2008.08.27 – Doctors- We know there is a problem


Doctors: We know there is a problem

Published: Wednesday, August 27, 2008 4:31 AM EDT

A federal study helped convince scientists that a rare blood cancer is unusually prevalent in the tri-county area around Hazleton and gave them ideas for future research.

“The most important consensus is that there’s a problem. That by itself is a major change,” Dr. Paul Roda, a Hazleton oncologist, said Tuesday.

On Monday, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry issued a final report on a two-year study that the 33 confirmed cases of polycythemia vera are statistically significant.

The results were released at a public meeting on Monday night in Hazle Township.

Earlier Monday, Roda and other doctors and researchers joined a conference in Philadelphia in person and via telephone to discuss the study and the next steps.

At the conference, Roda said some researchers still doubted whether the study uncovered anything significant, but most called for follow-ups.

Roda said a future study might find out the source of the cases.

“We don’t have a single target where we’re saying this is where it all came from,” he said.

Patients don’t share jobs, ancestry, lifestyle choices, or exposures, the federal agency said in a news release.

Residents have pointed out that McAdoo Associates is close to the homes of some patients.

At McAdoo Associates, toxic material was recycled and dumped until 1979, and the site made the federal Superfund list of the most nation’s most toxic places.

Power plants and coal mining are among the other factors mentioned as possible contributors to the cases.

Scientists, however, don’t know what causes polycythemia vera, a disease also known as PV, in which red cells become too numerous and thicken the blood.

Roda said research might focus on experimental drugs for people who aren’t candidates for the standard therapies, which include cancer-fighting drugs and periodic blood withdrawal.

Dr. Samuel Lesko of the Northeast Regional Cancer Institute in Scranton suggested the next study compare the residents with PV to a group of people who live in the same area but do not have the disease.

“We can make a comparison about exposure, occupation, recreation … It’s not easy to uncover an association,” Lesko said.

Lesko also wants to review the questions asked of patients so far to determine links between the cases.

“Maybe there were some things we could ask additional questions about,” he said.

Because the cause is uncertain, he suggested keeping the research broad.

“It might be environmental, familial, occupational. It might be infectious. It’s wise to sort of keep that umbrella open,” Lesko said.

Researchers might run tests to determine if any groups of chemicals stimulate overproduction of red cells. Then they could look for ways to slow the multiplication of cells while trying to develop a treatment for PV.

“I hope it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter said a Senate committee approved $262,000 to continue the research at Drexel University’s School of Public Health.

Dr. Arthur Frank, chairman of Drexel’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, said Monday’s conference on future research was preliminary.

“Obviously the nature of the disease and the rarity will dictate some of the parameters,” Frank said. “The implications are if we can find some causative agent, that would be of interest. At least at present, nobody knows.”