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When Should an AML Specialist Be Consulted?

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Published on January 15, 2021

The Importance of Consulting an AML Specialist

In the third episode of a nine-part podcast series, Dr. Eunice Wang, MD, Chief of Leukemia at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, encourages newly diagnosed acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients to add an AML specialist to their medical team. Dr. Wang explains the importance of having the expertise of a specialist at the time of diagnosis when beginning treatment for such an aggressive cancer, and reassures patients that even those who do not have an academic medical center nearby can access expert opinions through telemedicine. Keep watching to learn more.

Support for this series has been provided by AbbVie Inc. and Genentech, Inc. Patient Power maintains complete editorial control and is solely responsible for program content.

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Transcript | When Should an AML Specialist Be Consulted?

The Importance of Consulting an AML Specialist

Dr. Wang: Hello. My name is Dr. Eunice Wang, Chief of the Clinical Leukemia Service at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. I’m here to answer a very important question for those patients or those loved ones who have just been diagnosed with AML. The question is: should an AML specialist, or a doctor who focuses on treatment of AML, be consulted for recommendations at the time of the diagnosis?

Now, many of us feel that our local physicians are our friends, and they are familiar to us and they are convenient to us. However, it must be pointed out that acute myeloid leukemia is not a very common disorder. It's actually something that requires a certain amount of expertise in managing it. As we know, AML is not all alike so there may be many types and flavors and varieties of AMLs. And there are a number of novel therapies which have been developed for AML, which are new or newer to the field and require an individual who is familiar with them in order to optimally use them.

I live in a part of the country where many of my patients are coming from very far away and they may live an hour, two hours, three hours, five hours from a major city or a major medical center. So, the question I get a lot is, "Is it worth it for me to travel and go to the effort to see an AML specialist, or would it be okay for me to be treated in my local community?" Now, my advice is that your best opportunity to treat a cancer is at the time of the diagnosis. The treatment that you get at that point is the most effective time point for you to get the best benefit from your cancer therapy. The difference in treatment that you can get from a consultation with a physician specializing in AML at a major medical center can make the difference, literally, between life and death.

What if I Don’t Live Near an AML Specialist?

In this day and age, with the advent of the COVID pandemic, one of the advantages that have arisen from this crisis has been our ability to perform many consultations in a virtual world, the digital world. Many of my new patients are patients that don't necessarily live here. I would ask that if you have a new diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia, that you at least consult with an AML specialist at a major academic medical center.

If you're in the community and you're working with your local doctor who you love, and you would like to get some expertise but also not travel all the time, there are many instances where I have partnered with a local doctor to see a patient, provide my expertise on a one-time or an intermittent basis, and then have the patient return to the care of their community doctor. And then, I'm able to work both with the patient and the doctor to coordinate a treatment plan that optimizes the benefits of treatment without that patient having to come every week or every two weeks, or every single cycle.

I have patients that live three to five hours away and get their chemotherapy given by their local doctor and come every month or two, or three, to see me or schedule a virtual visit with me, so that I can work together to tinker with or optimize or hold the chemo. I think in this day and age, there is a great opportunity for very collaborative medicine to work together to provide each individual with the best care, without them physically having to travel back and forth for every visit.

Why Do You Need a Specialist to Treat AML?

If you didn't know, there have been eight to nine new drugs approved for acute myeloid leukemia, and many of these drugs are being studied and are being evaluated in clinical trials. This is a cancer that is very aggressive and requires expertise and, oftentimes, experimental therapies. Participating and being involved and going to a physician who knows what they're doing can only be of benefit to you and your family as you start the journey on the cancer care of this cancer.

I would strongly recommend that that be something that we all consider — the best medical care to treat this aggressive cancer. And I know for a fact that there are effective therapies for you and your loved one out there, but you may need to go out and seek those for yourself and make the effort to see somebody that can best treat you and provide you with the best quality and quantity of time.