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Myeloproliferative neoplasms

Myeloproliferative neoplasms are a group of rare disorders of the bone marrow that cause an increase in the number of blood cells. You may also hear doctors call them MPN or myeloproliferative disorders (MPD).

Most people who develop myeloproliferative neoplasms are over 60.

Are myeloproliferative neoplasms cancer?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) classes all myeloproliferative neoplasms as blood cancers. This is because the bone marrow is producing blood cells in an uncontrolled way. But many people with myeloproliferative neoplasms feel well and only need gentle treatment. The disorders often develop slowly and progress slowly. Or they can remain stable for a while.

Symptoms

Many people with myeloproliferative neoplasms do not have any symptoms. You might be diagnosed after a routine blood test.

If you do have symptoms, they might include:

  • frequent headaches
  • tiredness (fatigue)
  • bruising or unusual bleeding
  • problems with your eyes - such as blurred vision
  • ringing in your ears
  • getting more infections than usual

If you do spot something unusual for you, tell your doctor. In most cases it won’t be cancer, but if it is, finding it early can make a real difference.

Diagnosing

Doctors use blood tests to diagnose myeloproliferative neoplasms. The blood tests show the number of blood cells and can look for genetic mutations Open a glossary iteminside the blood cells.

You might also have some other tests. These might include:

  • a bone marrow test
  • an ultrasound of your tummy (abdomen)

Other tests depend on your symptoms and your general health.

You can find out more about these tests on our tests and scans page.

Types of myeloproliferative disorders

Different myeloproliferative disorders affect different blood cells that form in the bone marrow. The bone marrow is the soft inner part of our bones that makes the blood cells.

All blood cells start from the same type of cell called a stem cell. The stem cell makes immature blood cells. These immature cells go through various stages of development before they become fully developed blood cells and are released into the blood as:

  • red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body
  • white blood cells to fight infection
  • platelets to help the blood clot

The diagram shows how the various different types of cells develop from a single blood stem cell.

Diagram showing how blood cells are made

Which type of myeloproliferative disorder you have relates to:

  • the type of blood cells affected
  • the number of blood cells in your bloodstream
  • your symptoms

There are a number of different types of myeloproliferative disorders. We have separate information on these types:

The following types are rarer:

  • chronic neutrophilic leukaemia (CNL) - a rare type of blood cancer affecting neutrophils, a type of white blood cell which help us fight bacterial and viral infections
  • chronic eosinophilic leukaemia not otherwise specified (NOS) - this affects the eosinophils, a white blood cell which is involved in allergic reactions and used to fight parasites

There are also very rare myeloproliferative neoplasms that do not fall into any of the groups above. The World Health Organisation group together as 'MPN which is not classified'.

Treatment

The treatment you have depends on your type of myeloproliferative neoplasm.

The aim of treatment is usually to control symptoms rather than cure the condition. Treatments might include:

  • venesection - this is a simple procedure for people with a high red blood cell count. You will have around a pint of blood removed, which will reduce the number of red cells in your blood
  • drugs to control the blood count - these might include weak forms of chemotherapy or drugs that target the immune system
  • bone marrow or stem cell transplant Open a glossary item from a donor - this treatment aims to cure a myeloproliferative neoplasm

We have more information on treatment for myelofibrosis, polycythaemia vera (PV) and essential thrombocythaemia (ET) on our other conditions main page.

You can find out more about CML treatment in our CML treatment section.

Your specialist team will talk to you about your treatment options. They are there to answer any questions you might have.

Healthy lifestyle

Your healthcare team might discuss ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle and help with stopping smoking if you need it.

We have information on healthy diet and lifestyle on our causes of cancer and reducing your risk pages.

Support

For support and information on myeloproliferative neoplasms you can call the Cancer Research UK Nurses on 0808 800 4040, lines are open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm.
Last reviewed: 
18 May 2020
Next review due: 
18 May 2023
  • The 2016 revision to the World Health Organization classification of myeloid neoplasms and acute leukemia

    D A Arber and others

    Blood, 2016. Volume 127, Issue 20

  • The impact of myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) on patient quality of life and productivity: results from the international MPN Landmark survey

    CN Harrison and others

    Annals of Hematology, 2017. Volume 96

  • Pan-London Haemato-Oncology Clinical Guidelines, Acute Leukaemias and Myeloid Neoplasms Part 4: Myeloproliferative Neoplasms

    RM Partners, South East London Cancer Alliance, North Central and East London Cancer Alliance, 2020

  • Myeloproliferative neoplasms in the young: Mayo Clinic experience with 361 patients age 40 years or younger

    N Szuber and others

    American Journal of Hematology, 2018. Volume 93, Issue 12

  • Myelofibrosis: Clinicopathologic Features, Prognosis, and Management

    JM O Sullivan and CN Harrison

    Clinical Advances in Hematology & Oncology, 2018. Volume 16, Issue 2

  • Genetics of the myeloproliferative neoplasms

    O Abdel-Wahab

    Current Opinion in Hematology, 2011. Volume 18, Issue 2

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. If you need additional references for this information please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular issue you are interested in.

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