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What Patients Should Know About Developing MPN Treatments and Research

What Patients Should Know About Developing MPN Treatments and Research from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN expert Dr. Gabriela Hobbs provides an update on developments in myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) treatment and research. Dr. Hobbs explains how clinical trials and global research collaborations advance MPN care.

Dr. Gabriela Hobbs is a hematology-oncology physician specializing in the care of patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN), chronic myeloid leukemia and leukemia. Dr. Hobbs serves as clinical director of the adult leukemia service at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn more about Dr. Gaby Hobbs.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Hello and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today we’re going to discuss the advancements in MPN research through clinical trials. 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. Well, let’s meet our guest today. Joining me is Dr. Gabby Hobbs. Dr. Hobbs, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Hi, how are you? Thank you so much for having me. My name is Gabby Hobbs. I’m the clinical director of the Adult Leukemia Service at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. And I dedicate my clinical time and research efforts to the care of patients with Myeloproliferative Neoplasms.  

Katherine:

Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.  

Dr. Hobbs:

Thank you.  

Katherine:

I’d like to start by discussing your role as an MPN researcher. You’re on the front lines for advancements in the field. What led you to there and why is it so important to you?  

Dr. Hobbs:

Many things in my life led me to becoming an MPN clinician. First, I wanted to be a clinical investigator since I was very little, and I read a Louis Pasteur book about – you know. And I was fascinated by the fact that you could be both a scientist and a clinician. And after that, I had phenomenal teachers and mentors. And I was really always drawn to patients with hematologic malignancies. I thought that that interaction was very intense and intimate.  

And I was honored to be a part of that interaction. And then from a research perspective and from a scientific perspective, I very clearly remember seeing when the first targeted therapy, Imatinib, was approved when I was an undergrad. And I just thought that was the most fascinating thing. And so, I’ve basically continued to feel that way as I’ve gone through my training and I’m thrilled to be able to have actually become an MPN clinician so many years later.  

Katherine:

With the American Society of Hematology or ASH meeting taking place this month, it demonstrates how researchers work together around the world to advance care.   

Can you share with the audience how this collaboration works?  

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. So, the American Society of Hematology meeting – or the ASH meeting – is really one of my favorite events of the year.  

And it really highlights what you said. It is such a positive environment, and it’s so exciting to use that opportunity to talk to my collaborators from across the globe. And I really think that that’s where the scientific community shines because really all of us are actually trying to figure out how to work together and overcome sometimes a lot of obstacles – bureaucratic obstacles, regulatory obstacles – to make sure that we can share data, do it the right way. But really we always have one thing in mind.  

And that is to be able to advance the care that we give our patients. And so, that collaboration and really that collaborative environment is always very positive. And I always come back home very energized from that. And then just seeing all my colleagues presenting all the wonderful things that they are working on and getting updates on their research is just an exciting environment.   

Katherine:

In your view, why is it essential to present and share data at these larger conferences like ASH? 

 Dr. Hobbs:

So, for many different reasons. I mean, there are many different ways of presenting data that can be done through just publishing a paper. But the nice thing about conferences – and especially large conferences – is that you really get an opportunity to present work in progress. And some of these research projects may not end up turning into bigger projects or they may not become bigger trials. But all of them have at least an opportunity to learn something from them, whether or not they worked or they didn’t work.  

Oftentimes when things are published in journals, especially the high-impact journals, we are seeing trials that had positive results. But sometimes we don’t see those smaller trials that never went anywhere. And so, having a forum when we can discuss work that’s ongoing, discuss about projects that are maybe having issues, all those things actually really help us to change our research questions or develop new research questions based on what’s working and also really what’s not working. And so, having this large forum to present all of that data, I think, is really, really important to helping us design future clinical trials and projects.  

Katherine:

Yeah. Well, this is a great way to begin our clinical trial discussion, Dr. Hobbs. This research all requires MPN patients to participate in clinical trials. So, what should be considered when deciding whether to join a trial? 

Dr. Hobbs:

What a great question. Many things need to be considered when joining a trial. And I think some patients are really eager to join a trial, and they just need to be aware that they may be either too healthy, or they may have other things going on that may not make them eligible.  

And that’s okay. There are actually many ways of participating in research, even if it’s not a clinical trial that requires a medicine. For example, we often can send patients to what’s called a tissue bank where they have patients just give a sample of blood.  

So, patients can participate in research in many different ways. When considering whether or not a patient should enroll in an actual clinical trial with a new medicine, I think it’s really important for the patients to be informed and to not be afraid to ask questions. First, what is a clinical trial? Second, what will this trial involve? Is this a drug that has never been given to people before, or is this a drug that has already undergone many different clinical trials? And this trial that’s being offered is a Phase III trial where the purpose of the study is to get the drug to be approved.  

So, I think learning about the risk of the study, how it’s been utilized. And also the other more practical things. What is the time commitment of this clinical trial? How often are you going to have to be going to the office because of the clinical trial? Because there’s certainly a big investment in the part of the patients in terms of their time. Participating in a clinical trial most of the time requires more time than not participating in a clinical trial. That’s not always the case. There are some studies that definitely don’t require that many visits.  

But most clinical trials will require at least something extra from the patient. And I think it’s really important to ask about that, to read the consent that’s given to the patients. Oftentimes these consents are very long.  

And so, they can be overwhelming. I personally find them overwhelming. And I review a lot of those consents. And so, I think taking a minute to really ask those questions, speaking to the research staff, and getting the clarification on that is really important.  

Like you said, it is impossible to approve new therapies and improve the care that we offer our patients without patients participating in the clinical trial. But that doesn’t mean that absolutely every single patient needs to participate in a clinical trial if it just doesn’t make sense for them. [14:17]  

Katherine:

There have been huge developments in the last 10 to 15 years in the field of MPN. So, I’d like to dig a little deeper. We hear about the common driver mutations in MPNs like JAK2, CALR, and MPL. How are these being studied , and what is being discovered? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. So, it’s amazing how in the last 15 years really so much has been discovered. You know. The JAK2 mutation was first published out in 2005 and calreticulin in 2013. So, those are relatively recent discoveries. And I think a lot of efforts has been put into learning about what these mutations are doing and how they lead to disease. And so, we have the JAK inhibitors, which block the signaling through a pathway called JAK-STAT. And all of these mutations will activate that pathway within cells.  

And so, many of the approved drugs, for example, ruxolitinib (Jakafi), fedratinib (Inrebic), and pacritinib (Vonjo), work on blocking that pathway.  

But since then we’ve also learned that there are other mutations and other pathways that are likely involved in the development of myeloproliferative neoplasms and also their progression. And so, what we’re seeing now is that many of the clinical trials that are being conducted don’t just target the JAK-STAT pathway or the pathway that’s influenced by these main mutations.  

But also block other pathways to try to really block all the variant expression of signaling in the myeloproliferative neoplasms. And so, we’re trying to attack it by many different angles.  

Katherine:

Yeah. Is there a possibility of specific targeted therapies at MPNs similar to those in AML such as FLT3 inhibitors? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Absolutely. So, similarly to AML, we know that we have mutations in similar types of genes called tyrosine kinases. So, these are enzymes that are turned on and always active. And so, I think there is definitely hope that we can develop some targeted agents. For example, ruxolitinib or the other JAK inhibitors are similar. They’re tyrosine kinase inhibitors where they block an enzyme, specifically the JAK2 enzyme.  

But I think that we can definitely do better and develop more specific inhibitors, for example, a molecule that just blocks the JAK2 mutation and not just every JAK2 molecule in every cell. Similarly to AML, there are mutations, for example, in enzymes called IDH.  

And we have IDH inhibitors for AML. And there are some studies that are using IDH inhibitors for MPN. So, I think we’re going to continue to see more targeted therapies specific to the mutations that occur in MPN.  

Katherine:

Yeah. Let’s talk about ET for a moment. Is there any research being done to help better manage this condition? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. I would say that of the three MPNs, ET is certainly the one that has the least amount of drugs that are being currently studied for this group. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any research. Ropeginterferon (Besremi), which was recently approved in polycythemia vera, is now being studied in essential thrombocythemia.  

So, I would expect in the next couple of years, if those trials are successful, to have ropeginterferon as a therapy to offer patients. There is also a clinical trial that we have at our site.  

We’re using ruxolitinib or Jakafi for patients with ET that have symptoms of their disease to see if it can help them in the same way that it can help PV or myelofibrosis patients. So, there’s definitely some research going on in ET. But probably less than for PV and myelofibrosis.  

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. While ET is typically well-managed, what patient type might benefit from joining a trial? 

Dr. Hobbs:

It really depends on what the patient is experiencing. I think there are some patients that really are very asymptomatic and can expect to have an excellent outcome with their disease. But they can also participate in research, for example, by participating in a tissue bank and offering a sample of their blood or if they have a bone marrow by offering some bone marrow if there’s extra. Because that can really help to understand the disease biology, if a patient is going to progress from ET to myelofibrosis.  

So, we can learn a lot from that. But then there are maybe some ET patients that need to be on a medication to reduce their blood counts or a cytoreductive agent.  

And that’s a patient that could ask about participation in a clinical trial. For example, the ropeginterferon study or, like I mentioned, there may be some patients that maybe are already on a medication and their blood counts aren’t well controlled on the first drug that was used.  

So, before considering switching to a second-line agent or a second medication, that could inquire with their clinician if there’s a clinical trial available for second-line use. Or those patients that have a lot of symptoms with ET, they could potentially be eligible for a study that addresses just symptoms.  

Katherine:

Right. That’s really good news. I’m glad you talked about that.  

Dr. Hobbs:

Mm-hmm.  

Katherine:

There was recently an interferon approved for use in patients with PV. What other studies are showing promise for patients with PV?  

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. So, we as a community, there’s been a lot of excitement about this new interferon that was approved, the ropeginterferon study. And there are still some ongoing studies utilizing ropeginterferon to see if we can use it differently. Because currently the way that that drug is approved is that it has to be titrated up very slowly to get to the maximum dose. So, that’s something that is still ongoing. In addition, there’s a new drug that’s being studied called Rusfertide (PTG-300) from a company called Protagonist. And this drug has been very interesting. It acts through iron metabolism.   

And so far in preliminary results, it has shown that a lot of the participants that receive this medication no longer need phlebotomy. And I think what’s exciting about this is that phlebotomy is a very archaic way of treating patients.  

And I hope that we can stop utilizing it. So, it’s nice to have a compound that’s specifically asking that question. And the other thing to keep in mind is that this drug has been used in combination with other drugs, which is really reflective of how participants or patients show up to clinics.  

Some patients are not going to be on any medications. Some patients may be on hydroxyurea.  

Some patients may be on an interferon. Some patients may be on Jakafi. And these trials allow participants to be on a variety of different medications. So, that’s an exciting new compound.  

Katherine:

What about myelofibrosis, Dr. Hobbs? What advances are being made in the care of patients with this more advanced MPN?  

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. So, in myelofibrosis, I would say it is almost difficult to keep track of how many clinical trials are currently open. So, in 2011, we had ruxolitinib approved, or Jakafi. That was the first JAK inhibitor. Since then we’ve had two more JAK inhibitors approved, fedratinib and most recently pacritinib. And we’re currently awaiting the fourth JAK inhibitor to be approved, and that’s called momelotinib.   

And in addition to the JAK inhibitors, there are lots of other clinical trials underway right now that are either alone – a drug by itself or a drug in combination with ruxolitinib.  

So, there are several Phase III studies. And the reason why that’s important is that after Phase III we usually see a drug approval. So, we can expect, hopefully in the next couple of years, to see many more drugs available on the market to treat patients with myelofibrosis. Some of those include agents that block different pathways within a cell. And that includes a drug called parsaclisib. There’s a drug called pelabresib, which is a BET inhibitor.  

There’s another drug called navitoclax, which is a cousin of venetoclax (Venclexta), which is a drug that we’ve been using a lot in leukemia. So, there’s lots of different drugs that are being used in combination with Ruxolitinib. There’s also a drug called luspatercept (Reblozyl) that’s also been approved for myelodysplastic syndromes. And I suspect that that’ll be approved as well to help patients with anemia. So, really, there’s lots of drugs that are being studied right now. And I think the question that we’re all asking is, well, how are we going to use all of these different drugs? So, I look forward to seeing the results of those studies.  

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. Will some drugs work better for some patients and others not? 

Dr. Hobbs:

That is such a good question. And so, what I’m hoping to see is exactly that. I’m hoping to see that for patients, for example with anemia, perhaps we’re going to be using luspatercept and momelotinib. Perhaps we’re going to see that patients with certain mutations may respond better to certain medications like the BET inhibitors or navitoclax or the PI3 kinase inhibitor, parsaclisib. But as of now, we don’t have enough information.  

We haven’t seen enough results of these studies to start to be able to know, you know, what is the patient that’s going to do better with two drugs versus one drug? And so, I think that over the next couple of years we’re going to start to have answers to those questions.  

Katherine:

Yeah. I’d like to get specific about your research. What are you excited about right now? 

Dr. Hobbs:

A few different things. There’s a clinical trial that I’ve been leading for several years now that got somewhat delayed due to the pandemic that’s utilizing ruxolitinib before, during, and after transplantation for patients with Myelofibrosis.  

And that study is hopefully going to finish accrual in the next couple of months. So, I’m excited to see the results of that study. That study was presented at ASH of last year, the interim results of that study. And so far, we’ve seen exciting results. Patients have done well with transplant while receiving ruxolitinib.  

We’ve seen that patients that have undergone transplant and have received ruxolitinib have had very low rates of a complication of transplant called graft-versus-host disease.   

And that’s been very exciting, because we know that graft-versus-host disease is really very difficult to deal with after transplant. It can really impact quality of life. And so, that’s been exciting to see that we can help our patients to better tolerate this difficult treatment. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, we’re treating patients that have low-risk essential thrombocythemia and polycythemia vera with ruxolitinib also to see if their quality of life can improve.  

We know that patients with ET and PV live with a lot of symptoms. And often times patients that are considered low-risk can still have a lot of symptoms. And therapies haven’t really specifically been studied just to improve symptoms. Really, therapies are usually used to reduce the risk of having blood clots.  

Katherine:

What about checkpoint inhibitors? You’ve done a study about that? Or it’s ongoing? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Yes. Great question. So, a few years ago we utilized a checkpoint inhibitor called Pembrolizumab for patients with advanced myeloproliferative neoplasms. And that study was open at Mass General and also at Mount Sinai. We were worried that it wouldn’t be well tolerated. But it was actually very well tolerated. But unfortunately patients didn’t have a response. And a group at MD Anderson utilized another checkpoint inhibitor, Nivolumab, for these patients. And similarly they also didn’t see a response.  

So, that was disappointing. However, I do think that there is a role for immunotherapy in patients with MPNs. I think that we probably need to think about utilizing the checkpoint inhibitors maybe earlier or maybe in combination with other agents. This has been done, for example, in solid tumors where two checkpoint inhibitors are sometimes utilized together. So, I think their area of investigation is still worth pursuing even though that was a disappointing result.  

Katherine:

Yeah. Yeah. Any other research that’s going on that you’re doing? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. We are looking forward to opening some clinical trials using different drugs in combination with ruxolitinib to offer different treatments to our patients up front. And so, instead of offering just single-agent JAK inhibitor, we can combine that with one of the new agents. And so, I’m looking forward to seeing how that’s going to work for my patients and to be able to offer them another treatment. I’m also thinking of developing a clinical trial for use in patients that have clonal hematopoiesis.  

So, patients that have this entity called CHIP where they have a JAK2 mutation but maybe don’t have overt disease. We know that they have a high rate of transformation to an actual MPN. So, we’re working to develop clinical trials for those patients with the hope of maybe preventing the MPN from ever happening. 

Katherine:

That’s great. We have some questions from the audience that were sent in prior to the program. Carl asks, “Are MPNs inherited? And why does one sibling develop an MPN and the other does not?”  

Dr. Hobbs:

Great question. So, historically, we’ve always said MPNs are very rarely inherited. Now that we’re able to test for JAK2 mutations more commonly, we have, I think over the last decades, probably found that there are more families where the MPNs kind of run in the family.  

Katherine:

Mm-hmm.  

Dr. Hobbs:

Generally speaking, it’s very rare for MPNs to run in the family. I would say less than 10 percent of the case. And this is why a sibling can have an MPN and one doesn’t, even if they’re identical twins.  

Katherine:

Is research being done to learn more about who may be at risk for developing an MPN? 

Dr. Hobbs:

So, over the list, there’s been a lot of attention placed on this entity called clonal hematopoiesis of indeterminate potential. And through those types of investigations, we’ve learned that people can actually live with a JAK2 mutation for many years, even decades, before they develop a myeloproliferative neoplasm. And so, indirectly, I think that type of research will help us understand why some people get the JAK2 mutation to begin with and what else needs to happen in a patient’s life for that person to develop an MPN.  

Because clearly there are many more people walking around with a JAK2 mutation than there are people with an actual MPN. So, there’s something else other than that JAK2 mutation that predisposes patients to then develop an MPN.  

Katherine:

Angela has another question. “What are the long-term effects of JAK inhibitors? And what happens when JAK inhibitors are no longer effective?” 

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. Great question. So, so far the patients that have been on JAK inhibitors for a long time don’t seem to have the development of additional toxicities that we didn’t know about. So, I’ll just comment on some of the things that we do know about. Weight gain is a common complaint that I have from patients, especially those that have polycythemia vera, because maybe they didn’t want to gain weight when they were put on a JAK inhibitor compared to the myelofibrosis patients who maybe had lost a lot of weight before being on a JAK inhibitor.  

There are certainly higher risk probably of developing infections with some of the JAK inhibitors. And we see, for example, shingles reactivation being a common one. And there’s the concern of development of skin cancers, which has been seen with some JAK inhibitors. But generally speaking, long-term use seems to be safe. That being said, ruxolitinib, which is the oldest one to be approved, has only been around since 2011, so we don’t have decades worth of experience to know.   

When JAK inhibitors stop working – to answer the second part of your question – until fairly recently we really didn’t have a whole lot to offer because there was only one JAK inhibitor. Now we have two others. We have fedratinib and also pacritinib. And we know from the studies that have been done with both of these agents that some patients that lose response to Jakafi, meaning that their spleen starts to grow or their symptoms start to come back, can be treated with these other JAK inhibitors.   

And many patients will, again, have control of their spleen and symptoms. Now losing response to a JAK inhibitor can come in many different ways. And so, some patients may also develop signs of having leukemia or progression of their disease to leukemia. And, unfortunately, for those patients, being on another JAK inhibitor doesn’t make sense. So, those patients may need to receive other types of medications or a stem cell transplant.   

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. Gary has two questions for you. The first is, “How useful is having a genetic panel done? Should all patients get molecular or genetic testing?” 

Dr. Hobbs:

Great question. And I think that it is very important to have genetic testing.  

And genetic testing involves more than just testing the JAK2 mutation. So, we know that the JAK2 mutation is the most common mutation in patients with MPN. But that being said, there are other mutations that also occur such as the calreticulin mutation and the MPL mutation. And so, I think having genetic testing that at least tests for those three mutations is very important so that we can actually help a patient know that they have an MPN. In addition to those three main mutations, many clinicians now have access to what’s called extended next-generation sequencing, where there’s a panel that tests for many different genes at the same time and can test for a variety of other mutations.  

And this is particularly relevant for patients with myelofibrosis. As we know that having other mutations, like, for example, mutations in IDH or ASXL1 and others, can increase the risk of that disease in terms of its risk of transforming to leukemia or how long a patient may live with their myelofibrosis. 

And so, I do recommend having extended next-generation sequencing done at least at diagnosis.  

When I generally think about repeating that, if there’s something that looks like it’s changing within the patient’s disease, to be honest, also on the flipside of that argument, sometimes this next-generation sequencing will mostly contribute to adding anxiety and will not necessarily directly impact how a patient is treated. And this is particularly true in patients with PV and ET, where we’ll sometimes order these tests, and we get a bunch of mutations back, but we don’t know what to do with that information yet.   

And so, as a researcher – not a clinician – as a researcher, I think it’s very important to have that information so that we can then do studies and understand the patterns of mutations and how that affects outcome. But as a clinician, and you as a patient, you need to really be aware of how that’s going to impact the patient in front of you and how that may impact you as a patient. Do you want to know if you have these mutations if nothing can be done about it? So, I would say, take a moment to reflect upon what I said and also to ask your clinician, how is this information going to help me? Do I need to have this information?  

Maybe you want to have it done so that it’s in your record. But maybe you don’t necessarily want to know those results. And everybody’s very different. And I think it’s absolutely wonderful to talk to my patients about all the information. But there may be some patients that really are just, like, do the test but don’t tell me the results, because I know that I’m just going to be very anxious knowing that I have something that I can’t do anything about. So, just take a minute to talk about it with your doctors. I think that’s really important.  

Katherine:

Yeah. Yeah. Here’s Gary’s second question. “Is allele burden a key predictor of progression?” And before you answer that, Dr. Hobbs, what does “allele burden” mean, and how does it impact progression? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Great questions. And I hope that in the next couple years I have a much better answer for you. So, maybe I’ll come back again and maybe we can talk about this again. So, allele burden – just simply put – is basically, like, how many of the stem cells in your bone marrow have that JAK2 mutation. And that’s a concept that’s not obvious. So, not all of a patient’s blood with an MPN has that JAK2 mutation. There are some stem cells that have the JAK2 mutation and produce JAK2-mutated blood. And then there are some stem cells that are normal that just make normal blood and don’t have a JAK2 mutation.  

And so, we can measure, what is a proportion of cells in the blood that has that JAK2 mutation? Now the next question should be very obvious and straightforward. But it really is not. So, what do we do with allele burden, and how do we measure that, and what does it mean if the allele burden goes up or it goes down? At this moment, we don’t necessarily know that. There have been some studies showing that maybe higher JAK2 mutation burden is maybe associated with progression or more with PV as opposed to ET.  

And we’d all like to think that lowering that JAK2 mutation level or that JAK2 allele burden has to be good and maybe will decrease progression or improve survival. We haven’t seen that yet. And so, I think we’re all really waiting to see, what does it mean to lower that JAK2 allele burden? And then how often should we be measuring that? But right now we really don’t know.  

Katherine:

Yeah. One more question for you. This one from Joseph. “I have PV and had adverse side effects from peginterferon alfa-2a (Pegasys). Is it likely that similar side effects would be experienced with Besremi?” 

Dr. Hobbs:

Good question. It’s hard to know. And it really depends on the severity of the side effects that you had and the type of side effect that you had. In my experience, ropeginterferon or Besremii is very well-tolerated compared to the other interferons that were available. But if you really had a severe side effect it may be difficult to consider trying it. But it’s worth considering it. I’ve definitely had patients that have gone from Pegasys to ropeginterferon without any difficulty. But just because you had a bad side effect to one doesn’t mean that you’ll have a bad side effect to the other.  

Katherine:

This is from Paul who lives in the United Kingdom. “How important is it to see an MPN specialist rather than a general hematologist? Right now I’m currently seeing a general hematologist who makes a note of my side effects but offers no coping strategies or solutions.” 

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. That is a great question. And one with not one answer. I would say that if you’re an MPN patient and you have a clinician that treats you that feels comfortable treating you or you feel heard and you’re being offered different ways of dealing with symptoms or side effects, etc., then perhaps you don’t have to go out of your way to find an MPN clinician. And participating in webinars like this or learning online may be sufficient to know how to advocate for yourself and how to monitor your disease. That being said, I do think that it’s nice for patients to at least have a one-time opinion with a specialist.  

And I would say that with the advent of virtual care, that has become increasingly more accessible. And so, if that’s something that’s available to you, that’s something you should consider. You know. Sometimes it’s very difficult to travel a long distance to meet with a specialist. But if you can avoid the travel by having a virtual visit, that often times can be very helpful in just knowing that you’ve met with somebody once. And then you can meet with that person periodically throughout your care can be very helpful. And I’ll tell you personally I see patients in the neighboring states to where I live.  

And I like to see those patients periodically or communicate with their local providers. And so, it just helps to offer care that’s very specialized in maybe areas of the country that don’t necessarily have access to specialized care. So, I would encourage patients to seek that out if that’s something that they’re interested in because it’s really become, I think, easier to access the specialists.  

Katherine:

Thank you for your thoughtful responses. And viewers please continue to send in your questions to question@powerfulpatients.org. Before we end the program, Dr. Hobbs, I’d like to hear why you’re hopeful about the future MPN care.   

Dr. Hobbs:

Thank you so much. Those are great questions. I feel very hopeful about the future of MPN. As we mentioned at the beginning of this webinar, the scientific community and the MPN community of clinicians and investigators, it’s such a nice example of how scientists can work together to improve the care of patients. That I always feel very inspired by my colleagues. And now that ASH is around the corner, I can tell you that I feel very hopeful for the future of MPNs because I know that we’re going to learn about a variety of different clinical trials that are showing promising results that are going to ultimately impact the way that we are able to treat our patients with MPN.   

And lastly, I feel very hopeful for the future of MPN because I know that the MPN community is very active. Patients participate in webinars like this, belong to different online groups, and are excellent advocates for themselves. I’ve seen firsthand in my clinic how when a drug gets approved, patients learn about new treatments online and come and ask for them. And so, I just feel very honored to be a clinician that is able to treat a group of patients that can advocate so well for themselves. And so, I definitely see lots of changes in the next couple years.  

Katherine:

This is from Paul who lives in the United Kingdom. “How important is it to see an MPN specialist rather than a general hematologist? Right now I’m currently seeing a general hematologist who makes a note of my side effects but offers no coping strategies or solutions.” 

Dr. Hobbs:

Yeah. That is a great question. And one with not one answer. I would say that if you’re an MPN patient and you have a clinician that treats you that feels comfortable treating you or you feel heard and you’re being offered different ways of dealing with symptoms or side effects, etc., then perhaps you don’t have to go out of your way to find an MPN clinician. And participating in webinars like this or learning online may be sufficient to know how to advocate for yourself and how to monitor your disease. That being said, I do think that it’s nice for patients to at least have a one-time opinion with a specialist.  

And I would say that with the advent of virtual care, that has become increasingly more accessible. And so, if that’s something that’s available to you, that’s something you should consider. You know. Sometimes it’s very difficult to travel a long distance to meet with a specialist. But if you can avoid the travel by having a virtual visit, that often times can be very helpful in just knowing that you’ve met with somebody once. And then you can meet with that person periodically throughout your care can be very helpful. And I’ll tell you personally I see patients in the neighboring states to where I live.  

And I like to see those patients periodically or communicate with their local providers. And so, it just helps to offer care that’s very specialized in maybe areas of the country that don’t necessarily have access to specialized care. So, I would encourage patients to seek that out if that’s something that they’re interested in because it’s really become, I think, easier to access the specialists.   

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. Dr. Hobbs, thank you so much for joining us today.  

Dr. Hobbs:

Thank you so 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 today. 

How Can You Thrive With an MPN? Advice for Navigating Care.

How Can You Thrive With an MPN? Advice for Navigating Care. from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can you thrive with an MPN? In this animated explainer video, an MPN specialist and myelofibrosis patient discuss how to make informed decisions about your care and live a full life with an MPN.

 

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Thriving With an MPN | Tips for Managing Worry and Anxiety

Finding an MPN Treatment Approach That Is Right for You

Finding an MPN Treatment Approach That Is Right For You

How Can Patients Navigate Care and Thrive With an MPN?

How Can Patients Navigate Care and Thrive with an MPN?


Transcript:

Brian: 

Hi, I’m Brian. Nice to meet you! Many years ago, I was diagnosed with a condition called myelofibrosis. At first, it was a scary to learn that I had cancer, but once I found the right treatment option for me, I’ve been living a full life.  

Meet, Dr. Liu – my doctor. 

Dr. Liu: 

Hi! I’m Dr. Liu, and I’m a hematologist specializing in the care of people with myeloproliferative neoplasms or MPNs.   

MPNs are a group of blood cancers that are characterized by the bone marrow overproducing a certain type of cell. The three types of MPNs are essential thrombocythemia, or ET,  polycythemia vera or PV, and myelofibrosis, or MF. 

As Brian mentioned, with the right treatment, it is possible to live a full life and to thrive with an MPN. 

Brian: 

It’s so true. Navigating my care has been much easier because I partner with my healthcare team – participating in decisions makes me feel like an important member of the team. 

Dr. Liu: 

That’s right, Brian. When considering treatment, it’s important to weigh all of your options.  

While your healthcare team is the expert when it comes to the clinical side of your disease, you as the patient, are the expert on how treatment will impact YOU and your lifestyle.  

Brian: 

And as someone who knows my needs well, my wife is another key member of my team.  She comes with me to appointments and takes notes during visits, and when it is time to make decisions about my care, we both feel well-informed about the options. 

So, Dr. Liu – what factors should be considered when choosing an MPN treatment?  

Dr. Liu: 

Well, it’s important to note that everyone’s MPN is different so what may work for one person, may not work for another. In general, we consider certain factors,1 such as: 

  • The type of MPN, whether it is ET, PV, or MF. 
  • The patient’s age and overall health. 
  • Test results, including blood work or any genetic testing that has taken place. 
  • The symptom burden, which basically means how much the disease symptoms are interfering with a patient’s quality of life. 
  • Any pre-existing health issues. 
  • Finally, and most importantly, the patient’s preference.  

Brian: 

And I like to make informed decisions. So, when considering therapy, I also did some research on my own, and then discussed the information with my healthcare team. It helped my wife and me understand what we’d learned, and confirmed our decision. 

Dr. Liu, what sort of questions should patients ask their doctor when considering a treatment plan? 

Dr. Liu: 

Great question. When choosing therapy, patients should ask: 

  • How is the treatment administered, and how often will I need treatment? 
  • What are the potential side effects of the treatment? 
  • How will the effectiveness of the treatment be monitored? 
  • And, what are options if this treatment doesn’t work for me? 

Brian: 

That’s great advice. Once you’ve begun treatment, it’s important to continue to share how you are feeling with your healthcare team – be sure to mention any side effects or symptoms you may be having with your team. 

Dr. Liu: 

That’s right, Brian. If you speak up about what’s bothering you, we can usually find a way to manage the issue. 

It’s also important point to tell your doctor if you’ve missed a dose of your medication. Many of the newer MPN therapies are self-administered, and it’s important to let us know so we can adjust the plan if necessary. 

So, what steps should you take to thrive in your life with an MPN? 

Brian: 

  • First, understand and participate in treatment decisions. Be sure to share your personal preferences. 
  • Then, communicate regularly with your healthcare team – don’t wait to share information only when you have an appointment.  
  • And, utilize your whole team – nurses, nurse practitioners, and others, are all there to help you. 
  • Use your patient portal. You can view lab work and test results, or even use the messaging feature to communicate with your team. 
  • Bring a friend or loved one to appointments and always write down any questions or concerns in advance.  

Dr. Liu: 

And, most importantly, remember you are at the center of your care. Advocate for yourself! 

To learn more, visit powerfulpatients.org/MPN to access a library of tools. Thanks for joining us! 

Finding an MPN Treatment Approach That Is Right for You

Finding an MPN Treatment Approach That Is Right for You  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Appropriate and effective treatment is an essential part of thriving with an MPN. Dr. Joseph Scandura reviews the goals of MPN treatment and factors that should be considered when choosing a therapy.

Dr. Joseph Scandura is an Associate Professor of Medicine and Scientific Director of the Silver MPN Center at Weill Cornell Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Scandura.

See More From Thrive MPNs

 

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How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?

How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

One part of thriving with an MPN is finding a treatment approach that manages your disease, the symptoms of your MPN, and that fits with your lifestyle. So, what are the factors that are considered when choosing treatment for patients with ET, PV, and MF?  

Dr. Scandura:

Certainly, the goals of the therapy. So, is the therapy one that I would be looking to maybe delay progression or for long-term potential benefits, or is it something I need now to control short-term risks such as blood clots? The goals of the patient because some therapies may be more suitable to the goals of one patient than another.  

And the other – you know, there’s clinical features that may kind of push towards one approach versus another. Certainly, in a 20-year-old patient, I’m thinking about fertility. I’m thinking about a normal life expectancy. In a 90-year-old patient, I have a different set of concerns, multiple medications – what am I going to do that might be affecting their other comorbid conditions? 

Katherine:

Right. Right. 

Dr. Scandura:

I think about what are my near-term and long-term goals? So, obviously, age becomes a factor there. If I’m 95 years old, no matter what I do that person is not going to live 20 years. If that person’s 20 years old and they’re not living 30, 40, 50, 60 years, that’s a real shame. That’s a huge loss of life. So, that helps kind of point me in one direction or another.  

And, then, there’s different types of therapy. There are injectable agents. There are pills. There are drugs that have been used for a long time but don’t really have an FDA approval. There are drugs that are approved for certain indications.  

And, as physicians, we can sometimes stretch that based upon clinical judgment. So, I think a lot of that goes into the discussion I have with patients about therapy.

And that’s always – you know, I present to them what the options are, what I think the benefits might be, what the potential toxicities are, and then we discuss. 

How Are ET, PV and Myelofibrosis Monitored?

How Are ET, PV and Myelofibrosis Monitored? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN specialist and researcher Dr. Joseph Scandura reviews tools that are used to monitor patients with essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV), and myelofibrosis (MF), including routine blood work and symptom management

Dr. Joseph Scandura is an Associate Professor of Medicine and Scientific Director of the Silver MPN Center at Weill Cornell Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Scandura.

 

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How to Treat PV-Related Itching


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

I would imagine monitoring patients is different for each of the MPNs. So, how are patients typically monitored over time, and let’s start with essential thrombocythemia?  

Dr. Scandura:

Yeah. I think – again, it’s similar. You know, what’s near-term, what’s long-term? And so, in all of these diseases, thrombosis risk is a near-term risk. That’s something that I am monitoring in certain ways to help mitigate that risk. In ET and PV, I approach them similarly. Blood counts are certainly – these are diseases of the blood forming system. Certainly, monitoring blood counts I find helpful. But the reality of it is, in ET, there is not a clear linkage between blood counts and risks.  

And so, I like to keep the platelet count near normal if I can. But I also recognize that it may not be worth suppressing all of the blood counts to achieve that landmark, because it’s not clear that that’s really reducing the risk any more than just having somebody on a medication that helps control the blood counts. In polycythemia vera, different blood counts are very important. The red blood cells are kind of like part of the clotting risk. We know from clinical trials that keeping the red blood cell parameters within certain ranges reduces the risk of clotting. And so, what I monitor in polycythemia vera is the hematocrit. In women, I like to keep it below 42. In men, I like to keep it below 45.  

But I don’t just – I’m not a slave to the hematocrit. I am keeping an eye on the other blood counts and the other red blood cell parameters. So, for instance, what’s the size of the red blood cells? That tells me a little bit about what’s going on in the blood formation for that patient. And what’s the number of red blood cells? So, sometimes people can have very small red cells, because they’re a little iron-deficient and have a huge surplus of the number of red blood cells. And that tells me a little bit about how their blood forming system is responding to therapy.  

Iron deficiency in polycythemia vera is very prominent. I personally believe it’s a very major driver of symptoms in patients who are receiving phlebotomy as part of their care. And it’s something that I monitor and really counsel patients on. My goal is to make phlebotomy independent, but it can take a while.  

Everybody starts out iron-deficient, and then we take iron out of their body through blood with the phlebotomy. And that makes them more iron-deficient.  

Katherine:

Right. 

Dr. Scandura:

I monitor symptoms from patients, and sometimes that can tell me that their disease needs to be – their treatment needs to be tweaked a little bit, even something as simple as aspirin. People can sometimes have burning in the skin or itching that is sometimes responsive to changing the aspirin dose or how it’s given, once a day versus twice a day.  

And that simple thing can be a big change for a patient who’s kind of, literally, climbing out of their skin or wishing they could and to try and find something that is helping.   

I had a patient the other day. He had COVID. I said, “Oh, you should probably get this medication.” Do you have your primary care physician? Who’s taking care of you?” And he goes, “Well, to be honest with you, you’re my guy.” And so, it’s true. I see this patient a lot. And so, sometimes they forget. If I’m not paying attention to their blood pressure, the risks or treatment of diabetes, cholesterol, lipids, their screening programs for mammogram or colonoscopy, health maintenance issues, I do keep an eye on that in patients, because I do think it’s a part of the MPNs.  

I think that there are excess risks for patients for some of these factors. Certainly, if you think of it as three strikes, they get a strike for having an MPN. I don’t want them to have any other strikes. So, diabetes, hypertension, those are strikes that I can potentially, at least, treat or refer them to somebody to help comanage with me. And so, that’s kind of my general approach. 

Katherine:

What about patients who have myelofibrosis? Are they monitored more closely? 

Dr. Scandura:

Yeah, I think it depends a little bit on the patient. Patients with early myelofibrosis often don’t have any symptoms or near-term risks much different than those from ET or PV. As the disease can progress, then some of these patients have more profound problems with symptoms, which I may be trying to find a solution to make them feel better. And also, blood counts can become more of an issue.  

Transfusions in some patients who are very high white blood cell count, the spleen is often quite enlarged. Although, in my experience, most patients aren’t really bothered by the size of their spleen as the physicians are. But it is something where I think, on average, they’re monitored a little bit more closely to quite a bit more closely depending on the patient. 

Katherine:

What happens if someone suddenly has a change in blood counts? What do you do? 

Dr. Scandura:

Yeah. I mean, repeat it. That’s the first thing. Also, check what’s going on. It’s not uncommon in patients with MPNs that I’ll see them and the counts are a little bit out of whack, the white count is much higher than it’s been, and questioning them. “Oh, yeah. I had X, Y, or Z last week or the week before.” It used to be a upper respiratory tract infection, or they had a minor surgical procedure.  

And sometimes the responses to these things can be accentuated in patients with MPNs. And so, if that’s what of this story, I certainly would repeat it and let things calm down a little. And that’s often all it is. I’m much more of a monitor of the trends. So, one-time measure doesn’t generally excite me. It might make me want to have a follow-up a little more – in a shorter period of time. Of course, it depends on what the change is. But, for most of the changes that we observe, they’re relatively minor. And I will monitor them over time.  

If I see a trend where something is progressively increasing or decreasing over time, then I start thinking about what else is going on. And that’s always in the context of what’s going on with the patient. How are they feeling? What’s their physical exam like? What are the other laboratory values like?  

Katherine:

When is a bone marrow biopsy necessary? 

Dr. Scandura:

I would say a bone marrow biopsy is absolutely necessary at the time of diagnosis. I personally do not routinely monitor by bone marrow biopsy unless it’s part of a clinical trial.  

But I do perform a bone marrow or want to look at the bone marrow morphology if there is one of these changes or at least a trend that I want a little bit more information about. And so, if – or if it’s been a very long time since somebody has had a bone marrow. If it’s been five or ten years, then sometimes I may recommend we look just so we can collect a little bit more up-to-date information.  

But I don’t routinely do a bone marrow, but I will do it if there are laboratories that are kind of trending in the wrong direction, there’s symptoms, there’s physical findings that I’m just not sure about. And I think it would help me be more sure as to what’s going on and be able to discuss that with the patient. Sometimes, just to say, “Hey. Look, we were worried about this, but the bone marrow looks really good.”  

Thriving With an MPN | Tips for Managing Worry and Anxiety

Thriving With an MPN | Tips for Managing Worry and Anxiety  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Joseph Scandura explains the role of shared decision-making when deciding on an MPN treatment, and why it’s so important for patients to take an active role in their care.

Dr. Joseph Scandura is an Associate Professor of Medicine and Scientific Director of the Silver MPN Center at Weill Cornell Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Scandura.

 

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


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Can you talk about shared decision-making? Why is it so important for patients to work closely with their healthcare team on choosing a therapy? 

Dr. Scandura:

Because these are therapies that last for a long time. And, hopefully, the patients and the relationship last for a long time. And so, I think that everybody has to be comfortable with the decision about a therapy. And my personal goal is to try to make sure that everybody understands the rationale for a therapy, the potential ups and downs with the therapy, which every drug has, every approach has, and what I’m kind of watching and monitoring. I’m a very – I think that communication relieves a lot of anxiety. I think that the unknown is far scarier than the known, even if it’s not perfect. And so, I think shared decision-making has a role in relieving some of the scariness of unknown.  

If we’re discussing to come to a decision, that means that my job is to give you the knowledge that I have so that you can tell me the knowledge about you and what you’re feeling and what you want back. And that back and forth is what helps me do a better job of taking care of the patient and helps the patient understand what’s going on and relieve some of the stress of the unknown. So, I think it’s a very synergistic approach. I don’t think I could practice medicine in another way.  

Katherine:

Managing the worry associated with a diagnosis or concerns even about progression can lead to a lot of anxiety and fear amongst patients. Why is it important for them to share what they’re feeling with their healthcare team? 

Dr. Scandura:

I would say this. If our goals are to have people – I mean, this is what I say to patients – I want you to think about this disease when you’re here. And, then, when you’re not here, my goal is to have you not thinking about this disease because you’re feeling okay and you’re comfortable and confident in what’s going on.  

So, I want to make it a clinic visit disease. That’s not always possible. But, for many patients, it is. I don’t want somebody to become – to start thinking like a sick person when they’re not. I don’t want the diagnosis to be the disease, right? I want the person if they’re feeling well, to recognize that. Live your life; move on with things. But, at the same time, these kinds of diagnoses are scary.  

Katherine:

Yeah. 

Dr. Scandura:

And so, it is normal with a new diagnosis or a change in the diagnosis to go through a period of time where you have to adjust. And so, that’s normal, and you have to work your way through it. Some people want to work that all out internally, and that’s good to a certain extent as long as they have good supports at home. But I often want to know how they’re doing, how they’re working through that so I can get a gauge of how it’s affecting their life and the duration where this adjustment is going on.  

So, somebody who’s still adjusting to a new diagnosis two years after the diagnosis, and they’re otherwise clinically well, that’s getting into the range where it’s not normal. You might need additional help. You might need counseling. And, in some patients, that might include some medications for a short period of time. The goal is to have the disease affecting you only in so far as it’s affecting you, not the idea of the disease. 

So, that’s a – again, it’s a conversation. There are lots of resources. People, being individuals, deal with things in their own way, and I just try to help understand with them how it’s affecting their life. And, if it seems to be more than I would expect, I’ll tell them that.  

And then we can discuss that. It doesn’t mean we have to do something today, but I will tell them, “I think this is maybe a little bit more. Why are you so worried? I think you’re doing great.” 

Katherine:

Yeah. Yeah. Can a social worker or somebody else on the healthcare team help with these emotional needs that patients have? 

Dr. Scandura:

Absolutely. We have great social workers. I tap into them all the time. We also have a group of psychiatrists who are really interested in kind of psychiatry that’s related to oncology and the diagnoses and how it impacts care. I mean, this is New York City, so everybody has a therapist. But a lot of patients have preexisting connections to healthcare providers or support systems. I think, for some patients, groups are helpful.  

MPNs and Pregnancy: Why Close Monitoring Is Important

MPNs and Pregnancy: Why Close Monitoring Is Important  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What complications can arise from an MPN during pregnancy? Dr. Joseph Scandura, from Weill Cornell Medicine, explains how pregnant women are monitored during pregnancy and in the postpartum period. 

Dr. Joseph Scandura is an Associate Professor of Medicine and Scientific Director of the Silver MPN Center at Weill Cornell Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Scandura.

 

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How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

“What complications can arise from an MPN during pregnancy?” 

Dr. Scandura:

Well, look, pregnancy – here you have two things, one of them common and complicated and the other one uncommon and complicated. So, common is pregnancy, but every pregnancy is different. And there’s a lot of changes going on in the body, and there’s certain risks that can go along with that as well. So, clotting risks sometimes can be increased in pregnancy. And then you have an MPN, where you have a clotting risk on top of that. The pregnancy really changes what kinds of medications we can think about using. And so, there are certain medications that we use comfortably in patients that would be an absolutely forbidden medication in a pregnant woman.  

And so, it depends a little bit on what’s going on with the patient. But, if they have a history of clotting, then certainly, we would think about wanting to control the blood counts. It depends a little bit on what the disease is how we would do that. Interferons are commonly used in pregnancy, and they are safe in pregnancy and can improve the outcomes in some patients with pregnancy.  

But short of that, in patients, for instance, who are very thrombotic risk, sometimes we have to sort of balance the risk of having a clot and something that can interfere with the pregnancy and the risk of bleeding. So, it’s not uncommon that people are on blood thinners during pregnancy at some point, but it really depends on the individual patient. What we do here is we keep very close contact with the patients.  

And all of our patients are seen by the high-risk OB/GYN. So, it’s not the general obstetrics people who are monitoring the patient, so they’re much more closely monitored for complications of pregnancy. And we are seeing them more frequently during pregnancy to help, from the MPN side, to try to optimize and minimize the risks of clot. And that doesn’t end as soon as the baby’s out. If breastfeeding, their clotting risk is not normalized after pregnancy, as soon as the baby comes out. And so, you know, there’s an adjustment for several months afterwards where we’re still kind  of thinking about this person a little bit differently than we would if they were not or had not been recently pregnant. 

Is There MPN Research Underway to Help Understand Progression?

Is There MPN Research Underway to Help Understand Progression? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How and why do MPNs progress? MPN specialist Dr. Joseph Scandura shares an update on research being done to better understand–and possibly prevent–disease progression.

Dr. Joseph Scandura is an Associate Professor of Medicine and Scientific Director of the Silver MPN Center at Weill Cornell Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Scandura.

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Expert Perspective: Hopeful MPN Research and Development


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Is there research being done on MPN progression to understand how it happens or even prevent or slow progression? 

Dr. Scandura:

Yeah. There’s a lot. I think there is a – from both the sort of basic laboratory using animal models to try to understand what are the kind of systems that are involved in how these diseases change. What genes are involved? How do they talk to each other? You know, these are not cells that live in a vacuum, right? They live in a special microenvironment. What are the signals that crosstalk between the MPN cells, the MPN stem cells, and their microenvironment?  

And so, there’s a lot of research on that and the basic side of things. In humans, there’s a lot that has been done over the years in terms of trying to understand what are some of the genetic features of progression. And I think we’re beginning to get a little bit of a better understand of what are the non-genetic things that are associated with progression.  

I was part of an effort from the MPN Research Foundation and still am.  

They have what they call the Progression Network, where they tried to put together a number of investigators from really across the world to share ideas about the nature of progression and how we might look at studying this and understanding ways to prevent progression.  

I think we do have some drugs now that show some promise in terms of being able to prevent progression. I think interferons have shown this in polycythemia vera in terms of a promise for improved long-term outcomes and delayed risk progression. I think that the gold standard randomized trials are maturing and are sort of bearing out some of the same findings that have been observed retrospectively, so sort of kind of looking back in time.  

But the difficulty is that it can take a long time for patients to progress. And you say, “Oh, that’s great.” And that is great. But, from a research – from a statistical side, it means things are really slow. If you have to wait 15 years to assess whether or not people progressed less in one treatment versus another, it’s really slow going. And so, we have to do a compromise of what’s – you know, what do animal studies say? What does retrospective analysis, when we might have people who started treatment 30 years ago, and now we’re just seeing how did it all work out? It’s not a perfect study, because biases can creep in, but it’s what we have now. And so, there’s a lot. And I think, increasingly, progression is being recognized as a goal of therapy, to prevent progression.   

Personally, it is one of my major goals, because I think we do a pretty good job at preventing clots with available treatments. But I don’t think we do a very good job at preventing progression, mostly, because we don’t exactly understand what’s driving that. And so, I think until we develop that deeper understanding and really invest the time and effort in terms of learning which approaches can help prevent progression, we’re going to continue to have these questions.  

How to Access Financial Support for MPN Patients

How to Access Financial Support for MPN Patients  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is there financial help for patients living with ET, PV, and myelofibrosis? MPN specialist Dr. Joseph Scandura shares advice and resources to ease the financial burden of care and treatment. 

Dr. Joseph Scandura is Associate Professor of Medicine and Scientific Director of the Silver MPN Center at Weill Cornell Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Scandura, here.

 

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How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions


Transcript:

Katherine:

We’d be remiss if we didn’t bring up financial concerns, treatment and regular appointments can really become quite expensive. Understanding that everyone’s situation is different, of course, where can patients turn if they need resources for financial support? 

Dr. Scandura:

Yeah. It depends on what the issue is. So, one of the biggest areas that I found this can interfere with care is when we have copays that are really not reasonable and not affordable. And so, how do we fix that? How do we get access to an agent that might be beneficial for a patient but that – you know, and the insurance has approved it, but they’ve approved it with such a high copay that it’s just not an option anymore.  

And so, there are foundations. The PAN Foundation, we often will reach out to for copay assistance. And, actually, many companies have copay assistance programs for their individual drugs. And so, we have some of our nurses who are quite good at navigating these different agencies, and some of them are kind of drug-specific.  

And because we see a lot of patients with MPNs and the number of drugs is not that great, we’re pretty tapped into what are the options for copay assistance that might be helpful. And it often works. It doesn’t always work. I had a patient I saw pretty routinely, and I kind of like my certain group of labs that kind of make me feel like I have a good sense of what’s going on. But he was getting killed with the lab costs. And he mentioned this to me, and then I have to do what I tell my – I have three teenage daughters, right? And, when they were littler – smaller, younger, we spent a lot of time distinguishing needs from wants, right?  

So, this was one of those instances. What laboratory do I need to make sure that this patient is safe? What do I want because it makes me feel like I have a better idea of what’s going on? And maybe I can back off on those wants if I’m seeing the patient pretty frequently, which I happen to be at that time. And so, some of that is a conversation.   

And it depends on the specifics of the insurance and a little bit of back and forth and knowing how to kind of minimize that financial burden when that’s starting to compromise care. 

What Are Indicators of MPN Progression?

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

What are signs that essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV) or myelofibrosis (MF) may be progressing? Dr. Jeanne Palmer, of the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, reviews factors that may indicate progression and discusses how blood counts are used in disease monitoring.

Dr. Jeanne Palmer is a hematologist specializing in myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) and bone marrow transplant at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. Dr. Palmer also serves as Director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program and is Vice Chair and Section Chief for Hematology. Learn more about Dr. Palmer, here.

 

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How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?

How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?

How Can Patients Navigate Care and Thrive With an MPN?

How Can Patients Navigate Care and Thrive With an MPN?

Understanding Treatment Options for ET, PV, and Myelofibrosis

Understanding Treatment Options for ET, PV, and Myelofibrosis


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Katie had this question. “What are the signs of progression from PV to MF or AML, both clinically and in blood tests, and when do you need a new bone marrow biopsy to check for this happening?” 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, in terms of progression, there are several things that we see happen. 

I think most importantly is, let’s say you have PV, and you’ve always been on medication, and it’s been hard to control. And all of a sudden, you don’t need medication to control it anymore, or the same thing for essential thrombocythemia. You have been taking medication, and all of a sudden your platelets go down, and you don’t need to take drugs anymore. A lot of times people are like, “Oh, that means I’m fixed and I’m well,” not necessarily, you really need to make sure to talk to your healthcare provider and potentially get a bone marrow biopsy. 

Now, the other thing – sometimes the blood counts will actually drop too low, so you’ll have somebody who has PV, who has always been too high and then all of the sudden they come in, and their hemoglobin is very low, and they’re anemic, and that’s another situation where you do that. So, anytime the blood counts start to drop is concerning. 

Now, it’s a continuum, so the blood counts may drop as you’re at the point of transitioning but it doesn’t – it’s not like if your blood count is dropping you say, “Oh my God, I have myelofibrosis, I need a bone marrow transplant tomorrow.” That’s not necessarily the case. This is generally a transition type process. 

Also when the spleen starts to get enlarged. Now, the spleen can be enlarged even in the setting of just ET or just PV, so spleen enlargement does not necessarily mean you’re transforming, but it can be one of the things that we would see that would indicate that. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

And then finally white blood cell count increasing can often be a sign of that. Now, in terms of progression to AML, that is generally something we’ll see in the blood. AML or acute myeloid leukemia, is indicated by the presence of blasts at greater than 20 percent. Now, many patients with myelofibrosis, in particular, but even PV and ET, may have blasts in their peripheral blood. Blasts are normal. If I did a marrow on every healthy person out there, they are going to have some blasts, because these are the first part of the development of white blood cells. So, they’re like baby white blood cells. But what the problem is, is when they start to grow too much. 

And so in the setting of myelofibrosis and even sometimes with these other diseases, the blasts will be in the peripheral blood primarily because the bone marrow is damaged and doesn’t hold them in very well. It becomes AML when it gets greater than 20 percent, so that blasts of greater than 20 percent in the peripheral blood or in the bone marrow but a lot of times we find it in the peripheral blood is where we indicate this has progressed to AML. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah.  

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Blasts of greater than 10 percent are also something that we really want to pay attention to, because that would suggest that the disease is starting to become more aggressive. Now, blasts vary, so for example, I’ve had patients go up to 11 and then drop back down to 3 or 4, and then they say around 3 or 4 or 5. So, you always want to make sure to double-check because one blast count at 11 percent, whereas it’s very important to address, may not necessarily reflect that you need to change in treatment at that time. Again, these blood tests, I always tell people, do not freak out over one blood test. 

Make sure you get at least a couple of them to really confirm what you are looking at. 

What to Do If You Miss a Dose of Your Oral MPN Treatment

What to Do If You Miss a Dose of Your Oral MPN Treatment  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Self-administered MPN treatments are becoming more common, but what should you do if you miss a dose? Dr. Jeanne Palmer, of the Mayo Clinic, shares advice for adhering to your treatment schedule and explains when you should contact your care team.

Dr. Jeanne Palmer is a hematologist specializing in myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) and bone marrow transplant at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. Dr. Palmer also serves as Director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program and is Vice Chair and Section Chief for Hematology. Learn more about Dr. Palmer, here.

 

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Understanding Treatment Options for ET, PV, and Myelofibrosis

Understanding Treatment Options for ET, PV, and Myelofibrosis

How Can Patients Navigate Care and Thrive With an MPN?

How Can Patients Navigate Care and Thrive With an MPN?

How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?

How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

With many of the treatments available as pills now, patients have a role in self-administering their treatment regimen. What happens if a patient forgets to take a medication? Does it impact its effectiveness? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Generally no. I think the ones that would are certain blood thinners you really don’t want to miss and you don’t want to miss the doses on it. With drugs like Jakafi, if you miss one dose you probably won’t notice it, but if you miss multiple doses you can actually get very sick from that. So, some of these medications are really important to be consistent on. 

Now, I know this could be a challenge. I mean I don’t take very many medications and I sometimes have a hard time keeping track of what I take, so I know that this can be a difficult thing to do. So, one thing is if you really find you’re struggling with it, setting an alarm on your phone or your Apple Watch or whatever… 

Katherine Banwell:

…device. 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Device you have can be a really helpful way of doing it. Also having a pill box. They make pretty amazing pill boxes these days that can account for taking drugs once a day, twice a day, three times a day. I’ve even seen them up to four times a day, although generally the most you’ll probably have to take a medicine for a myeloproliferative disease is twice a day. But those are different ways that can really help make sure you’re consistent about taking your medication. 

Katherine Banwell:

And if a patient misses a dose, do they need to call their healthcare team and let them know?  

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Not just for one missed dose. If like, for example, they’re run out and they say, “Oh, geez, I don’t have any and many of these drugs are specialty pharmacy,” so they need to be mailed, and you know that you’re going to be missing it for a while. Or let’s say you look at your pill bottle and go, “Oh shoot, I only have so many pills left,” it is helpful to call because a lot of times, for example, if somebody is on Jakafi and they know they’re going to run out of their pills four days before they’re going to get their next shipment in, then what I sometimes do is I lower the dose a little bit to make sure they maintain a dose throughout that time. 

But this is something you definitely want to do under the advice of a healthcare provider. You don’t want to just all of the sudden go, “Oh, well I’m going to run out so I’m just going to change my dose,” and kind of do that.

How Can Patients Navigate Care and Thrive With an MPN?

How Can Patients Navigate Care and Thrive With an MPN?  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What does it mean to thrive with an MPN? Dr. Jeanne Palmer, an MPN specialist from the Mayo Clinic, shares advice on navigating MPN care and stresses the importance of communicating openly with your healthcare team.

Dr. Jeanne Palmer is a hematologist specializing in myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) and bone marrow transplant at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. Dr. Palmer also serves as Director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program and is Vice Chair and Section Chief for Hematology. Learn more about Dr. Palmer, here.

 

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Understanding Treatment Options for ET, PV, and Myelofibrosis

Understanding Treatment Options for ET, PV, and Myelofibrosis

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How Treatment Goals Impact MPN Treatment Decisions

How Treatment Goals Impact MPN Treatment Decisions


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

What does it mean to you to thrive with an MPN?

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

I think living with an MPN can be very difficult. I think there is a number of things. First of all, there’s always the worry of what’s going to happen in the future. Many of these MPNs can start as fairly, for lack of a better term, as benign issues and can convert to something much more serious. So, I think living with that sort of timebomb in the back it can be extremely stressful. So, figuring out how to live with the fact that there is some degree of uncertainty.

I think the other thing is making sure to understand your disease. These are very rare disorders and even if you go to a hematologist-oncologist specialist, a lot of times they don’t have all the information because they don’t see a lot of them every year. So, it’s really important to make sure that above and beyond that you understand what’s going on in your body so that when new things happen, new symptoms happen, you’re able to really address them as opposed to sort of living with something that may make you feel poorly that’s not being addressed.

So, again, I think the biggest piece of this is seeing how do you live with uncertainty and how do you make sure you understand your disease well enough that you know what’s going on in your own body. 

Katherine Banwell:

Patients can sometimes feel like they’re bothering their healthcare team with their comments and questions. Why do you think it’s important for patients to speak up when it comes to symptoms and side effects?

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Well, there is a lot of things. This is a disease, again, that we can direct our therapy many times towards symptoms, and so when we think about how do I direct my therapy, so how do I treat somebody, symptoms are an incredibly important part of it. And there is nothing worse than having a patient come and see me who I see every six months, because they’ve been pretty stable and they’re like, “Oh, for three months I’ve been feeling awful.” And you’re like, well, “Why didn’t you let me know, we could do something about this?”

So, if there is something that doesn’t feel right, it’s very, very important to talk to your healthcare provider. I would much rather be bothered and handle something earlier on than miss something and really have a lot more catch-up to do afterwards.

The other thing is symptoms may indicate a blood clotting event. We know that patients will have a higher risk of blood clotting. These are extremely important to identify early on because if they go unchecked, they can cause more damage. 

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Palmer, was we close out this conversation I wanted to get your thoughts on where we stand with progress in helping people live longer and truly thrive with MPN. What would you like to leave the audience with?

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, I think that the first thing is make sure you understand your disease. Don’t hesitate to ask for a second opinion. It’s always good to make sure you talk to someone who can really explain so you feel like when you go home you understand what’s going on in your body. Make sure you understand what symptoms to look for, what things to be aware of, because a lot of times people come in and they have no idea that, oh, these symptoms are actually related to their disease.

The other thing to make sure is that you’re very honest with your provider on how you’re feeling. A lot of times people come in and they say, “Oh, how are you feeling?” “I feel fine,” but then they start to ask very specific questions and they’re like, “Oh yeah, I’m really tired, my fatigue is an 8 out of 10,” or something.

So, make sure you’re really honest with your provider. When they ask you how they’re doing, this is not a social visit, this is a visit where they need to know your symptoms, so you don’t need to say I’m fine like you normally would if you were walking down the street.

The next thing is to always make sure to know where there’s clinical trials because we are making enormous great leaps and bounds in this field. It’s a really exciting time for myeloproliferative diseases, and there’s a number of new drugs that are being tested and coming out. So, it’s always important, if the opportunity is available and you can do it, clinical trials are a great way to get treatment.

Plus, you are giving back, because these are things that help us learn whether something works or not. So, you’re not as much a guinea pig, you never get a sugar pill. It’s one of those things will you will always get the treatment you need and then they may add something to it or you may be in the situation where there is no treatment, so they try something.

But clinical trials, I have to emphasize, are a great way to get therapy and really are how we know everything that we know about treatment for these diseases.

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. It sounds like there’s a lot of progress and hope in the field.

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Oh, absolutely

Understanding Treatment Options for ET, PV, and Myelofibrosis

Understanding Treatment Options for ET, PV, and Myelofibrosis from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN specialist Dr. Jeanne Palmer discusses the treatment options available for essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV), and myelofibrosis (MF). Dr. Palmer explains how a treatment choice is determined for each of the MPNs and how anemia is managed in patients with myelofibrosis. 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer is a hematologist specializing in myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) and bone marrow transplant at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. Dr. Palmer also serves as Director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program and is Vice Chair and Section Chief for Hematology. Learn more about Dr. Palmer, here.

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Expert Perspective: Hopeful MPN Research and Development


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Much of the time the chosen treatment for MPNs manages the symptoms of the condition. I’d like to review the different types and classes of treatment for the three MPNs. So, let’s start with essential thrombocythemia again. When is it time to treat, and what are the options available? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Right. So, with essential thrombocythemia, that’s the disease that sometimes we don’t need to treat. 

So, we basically have a risk stratification system and this risk is based on age, history of a blood clot, the presence or absence of a JAK2 mutation. So, for example, if somebody is 28, does not have a JAK2 mutation, which is again one of those driver mutations, and never had a blood clot, they actually don’t necessarily need to do anything and just be monitored.  

Somebody who is less than 60 and has a JAK2 mutation or who is greater than 60 and does not have a JAK2 mutation, in that setting, a lot of times you can use aspirin. Now, it gets a little bit gray in terms of that over 60 without the JAK2 mutation with regards to whether at that point you really should start taking some medicine to lower the platelets. 

Now, if somebody has a JAK2 mutation, is greater than 60 or has had a blood clot, hands down they need to take medicine to lower the platelets, in addition to aspirin or whatever blood thinner they may need. So, for example, if you have a blood clot in a vein, a lot of times you need to take a blood thinner and that will be a lifelong thing. And again, we do these risk stratifications because we know there is a certain risk of clotting associated with the risk of essential thrombocythemia.  

So, for example, somebody who is less than 60 and does not have a JAK2 mutation, never had a clot, their risk of clotting is probably very close to that of the normal population. Whereas if you’re higher risk and have a JAK2 mutation and greater than 60 or have had a history of a clot, the risk of clot is probably about 4 percent per year. So, this is something that can vary quite widely, and even though that 4 percent per year on the short-term doesn’t sound like a lot, if you take it additive over years, that’s why we generally try to be aggressive about lowering the platelets.  

In lowering the platelets, the goal is to get less than 400 and doing that can be done through several different medications. The most commonly used medications is a drug called hydroxyurea, which has been around for a number of years, and a drug called anagrelide which is probably a little less commonly used, because it has some more GI side effects and headaches associated with it. 

In some cases, especially in younger patients with this disease, we can consider using interferon, which is an injection of a cytokine, which are one of the chemicals that regulates the immune system within the body. But this interferon can actually help lower the platelets and there is a question of whether it may affect the biology of the disease as well. 

Katherine Banwell:

Let’s turn to polycythemia vera or PV, what are the different options available for treating it? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, for polycythemia vera, everyone needs to be on aspirin. 

And additionally, everyone needs to make sure to keep their blood count low, to manage their hematocrit, which is one of the measures of red blood cells. So, in men it’s generally recommended to keep below 45 and in women it’s recommended to keep below 42 percent. Now, the studied number was 45 percent and that was a study that was done, I don’t know, it was probably about 10 plus years ago, that actually showed that by keeping the blood hematocrit less than 45 percent you reduce the risk of having negative events like cardiovascular events and heart attacks. Because women tend to run with a lower blood count than men, it’s been extrapolated that 42 percent should be the number used for women. 

Now, this can be done by phlebotomy, which essentially is bloodletting.  

It’s kind of like donating blood except for that the blood unfortunately can’t be donated to anybody, it has to be discarded. But the phlebotomy is one way to do that, and the reason that works is because it makes somebody iron deficient. So, whereas if this is normal, if you’re iron deficient you become anemic. If your baseline hematocrit is here, making you iron deficient brings you back to normal. So, even though we always associate iron deficiency with anemia, iron deficiency in the setting of polycythemia vera is actually kind of a treatment of sorts. 

Now, once somebody gets above 60 and 60 seems to be sort of the magic age in these diseases, once somebody gets above 60, it is recommended that cytoreductive therapy is used, which means therapy or treatment that will bring down the red count. And again, for this one, hydroxyurea is an option as well as interferon. And there is recently an approval, actually FDA approval for a newer interferon called ropeginterferon or Besremi, which can help just bring down the red blood cells but it is the first interferon that’s actually been FDA approved for this indication.  

Katherine Banwell:

Are JAK inhibitors used as well? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

They are. So, if somebody doesn’t respond well to hydroxyurea, the approval for ruxolitinib is actually for patients who have failed hydroxyurea. Although it’s something that we often consider especially in people who have a lot of symptoms. So, the itching, one of the things that can really help itching actually is Jakafi. If people have night sweats, they have weight loss, spleen related symptoms, those are the patients that will benefit from Jakafi. Additionally, if they are on hydroxyurea and can’t seem to get control of their blood count, Jakafi is a good option to help control the blood counts as well. 

Interferon is a very nice option because there’s great data that shows that you may actually be able to lower the percentage of JAK2 burden. 

So, we’d look at something called an allele burden, which is the percentage of cells that are involved – have the JAK2 mutation. Now, we don’t know whether lowering this percentage necessarily translates to long-term better survival, but I think there is enough data out there, and there is a good biologic underpinning for saying that this actually can help. But yes, Jakafi is another thing. 

And the really exciting thing is that there is a newer agent called rusfertide, which is a hepcidin mimetic, which is basically taking a protein in your body that helps metabolize iron and by making it externally and giving it to somebody that it can actually help bring down the hematocrit without having some of the other side effects we know with some of the other medications. That is currently in Phase III studies, so hopefully in the next couple of years we’ll see approval for that. 

Katherine Banwell:

Oh, that’s great news. And finally, how is myelofibrosis treated? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, myelofibrosis is a little bit of a different animal. When you have something like essential thrombocythemia or PV, a lot of this is managing symptoms, preventing blood clots, but if you do appropriate treatment and management of these diseases you could probably live close to a normal life expectancy. 

So, I never typically pin a survival on it. With myelofibrosis, it’s a little bit different because there is a survival. Instead of saying you can live close to normal life expectancy, it backs up to saying how many years do I think you can live with this disease. Now, of course, we are horrible at predicting how many years anyone can live, so we have to take that all with a grain of salt. But we can at least sort of risk stratify people. 

And the first thing that’s really important is to figure out whether somebody is a transplant candidate or not and if, based on age, disease risk features, stuff like that, or whether we think they ever will be a transplant candidate. So, that kind of helps us sort of think about what your path moving forward is.  

Now, the current FDA-approved treatment for myelofibrosis, there are three JAK inhibitors approved, which is like Jakafi, which was the first approved one but there is also Inrebic or fedratinib and Vonjo or pacritinib and these have all been approved over the years. 

The role of JAK inhibitors and treatment of myelofibrosis is symptoms-based. So, for example, a lot of patients with myelofibrosis will have weight loss, night sweats, big spleens, really feeling fatigued and poorly and in this setting, the JAK inhibitor can be very helpful. And you don’t have to have a JAK2 mutation, a lot of times people say, well, I don’t have the JAK2 mutation so how can a JAK inhibitor help. So, the JAK inhibitor works on this pathway, which is called the JAK/STAT pathway, irrespective of mutation. 

So, if you are having symptoms and you have myelofibrosis, JAK mutation, excuse me, the JAK2 mutation does not predict who is going to have a response. And people who, regardless of which mutation you have, may actually benefit from it. 

So, the JAK inhibitors, though, are extremely effective at reducing symptom burden as well as reducing the spleen size. And we know that if a spleen is big and we can make it shrink that, that probably is a surrogate marker for living longer, and I think it’s because inflammation does a lot of wear and tear on the body. So if you can reduce the inflammation and the spleen shrinks, which generally go hand in hand, then you might help somebody live longer. It is not changing the biology of the disease, though, however, it doesn’t change the pathway and that this disease is kind of projecting ahead in terms of creating – it changes, as it goes along, may acquire new mutations or something like that which makes the disease become more serious. 

Right now, the approved therapies for it are JAK inhibitors and the Jakafi, ruxolitinib was the first one approved. Inrebic was approved several years back, or fedratinib. 

And then the most recent one that was approved is Vonjo or pacritinib and that’s a drug that is a JAK inhibitor that is actually very good for people with low platelets. The reason I bring that up is because if we think of what’s the biggest limiter of JAK inhibitors, JAK inhibitors bring down red blood cells, and they bring down platelets. So, when somebody has low platelets it’s very hard to use a JAK inhibitor, because we’re not really able to increase the dose well enough to get that inflammatory reduction because of the fact that the blood counts will drop too low. 

So, now drugs like Vonjo exist which, due to several other mechanisms associated with the drug are actually much more tolerated in somebody with low platelets. So, if you have low platelets, you can actually take the Vonjo, hopefully get the same degree of JAK inhibition to help the spleen shrink, help the symptoms get better without necessarily making the platelets substantially worse. A lot of times they do drop, it doesn’t help bring up the platelets, but it does help people tolerate more JAK inhibition, which ultimately will help with symptoms.  

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, one thing I also wanted to add about myelofibrosis treatment is sometimes people present, they don’t have a lot of symptoms, they don’t have a lot of spleen related problems but they have anemia or low blood counts and these can be incredibly hard to treat. 

Even with symptoms and low red blood cell count or anemia or low platelets, it can be challenging to treat because many of these medications lower that. To treat the anemia there are several things that we can do. One of the first ones is using erythropoietin, and so there are many agents, they go by the names of like Procrit or darbepoetin alfa (Aranesp), that actually stimulate red blood cell growth by – like we give a recombinant hormone that helps red blood cells grow. This is normally something produced by the kidney. 

So, one thing that’s important before going on one of these injections is to make sure that the kidney is not already producing enough. So, for example, if the kidney said, oh geez, I really need more red cells and is making lots of this hormone, erythropoietin, giving more of it is not going to help the system. But in people who don’t have a really high level it can be very beneficial.  

The other thing that can help with anemia, specifically, is a drug called danazol.  

It’s been around for a very long time. There are multiple presumed mechanisms of action, but one of them is that it is kind of a testosterone derivative. So, this is a medicine that can often help increase red blood cells in probably about 40 percent of people, and it’s a pill that you take twice a day. 

Another option, sometimes we use thalidomide or lenalidomide (Revlimid). These are medications that have been used quite frequently in the setting of multiple myeloma and even a little bit in myelodysplastic syndrome, so some other blood disorders.  

But in the setting of myelofibrosis, they can be helpful with anemia and sometimes are combined with prednisone or a corticosteroid. 

And then finally, in terms of drugs that are being tested and hopefully will be approved at some point in the future. There is a drug called momelotinib, which is another JAK inhibitor that actually has some mechanisms that may also help improve hemoglobin.  

So, this is something I’m really looking forward to and we anticipate may be approved by the end of the year. And finally, there is another drug called luspatercept. Luspatercept may work in the setting where your kidneys are already producing enough erythropoietin. So, the luspatercept is an injection that you receive once every three weeks.  

It is currently FDA-approved for the treatment of myelodysplastic syndrome but this is something that has been shown to have some efficacy in myelofibrosis as well. So, this could be another therapeutic option for patients with myelofibrosis. 

It is also important, especially for people who have polycythemia vera myelofibrosis to make sure that your iron has been checked and B-12 has been checked, because just because you have a bone marrow disorder doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have a nutrition deficit that may be able to help improve your hemoglobin somewhat. But these are important things to talk to your doctor. I do not recommend just starting to take iron or B-12, however, if you’re anemic because in many cases you are not deficient and taking too much iron can actually be damaging.  

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah, that’s great advice.  

Thriving With MPNs: Your Role in Managing Your Treatment and Care

Thriving With MPNs: Your Role in Managing Your Treatment and Care from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 How can patients thrive with a myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN)? Dr. Jeanne Palmer discusses treatment approaches, strategies for managing disease symptoms and treatment side effects, and advice on how patients can be proactive in their care.

Dr. Jeanne Palmer is a hematologist specializing in myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) and bone marrow transplant at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. Dr. Palmer also serves as Director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program and is Vice Chair and Section Chief for Hematology. Learn more about Dr. Palmer, here.

 

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How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?

How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?

What Are the Signs of MPN Progression?

What are the Signs of MPN Progression

Expert Perspective: Hopeful MPN Research and Development


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Hello and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today, we’re going to talk 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. 

Well, joining us today is Dr. Jeanne Palmer. Dr. Palmer, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Thank you so much. I am so happy to be here and to help participate in this. My name is Jeanne Palmer. I am a hematologist at Mayo Clinic in Arizona. I specialize in MPNs as well as bone marrow transplant, and I am thrilled to be here. 

Katherine Banwell:

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to join us today, Dr. Palmer. We start all of the webinars in our Thrive series with the same question and that is, what does it mean to you to thrive with an MPN? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

I think living with an MPN can be very difficult. I think there is a number of things. First of all, there’s always the worry of what’s going to happen in the future. Many of these MPNs can start as fairly, for lack of a better term, as benign issues and can convert to something much more serious. So, I think living with that sort of timebomb in the back it can be extremely stressful. So, figuring out how to live with the fact that there is some degree of uncertainty. 

I think the other thing is making sure to understand your disease. These are very rare disorders and even if you go to a hematologist-oncologist specialist, a lot of times they don’t have all the information because they don’t see a lot of them every year. So, it’s really important to make sure that above and beyond that you understand what’s going on in your body so that when new things happen, new symptoms happen, you’re able to really address them as opposed to sort of living with something that may make you feel poorly that’s not being addressed.  

So, again, I think the biggest piece of this is seeing how do you live with uncertainty, and how do you make sure you understand your disease well enough that you know what’s going on in your own body. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. That’s helpful to understand, especially as we move through today’s program, and we’re going to cover the three classic MPNs, polycythemia vera, essential thrombocythemia and myelofibrosis. One part of thriving with an MPN is managing the symptoms of the disease. Would you walk us through the common symptoms of each of the MPNs? Let’s start with essential thrombocythemia. 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Right. So, there are a number of shared symptoms throughout all the diseases and when we start to figure out how to categorize them, they call into several different categories. The first one is inflammation-related symptoms. We know that the inherent pathway that’s dysregulated or that causes these diseases to happen can also result in significant inflammation in a person, that can result in things like fevers, night sweats, weight loss, and overall feeling really fatigued and poorly, which is something that it seems to be much more prevalent in patients with MPNs, all sorts of them, actually. 

The next set of symptoms is related to microvasculature, so all the little blood vessels. And sometimes we think, oh, maybe that’s because there’s too many red blood cells or platelets and the blood become viscous. It’s probably more related to the actual dysregulation of that JAK2 pathway, which is inherent to all the myeloproliferative diseases and as a result, the little blood vessels can clamp down and that can give people headaches, visual changes, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, and even can cause sort of a painful rash called erythromelalgia in the body. 

So, these are things that can happen that are probably less appreciated side effects of the disease. And finally, there’s spleen-related symptoms. The spleen is in the left upper quadrant of the abdomen and it’s an organ that generally is about 12 centimeters in length, 10 to 12, but in patients with myeloproliferative diseases it can be enlarged. And as a result of an enlarged spleen people can have feeling like they get fuller early. So, if you’re eating a meal, all of the sudden you can only eat half of that meal versus the whole meal.  

Discomfort or pain in the left upper quadrant. Sometimes it’s much more noticeable when you like bend over to tie your shoes. And then sometimes people can actually, when the spleen gets really big, the blood flow can be impaired towards the end of it which can cause some of the spleen tissue to die, and that can be painful. So, these are things that if somebody does start to notice that they’re having fullness in the left upper quadrant, pain, stuff like that, that that may be related to spleen symptoms. 

Katherine Banwell:

What about PV or polycythemia vera, what are the symptoms? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, all of these sorts of relate to all of the myeloproliferative diseases. So, one other one that I didn’t mention, and this is actually more in PV than others, is itching. Itching can be absolutely unbearable when somebody has PV. It’s particularly noticeable after taking a shower. So, a lot of times I’ve met patients who are like I haven’t been able to take a shower in years, because it causes such a high degree of itching. 

Katherine Banwell:

Why a shower? Is it different from having a bath?  

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Water on the body that can cause the problem. So, if people take hot showers, it’s even worse. Although I think that people sort of react to it differently. Usually what patients end up doing is more like sponge bath type of things, rather than actually being exposed to the water. 

Taking colder showers or cooler showers can sometimes help mitigate that. But the itching, and even in the absence of a shower, people can have pretty severe itching, and that can also be one of the major side effects. 

Katherine Banwell:

Much of the time the chosen treatment for MPNs manages the symptoms of the condition. I’d like to review the different types and classes of treatment for the three MPNs. So, let’s start with essential thrombocythemia again. When is it time to treat, and what are the options available?  

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Right. So, with essential thrombocythemia, that’s the disease that sometimes we don’t need to treat. 

So, we basically have a risk stratification system and this risk is based on age, history of a blood clot, the presence or absence of a JAK2 mutation. So, for example, if somebody is 28, does not have a JAK2 mutation, which is again one of those driver mutations, and never had a blood clot, they actually don’t necessarily need to do anything and just be monitored.  

Somebody who is less than 60 and has a JAK2 mutation or who is greater than 60 and does not have a JAK2 mutation, in that setting, a lot of times you can use aspirin. Now, it gets a little bit gray in terms of that over 60 without the JAK2 mutation with regards to whether at that point you really should start taking some medicine to lower the platelets. 

Now, if somebody has a JAK2 mutation, is greater than 60 or has had a blood clot, hands down they need to take medicine to lower the platelets, in addition to aspirin or whatever blood thinner they may need. So, for example, if you have a blood clot in a vein, a lot of times you need to take a blood thinner and that will be a lifelong thing. And again, we do these risk stratifications because we know there is a certain risk of clotting associated with the risk of essential thrombocythemia. 

So, for example, somebody who is less than 60 and does not have a JAK2 mutation, never had a clot, their risk of clotting is probably very close to that of the normal population. Whereas if you’re higher risk and have a JAK2 mutation and greater than 60 or have had a history of a clot, the risk of clot is probably about 4 percent per year. So, this is something that can vary quite widely, and even though that 4 percent per year on the short-term doesn’t sound like a lot, if you take it additive over years, that’s why we generally try to be aggressive about lowering the platelets.  

In lowering the platelets, the goal is to get less than 400 and doing that can be done through several different medications. The most commonly used medications is a drug called hydroxyurea, which has been around for a number of years, and a drug called anagrelide which is probably a little less commonly used, because it has some more GI side effects and headaches associated with it. 

In some cases, especially in younger patients with this disease, we can consider using interferon, which is an injection of a cytokine, which are one of the chemicals that regulates the immune system within the body. But this interferon can actually help lower the platelets and there is a question of whether it may affect the biology of the disease as well. 

Katherine Banwell:

Let’s turn to polycythemia vera or PV, what are the different options available for treating it? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, for polycythemia vera, everyone needs to be on aspirin. 

And additionally, everyone needs to make sure to keep their blood count low, to manage their hematocrit, which is one of the measures of red blood cells. So, in men it’s generally recommended to keep below 45 and in women it’s recommended to keep below 42 percent.  Now, the studied number was 45 percent and that was a study that was done, I don’t know, it was probably about 10 plus years ago, that actually showed that by keeping the blood hematocrit less than 45 percent you reduce the risk of having negative events like cardiovascular events and heart attacks. Because women tend to run with a lower blood count than men, it’s been extrapolated that 42 percent should be the number used for women. 

Now, this can be done by phlebotomy, which essentially is bloodletting. It’s kind of like donating blood except for that the blood unfortunately can’t be donated to anybody, it has to be discarded. But the phlebotomy is one way to do that, and the reason that works is because it makes somebody iron deficient. So, whereas if this is normal, if you’re iron deficient you become anemic. If your baseline hematocrit is here, making you iron deficient brings you back to normal. So, even though we always associate iron deficiency with anemia, iron deficiency in the setting of polycythemia vera is actually kind of a treatment of sorts. 

Now, once somebody gets above 60 and 60 seems to be sort of the magic age in these diseases, once somebody gets above 60, it is recommended that cytoreductive therapy is used, which means therapy or treatment that will bring down the red count. And again, for this one, hydroxyurea is an option as well as interferon. And there is recently an approval, actually FDA approval for a newer interferon called ropeginterferon or Besremi, which can help just bring down the red blood cells but it is the first interferon that’s actually been FDA approved for this indication. 

Katherine Banwell:

Are JAK inhibitors used as well? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

They are. So, if somebody doesn’t respond well to hydroxyurea, the approval for ruxolitinib is actually for patients who have failed hydroxyurea. Although it’s something that we often consider especially in people who have a lot of symptoms. So, the itching, one of the things that can really help itching actually is Jakafi. If people have night sweats, they have weight loss, spleen related symptoms, those are the patients that will benefit from Jakafi. Additionally, if they are on hydroxyurea and can’t seem to get control of their blood count, Jakafi is a good option to help control the blood counts as well. 

Interferon is a very nice option because there’s great data that shows that you may actually be able to lower the percentage of JAK2 burden. 

So, we’d look at something called an allele burden, which is the percentage of cells that are involved – have the JAK2 mutation. Now, we don’t know whether lowering this percentage necessarily translates to long-term better survival, but I think there is enough data out there, and there is a good biologic underpinning for saying that this actually can help. But yes, Jakafi is another thing. 

And the really exciting thing is that there is a newer agent called rusfertide, which is a hepcidin mimetic, which is basically taking a protein in your body that helps metabolize iron and by making it externally and giving it to somebody that it can actually help bring down the hematocrit without having some of the other side effects we know with some of the other medications. That is currently in Phase III studies, so hopefully in the next couple of years we’ll see approval for that. 

Katherine Banwell:

Oh, that’s great news. And finally, how is myelofibrosis treated? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, myelofibrosis is a little bit of a different animal. When you have something like essential thrombocythemia or PV, a lot of this is managing symptoms, preventing blood clots, but if you do appropriate treatment and management of these diseases you could probably live close to a normal life expectancy.  

So, I never typically pin a survival on it. With myelofibrosis, it’s a little bit different because there is a survival. Instead of saying you can live close to normal life expectancy, it backs up to saying how many years do I think you can live with this disease. Now, of course, we are horrible at predicting how many years anyone can live, so we have to take that all with a grain of salt. But we can at least sort of risk stratify people. 

And the first thing that’s really important is to figure out whether somebody is a transplant candidate or not and if, based on age, disease risk features, stuff like that, or whether we think they ever will be a transplant candidate. So, that kind of helps us sort of think about what your path moving forward is.  

Now, the current FDA-approved treatment for myelofibrosis, there are three JAK inhibitors approved, which is like Jakafi, which was the first approved one but there is also Inrebic or fedratinib and Vonjo or pacritinib and these have all been approved over the years. 

The role of JAK inhibitors and treatment of myelofibrosis is symptoms-based. So, for example, a lot of patients with myelofibrosis will have weight loss, night sweats, big spleens, really feeling fatigued and poorly and in this setting, the JAK inhibitor can be very helpful. And you don’t have to have a JAK2 mutation, a lot of times people say, well, I don’t have the JAK2 mutation so how can a JAK inhibitor help. So, the JAK inhibitor works on this pathway, which is called the JAK/STAT pathway, irrespective of mutation. 

So, if you are having symptoms and you have myelofibrosis, JAK mutation, excuse me, the JAK2 mutation does not predict who is going to have a response. And people who, regardless of which mutation you have, may actually benefit from it. 

So, the JAK inhibitors, though, are extremely effective at reducing symptom burden as well as reducing the spleen size. And we know that if a spleen is big and we can make it shrink that, that probably is a surrogate marker for living longer, and I think it’s because inflammation does a lot of wear and tear on the body. So if you can reduce the inflammation and the spleen shrinks, which generally go hand in hand, then you might help somebody live longer. It is not changing the biology of the disease, though, however, it doesn’t change the pathway and that this disease is kind of projecting ahead in terms of creating – it changes, as it goes along, may acquire new mutations or something like that which makes the disease become more serious. 

Right now, the approved therapies for it are JAK inhibitors and the Jakafi, ruxolitinib was the first one approved. Inrebic was approved several years back, or fedratinib. 

And then the most recent one that was approved is Vonjo or pacritinib and that’s a drug that is a JAK inhibitor that is actually very good for people with low platelets. The reason I bring that up is because if we think of what’s the biggest limiter of JAK inhibitors, JAK inhibitors bring down red blood cells, and they bring down platelets. So, when somebody has low platelets it’s very hard to use a JAK inhibitor, because we’re not really able to increase the dose well enough to get that inflammatory reduction because of the fact that the blood counts will drop too low. 

So, now drugs like Vonjo exist which, due to several other mechanisms associated with the drug are actually much more tolerated in somebody with low platelets. So, if you have low platelets, you can actually take the Vonjo, hopefully get the same degree of JAK inhibition to help the spleen shrink, help the symptoms get better without necessarily making the platelets substantially worse. A lot of times they do drop, it doesn’t help bring up the platelets, but it does help people tolerate more JAK inhibition, which ultimately will help with symptoms.  

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, one thing I also wanted to add about myelofibrosis treatment is sometimes people present, they don’t have a lot of symptoms, they don’t have a lot of spleen related problems but they have anemia or low blood counts and these can be incredibly hard to treat. 

Even with symptoms and low red blood cell count or anemia or low platelets, it can be challenging to treat because many of these medications lower that. To treat the anemia there are several things that we can do. One of the first ones is using erythropoietin, and so there are many agents, they go by the names of like Procrit or darbepoetin alfa, that actually stimulate red blood cell growth by – like we give a recombinant hormone that helps red blood cells grow. This is normally something produced by the kidney. 

So, one thing that’s important before going on one of these injections is to make sure that the kidney is not already producing enough. So, for example, if the kidney said, oh geez, I really need more red cells and is making lots of this hormone, erythropoietin, giving more of it is not going to help the system. But in people who don’t have a really high level it can be very beneficial. 

The other thing that can help with anemia, specifically, is a drug called danazol (Danocrine).  

It’s been around for a very long time. There are multiple presumed mechanisms of action, but one of them is that it is kind of a testosterone derivative. So, this is a medicine that can often help increase red blood cells in probably about 40 percent of people, and it’s a pill that you take twice a day. 

Another option, sometimes we use thalidomide or lenalidomide (Revlimid). These are medications that have been used quite frequently in the setting of multiple myeloma and even a little bit in myelodysplastic syndrome, so some other blood disorders.  

But in the setting of myelofibrosis, they can be helpful with anemia and sometimes are combined with prednisone or a corticosteroid. And then finally, in terms of drugs that are being tested and hopefully will be approved at some point in the future. There is a drug called momelotinib, which is another JAK inhibitor that actually has some mechanisms that may also help improve hemoglobin. 

So, this is something I’m really looking forward to and we anticipate may be approved by the end of the year. And finally, there is another drug called luspatercept (Reblozyl). Luspatercept may work in the setting where your kidneys are already producing enough erythropoietin. So, the luspatercept is an injection that you receive once every three weeks.  

It is currently FDA-approved for the treatment of myelodysplastic syndrome but this is something that has been shown to have some efficacy in myelofibrosis as well. So, this could be another therapeutic option for patients with myelofibrosis. 

It is also important, especially for people who have polycythemia vera myelofibrosis to make sure that your iron has been checked and B-12 has been checked, because just because you have a bone marrow disorder doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have a nutrition deficit that may be able to help improve your hemoglobin somewhat. But these are important things to talk to your doctor. I do not recommend just starting to take iron or B-12, however, if you’re anemic because in many cases you are not deficient and taking too much iron can actually be damaged. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah, that’s great advice.  

When would you consider a stem cell transplant? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, the stem cell transplant is based on disease risk. There is a number of ways we assess disease risk. The first two ones that were published a number of years back were the DIPSS score, which is Dynamic International Prognostic System Score, or the DIPSS Plus, which basically is the DIPSS and then you add to it a few other clinical features. This symptom score is based largely on things that we can see without even a bone marrow biopsy, so things like symptoms, age, number of white blood cells, whether somebody has anemia. And then the number of something called blasts, which is very immature white blood cells. The DIPSS Plus takes into account low platelets, need for transfusions, and chromosome abnormalities, which is the only test among that that needs to be from a bone marrow biopsy. 

Now, these were created prior to Jakafi being commercially available. So, we have to take a little bit of a grain of salt with those because of the fact that Jakafi probably has changed how long people can live with this disease. 

Now, more recently they’ve tried to account for these other molecular changes. So, when we take the genetic landscape of these diseases, we have the known driver mutations, so the JAK2 mutation which I have talked about, also calreticulin and MPL.  

These three mutations all affect that one pathway, the JAK/STAT pathway, so they all affect the pathway that drives the disease and they are known to be kind of mutually exclusive and definitely contribute to the formation of the disease.  

Some of these other mutations are called somatic mutations. They could be checked by things next generation sequencing or genetic analysis. There’s a number of different names that people use for this testing, but we look for mutations that are present and these mutations, number one, can sometimes tell us risk. So, there’s certain mutations that are high risk. Other times it can actually give us other opportunities for therapy, especially of the disease progresses. But these mutations are important to know for risk stratification. For example, if somebody has DIPSS score that is maybe not super high risk, but then they have one of these mutations, we know that that probably makes their disease a little bit more aggressive. 

And that’s when we think about transplant, is when we know that the disease probably has an average life – when somebody gets to the point in their disease where we estimate their life expectancy is around five years, recognizing that we’re not very good at this. That is the type of point when we start to think about transplant. But the timing of transplant is something that’s extremely difficult and a very personalized decision. It’s something that it’s really important to understand the disease risks, how we assess them and the caveats of these disease risk assessments as we move forward planning and timing of transplant and that’s something that is, again, a very, very important discussion to have at length with your physician. 

And I always recommend, there is quite a few of us out there who actually specialize in transplant for myelofibrosis and having discussions with somebody who really understands the biology of the myelofibrosis and important because it’s very different than a lot of the other diseases that are transplanted.   

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. Well, speaking of that, patients can sometimes feel like they’re bothering their healthcare team with their comments and questions. Why do you think it’s important for patients to speak up when it comes to symptoms and side effects?  

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Well, there is a lot of things. This is a disease, again, that we can direct our therapy many times towards symptoms, and so when we think about how do I direct my therapy, so how do I treat somebody, symptoms are an incredibly important part of it. And there is nothing worse than having a patient come and see me who I see every six months, because they’ve been pretty stable and they’re like, “Oh, for three months I’ve been feeling awful.” And you’re like, well, “Why didn’t you let me know, we could do something about this?” 

So, if there is something that doesn’t feel right, it’s very, very important to talk to your healthcare provider. I would much rather be bothered and handle something earlier on than miss something and really have a lot more catch-up to do afterwards. 

The other thing is symptoms may indicate a blood clotting event. We know that patients will have a higher risk of blood clotting. These are extremely important to identify early on because if they go unchecked, they can cause more damage. 

Katherine Banwell:

With many of the treatments available as pills now, patients have a role in self-administering their treatment regimen. What happens if a patient forgets to take a medication? Does it impact its effectiveness? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Generally no. I think the ones that would are certain blood thinners you really don’t want to miss and you don’t want to miss the doses on it. With drugs like Jakafi, if you miss one dose you probably won’t notice it, but if you miss multiple doses you can actually get very sick from that. So, some of these medications are really important to be consistent on. 

Now, I know this could be a challenge. I mean I don’t take very many medications and I sometimes have a hard time keeping track of what I take, so I know that this can be a difficult thing to do. So, one thing is if you really find you’re struggling with it, setting an alarm on your phone or your Apple Watch or whatever… 

Katherine Banwell:

…device. 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Device you have can be a really helpful way of doing it. Also having a pill box. They make pretty amazing pill boxes these days that can account for taking drugs once a day, twice a day, three times a day. I’ve even seen them up to four times a day, although generally the most you’ll probably have to take a medicine for a myeloproliferative disease is twice a day. But those are different ways that can really help make sure you’re consistent about taking your medication. 

Katherine Banwell:

And if a patient misses a dose, do they need to call their healthcare team and let them know? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Not just for one missed dose. If like, for example, they’re run out and they say, “Oh, geez, I don’t have any and many of these drugs are specialty pharmacy,” so they need to be mailed, and you know that you’re going to be missing it for a while. Or let’s say you look at your pill bottle and go, “Oh shoot, I only have so many pills left,” it is helpful to call because a lot of times, for example, if somebody is on Jakafi and they know they’re going to run out of their pills four days before they’re going to get their next shipment in, then what I sometimes do is I lower the dose a little bit to make sure they maintain a dose throughout that time. 

But this is something you definitely want to do under the advice of a healthcare provider. You don’t want to just all of the sudden go, “Oh, well I’m going to run out so I’m just going to change my dose,” and kind of do that. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah, yeah. We received some audience questions prior to the program today. This one is from Jacqueline, “What can I do to minimize pruritus or itching due to PV? A typical histamine blocker like Claritin or Zyrtec has done nothing whatsoever.” 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Yeah. Unfortunately, the itching of this is not as much mediated by an allergic type reaction or histamine. It’s a lot related to that microvasculature, those tiny little blood vessels. Things like avoiding hot showers, as we talked about, taking cooler showers or not even taking showers, just like cleaning yourself with a washcloth can be helpful. There are certain medications that we can use sometimes that help. 

Now, first of all, Jakafi is extremely effective for itching. Of course, it does have side effects. It’s not always approved for your disease, so for example, it’s not approved for essential thrombocythemia. But JAK inhibitors can be helpful in that setting. There are also medications like Gabapentin, which is a medicine that we use to treat peripheral neuropathy and that can actually be helpful because actually the itching, a lot of it is related to nerves not functioning right, so gabapentin can be helpful. 

And a really old-school medicine that I sometimes use, especially if the itching is most prevalent at night, is a drug called Doxepin and that’s been around for a very long time, but it can be extremely sedating and has to be used with caution, especially in patients who are older. 

Katherine Banwell:

Here is a question from Daniel. “How often should a person with PV have hematology appointments, and how often should you have blood tests?” 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Well, that is something that you need to discuss with a provider, because everyone’s a little bit different. If I have somebody who I’m managing on a medication, they’ve been rock solid stable, it may be every few months that I check blood and maybe every six months that I see them.  

If I have somebody who have been particularly difficult to control and I’m sort of adjusting medications or they’re having symptoms, then I try to check blood more regularly, like on a monthly basis. But again, this is something that – I have checked blood as frequently as every two weeks, especially in somebody who has an extremely high red blood cell count that I’m trying to lower. I have checked blood as infrequently as every three months. Again, in somebody who is not undergoing treatment, say, for example, who has essential thrombocythemia, sometimes I check blood even less. So, it really is something that can vary from every two weeks to every six months. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Katie had this question. “What are the signs of progression from PV to MF or AML, both clinically and in blood tests, and when do you need a new bone marrow biopsy to check for this happening?” 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, in terms of progression, there are several things that we see happen. 

I think most importantly is, let’s say you have PV, and you’ve always been on medication, and it’s been hard to control. And all of a sudden, you don’t need medication to control it anymore, or the same thing for essential thrombocythemia. You have been taking medication, and all of a sudden your platelets go down, and you don’t need to take drugs anymore. A lot of times people are like, “Oh, that means I’m fixed and I’m well,” not necessarily, you really need to make sure to talk to your healthcare provider and potentially get a bone marrow biopsy. 

Now, the other thing – sometimes the blood counts will actually drop too low, so you’ll have somebody who has PV, who has always been too high and then all of the sudden they come in, and their hemoglobin is very low, and they’re anemic, and that’s another situation where you do that. So, anytime the blood counts start to drop is concerning.  

Now, it’s a continuum, so the blood counts may drop as you’re at the point of transitioning but it doesn’t – it’s not like if your blood count is dropping you say, “Oh my God, I have myelofibrosis, I need a bone marrow transplant tomorrow.” That’s not necessarily the case. This is generally a transition type process. 

Also when the spleen starts to get enlarged. Now, the spleen can be enlarged even in the setting of just ET or just PV, so spleen enlargement does not necessarily mean you’re transforming, but it can be one of the things that we would see that would indicate that. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

And then finally white blood cell count increasing can often be a sign of that. Now, in terms of progression to AML, that is generally something we’ll see in the blood. AML or acute myeloid leukemia, is indicated by the presence of blasts at greater than 20 percent. Now, many patients with myelofibrosis, in particular, but even PV and ET, may have blasts in their peripheral blood. Blasts are normal. If I did a marrow on every healthy person out there, they are going to have some blasts, because these are the first part of the development of white blood cells. So, they’re like baby white blood cells. But what the problem is, is when they start to grow too much. 

And so in the setting of myelofibrosis and even sometimes with these other diseases, the blasts will be in the peripheral blood primarily because the bone marrow is damaged and doesn’t hold them in very well. It becomes AML when it gets greater than 20 percent, so that blasts of greater than 20 percent in the peripheral blood or in the bone marrow but a lot of times we find it in the peripheral blood is where we indicate this has progressed to AML. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Blasts of greater than 10 percent are also something that we really want to pay attention to, because that would suggest that the disease is starting to become more aggressive. Now, blasts vary, so for example, I’ve had patients go up to 11 and then drop back down to 3 or 4, and then they say around 3 or 4 or 5. So, you always want to make sure to double-check because one blast count at 11 percent, whereas it’s very important to address, may not necessarily reflect that you need to change in treatment at that time. Again, these blood tests, I always tell people, do not freak out over one blood test.  

Make sure you get at least a couple of them to really confirm what you are looking at. 

Katherine Banwell:

Thank you, Dr. Palmer. And to our viewers, please continue to send in your questions to question@powerfulpatients.org and we’ll work to get them answered on future webinars.  

Dr. Palmer, was we close out this conversation I wanted to get your thoughts on where we stand with progress in helping people live longer and truly thrive with MPN. What would you like to leave the audience with? 

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

So, I think that the first thing is make sure you understand your disease. Don’t hesitate to ask for a second opinion. It’s always good to make sure you talk to someone who can really explain so you feel like when you go home you understand what’s going on in your body. Make sure you understand what symptoms to look for, what things to be aware of, because a lot of times people come in and they have no idea that, oh, these symptoms are actually related to their disease. 

The other thing to make sure is that you’re very honest with your provider on how you’re feeling. A lot of times people come in and they say, “Oh, how are you feeling?” “I feel fine,” but then they start to ask very specific questions and they’re like, “Oh yeah, I’m really tired, my fatigue is an 8 out of 10,” or something. 

So, make sure you’re really honest with your provider. When they ask you how they’re doing, this is not a social visit, this is a visit where they need to know your symptoms, so you don’t need to say I’m fine like you normally would if you were walking down the street. 

The next thing is to always make sure to know where there’s clinical trials because we are making enormous great leaps and bounds in this field. It’s a really exciting time for myeloproliferative diseases, and there’s a number of new drugs that are being tested and coming out. So, it’s always important, if the opportunity is available and you can do it, clinical trials are a great way to get treatment. 

Plus, you are giving back, because these are things that help us learn whether something works or not. So, you’re not as much a guinea pig, you never get a sugar pill. It’s one of those things you will always get the treatment you need and then they may add something to it or you may be in the situation where there is no treatment, so they try something. 

But clinical trials, I have to emphasize, are a great way to get therapy and really are how we know everything that we know about treatment for these diseases. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah. It sounds like there’s a lot of progress and hope in the field.  

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

Oh, absolutely. 

Katherine Banwell:

Thank you so much, Dr. Palmer, for joining us today.  

Dr. Jeanne Palmer:

You are very welcome, my pleasure, and it’s always fun to do these things, so thank you for having me.   

Katherine Banwell:

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 today. z