Tag Archive for: MPN treatment side effects

Understanding and Managing Common MPN Symptoms and Side Effects

Understanding and Managing Common MPN Symptoms and Side Effects from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can MPN symptoms and side effects be managed? Dr. Raajit Rampal discusses strategies for managing PV-related itching, fatigue, and other common issues MPN patients face. 

Dr. Raajit Rampal is a hematologist-oncologist specializing in the treatment of myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) and leukemia at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Learn more about Dr. Rampal.

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Katherine Banwell:

Let’s talk about MPN symptoms and treatment side effects. Here’s a question we received from a viewer before the program. How common is peripheral neuropathy in primary myelofibrosis? 

And what is the best treatment for it? 

Dr. Raajit Rampal:

Well, by itself, it’s not a very common symptom of MF by itself. Can it be a symptom? Sure. But there are also a number of things that can cause peripheral neuropathy. So, I’m not sure there’s a best treatment.  

But what needs to be done is a thorough investigation. There can be a number of causes. It could be nerve injury. It could be a deficiency in vitamins like B12. There are a lot of things that could cause it. So, that type of a symptom needs to be thought of in a broad way in terms of diagnosis.  

Katherine Banwell:

Jeff sent in this question, :How could I manage the itching? Are there new treatments or strategies to live with itching?”  

Dr. Raajit Rampal:

Very common thing. And it’s an interesting thing explaining to when we teach our trainees about this symptom, we have to impress on them the fact that itching is not the itching that everybody else experiences. 

This is a very profoundly different symptom. It’s debilitating for so many people. I have patients who go to the Emergency Room for that. That’s how terrible it could be. There are a lot of things that could be tried. JAK inhibitors, in my experience, work very well for itching but not in everybody. We use sometimes antihistamines that can work well. Sometimes, antidepressants can work well, not because they’re treating depression but because of other properties that they have. And sometimes, UV light therapy can be useful tool here, too. A lot of patients swear by it. 

Katherine Banwell:

Another common side effect is fatigue. Do you have any advice for managing this symptom? 

Dr. Raajit Rampal:

Fatigue is the most common symptom across MPNs. And it is also one of the most difficult things to treat. Part of the issue is trying to figure out what does fatigue mean to the patient.  

When someone says they’re tired, does that mean they’re sleeping all of the time? Does that mean they don’t have get up and go? The first step is always understanding what does fatigue mean to the patient? And then, the second is trying to dissect that. In some cases, it’s related to anemia, in some cases, it’s not related to anemia and it’s just the disease itself.  

And in some cases, you have to think outside of the box about general medical issues like thyroid dysfunction that could be at play here. So, there isn’t one best fit. 

But the first test is always to dig deep. When someone says they have fatigue to dig deeper and try to figure out what is that really. 

Katherine Banwell:

What other common symptoms do you hear about from patients? And what can be done about those? 

Dr. Raajit Rampal:

There are a lot of different things. It’s a spectrum. So, I think that itching and fatigue are very common. Feeling full early is, that’s a big thing, particularly in myelofibrosis patients.  

Bone pain, that’s another big one, particularly in myelofibrosis. There is not one therapy that is best for all. I think the JAK inhibitors, certainly, benefit many of these symptoms. But they don’t benefit everybody and not to the extent that makes it tolerable for everybody. So, often times, we struggle with this and try a lot of different things. But, again, I think one of the things to always remember is we don’t always want to say that this must be because of the MPN. Sometimes, symptom is arising because of another medical condition that’s going on concurrently. 

Why You Should Speak Up About MPN Symptoms and Treatment Side Effects

Why You Should Speak Up About MPN Symptoms and Treatment Side Effects from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Why should myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patients speak up about symptoms and treatment side effects? Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju explains the importance of reporting any issues you may be experiencing to ensure the best care for you.

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:    

Why is it so important for patients to speak up when it comes to symptoms or treatment side effects?

Dr. Pemmaraju:         

Well, I’m going to be that magician who you watch the TV show, they give away all the secrets. So, this is the big secret. Your doctor cannot read your mind. I hate to say that, Katherine. I just said it here, and it’s going to surprise some people. No, I mean, seriously. Right. So, I think the problem with the MPNs – not the problem, the caveat, the difficulty – is if you are a patient, you have this war that’s suffering inside of you. I know that as an expert person. You know that as a patient. But whoever you’re sitting in front of is not going to know that.

And there are two reasons for that. One is you don’t look like that. Most of our patients – whatever this is, I’m going to put this in big air quotes, so in case someone’s not watching this and they’re only hearing, I’m putting air quotes. People say to my patients, “Wow, you don’t look like a cancer patient.” Whatever that means, right? So, most of our patients don’t have their hair falling out, etcetera, etcetera. So, there’s that aspect of it, the visual education part of it.

Then there’s also the part, which is a lot of these symptoms burdens are not obvious on the physical exam. You cannot tell by talking to someone or looking at them if they have night sweats, bone pain, even itching, any of these things. Fatigue. You can’t tell if someone has fatigue most of the time unless you ask them. So, this is one of those where shared partnership in decision-making is not just a generic phrase. This is important.

I would say that for a patient with an MPN, the MPN symptom burden – the questionnaire, the 10 questions that we now have settled on – that can tell so much more or as much as the physical exam or the blood counts.

So, it’s imperative. It’s not just a luxury. It’s imperative. And if the patient themselves is unable to speak up, then if the advocate or caregiver or loved one can, if that person is available.

The other point I would say to this is that oftentimes the symptoms can precede – they can come before laboratory changes, physical exam changes, all these things. So, a constant, constant communication, “Hey, I was playing 18 holes of golf last year.”

“Now I can’t even get out of bed.” Hello? That tells you more than almost anything you can read on a piece of paper. So, you, as always, are spot on with what you said. And this is the case where people say, “What can I do to help my care?” This is it. Speak up, speak out. It’s your body, it’s your life, make sure you feel empowered to do that.

What Are the Goals of ET, PV, and MF Treatment?

What Are the Goals of ET, PV, and MF Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What goals are myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) care team members trying to achieve with ET, PV, and MF treatment? Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju reviews three factors that drive treatment decisions for quality, personalized MPN care.

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:

Let’s talk about treatment goals first for ET, PV, and MF. What are the goals of treatment from a clinical perspective?

Dr. Pemmaraju:     

Well, I think the goals are divided up into three factors. So, I think for the MPN patient, goal number one has to be what the patient themselves want to achieve.

Oftentimes, that’s different than what’s on the numbers with the labs and what the physician wants. So, I think a lot of our patients correctly are suffering from – or mentioning to us that they’re suffering from quality of life issues. So, fatigue is the most common manifestation of all the MPNs, followed by bone pain, night sweats, inability to concentrate, etcetera, etcetera.

So, I think quality of life is the goal of most people, and I think that’s an admirable goal. And some of the medicines can help that. Some can actually hurt that in the short term. So, let’s put that as bucket number one. What does the patient want to achieve? Usually, it’s the alleviation of fatigue, itching, bone pain, etcetera.

Number two, I think, is the sort of on-paper game, if you will, right? So, what do the labs show, what does the bone marrow biopsy show, what does the spleen show? I think all of that is good, too, in that bucket. And clearly, if someone has transfusion dependent anemia, two times a week needing blood transfusions, and whatever treatment you can do can alleviate that down to once a week, once a month never – okay, that’s a win for the patient.

And then I think, finally, our goals. You’re right. You asked me specifically what are my goals for our patients? Well, I want to see that your overall survival has improved if I can. So, your length of life, your quality of life has improved. Minimization of side effects from whatever therapy we’re doing. If we’re going on a clinical trial or combining therapies in a novel way, that you’re not experiencing some brand new or idiosyncratic toxicity or side effect.

And then, finally, I think the key is to monitor for, let’s say, other things. Are you developing a second cancer? A second blood cancer. Are you having another problem that’s outside of your MPN, such as iron deficiency anemia or thyroid disease? Something that’s extremely common, has nothing to do with the MPN, but is also happening. And then do you have a healthcare team?

I failed to mention in your earlier question the primary care doctor., right? Let’s mention that person as well. If our patients have the general practitioner who they had already been seeing before the MPN diagnosis, or at least established one after, then some of these important aspects, like cancer screening, cholesterol checks, some of these other important things can be done in parallel to the MPN therapy and then, of course, combined at different points.

So, these are kind of my benchmarks for goals of therapy. They will vary from patient to patient and, of course, from case to case. The patient with advanced intermediate to high-risk myelofibrosis going to transplant, well, that’s markedly different from the patient who’s young with ET with no blood clots and relatively controlled blood counts.

Katherine Banwell:    

So, you just mentioned a couple of factors that you take into consideration, but there are others as well, I think. What about the patient’s age and overall health, for instance?

Dr. Pemmaraju:   

Could not be more important. You’re right. I think age – and let’s use that as a surrogate for what we call ECOG performance data.

So, the overall kind of fitness of a patient, may be the most important factor. And then followed by these other conditions, so-called co-morbidities. I’d like to talk about that for a second because that’s a lot of the program here. Depending on a patient’s age, performance status, fitness, and other organs that are involved, that actually leads to a couple of important points.

One, it may limit or reduce the number of treatment options that a person has based on their ability to even tolerate it in the first place. Both oral chemos that are available, some of these clinical trials that need to use an IV drug.

Number two, it may predict how your overall survival is going to be. So, perhaps your MPN, as we used in the other example, you have an earlier stage MPN that really doesn’t require treatment. It requires active observation.

But then on the other hand, you have advanced heart disease or kidney disease. That may actually do you more harm in the end.

And then, finally, right, is this concept that you have the co-morbidities and then you have the MPN and then they kind of change and morph over time where one is the dominant issue, the other isn’t. And so, you do need that decision care team as you were mentioning earlier. So, let’s definitely say that out loud that that matters. And I think it also reminds us that nothing is in a vacuum. The MPN doesn’t exist in an isolated space, right? So, your MPN co-exists with your heart disease, your kidney disease, your lung disease, your past, your present habits, anything.

Dr. Pemmaraju:     

I think sometimes, as physicians, we may not ask, and as patients, we forget to mention, oh, X, Y, Z in my history, or “Oh, I’m taking this herbal supplement.” Sometimes these things are important to mention.

So, when in doubt, bring up everything to your care team so that you can make decisions together.

Katherine Banwell: 

It might help to make notes before you go in to talk to your doctor.

Dr. Pemmaraju:    

Absolutely. That doesn’t hurt, and it could help you at least organize your own thoughts even if you don’t use them in the visit.