding news out of China about a novel respiratory virus especially deadly to patients with lung cancer. Dr. Upal Basu Roy (who holds a Masters in Public Health), Dr. Amy Moore (whose PhD research was in virology), and Janet Freeman-Daily (a lung cancer research advocate) led lung cancer patient advocacy groups’ efforts to provide vetted, scientific information with a unified voice. Our goal is to provide a trusted source of information that each member of the community can use to assess their risk and make healthy choices for themselves and their families.

As of July 26, 2020, there have been over 16 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide. This week, the US surpassed 4 million cases– while our nation accounts for just over 4% of the world’s population, we make up 25% of virus cases. Another alarming statistic is the rapid pace with which we keep hitting stark new milestones – it took a mere 15 days for our cases to jump from 3 million to 4 million. These numbers reflect the exponential growth of viruses when appropriate public health measures are not heeded by enough members of the population.

 

SUMMARY OF AACR COVID-19 AND CANCER CONFERENCE

The American Association of Cancer Research held a special virtual conference titled “COVID-19 and Cancer” on July 20-22, 2020. It is increasingly apparent that cancer and COVID-19 present a unique and unfortunate convergence, with lung cancer patients being among the most at risk for severe symptoms from the disease. This conference grew out of the research community’s need to understand the intersection of these two diseases and reflects the rapid mobilization of cancer scientists to apply their talents to finding solutions to this unprecedented global crisis. As one scientist stated, it is our “moral obligation” to help.

The lung cancer advocacy groups had two “poster” presentations at this conference. The first one summarized the origins of our joint COVID-19 statements and their impact on the lung cancer community. The second one discussed patient concerns that have emerged through these updates and how the advocacy groups can develop programs to address them.

 

  1. What is the latest data on risk of COVID-19 for lung cancer patients?

Several real-world studies were presented at the conference that addressed overall risk for cancer patients as well as lung cancer in particular. Real-world studies rely on data collected from patients receiving treatment at their regular cancer centers or hospitals (i.e. patients not receiving treatment through a clinical trial). Currently, real-world data seems to be the richest source of data for learning about how SARS-CoV-2 (as a virus) and COVID-19 (as a disease) impacts cancer patients.

Registry data is entered by the patient’s treating physician after the patient has a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19. Data from two big registries were presented at this conference.

  • The CCC19 registry is a multi-institutional, North American effort for all types of cancer. It reported that lung cancer patients were at higher risk of developing a more severe form of COVID-19. Other factors that predicted worse outcomes included older age, poor performance status, presence of co-morbidities, prior or current history of smoking, and a cancer that was progressing. The CCC-19 study showed an overall mortality of 26% for lung cancer patients with COVID-19, the highest of all the cancer types analyzed.
  • The TERAVOLT registry is a multi-institutional, international effort dedicated to thoracic (lung-related) cancers. TERAVOLT data on 400 COVID-19 patients showed overall mortality of 35.5% for patients who had lung cancer and a higher mortality of 41% for patients who have SCLC. This increases the challenges presented by the pandemic to rural communities in the Southeast, where SCLC burden is high. Poor performance status was associated with more severe COVID-19 symptoms for SCLC patients.  The patients in this study are primarily European, where the standard of cancer care may be different than in the US. It is important to keep in mind that SCLC is highly aggressive and has a higher symptom burden than NSCLC.

Single-institution data provide convenient samples to understand the natural history of a specific disease. At the conference, data from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City showed that prior immunotherapy for lung cancer did not impact outcomes of SARS-CoV-2 positive lung cancer patients. This data seems to contradict other registry-based efforts which have suggested that immunotherapy may predict worse outcomes. At the height of the pandemic in NYC, 20% of MSKCC’s lung cancer patients with COVID-19 died but many, including those with late-stage cancer, recovered. This study suggests patient-specific factors (such as type of treatment and patient characteristics) may determine overall risk and susceptibility to worse outcomes. It is important to keep in mind that standard of care and patient characteristics may be unique in a specific institution and therefore the results may not be generalizable.

One study presented at the conference that looked at electronic health records of patients in the US showed that an active cancer diagnosis coupled with co-morbidities such as diabetes and hypertension predicted worse outcomes for COVID-19.

Some common themes emerged for lung cancer patients:

  • Patient-specific factors such as older age, presence of lung comorbidities such as COPD, and a poor performance status (higher than 1) are associated with a risk of developing a more severe form of COVID-19.
  • Certain treatments such as chemotherapy (either alone or in combination) may increase the risk of developing a severe form of COVID-19 due to the immunosuppressive effects of chemotherapy.

We are still learning about how patient-specific factors and treatment-specific factors related to lung cancer can influence the severity of COVID-19. It is best to discuss how an individual patient’s situation will be impacted with the treating physician.

What is abundantly clear at this point is that multiple studies point to increased risk and worse outcomes in lung cancer patients with COVID-19. As the pandemic continues to spread throughout the US, it is imperative that lung cancer patients continue to take the threat seriously and take appropriate steps to protect themselves and those around them:

  • limit unnecessary travel (particularly to areas where COVID-19 is prevalent),
  • practice social distancing,
  • wash hands frequently (or use hand sanitizers when handwashing is unavailable), and
  • WEAR A MASK when out in public.

 

  1. How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted oncologists and the cancer healthcare community?

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of oncologists cannot be underestimated. Several studies suggest that oncologists will likely suffer from “burn-out” syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Two studies documenting the effect of the pandemic on mental health of oncology professionals were presented at the conference.

  • One study looked at 300 oncologists in Western Europe and the United States during the first phase of the pandemic. Two biggest fears reported by the oncologists (almost 75% of participants) were “fear that their patients would get sick” and “fear that their family members would get sick.” Several oncologists opted to live away from their families during their oncology service to protect their families (Symposium 7, Dr. Gabriella Pravettoni).
  • In the second study reported at the Keynote Symposium, which included 1570 oncologists from 102 countries, more than 75% of the oncologists reported that they feared contracting COVID-19 (July 21 Keynote, Dr. Solange Peters).

Both these studies highlight the importance of developing adequate mental health support services for healthcare professionals as the effects of the pandemic emerge.

As patients and advocates who work regularly and intimately with oncology healthcare professionals, we must not forget to express our gratitude to all members of the patient care team.

 

Resources and websites:

  1. IASLC’s Guide to COVID-19 and Lung Cancer
  2. National Cancer Institute website “Coronavirus: What People with Cancer Should Know
  3. We are following updates provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  4. Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Resource Center
  5. Interactive map of US COVID-19 cases by state
  6. The One-Two Punch: Cancer And COVID-19 (an important perspective for cancer patients)
  7. You can find information specific to your state or city or town on your health department’s website:
    Directory of state department of health websites
    Directory of local health department websites
  8. American Medical Association resources for healthcare providers

GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer (Amy Moore, PhD – amoore@go2foundation.org)
LUNGevity Foundation (Upal Basu Roy, PhD, MPH – ubasuroy@lungevity.org)
Lung Cancer Foundation of America (Kim Norris – KNorris@lcfamerica.org)
Lung Cancer Research Foundation (Cristina Chin, LMSW, MPH – cchin@lcrf.org)
LungCAN (Kimberly Lester – kimberly@lungcan.org)

 

July 13, 2020 Update to the Joint Statement on #Coronavirus #COVID19 From #LungCancer Advocacy Groups

The post below is shared with permission. It can also be found on the websites of the lung cancer advocacy organizations listed at the end of this blog post.

—————————

As of July 1, 2020, more than 10 million people worldwide have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. In the United States alone, more than 3 million people have tested positive, as of July 10, 2020. Our knowledge about how the virus affects our immune systems and other organs is continuously evolving. Along with this knowledge, doctors are becoming better at managing patients with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19. However, it is important to keep in mind that the virus is still infectious.

In this update, we answer some key questions about the current need for public health measures, testing in light of the recent rise in COVID-19 cases, what the test results means, some recent press on “new strains” of SARS-CoV-2, and finally what this means for herd (community) immunity.

 

What public health measures can help stop the spread of the virus?

 Current data still suggest the virus is most commonly spread person-to-person, via droplets expelled by talking, coughing, or sneezing while in close face-to-face contact. The virus may also spread via aerosols (smaller droplets that remain suspended in air) but at this point, this has not been clearly established. People can have an active case of the virus and show no symptoms (asymptomatic spread). Until a vaccine is available, we need to take action to prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through these strategies:

  • Personal hygiene (e.g., hand washing)
  • Testing people to identify cases of active infection
  • Using distance or physical barriers to reduce the spread of infectious droplets (e.g., staying home, social distancing, wearing masks, isolating people who are infected)
  • Contact tracing (e.g., notifying people when they have been in contact with someone who has active infection)
  • Government-level actions (e.g., governmental limits on sizes of gatherings or business capacity; school or workplace closures; stay-at-home orders)
  • Travel restrictions (e.g., border closure, enforced quarantine on visitors from infected areas) if required

 

Should I get tested for COVID-19? Which test is right for me? What do the test results mean?

If you or your loved one suspects that they have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2, and/or have developed the three most common COVID-19 symptoms (fever, cough, and shortness of breath), we recommend you get tested.

Currently, three tests are available for COVID-19. The choice of test depends on whether you suspect that you have an active (existing) infection, or you were infected in the past and want to confirm infection.

Stage of infection

Current infection Past Infection
Type of Test PCR test Antigen test Antibody test
How is a sample collected? A nasal or throat swab A nasal or throat swab A blood sample
What does a positive test result mean? You have an active SARS-CoV-2 infection. Even if you do not have symptoms, a positive result may suggest you can infect others. You have an active SARS-CoV-2 infection-. Even if you do not have symptoms, a positive result may suggest you can infect others. You were possibly exposed to SARS-CoV-2 in the past, even if you did not have major symptoms.
HOWEVER, this does NOT necessarily mean you have immunity to the virus (we are still learning how long immunity might last).
What does a negative test result mean? You might not be currently infected with SARS-CoV-2.
HOWEVER, this does NOT necessarily mean you don’t have a current infection — especially if you display symptoms. Your doctor will take into account the entire clinical picture and not just test results.
You might not be currently infected with SARS-CoV-2.
HOWEVER, this does NOT necessarily mean you don’t have a current infection — especially if you display symptoms. Your doctor will take into account the entire clinical picture and not just test results.
You might not have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2.
HOWEVER, this does NOT necessarily mean you were not exposed in the past. It is becoming increasingly clear that antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 do not last for a very long time. Therefore, timing of test matters.

More testing will help us to identify more people who have an active case of COVID-19 and may be able to spread the disease, whether or not they have active symptoms. An accurate count of active cases tells us where the virus is currently spreading and hopefully helps us to implement prevention measures in time to limit spread of the disease in that area.

 

Has the SAR-CoV-2 virus mutated? Is this new mutation more infectious? What does this mean for prevention, vaccines, and treatment?

A preliminary manuscript (which has not yet undergone peer review) describes the emergence of a new mutation seen in a specific gene of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This mutation, which was first discovered in Europe, is called D614G. It causes an increase in the number of spike proteins in the virus. Since the spike protein is how the virus attaches to human cells, the authors concluded that this mutation makes the virus more infectious. However, it does not appear to make the resulting disease more severe or deadly.  Currently, the real-world implications of this mutation and its impact on the development of vaccines and treatments are still unclear.

 

Are blood tests detecting coronavirus antibodies more frequently? 

Many countries are using blood tests to look for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in their populations. Testing of blood serum is called serology. The percentage of individuals in a population that have these antibodies in their blood serum is called seroprevalence. As COVID-19 spreads across the globe, different areas will have different levels of seroprevalence.

The CDC is now conducting large-scale geographic seroprevalence surveys at a number of sites across the country. Initial results from the first six sites showed rates of people who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies varied from about 1% (in WA state) to about 7% (in greater NYC area).

Several global seroprevalence studies have been published recently. In Spain, which was hit hard by COVID-19 in the spring of 2020, approximately 5% of people in the 36,000 households tested had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 (they are “seropositive”—their serum tested positive for antibodies). The seropositive rate is closer to 10% near Madrid but only 3% along the coast. Given that 95% of Spaniards do not have antibodies (seronegative), the authors conclude that it is important to maintain the public health measures described above.

A second study from Brazil also found regional variability in seroprevalence, with an overall seropositive rate of 1.4%. However, surprisingly, some cities along the Amazon had some of the highest rates reported so far, approaching 25%. This finding further counters the argument that SARS-CoV-2 is susceptible to heat, since Brazil maintains a hot, tropical climate.

 

What about herd immunity?

Herd immunity (or community immunity) occurs when a high percentage of the community is immune to a disease through vaccination and/or prior illness. We currently face several challenges to achieving herd immunity. First, seropositivity rates remain significantly below the ~70% required to achieve herd immunity, even in hotspot areas such as NYC. Second, a growing number of reports suggest that antibody levels fall off significantly as early as 8 weeks after infection (though other features of the immune system may provide some protection).

Some have suggested that public health efforts to reduce transmission are only delaying the acquisition of herd immunity. Sweden has been held up as a model for keeping a country open to develop herd immunity.  However, Sweden serves more as a cautionary tale— it experienced much higher death rates than its Scandinavian neighbors yet was not spared the economic impact of the pandemic.  Various models have suggested that efforts to achieve herd immunity by natural infection (ie, letting the virus run its course without vaccines) would result in over 30 million deaths globally

Letting the virus run its course comes at extraordinary cost in terms of human lives. Further, given the low rates of seropositivity among areas hard-hit by the virus and the rapidly declining antibody levels in individuals, it seems unlikely that we will achieve herd immunity WITHOUT a vaccine.

How risky is returning to “normal” activities?

 These updates are intended to give you the latest evidence on what we know and to provide a framework for you to make your own decisions as we all learn how to navigate this new “normal.” In that spirit, we share this recent graphic that helps assess the relative risk of various daily activities:

 

Resources and websites:

  1. IASLC’s Guide to COVID-19 and Lung Cancer
  2. National Cancer Institute website “Coronavirus: What People with Cancer Should Know
  3. We are following updates provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  4. Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Resource Center
  5. Interactive map of US COVID-19 cases by state
  6. The One-Two Punch: Cancer And COVID-19 (an important perspective for cancer patients)
  7. You can find information specific to your state or city or town on your health department’s website:
    Directory of state department of health websites
    Directory of local health department websites
  8. American Medical Association resources for healthcare providers

GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer (Amy Moore, PhD – amoore@go2foundation.org)
LUNGevity Foundation (Upal Basu Roy, PhD, MPH – ubasuroy@lungevity.org)
Lung Cancer Foundation of America (Kim Norris – KNorris@lcfamerica.org)
Lung Cancer Research Foundation (Cristina Chin, LMSW, MPH – cchin@lcrf.org)
LungCAN (Kimberly Lester – kimberly@lungcan.org)

 

Think your Internet passwords are well-managed? Think again!

A malicious hacker recently took control of the ROS1cancer.com website (which I help to manage). WordPress suspects the hacker accessed the site by guessing a password of an authorized author on the site.

Over the past two days, WordPress worked with me to restore most of our content. During the process, the site automatically emailed a LOT of old blog posts to our subscribers (I apologize for all the emails you may have received.) Dozens of blog posts about living with ROS1 cancer that had been shared by patients around the world were corrupted when the hacker deleted the site’s list of authors and editors. WordPress is still trying to help me recover those posts without having to reconstruct every single one. I also had to request a new credit card number, since the hacker could see my card data that was used to pay the annual upgrade fees (more time lost updating my card info for autopays). At least the hacker hadn’t used my credit card yet.

It’s a cautionary tale that reminds us to practice good password management, especially on sites that contain vital information (like banking or personal info) that could cause significant problems if it were compromised.  EVERYONE should:

  • Use STRONG passwords (more info below)
  • Create a unique password for each site
  • Change passwords regularly
  • Avoid reusing passwords

Alas, hackers use sophisticated tools to help them guess passwords. It is no longer sufficient to generate an eight-character password with one uppercase letter, one lowercase letter, and one number. But we all use a lot of passwords–I use over 400!–and generating a unique, strong password for each of them can be a real pain. What to do?

Use a password manager!

Password managers are software products that help you generate and store complex passwords, eliminate duplicate passwords, update your passwords regularly, and access your passwords on different devices and browsers. They will also allow you to autofill your password when visiting a site, if you wish.  The best part is that you only have to remember ONE password to access ANY of your passwords.

I have used a password manager for years on all the PCs in our household, as well as on my tablet and phone. I love that I only have to change a password in the password manager software on ONE device to make the new password available on ALL devices. True, the apps can be glitchy at times, but I’ve seen a big improvement in features and performance in the past few years. For me, it’s been far easier and more accurate than maintaining all my passwords in a written notebook.  I’ve never had one of my passwords compromised while using a password manager, although I know it could still happen–hacker tech is evolving rapidly.

Each password manager has a different combination of features and strengths. Which one is right for you depends on how you use your devices ( family? business? high-tech projects?) and how often you’ll use it on which platforms (Windows PC, Mac desktop, iPad, Chromebook, iPhone, Android, etc). Comparisons and rankings of products are published every year by reliable and impartial sources like PC Magazine, CNET, Wired Magazine, WireCutter, and Consumers Reports.

No one can guarantee a password can’t be hacked, but you can at least make your passwords harder for hackers to guess.  When did you last update YOUR passwords?