April 6, 2014 | by Tami Dennis
Myeloproliferative neoplasms can’t be narrowed down to a single cancer, but they can be described by a defining characteristic: too many blood cells. The diseases bring with them a host of frustrating, potentially life-altering symptoms, and management of the diseases and their symptoms is crucial.
A City of Hope event – offered by a group founded by, and for, cancer patients – aimed to help. But first, more about myeloproliferative neoplasms, or MPNs.
The diseases, which include polycythemia vera, essential thrombocythemia and myelofibrosis, begin in the bone marrow and lead to an unhealthy abundance of white cells, red cells, platelets or even a combination of cell types.
Polycythemia vera, caused by too many red blood cells, can cause headaches, vision problems, dizziness, a purplish skin tone, peptic ulcers, gout and congestive heart failure, as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society explains. Blood clots are a significant risk, and treatment can include both drugs and phlebotomy (the removal of blood). Patients must undergo strict supervision of their hematocrit or hemoglobin levels.
Essential thrombocythemia, caused by too many platelets, can cause headaches, abnormal clotting, unexpected bleeding, an enlarged spleen and general fatigue, weakness and itching. Here too, treatment seeks to manage the disease, not cure it, and can include chemotherapy and drug therapy.
Myelofibrosis is especially puzzling. It sometimes starts as polycythemia vera or primary thrombocythemia, and doctors don’t truly understand the cause. The disease leads to an excess of “megakaryocytes,” cells in the marrow that produce platelets, and the symptoms are similar to the other diseases. Treatment can include not just drug therapy, but radiation therapy, splenectomy and stem cell transplantation.
With such diseases, not only is management and proper treatment crucial, so too is knowing that research is underway to improve options for patients.
To that end, City of Hope hosted “Living Well with Myeloproliferative Neoplasms: What New Options Mean for You,” on April 19, 2014, on the Duarte campus. The event, offered by Patient Power, provided:
• News about research and treatment into myeloproliferative neoplasms. • Stories from people living and coping with myeloproliferative neoplasms. • Techniques for managing common side effects, such as fatigue, itching, night sweats and bone pain. • Advice on communicating with your health care team and family members. • And, perhaps best of all, a chance to get your questions answered by some of the field’s top experts.
David S. Snyder, M.D., associate chair of the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope, was a presenter, as was Bart Scott, M.D., director of Hematology and Hematologic Malignancies at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
Learn more about City of Hope's Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation Program.