Managing Anemia Related to MPNs

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Topics include: Treatments

What treatments exist for anemia in patients with MPNs? Dr. Brady Stein discusses the management of anemia in patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) and how it is more common in myelofibrosis. Dr. Stein notes that some myelofibrosis treatments may exacerbate anemia and goes on to explain current research trying to identify treatments that will improve blood count and reduce anemia. Tune in to learn more.

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Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

Tamara Lobban-Jones:

We have another online question from Donna. What can be done to improve symptoms of anemia such as headaches, dizziness and fatigue?

Dr. Stein:               

So the treatment of anemia—anemia, we really shouldn’t see anemia in ET. We definitely shouldn’t see it in polycythemia vera.  If we do see anemia in those conditions, it could mean that the disease is evolving, and it’s becoming something different, or there’s another health concern. If a patient with ET has anemia, and the disease is stayed in its phase, the anemia probably represents something else. Are the iron levels low? Is there something else that has to be investigated? So first, asking the question why the patient has anemia.  In myelofibrosis, unfortunately, anemia is very, very common. 

And of all the aspects of myelofibrosis, I think it’s one of the most difficult to treat.

The medications we have for myelofibrosis, unfortunately, in many cases, can make the anemia a little worse not better.  So this is really an unmet area.  So what we have, when we approach anemia, are a couple of different things.  We have transfusions.  This is a form of support.  Transfusions are to help relieve the symptoms of anemia.  We don’t like to do—transfusions can be—in some cases, it’s the patient’s only treatment for their anemia.  If we have something else that could work a little better, we like to pursue that.

Over time, transfusions, you can become tolerant to them.  Iron can accumulate. And what happens with patients who receive transfusions or are dependent upon transfusions, their symptoms wax and wane.  Your hemoglobin is very low.  You get a transfusion. You feel better, and then it comes back down.  So you’ve got this very waxing and waning course. It’s sort of like a rollercoaster of symptoms, especially fatigue—feeling better, feeling worse, feeling better.

So what we’re trying to do with medications are improve the blood count so there’s a little bit more stability in your symptoms. And what we have available to us, in many ways, are conventional medications—medications that are used more for other purposes or other conditions that have been tried here. So we have blood-boosting injections. We have immunomodulators like thalidomide (Thalomid) that we’ve tried.  We’ve had hormones.  Each of these things, the success rates are very, very modest. And the durability was less than what we hoped for. 

So really, one of the areas we’re looking at or clinical trials we’re looking at, 1) medications that are effective that don’t suppress the bone marrow so don’t cause the anemia. And even more importantly, are there medications that can change the architecture of the bone marrow for patients with myelofibrosis that were treating the anemia or improving the hemoglobin, change in the environment of the bone marrow? So this is I think a really critical question, and, currently, what we would say an unmet treatment need for myelofibrosis.  

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

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Page last updated on September 3, 2015