Understanding MPNs

An overview of MPNs

Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) are a closely related group of chronic, progressive blood cancers in which the bone marrow typically overproduces one of the mature blood elements. Other shared features include tendencies toward blood clotting/bleeding, organ enlargement, bone marrow scarring (fibrosis) and a possibility of transformation to a different MPN or chronic cancer. Although MPNs can strike anyone at any age, most patients are afflicted in the sixth decade of life or later.

MPNs are generally characterized by the abnormal growth of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets — events that have been associated with gene mutations (errors), which are acquired at some point in a person’s life. Research is exploring how a person’s genetics at birth may affect their susceptibility to developing an MPN at some later time.   

While stem cell transplants are the only potential cure today, many people who live with an MPN can enjoy quality of life and longevity with proper monitoring and treatment, without ever needing a transplant.

The identification of the mutated JAK2 gene in 2005 and mutated CALR gene in 2013 as genetic drivers of MPNs, have led to significant advances in the diagnosis, understanding of disease processes, and treatment of MPNs. At MPN Research Foundation, we’re committed to funding researchers in their quest to treat and ultimately cure MPNs. But even more importantly, we’re committed to providing patients, their families and the entire MPN community with advocacy, education, and resources. Working together, we can change the prognosis and create a brighter future for people whose lives are affected by this group of diseases.

Types of MPNs

There are three blood cancer types that are categorized as “classic” MPNs: essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV), and myelofibrosis (MF). All three have some symptoms in common, including headaches, severe fatigue, bone pain, itching, and tingling in the hands and feet.

Essential thrombocythemia (ET) 
ET is a blood malignancy that is typically characterized by an elevation of platelets in the blood. It is most prevalent in women over the age of 50 and common complications include blood clotting and bleeding. ET patients have a later risk of progression to MF.

Polycythemia vera (PV) 
Characterized by an elevation of red blood cells, PV is most commonly diagnosed in men over the age of 60. PV patients also often exhibit elevated white blood cell and platelet counts as well as an enlarged spleen. PV patients have a later risk of progression to MF.

Myelofibrosis (MF) 
Most commonly seen in men and women over the age of 60, MF is a chronic blood cancer in which the bone marrow function is impacted by scarring. Patients often have associated symptoms and an enlarged spleen. MF can occur in patients with no prior history of an MPN (primary MF) or as a progression of PV or ET.

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