2009.02.06 – Study about high incident of polycythemia vera in NEPA published

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Study about high incident of polycythemia vera in NEPA published

BY KENT JACKSON
STAFF WRITER
Published: Friday, February 6, 2009 4:06 AM EST

A Hazleton doctor and seven other researchers co-authored a study that a medical journal published about the high incidence of a blood disease in Schuylkill, Carbon and Luzerne counties.

Publication of the article on Tuesday in the journal “Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention” indicates the scientific community recognizes the region has a greater-than-normal number of cases of polycythemia vera.

Residents began wondering years ago about the rare disease after four people on Ben Titus Road in Rush Township developed polycythemia vera.

After two years of study, the United States Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry reported last August that it found 33 cases of polycythemia vera in the tri-county region and said the incidence exceeded expectations.

On Tuesday, the journal published research about the local cases. Researchers found the incidence of polycythemia vera was 4.3 times greater in clusters where the disease occurred than in the rest of the study area, an abstract of the journal’s article said.

Dr. Paul Roda of the Geisinger/Hazleton Cancer Center is among the study’s co-authors. The other authors include Dr. Vincent Seaman from the federal agency that conducted the study reported last August and Dr. Ronald Hoffman of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, who made a presentation about polycythemia vera in Hazleton last October.

The cluster of cases occurs near the McAdoo Associates Superfund site, cogeneration plants and other sources of hazardous materials. That raises concerns among researchers that environmental issues could factor into the cause of the disease, the abstract of the article said.

Previously researchers might have had inaccurate knowledge of how the disease spreads because the clinical diagnosis of polycythemia vera often is wrong. The researchers confirmed 53 percent of their 62 subjects had the disease by using rigorous clinical criteria and a test for a mutation of the JAK2 gene, which usually is found in patients with polycythemia vera.

Roda, who has treated local patients for polycythemia vera, said researchers will continue to study the local cases. Last summer at a conference in Philadelphia, they suggested several areas of study. The possible topics included whether hydrocarbons from the Superfund site and cogeneration plants play a role in the disease or whether the JAK2 mutation occurs more commonly in the local cluster than elsewhere.

Patients with polycythemia vera produce too many red cells, which thickens their blood. They can develop headaches, dizziness and high blood pressure.

Although polycythemia vera sometimes is referred to as a blood cancer, Dr. Paul Donohue said the disease is not cancer in his syndicated column.

Doctors treat the disease by periodically draining blood from the patient. A small percentage of patients develop leukemia, wrote Donohue, who added: “For most, polycythemia runs an indolent course measured in decades.”

kjackson@standardspeaker.com, 570-455-3636

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