Tag Archives: cancer immunotherapy

Turning on the Light Switch

June is Cancer Immunotherapy Month, shining a spotlight on advancements in immuno-oncology. 2017 ACCC Institute for Clinical Immuno-Oncology Innovator Award winner Oncology Specialists S.C. at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital has been delivering immunotherapy for cancer for more than six years. For highlights on how they’ve developed their program and how “Turning on the Light Switch” helps their providers and patients talk about managing immune-related toxicities, read on.

by Ann McGreal, RHanging BulbsN

For more than 30 years the world of oncology nursing and the patients we care for has been bound by the expectations of the known effects of chemotherapy on the human body. While these toxicities can be difficult and, at times, even life threatening, for the most part they are predictable. As experienced oncology nurses, we know that after a certain number of days the patient blood counts will likely drop. Our patients being treated with chemotherapy anticipate that they may experience nausea, diarrhea, bone pain, and other side effects. For the most part, with chemotherapy we can expect a logical start, progression, and end to toxicities.

Immuno-Oncology Brings a Paradigm Shift
However, the new dawn of immuno-oncology and the rapidly increasing use of immunotherapy for cancer have upended not only our approach to supporting oncology patients, but also how we approach the toxicities of treatment.

Our practice, Oncology Specialists at Lutheran Advocate General Hospital, in Park Ridge, Illinois, has been on the cutting edge of using immunotherapy for melanoma treatments from the beginning. We were among the highest accrual sites for the original ipilimumab clinical trials. Then, in 2011, immunotherapy took its first big step into the limelight with the FDA approval of ipilimumab for the treatment of Stage IV melanoma. The demand on our clinic for ipilimumab increased greatly.

Initially, our practice was able to deal with the need to think about symptom management in a different way because we were caring for a small population of patients—all in the melanoma space. However, in 2014, with the dawn of PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitors that all began to change. Today, the potential for this class of drug seems unlimited, with more than 500 current studies underway in the U.S., and new indications and approvals occurring on what seems like a daily basis.

Educate. Educate. Educate.
As we implemented immunotherapy in our practice, our nursing team took on the challenge of how best to educate both staff and our patients on the mechanism of action for these new therapies, as well as their potential toxicities.

We quickly learned that peer-to-peer education was the most effective way to help our medical staff develop a better understanding of immunotherapy. We also found that the real challenge lay in accepting that immunotherapy for cancer requires a different way of looking at the total treatment picture. To implement this new treatment paradigm, we needed to better educate our patients so that they had a clear understanding of how immunotherapy differed from traditional chemotherapy and why early reporting of toxicities is so important. This meant we had break through long-held beliefs such as, “everyone gets sick during cancer treatment” and “I should just ‘tough it out’ or they will stop my therapy.” We needed our patients to understand that with immunotherapy just “tough it out” can be a deadly mindset. Patients on immunotherapy need to partner with their providers and report any toxicities early so that their healthcare team can work quickly to resolve the issue.

Flipping the Switch
With this need in mind, we created a set of education tools built around the analogy of the patient’s immune system functioning like a light switch. The immunotherapy treatment turns the switch on. If the treatment starts causing toxicities, the patient’s body cannot turn the switch off by itself. Unless the toxicities are reported, the affected system (the light) will burn out. Today, these education tools and discharge instructions are the backbone of our immunotherapy program.

Next Step: Incorporating into Our EMR
With our staff education and training on managing immune-related toxicities and patient education in place, we looked at processes to ensure cohesive documentation in our EMR so that an on-call physician or covering nurse could easily pick up the treatment thread and assist patients. This not only led to the development of templates but also a standardized treatment plan for immune-related toxicities, including the use of corticosteroids.

At the ACCC 34th National Oncology Conference in October, we’ll be presenting a more in-depth look at how we have developed and grown an immunotherapy program at our practice.  We hope you’ll join us in Nashville.
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Ann McGreal, RN, is an Oncology Nurse Clinician at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois.

Read more about upcoming ACCC 34th National Oncology Conference here.

Preparing Ourselves for a New Frontier

By Steven L. D’Amato, BSPharm, BCOP, President, ACCC

The current pillars of cancer treatment incorporate radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy, with the goal of targeting the tumor and inducing complete or partial responses. Immuno-oncology (I-O) is a rapidly developing area of science and treatment that focuses on harnessing the ability of the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer. While great strides have been made in the fight against cancer, improved survival remains a challenge for some advanced malignancies. Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program data from 2014 show the five-year survival for lung, colorectal, kidney and renal pelvis, and melanoma to be 3.9, 12.5, 12.3 and 16 percent respectively. Specifically, malignant melanoma, renal cancer, and prostate cancer are potentially immunogenic, which makes them good candidates for immunotherapeutic approaches. Currently, more than 900 I-O clinical trials are in various phases of development.

A Long Road

The history of immunotherapy dates all the way back to 1796 when Edward Jenner used cowpox to induce immunity to smallpox. In 1890, Coley demonstrated that bacterial products (Coley toxins) had benefits for inoperable cancers, which led to the application of Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) in the 1960s. More than two decades later interferon-alpha was approved as hairy cell leukemia cancer immunotherapy, followed closely by interleukin-2 which was approved for the treatment of renal cell carcinoma and melanoma. Then came the birth of the monoclonal antibodies bevacizumab and cetuximab in 2004, followed by panitumumab in 2006. The first cellular immunotherapy (sipuleucel-T) was approved for prostate cancer in 2010. Ipilimumab (anti-CTLA-4) was approved for advanced melanoma in 2011. This year saw the first programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) monoclonal antibody inhibitors (nivolumab and pembrolizumab) approved.

These two new PD-1 inhibitors are currently indicated for the treatment of advanced melanoma (nivolumab, pembrolizumab) and squamous non-small cell lung cancer (nivolumab). These agents also have activity in a variety of other disease states and are currently being evaluated in numerous clinical trials. In addition to the development of anti-PD-1 agents, agents are being developed that target the PD-1 receptor and its ligands (PD-L1/2). I-O therapies have the potential to be used as monotherapy or as a part of combination regimens. Combinations of complementary I-O therapies with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and targeted therapy have the potential to enhance antitumor effects. One can imagine the complexities of incorporating these new agents into the treatment of various diseases as more agents are developed and approved for use.

The anti-PD-1/PD-L1 agents are relatively well tolerated. However, there are many drug-related adverse events with potential immune-related causes, such as pneumonitis, vitiligo (a skin condition where skin loses its pigmentation), colitis, hepatitis, hypophysitis (inflammation of the pituitary gland due to autoimmunity), and thyroiditis. Because most tumor-associated antigens are also expressed in normal cells, the potential exists for toxicity against healthy tissues. Adverse events can be serious and potentially lethal, demanding vigilance throughout and after treatment. When combined with other forms of cancer treatment, I-O therapies can lead to numerous toxicities that must be identified early and managed appropriately. Another caveat with I-O is the monitoring of response with these new agents. Therapies that affect the immune system may not induce a measurable effect on tumor growth immediately. After initiating I-O therapy, immune activation and T-cell proliferation can start within days to weeks, but measurable antitumor effects may not be realized until weeks to months after initial treatment; the potential effects on survival may not be seen until several months after initial administration.

A New Frontier

This new frontier of medicine requires specialized education so that we can understand the immune system, its relationship to different tumor types, how these new agents interact with the immune system, and how to identify and manage immune-related events. To meet this critical need, ACCC formed the Institute for Clinical Immuno-Oncology (ICLIO), which launched in June 2015. ICLIO translates the latest I-O scientific research and findings for the multidisciplinary cancer care team, making the information accessible and—most importantly—breaking it into digestible action items that can be easily implemented in the community setting. ICLIO has brought the new frontier of immuno-oncology to your door. The next step is up to you. Visit accc-iclio.org today for information about clinical optimization, coverage and reimbursement, management best practices, patient access and advocacy, and training and development.

On Oct. 2, the ICLIO National Conference in Philadelphia, Pa., will bring together multi-disciplinary oncology team members to discuss the “how to’s” for putting immunotherapy into practice. I hope you’ll join me for this exceptional event.

Steven L. D’Amato, BSPharm, BCOP, is President of the Association of Community Cancer Centers, 2015-2016. He is Executive Director of New England Cancer Specialists.