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An MPN Care Partner Shares Why He’s Optimistic About the Future

An MPN Care Partner Shares Why He’s Optimistic About the Future from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Care partner Jeff Bushnell, husband of myelofibrosis (MF) patient advocate Summer Golden, explains why he’s hopeful about their future together. Jeff shares key resources that have helped him stay educated and maintain optimism.

Summer Golden and Jeff Bushnell have been married for over 20 years. When Summer was diagnosed with myelofibrosis (MF), Jeff took on the role of care partner and advocate. Summer uses her years of theatre training and comedy to cope with her condition and help others, while maintaining positivity about the future.

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Transcript:

Jeff:

It’s important to educate yourself because the more you know the less fear can overcome you. And this particular disease – the research is happening so fast, and things are changing. In my estimation, they’ll find – right now, the only cure is a stem cell transplant. It’s normally not done for older people. That in itself is innately risky. I’m convinced, probably within the next five to seven years, there will be a cure for this disease that’s not a stem cell transplant.

The research is moving that quickly on it. And if you don’t follow the disease and the people that are working on it, the specialists, you’re gonna have a much greater chance of feeling powerless and getting overwhelmed by it. As Summer believes, attitude can have a huge, huge impact on how the course of your disease runs. And a doctor would tell you the same thing.

For me, it started with Patient Power. Patientpower.info, I believe is, what it is. They have a whole section for myeloproliferative neoplasms and myelofibrosis, and they’re short videos. And you get a chance to listen to the best doctors that are the head people in this, Dr. Mesa, Dr. V [Verstovsek], and Dr. Jamieson – all the people that are really the movers and shakers. They speak. And you also get a chance to hear other patient’s stories and how they’re dealing with it. And that will give you a much better idea of what you’re facing. And you can really understand things from there. And you can get your knowledge.

Fear comes from lack of knowledge. In my job as a pilot, I flew for 50 years. I very, very rarely was afraid because my knowledge was so great and was reinforced every year by continual training that I felt prepared to handle anything that might come across to me. Knowledge is really important. It will allay your fears dramatically.

When I started online and heard about people that had been journeying with this for 10 or 15 years, initially, I had thought – well, this is a year or two, and it’ll be the end. And then I realized, plenty of people have lived with this for a long, long time. And they had a journey, and they’re doing it successfully. And that gave me confidence.

The more people you can talk to about it, the more you can put your journey in perspective. And it’s really hard to put in perspective for this particular disease because it affects everybody vastly differently. Some cancers – the progression is very, very linear. Everybody kind of goes through the same thing. This one – it depends on the mutations you have in your blood and all kinds of things like that, and some people get really bad symptoms quickly.

Others, they don’t. But the more you know about how those things affect you, the more you know and can understand about what to expect. And the more people you talk to who have it, you can find out about their journeys. It helps put yours in perspective.

I’m optimistic because I really keep up to date on what’s going on. And I see the doctors that are in the forefront of this and the research that they’re putting in and the care they have for working on this disease and the knowledge they have, and I just am quite optimistic. And as I say, I’m following the medical developments extremely closely.

I went to the ASH Conference last year. And I’ve gone to another conference that our doctor spoke at. And I’m just kinda blown away by – I’m fascinated by the science.

My advice would be find out as much as you can about it and support each other in a way that works in your own marriage.

Summer and I approach life a little bit differently. And yet, one of the reasons we do so well together is we kinda have both ends of the spectrum covered. And I sensed that when I met her 20 years ago. And we brought something to the table that each of us needed. And if you can find that in your relationship with your significant other that has the disease, what you can bring to it, what they can bring to it, you can be a tremendous support for each other.

A Care Partner’s Journey: How Life Goes on After an MPN Diagnosis

A Care Partner’s Journey: How Life Goes on After an MPN Diagnosis from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Care partner Jeff Bushnell shares how he and his wife, patient advocate Summer Golden, have dealt with her myelofibrosis (MF) diagnosis. Jeff explains how online support and finding an MPN specialist were essential steps in helping them continue to live life to the fullest.

Summer Golden and Jeff Bushnell have been married for over 20 years. When Summer was diagnosed with myelofibrosis (MF), Jeff took on the role of care partner and advocate. Summer uses her years of theatre training and comedy to cope with her condition and help others, while maintaining positivity about the future.

 

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Transcript:

Jeff:

The worst part was initially. We didn’t get a myelofibrosis diagnosis.

It took about a month because in order to definitively diagnose it they have to take a bone marrow sample and send it to a pathologist and so on and so forth. So, all that time, I’m worrying about the possibilities. It could be leukemia or this, that, or the other thing. My way of handling and dealing with scariness – I’m a retired pilot – is to find out things, knowledge.

I spent a huge amount of time on the internet. The LLS Society has papers about it, and I read those.

And the more I got into it – once we found out it was myelofibrosis, I’ve read almost all of the papers that the doctors write for each other to find about this. That doesn’t interest Summer in the slightest. It interests me greatly. So, when we have an appointment with the doctor – when I’m talking to the doctor, it’s like two doctors talking to each other.

When Summer’s talking to her, they talk on a different plane. It’s much more about mental approach to things and that kind of thing.

And for me, when I think back to the beginning of when we had this and where we are now two years later, we’re living the life that we lived before she was diagnosed to be real honest with you.

We do everything that we did before she was diagnosed the same way we did it before, and it was a trip that probably everybody who gets diagnosed or deals with a person that has the disease takes. When it first happened, it hit us like bricks coming out of the sky hitting us on the face. Literally, when we first went to the hospital and she got the word that there was a problem – as I say, we lived in two separate houses – I literally was afraid to call her phone figuring she might be not there. I was that scared. And then, after we met our doctor, which was extremely fortuitous – when we went to the emergency room, the person that was there, she said these look like leukemia things.

So, she called the oncologist. The oncologist on call is our current doctor, Dr. Tiffany Tanaka, and she’s a specialist in this disease. It was like it was meant to be. And Dr. Tanaka asked the guy to do some other tests and then said, “Send her home, but tell her I need to see her this week.” So, we’re thinking all these horrible things. And its New Year’s weekend, so the clinic is closed for about five days, you know? We’re worrying and worrying and worrying.

We finally saw Dr. Tanaka, and it was like a breath of fresh air. This wonderful doctor has the ability to just communicate with the patients. I’m interested in the disease, so she communicated on my level. Summer is not interested in all the medical jargon, so she was able to explain to Summer what was going on and just very, very reassuring, very reassuring.

And then, I went and started getting information. That’s my way of coping with things. The first place I went was – I went to Patient Power and found a lot of information there.

And then I found the online myelofibrosis support group at Facebook. And that was very, very useful. When I started reading about the fact that some people had this for many, many years – then I said this is not – nothing’s gonna happen in the next year or two. We can go back to living. And once we learned more about it and spent more time with our doctor and Summer was able to live her life once she got taking the medicine – she takes Jakafi.

That controlled the basic symptoms, and we haven’t looked back. We just started living our life the way we had been living it before.

Is Laughter Really the Best Medicine? One Woman’s Mission to Help Others with MPNs

Is Laughter Really the Best Medicine? One Woman’s Mission to Help Others with MPNs from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Could laugher really be the best medicine? Patient advocate Summer Golden explains how she uses comedy to cope with her myelofibrosis (MF) diagnosis and shares her mission to inspire others.

Summer Golden and Jeff Bushnell have been married for over 20 years. When Summer was diagnosed with myelofibrosis (MF), Jeff took on the role of care partner and advocate. Summer uses her years of theatre training and comedy to cope with her condition and help others, while maintaining positivity about the future.

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Transcript:

Summer:

When I was initially diagnosed after some other false starts with an MPN, I was kind of shocked because I’ve never really been sick, and I don’t take medications, but I didn’t think about it – that sounds crazy; I can’t explain it. I just figured I’d be okay, and the main thing – I didn’t wanna give up this theater.

You know how when you’re my age, people talk about nothing but their illness sometimes? I just never been into that, so it wasn’t part of my personality.

I started doing comedy two years ago because a friend of mine was taking a comedy class, and I went to her showcase, and I thought, “I should try that, even though I’ll never be funny, I have no jokes, and I don’t know what I would say.” But, I went, and I did comedy in clubs for a while, and then I didn’t – I don’t really like drinking and dirty jokes, so I kind of got away from it off and on, and then, when I got into doing it about my myelofibrosis, then I saw a purpose in it, so I went back to it.

I was thinking about whether my life was gonna be changed, how this was gonna change me, so I emailed my comedy teacher in the middle of the night, and I said, “Do comedians ever talk about cancer, having it?” And, he said, “Only if they have it.” So, I emailed him back and I said, “I’m coming back to your class,” so I did. He assigned everyone to be in a showcase. I was gonna do mine about cancer. It was six weeks, so I had to find humor. I don’t know how I find it. I just kind of see things.

I was shocked because I thought people were gonna hate it, and I was gonna quit, and then I’d invited my doctor and two friends, so I thought I’d better not just not show up. But, people came up and said they were inspired. I was just amazed because I mainly –I don’t go out of my way to think of – I do think of things that are funny, but it’s just – it’s a real thing. I try to keep my comedy real.

It’s helped me by being in control. I don’t pay much attention to the symptoms because I’m kind of over them.

Just helped me feel like I’m doing what I can do, and so far, it seems to be working, as long as I get enough sleep.

How do I think comedy could help other people who have health problems? I can tell you one way I thought to help somebody. I wanna start a class for people, but so far, there hasn’t been a lot of interest, but I think I could really help people doing that because I know how to write comedy.

If they really wanna do that, they would be a type of person that has humor, and they could do it, but you’ve gotta realize sometimes, people get a lot out of being sick. There are a lot of rewards, and so, they might prefer to have those rewards. For my way of thinking, if they wanna do humor, it’ll make a big difference, and if somebody wants to do it, they could call me, and I’ll help them.

Could an MPN Clinical Trial Be Right for You?

Could an MPN Clinical Trial Be Right for You? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is a clinical trial your best MPN treatment option? Dr. Ruben Mesa explains the clinical trial process and how patients may benefit from participating.

Dr. Ruben Mesa is an international expert in the research and care of patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). He serves as director of UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center in San Antonio, Texas. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

There is much exciting research in myeloproliferative neoplasms. First, research trying to understand, why do people develop MPNs, and why do they progress. This is crucial research, and that this basic research to better understand the diseases will help us asses whether our treatments are having an impact slowing down the progression of the disease, and help us better design therapies that, hopefully, can cure these diseases.

Be reassured  that our goal as a scientific community is to cure the MPNs. Now, until we’re able to do that, we want to be able to best control them as best we can. So, the next level of research is really in new therapies; primarily drug-based therapies, but future therapies using the immune system; potentially using vaccine therapy to try to better control the disease to make the disease as neutral in your life as possible.

Our goal, short of curing the disease is to make the disease as invisible in your life as possible. Hopefully, minimal side effects, minimal symptoms, protected against risk of blood clots or bleeding, ideally, decreasing the risk of progression, and hopefully without any significant side effects from the medication your receiving.

So, that really is our goal.

 Clinical trials are a crucial way for us to improve the treatments that we have for any diseases. And in particular, in areas like myeloproliferative neoplasms where we have therapies, but we don’t have cures, clinical trials are crucial. Clinical trials are a structured way for you to be able to receive a new treatment. That treatment is closely monitored, and starts with a strong belief that that treatment is going to be beneficial for you.

Being on a clinical trial has many steps, but you are in the driver seat in each of them. So, you’re able to enroll in a study, and you’re able to decide at any point whether or not you’d like to continue on in that study. You are made clearly aware of what you’re receiving; what dose; what to expect at each and every step of that therapy.

It’s a treatment just like any other, but we use them because we are hoping that it will be better than the treatments that we have, and we do it on a clinical trial so that we can learn from that experience. If that drug is better, then we should probably expand its use and give it to other people, and have it be approved and used around the world. Or for whatever reason that therapy is not as helpful as we would like, then we learn from that, as well.

Why was it not helpful? Was it the wrong therapy? Was it targeting the wrong aspect of the disease? Were there side effects that made the therapy not beneficial? So, we learn a lot about it in either direction. Hopefully, individuals who participate in clinical trials will have a direct benefit themselves by being able to experience a new therapy that is, hopefully, better. But also, they do have the ability to help other patients now and in the future that will be facing the same disease they have.

How Does Genetic Testing Impact Your MPN Treatment Options?

How Does Genetic Testing Impact Your MPN Treatment Options? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can genetic testing results impact your treatment and treatment response? Dr. Ruben Mesa provides an overview of common mutations associated with essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV) or myelofibrosis (MF) and how identification of these mutations are moving research forward.

Dr. Ruben Mesa is an international expert in the research and care of patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). He serves as director of UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center in San Antonio, Texas. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

We are learning much more about the genetics of Myeloproliferative Neoplasm, as we truly are about the genetics of many diseases. First, when I speak of genetics, these are not the genes we think of of inherited genes that are passed from mother and father, to son or daughter. These are the genes in ourselves that potentially can change over the course of our lives, and those changes or mutations can be associated with diseases.

So, what we have learned is that the genetic changes that are associated with myeloproliferative neoplasms are important, both in terms of predicting how the diseases might behave, and also, potentially in terms of therapies. The genetic changes fall into two different groups.

There’s a first group of the most common mutations that we think are important in driving the disease. The most common is the mutation in a protein called JAK2. That’s a mutation in about half of the patients with ET, half with PV – or half with myelofibrosis, and the majority with polycythemia vera. There is mutations in calreticulin. That’s about in a third of patients with ET, and a third with MF. And then, there’s mutations in MPL, which are present in a handful of patients with ET and with MF.

But in addition to those three mutations that tend to be mutually exclusive; patients tend to only have one of those, and there’s a small group of patients that do not have any of those three. But there’s another group of mutations that we have learned about.

That we are able to obtain on panels of sometimes anywhere from 40 to 100 genes that may or may not be changed or mutated in diseases like MPNs and the implications of what those pattern of changes in those mutations have for those patients. 

MPN Treatment Decisions: Which Path is Best for You?

MPN Treatment Decisions: Which Path is Best for You? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Ruben Mesa provides an overview of available treatments and reviews important factors to consider when choosing a therapy for essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV) or myelofibrosis (MF).

Dr. Ruben Mesa is an international expert in the research and care of patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). He serves as director of UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center in San Antonio, Texas. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

The treatment landscape for myeloproliferative neoplasms is changing very rapidly. And in a good way, it’s increasingly having many more options for patients with Myeloproliferative Neoplasms. But I would separate it, really, into two groups. First, there are those individuals with essential thrombocythemia and polycythemia vera.

These individuals, we have newer therapies, such as interferons, we have, potentially, use of JAK inhibitors, we have some experimental therapies, as well as prior therapies we’ve used and become accustomed to, including hydroxyurea, phlebotomy, and aspirin.

But we’re learning much more about how to use these therapies; how to combine them; what constitutes success with these therapies; what should constitute a change in terms of therapy.

And there are new therapies being developed in the future that will impact this group of individuals with earlier MPNs: ET and PV.

For patients with myelofibrosis, the treatment is evolving. Patients with Myelofibrosis are affected in different ways. It is, in some ways, a more problematic disease.

There is evolution of our most impactful therapy, of stem cell transplantation. We have a better sense of in which patients we should consider that treatment, and how that can be applied in the safest way. We also have more medical treatments. We just saw in 2019 the approval of Fedratinib as the second specific JAK inhibitor approved for patients with myelofibrosis.

We, additionally, now have, truly dozens of clinical trials of new therapies in development that are in clinical trials right now that might be helpful for patients with myelofibrosis who have either had Ruxolitinib, or have a suboptimal response to Ruxolitinib, or sometimes even newly diagnosed patients. But I would say the future is very bright.

So, it is key with a treatment to first understand what is the treatment, what is the dose, and what is the goal? Each of the treatments have different goals. Some of the goals are to decrease the likelihood of blood clots or bleeding.

And frequently, we assess whether we’re protecting against the blood clots or bleeding by bringing down elevated counts. Is the plate account high, and we’re trying to bring it into the normal range? Is the hematocrit high, and we’re trying to bring that to under 45%? Is the white blood cell count high? Have we lowered each of those? First, it’s around controlling blood counts if that is the goal, as well as trying to decrease at risk of blood clots or bleeding.

 Second, if patients have symptoms associated with their MPN, sometimes itching, sometimes symptoms associated with high courts, sometimes enlargement of the spleen, or symptoms associated with the spleen, have we reduced or nullified those symptoms? Have we shrunk the spleen if the spleen was enlarged?

And then, finally, we assess our goal by trying to be sure that patients are not progressing or getting worse on the disease. So, depending upon the treatment, we first asses what is our goal? Is it to improve counts? Is it to improve symptoms? Is it to shrink the spleen? And have we accomplished one, two, or all three of those goals? Or was only one those our goals to begin with? 

Newly Diagnosed with an MPN? Start Here.

Newly Diagnosed with an MPN? Start Here. from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

If you’ve been diagnosed with an MPN, such as essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV) or myelofibrosis (MF), Dr. Ruben Mesa outlines key steps you should take, including a visit with an MPN specialist.

Dr. Ruben Mesa is an international expert in the research and care of patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). He serves as director of UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center in San Antonio, Texas. More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

Patients who have a Myeloproliferative Neoplasm should consider seeing an MPN specialist at least at some frequency. The myeloproliferative neoplasms are not common illnesses. They’re not exceedingly rare, but they’re not common. And there is many nuances in terms of how we best diagnose the disease; the discussion we have with you regarding what are the treatment plans and goals, and then putting that plan into effect.

So, frequently, there’s a value in seeing someone who focuses on MPNs to help to establish that plan, and then frequently, there is a home physician, hematologist, or medical oncologist that works together along with the specialist in terms of managing the patient.

When patients first come for their visits related to an MPN, they have many questions. You know, they’re not common diseases, and people typically don’t have much experience with them. They’ve not had a family member that’s afflicted or someone at work. So, frequently, it comes on out of the blue. People will frequently, sometimes, go online and get a lot of information, but sometimes too much information; information that may or many not be appropriate for them.

So, there are many questions that are valuable, and I always advise patients to write down their questions ahead of time because sometimes in the heat of the moment, having a conversation, particularly with a new physician or provider, those questions may not, necessarily, be top of mind for them. So, we can go through those questions clearly.

I think key questions, I wouldn’t limit it to one key question, but I’d say I would put them in categories. 1.) Truly understanding the diagnosis; what’s the actual diagnosis that that patient has. 2.) What does the physician think are the risks that patient has? With each of the diseases, there are different risk classifications, and that will also help to give patients a frame of reference if they read other information about their disease online from highly reputable sources, or other educational sort of materials.

To understand, what is the recommended treatment plan. The plan may or may not included medications and understand what those medications are intended to do, and what their side effects may be, or what to anticipate.

It may or may not include aspirin, it may or may not include phlebotomy, or it may or may not include other therapies. So, understanding that diagnosis, understanding the risk, and understanding, what is the recommendation in terms of treatment.

MPN Terms Defined: What is Leukocytosis? What is Anemia?

MPN Terms Defined: What is Leukocytosis? What is Anemia? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Physician assistant, Lindsey Lyle, provides definitions for leukocytosis and MPN-related anemia, both commonly used terms when discussing myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs).

Lindsey Lyle is a physician assistant at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, specializing in hematological malignancies with a subspecialty in myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Lindsey:

There are a few terms that often come up. No. 1 is “leukocytosis.” This often is a term that’s thrown around, especially in relation to myelofibrosis and also polycythemia vera, and this term means an elevated white blood cell count. That is a common thing that, as medical providers, we may just throw around in the room and not necessarily think about the fact that we should explain that a little bit better.

Additionally, “anemia” is a term very often used when talking about myelofibrosis, and that just means a decrease in red blood cells.

Often, people associate anemia with iron deficiency because this is probably the most common form of anemia, but as it relates to MPNs – and specifically, myelofibrosis – it is generally a problem with production that does not have anything to do with iron, but is actually more so just related to the disease and how the red blood cells are impaired because of the fibrosis of the bone marrow.

Could an MPN Clinical Trial Be Your Best Treatment Option?

Could an MPN Clinical Trial Be Your Best Treatment Option? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lindsey Lyle discusses the role of clinical trials as an MPN treatment option and how research is advancing the field.

Lindsey Lyle is a physician assistant at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, specializing in hematological malignancies with a subspecialty in myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). More about this expert here.

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Transcript:

Lindsey:

When considering treatment, remembering that clinical trials are an option – and often, a very good choice – is something that I really try to communicate to my patients. Generally, there’s a stigma around clinical trials as patients feeling like a lab rat or some sort of a study subject, and there is a perception that they’re not receiving as good of care as they would if they were not on a clinical trial. However, in my patients, I really try to dismiss this thinking because at this point in time, we do have really fairly good options for treatments with MPNs.

However, we do not have a cure for MPNs outside of a transplant, and our treatments are not perfect, and so, enrolling in a clinical trial really should be considered by patients and their providers as a very viable option.

It’s generally introducing perhaps a new way of approaching the disease treatment. Oftentimes, clinical trials are using a combination of agents, which is not necessarily available outside of the clinical trial.

And so, with clinical trials, we’re always trying to make something better. We’re trying to learn something, we’re trying to, No. 1, help the patient – so, my No. 1 goal in enrolling one of my patients in a clinical trial is to, first of all, help them, help control their disease, help them to feel better, and to live a long and good life. No. 2, we learn as we go along. Clinical trials are critical for drug development and for the future of treatment in patients with MPNs.

So, not only are our patients helping themselves, but hopefully, they are helping the future MPN patients who may come along and need a treatment. So, I always like to keep this really in the conversation when discussing treatments, and it may be up front, and it also may be after a treatment has stopped working that we consider a clinical trial.

So, there are also a lot of things that kind of go into clinical trial management and different requirements, so if a patient lives very far away, it may be challenging for them to come back to the academic center on a regular basis for routine clinical trial monitoring that’s required by the study, but if they live close by, I generally do recommend this. They are also associated with clinical research coordinators or clinical trial nurses.

And, these patients are monitored really very closely, and it’s kind of nice to have that extra person in it with you in the clinical trial, just another point person to discuss, perhaps, how you’re feeling or different questions or concerns as the clinical trial proceeds. So, when talking about treatments, in my opinion, especially in MPNs, clinical trials really should be one of the options that is first discussed when thinking about starting treatment, and especially if a treatment has stopped working.

So, there are very many exciting possibilities in MPN research right now. We have a lot of combination therapies, which I think I am most excited about, because we have a decent backbone of therapy at this point, but building on that and trying to maybe enhance the way that the backbone therapy works, and also to perhaps change the microenvironment of the bone marrow – basically, trying to reverse fibrosis.

So, there is currently a drug in clinical trial that is looking at this, and we are proceeding with this trial, and really hoping for the best, but I think that to combination therapies where we can put two things together that we think work really well together to help produce good outcomes – I think I’m most excited about that at this point.

Ready to Start an MPN Treatment? What You Need to Consider.

Ready to Start an MPN Treatment? What You Need to Consider. from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lindsey Lyle discusses the factors that should be considered when choosing a therapy.

Lindsey Lyle is a physician assistant at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, specializing in hematological malignancies with a subspecialty in myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). More about this expert here.

See More From the The Path to MPN Empowerment

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Transcript:

Lindsey:

When deciding about a treatment, it’s really important for the healthcare professional and the patient to discuss the patient’s goals.

The patient really is the key player here, and we as medical professionals are here to support the patient’s goals. So, what might work for one patient is not going to be necessarily the same treatment I would choose for a different patient. So, right off the bat, identifying the patient’s goals – and really, what are we trying to fix in one specific patient is going to look different from the next patient I see in that day.

For example, there are certain clinical manifestations of MPNs that need specific treatment approaches and maybe honing in on trying to help one clinical issue.

So, first of all, identifying the disease process – that’s No. 1. What is the diagnosis? No. 2: Coming up with a goals of care plan with the patient. What is causing them the most difficulty in their everyday life, and how are we going to fix that? That’s generally where I start.

Then, I discuss with the patients the different options for treatment, which either include therapies that are FDA-approved or enrolling in a clinical trial. And then, we really talk about pluses and minuses for each of these therapeutic decisions.

Patients may have different comorbidities, so they may suffer from different chronic diseases that may impact the treatment that is chosen with the patient and their provider, as well as discussing stem cell transplant, which we haven’t talked much about, but stem cell transplant is an option, and at this point, the only curative therapy for patients with myelofibrosis. And so, determining whether or not transplant is in the patient’s best interest is also a topic of discussion when deciding on therapy approach.

Essential Lab Tests for Myeloproliferative Neoplasm (MPN) Patients

Essential Lab Tests for Myeloproliferative Neoplasm (MPN) Patients from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Lindsey Lyle, a physician assistant specializing in MPNs, reviews the lab tests that should be administered following an MPN diagnosis and how the results could affect overall care.

Lindsey Lyle is a physician assistant at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, specializing in hematological malignancies with a subspecialty in myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). More about this expert here.

See More From the The Path to MPN Empowerment

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Can Diet and Exercise Reduce MPN Symptoms?

Expert Tips for Managing MPN-Related Anxiety

Improving Life with MPNs: The Latest Research and How to Get Involved


Transcript:

Lindsey:

When somebody is diagnosed with an MPN, there are a variety of tests that are important for coming up with treatment strategies. And so, really, before starting treatment, it’s fairly imperative to have a CBC, or complete blood count, which was very likely done that led to the diagnosis of the MPN, but that’s very critical, as well as having a differential. This is basically just looking a little bit deeper at the white blood cells and their components, so that’s a critical part of the CBC, or complete blood count.

And then, having a chemistry panel, just to look at organ functioning, such as the kidney functioning and the liver functioning, as well as different electrolytes that may be indicative of something going on that would maybe impact treatment.

Additionally, having a bone marrow biopsy with molecular testing is advised. This is very critical in leading to the diagnosis of the MPN and then, also, really differentiating what subtype of MPN a patient may have.

The bone marrow is very critical for this purpose, and the genetic testing helps us to understand perhaps if a patient is having a higher-risk disease or a lower-risk disease and can help guide treatment as well. There are a variety of other chemistry tests that are done that can help specifically when looking at patients with polycythemia vera. This may be called an erythropoietin level.

Additionally, iron studies are generally recommended before starting treatment for MPNs, just to assess iron storage, availability, and that sort of component to the treatment may vary depending on that result. Additionally, if patients are having any sort of symptoms related to an enlarged spleen, generally, having an imaging study may be warranted if the symptom is quite severe and causing problems, and getting a baseline prior to starting treatment is generally a good idea.

When looking at a CBC, there are really three main cell lines that we monitor closely in MPNs regardless of the subtype, and this includes the white blood cell count, the red blood cell count or hemoglobin and hematocrit – those are measures of the total red blood cell count – and then, also, platelets. And so, these really are three different types of cells that your bone marrow produces that help with different functions.

And so, monitoring for any sort of changes within these three cell lines – white blood cells, red blood cells, or platelets – can really help us know maybe how the disease is changing, how a patient is responding to treatment, so these three key laboratory values are very necessary and really help us as providers and U.S. patients monitor progress, or for any changes in a positive way, or perhaps in a way that needs to be addressed.

Diagnosed With an MPN? Why You Should Consider a Second Opinion.

Diagnosed With an MPN? Why You Should Consider a Second Opinion. from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

 Physician assistant Lindsey Lyle explains the importance of seeking a second opinion when diagnosed with an MPN.

Lindsey Lyle is a physician assistant at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, specializing in hematological malignancies with a subspecialty in myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). More about this expert here.

See More From the The Path to MPN Empowerment

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Transcript:

Lindsey:

When a patient is initially diagnosed with an MPN, seeking a second opinion is generally a very good idea, especially if patients are perhaps in an area where they do not have access to academic medical center.

The reason is that MPNs are such a small percentage of blood cancers – and, blood cancers in and of themselves are very rare, so MPNs are very rare, and especially in rural places, physicians do not have access or experience so much with MPNs. So, especially in those scenarios, I always advise a second opinion.

However, even within the academic medicine world, for example, if a patient is referred to me by their primary care physician or our institution, we always offer patients to seek a second opinion. Really, this is to gather information and either encourage the patient because the recommendation is the same or also to perhaps have a different idea for treatment that may fit the goals of the patient better, and so, I’m always telling patients to seek second opinions.

An Expert Summary of Current MPN Treatment Options

An Expert Summary of Current MPN Treatment Options from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 MPN expert, Lindsey Lyle, provides an overview of therapies used to treat myelofibrosis (MF), polycythemia vera (PV) and essential thrombocythemia (ET).

Lindsey Lyle is a physician assistant at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, specializing in hematological malignancies with a subspecialty in myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). More about this expert here.

See More From the The Path to MPN Empowerment

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Can Diet and Exercise Reduce MPN Symptoms?

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Transcript:

Lindsey:

To overview the treatment types for MPNs, we have a variety of different mechanisms in which we use, and clumping these three main MPNs together, we can kind of break it down into, first of all, cytoreductive therapy, which is nonspecific, but really just reduces the amount of cells the bone marrow is producing. And so, it’s really to control the blood counts. And, different types of cytoreductive therapy generally are – hydroxyurea is used probably the most commonly.

There are some other sorts of chemotherapy that may be used in different instances. We also have biological agents, such as interferons, that may be used in patients with MPNs. We then have JAK inhibitors, which there are two FDA-approved JAK inhibitors at this point for myelofibrosis, and one approved for polycythemia vera.

We also have a variety of novel agents in clinical trials. These may be inhibiting different pathways of the cellular production or different signaling pathways at the level of the stem cell, so there are a variety of those. We also use hypomethylating agents in some patients who maybe have higher-risk disease, mainly myelofibrosis, that really changes the way that the stem cells are produced in the bone marrow in order to control the cell counts and also symptoms.

So, there are a variety of therapeutic measures that are taken. Additionally, not necessarily medication-related, but phlebotomy, which is considered a therapy for polycythemia vera, is generally used in order to reduce red blood cell volume, and then, aspirin is commonly used, especially in polycythemia vera and essential thrombocythemia as a supportive care medication to reduce risk of complications from the disease.

Fact or Fiction? AML Causes & Symptoms


Dr. Daniel Pollyea, an AML specialist, dispels common myths around the causes and symptoms of AML and shares advice so that you can identify credible resources for information. Download the Program Guide here.

Dr. Daniel A. Pollyea is Clinical Director of Leukemia Services in the Division of Medical Oncology, Hematologic Malignancies and Blood and Marrow Transplant at University of Colorado Cancer Center. More about this expert.

See More From the Fact or Fiction? AML Series

Related Resources

 

How is an AML Treatment Approach Determined?

 

Addressing Common Myths About AML Treatment

 

Fact or Fiction? AML Research and Internet Claims


Transcript:

Ross:

I’m Ross Reynolds. Today we’re gonna be debunking some common misconceptions about the causes and symptoms of AML.

And joining me is Dr. Daniel Pollyea. Dr. Pollyea, could you introduce yourself?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

Yeah. Hi. Good morning, everyone. I’m Dan Pollyea. I’m an Associate Professor of Medicine here at the University of Colorado, where I am the Clinical Director of Leukemia Service.

 

Ross:

I wanna emphasize to you that this program is not a substitute for medical advice, so be sure to consult your healthcare team when it comes to solid information about it. But you will get some background that I think you’re gonna find useful. And you might have some questions as we go along.

 Dr. Pollyea, let’s start out with the basics. What are the causes of AML?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

Yeah. So, Acute Myeloid Leukemia, it’s a disease, a cancer of the bone marrow.

And it’s the result of an accumulation of mutation and chromosomal abnormalities that affect the DNA of a precursor cell in the bone marrow, otherwise known as a stem cell.

And those abnormalities accumulate until that cell can no longer properly mature, and it also can’t properly die. And so, a cell like that just makes copy after copy after copy of a cell until it crowds out the whole bone marrow with these sorta useless, immature cells.

And the end result of that is the failure of the bone marrow, which causes all of the problems associated with this disease. So, biologically, that’s sort of what happens to make this disease occur.

 

Ross:

What are some of the myths that you hear from patients that come in and they say, “Oh, this must’ve caused my AML,” but you have to tell them that’s not so?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

Right. So, I mean, this is one of the most frustrating issues for patients and their families after diagnosis. I mean, it’s a rare disease, only about 30,000 cases a year in the United States. And so, trying to associate a rare disease with external or environmental factors is difficult to impossible. So, although there are a variety of exposures that probably contribute to this disease, we have very little understanding of what those exposures typically are or how that all works.

So, there’s a few things that we know pretty well; large doses of radiation, either associated with like industrial accidents like the Chernobyl disaster, or some of the radiation therapies that patients receive for other types of cancer. Other types of chemotherapy that are used to cure other cancers can contribute to this disease in later years.

We know that there are certain precursor conditions that can evolve to AML, so a person with myelodysplastic syndrome, for instance, has a fairly high chance of someday evolving to develop Acute Myeloid Leukemia. But beyond these sort of a few associations, there isn’t a whole lot that’s known or proven.

 

Ross:

Now there is radiation associated with X-rays, and some people think that X-rays can cause AML. Is that true?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

Yeah.

So, I mean, I think a priori no because millions of people get X-rays every day, and only 30,000 people a year get AML. So, clearly it’s not a simple association between getting an X-ray and developing AML. But I think that there is an unknown interaction between environmental exposures and a person’s individual genetic makeup that makes a person more or less susceptible to developing something like AML with respect to exposure to the environment or X-rays and things.

So, while you cannot say that getting an X-ray will lead to AML, certainly there are some people who are more sensitive to the damage that’s done by something like an X-ray. And so, the best course of action is to be cautious and judicious about your exposure to these things, but not to not get these things when they are medically necessary.

So, that’s the challenging balance.

 

Ross:

Here’s something else we’ve heard, that weed killers can be a risk factor for AML. Is that true?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

I mean, I think there’s a lot coming out now about weed killers and their association with other types of cancers. Again, I go back to the limitation we have in that in only 30,000 people a year in the United States get AML. Millions of people are exposed to weed killers.

We’re statistically never going to be able to make a clear association. I think that there are certainly some risks for some people. Whether you’re that person who’s more susceptible to developing leukemia or any other cancer because of exposure to a weed killer is impossible to know.

So, like all of these things, I think the advice we have is you have to live your life. You have to do your best to sort of avoid things that you can avoid that you think would be… Or that may cause problems. But not to let those things prevent you from living a normal life.

I know that’s not a satisfying answer, but at the moment that’s the best answer we have.

 

Ross:

Is formaldehyde exposure another risk factor for AML?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

Yeah. We think that it is, and kind of along the lines of benzene. But, again, we think that those studies that have shown those types of association show it in very high amounts, amounts that most people in this country would not be exposed to. But I do think, or we do think that there is something to that, to formaldehyde somehow contributing to this.

 

Ross:

What’s the difference between a risk factor for AML and a cause of AML?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

Yeah. So, I think risk factors by definition are things that may contribute to AML. And a risk factor for AML by that definition could be walking down the street and having some exposure to radiation from the sun. A cause of AML is something that is a much more solid sort of well-understood factor.

Like I said before, having myelodysplastic syndrome, there is a high chance that that can evolve to Acute Myeloid Leukemia. And if that happens then the MDS, the myelodysplastic syndrome, could be considered or would be considered the cause of your AML. So, very, very different in terms of the amount of evidence that goes into making those determinations

 

Ross:

Is there a genetic component to this? Can this run in a family?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

Yeah. So, this is a disease of the genome.

So, I mean, in a lot of respects it is a genetic disease. But the question is very different when you ask is this an inherited genetic disease? Is this disease due to a gene that I inherited from a parent or could pass along to a child?

For many, many years, the answer from the medical community was, “No.” This was not considered to be a disease that clustered in families or that could be inherited. We now know that that’s not necessarily the case. There are some very rare cases where this does seem to travel in families or cluster in families. And we’re now beginning to understand who those people are and what those genes are.

But the vast majority of people with this disease did not inherit a gene to contribute to it and cannot pass this along to a child. This is a random, spontaneous event that occurred within one person’s own body and is not traveling within family. So, we’re learning more and more about this, but really, the vast majority of this is not an inherited genetic condition.

 

Ross:

You’ve mentioned gene mutations. What mutates a gene? What causes that to happen that could lead down the line to AML?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s a great question. Most of the time we do not know the answer to that. These gene mutations occur spontaneously, randomly, and we don’t understand why they happen when they do happen.

And I know that’s, again, not a satisfying answer. It’s very frustrating, particularly patients come in, and, “I’ve lived a healthy lifestyle. I’ve done everything right. I exercise. I eat right. How could this have happened?”

These are things that for the most part are out of the control of a person. These aren’t impacted by your diet or your activity levels, what you eat or don’t eat, what you do or don’t do. That’s a real frustration. In the end, in almost all cases we don’t know or understand why these gene mutations or these, I call them mistakes in the body, occur when they occur. We don’t understand them.

And, Dr. Pollyea, someone asked if benzene can be a risk factor for AML.

 

Dr. Pollyea:

Yeah. So, benzene is one of the sort of rare environmental exposure associations that we do have clear associations with AML.

But the level of benzene that a person would need to be exposed to is really something that hasn’t been seen in this country in a very long time.

We’d be talking about like an industrial accident type exposure in almost all cases, so being exposed to a cleaning solution or some other fairly minor exposure to benzene, we don’t think is enough, in most cases, to prompt this disease. But benzene in very high doses, like an industrial accident, yes, that is something that we understand can certainly contribute or cause AML.

 

Ross:                          

Autoimmune diseases, such as arthritis, can they increase the risk of AML?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

Oh, boy. That is a really interesting one. So, there are papers in the literature that do support those associations. And I know in my own practice I certainly see that trend. So, I do think that there is something there. There is a proven association between autoimmune conditions and myelodysplastic syndrome, which I said before can be a clear precursor condition to AML. So, certainly, that is an association that is a possibility.

It can be a little difficult to tease out whether it’s those diseases that are associated with ultimately developing AML, or the treatments that people get for some of those autoimmune diseases. Those treatments can modulate the immune system in certain ways that may, in fact, contribute or drive the disease. So, that’s a difficult thing to tease out.

But in general terms, yes, I think there are some associations. Now not by a long shot everyone with an autoimmune disease gets AML. It’s a teeny, tiny fraction. But I think there is an association there.

 

Ross:

How easy is it to diagnose AML?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

Well, I mean, I think there’s very clear diagnostic criteria for AML. But I guess that doesn’t really answer the question. And we certainly have patients who come to us after many months of frustration without a clear diagnosis.

So, those scenarios can play out. Many times AML’s a very dramatic presentation, so people get very, very sick very, very quickly with extraordinarily high white blood cell counts and suppression of all the other blood counts that come from the bone marrow like red blood cells and platelets.

In those cases it’s pretty clear that there is a type of acute leukemia going on. There can be some difficulty distinguishing Acute Myeloid from Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia; those are sort of like cousins, but very different and treated differently. So, it kinda runs the gamut. I mean, it can be pretty clear, but it’s sometimes missed, so yeah.

 

Ross:

This is a great lead-in to my next question, which is about the symptoms of AML. What should be the warning signs that this might be something you need to get looked at?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

Right. So, at presentation, the main symptoms are reflective of the fact that the bone marrow, the organ that makes all the cells of the blood, has failed.

So, that can cause severe anemia. Signs of anemia: a white sort of appearance, feeling dizzy or lightheaded when standing, short of breath, weak, tired, fatigue. Those are all pretty clear presenting symptoms for AML. Because the bone marrow also is responsible for making platelets that clot the blood, some people will present with a bleeding complication, or a very subtle rash made up of these particular red dots. We call that a petechial rash. And that rash can come on when the platelet count gets very low.

Sometimes a person will present with an infection or infections that don’t go away or don’t clear because of decrease in white blood cells, the infection-fighting cells of the bone marrow. Those are made in the bone marrow and can fail in the setting of this disease. So, those are the most common symptoms at presentation, symptoms that are reflective of bone marrow failure.

 

Ross:

You mentioned that sometimes the presentation could be very dramatic, and it sounds like the symptoms are very severe, very quickly. Is that always the case? Is that often the case?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

That is the case in, I would say, a minority of times. That’s usually the case. It’s more often seen in younger patients with AML. Typically, older patients with AML have a more smoldering course and a much less dramatic presentation, although this sort of very dramatic and dangerous presentation can happen in older patients, but it’s probably something like a third of the time that those very dramatic and medical emergency presentations occur.

 

Ross:

How important is early diagnosis?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

Well, I mean, it’s crucial. I mean, in particular in those cases where it’s a very dramatic and proliferative diagnosis, or presentation. A quick diagnosis and recognition of this condition is very important because the sooner a person starts effective treatment the better the ultimate outcome is.

I would say in general terms that applies to all AML patients, but certainly there’s some degrees of variation. So, there’s some AML patients that when I hear about their case on the phone from a referring doctor, it’s appropriate to see them next week in the clinic.

So, it’s not always a medical emergency, but we would never, even in those next-week-in-the-clinic patients, this isn’t something that can wait for weeks or certainly months. This is something that needs to be addressed fairly quickly.

 

Ross:

What are the best ways to manage those symptoms?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

Right. So, I mean, at presentation, all those symptoms, the best way to manage those are to start treatment as quickly as possible. So, impacting the underlying cause of this disease is the most important and critical factor to getting a person feeling better because all of these problems stem from the disease in the bone marrow, and so everything else that you do to sort of help a person’s symptoms are Band-Aids when you’re not talking about getting to the root cause.

So, that’s at presentation. Now once we start treatment, there are many potential side effects to any number of treatments. And it all is dependent on what treatment you’re getting and other things about you that will make this a significant problem in some cases. And in that setting, we do have ways that we can aggressively manage a person’s side effects.

 

Ross:

Can you manage all of the symptoms? Or can people still be experiencing symptoms even after they’re in treatment?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

Absolutely. So, a person with this disease, depending on how long they’ve had it and some of the features, may not be feeling back to their baseline self for potentially weeks or months after treatment starts in the best-case scenario. So, that can be very frustrating, but a person needs to sort of be able to continue to have a good outlook and stay positive.

Because we are able in many cases to make a big impact on this disease and return a person to their pre-disease quality of life.

 

Ross:

What are some of the myths that you hear, Dr. Pollyea, about the treatment? Some things that people come in to you saying they think that it helps, but there’s no science to back that up?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

So, myths about treatment, so many people have a lot of preconceived notions about the intensity of a therapy that they’re going to be asked to withstand. And although sometimes we do treat this disease very intensively, that’s not always the case, and now we have some very effective lower-intensity regimens that can be used in a variety of different scenarios.

There are a lot of people who have a lot of preconceived notions about a stem-cell transplant or a bone-marrow transplant and whether or not they would be eligible for this based on maybe what they’ve heard from friends or family, or what they’ve seen in the internet.

And those are often incorrect. And so, keeping an open mind about treatment options, and discussing those in detail with your doctor are really, really important.

 

Ross:

You mentioned sometimes it presents in young people, sometimes in older people. What’s sort of typical?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

This is a disease of predominantly older patients, so the median age of presentation is 68. So, that means that over half of the patients are over 68 years old at diagnosis. So, while this does happen, can happen in younger patients, that’s really an unusual situation. This disease is, like I said, it is predominantly a disease of older patients.

 

Ross:

There are some patients who I understand think that supplements can deal with the symptoms of AML. Is that accurate?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

You know, I mean, I think the supplement question is always a challenge. A lot of these supplements, or most of these supplements have never been tested with the rigor of treatments that we’re accustomed to in the medical establishment.

That being said, I won’t deny that some of the supplements can help patients based on what patients’ experiences are and what they tell me. I think what’s really important is just be very open and honest with your doctor about the supplements that you’re taking or want to take to ensure that there are no sort of unanticipated interactions with treatments.

Because I think most doctors are very open to having their patients care for themselves in the ways that they’ve become accustomed to, and they know their bodies very well, and we’re very open to that. But there are sometimes that a drug or a supplement might have a bad interaction with the treatment.

And so, a good example in my practice is antioxidants. So, there’s a lot of literature, a lot of interest in antioxidants as cancer-prevention treatment.

And a lot of that is not well-established, but still I don’t see much harm. But when it comes time to treating a cancer, that’s a very different situation. When we give a patient treatment to try to kill the cancer cells, many times we’re trying to provoke oxidation. That’s part of how these drugs and these treatments work.

So, if you’re taking those treatments, but also at the same time taking antioxidants, there’s the potential you could sort of be cutting your therapy off at the knees, fighting it with one hand behind your back. So, for the period of time when my patients are getting an active treatment, I ask that they don’t take it antioxidant.

And they can resume that in the future in the hopes of preventing another cancer. But the time to prevent with an antioxidant isn’t appropriate when you’re dealing with an active cancer. So, that’s just one example.

 

Ross:

Fatigue could be a symptom of AML, but there are a lot of causes of fatigue.

How do you differentiate between something that really could be AML and something that isn’t?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

Yeah. That’s a challenge because I think these are, as I said, older patients. And older patients have a lot of other medical problems. And older people get fatigued, just that’s unfortunately part of the normal aging process. So, we would usually make an assumption that a person’s fatigue and diagnosis is due to the leukemia, the anemia as a result of the leukemia.

But as we successfully treat a patient if they are responding based on their numbers and other objective criteria, but the fatigue is not improving then I think that’s where we would start to look at other contributing factors, and there can be many, so having an open mind at that point is important.

But at the beginning, this is such a monster of a disease, it’s so overwhelming, I think the focus is usually on assumption that the fatigue is due to the disease or to a treatment associated with this disease.

 

Ross:

This question: is loss of appetite a symptom of AML?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

Yeah. I definitely see that, hear that, so sometimes people come in and they say that. Sometimes it may not be a loss of appetite, but an extreme weight loss, so a lot of different types of cancer, including AML, can cause that, just basically unintentional weight loss.

A person’s not trying to lose weight. They’re eating what they think is their normal amount and they’re losing tremendous amounts of weight. So, those are both potential presenting symptoms with AML. And loss of appetite, unfortunately, can be associated with some of the treatments for this disease. And taste changes, things not tasting good, can all contribute to that as well, so those are all challenges that our patients face.

 

Ross:

How important is to get a second opinion? I mean, are all doctors like you pretty much on the same page when it comes to symptoms and treatment?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

So, this is a challenge. So, the answer to the second question first is unfortunately, no. A lot of this hasn’t quite been standardized. And some doctors, oncologists, cancer doctors, they’ll predominantly be treating the things that are common: colon cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer. And they will probably only have a few cases of acute leukemia a year.

And so, their approach to this is going to be different than somebody who spends all day seeing patients with AML and thinking about AML.

So, a second opinion is a very nice thing to be able to do. The problem with this disease is that most times it doesn’t afford that opportunity. So, with other conditions you have some time to go out, read about it, talk to some different doctors, get a good plan together.

With AML, often that’s not a possibility. A person is so urgently sick that you have to sorta deal with the resources where you are. The best recommendation I have there, if you do find yourself in a situation where there’s not a lot of expertise is to ask your doctor to just call somebody in the region or email somebody in the region who may have that expertise.

And most doctors all over the country have that sort of resource or partner that they will go to and talk the case through with them, and maybe a transfer to one of those high-volume centers is appropriate.

And maybe that’s not a possibility or appropriate, but maybe you would benefit from just talking… Maybe your doctor would benefit from talking this through. But in cases where it’s not such a dramatic presentation, then yeah, for sure, I think a second opinion can be appropriate. But this isn’t something that can be sort of drawn out for long period of time.

 

Ross:

You know, when you find out something like this, your tendency might be to jump on the web and start searching for AML. How do you vet those sources that you look at? How do you figure out that their – what would be a sign that they’re bogus sources?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

Yeah. I mean, I think this field is so rapidly changing and the treatment that we have, that I would, for the most part, assume that what you’re finding on the web is not relevant and is not an up-to-date resource. So, the resources that I listed, the NCCN, UpToDate, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, I should mention.

A very important resource that has up-to-date information, and they have even phone numbers for patients and their families to call to get connected with the proper people in a particular city, so that is a really important resource. But I’d be really, really cautious about what you find on the internet because things are changing so fast in this field. There’s a lot of outdated and misinformation on the internet.

 

Ross:

Well, then there’s outright scams. One of the things you mentioned before we went on is be cautious if someone’s asking you to put money upfront, or if it’s a nonmedical facility. What are some things that people should watch out for?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

Yeah. So, one of the things that is so important in our area is clinical trials and participating in clinical trials. Patients who opt to do this and receive experimental therapies can sometimes get the treatment of the future, get a drug that’s not currently available through the FDA, but may have a lot of promise.

And this is the way that we fight this disease. We’ve recently had an onslaught of approvals for AML and that’s because the patients being willing to participate in sanctioned clinical trials. So, participating in a sanctioned clinical trial is crucial, and it’s always a recommendation of all leukemia doctors.

When you participate in a conventional clinical trial, you’re asked to sign a consent form that explains what you’re doing and why. There is a confirmation that this has been vetted by an institution’s regulatory board that is prioritizing the safety and well-being of you, the patient. This has been approved by the FDA as a clinical trial. Nobody would ever ask you to pay money. That’s not ethical to participate in a clinical trial. Insurance covers whatever standard of care. And the clinical trial covers anything that isn’t.

So, if you find yourself in a situation where you’re not being asked to sign a consent form, where a clinical trial has not been reviewed by a regulatory board, where your doctor is not a leukemia specialist, where the FDA has not sanctioned the treatment, all of those are alarm signs.

Because there are people out there that are preying on patients in a desperate situation, a very difficult time in their life, and giving them sort of false hope and leading them down paths that are not legitimate.

One easy thing to do to sorta check to see if a clinical trial is legitimate is to go onto clinicaltrials.gov.

This is a resource set up by our national healthcare system that now feeds in every legitimate clinical trial from all over the world, needs to be registered on clinicaltrials.gov. So, if you can’t find your clinical trial on clinicaltrials.gov, I would have a lot skepticism and caution about that.

 

Ross:

Like what advice do you have for people when they’re first diagnosed? What are the first things they should try to do?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

Yeah. I mean, that reaction is totally normal and natural. I mean, many times these people are perfectly healthy or have been perfectly healthy, and this news is a complete shock.

And so, it is normal and appropriate to have some period of grieving for the healthy life that you are losing. But I would also, while giving yourself that time to grieve, first, draw on your support system, your family, your friends. Allow them to help you. Accept that assistance that they have. And to be optimistic because we are getting so much better at treating this disease.

I had mentioned before, there has been an onslaught of approvals for drugs in this area the likes of which hasn’t been seen in decades. We have new tools and weapons in our arsenal that we couldn’t have dreamed of even a few years ago.

We in our community are very excited and hopeful about the future and we hope that that will translate ultimately to patients, but being depressed or being down, being scared, all of that is normal.

All of that is expected. Anyone would feel like that. Allowing yourself to have those feelings and emotions is important, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of doing what you need to do to fight this disease.

 

Ross:

It sounds like you’re hopeful about new treatments for the disease. How about a cure? What’s the science? What’s the medical science say about that? Are we getting any closer to that?

 

Dr. Pollyea:

We are getting closer to curing this in more cases. So, like I mentioned before, as bad as this is, we can already cure some subsets of patients. There’s one type of Acute Myeloid Leukemia called Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia, APL. It’s an uncommon form of AML, less than 10 percent.

But we can cure close to 99 percent of people with APL. And APL, 15 years ago, was universally the worst form of acute leukemia to get. So, that dramatic 180 that we’ve seen in APL, we are hoping to translate into other forms of AML.

Some other forms of AML have cure rates as high as 50 percent, 60 percent, 70 percent in the right setting. Sometimes we can cure patients with a stem cell transplant fairly reliably. So, we are very, very hopeful about our ability to continue to make progress and cure more and more and more of these patients. That’s the future that we see.

 

Ross:

Dr. Pollyea, thank you so much. And thank you so much for ending on such a positive note. We really appreciate it. And thank you for joining us for this program today.

To learn more about AML and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Ross Reynolds. Thanks for joining us.

MPN Patient Story: Ruth Gerwin

My journey began in 1999 when I was diagnosed with Essential Thrombocythemia (ET). All I took was a baby aspirin, even then they [platelets] soared to over 1 million.

In November 2004, I had a bad cold and had this aching on my left side. It was discovered my spleen was enlarged and I had a bone marrow biopsy. I was at that time diagnosed with Myelofibrosis (MF). I went to see Dr. Richard Silver in New York and he put me on Interferon. I saw him for 5 years and then transferred to Cleveland Clinic as my insurance company was making it harder and harder for Dr. Silver to be paid. There I was under the very capable care of  Dr. Ramon Tui. It was under his care that I did a trial for Jakafi. It only helped the spleen size for a couple of months, but it has kept some of the other side effects of the disease at bay. I still take 20 mg. twice daily. Also, in 2014 I had a double mastectomy.

In the spring of 2017, I was so horribly uncomfortable because by this time I looked 9 months pregnant with my spleen. I also had swollen legs and feet. I could hardly walk. I made a decision at that time to radiate the spleen to give me some relief. I was supposed to receive 10 treatments, but was stopped at 7 because my blood counts bottomed out. Hmg 6.0, Pl 5, WBC 0.8. I started with transfusions twice weekly of one platelet and two blood. I did this for several weeks and developed a horrible headache. I stopped the transfusions and my Dr. said to go home and call Hospice. He thought I had 2 weeks to 2 months to live. I was really sick, but as my spleen began to recover, my counts went up. By the fall of 2017, I was basically back to normal with the blood counts and, of course, out of Hospice. My family think I’m a miracle. But, the spleen, by December 2017 was becoming very uncomfortable again and I started radiation again January, 2018. This time I had 4 treatments and had to stop because of my blood dropping.

It has been suggested to me by two doctors to have my spleen removed and have a bone marrow transplant. But, I have read about this procedure and I know I wouldn’t survive as I am very sensitive to most of the medications they would have to give me. My current hematologist is looking for a trial I can do, but my bone marrow is nothing but fatty tissue. I have nothing there…not even fibrosis. I keep telling them my spleen is doing it all, but they won’t believe me. With no bone marrow tissue, I can’t do a trial. So, I don’t know what they are going to do with me. Anyone else have this problem? I’d love to hear what you are doing.

I know the Lord has a good plan for me and I just have to wait and see what it is. He is the “great physician”!  I’m just not real patient. I haven’t felt really well for a long time.

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