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Expert Perspective: Hopeful MPN Research and Development

Expert Perspective: Hopeful MPN Research and Development from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN expert and clinical researcher Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub shares excitement about the future of MPN treatment and research, including an optimistic outlook for new approvals in the coming year. 

Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub is a hematologist oncologist at the University of Kansas Cancer Center. Dr. Yacoub is an active researcher and is an Associate Professor of Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapeutics. Learn more about Dr. Yacoub, here.
 
 

Related Programs:

 
How Treatment Goals Impact MPN Treatment Decisions

How Treatment Goals Impact MPN Treatment Decisions

Advice for Choosing MPN Therapy: What’s Right for You?

Advice for Choosing MPN Therapy: What’s Right for You?

How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?

How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?


Transcript:

Katherine:

I wanted to get your take on the future of MPN research and treatment. Are there new developments that you’re excited about and that make you hopeful?  

Dr. Yacoub:

Absolutely. So, again, I would like to take the last few minutes to advocate for the future. And the future can only come when doctors and patients and advocates work together to advance the science. We have few tools to treat patients and to help patients. We have a lot of unanswered questions. And the only way to answer them is by designing quality clinical trials, enrolling patients on trials, taking the risk, and trying to find new answers and new therapeutics. So, I always would like to advocate for patients to seek clinical trials whether with their doctor or whether they have to travel for it, and for doctors to consider that for their patients. That’s the only way to advance science.  

There are very important national and international studies going on right now. One of the – and first, I would like to emphasize is that we have had ruxolitinib (Jakafi) as the only therapy, or the first-line therapy for myelofibrosis for a decade now.  

Not everybody responds to it, not everybody responds to it for a long time. So, now we’re designing combination trials. So, there’s a few studies that we are trying to redefine, “Is ruxolitinib alone enough, or should we have a combination first-line therapy?” So, these are some of the more important questions being asked right now.  

And this is definitely one of the bigger moves in the field, is trying to redefine what is the first-line therapy for myelofibrosis. For polycythemia vera, we’re also exploring therapeutics that would reduce phlebotomy with things you can add to your medical care to reduce phlebotomy.  

So, that’s also going on. And it’s definitely a big leap forward for many of our patients. For ET, when we don’t have any actual drugs approved other than hydroxyurea (Hydrea) and anagrelide (Agrylin), we actually have trials with interferon going on.  

So, I would like to advocate for that. So, interferon succeeded and now approved for PV, but not yet for ET. We’re working on that. So, again, in every disease, we’re trying to design clinical trials to redefine what is the best treatment today.  

We’re also doing studies to understand the cancer. So, studies where patients donate their samples for research. These are very helpful, very important. And contributing to that always advances the science, and it’s low effort to the patients. So, if there’s a clinical trial that is offered to patients, I would strongly urge everybody to consider that favorably and contribute to science. 

That’s the only way we can help future patients and ourselves immediately, at moving the field forward.  

What Are the Signs of MPN Progression?

What Are the Signs of MPN Progression? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub, an MPN specialist, explains how essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV), or myelofibrosis (MF) may progress from one disease to the next, including potential signs and symptoms of MPN progression. 

Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub is a hematologist oncologist at the University of Kansas Cancer Center. Dr. Yacoub is an active researcher and is an Associate Professor of Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapeutics. Learn more about Dr. Yacoub, here.
 

Related Programs:

 
What Are Treatment Options for Essential Thrombocythemia?

What Are Treatment Options for Essential Thrombocythemia?

What Are Treatment Options for Polycythemia Vera?

What Are Treatment Options for Polycythemia Vera?

What Are Treatment Options for Myelofibrosis?

What Are Treatment Options for Myelofibrosis?


Transcript:

Katherine:

We have a couple of questions from the audience. This one is from Sarah. She writes, “I’ve been living with essential thrombocythemia for three years, and have been relatively stable. Of course, I’m worried about progression to PV or MF. What is my chance of progression, and what are the signs of progression?” 

Dr. Yacoub:

That’s a very good question. And unfortunately, we’re very good at describing those numbers. Unfortunately, our tools at interfering are not as good. So, in general, patients with ET, statistically speaking, have a life expectancy that is not different from their age match peers. And Sarah’s story will be not too indifferent from her sisters and her mother, in terms of what’s going to happen to her long care and her health, provided she gets good medical care. The exception to that is that there is a transformation risk. For ET we caught around a 4 percent every 10 years in which ET will actually change into a different cancer, a higher risk cancer.   

Could be MF, could be MDS, could be acute leukemia. And that will be a much more serious diagnosis. So, it’s about 4 percent in 10 years. We do have a – or we extrapolate some of the data from other cancers. So, certain mutations are more favorable, certain mutations are more risky. And we try to forecast that but worried it’s really hard to predict that since it’s such a long journey with disease. The first symptoms or the findings, when patients start suspecting that their disease has changed, is that the pattern of symptoms that they have are different.   

They often become worse. So, they have more constitutional symptoms, more tiredness, more fevers, more night sweats, losing weight, not being able to eat a full meal, abdominal distension, the spleen gets bigger.  

So, these are some of the feelings that patients can experience that lead to this. Other objective things is when the blood tests change in a less favorable way. So, for patients with ET who always run at 800,000 platelet count, if they’re suddenly 200, and that’s in the normal range, but that’s actually not good news, because the cancer changed. And this change is not favorable. So, as the doctors run routine labs, if they see the sudden change in labs, that’s also abnormal.  

If the doctor can feel that the spleen gets bigger every time, that’s also concerning. If the patients suddenly have anemia or very high white cell count or immature white cells in the blood, that’s also a concern.  

So, that’s why it’s great or important to establish a baseline symptom burden.  A baseline spleen, a baseline bone marrow biopsy with mutation analysis, so that patients have a clear reference point to where they started, and if things change, they can always go back to that point and compare.  

Advice for Choosing MPN Therapy: What’s Right for You?

Advice for Choosing MPN Therapy: What’s Right for You? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN specialist Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub reviews factors that determine which treatment is most appropriate for your essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV), or myelofibrosis (MF). 

Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub is a hematologist oncologist at the University of Kansas Cancer Center. Dr. Yacoub is an active researcher and is an Associate Professor of Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapeutics. Learn more about Dr. Yacoub, here.
 

Related Programs:

 
How Treatment Goals Impact MPN Treatment Decisions

How Treatment Goals Impact MPN Treatment Decisions

How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?

How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?

Expert Perspective: Hopeful MPN Research and Development

Expert Perspective: Hopeful MPN Research and Development


Transcript:

Katherine:

As with most conditions, all patients are different, of course, and what might work for one person might not be appropriate for another. So, how do you choose which treatment is right for a patient?   

Dr, Yacoub:

Excellent. So, and that’s actually the heart of what we define as the art of practicing medicine and being patient-centric and focused. And patients already have their own wishes and their needs. And everything should start with having a discussion with patients on what is their priority, and what are they trying to achieve.  

And we do have to explain to them the tools we have, the interventions that can help them. But we also need to make sure they’re compatible with what they actually want and their goals in life. And sometimes what we doctors want is not exactly what the patients want. So, we always have to remind ourselves that patients are the drivers of their care. And they have the absolute right to be informed and to make informed decisions based on the options we advise them about.  

So, that is always a centerpiece of healthcare. And then patients – basically, we defined four pillars of care. We want to control their symptoms, we want to prevent complications, we want to modify the disease so it doesn’t transform, and we want our therapies not to have toxicities, not to have side effects that are worse than the disease.  

So, we bring that up to the table. And we also look at the patient. What are their symptoms? What did the disease cause them to be complications?  

What is the risk that their cancer is actually going to progress quickly to hurt their lives? And how serious is the therapy we’re recommending? And we need to make sure that there is a good match between what we’re offering and what the disease is manifesting. So, for example, for patients who have a lot of symptoms, but they have low-risk cancer that they can live with for a long time, we focus on symptoms. We focus on treatments that improve their symptoms.  

While with patients who have more serious diseases that are eminently life-threatening, we focus on an expedited path to a more aggressive therapy and a bone marrow transplant.  

And then we also try to match those therapies with the other patient’s wishes and needs and so forth. So, all these factors are important. We have more tools to try to prognosticate. So, prognosticate is the medical word that we use as forecasting.  

We like to forecast the disease or the cancer. We try to predict the patient’s future. Fortunately, we actually have good tools to prognosticate now. We have models or calculators that factor in patients’ features, their symptoms, their age, their blood counts, their bone marrow findings, and their DNA mutations. And it gives us a score, a risk score that can correlate with their life expectancy or their outcomes.  

And we use those tools to guide us. So, there’s actually a tool we use to help patients reach that decision. It’s an objective tool to decide how serious is this disease and how seriously we should tackle it. It’s very applicable for patients with myelofibrosis, more sort of the other lower-risk cancers.  

Katherine:

What about comorbidities? How do they fit into the treatment plan?  

Dr. Yacoub:

Very important.  

So, again, it also goes back to finding the balance between how serious is the disease, how serious is the treatment, and how will the patient’s general health tolerate and factor in the choices patients make accordingly. So, myeloproliferative neoplasms do happen in a broad range of ages. And we have children, minors with MPNs, and we have elderly patients with MPNs. And it’s a continuous spectrum. And each individual patient will have their own health concerns and their own health comorbidities and their own wishes. And we always have to make sure that we match our therapies, the disease seriousness, and the patient’s wishes, which is also stemming from their own other health battles, too.  

We cannot turn a blind eye to the other health issues going on. That plays a major factor as we choose to discuss bone marrow transplantation with patients. Because that’s when the medical comorbidities are often the first barrier to go through.  

Katherine:

Are there specific biomarkers that may affect prognosis or treatment?  

Dr. Yacoub:

Yes. So, and we’re glad that actually myeloproliferative neoplasms are actually the model in medical oncology on how predictors can tell us a lot more about the patient’s future about the prognosis. So, early on in MPNs, we’ve developed models, like the International Prognostic Scoring Systems in many different iterations. And more recently, the Molecular Based International Prognostic Scores.  

They factor in patient’s age, they factor in blood numbers, they factor in DNA abnormalities, they also factor in DNA mutations, including the common driver mutations JAK2 and CALR and MPL, as well as more novel mutations that we call higher risk mutations.  

So, based on these models, we use these tools to predict how the cancer will behave, and how to approach it. This advancement has been an application for our MPN patients for a while, way ahead of all other fields of oncology. So, we’re proud that we can give our patients this tool before all other doctors were able to. Yeah.   

What Are Treatment Options for Polycythemia Vera?

What Are Treatment Options for Polycythemia Vera? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN specialist Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub provides an overview of available treatment options for patients living with polycythemia vera (PV). 

Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub is a hematologist oncologist at the University of Kansas Cancer Center. Dr. Yacoub is an active researcher and is an Associate Professor of Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapeutics. Learn more about Dr. Yacoub, here.
 
 

Related Programs:

 
How Treatment Goals Impact MPN Treatment Decisions

How Treatment Goals Impact MPN Treatment Decisions

Advice for Choosing MPN Therapy: What’s Right for You?

Advice for Choosing MPN Therapy: What’s Right for You?

How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?

How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?


Transcript:

Katherine:

You mentioned using interferons for ET. That’s something that you would also use for polycythemia vera. Yes?   

Dr. Yacoub:

Absolutely. So, the same principles will apply to polycythemia vera. We would like to treat the higher-risk patients more aggressively. Hydroxyurea (Hydrea) and interferon are also the first-line therapies in these patients.   

The good news in 2022 is that we actually finally have an FDA-approved interferon for our patients. Finally, after 50 years of using interferon, now, we have an FDA approval. So, the new interferon, ropeginterferon alfa-2b is a medication that was studied prospectively in Europe, and it has been approved and in clinical use in Europe under the brand name Besremi.  

And this year, it was approved in the U.S. for patients with polycythemia vera, which is a great achievement for the medical field and a great tool to help our patients. We have used other brands off-label in the past, but it’s glad now to get this confirmation from the FDA that this is a standard of care for all patients.  

And then beyond that, ruxolitinib or Jakafi, is also approved as a second-line option in patients who have had hydroxyurea as their first line.  

So, these are the medicines we use for polycythemia vera. We also use therapeutic phlebotomy. And the goal in high-risk polycythemia vera, or actually in all patient polycythemia vera, is to reduce their hematocrit.  

And we want it under 45 percent every day of the year. And we use the tools that we just discussed phlebotomy and medicines to achieve that, in addition to aspirin. So, that’s how PV is more unique than ET. Yes. 

What Are Treatment Options for Essential Thrombocythemia?

What Are Treatment Options for Essential Thrombocythemia? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN specialist Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub reviews the various treatment approaches available to patients living with essential thrombocythmia (ET).

Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub is a hematologist oncologist at the University of Kansas Cancer Center. Dr. Yacoub is an active researcher and is an Associate Professor of Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapeutics. Learn more about Dr. Yacoub, here.
 
 

Related Programs:

 
How Treatment Goals Impact MPN Treatment Decisions

How Treatment Goals Impact MPN Treatment Decisions

Advice for Choosing MPN Therapy: What’s Right for You?

Advice for Choosing MPN Therapy: What’s Right for You?

How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?

How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?


Transcript:

Dr: Yacoub: 

So, let’s talk about essential thrombocythemia. This is among the other MPNs, the cancer with the lowest risk. Patients with essential thrombocythemia can have clots and can have bleedings. And they also often have symptoms because of their cancer.  

But they also enjoy a long life expectancy that is almost indifferent from patients who don’t have cancer provided they get good care. So, our emphasis is on focusing that their life quality is not touched by their cancer, and focusing on treating patients with symptoms, to ameliorate the symptoms and allowing them to have a decent and good quality of life. At the same time, we would like to reduce the risk of clotting and bleeding.  

And we have tools and medicines that are very effective at doing that in select patients who we define as high risk. And now there is a more clear definition of that. So, high-risk patients are patients who are over age 60 and have a JAK2 mutation, or patients who have already had a clot.  

That is not the majority of ET patients actually. The majority are not high risk. And those patients might not require therapy to reduce their platelet count. 

But for high-risk patients, we have tools to help them. So, hydroxyurea (Hydrea) is the most commonly used medicine in this setting.  

The goal of hydroxyurea is to reduce the platelet count. And we’d like to keep it under 400, sometimes under 600 under different circumstances. And that will reduce the risk of clotting and bleeding for our patients. The other option, which I also feel passionate about is interferon.  

Interferons are drugs that we’ve used for decades. They’re very effective. They’re safe in the right hands. And they do have advantages over hydroxyurea in terms of long-term safety. These are medications we can give to young patients, we can give to pregnant patients, we can give for long term without concerns of toxicity, and also they have a higher ceiling. Patients with interferon can achieve a disease control that we cannot achieve with hydroxyurea.  

And this will be beneficial long term treating those patients. So, these – yeah, and then aspirin therapy is always something we would like to include in this regimen.  

Katherine:

I was going to ask you about that. So, aspirin is still being used as a treatment?  

 Dr. Yacoub:

Absolutely. So, the standard of care is to use aspirin. Usually, one baby aspirin once a day, preferably in the morning is what we recommend. And that’s probably all the aspirin they need. We do not want them to take more than that either.  

Thriving with an MPN: What You Should Know About Care and Treatment

Thriving with an MPN: What You Should Know About Care and Treatment from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 MPN specialist and researcher, Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub, reviews factors that help guide care decisions for MPNs – essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV), and myelofibrosis (MF). Dr. Yaboub discusses the goals of treatment, shares tools for taking an active role in your care, and provides an update on promising new therapies for MPNs.

 
Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub is a hematologist oncologist at the University of Kansas Cancer Center. Dr. Yacoub is an active researcher and is an Associate Professor of Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapeutics. Learn more about Dr. Yacoub, here.
 
 

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The Latest in MPN Research: Updates from ASH 2021

The Latest in MPN Research from ASH 2021

Updates from ASH: How Biomarker Testing Has Changed MPN Care

Updates from ASH: How Biomarker Testing Has Changed MPN Care

Expert Advice for Finding an MPN Clinical Trial

Expert Advice for Finding an MPN Clinical Trial


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today. Today’s program is about how to live and thrive with an MPN. We’re going to discuss MPN treatment goals, and how you can play an active role in your care.

Before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you.

All right, let’s meet our guest. Joining me today is Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub. Welcome, Dr. Yacoub. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Yacoub:               

Hello, Katherine. And thank you very much for inviting me to participate in this very important and near and dear topic to my heart and to everything I do every day.

I’m a hematologist-oncologist at the University of Kansas. I practice hematology 100 percent of my time, and I dedicate it to patients with MPNs. I’m an active researcher through clinical trials at my own institution, as well as part of many national and international collaborations. We all strive to provide the best care and the updates for our patients. I’m also a Director of our hematology clinics in cancers at the University of Kansas, and I’m an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Kansas.

Katherine:                  

Well, thank you so much for taking time out of your very busy schedule to join us today. We appreciate it.

Dr. Yacoub:               

Absolutely, my pleasure.

Katherine:                  

To give our patient audience some context before we get into the specifics of MPN treatment approaches, how would you define treatment goals?

Dr. Yacoub:               

Thank you, thank you. And I always like to highlight and emphasize that unlike many of the cancer syndromes that patients deal with, myeloproliferative neoplasms are unique.

These are chronic cancers. There’s no finish line. And this is a disease you live with. It affects every day of your life, every activity of your future life. You plan your life events accordingly. Pregnancies and marriages and trips and all of that. So, this is a chronic cancer. And as we plan therapy, we always factor that in. We would like the cancer to have the least or almost no impact on your daily life.

Whether it’s symptoms, whether it’s disability and dysfunction and inability to perform your daily functions, whether it’s actual physical symptoms that you’re having from the cancer, or whether it’s affecting complications that are hurting your health. So, we would like to focus on all of these, the medical aspect as well as the impact of the disease to everyday symptoms.

This is a unique feature of these cancers. And it doesn’t really exist much in other diseases.

Katherine:                  

That’s helpful to understand as we move through today’s program. And we’re going to cover the three classic MPNs, polycythemia vera, essential thrombocythemia, and myelofibrosis.

So, for the person who has one of these conditions, can you help us understand the treatment approaches for each? Let’s start with essential thrombocythemia or ET.

Dr. Yacoub:               

Excellent. So, I’m going to start with some general concepts. So, as we approach our patients, we would like to get a good assessment of the disease burden to their lives. These can be symptoms. So, we actually have very good objective tools to measure symptoms, such as the MPN-SAF. It’s an objective tool to calculate the symptoms. So, we would like to get an objective baseline of symptoms.

Because we do want to address the symptoms, regardless of the MPN subtype. We do want to master actually the symptoms because that is what patients feel every day and we want to affect that early in the treatment. We also would like to get a good assessment of the disease complications. Have the patient suffered a clot or a hemorrhage or symptoms because of an enlarged spleen? Or were they unable to perform certain activities? Are they able to eat? Are they losing weight?

So, we would like to see how is the cancer also causing them immediate morbidity, and we also would like to tackle the future. So, cancers tend to get worse with time. They tend to transform into a higher risk cancer. So, as we approach any of the MPN patients, we also talk about the future risk of the cancer turning into a more aggressive form of cancer.

So, we would like if we can, for every patient to focus on these three pillars of their care: their immediate quality of life and symptoms, their immediate complications, and their future disease progression.

And we would like to factor in that our treatments does not add more side effects to their lives. So, that’s the fourth pillar of how we take care of patients. So, these are the basic concepts that will apply today for all patients with all three diseases.

Some patients will have more emphasis on one or the other. But this is something in our mind as doctors who treat MPN patients, we try to balance all these three pillars for every patient. So, let’s talk about essential thrombocythemia. This is among the other MPNs, the cancer with the lowest risk. Patients with essential thrombocythemia can have clots and can have bleedings. And they also often have symptoms because of their cancer.

But they also enjoy a long life expectancy that is almost indifferent from patients who don’t have cancer provided they get good care. So, our emphasis is on focusing that their life quality is not touched by their cancer, and focusing on treating patients with symptoms, to ameliorate the symptoms and allowing them to have a decent and good quality of life. At the same time, we would like to reduce the risk of clotting and bleeding.

And we have tools and medicines that are very effective at doing that in select patients who we define as high risk. And now there is a more clear definition of that. So, high-risk patients are patients who are over age 60 and have a JAK2 mutation, or patients who have already had a clot.

That is not the majority of ET patients actually. The majority are not high risk. And those patients might not require therapy to reduce their platelet count.

But for high-risk patients, we have tools to help them. So, hydroxyurea (Hydrea) is the most commonly used medicine in this setting.

The goal of hydroxyurea is to reduce the platelet count. And we’d like to keep it under 400, sometimes under 600 under different circumstances. And that will reduce the risk of clotting and bleeding for our patients. The other option, which I also feel passionate about is interferon.

Interferons are drugs that we’ve used for decades. They’re very effective. They’re safe in the right hands.

And they do have advantages over hydroxyurea in terms of long-term safety. These are medications we can give to young patients, we can give to pregnant patients, we can give for long term without concerns of toxicity, and also they have a higher ceiling. Patients with interferon can achieve a disease control that we cannot achieve with hydroxyurea.

And this will be beneficial long term treating those patients. So, these – Yeah, and then aspirin therapy is always something we would like to include in this regimen.

Katherine:                  

I was going to ask you about that. So, aspirin is still being used as a treatment?

Dr. Yacoub:               

Absolutely. So, the standard of care is to use aspirin. Usually, one baby aspirin once a day, preferably in the morning is what we recommend. And that’s probably all the aspirin they need. We do not want them to take more than that either.

Katherine:                  

And you mentioned using interferons for ET. That’s something that you would also use for polycythemia vera. Yes?

Dr. Yacoub:               

Absolutely. So, the same principles will apply to polycythemia vera. We would like to treat the higher-risk patients more aggressively. Hydroxyurea and interferon are also the first-line therapies in these patients.

The good news in 2022 is that we actually finally have an FDA-approved interferon for our patients. Finally, after 50 years of using interferon, now, we have an FDA approval. So, the new interferon, ropeginterferon alfa-2b is a medication that was studied prospectively in Europe, and it has been approved and in clinical use in Europe under the brand name Besremi.

And this year, it was approved in the US for patients with polycythemia vera, which is a great achievement for the medical field and a great tool to help our patients. We have used other brands off-label in the past, but it’s glad now to get this confirmation from the FDA that this is a standard of care for all patients.

And then beyond that, ruxolitinib or Jakafi, is also approved as a second-line option in patients who have had hydroxyurea as their first line.

So, these are the medicines we use for polycythemia vera. We also use therapeutic phlebotomy. And the goal in high-risk polycythemia vera, or actually in all patient polycythemia vera, is to reduce their hematocrit.

And we want it under 45 percent every day of the year. And we use the tools that we just discussed phlebotomy and medicines to achieve that, in addition to aspirin. So, that’s how PV is more unique than ET. Yes.

Katherine:                  

And since myelofibrosis is a progressive condition, I imagine it’s more difficult to manage. So, what else is available for patients with myelofibrosis?

Dr. Yacoub:               

Correct So, myelofibrosis is the higher end of this spectrum of cancers.

It is a cancer that is associated with much higher symptom burden and impact on daily life. It is also associated with low blood counts, and some patients will require transfusions. It’s a major morbidity to our patients. And in addition, it’s a cancer that is associated with shortened life. So, patients with myelofibrosis will not live as long as their health would have allowed them. And some of them will live actually a much shorter life than they want or deserve.

So, myelofibrosis treatment requires a lot more considerations. So, for patients who are in good health, who have a cancer that is more aggressive, that would be imminently impacting their longevity, we start a discussion about a curative role of allogeneic stem cell transplantation very early in their course.

Because bone marrow transplantation can be curative, and those patients can live a long life after a successful transplant. So, this is a treatment modality that should be brought up very early for patients with higher risk myelofibrosis. There are approved JAK inhibitors, ruxolitinib and fedratinib (Inrebic). And we know that Ruxolitinib which has been approved for over 10 years can improve symptoms, can improve the spleen volume, can actually prolong lives for patients on it, and also makes the transplant more successful.

So, we should be offering that to the appropriate patients also early in their diagnosis, in a strategy where, in addition to that, we get them to a transplant. Fedratinib is approved in that setting. And we are very optimistic that by the end of this calendar year, we will have two other JAK inhibitors approved.

So, we look forward to those two drugs. Momelotinib and pacritinib for patients with special disease features.

[Editor’s Note: As of February 28, 2022, pacritinib (Vonjo) has been approved for the treatment of myelofibrosis patients with severe thrombocytopenia.]

And hopefully, by the end of this year, we will have a list of JAK inhibitors that we can choose from, which is great news for our patients.

Katherine:                  

Oh, we’re still fighting.

Dr. Yacoub:               

Yes, absolutely.

Katherine:                  

As with most conditions, all patients are different, of course, and what might work for one person might not be appropriate for another. So, how do you choose which treatment is right for a patient?

Dr, Yacoub:               

Excellent. So, and that’s actually the heart of what we define as the art of practicing medicine and being patient-centric and focused. And patients already have their own wishes and their needs. And everything should start with having a discussion with patients on what is their priority, and what are they trying to achieve.

And we do have to explain to them the tools we have, the interventions that can help them. But we also need to make sure they’re compatible with what they actually want and their goals in life. And sometimes what we doctors want is not exactly what the patients want. So, we always have to remind ourselves that patients are the drivers of their care. And they have the absolute right to be informed and to make informed decisions based on the options we advise them about.

So, that is always a centerpiece of healthcare. And then patients – Basically, we defined four pillars of care. We want to control their symptoms, we want to prevent complications, we want to modify the disease so it doesn’t transform, and we want our therapies not to have toxicities, not to have side effects that are worse than the disease. So, we bring that up to the table. And we also look at the patient. What is their symptoms? What did the disease cause them to be complications?

What is the risk that their cancer is actually going to progress quickly to hurt their lives? And how serious is the therapy we’re recommending? And we need to make sure that there is a good match between what we’re offering and what the disease is manifesting. So, for example, for patients who have a lot of symptoms, but they have low-risk cancer that they can live with for a long time, we focus on symptoms. We focus on treatments that improve their symptoms.

While with patients who have more serious diseases that are eminently life-threatening, we focus on an expedited path to a more aggressive therapy and a bone marrow transplant. And then we also try to match those therapies with the other patient’s wishes and needs and so forth. So, all these factors are important. We have more tools to try to prognosticate. So, prognosticate is the medical word that we use as forecasting.

We like to forecast the disease or the cancer. We try to predict the patient’s future. Fortunately, we actually have good tools to prognosticate now. We have models or calculators that factor in patients’ features, their symptoms, their age, their blood counts, their bone marrow findings, and their DNA mutations. And it gives us a score a risk score that can correlate with their life expectancy or their outcomes.

And we use those tools to guide us. So, there’s actually a tool we use to help patients reach that decision. It’s an objective tool to decide how serious is this disease and how seriously we should tackle it. It’s very applicable for patients with myelofibrosis, more sort of the other lower-risk cancers.

Katherine:                  

What about comorbidities? How do they fit into the treatment plan?

Dr. Yacoub:               

Very important.

So, again, it also goes back to finding the balance between how serious is the disease, how serious is the treatment, and how will the patient’s general health tolerate and factor in the choices patients make accordingly. So, myeloproliferative neoplasms do happen in a broad range of ages. And we have children, minors with MPNs, and we have elderly patients with MPNs. And it’s a continuous spectrum. And each individual patient will have their own health concerns and their own health comorbidities and their own wishes. And we always have to make sure that we match our therapies, the disease seriousness, and the patient’s wishes, which is also stemming from their own other health battles, too.

We cannot turn a blind eye to the other health issues going on. That plays a major factor as we choose to discuss bone marrow transplantation with patients. Because that’s when the medical comorbidities are often the first barrier to go through.

Katherine:                  

Are there specific biomarkers that may affect prognosis or treatment?

Dr. Yacoub:               

Yes. So, and we’re glad that actually myeloproliferative neoplasms are actually the model in medical oncology on how predictors can tell us a lot more about the patient’s future about the prognosis. So, early on in MPNs, we’ve developed models, like the International Prognostic Scoring Systems in many different iterations. And more recently, the Molecular Based International Prognostic Scores.

They factor in patient’s age, they factor in blood numbers, they factor in DNA abnormalities, they also factor in DNA mutations, including the common driver mutations JAK2 and CALR and MPL, as well as more novel mutations that we call higher risk mutations.

So, based on these models, we use these tools to predict how the cancer will behave, and how to approach it. This advancement has been an application for our MPN patients for a while, way ahead of all other fields of oncology. So, we’re proud that we can give our patients this tool before all other doctors were able to. Yeah.

Katherine:                  

That’s excellent. Dr. Yacoub, what is the role of the patient in their care? When does shared decision-making come into play?

Dr. Yacoub:               

Absolutely.

Patients are the drivers and the centerpiece of their health care. And patient self-advocacy is the most important tool. So, many of our patients are young and they will live with their cancers a lot longer than many cancer doctors will practice oncology. And they will have many doctors. Statistically, each MPN patient will have multiple doctors throughout their career. And they will hear different derivatives. And the science will change. And they will be given different counseling over the time. And their disease will change.

And they will have different needs as they go further. So, patients being involved in their wellbeing and their cancer care is important from the first day. And I always tell patients, “You need to start building your village from day one.” It is not just the patient, it’s your caregivers, it’s who else can help you.

Who else can advise you? You might want to also invest in a friend or a spouse or a child, to come to you and listen to some of those discussions so that they can advise you later on, “Why are you making different decisions?” So, we encourage patients to be very involved early on, to build their own village, and to seek care. We routinely ask for second opinions. We want patients to always hear the story and hear the same story from another doctor so that they hear the range of how we word the truth and how we word the facts.

And this way, they can have a better perspective. So, this is now a standard. Almost all patients should have two doctors, at least, the treating doctor and one doctor who’s an MPN specialist, who would give them another twist or another perspective to their health.

So, and that is always important. And then there are very good references and online resources for patients to tackle in, such as this seminar and other good places where patients can seek more information. They also can go to a clinical trial to find out what are the ongoing clinical trials and advancements.

There are structured patient symposiums nationally and regionally. So, and we strongly recommend that patients seek more opinions and more help and more resources and be very engaged with this disease, especially that it is a chronic cancer, and it’s not going to –

Katherine:                  

It’s not going away.

Dr. Yacoub:               

It’s just a new lifestyle. And they need to be as engaged with it as they can.

Katherine:                  

Absolutely. We have a couple of questions from the audience. This one is from Sarah. She writes, “I’ve been living with essential thrombocythemia for three years, and have been relatively stable. Of course, I’m worried about progression to PV or MF. What is my chance of progression, and what are the signs of progression?”

Dr. Yacoub:               

That’s a very good question. And unfortunately, we’re very good at describing those numbers. Unfortunately, our tools at interfering are not as good. So, in general, patients with ET, statistically speaking, have a life expectancy that is not different from their age match peers. And Sarah’s story will be not too indifferent from her sisters and her mother, in terms of what’s going to happen to her long care and her health, provided she gets good medical care. The exception to that is that there is a transformation risk. For ET we caught around a 4 percent every 10 years in which ET will actually change into a different cancer, a higher risk cancer.

Could be MF, could be MDS, could be acute leukemia. And that will be a much more serious diagnosis. So, it’s about 4 percent in 10 years. We do have a – or we extrapolate some of the data from other cancers. So, certain mutations are more favorable, certain mutations are more risky. And we try to forecast that but worried it’s really hard to predict that since it’s such a long journey with disease. The first symptoms or the findings, when patients start suspecting that their disease has changed, is that the pattern of symptoms that they have are different.

They often become worse. So, they have more constitutional symptoms, more tiredness, more fevers, more night sweats, losing weight, not being able to eat a full meal, abdominal distension, the spleen gets bigger.

So, these are some of the feelings that patients can experience that lead to this. Other objective things is when the blood tests change in a less favorable way. So, for patients with ET who always run at 800,000 platelet count, if they’re suddenly 200, and that’s in the normal range, but that’s actually not good news, because the cancer changed. And this change is not favorable. So, as the doctors run routine labs, if they see the sudden change in labs, that’s also abnormal.

If the doctor can feel that the spleen gets bigger every time, that’s also concerning. If the patients suddenly have anemia or very high white cell count or immature white cells in the blood, that’s also a concern.

So, that’s why it’s great or important to establish a baseline symptom burden.                                   

A baseline spleen, a baseline bone marrow biopsy with mutation analysis, so that patients have a clear reference point to where they started, and if things change, they can always go back to that point and compare.

Katherine:                  

Right. We have another question. This one from Victor. He says, “I was diagnosed with PV in 2018. And I’ve been treated with hydroxyurea. Recently, I’ve been very fatigued. I want to exercise, but I don’t have the energy to do much. Do you have any advice for boosting my energy?”

Dr. Yacoub:               

That is a very good question and very common question. So, the causes for fatigue in adults, in general, so many. And adding PV to that adds a few other reasons why one would be more fatigued. So, assuming that Victor follows with his doctor, and his primary care doctor has systematically went through all the possible causes for fatigue, and those were addressed.

Now that PV specific causes, A). Hydroxyurea can cause fatigue. So, maybe it’s the hydroxyurea dose. And that’s a side effect. And maybe that’s not the best medicine for him. B). Polycythemia vera can cause fatigue. Maybe we’re not controlling it enough. Maybe we need to dial up the dose of the medicine or dial down the dose of the medicine accordingly. And then there’s also the iron deficiency which we induce with PV and phlebotomy.

And whether we actually have taken Victor to become very low on iron, and that can cause fatigue. So, we have to evaluate the treatments, the disease, and the side effects of the interventions we’ve done. And those are the polycythemia vera specific factors that can add to the fatigue.

Katherine:                  

Here’s another question from the audience. This is from Sandy. She writes, are MPNs hereditary? Should my children or siblings be aware of their risk?

Dr. Yacoub:               

All right. Well, the answer to that question changed many times over the last 10 years. So, the answer changed from absolutely not, to very possibly maybe over the years. So, although we don’t think of cancers as inherited, it’s not passed from one parent to their children. But MPNs tend to run in families. And for 11 percent of patients with MPN, and that number has also increased over the years, have actually a first-degree family member with MPN. That is a big coincidence, it’s almost too high to be a coincidence. So, we are realizing that there is genetic makeup or clustering that can cause MPNs to happen more often in certain families.

So, how does this apply to patients? So, if a patient has MPN, that does not mean that their children or siblings will get MPN, it just means they’re more likely than the other people to have MPN, just because they all share the same genetic makeup. And they should be made aware. And they should maintain good health care and maintain the relationship with a primary and have routine labs and all that. But not necessarily that they will get cancer. This still is a very rare disease, and 11 percent of a rare disease still is a small number.

Katherine:                  

Thank you for answering those patient questions. I appreciate it.

Dr. Yacoub:               

My Pleasure.

Katherine:                  

And to our patients, please continue to send in your questions to question@powerfulpatients.org and we’ll work to get them on future programs.

So, Dr. Yacoub, as we close out our program and our conversation, I wanted to get your take on the future of MPN research and treatment. Are there new developments that you’re excited about and that make you hopeful?

Dr. Yacoub:               

Absolutely. So, again, I would like to take the last few minutes to advocate for the future. And the future can only come when doctors and patients and advocates work together to advance the science. We have few tools to treat patients and to help patients. We have a lot of unanswered questions. And the only way to answer them is by designing quality clinical trials, enrolling patients on trials, taking the risk, and trying to find new answers and new therapeutics. So, I always would like to advocate for patients to seek clinical trials whether with their doctor or whether they have to travel for it, and for doctors to consider that for their patients. That’s the only way to advance science.

There are very important national and international studies going on right now. One of the – And first, I would like to emphasize is that we have had ruxolitinib as the only therapy, or the first-line therapy for myelofibrosis for a decade now. Not everybody responds to it, not everybody responds to it for a long time. So, now we’re designing combination trials. So, there’s a few studies that are trying to redefine, “Is ruxolitinib alone enough, or should we have a combination first-line therapy?” So, these are some of the more important questions being asked right now.

And this is definitely one of the bigger moves in the field, is trying to redefine what is the first-line therapy for myelofibrosis. For polycythemia vera, we’re also exploring therapeutics that would reduce phlebotomy with things you can add to your medical care to reduce phlebotomy.

So, that’s also going on. And it’s definitely a big leap forward for many of our patients. For ET, when we don’t have any actual drugs approved other than hydroxyurea and anagrelide (Agrylin), we actually have trials with interferon going on.

So, I would like to advocate for that. So, interferon succeeded and now approved for PV, but not yet for ET. We’re working on that. So, again, in every disease, we’re trying to design clinical trials to redefine what is the best treatment today.

We’re also doing studies to understand the cancer. So, studies where patients donate their samples for research. These are very helpful, very important. And contributing to that always advances the science, and it’s low effort to the patients. So, if there’s a clinical trial that is offered to patients, I would strongly urge everybody to consider that favorably and contribute to science.

That’s the only way we can help future patients and ourselves immediately, at moving the field forward.

Katherine:                  

Seems like there’s a lot of progress in the field.

Dr. Yacoub:               

A lot of progress. I look forward to future events. I’m going to have a lot more tools to discuss. Hopefully, by this time next year, we’re going to have four JAK inhibitors, injectables for PV, interferon for ET, and a lot more things to go over.

Katherine:                  

That’s wonderful. Dr. Yacoub, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.

Dr. Yacoub:               

You’re welcome. And it’s my pleasure. I feel passionate about this. And I’m happy to help.

Katherine:                  

Thank you. And thank you to all of our partners. To learn more about MPNs and to access tools to help you become a productive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for being with us today.

Shared Decision-Making: The Patient’s Role in Treatment Choices

Shared-Decision Making: The Patient’s Role in Treatment Choices from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is the role of the patient when it comes to treatment choices? Dr. Brady Stein details how he partners with patients in decision-making for their MPN care. 

Dr. Brady Stein is a hematologist focusing on myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.


Related Resources

MPN Symptom or Treatment Side Effect? Know the Difference

An Expert Shares Key Steps to Take Following an MPN Diagnosis

How Often Should You See Your MPN Doctor?


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

What do you feel is the patient’s role in the decision for therapy?

Dr. Stein:                   

I think it’s a really important role. I think historically – and, this is decades past; this era should be well over and behind us – this era of authoritative medicine is over.

You can’t just have a doctor walk in the room and say, “This is your treatment, this is what you should do, I’ll see you later.” It’s shared decision-making, and that can be troubling for some patients. But, the idea of shared decision-making is us explaining options informing the patient and making decisions together. That’s really the paradigm for modern contemporary medicine.

Some patients have a harder time with that. A lot of patients say, “Well, doc, this is too overwhelming for me. I just want you to decide for me.” And, we try not to do that. That’s a more uncomfortable type of visit for me when a patient is very deferential and says, “Whatever you say, I’ll do.” That’s not really what we want to hear. I want to know that you feel really informed, that you have a good understanding because each of these treatments – any treatment, any medication has its pros and cons.

There are no real magic bullets, and each upside has an equal downside, so you have to engage and open a dialogue, and what that means is that patients need to read and learn. That’s hard, but patients need to become proactive in their approach to their own illness, and all the patients who are listening now are doing that, trying to get more education about your relatively rare illness that’s going to give you a much better framework to help make decisions together.

Katherine:                  

Absolutely. If a patient isn’t feeling confident with their treatment plan or their care, do you recommend that they maybe consider a second opinion or seek a specialist?

Dr. Stein:                   

Of course, yeah. These are rare diseases, and patients often – I would say that in my clinic, a lot of the patients direct their own second opinions. Oftentimes, it’s coming from the patient more so than their doctor. I think the patient community is very active, the patients are networking, and they’re finding the right specialist to get to.

I think it should be really a team approach. It’s never – it’s usually not very convenient to go to a university unless you live really close, so you want to have someone close to home who can handle the routine, and then, someone who maybe is a little bit further away who can see you once a year, can help with the big decisions, can be part of the healthcare team. So, we generally recommend that you have someone near, and that maybe you have someone far who focuses only on MPNs as part of your team, and now, it’s a little different. Telemedicine is becoming a pretty ingrained part of medicine. It’s a little easier to have those visits with a physician who’s far away because of telemedicine.

Self-Advocacy: Advice for Being a Pro-Active MPN Patient

Self-Advocacy: Advice for Being a Pro-Active MPN Patient from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patients be more pro-active in their care? Dr. Brady Stein shares advice to help patients educate themselves about the disease, while finding the right balance of knowledge to prevent them from feeling overwhelmed. 

Dr. Brady Stein is a hematologist focusing on myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.


Related Resources

Tools to Help You Learn More About MPN Clinical Trials

How Often Should You See Your MPN Doctor?

Which MPN Treatment is Right for You? Factors to Consider


Transcript:

Katherine:

Let’s talk about patient self-advocacy now, Dr. Stein. Patients can sometimes feel like they’re bothering their healthcare team with their comments and questions.

Why is it important for patients to speak up when it comes to symptoms and side effects?

Dr. Stein:                   

I smile a little bit because patients – I get a lot of patient emails by MyChart. That’s our medical record, and it’s a secure patient email, and a lot of patients will start their message by saying, “I’m sorry to bother you.”

And, I always say, “Why do you think that? It’s my job. Please don’t apologize for reaching out to me.” So, that’s kind of the first thing. Don’t feel like you’re bothering your doctor. There are certain things that we won’t know unless you tell us, and so, I think that’s pretty clear. When we’re in a patient room and there might be a husband and wife together, and whether it’s the husband is the patient or the wife is the patient, we might ask a question, and we might get, “No, everything is fine,” but all doctors kind of sneak over to the partner, and the partner may be saying – they’re making gestures to us. There may be nonverbal forms of communication to tell us there’s something much worse than what the patient is telling you.

So, again, “advocate” meaning you have to tell us what’s going on with you. If you’re worried about something, please don’t be stoic about it. These diseases are treated a lot based on your symptoms, and so, if you don’t tell uls about your symptoms, we won’t know.

And, in terms of advocacy, I think one of the things is that these are pretty rare diseases. In an academic center, no, this is our focus, but if you’re in a community practice where the doctor’s seeing 10-15 different things during the course of a day, it’s basically impossible to keep up with myelofibrosis, especially if you have one patient in your whole practice. I can’t do that for diseases that I see that I have only one patient. The medical literature can be overwhelming.

So, patients can quickly outpace their doctor in terms of their knowledge of these diseases, but I think it’s really important to read, to learn, and to think about the illness because you may find out things through your research that your doctor wouldn’t know are available. You may find a clinical trial, a new strategy, or a new test that they simply haven’t had the time to keep up with or learn about. So, that’s what advocacy is about. Reading is really important, but you have to find a balance. I want my patients reading, but you’ve got to find the right amount because there’s a certain amount of reading where the patients start to get overwhelmed.

All patients kind of get to this point. They take it in – like taking it in like a fire hydrant in the beginning of the disease, and it’s overwhelming, and then they start to find their balance. I think there’s a point where the reading becomes anxiety-provoking rather than ameliorating anxiety, and all patients just generally find their balance.

Is My MPN Treatment Working?

Is My MPN Treatment Working? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

During myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) treatment, specific blood tests and diagnostic measurements help to gauge a patient’s treatment response. Dr. Brady Stein details the criteria he assesses in monitoring the efficacy of a therapy, including patient-reported outcomes.  

Dr. Brady Stein is a hematologist focusing on myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.


Related Resources

What Are the Treatment Options for Myelofibrosis?

Monitoring MPNs: When is it Time to Switch Therapies?

MPN Symptom or Treatment Side Effect? Know the Difference


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Once a patient has started treatment, how do you know it’s working?

Dr. Stein:                   

That’s a good question because this is a very unique area. Yes, of course, in some respects, it’s straightforward with ET or PV. If we’re starting a medication to control a blood count in hopes of having lowered the thrombosis risk, you can look objectively at blood counts.

Okay, your hematocrit is at this goal? Yes, therapy’s working. You have not had a blood clot?

Yes, therapy’s working. So, there are some objective things. In myelofibrosis, there are some objective things like measuring the spleen and seeing it reduce. You can feel that with your hands, or you can do an ultrasound. So, there are some objective parameters of success. But, in this area, patient-reported outcomes are really important, and so, a measure of success is really just asking the patient, “Do you feel like your drug is working? Do you feel better?

It’s kind of a simple question, but it’s really important, and it’s what we ask in patients who are on certain therapies. “Do you feel like the net effect of your therapy is still positive? Do you feel like it’s helping?” Seems like a straightforward type of question, but I think the answer is extremely informative. When a patient says, “Yes, definitely, my medication is still helping me,” then I know that I don’t need to change it.

MPN Treatment Choices: Where Do Clinical Trials Fit In?

MPN Treatment Choices: Where Do Clinical Trials Fit In? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When considering MPN treatment approaches, clinical trials are a viable option for care. Dr. Brady Stein discusses clinical trials and factors to keep in mind when considering participation.

Dr. Brady Stein is a hematologist focusing on myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.


Related Resources

Tools to Help You Learn More About MPN Clinical Trials

Promising ET, PV & Myelofibrosis Therapies in Development 

What Are the Treatment Options for Myelofibrosis?


Transcript:

Dr. Stein:                   

Clinical trials are always a treatment – always an option for patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms because while we have some standards, we can definitely improve upon those standards for certain. So, clinical trials are always a therapeutic option. I think the one thing is that it may not – it’s not always the most convenient option, but it could be a really important option if available to you.

So, clinical trials basically offer something new or novel that would not otherwise be available to other patients. So, ruxolitinib (Jakafi) was approved around 2011, but the first clinical trials were in 2007, so that’s the example I give to a patient about the benefit of a clinical trial.The patient can get access to a drug that’s effective perhaps three to four years before it’s commercially available.

That’s really the biggest advantage, is you can get early access to something that could really help you. The downsides are that clinical trials are not usually as convenient as regular care, there are often more visits, and there are a lot of unknowns – unknowns about whether it will work. Some side effects are known and expected; there are others that are unknown. So, it’s a lot to think about, but I think it’s always important to consider, especially if your first-line therapy has not been effective, if it’s losing its touch, it’s a good thing to think about for a second line.

Katherine:                  

Are there emerging approaches for treating MPNs that patients should know about?

Dr. Stein:                   

Yeah, absolutely. I think the first question – I think patients are often worried that they have a really rare disease, and why would anyone do research in this area, and that’s – the research community is extremely engaged, the productivity is pretty impressive, and there’s a lot of clinical trials in the space, and I think what I try to explain is pharmaceutical companies aren’t just targeting the most common diseases.

They have interests in rare diseases, and findings in rare diseases can be extrapolated to other diseases that you might think are unrelated, but they can share features, so when you find something working in one space, it can have broad applicability. So, there’s an abundance of research in myeloproliferative neoplasms which are emerging?

In PV, I think there’s quite a possibility that there’ll be a drug approval in 2021, a novel type of interferon called ropeginterferon

That is a drug that’s approved abroad; it’s approved in Europe, and I believe it’s approved in Taiwan, and the FDA is looking at it now. So, it’s a possibility that there’ll be a future option for patients with polycythemia vera. So, yes, it’s research now, but it could be available, and so, that’s the drug that I’m starting to talk more and more about for patients with PV.

In myelofibrosis, you have two JAK inhibitors that are approved, ruxolitinib and fedratinib, you have two others in clinical testing, momelotinib and pacritinib, and then you have a whole other class of what we call non-JAK2 type of therapies targeting the vast array of pathway abnormalities in myelofibrosis.

So, there are a number of different clinical trial options, especially in myelofibrosis. I think that’s the disease area where there are the most clinical trials.

Understanding High-Risk vs Low-Risk Disease in ET, PV & MF

Understanding High-Risk vs Low-Risk Disease in PV, ET & MF from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When looking at polycythemia vera (PV), essential thrombocythemia (ET), and myelofibrosis (MF), how is risk determined? Dr. Brady Stein explains factors he examines when assessing risk to provide ideal care for each patient. 

Dr. Brady Stein is a hematologist focusing on myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.


Related Resources

MPN Symptom or Treatment Side Effect? Know the Difference

Monitoring MPNs: When is it Time to Switch Therapies?

Promising ET, PV & Myelofibrosis Therapies in Development 


Transcript:

Dr. Stein:                  

For ET and PV, when we talk about high versus low risk, we’re talking about vascular complications, risk of having a blood clot. We’re not really talking about risk of transformation. We don’t have, I think, wonderful, widely used toolkits to predict those things. We know they can happen, but our treatment is still really based on clotting for ET and PV.

And, MF – each couple of years, the tools that are available to assess prognosis become more and more. So, in MF, we’re using the most comprehensive approach – of course, taking into account things like age and demographics, but also, looking at symptoms, looking at the depth and severity of blood count changes, looking at bone marrow features like the degree of scarring, looking at the rise in blast counts, and then, looking at chromosomes and novel genetic markers. So, we’re definitely the most comprehensive in myelofibrosis at assessing prognosis.

What Are Treatment Options for Essential Thrombocythemia (ET) & Polycythemia Vera (PV)?

What Are Treatment Options for Essential Thrombocythemia (ET) & Polycythemia Vera (PV)? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When considering treatment options for essential thrombocythemia (ET) and polycythemia vera (PV), where do experts begin? Dr. Brady Stein details treatment considerations and how he determines the best approaches for ET and PV patients. 

Dr. Brady Stein is a hematologist focusing on myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.


Related Resources

Which MPN Treatment is Right for You? Factors to Consider

Promising ET, PV & Myelofibrosis Therapies in Development 

MPN Treatment: Why Testing for Mutations Matters


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Let’s start with essential thrombocythemia, or ET.

Dr. Stein:                   

So, I think the first thing is taking an inventory of symptoms, seeing how symptomatic the patient might be. Again, there are some patients who are asymptomatic or have few symptoms, and they were told of a high platelet count during a routine visit, so some patients can be observed if they have few symptoms, and especially if they fall into a lower vascular risk category.

So, symptom assessment first. Second, looking at vascular risk, and there are four categories of risk in in ET in terms of predicting the likelihood of a future blood clotting event. There’s a very low, low, intermediate and high risk group, and that’s based on a patient’s age, whether they’ve had a blood clot before, and the type of mutation they have. JAK2 mutations increase the risk of clotting.

So, if a patient falls into a higher-risk group – say they’re older than 60 with a JAK2 mutation or they’ve had a prior blood clot – those are patients who are generally treated more aggressively with cytoreduction.

And then, the other thing is aspirin. We often see aspirin given to all patients with ET, but not all patients with ET necessarily need it. The role of aspirin is actually a little less clear in ET. For a very low-risk patient, there’s a potential for more harm than benefit, especially if the patient lacks a JAK2 mutation. So, the evidence base to support aspirin for all ET patients is just not there; it’s evolving.

Katherine:                  

What about polycythemia vera, or PV?

Dr. Stein:                   

So, there are a few standards. It’s different – the aspirin question in PV is generally answered by randomized data from 16 years ago in 2004. It’s been shown that aspirin reduces the risk of clotting in PV patients, so, generally, we give low-dose aspirin to all patients. And, hematocrit control is really important.

At least, a goal of 45 percent is mandated in PV. And then, there are patients who might fall into a higher-risk category – older than 60 or have had a prior blood clot – they need something more. And then, I’d also emphasize that there are lower-risk patients who may not be traditional candidates for cytoreduction, but they could have symptoms that really interfere with quality of life, and symptoms alone can be the trigger to add something more to the phlebotomy and aspirin program.

Katherine:                  

What about things like interferon?

Dr. Stein:                   

So, interferons have been used in MPNs for decades and decades. So, a longstanding history with interferons. The issue has been tolerability.

These days, there’s a class called pegylated interferon that’s longer acting, and I think there’s been a lot more use, at least in the last 10 years, still much more in an academic setting than a community practice.

But, interferons have a pretty established role in MPNs, especially polycythemia vera, for sure in ET, less so in myelofibrosis.

What Factors Guide Treatment Choices for ET, PV & MF?

What Factors Guide Treatment Choices for ET, PV & MF? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When making a myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) treatment decision, several factors come into play. Dr. Brady Stein explains what criteria he considers to determine the optimal approach for a patient’s unique situation and specific MPN.

Dr. Brady Stein is a hematologist focusing on myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.


Related Resources

Monitoring MPNs: When is it Time to Switch Therapies?

An Expert Shares Key Steps to Take Following an MPN Diagnosis

MPN Treatment: Why Testing for Mutations Matters


Transcript:

Katherine:              

Dr. Stein, I understand that therapy is different for each of the MPNs. What do you take into consideration to help guide the treatment choice?

Dr. Stein:                   

So, that’s a good question. It’s going to require maybe a little bit of a longer answer. It’s fairly nuanced. The treatment of ET and PV – right now, the goals are – the treatment is largely based on a patient’s vascular risk. That’s largely what influences the choice of therapy. And so if a patient has a perceived high risk for vascular complication in ET or PV, that’s when we’re going to be a little bit more aggressive – so, more aggressive than watchful waiting, more aggressive than using aspirin alone, more aggressive than using phlebotomy and aspirin alone in polycythemia vera.

So, if the patient has a higher vascular risk, in general, we’re going to need to do something more than what we consider to be the standard, and that’s where we enter into the question of cytoreductive therapy – therapies designed to lower blood counts apart from phlebotomy.

Maybe that’s going to change. I hope it will change. Right now, the therapy for ET and PV is generally reactive. We either predict high risk and react, or if a patient is lower risk, if something changes – God forbid there’s a blood clotting event – then we may react to it.

So, ET and PV treatment are generally more reactive. In myelofibrosis, certainly, there are patients who can have lower risk and minimal systems, and there are some patients who can be observed with watchful waiting for sure, but more patients are symptomatic, more patients are going to need therapy in myelofibrosis, and there’s sort of two big categories of therapy.

One is the risk-adapted, deciding if the patient is eligible and should consider stem cell transplant versus thinking only about medical therapy in a patient that may be transplant-ineligible.

And, the medical therapy is based on the worst symptoms for the patient. Is the symptom that’s the worst the spleen enlargement? Is it excessive fatigue? Is it weight loss, or inflammation, or fevers? If it’s that category of symptoms, we have a set of therapies. If it’s really the anemia that is the most problematic issue, then we follow a paradigm to treat anemia.

Katherine:                  

What about considerations like the patient’s health, age, genetic markers, things like that?

Dr. Stein:                   

So, of course. The comorbid illnesses can influence therapy choices, so if a patient is older and has other medical conditions, they’re not going to be treated as aggressively.

So, in myelofibrosis, if a patient is older, with other medical illnesses, then it may be inappropriate to consider something like stem cell transplant, for sure. So, age and health comorbidities are highly influential. In terms of genetic features, if you’re asking about things like the type of mutation that a patient has, right now, we’re – in terms of vascular risk, for ET, the type of mutation matters for blood clotting risk, so if patients have different mutations, it could be treated differently. In other subtypes, like PV or myelofibrosis, in general, there’s – the mutation can be prognostic, but it may not be – it may not lead to a precise and distinct therapy just yet.

How Do Test Results Inform MPN Prognosis & Treatment?

How Do Test Results Inform MPN Prognosis & Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Brady Stein explains the diagnostic tests and genetic mutations that are assessed to determine prognosis and what MPN treatment may work best.

Dr. Brady Stein is a hematologist focusing on myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.


Related Resources

Which MPN Treatment is Right for You? Factors to Consider

Resource Guide: Choosing an MPN Treatment: What Option is Best for You?

MPN Treatment: Why Testing for Mutations Matters


Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Once a patient is diagnosed with MPN, what sort of testing should take place?

Dr. Stein:                   

So, the test that’s going to lead to suspicion is going to be a blood count, and that’s probably going to be done in the primary care doctor’s office, so that’s going to be the first suspicious test, and in general, there’s going to be some abnormality. Myeloproliferative diseases are characterized in general by an overproduction of blood cells, so it’s going to be a higher white count, it’s going to be a high hemoglobin or hematocrit, or a high platelet count, or a combination of the three that’s generally going to lead to suspicion.

Some patients may have pretty unremarkable blood counts and may present with a blood clot in an unusual location that could ultimately lead to the hematology referral. Some patients might have pretty unremarkable blood counts, but they might have palpation of their spleen, enlargement of their spleen in a physical examination. So, they’re generally the ways that patients are getting to the hematologist.

Katherine:                  

And, what about bone marrow biopsy?

Dr. Stein:                   

So, a bone marrow biopsy is a diagnostic test, and it’s generally recommended for all patients who have a myeloproliferative neoplasm either confirmed or suspected.

It’s advised in WHO criteria – World Health Organization criteria. PV can be made without a bone marrow biopsy – a diagnosis of PV – because it’s the most unique of the MPN subtypes. It’s the one that presents with a high hemoglobin.

So, that diagnosis can be straightforward at times for a hematologist when the setting is right, when there’s a high hemoglobin – or, high enough hemoglobin, I should say, a JAK2 mutation, which all patients with PV have that, or a subnormal erythropoietin level.

Oftentimes, we can make that diagnosis without a bone marrow, and the bone marrow becomes more prognostic. ET, a bone marrow is necessary for diagnosis, and myelofibrosis, you can’t make a diagnosis without it.

Katherine:                  

What do the results of these tests tell us about prognosis and treatment choices?

Dr. Stein:                   

That’s a good question. The bone marrow can be diagnostic in the setting of ET and myelofibrosis. In the setting of polycythemia vera, it can be more prognostic. In general, when a bone marrow is done, 1). To confirm diagnosis, 2). To assess prognosis, what we’re looking for as prognostic features are generally the degree of fibrosis or scarring.

So, each of the MPNs can have that. Of course, MF is characterized by the most pronounced scarring. It can happen to a more subtle degree in ET and PV. That’s going to be prognostic in the setting of ET or PV. The pathologist will alert us about immature cells called blasts.

We basically never see them at diagnosis in patients with ET or PV. We can see them rise in patients with myelofibrosis at diagnosis or through the course of follow-up. So, that’s prognostic.

All bone marrows generally have a chromosome analysis that’s called cytogenetics, and so, if there’s an abnormality, that can help place the patient’s prognosis into different risk categories.

And then, nowadays, more so in myelofibrosis than any of the others, there are extended panels done. These are called NGS, or next-generation sequencing, kind of looking at mutations in a greater degree of detail.

So, not just what we call main mutations – JAK2, calreticulin, or MPL. These are looking at additional mutations that basically hold prognostic significance.

These are pretty well defined, and I think more important in MF compared to the other subtypes.

Katherine:                  

Would you explain the driver mutations in MPNs? What are they, and how they – or, what they mean for patients?

Dr. Stein:                   

So, there’s three of what we call driver mutations, and the most common is JAK2V617F, the next most common is calreticulin, and the least common or most rare is a mutation of MPL, the thrombopoietin receptor. So, the driver gene mutations are the three that we assess to help with diagnosis, and the prevalence varies. In ET, about 60 percent have JAK2, 25 percent have calreticulin, 5 to 10 percent have MPL.

In PV, 99 percent have some type of JAK2 mutation, and in MF, the situation is a lot like ET – 60 percent JAK2, 25 percent calreticulin, about 5 to 10 percent MPL. So, the driver mutations – we think of those as the genetic abnormalities that really drive the disease. They’re the main ones we can test for in a diagnostic setting.

I refer to them as the – to a patient, what I’m describing is you have a car, and the driver mutation is the one that’s sort of driving the car, and it’s doing it somewhat recklessly. It’s in the front seat, driving. And, along the way, the driver can pick up hitchhikers, which we should never do. I refer to those other mutations that are found by NGS as hitchhiker mutations that sit in the back seat, cause trouble, and really shouldn’t be there. They’re not the driver, they’re not fully responsible for the disease, but they can make it a bit worse.

Choosing an MPN Treatment: What Option Is Best for You?

Choosing an MPN Treatment: What Option Is Best for You? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When choosing an MPN treatment, what’s right for you? Dr. Brady Stein from Lurie Cancer Center reviews key decision-making factors, current treatments for ET, PV and MF, and shares advice on advocating for yourself.

Dr. Brady Stein is a hematologist focusing on myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more about Dr. Stein, here.

Download Program Resource Guide


Related Resources

 

What You Should Know About Progression in MPNs?

 

Monitoring MPNs: When is it Time to Switch Therapies?

 

An Expert Shares Key Steps to Take Following an MPN Diagnosis


Transcript:

Katherine:                   

Hello, and welcome to the webinar. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today, we’ll discuss how you can be proactive in your understanding of MPNs and work with your healthcare team to find the best MPN treatment path for you. Joining me today is Dr. Brady Stein. Thank you for joining us. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Stein:                     

Hi, my name is Brady Stein. I’m a hematologist at Northwestern University in Chicago, and thanks very much for having me.

Katherine:                   

Before we begin, a reminder that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your own healthcare team about what might be best for you. Dr. Stein, let’s start with the basics. The term “myeloproliferative neoplasms,” or MPNs, can be a bit confusing. Would you give us a brief overview of the classic types of MPNs? 

Dr. Stein:                     

Sure. So, there’s three classical types of MPNs that we focus on. These are the BCR-ABL-negative MPNs. So, what we’re referring to in this webinar is essential thrombocythemia, otherwise known as ET, polycythemia vera, often referred to as PV, and myelofibrosis, often referred to as MF, and myelofibrosis can exist on its own.

It can be primary, so a patient can start with that diagnosis, but it’s also important to note that patients who have ET or PV for long periods of time – they can head in the direction of myelofibrosis, so that’s kind of a secondary type of myelofibrosis, sometimes referred to as post-ET MF or post-PV MF. So, those are the three basic subtypes that we’re gonna speak about today.

Katherine:                    

Do symptoms vary for each type – ET, PV, and MF?

Dr. Stein:                     

They do. They vary, but they can overlap. So, oftentimes, ET is thought of as the more indolent of the MPN subtypes, but I think it’s pretty clear that patients with ET can have a similar burden of symptoms compared to patients who have polycythemia vera and myelofibrosis, so they exist on a spectrum, I think most to a degree that symptoms can be the most pronounced in patients with myelofibrosis, but not to undermine the symptom burden that can occur in ET and polycythemia vera.

Katherine:                   

Once a patient is diagnosed with MPN, what sort of testing should take place?

Dr. Stein:                     

So, the test that’s gonna lead to suspicion is gonna be a blood count, and that’s probably gonna be done in the primary care doctor’s office, so that’s gonna be the first suspicious test, and in general, there’s gonna be some abnormality. Myeloproliferative diseases are characterized in general by an overproduction of blood cells, so it’s going to be a higher white count, it’s going to be a high hemoglobin or hematocrit, or a high platelet count, or a combination of the three that’s generally gonna lead to suspicion.

Some patients may have pretty unremarkable blood counts and may present with a blood clot in an unusual location that could ultimately lead to the hematology referral. Some patients might have pretty unremarkable blood counts, but they might have palpation of their spleen, enlargement of their spleen in a physical examination. So, they’re generally the ways that patients are getting to the hematologist.

Katherine:                    

And, what about bone marrow biopsy?

Dr. Stein:                     

So, a bone marrow biopsy is a diagnostic test, and it’s generally recommended for all patients who have a myeloproliferative neoplasm either confirmed or suspected.

It’s advised in WHO criteria – World Health Organization criteria. PV can be made without a bone marrow biopsy – a diagnosis of PV – because it’s the most unique of the MPN subtypes. It’s the one that presents with a high hemoglobin.

So, that diagnosis can be straightforward at times for a hematologist when the setting is right, when there’s a high hemoglobin – or, high enough hemoglobin, I should say, a JAK2 mutation, which all patients with PV have that, or a subnormal erythropoietin level.

Oftentimes, we can make that diagnosis without a bone marrow, and the bone marrow becomes more prognostic. ET, a bone marrow is necessary for diagnosis, and myelofibrosis, you can’t make a diagnosis without it.

Katherine:                   

What do the results of these tests tell us about prognosis and treatment choices?

Dr. Stein:                     

That’s a good question. The bone marrow can be diagnostic in the setting of ET and myelofibrosis. In the setting of polycythemia vera, it can be more prognostic. In general, when a bone marrow is done, 1). To confirm diagnosis, 2). To assess prognosis, what we’re looking for as prognostic features are generally the degree of fibrosis or scarring.

So, each of the MPNs can have that. Of course, MF is characterized by the most pronounced scarring. It can happen to a more subtle degree in ET and PV. That’s gonna be prognostic in the setting of ET or PV. The pathologist will alert us about immature cells called blasts. We basically never see them at diagnosis in patients with ET or PV. We can see them rise in patients with myelofibrosis at diagnosis or through the course of follow-up. So, that’s prognostic.

All bone marrows generally have a chromosome analysis that’s called cytogenetics, and so, if there’s an abnormality, that can help place the patient’s prognosis into different risk categories. And then, nowadays, more so in myelofibrosis than any of the others, there are extended panels done. These are called NGS, or next-generation sequencing, kind of looking at mutations in a greater degree of detail.

So, not just what we call main mutations – JAK2, calreticulin, or MPL. These are looking at additional mutations that basically hold prognostic significance.

These are pretty well defined, and I think more important in MF compared to the other subtypes.

Katherine:                   

Would you explain the driver mutations in MPNs? What are they, and how they – or, what they mean for patients?

Dr. Stein:                     

So, there’s three of what we call driver mutations, and the most common is JAK2V617F, the next most common is calreticulin, and the least common or most rare is a mutation of MPL, the thrombopoietin receptor. So, the driver gene mutations are the three that we assess to help with diagnosis, and the prevalence varies. In ET, about 60% have JAK2, 25% have calreticulin, 5-10% have MPL.

In PV, 99% have some type of JAK2 mutation, and in MF, the situation is a lot like ET – 60% JAK2, 25% calreticulin, about 5-10% MPL. So, the driver mutations – we think of those as the genetic abnormalities that really drive the disease. They’re the main ones we can test for in a diagnostic setting.

I refer to them as the – to a patient, what I’m describing is you have a car, and the driver mutation is the one that’s sort of driving the car, and it’s doing it somewhat recklessly. It’s in the front seat, driving. And, along the way, the driver can pick up hitchhikers, which we should never do. I refer to those other mutations that are found by NGS as hitchhiker mutations that sit in the back seat, cause trouble, and really shouldn’t be there. They’re not the driver, they’re not fully responsible for the disease, but they can make it a bit worse.

Katherine:                   

We have a question from the audience, Dr. Stein. “I was recently diagnosed with MF, and I’ve had a bone marrow biopsy. How often will I need to undergo this procedure?”

Dr. Stein:                     

That’s a really good question. It’s a very important, very common question. So, the first bone marrow biopsy is diagnostic. The second bone marrow biopsy – or third – are generally reactive, meaning we don’t schedule them year to year unless there’s a change. We do them in a reactive way. If there’s something about the condition that’s changing – for example, if we suspect or worry about a progression – that’s when we would do the second bone marrow biopsy. So, we don’t set a determined frequency if the condition or the course is stable.

Katherine:                   

Dr. Stein, I understand that therapy is different for each of the MPNs. What do you take into consideration to help guide the treatment choice?

Dr. Stein:                     

So, that’s a good question. It’s gonna require maybe a little bit of a longer answer. It’s fairly nuanced. The treatment of ET and PV – right now, the goals are – the treatment is largely based on a patient’s vascular risk. That’s largely what influences the choice of therapy. And so if a patient has a perceived high risk for vascular complication in ET or PV, that’s when we’re gonna be a little bit more aggressive – so, more aggressive than watchful waiting, more aggressive than using aspirin alone, more aggressive than using phlebotomy and aspirin alone in polycythemia vera.

So, if the patient has a higher vascular risk, in general, we’re gonna need to do something more than what we consider to be the standard, and that’s where we enter into the question of cytoreductive therapy – therapies designed to lower blood counts apart from phlebotomy.

Maybe that’s gonna change. I hope it will change. Right now, the therapy for ET and PV is generally reactive. We either predict high risk and react, or if a patient is lower risk, if something changes – God forbid there’s a blood clotting event – then we may react to it.

So, ET and PV treatment are generally more reactive. In myelofibrosis, certainly, there are patients who can have lower risk and minimal systems, and there are some patients who can be observed with watchful waiting for sure, but more patients are symptomatic, more patients are gonna need therapy in myelofibrosis, and there’s sort of two big categories of therapy.

One is the risk-adapted, deciding if the patient is eligible and should consider stem cell transplant versus thinking only about medical therapy in a patient that may be transplant-ineligible.

And, the medical therapy is based on the worst symptoms for the patient. Is the symptom that’s the worst the spleen enlargement? Is it excessive fatigue? Is it weight loss, or inflammation, or fevers? If it’s that category of symptoms, we have a set of therapies. If it’s really the anemia that is the most problematic issue, then we follow a paradigm to treat anemia.

Katherine:                   

What about considerations like the patient’s health, age, genetic markers, things like that?

Dr. Stein:                     

So, of course. The comorbid illnesses can influence therapy choices, so if a patient is older and has other medical conditions, they’re not gonna be treated as aggressively.

So, in myelofibrosis, if a patient is older, with other medical illnesses, then it may be inappropriate to consider something like stem cell transplant, for sure. So, age and health comorbidities are highly influential. In terms of genetic features, if you’re asking about things like the type of mutation that a patient has, right now, we’re – in terms of vascular risk, for ET, the type of mutation matters for blood clotting risk, so if patients have different mutations, it could be treated differently. In other subtypes, like PV or myelofibrosis, in general, there’s – the mutation can be prognostic, but it may not be – it may not lead to a precise and distinct therapy just yet.

Katherine:                   

All right. What do you feel is the patient’s role in the decision for therapy?

Dr. Stein:                     

I think it’s a really important role. I think historically – and, this is decades past; this era should be well over and behind us – this era of authoritative medicine is over.

You can’t just have a doctor walk in the room and say, “This is your treatment, this is what you should do, I’ll see you later.” It’s shared decision-making, and that can be troubling for some patients. But, the idea of shared decision-making is us explaining options informing the patient and making decisions together. That’s really the paradigm for modern contemporary medicine.

Some patients have a harder time with that. A lot of patients say, “Well, doc, this is too overwhelming for me. I just want you to decide for me.” And, we try not to do that. That’s a more uncomfortable type of visit for me when a patient is very deferential and says, “Whatever you say, I’ll do.” That’s not really what we wanna hear. I wanna know that you feel really informed, that you have a good understanding because each of these treatments – any treatment, any medication has its pros and cons.

There’s no real magic bullets, and each upside has an equal downside, so you have to engage and open a dialogue, and what that means is that patients need to read and learn. That’s hard, but patients need to become proactive in their approach to their own illness, and all the patients who are listening now are doing that, trying to get more education about your relatively rare illness that’s gonna give you a much better framework to help make decisions together.

Katherine:                   

Absolutely. If a patient isn’t feeling confident with their treatment plan or their care, do you recommend that they maybe consider a second opinion or seek a specialist?

Dr. Stein:                     

Of course, yeah. These are rare diseases, and patients often – I would say that in my clinic, a lot of the patients direct their own second opinions. Oftentimes, it’s coming from the patient more so than their doctor. I think the patient community is very active, the patients are networking, and they’re finding the right specialist to get to.

I think it should be really a team approach. It’s never – it’s usually not very convenient to go to a university unless you live really close, so you wanna have someone close to home who can handle the routine, and then, someone who maybe is a little bit further away who can see you once a year, can help with the big decisions, can be part of the healthcare team. So, we generally recommend that you have someone near, and that maybe you have someone far who focuses only on MPNs as part of your team, and now, it’s a little different. Telemedicine is becoming a pretty ingrained part of medicine. It’s a little easier to have those visits with a physician who’s far away because of telemedicine.

Katherine:                    

So, now that we’ve discussed how a treatment path is determined, can you walk us through the currently available MPN treatment approaches and who they might be right for?

Let’s start with essential thrombocythemia, or ET.

Dr. Stein:                     

So, I think the first thing is taking an inventory of symptoms, seeing how symptomatic the patient might be. Again, there are some patients who are asymptomatic or have few symptoms, and they were told of a high platelet count during a routine visit, so some patients can be observed if they have few symptoms, and especially if they fall into a lower vascular risk category.

So, symptom assessment first. Second, looking at vascular risk, and there’s four categories of risk in in ET in terms of predicting the likelihood of a future blood clotting event. There’s a very low, low, intermediate and high risk group, and that’s based on a patient’s age, whether they’ve had a blood clot before, and the type of mutation they have. JAK2 mutations increase the risk of clotting.

So, if a patient falls into a higher-risk group – say they’re older than 60 with a JAK2 mutation or they’ve had a prior blood clot – those are patients who are generally treated more aggressively with cytoreduction. And then, the other thing is aspirin. We often see aspirin given to all patients with ET, but not all patients with ET necessarily need it. The role of aspirin is actually a little less clear in ET. For a very low-risk patient, there’s a potential for more harm than benefit, especially if the patient lacks a JAK2 mutation. So, the evidence base to support aspirin for all ET patients is just not there; it’s evolving.

Katherine:                    

What about polycythemia vera, or PV?

Dr. Stein:                     

So, there’s a few standards. It’s different – the aspirin question in PV is generally answered by randomized data from 16 years ago in 2004. It’s been shown that aspirin reduces the risk of clotting in PV patients, so, generally, we give low-dose aspirin to all patients.

And, hematocrit control is really important. At least, a goal of 45% is mandated in PV. And then, there are patients who might fall into a higher-risk category – older than 60 or have had a prior blood clot – they need something more. And then, I’d also emphasize that there are lower-risk patients who may not be traditional candidates for cytoreduction, but they could have symptoms that really interfere with quality of life, and symptoms alone can be the trigger to add something more to the phlebotomy and aspirin program.

Katherine:                   

What about things like interferon?

Dr. Stein:                     

So, interferons have been used in MPNs for decades and decades. So, a longstanding history with interferons. The issue has been tolerability.

These days, there’s a class called pegylated interferon that’s longer acting, and I think there’s been a lot more use, at least in the last 10 years, still much more in an academic setting than a community practice.

But, interferons have a pretty established role in MPNs, especially polycythemia vera, for sure in ET, less so in myelofibrosis.

Katherine:                    

Dr. Stein, you mentioned high-risk versus low-risk patients quite a bit. How is that risk determined?

Dr. Stein:                     

So, it’s different for each subtype. For ET and PV, when we talk about high versus low risk, we’re talking about vascular complications, risk of having a blood clot. We’re not really talking about risk of transformation. We don’t have, I think, wonderful, widely used toolkits to predict those things. We know they can happen, but our treatment is still really based on clotting for ET and PV.

And, MF – each couple of years, the tools that are available to assess prognosis become more and more. So, in MF, we’re using the most comprehensive approach – of course, taking into account things like age and demographics, but also, looking at symptoms, looking at the depth and severity of blood count changes, looking at bone marrow features like the degree of scarring, looking at the rise in blast counts, and then, looking at chromosomes and novel genetic markers. So, we’re definitely the most comprehensive in myelofibrosis at assessing prognosis.

Katherine:                   

How do clinical trials fit into treatment choices?

Dr. Stein:                     

Clinical trials are always a treatment – always an option for patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms because while we have some standards, we can definitely improve upon those standards for certain. So, clinical trials are always a therapeutic option. I think the one thing is that it may not – it’s not always the most convenient option, but it could be a really important option if available to you.

So, clinical trials basically offer something new or novel that would not otherwise be available to other patients. So, ruxolitinib was approved around 2011, but the first clinical trials were in 2007, so that’s the example I give to a patient about the benefit of a clinical trial.

The patient can get access to a drug that’s effective perhaps three to four years before it’s commercially available.

That’s really the biggest advantage, is you can get early access to something that could really help you. The downsides are that clinical trials are not usually as convenient as regular care, there’s often more visits, and there’s a lot of unknowns – unknowns about whether it will work. Some side effects are known and expected; there are others that are unknown. So, it’s a lot to think about, but I think it’s always important to consider, especially if your first-line therapy has not been effective, if it’s losing its touch, it’s a good thing to think about for a second line.

Katherine:                   

Are there emerging approaches for treating MPNs that patients should know about?

Dr. Stein:                     

Yeah, absolutely. I think the first question – I think patients are often worried that they have a really rare disease, and why would anyone do research in this area, and that’s – the research community is extremely engaged, the productivity is pretty impressive, and there’s a lot of clinical trials in the space, and I think what I try to explain is pharmaceutical companies aren’t just targeting the most common diseases.

They have interests in rare diseases, and findings in rare diseases can be extrapolated to other diseases that you might think are unrelated, but they can share features, so when you find something working in one space, it can have broad applicability. So, there’s an abundance of research in myeloproliferative neoplasms which are emerging?

In PV, I think there’s quite a possibility that there’ll be a drug approval in 2021, a novel type of interferon called ropeginterferon.

That is a drug that’s approved abroad; it’s approved in Europe, and I believe it’s approved in Taiwan, and the FDA is looking at it now. So, it’s a possibility that there’ll be a future option for patients with polycythemia vera. So, yes, it’s research now, but it could be available, and so, that’s the drug that I’m starting to talk more and more about for patients with PV.

In myelofibrosis, you have two JAK inhibitors that are approved, ruxolitinib and fedratinib, you have two others in clinical testing, momelotinib and pacritinib, and then you have a whole other class of what we call non-JAK2 type of therapies targeting the vast array of pathway abnormalities in myelofibrosis.

So, there’s a number of different clinical trial options, especially in myelofibrosis. I think that’s the disease area where there’s the most clinical trials.

Katherine:                   

Once a patient has started treatment, how do you know it’s working?

Dr. Stein:                     

That’s a good question because this is a very unique area. Yes, of course, in some respects, it’s straightforward with ET or PV. If we’re starting a medication to control a blood count in hopes of having lowered the thrombosis risk, you can look objectively at blood counts.

Okay, your hematocrit is at this goal? Yes, therapy’s working. You have not had a blood clot? Yes, therapy’s working. So, there are some objective things. In myelofibrosis, there are some objective things like measuring the spleen and seeing it reduce. You can feel that with your hands, or you can do an ultrasound. So, there are some objective parameters of success. But, in this area, patient-reported outcomes are really important, and so, a measure of success is really just asking the patient, “Do you feel like your drug is working? Do you feel better?”

It’s kind of a simple question, but it’s really important, and it’s what we ask in patients who are on certain therapies. “Do you feel like the net effect of your therapy is still positive? Do you feel like it’s helping?” Seems like a straightforward type of question, but I think the answer is extremely informative. When a patient says, “Yes, definitely, my medication is still helping me,” then I know that I don’t need to change it.

Katherine:                   

Right. Patients are often concerned about progression in MPNs. Would you explain the progression of MPN and the indicators that one might be progressing?

Dr. Stein:                     

So, I think the important but hard thing to know about MPNs is that they’re chronic progressive illnesses, but what we don’t know in an individual is how long it’ll take to progress. Is the ET or PV gonna progress in 10 years, 25 years, or 35 years? Those are difficult things to predict. And, MF is progressive as well. I think it’s a little easier to identify those patients who may progress more rapidly compared to more slowly.

So, MPNs progress, and that’s the first important thing, is that they’re chronic illnesses and patients have to be aware that they can change. ET and PV can move to myelofibrosis, and when that happens, generally, symptoms change, the spleen enlarges, and blood counts change. We start to see anemia when we didn’t before.

And, when MF progresses, the symptom burden is one thing, maybe more fatigue, unexplained fevers, drenching sweats, or weight loss. On exam, measuring the spleen and seeing it get larger, seeing a fall in the platelet count, a need for red cell transfusions or a rise in the blast count. Those are all features that we’re looking for that can indicate a progression.

Katherine:                   

Let’s talk about patient self-advocacy now, Dr. Stein. Patients can sometimes feel like they’re bothering their healthcare team with their comments and questions.

Why is it important for patients to speak up when it comes to symptoms and side effects?

Dr. Stein:                     

I smile a little bit because patients – I get a lot of patient emails by MyChart. That’s our medical record, and it’s a secure patient email, and a lot of patients will start their message by saying, “I’m sorry to bother you.”

And, I always say, “Why do you think that? It’s my job. Please don’t apologize for reaching out to me.” So, that’s kind of the first thing. Don’t feel like you’re bothering your doctor. There are certain things that we won’t know unless you tell us, and so, I think that’s pretty clear. When we’re in a patient room and there might be a husband and wife together, and whether it’s the husband is the patient or the wife is the patient, we might ask a question, and we might get, “No, everything is fine,” but all doctors kind of sneak over to the partner, and the partner may be saying – they’re making gestures to us. There may be nonverbal forms of communication to tell us there’s something much worse than what the patient is telling you.

So, again, “advocate” meaning you have to tell us what’s going on with you. If you’re worried about something, please don’t be stoic about it. These diseases are treated a lot based on your symptoms, and so, if you don’t tell uls about your symptoms, we won’t know.

And, in terms of advocacy, I think one of the things is that these are pretty rare diseases. In an academic center, no, this is our focus, but if you’re in a community practice where the doctor’s seeing 10-15 different things during the course of a day, it’s basically impossible to keep up with myelofibrosis, especially if you have one patient in your whole practice. I can’t do that for diseases that I see that I have only one patient. The medical literature can be overwhelming.

So, patients can quickly outpace their doctor in terms of their knowledge of these diseases, but I think it’s really important to read, to learn, and to think about the illness because you may find out things through your research that your doctor wouldn’t know are available. You may find a clinical trial, a new strategy, or a new test that they simply haven’t had the time to keep up with or learn about. So, that’s what advocacy is about. Reading is really important, but you have to find a balance. I want my patients reading, but you’ve gotta find the right amount because there’s a certain amount of reading where the patients start to get overwhelmed.

All patients kind of get to this point. They take it in – like taking it in like a fire hydrant in the beginning of the disease, and it’s overwhelming, and then they start to find their balance. I think there’s a point where the reading becomes anxiety-provoking rather than ameliorating anxiety, and all patients just generally find their balance.

What I also say is if you read something that alarms you, write to me, write to us, and let us verify that because there’s a lot out there, and I think the patient communities are a phenomenal form of support, but there’s a lot of patients giving advice to each other, and sometimes that needs to be double-check – or, always, it needs to be double-checked by another doctor because sometimes, the advice is simply not – may be very individualized or not generalizable, or sometimes it’s simply inaccurate.

Katherine:                   

What would you like to leave the audience with? Are you hopeful?

Dr. Stein:                     

Oh, of course. Of course, I’m hopeful. What I leave the audience with is that things are changing; things are changing for the better, and the therapeutic choices in three years could be entirely different. I think there’s progress. Progress in medicine – some patients feel it, it’s slow, but having been in this field for a decade, there’s more and more therapeutic options emerging. Kind of what I’m looking to see most, honestly – I’m following everything really closely, but what I’m starting to think about more is paradigm shifts.

What I’d like to see in the field is to move away from a reactive type of approach and think more about early initiations of therapy, more of a proactive type of strategy, not really – because when we talk about therapeutic choices with a patient and the patient says to us – we don’t say it like this, but the way they say it back to us is, “So, wait, we’re gonna wait for something bad to happen, and then we’ll start treatment?”

I think that – I share discomfort, as – I’m uncomfortable with that approach. The reason we haven’t been proactive is because we’re kind of waiting for highly safe, highly effective therapies that could potentially change the course of the illness. That’s why we have been reserving our therapies, and that’s why our secrets sometimes include less aggressive watchful waiting with later initiation of therapy just because physicians haven’t been satisfied with their choices, but I’m hopeful that that’ll change.

Katherine:                   

Dr. Stein, thank you for joining us today.

Dr. Stein:                     

Thank you very much for having me.

Katherine:

And, thank you to all of our partners. To learn more about MPNs and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for joining us.