A world leader in BPDCN explains how using social media can enhance dermatologists’ knowledge about this rare form of aggressive blood cancer.
Naveen Pemmaraju, MD, inaugural director of the BPDCN program and associate professor in the department of leukemia, division of cancer medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston spoke with Dermatology Times® on the growing knowledge and treatment base of this rare disease, and how experts can come together to help affected patients. “Social media platforms like Twitter can increase dermatologists’ awareness of BPDCN, help them network with other BPDCN experts, and track research and treatments for this rare form of blood cancer,” he said. He said there are other technologies connecting professionals that have helped speed up the knowledge base as well.
“BPDCN is ultra-rare; we estimate 500-1000 Americans are diagnosed each year. We have much more work to due to increase awareness. It’s difficult to diagnose and unless you think about it, you won’t diagnose it especially since it mimics other diseases.” Pemmaraju said. He added that although the disease is rare, it deeply affects patients and new technologies can speed up the rate at which specialists can learn important new information.
Pemmaraju has spent the last 15 years researching BPDCN and is considered a world leader among a small group of knowledgeable specialists. BPDCN manifests as cutaneous lesions in 80%-90% of patients, which is why it is essential that dermatologists be aware of the disease. While 75% of diagnosed patients are older men in their mid-sixties, the disease can occur in any age and gender.1 BPDCN currently has poor prognosis outcomes, with an estimated median rate of survival of 1 year.1 Dermatologists often come across BPDCN lesions incidentally. According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, “When BPDCN is suspected, consultation with a dermatopathologist or hematopathologist is advised and assessment for the immunohistochemical criteria for BPDCN is recommended.”1
How can dermatologists stay up-to-date on current research and treatments quickly?
Pemmaraju said that experts can take advantage of social media to quickly share research and knowledge across the world. He noted that while the use of social media platforms began as a hobby for many for things like movies, music, and popular culture, he said one of the great surprises of his academic career is how platforms like Twitter have grown for professional use. “We started #BPDCN on Twitter about 7 years ago to connect people. It’s now used by patients, caregivers, academics, medical journalists, physicians, people in the pharmaceutical industry, and philanthropy,” he said.
Pemmaraju said many people are galvanizing to the BPDCN cause. “There is a hunger for collaboration. There are new, novel ways of rapidly communicating scientific findings including email, Twitter, social media, and virtual meetings that can instantly communicate information that might be missed in an in-person meeting environment,” he said. He attributed much of the advances to the pandemic, which sped up the use of these technologies due to COVID-19 mitigations. “Now if there is a big discovery it travels fast. We have created a field and a network of experts. Ten years ago, it would be difficult to find anything about BPDCN,” he noted.
In addition to sharing BPDCN information with new technologies, Pemmaraju said smaller meetings and consortiums on the subject have already been held, and that, “momentum is growing for a dedicated BPDCN conference. The pandemic has brought us together to keep the science in the field growing.”
1. Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Facts about blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm. Revised July 2019. Accessed October 10, 2022.