Myeloproliferative disorders, or MPD, are a group of hematologic (blood) diseases that affect production of blood cells in the bone marrow. MPDs are characterized by the over-production of certain types of cells, particularly red blood cells (which carry oxygen), platelets (which assist in blood clotting) and white blood cells (which fight disease).
MPD can strike at any age and have no known cause. Symptoms, prognosis and progression vary depending on the patient's age, health and type of disease. Some patients may have slowly progressing disease that may not require any treatment beyond careful monitoring, while others may progress to more advanced stages or acute myelogenous leukemia.
Chronic Idiopathic Myelofibrosis (CIMF) affects the red blood cells and granulocytes, a type of white blood cell. The cells don't mature normally and are irregularly shaped. CIMF also causes thickening or scarring of the fibers inside bone marrow, which can decrease the production of red blood cells and cause anemia.
Polycythemia Vera (PV) is caused by the overproduction of red blood cells in the bone marrow, which then build up in the blood. Often, the spleen swells as extra blood cells collect there, causing pain or a full feeling on the left side. Itching all over the body is a common symptom of PV.
Essential Thrombocythemia (ET) means that the number of platelets in the blood is much higher than normal, while other blood cell types are normal. The extra platelets make the blood "sticky," which slows down blood flow.
Chronic Eosinophilic Leukemia/Hypereosinophilic Syndrome (HES) is characterized by a higher than normal number of the white blood cells responsible for fighting allergic reactions and some parasitic infections (eosonophils). Patients may experience itching, swelling around the eyes and lips or swollen hands and/or feet. In some patients, HES may quickly progress to acute myelogenous leukemia.
Systemic Mastocytosis (SM) affects mast cells, which are found in skin, connective tissue and in the lining of the stomach and intestines. Mast cells serve as a sort of alarm system by signaling disease-fighting blood cells to target areas of the body where they're needed. They may also play a role in wound healing. SM is caused by too many mast cells accumulating in the body's tissues, which can eventually affect the spleen, bone marrow, liver or small intestine.
Some symptoms of MPD are common to all hematologic diseases like the ones listed below, while some MPD types have specific symptoms. Not everyone with MPD will experience symptoms, especially in early stages, or they may indicate other health problems.
Having one or more of the symptoms listed above does not necessarily mean you have MPD. However, it is important to discuss any symptoms with your doctor, since they may indicate other health problems.
MPD can strike at any age and have no known cause. There are no known lifestyle changes that one can make to lower the risk of developing MPD.
If MPD is suspected, blood tests will be ordered. The blood test results can validate the suspicion, but a bone marrow biopsy may be required to definitively confirm the diagnosis.
Treatments for MPD are generally used to control disease symptoms. Depending on the type of MPD and the symptoms experienced by patients, different medications may be used.
Most commonly used therapies for ET and PV are hydroxyurea, anagrelide and interferon-alpha. Aspirin is usually beneficial in ET and PV patients. Phlebotomy may be a mandatory measure in PV patients with high red blood cell count.
Patients with CIMF suffer from low blood counts and enlarged spleen. Patients with a low red cell count may receive a blood transfusion. Those with low platelets may benefit from platelet transfusion. Growth factors that stimulate growth of bone marrow cells, given as an injection under the skin, may benefit patients with low blood cell counts. Other medications, such as thalidomide, steroids and other hormones, cladribine and busulfan, may help treat some MPD. Radiation therapy or surgical removal of the spleen may also be useful in certain circumstances.
Cancer is a journey that no one needs to take alone. There are many forms of support to help you through every stage: diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. Whether you meet with other cancer survivors like yourself, use complementary therapies or individual coping mechanisms, help is available in many forms. Listed below are just some of the ways to find help...and hope.
Getting together with other cancer patients in a support group is a valuable coping tool. Support groups are usually focused on a single disease or topic, such as breast cancer survivors or people coping with life-changing side effects from their cancer or cancer therapy. These groups allow participants to meet others like themselves and seek strength from each other. Most major cities and cancer hospitals offer support groups that meet weekly or monthly. There are also dozens of online support web sites or message boards for those who may not have access to a traditional meeting.
Complementary therapies are used in conjunction with cancer treatment, in an effort to reduce treatment side effects, ease depression and anxiety and help cancer patients take their mind off the negative aspects of their situation. Complementary therapies may include mind-body exercises like yoga, tai chi and Qi gong; visualization or guided imagery; using art or music as therapy and self-expression and traditional Eastern medicine such as acupuncture.
Staying physically active as much as possible during cancer treatment has many positive benefits. Physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, a hormone that helps elevate mood, as well as decreasing feelings of fatigue.
Exercises for cancer patients can range from simple stretches done in the bed or chair, to more active pursuits such as walking or light gardening work. However, it’s important not to push yourself too hard. Check with your doctor before attempting any physical activity to make sure you are up to it.
Many people find it helpful to keep a journal of their cancer treatment experience. It may be as simple as recording symptoms and side effects into a notebook, or may include personal emotions and opinions about what they may be going through. Journals can be private, like a diary, or shared with loved ones and even strangers.
Increasingly, people are turning to the Internet to share their cancer journey with the world at large and to seek out others with similar experiences. Many cancer patients have begun their own web log, or “blog” to publicize their battle with cancer. Twitter, a mini-blogging technology that limits posts to 140 characters, has also proven to be a helpful tool for cancer patients to keep friends updated and reach out to others.