Bladder Cancer – From the Basics to State-of-the-Art

One of the many ways Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian provide supportive resources to the community is by offering physician-led presentations and Q&A sessions in the Myra Mahon Patient Resource Center.

Two weeks ago, Dr. Scott Tagawa, medical oncologist and Director of the Weill Cornell Medicine Genitourinary (GU) Oncology Program, presented to and educated people in the local community about bladder cancer. His presentation was titled, “Bladder Cancer: From the Basics to State-of-the-Art.” Following the presentation, all attendees were invited to ask Dr. Tagawa questions.

Key topics from Dr. Tagawa’s presentation included the most common risk factors for bladder cancer, different types of bladder cancer (also known as clinical phases), and corresponding treatment options, research, as well as the benefits of utilizing an individualized approach to treatment, also known as precision medicine.

Highlights from Dr. Tagawa’s presentation are outlined below.

Bladder Cancer Risk FactorsScreen Shot 2017-12-14 at 9.22.30 AM

Dr. Tagawa noted that anyone can be diagnosed with bladder cancer, however, factors such as age and exposure to cigarette smoke may increase the risk of bladder cancer from developing. Most people who are diagnosed with bladder cancer are older in age. In fact, the average age at diagnosis is 73. In addition, bladder cancer is twice as common among Caucasians as African Americans.

Clinical Phases of Bladder Cancer and Corresponding Treatment Options

BladderCancer_5Dr. Tagawa highlighted the importance of using a uniform method for developing and testing biomarkers in bladder cancer, a disease with a high incidence of recurrence and expensive clinical surveillance. He also pointed out that most bladder cancers are of a type called transitional cell, affecting the same kinds of cells (transitional cells) that are usually the cancerous cells responsible for renal pelvis, ureter as well as kidney cancers. Dr. Tagawa described the four main phases of bladder cancer.

Pre-Cancer Diagnosis

The first phase is to assess symptoms in high-risk individuals, which defines those who are likely to develop bladder cancer. The most common symptom of bladder cancer is blood in the urine and testing to include assessment for the possibility of cancer would be beneficial for a high-risk population. Risk factors include, those who are aged 65 years or older, have used tobacco and has family history of cancer.

Often, the first test in the assessment of a patient with the symptom of blood in urine (or reddish urine) is a urinalysis, which is a test to assess for the presence of blood versus other elements that may appear like blood in the urine.  Other tests may include the assessment of other urine or blood factors, including assessment for infection. One test that is more specific for bladder cancer is a urine cytology, which looks at the urine under a microscope to detect abnormal appearing cells. If these cells are seen, a cancer diagnosis may be made, as the bladder has “shed” these cells into the urine. However, this test does not detect all cases of bladder cancer. Physicians may also want to perform blood tests or scans including, CT scan, MRI and ultrasounds.

“Superficial” Non-Muscle Invasive Disease

Non-muscle invasive disease means the cancer is confined to the inner lining of the bladder with no evidence that it has spread to another part of the pelvis or other organs. It used to be referred to as “superficial” bladder cancer, but this term is confusing since this stage of cancer often does invade into the first lining of the bladder. This type of bladder cancer comprises about 70% of all cases of newly-diagnosed bladder cancer. These patients are typically managed with resection (surgical removal of the cancerous parts of the bladder using a scope/camera), sometimes followed by intravesical therapy (usually immunotherapy with bacillus calmette-guerin), a process where the physician inserts a liquid drug directly into the bladder through a catheter. The drug can affect the cells lining the bladder without having major effects in other parts of the body.

Muscle Invasive Disease

In patients with muscle invasive disease, the cancer has spread into the muscle wall of the bladder. Those with this type of bladder cancer, which comprise of approximately 40% of all bladder cancer patients, are preferentially treated with systemic neoadjuvant chemotherapy followed by surgery to remove the bladder. Dr. Tagawa explained the different types of surgery patients may undergo if they are diagnosed with muscle invasive disease. The first is transurethral bladder tumor resection (TURBT), in which the surgeon removes the tumor using a tool with a small wire loop. Another form of surgery is a radical cystectomy, the removal of the whole bladder and possibly nearby tissues and organs. In addition, lymph nodes in the pelvis area are removed for both men and women, also known as a pelvic lymph node dissection. A selected subgroup of patients may have similar outcomes with a combination of initial TURBT surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation.

Metastatic Disease

Patients with metastatic bladder cancer, accounting for approximately 15% of bladder cancer patients, have cancer that has extended through the bladder wall and invaded the pelvic and/or abdominal wall. Dr. Tagawa noted that while the other clinical states are treatable, if someone is going to pass away from bladder cancer, they would most likely be at the metastatic disease state. Dr. Tagawa highlighted that chemotherapy with platinum-based regimens remains the mainstay of first-line treatment for metastatic disease. He explained that if physicians combine platinum-based chemotherapy (e.g. cisplatin) with other treatments, patients will most likely benefit from positive clinical outcomes, resulting in tumor shrinkage and longer overall survival rates.

Systemic immunotherapy (administered into veins as opposed to only instillation in the bladder) is another treatment approach and one in which bladder cancer patients tend to have positive responses. The type of immunotherapy drugs given to patients with bladder cancer are known as immune checkpoint inhibitors, as they “release the brakes” on the immune system and allow immune cells to attack tumors. The first Food and Drug Administration (FDA)- approved immunotherapy drugs is tecentriq, also known as atezolizumab, which is an immune checkpoint inhibitor that selectively binds to cancer cells based on the presence of PD-L1, a protein on the tumor’s surface.  There are now five such drugs approved for bladder cancer – more than for any other cancer type.

Treatment Approaches in the Pipeline

Dr. Tagawa noted that we’ve come a long way in recent years with the most available treatment options than ever before for bladder cancer patients. He emphasized, though, that there is still room for improvement with the development of more treatments and additional treatment combinations to increase survival rates for patients. One of the ways physicians are able to do this is by utilizing precision medicine, treating each patient as an individual based on his or her own genetic makeup. For bladder cancer patients, physicians look at the different genes and whether the genetic mutations are within the tumor, or germline, to determine the best treatment options. Some of the most promising drugs for bladder cancer work best in the presence of certain altered genes. Another way clinicians are able to continue utilizing precision medicine is through clinical trials, which pave the way toward further scientific advances that could potentially find a cure for bladder cancer, in addition to other cancers. Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian offer many bladder cancer-specific trials that you can search for here.

Overall, Dr. Tagawa reinforced the benefit of working with a multidisciplinary team, which should include at least a surgeon, radiation oncologist and medical oncologist. He concluded his talk by emphasizing how clinical research has progressed over the years and what it has taught us – “we have seen translational therapy lead to real clinically relevant improvement for patients.”

Watch Dr. Tagawa’s full presentation below.

Benefits of Surgery in Older Adults with Metastatic Urothelial Carcinoma Evaluated Using Largest Dataset of its Kind

Bladder_FBUrothelial carcinoma is the most common type of bladder cancer, also affecting other parts of the urinary system. It is an aggressive disease and its treatment remains challenging for clinicians. Currently, each year there are nearly 80,000 new cases of urothelial cancer and approximately 16,000 deaths from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Unfortunately, there are limited therapeutic options for those with advanced urothelial carcinoma especially after the disease spreads to other distant organs (metastasis). Even with platinum-based chemotherapy and the introduction of immunotherapy, median overall survival is poor, and a five-year survival is only 15%.

The idea of metastasectomy (surgical removal of metastatic tumors) has been proven to be an established option in the treatment of patients with other solid tumors, however, little is known regarding the benefit and safety of this type of surgery for urothelial carcinoma patients because previous studies were mostly from single institutions and limited by small sample size.

Drs. Bishoy Faltas, Scott Tagawa, Jim Hu, along with others at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, partnered with the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to address this very question and their research has now been published in Urologic Oncology: Seminars and Original Investigations. Their goal was to examine the use and outcomes of surgery in older patients with urothelial carcinoma in a large population-based dataset. To do this, clinicians conducted a SEER-Medicare study. SEER is a database run by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that collects large population-based data that provide detailed information about Medicare beneficiaries with cancer. The research was analyzed based on the billing codes the physician’s offices used when submitting insurance claims.

Using this data, clinicians found 70,648 urothelial carcinoma patients and from those, they identified 497 patients who had at least one surgery to remove a metastatic lesion during a median follow-up of 40 months. The median overall survival after the first surgery was 19 months. In this selected patient population, over a third of patients were alive at three years. The median length of stay after surgery was seven days with 10% of patients having at least one complication within 30 days of discharge.

Close-up of gloved hands passing the surgical scissors“It would be very difficult to conduct a randomized clinical trial testing surgery versus no surgery in those with urothelial carcinoma, so reviewing a large dataset retroactively is the next best thing,” says Dr. Bishoy Faltas, Assistant Professor and medical oncologist at Weill Cornell Medicine’s Genitourinary Oncology Program. “Our study shows that in well-selected patients with urothelial carcinoma with a reasonable life expectancy, resection of metastatic lesions is safe and associated with long-term survival and potential cures,” says Dr. Faltas.

What are Other Benefits of Surgery?

Aside from the fact that surgery can prolong life for those with urothelial carcinoma, there are other benefits as well. One of the benefits is enabling the testing of tissue that is removed. Studying this tissue allows clinicians to continue performing precision medicine and treating the individual, not the disease. As described in a previous research study conducted by Dr. Bishoy Faltas titled, “Clonal Evolution of Chemotherapy-Resistant Urothelial Carcinoma” published in Nature Genetics, it has been proven that tumors change and undergo clonal evolution over time especially in metastases after chemotherapy.

“Understanding the evolution of urothelial carcinoma is a central biological question and one that we can only truly begin to understand by testing tissue samples from patients at various periods throughout their treatment,” says Dr. Faltas.

Another potential benefit of surgery is the cost implication. With drug prices continuing to rise, depending on insurance carriers, there is the potential that surgery may be less costly than some of the long-term medications associated with treatment for urothelial cancer. Cost implications of course vary for each patient; however, it is one of the factors along with many others that should be addressed and discussed with healthcare teams.

“There is a lot more work to be done to help treat patients with urothelial cancer, however with the dataset we’ve compiled through our latest study, we’re able to glean the potential benefits of metastasectomy in older adults with urothelial cancer, which could lead to prolonged life and potential cures.”

ESMO: Day 3 Recap

At ESMO 2017, Sunday, September 10th was the day with the largest number of genitourinary (GU) cancer presentations, including two kidney cancer and urothelial cancer highlights in the Presidential Symposium, many poster presentations, and two poster discussion sessions. We’ve broken down the full day of research updates by cancer type.

Kidney Cancer

ESMO_CheckMate 214In the Presidential Presentation on kidney cancer, results were presented from the CheckMate-214 trial. Nivolumab is an anti-PD1 antibody approved for patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC) previously treated with a VEGF-targeted therapy based upon a randomized trial demonstrating an overall survival benefit. The combination of using immune checkpoint inhibitors transitioned from laboratory science to safety studies to full approval in melanoma based upon randomized trials. The CheckMate 214 study tested the efficacy of the combination of nivolumab plus ipilimumab versus one of the most standard VEGF multikinase inhibitors, sunitinib, in previously untreated patients with advanced RCC. The study focused on the intermediate/poor risk population, but also enrolled patients with good risk disease. The study met its endpoints in an impressive fashion. In the target intermediate/poor risk population, the immune checkpoint inhibitor combination led to an improved response rate and overall survival benefit versus the active drug sunitinib. Nine percent of patients had a “complete response” with the combination immunotherapy (meaning complete disappearance of all evidence of cancer on scans). In addition, the entire patient population (with patients in all prognostic groups combined) experienced an improvement in both response and overall survival with immunotherapy.  There were some interesting exploratory analyses of subgroups and the PD-L1 expression status that will lead to additional investigation, but the study will lead to a paradigm shift and create a new standard of care for patients with advanced RCC.

In the Alliance-led A031203 “CaboSun” study, patients with intermediate and poor-risk advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC) were randomized to receive either cabozantinib or sunitinib. The initial results of the study as assessed by the investigative team showed a benefit of cabozantinib over sunitinib in terms of the trial’s primary endpoint of overall survival. One previous caveat of the study was that interpretation of scans by investigators who are also the treating physicians can be biased. An updated analysis added independent review of scans as well as longer follow up. The progression-free survival benefit of cabozantinib was confirmed by independent review and the magnitude of benefit was increased with longer follow up.

Approximately a third of patients with advanced RCC have bone metastases and this may be a negative indicator of prognosis (also known as a “negative prognostic factor”). Radium-223 is an FDA approved agent for men with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer and predominant bone metastases that has been shown to benefit overall survival. A team of investigators from Boston assessed whether adding radium-223 to standard sunitinib or pazopanib would also benefit patients with kidney cancer. The combined treatment was determined to be safe and and markers in the blood and urine indicating that the bone is breaking down – a measure of bone metastases – improved with treatment. Additional randomized trials are needed to assess the true effect of this combination on overall survival.

Bladder and Urothelial Cancer

ESMO_RANGEDuring the ESMO Presidential Presentation on urothelial cancer, results from the RANGE clinical trial were presented. The utility of chemotherapy is limited in patients with advanced urothelial carcinoma whose cancer has progressed after initial platinum-based chemotherapy. Ramicurimab is a monoclonal antibody against the angiogenic factor receptor VEGF-R2. We performed a randomized phase II trial pointing towards a response and progression-free survival benefit with the addition of ramicurimab to docetaxel chemotherapy in this patient population. The RANGE study is a phase III study in which patients with advanced platinum-resistant urothelial carcinoma, with or without treatment with an immune checkpoint inhibitor, were randomized to docetaxel with ramicurimab or placebo. This phase III trial confirmed the benefit of ramicurimab when added to docetaxel in improving progression-free survival and response rate. In addition, there was no significant additional toxicity with the combination, also referred to as a doublet. We await the final overall survival results and additional analyses to assess the place of this combination in our growing treatment armamentarium for urothelial carcinoma.

Several studies examined the genetic material (genome) of tumors in patients with urothelial carcinoma. In a large clinical trial including more than 2000 patients with advanced urothelial carcinoma, investigators utilized the FoundationOne platform to assess the tumor genome of a mix of primary and metastatic tumors arising from the bladder, renal pelvis, and ureters. The study described the landscape of this disease using the targeted sequencing platform, showing a relationship between some common alterations (such as genes for Her2 and PI3K) and a higher rate of overall mutations or “tumor mutational burden” (also referred to as “TMB”).  An analysis of the Checkmate-275 study which led to the approval of nivolumab in patients with progressive urothelial carcinoma after chemotherapy looked at tumor mutational burden and survival outcomes. Higher tumor mutational burden was associated with both better response and survival in patients treated with nivolumab, a form of immunotherapy called an anti-PD1 checkpoint inhibitor. This result was independent of PDL1 status – a specific measure of this a type of mutational burden–  but perhaps stronger in PDL1 low tumors.

Dr. Scott Tagawa, Medical Director of the WCM/NYP Genitourinary Oncology Program, presented a research update regarding patients with advanced urothelial carcinoma who were treated with sacituzumab govitecan (IMMU-132)  after prior chemotherapy. This drug, which links an antibody against Trop2 (which is usually present to a high degree in urothelial carcinoma compared to normal cells) to a potent chemotherapy metabolite, was administered to 41 patients with cancer progression despite an average of three prior treatment regimens. Significant tumor shrinkage (i.e. partial or complete responses) occurred in 34% of patients. In addition, median progression free survival of approximately 7 months and overall survival of approximately 16 months was impressive compared to the expected rates for this patient population.

Prostate Cancer

Prior prostate cancer research has demonstrated strong links within family trees, and as a result, there has been a large push for research to identify where exactly in the genetic profile this risk comes from and whether these genes are passed down through ancestry. In the UK Genetic Prostate Cancer Study (UKGPCS), investigators performed a case-control study of men with and without germline (inherited) DNA damage response and repair genes (those responsible for repairing the DNA of cells in the body) identified in their 167 gene panel. Like in other studies, those with germline alterations had worse cancer-specific outcomes and overall survival rates. Notably across studies, the presence of these inherited genes is not limited to men diagnosed at an early age, so a discussion with physicians about the risks/benefits of genetic testing should be considered.

Our collaborator Dr. Armstrong of Duke University presented research analyzing PSA changes in the PREVAIL trial which led to the FDA-label expansion of enzalutamide for men with mCRPC and no prior chemotherapy. As he and others have previously demonstrated with other drugs such as docetaxel and abiraterone, a lack of PSA decline while on treatment was associated with a poor outcome.

ESMO_ValeTwo presentations focused on men with hormone-sensitive high risk and advanced prostate cancer.

Dr. CL Vale from the UK presented an analysis of data available from randomized trials which pointed towards abiraterone + androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) having a large early relative survival benefit of 37% after 3 years, and docetaxel + ADT having a smaller, but still large and significant 23% survival impact after additional follow up for 4 years.

In prostate cancer, there is a “TNM” staging system that indicates the size range of the primary tumor (T), whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes (N), whether there are signs that the cancer is metastatic and has spread elsewhere in the body (M). When there are no signs of distant metastases, the corresponding staging is “M0” which translates to M zero, or no metastases. ESMO_M0_ProstateCancer

Dr. Nicholas James from the UK presented data on the “M0” population of 915 men without distant metastatic disease receiving abiraterone + ADT versus ADT with or without radiation as part of the STAMPEDE study. In the overall group with M0 disease, so far there have not yet been any detectable differences in survival, which is not surprising since this subset of men tend to live for a long time while on therapy. There were though, important improvements in the amount of time to cancer growth or the development of metastatic disease. In those men with clinically evident lymph node metastases at diagnosis (corresponding to the symbol “N”), the combination of all three treatments — abiraterone, ADT, and radiation — demonstrated a significantly better survival benefit than those treated with ADT + radiation, which was in turn better than ADT alone.

Additionally, new information on interesting early phase clinical trials was also presented at ESMO.

At Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, we participated in a clinical trial utilizing INO-5150, a DNA vaccine against PSA and PSMA. This vaccine was administered with electroporation (essentially a small electric shock at the injection site) and with or without INO-9012 (an IL-12 vaccine) designed as an adjuvant treatment to improve immune responses to the INO-5150 treatment. Men who received either one or both vaccines had few side effects other than skin reactions at the injection site and many developed immune responses. Additional study is warranted to test anti-tumor efficacy.

EC1169 is comprised of a small molecule PSMA ligand linked to a tubulysin drug. Updated data were presented in this trial where men with metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) who had both received and not received prior chemotherapy were treated with EC1169. As more men were treated on trial, researchers were able to document safety and tolerability of the drug, while demonstrating the drug’s ability to control the cancer, particularly in men who had previously received docetaxel chemotherapy.

In prostate cancer, one of the mechanisms of resistance to hormonal therapy is activation of the PI3K/AKT pathway. GSK2636771 is a PI3K inhibitor that was tested in a phase I study by adding the drug to enzalutamide in men with mCRPC who had experienced some cancer progression while taking enzalutamide alone. Importantly, the trial demonstrated that GSK2636771 was safe and a signal of efficacy was present in the small trial. Additional studies are planned which will be adding the drug to enzalutamide to truly test its ability to control cancer growth. Of note, the PI3K pathway is indicated in the formation and growth of numerous cancers and was discovered by our cancer center director, Lewis Cantley, PhD.

Check out our prior ESMO 2017 Day 1 and Day 2 Recaps.