2009.08.07 – Current round of testing booked for rare cancer strain


Current round of testing booked for rare cancer strain

Published: August 7, 2009

No more openings are available for the current round of blood testing being done to determine whether individuals have a genetic marker that’s usually seen in people who have a rare blood disorder.

Those who still want the test, however, can make an appointment for autumn, said officials from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The blood tests are available to residents in Schuylkill, Carbon and Luzerne counties, where cases of polycythemia vera – a disorder that causes bone marrow to produce too many red blood cells – are higher than normal.

The first round of free tests was held this week and will continue next Monday through Thursday. ATSDR had openings for 350 people.

“What happened was, when the people were planning the tests, they weren’t sure what the turnout would be,” said Dr. Vince Seaman, an ATSDR epidemiologist. “They played it by ear and set up to do about 350 people. It filled up rather quickly. There was a good response.”

Seaman said those who called in after the first round was filled were told they’d be contacted for a second session of screenings in the fall.

“We’re thinking it will probably be in October,” he said.

Anyone who wants to sign up for a test should call 1-877-525-4860. There will be no charge, Seaman said.

Blood taken will be examined for a genetic marker called JAK2. Researchers believe it might be a possible indicator of PV, a disorder considered a cancer because stem cells in the marrow do not respond to signals to stop red blood cell production.

Researchers discovered JAK2 in more than 95 percent of PV patients, and those who have the marker may already have or later develop PV or other blood diseases.

Early detection can lead to medical care that prevents or delays complications of the disease, according to information from the ATSDR.

In 2008, the ATSDR confirmed a “statistically significant” number of residents with PV in the Ben Titus Road area of Rush Township. There are other PV clusters near Frackville and Jim Thorpe, so anyone living in the area is encouraged to register for a test.

Seaman said he doesn’t believe many blood tests will reveal the JAK2 genetic marker, but is hoping that people who live in the cluster areas – or who have a family member with the disease or another blood disorder – register for testing.

“Those who live farther away from the hot spots are less likely to have this mutation,” Seaman explained.

And because scientists believe the incubation period for PV and other cancers is 10 to 20 years, individuals over the age of 40 are urged to have the tests done.

The ATSDR is issuing the tests with the state Department of Health at Hazleton General Hospital, the Schuylkill Mall, Frackville, and St. Jerome Roman Catholic Church, Tamaqua.

According to Seaman, the blood tests are not part of an ATSDR study.

“It’s a case where people are concerned about this (disease), and we wanted to give them the opportunity to have the test,” he said.

But those who have the tests done and want to participate in future studies on the disease will be offered the chance to do so.

Test results will be kept confidential and will be mailed in four to six weeks. PV symptoms

Polycythemia vera usually doesn’t cause any symptoms in its early stages. As the disease progresses, those who have the disease may experience:

· Headache

· Dizziness

· Itchiness, especially following a warm bath or shower

· Redness of their skin

· Shortness of breath

· Breathing difficulty when they lie down

· Numbness, tingling, burning or weakness in hands, feet, arms or legs

· Chest pain

· A feeling of fullness or bloating in left upper abdomen due to an enlarged spleen

· Fatigue

Source: The Mayo Clinic