Are Myeloproliferative Neoplasms (MPNs) Cancer?

Does a Myeloproliferative Neoplasm (MPN) diagnosis mean you have cancer? Because doctors use the word ‘neoplasm’ (new growth) for both cancerous (malignant neoplasms) and non-cancerous tumors (benign neoplasms), there has been some debate within medical circles about whether MPNs are types of cancer. 

MPNs occur when bone marrow makes too many red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. Because MPNs are characterized by uncontrolled cell growth, fitting the National Cancer Institute’s definition of cancer, most doctors and major healthcare organizations classify them as blood cancers. Initially MPNs were called Myeloproliferative Diseases until 2008 when the World Health Organization reclassified them as cancers and renamed them Myeloproliferative Neoplasms.

Each type of MPN is characterized by a pattern of abnormal blood cell production that usually impacts one blood cell type more than the others. 

Essential Thrombocythemia (ET) happens when a person’s bone marrow makes too many blood platelets (also known as thrombocytes). About half of people with ET have a mutation—or change—in a certain gene in the body.

Primary Myelofibrosis (MF) is characterized by a buildup of scar tissue (fibrosis) in the bone marrow, the tissue that produces blood cells. The fibrosis prevents the bone marrow from making enough normal blood cells. 

Polycythemia Vera (PV)  is typified by an excessive amount of red blood cells in which patients typically experience an elevated leukocyte (white blood cell) count and an elevated platelet count.  

Mutations, or changes in certain genes, are thought to be a major cause of what are known as Philadelphia chromosome negative MPNs, or “classical” MPNs. Even people who do not have these mutations may have MPNs.

 The financial burden for cancer patients can be significant. Even cancer patients with healthcare insurance can suffer financially due to deductibles and copays. Depending on your symptoms the situation may be compounded by other expenses such as loss of income. As a cancer patient you may qualify for federal and state benefit programs to help you meet your healthcare and income needs. Find out if you are eligible for federal assistance by visiting Disability.gov or visit your local social security office. There are also private programs that can help with the cost of medications including pharmaceutical companies that may provide discounted or complementary medicine for those who are unable to afford it. For a list visit MPN Cancer Connection. Visit the MPN Research Foundation to find support for MPNs.

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