2009.10.17 – Blood cancer experts due at Tamaqua meeting


2009.10.17 – Blood cancer experts due at Tamaqua meeting


Published: October 17, 2009

Northeastern Pennsylvania at a meeting next week can hear from scientists studying clusters of a rare blood cancer and learn about a community group that will serve as a liaison between residents and researchers.

The meeting between the public and the researchers studying polycythemia vera is set for Oct. 24 at 10 a.m. in the auditorium of Tamaqua Area High School.

Vincent Seaman of the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in Atlanta said scientists involved in eight to 10 research projects will introduce themselves.

“They would explain in lay terms what they were going to do and why they felt it was important,” said Seaman, who is the principal investigator for the projects.

Residents also can learn about a community group that will form to address issues raised by the studies.

The group will help make researchers aware of questions raised by people in the community and have third-party experts review research in the funded studies.

This summer, nearly 1,500 people signed up to have their blood tested for a genetic marker that often accompanies polycythemia vera. At the meeting, the audience will hear an update about the tests.

The tests identify a mutation in the JAK2 gene that is present in more than 95 percent of people who have polycythemia vera and may appear before other symptoms such as thickening of red blood cells, high blood pressure, headache and dizziness.

Seaman said the first 356 people have been tested and notified of their results. Appointments are being made to test nearly 1,000 more people.

Rather than discussing preliminary results publicly, researchers will wait until all the tests have been done and discuss the findings sometime next year.

“Then we’ll get a better feel for what the results mean. Right now, we just don’t know,” he said.

Seaman said researchers might test a population from elsewhere to determine how often the mutation occurs in an area not suspected to have a high incidence of polycythemia vera.

People who test positive for the JAK2 mutation are referred to doctors for follow-up examinations to determine if they have the disease.

Last month, Hazleton oncologist Dr. Paul Roda said he knew of two cases that were confirmed after examinations of patients who tested positive for the mutation this summer. He didn’t know how many others tested positive and were awaiting follow-up examinations.

In 2008, the agency completed a study that found more than 30 people in the Tamaqua area had the disease.

The study located clusters of polycythemia vera cases along Ben Titus Road between Hazleton and Tamaqua, south of Frackville in Schuylkill County and near Jim Thorpe in Carbon County.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Pennsylvania departments Health and Environmental Protection, the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, the Geisinger Clinic, and the Myeloproliferative Disease Research Consortium all are studying aspects of the disease.