The Need for Education About Biomarker Testing [Interview][Transcript]

dr_suman_rao_biomarker_educationGuest: Dr. Suman B. Rao
Presenter: Neal Howard
Guest Bio: Suman B. Rao, MD, is a medical oncologist board certified in hematology and medical oncology as well as internal medicine. Fellowship-trained, Dr. Rao is experienced in treating a wide range of cancers. Her clinical interests including lung cancer and breast diseases. A member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Dr. Rao is a strong proponent of clinical trials and encourages eligible patients to take advantage of the many opportunities to participate in such trials at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center.

Segment overview: Suman B. Rao, MD, an oncologist, talks about the crucial need for increased education and dialogue (among patients, caregivers and HCPs) about biomarker testing.


Health Professional Radio – The Need for Education About Biomarker Testing

Neal Howard: Hello and welcome to the program, I’m your host Neal Howard, thank you for joining us here on Health Professional Radio. Our guest is returning to speak with us about biomarker testing,. The need, the crucial need for increased education among patients, caregivers, and those who are paying for healthcare when it comes to biomarker testing. Welcome back to Health Professional Radio Dr. Suman B. Rao.

Dr. Suman Rao: Thank you very much Neal, thanks for having me.

N: Well, you’re here before and in other segments we were talking about biomarker testing. Talk a little bit about your background, tell our listeners about yourself and how you came to be involved in this groundbreaking, well I guess, recently in the last 20 years, recently developed technology.

R: Sure. So I graduated actually in 1999, my finished med-fellowship at that point and then worked at the university for a couple years at the University of Texas in Dallas and then I did join in a hospital-based practice and that’s actually worked out very well for me. I like where I worked because of the fact that, while I see a number of patients, most of my time is devoted to patient care but we do have a lot of clinical trials that are available to enroll our patients in. We’ve been a very active critical trials program right since I joined and I’ve been very active at the clinical trials, especially with lung cancer. The development has been fascinating. I think one of the reasons I’ve run into oncology was because it was always so cutting edge, you have to keep up. The molecular biology is always been very interesting to me. We did some of the clinical trials early on with drugs that are targeting EGFR mutations, we’ve done clinical trials with the drugs that are targeting other mutations and more recently we’ve been involved in the clinical trials with the immunotherapy pathways. So, for all that and knowledge of biomarkers, how they work, what the drugs are targeting, and the side of effect is really very important.

N: How easy to understand is this technology from a patient’s standpoint?

R: Yes, I would say it’s variable. Actually I think patients are much more savvy today than they were a few years ago. I do have patients who come in and say, ‘Well, I want immunotherapy.’ Sometimes it actually even come into the physician to say, ‘Why the immunotherapy is gonna be useful? Why is not gonna be useful? And what else are we gonna look at?’ The knowledge may not be as widespread as they would like it. It’s gonna depend region by region. I would say that in my practice, maybe about it’s 50-50. I have patients who are very savvy come in prepared, know what they’re talking about, and then we have patients who really need a lot of explanation as to why we do a work we doing, why is the testing is important, why we don’t rush in and treat the next day because there’s a lot of urgency with the diagnosis in cancer to say, ‘I want my treatment tomorrow.’ but then you have to explain to the patient that this biomarker testing is very important and that having the right, looking at the right path, finding the right biomarker, then we can help choose the best treatment for them. So education is definitely key to that and the website the really helps. I think a very useful website for patients to go to, to learn more about this so they can go in prepared as far as widely known in the community. I think it’s valuable, our practice, we routinely test everybody for biomarkers, everybody which lung cancer diagnosis, that is stage 3 or stage 4, we routinely test them for these biomarkers. We have that on-hand often when the patient sees us but I don’t think that’s the case everywhere. The more we push to make this information more widely available, I think the better.

N: Sometimes, I guess driving awareness further or deeper into folks’ minds involves a sense of not just yourself but as a patient but some of the other patients may benefit from this technology that you’re currently considering. Talk about the impact that lung cancer has on the contrary, and why it’s important that patients get on-board and really try to understand and spread awareness of this new biomarker testing.

R: Yeah. Unfortunately, the impact of lung cancer is pretty big. We still see about 225,000 patients diagnosed every year in the U.S. with lung cancer. That’s one of the top cancers that affect patients and it is the most common cause of cancer death, both in men and women. Sometimes I think we forget that women can be affected as much as men. What do the incident say is a little bit less, it is the number 1 killer from cancer for women also. Unfortunately, it still takes a big toll on the patient population.

N: Now once again, tell our listeners about the Test. Talk. Take Action Initiative the website where they can get more information and just a little bit more about this campaign?

R: So the website was developed by Merck and the support groups, patient advocacy groups. It’s basically geared toward helping patients, caregivers, understand the impact of lung cancer and to have the right resources when they’re diagnosed with lung cancer so they can be empowered to discuss to their physicians the importance of this task and what the right treatment is for them. I think the important part of it also is that it has a lot of information on advocacy group, where to get support financially, emotionally, this is a huge burden on patients and their families and to also provide the support sometimes that’s needed for that.

N: Thank you for coming back and talking with us again Dr. Rao. It’s been a pleasure.

R: Thank you. I’m very glad to be here.

N: You’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio, I’m your host Neal Howard, in studio with Dr. Suman B. Rao and she’s been in studio today with us talking about the importance of more education about biomarker testing. Transcripts and audio of this program are available at and also at and you can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes.

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