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What To Expect When Starting MPN Inhibitor Therapy

What To Expect When Starting MPN Inhibitor Therapy from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Changing a treatment approach for your essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV), or myelofibrosis (MF) can be intimidating. Dr. John Mascarenhas, a myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) specialist, shares tips and advice for beginning a new therapy.

Dr. John Mascarenhas is Associate Professor of Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS) and the Director of the Adult Leukemia Program and Leader of Clinical Investigation within the Myeloproliferative Disorders Program at Mount Sinai. Learn more about Dr. Mascarenhas, here.

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Transcript

Katherine Banwell:

And we have another question from Craig that we received earlier. “I’m currently receiving regular phlebotomies for PV, but my doctor is considering switching me to inhibitor therapy. What can I expect, and are there side effects that I should be concerned about?”

Dr. Mascarenhas:       

So, for some patients, therapeutic phlebotomy is all that they need, and they do very well with it, and they don’t need to take a therapeutic like a JAK inhibitor or hydroxyurea, which is a non-specific treatment.

But some patients do. So, some patients where if their risk score is higher and their risk for thrombosis, that may be an appropriate indication. And some patients have a lot of symptoms with their PV. So, not all PV patients present and behave the same way. Some patients have a very low symptom burden. Some patients have a very significant symptom burden. Itching, for example can be a very annoying and very troublesome symptom for patients with PV.

And, if you don’t have PV or you don’t know someone with PV, you may not understand or realize the negative impact of having intractable itching, often associated with taking a shower or warm water.

And, that can really detract from quality-of-life and cause a lot of anxiety. So, that’s an example of where sometimes a JAK inhibitor like ruxolitinib can be really lifesaving in terms of restoring quality-of-life and functionality to a patient.

Usually, drugs like ruxolitinib are very well-tolerated too, which we’re fortunate about. There’s not a lot of toxicity associated with them. So, for example, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hair falling out with chemotherapeutics, you really don’t see with ruxolitinib or Jakafi. Easy bruising, headaches and some dizziness up front sometimes may be seen. They’re usually low-grade and they’re usually fleeting. And usually, the benefit, the feel-good aspect of it outweighs toxicity that can be seen with the drugs. They are immunomodulatory drugs. So, ruxolitinib or Jakafi may increase, to some small extent, but likely, real extent, infectious complications like shingles, urinary tract infections, upper respiratory infections. So, sometimes there is this increased risk. It’s often outweighed by the benefit of the drug.

But there are risks that are associated, and of course the results are not guaranteed. So, I always warn patients, be careful when you look at the package inserts or talk to the physicians. Risks are risks. They’re not guaranteed. So, most patients don’t have these toxicities, but one is at risk for toxicity whenever they take any medication.

How to Make an Informed MPN Treatment Decision

How to Make an Informed MPN Treatment Decision from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When faced with several options, how can you decide on the best therapy for your essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV), or myelofibrosis (MF)? In this explainer video, Katrina and her doctor walk through important considerations when choosing treatment and provide advice for partnering with your healthcare team.

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Transcript:

Katrina:

Hi, I’m Katrina. Nice to meet you!

Several years ago, I started having headaches and felt very tired. After a trip to the doctor and undergoing bloodwork, I was diagnosed with polycythemia vera, or PV, which is a rare blood cancer that causes my body to produce too many blood cells. It was overwhelming at the time to learn that I had a blood cancer, but my hematologist, Dr. Liu, told me more about the condition and how it’s managed.

Here’s Dr. Liu–she can explain it further.

Dr. Liu:

Hi! I’m Dr. Liu, and I’m a hematologist specializing in the care and treatment 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. Katrina was diagnosed with PV, which is one of the three MPNs. The three types of MPNs are:

Essential thrombocythemia, or ET, which means that the body is producing too many platelets. The second is polycythemia vera or PV. PV is characterized by the overproduction of red blood cells, and, in some cases, elevated white blood cells and platelets. And the third is myelofibrosis or MF, which causes scarring in the bone marrow that disrupts the normal production of blood cells.

When a patient is diagnosed with any of these conditions, there is a chance they could progress from one condition to the next.

Those that have been diagnosed with ET, PV or MF, should have regular visits with their hematologist to monitor their condition and find the most appropriate treatment to manage their MPN.

Katrina:

After I was diagnosed, I met with Dr. Liu and she walked me through the goals of treatment for PV.

Dr. Liu:

Right! First, we talked about the clinical goals of treatment for PV, which are to reduce the risk of a blood clot and ease or eliminate any symptoms.

And, it’s important to note that because each of the MPNs is different, they are treated differently – be sure to discuss the specific goals of YOUR MPN with your doctor.

Katrina and I reviewed the effectiveness of each treatment option, including how treatment would be administered, and took all of her test results into consideration to make sure we found the best, most personalized treatment option for her PV. Then, we went over what our next steps would be if the treatment plan needed to be adjusted.

Katrina:

Next, we talked about another key treatment goal: symptom management. Dr. Liu let me know that I should make her aware of any symptoms that I may be having, even if I don’t think it’s related to my PV.

Dr. Liu:

Exactly, Katrina. A significant change in symptoms can indicate that it may be time to switch treatments or that the disease might be changing. Those symptoms may include enlarged spleen, fever, itching, fatigue and anemia, among others. This is why it’s always important to not only have blood counts checked regularly, but it’s essential to tell your doctor or nurse about any symptoms you may be having, even if you don’t think it’s related to your MPN.

And, last but not least, we discussed the most important treatment goal: Katrina’s goals. Katrina let me know that she’s very social and enjoys playing golf and tennis with her friends – we wanted to make sure she could continue doing the activities she loves.

Katrina:

Dr. Liu reviewed each of the treatment approaches with me, including potential side effects for every therapy and how it could impact my lifestyle. We discussed the pros and cons of each option, together.

Dr. Liu:

Exactly! When deciding on therapy, you and your doctor may also consider:

Your age and overall health, any presence or history of other medical problems, and the financial impact of a treatment plan.

Katrina:

In addition to asking questions, my daughter, Sarah, took notes during our appointments, since it was often hard for me to absorb everything at once.

We also made sure to talk about the appointment on our way home, while the information was fresh on our minds. And we did our part by researching PV and bringing a list of questions to each appointment.

Sarah found an office visit planner on the Patient Empowerment Network website that helped me organize my health info and questions.

Dr. Liu:

As you can see, Katrina and her daughter were actively engaged in each care decision. It’s vital that patients feel empowered to speak up. If you can, bring a friend or loved one along to your appointment.

And, if you are able, it’s a good idea to seek a second opinion or a consultation with an MPN specialist to help you feel confident in your care decisions.

Katrina:

Dr. Liu let me know that she would monitor my condition through regular physical exams, blood work and frequent communication. She made Sarah and I feel included in the decision-making process, as if it were a collaboration.

Dr. Liu:

That’s right. This is a partnership. So, what steps can you take to be more engaged in your MPN care?

  • Bring a friend or loved one to your appointments.
  • Understand and articulate the goals of your treatment plan.
  • Learn about your options and weigh the pros and cons of each approach.
  • Consider a second opinion or a consult with a specialist.

Katrina:

That’s great advice, Dr. Liu. To learn more, visit powerfulpatients.org/MPN to access a library of tools.

Thanks for joining us!

MPN Symptom or Treatment Side Effect? Know the Difference

MPN Symptom or Treatment Side Effect? Know the Difference from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How do you distinguish MPN symptoms from side effects? Dr. Laura Michaelis explains the difference, and why it’s important to share any changes with your doctor.

Dr. Laura Michaelis is hematologist specializing in myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin, where she also serves as Associate Professor of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Michaelis here.


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Transcript:

Dr. Michaelis:             

So, symptoms and side effects are sort of different things. Symptoms are the characteristics of the disease process. And these are things that often can vary in intensity. They maybe accumulate over time. But those are things like, for example, uncontrolled itching, fatigue, night sweats, fevers at night, unintentional weight loss, discomfort in the abdomen, or feeling full shortly after eating. Those are symptoms that often bring patients to the doctor’s attention in the beginning. And those are symptoms that can tell us that the treatments that we’re using aren’t working very well.

Now, side effects is the term that we use for problems that evolve when somebody starts a treatment for a condition. So, for example, if somebody starts the treatment of ruxolitinib for myelofibrosis, it is known that one of the side effects of this treatment is a small but significant lowering in the red blood cell [count].

That is a side effect of the ruxolitinib and should be anticipated. So, before you start the ruxolitinib, your doctor should sit down with you and talk about some of the side effects. And that might be one that gets mentioned.

In addition, we know that there is uncommonly – but uncommonly, people can have, for example, shingles reactivation once they’re taking treatment for myelofibrosis. And that might be something for which you take a prophylactic antiviral treatment.

Hydroxyurea has side effects. Interferon has side effects. And those are things that you should think about before you start them. They shouldn’t be reasons not to start the treatment because most people who take medicines don’t have the side effects. But it is something to keep in mind. And when then occur, report them to your doctor.

So, rarely, there’s conditions that occur, and you’re not sure. Is this a side effect to the treatment? Or does this mean the disease is progressing in some way? That’s one of the reasons it’s important to report all of these conditions to your physician because they need to know.

One of the things that can be helpful is there’s a common tool called the MPN SAF, which is a symptom assessment form.

If, periodically, you and your doctor fill that out during a clinic visit, you can sort of understand are those symptoms that I had with my disease responding to the treatment? Can we really measure that things have gotten better since I started treatment X or treatment Y?

And in addition, when you sit down with your doctor at your regular checkups, it’s not just about going through your blood counts and doing a physical exam. It’s also about telling them what you’ve noticed in the last two to three months since you saw your doctor with regard to the treatments that you’re taking.