Tag Archive for: MPN monitoring

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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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.  



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. 


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. 


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?  


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.”  

Should MPN Patients and Their Families Continue Telemedicine?

Should MPN Patients and Their Families Continue Telemedicine? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Can myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patients still get value from telemedicine? Dr. Kristen Pettit from Rogel Cancer Center explains some of the pros and cons of telemedicine visits and ways to optimize MPN patient care.

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Dr. Kristen Pettit:

I think telemedicine has been one of the few good things to come out of the COVID era. There are pros and cons, certainly, some pros are that patients can have increased access to their physicians and their medical teams, particularly the MPN specialty centers that might not be right in their backyard. It’s great, it’s a great way to be able to stay in touch with an MPN specialist.

The less travel, less waiting in a waiting room. Those are all great things, the cons, the downsides to keep in mind are that virtually we can’t feel for spleens, so it’s difficult to tell if the spleen is starting to get enlarged. There can also be some logistical challenges getting blood counts drawn and interpreted before a telehealth visit. But with those minor challenges, I think telemedicine is here to stay, and I think it’s an important part of the care for patients with MPNs. 

Remote monitoring is very important for patients with MPNs, really the most important thing, in my opinion, for patients with MPNs being monitored over time is for them to keep an eye on their symptoms over time, watching for any changes in their bodies that they may feel as far as their spleens feeling more enlarged or feeling more full, or losing weight unexpectedly, feeling more fatigued, any of their MPN symptoms getting worse. All of those are easy to monitor at home, virtually, and to report back to your physician over telehealth or at routine visits.

What Opportunities and Challenges Does Telemedicine Present for MPN Patients?

What Opportunities and Challenges Does Telemedicine Present for MPN Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

For myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patients, what does telemedicine offer in terms of opportunities and challenges? Expert Dr. Jamile Shammo from Rush University Medical Center shares situations when telemedicine versus in-person visits can help provide optimal MPN patient care.

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Dr. Jamile Shammo: 

I think the medicine has provided a tremendous opportunity for us to take care of patients in general, MPN patients in particular during the pandemic. We obviously wanted to minimize the exposure of patients to COVID during the pandemic, but patients who have MPN as well as other hematological malignancies needed to have CBCs frequently to make sure that the treatments that they were on were safe, that they were doing what they were supposed to do in terms of controlling their counts. So, then there was no escaping that. And they also needed to get ahold of their doctor, so being able to do both, perhaps away from the hospital in some type of clinic and being able to connect with the physician online to discuss the results of the CBC that they had obtained in perhaps a less populated lab was tremendous. And granted, this had made it feasible to care for patients during the pandemic. But now that we are sort of emerging from the pandemic, people are realizing that perhaps those technologies are there to stay, and perhaps there’s a subset of patients that may still be able to benefit and take advantage from those resources, so we are learning as we go who may be able to continue to do this. 

I have to say though, that that may not be for every patient, and I still feel like there’s a particular type of MPN patient that will benefit from seeing the physician and having a full exam once every so often. And we can talk about the particular application that that may be, but granted telemedicine has certainly provided a tremendous advantage during COVID.  

So, when I think of the patient that might benefit most from seeing the physician via televisit, for example, it would be someone who perhaps has a stable disease. Someone who I may want to monitor perhaps every three to six months, someone who may have stable counts, and we’re just talking to about their symptoms and monitoring those types of things every so often. And perhaps I look at the labs and you can discuss their symptoms and whether or not they have splenomegaly and issues like that. Someone who may already be on a stable dose of medication and we don’t have to do any dose adjustments and even if we have to do those adjustments, perhaps we could do labs a little more frequently, so that would be all right too, but someone in whom I would like to initiate in treatment, someone in whom the disease may be progressing a little too quickly, someone who I may want to do an exam and assess their spleen, I suppose you could send them to an ultrasound facility and obtain an MRI or a CT, or an ultrasound of the imaging study that is. But there’s nothing like an actual exam of the patient. You are thinking about the disease progression, so those sorts of patients in which the disease is actually changing its pace, you may want to take a look at it, the full smear look and examine the skin for certain TKI and signs and symptoms of low platelets and that sort of thing. Look in the mouth for ulcers and things of that nature. Those are the patients that I feel like would benefit the most from seeing their physician of course, the patient who has questions and that that could be probably beyond what a televisit could do. I think those would be the types of situations where you would like to have a physical presence and discuss things that would be of extreme importance to the patient’s physical health, psychological health, and of course, labs that you may want to obtain beyond the regular CBC that a standard lab could obtain outside of your institution. There are specialized labs that not every leg outside of your own tertiary care center may be able to provide, and that is something that we need to all the time. Let’s say a patient may require a bone biopsy, well then you have to have them physically be in your place, and then you might as well, then see them, examine them and do all of the labs, and that’s the other thing that we would like to do is perhaps to bundle all of the tests that you would be minimizing the exposure of patients to frequent visits so that you would be again, lessening the exposure, potentially infections.

How Is MPN Treatment Effectiveness Monitored?

How Is MPN Treatment Effectiveness Monitored? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How is the effectiveness of MPN treatment determined? Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju describes key factors to monitor treatment effectiveness to ensure optimal patient care and to determine when it may be time to consider a change in therapy.

Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju is Director of the Blastic Plasmacytoid Dendritic Cell Neoplasm (BPDCN) Program in the Department of Leukemia at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Pemmaraju, here.

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Katherine Banwell:

Once on therapy, how is the disease monitored and how do you know if the treatment is working?

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

So, it differs from each disease, but let’s take polycythemia vera for a good example. So, let’s suppose you have polycythemia vera. I think there’s three markers here that you can check. One is the blood counts, right?

So, you want to make sure that the blood counts are controlled. New England Journal, five or six years ago now, our Italian colleagues published a very seminal paper which shows that the goal of therapy should be that the hematocrit should be below 45. So, that’s actually a very nice number to have. So, not just waiting for symptoms of the disease but keep the number low. And if you do that, that correlates with decreased cardiac events, thromboembolic events.

Number two, I think that, besides the blood count, the spleen. The spleen and liver size also is a nice surrogate for how the disease is doing. So, if that’s enlarging or getting out of control, that may be time to stop what you’re doing, reassess. The disease may be progressing to myelofibrosis, for example.

And then I think, lastly, the absence of stuff actually helps, too. So, the absence of major bleeding, the absence of blood clots, the absence of transformation to MF. I think if the quality of life is good, you’re decreasing blood clots and bleeding, you’re not going to a more advanced disease state, these are all wins for us with P vera.

Katherine Banwell:    

You touched on this briefly, but I’m wondering when a patient should consider changing treatments.

Dr. Pemmaraju:      

Yeah, changing treatments is more art than science, I would say. So, it does – that’s one of those that is kind of specific from patient to patient. In general, what we just talked about gives you that guidance. So, in polycythemia vera, since we brought that up earlier, uncontrolled blood counts despite maximum medication intervention, the phlebotomy requirement being untoward and impossible to keep up with, the spleen size growing out of control, the quality of life being impossible – these are some aspects to look into changing therapy and/or clinical trial.

But remember, it’s not a one-size-fits-all, right? So, some patients, the counts – some of these things may or may not actually play out. So, it has to be more of a gestalt, more of a total picture there.