How I will treat my next patient

Predicting outcomes in acute leukemia, NSCLC


In this edition of “How I will treat my next patient,” I take a look at recent studies that examined ways to predict important outcomes in two very different settings, acute leukemia and advanced non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). They share the virtue of helping cancer specialists to increase their vigilance for clinically relevant complications and situations and to educate patients and families.

Dr. Alan P. Lyss

Dr. Alan P. Lyss

VTE risk in acute leukemia

The risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE) in cancer patients depends upon multiple patient-, tumor-, anatomic-, and treatment-related factors. The Khorana score has become an accepted standard for predicting the risks of VTE and assessing the relative value of various anticoagulants in cancer patients. However, the only hematologic malignancy that is specifically listed among the primary cancer sites in the Khorana score is “lymphoma.” VTE can develop during treatment for acute leukemia, especially among patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

At the 2019 annual congress of the European Hematology Association, Alejandro Lazo-Langer, MD, and his colleagues proposed a scoring system to quantify the risks of VTE based on a retrospective cohort study of more than 500 acute leukemia patients, diagnosed from 2006-2017. They identified 77 patients with a VTE event, with a median time from diagnosis to VTE of 64 days. Among 20 possible predictive factors, 3 emerged in the final multivariate model – platelet count greater than 50,000 (1 point), ALL (2 points), and prior history of VTE (3 points).

Over a period of 12 months, patients with a score of more than 3 points had a cumulative incidence of VTE of 44%, in comparison with 10.5% among patients with lower scores. They were unable to discern whether particular antineoplastic regimens or drugs enhanced the risk.

The authors proposed that, if verified in a validation cohort study, the scoring system could lead to better patient education about signs and symptoms, more intensive surveillance for high-risk patients, and preventive interventions.

What this means in practice

Although a large number of patient records were reviewed for Dr. Lazo-Langer’s study, there were just 74 ALL patients, and it is unclear whether particular treatment regimens or drugs (such as L-asparaginase in ALL) enhance risk. Further study with a validation cohort (as was performed for the Khorana score for patients with other malignancies), is warranted. The study is thought provoking, but for now, in my opinion, standard clinical vigilance, surveillance, and education regarding VTE in leukemia patients remain appropriate.

Steroid impact in NSCLC with ICI therapy

Patients with autoimmune disease and individuals requiring active treatment with steroids (prednisone at 10 mg/day or more or the equivalent) were excluded from clinical trials that led to Food and Drug Administration approval of immune checkpoint inhibitor (ICI) agents. Recently published data indicate that treatment with 10 mg or more of daily prednisone correlates with poor outcome in NSCLC patients receiving ICI therapy (J Clin Oncol. 2018;36:2872-8; J Thoracic Oncol. 2018;13:1771-5). However, at the 2019 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, analyses of the CancerLinQ database showed that, among NSCLC patients, autoimmune disease and treatment for autoimmune disease are surprisingly prevalent. Should oncologists refuse to treat these patients with ICI agents, alone and in combination with chemotherapy or CTLA4 inhibitors?

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