Conference Coverage

Primary care needs pile up for sickle cell patients



. – With many people surviving well into adulthood with sickle cell disease (SCD) because of advances in treatment, there’s a strong need for more primary care to address chronic conditions, such as obesity and the complications of the blood disorder, researchers said.

sickle cells bubaone/DigitalVision Vectors

People who have lived for decades with SCD may be at higher risk for renal disease while still needing the same routine vaccinations and screening for colon, prostate, and lung cancer that the general population receives, Sophie Lanzkron, MD, of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, said at Sickle Cell in Focus, a conference held by the National Institutes of Health.

And obesity is an additional a concern in treating people with SCD, Dr. Lanzkron said.

“It is really hard to have a conversation for 20 minutes with a patient about pain, talk about what you’re going to do about their sickle cell disease, and then address all of” their routine health needs, she said.

People with SCD seem less likely to get renal transplants, but those with end-stage kidney disease should be encouraged to be evaluated for them, Dr. Lanzkron advised.

Older data had suggested that patients with SCD who underwent renal transplant didn’t do as well as everyone else who underwent the procedure, but new data have changed that approach. “There’s some additional data in the modern era suggesting that the outcomes for people who undergo transplant with sickle cell disease are the same as for those who undergo it with diabetes,” Dr. Lanzkron said.

She highlighted one newer study in which the kidney transplant survival rate was 73.1% among individuals with SCD, compared with 74.1% for those with diabetes (Nephrol Dial Transplant. 2013 Apr;28[4]:1039-46).

Dr. Sophie Lanzkron

Dr. Sophie Lanzkron

It’s unclear what the average life expectancy is at this time for someone with SCD, Dr. Lanzkron said. Research looking at death certificate data suggests a median age of death in the mid-40s, but there are limitations to this work given it may exclude many older people with SCD, she said.

“We’re hopeful that people are living into their 50s and 60s, but we don’t have a lot of great data,” she said.

One of the organizers of the NIH conference said she hoped that Dr. Lanzkron’s presentation would draw attention to the need for primary care for people with SCD. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is particularly important for this group because they likely have had complications from the disease, as well as issues seen with normal aging, Swee Lay Thein, MBBS, of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, said in an interview.

“This is a key message for many patients with sickle cell disease,” Dr. Thein said. “It’s important to hook up with a primary care physician.”

Dr. Thein cited a recent paper, which reported on four people who had lived into their 80s with sickle cell disease. The paper said their longevity was aided by factors such as being nonsmokers, abstaining from alcohol or drinking it only on occasionally, and maintaining a normal body mass index (Blood. 2016 Nov 10;128[19]:2367-9).

Additionally, the patients had close ties with relatives. The paper said that one patient was married with a helpful husband. Others in this octogenarian set had maintained close ties with their children.

“A common factor for all of the four patients in their 80s was that they had a healthy lifestyle and very strong family support,” Dr. Thein said.

Dr. Lanzkron has been an investigator for trials sponsored by Pfizer, Global Blood Therapeutics, and Ironwood.

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