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Myelodysplastic/ Myeloproliferative Neoplasms Treatment (PDQ®)

General Information About Myelodysplastic/ Myeloproliferative Neoplasms

Myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasms are a group of diseases in which the bone marrow makes too many white blood cells.

Myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasms are diseases of the blood and bone marrow.

Anatomy of the bone; drawing shows spongy bone, red marrow, and yellow marrow. A cross section of the bone shows compact bone and blood vessels in the bone marrow. Also shown are red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and a blood stem cell.

Anatomy of the bone. The bone is made up of compact bone, spongy bone, and bone marrow. Compact bone makes up the outer layer of the bone. Spongy bone is found mostly at the ends of bones and contains red marrow. Bone marrow is found in the center of most bones and has many blood vessels. There are two types of bone marrow: red and yellow. Red marrow contains blood stem cells that can become red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. Yellow marrow is made mostly of fat.

Normally, the bone marrow makes blood stem cells (immature cells) that become mature blood cells over time. A blood stem cell may become a myeloid stem cell or a lymphoid stem cell. A lymphoid stem cell becomes a white blood cell. A myeloid stem cell becomes one of three types of mature blood cells:

Blood cell development; drawing shows the steps a blood stem cell goes through to become a red blood cell, platelet, or white blood cell.  Drawing shows a myeloid stem cell becoming a red blood cell, platelet, or myeloblast, which then becomes a white blood cell. Drawing also shows a lymphoid stem cell becoming a lymphoblast and then one of several different types of white blood cells.

Blood cell development. A blood stem cell goes through several steps to become a red blood cell, platelet, or white blood cell.

Myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasms have features of both myelodysplastic syndromes and myeloproliferative neoplasms.

In myelodysplastic diseases, the blood stem cells do not mature into healthy red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. The immature blood cells, called blasts, do not work the way they should and die in the bone marrow or soon after they enter the blood. As a result, there are fewer healthy red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

In myeloproliferative diseases, a greater than normal number of blood stem cells become one or more types of blood cells and the total number of blood cells slowly increases.

This summary is about neoplasms that have features of both myelodysplastic and myeloproliferative diseases. See the following PDQ summaries for more information about related diseases:

There are different types of myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasms.

The 3 main types of myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasms include the following:

When a myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasm does not match any of these types, it is called myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasm, unclassifiable (MDS/MPN-UC).

Myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasms may progress to acute leukemia.

Tests that examine the blood and bone marrow are used to detect (find) and diagnose myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasms.

The following tests and procedures may be used:

  • Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease such as an enlarged spleen and liver. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • Complete blood count (CBC) with differential: A procedure in which a sample of blood is drawn and checked for the following:
    • The number of red blood cells and platelets.
    • The number and type of white blood cells.
    • The amount of hemoglobin (the protein that carries oxygen) in the red blood cells.
    • The portion of the sample made up of red blood cells.
    Complete blood count (CBC); left panel shows blood being drawn from a vein on the inside of the elbow using a tube attached to a syringe; right panel shows a laboratory test tube with blood cells separated into layers: plasma, white blood cells, platelets, and red blood cells.

    Complete blood count (CBC). Blood is collected by inserting a needle into a vein and allowing the blood to flow into a tube. The blood sample is sent to the laboratory and the red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets are counted. The CBC is used to test for, diagnose, and monitor many different conditions.

  • Peripheral blood smear: A procedure in which a sample of blood is checked for blast cells, the number and kinds of white blood cells, the number of platelets, and changes in the shape of blood cells.
  • Blood chemistry studies: A procedure in which a blood sample is checked to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by organs and tissues in the body. An unusual (higher or lower than normal) amount of a substance can be a sign of disease in the organ or tissue that produces it.
  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy: The removal of a small piece of bone and bone marrow by inserting a needle into the hipbone or breastbone. A pathologist views both the bone and bone marrow samples under a microscope to look for abnormal cells.
    Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy; drawing shows a patient lying face down on a table and a Jamshidi needle (a long, hollow needle) being inserted into the hip bone. Inset shows the Jamshidi needle being inserted through the skin into the bone marrow of the hip bone.

    Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy. After a small area of skin is numbed, a Jamshidi needle (a long, hollow needle) is inserted into the patient’s hip bone. Samples of blood, bone, and bone marrow are removed for examination under a microscope.

    The following tests may be done on the sample of tissue that is removed:

    • Cytogenetic analysis: A test in which cells in a sample of blood or bone marrow are viewed under a microscope to look for certain changes in the chromosomes. The cancer cells in myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasms do not contain the Philadelphia chromosome that is present in chronic myelogenous leukemia.
    • Immunocytochemistry: A test that uses antibodies to check for certain antigens in a sample of bone marrow. The antibody is usually linked to a radioactive substance or a dye that causes the cells in the sample to light up under a microscope. This type of test is used to tell the difference between myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasms, leukemia, and other conditions.

Date last modified: 2014-06-17

Stages of Myelodysplastic/ Myeloproliferative Neoplasms

There is no standard staging system for myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasms.

Staging is the process used to find out how far the cancer has spread. There is no standard staging system for myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasms. Treatment is based on the type of myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasm the patient has. It is important to know the type in order to plan treatment.

Date last modified: 2014-06-17

Treatment Option Overview

There are different types of treatment for patients with myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasms.

Different types of treatments are available for patients with myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasms. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

Five types of standard treatment are used:

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. Combination chemotherapy is treatment using more than one anticancer drug.

See Drugs Approved for Myeloproliferative Neoplasms for more information.

Other drug therapy

13-cis retinoic acid is a vitamin-like drug that slows the cancer's ability to make more cancer cells and changes the way these cells look and act.

Stem cell transplant

Stem cell transplant is a method of replacing blood-forming cells that are destroyed by chemotherapy. Stem cells (immature blood cells) are removed from the blood or bone marrow of the patient or a donor and are frozen and stored. After the chemotherapy is completed, the stored stem cells are thawed and given back to the patient through an infusion. These reinfused stem cells grow into (and restore) the body's blood cells.

Stem Cell Transplant
Drawing of stem cells being removed from a patient or donor. Blood is collected from a vein in the arm and flows through a machine that removes the stem cells; the remaining blood is returned to a vein in the other arm.
Drawing of a health care provider giving a patient treatment to kill blood-forming cells. Chemotherapy is given to the patient through a catheter in the chest.
Drawing of stem cells being given to the patient through a catheter in the chest.
Stem cell transplant (Step 1). Blood is taken from a vein in the arm of the donor. The patient or another person may be the donor. The blood flows through a machine that removes the stem cells. Then the blood is returned to the donor through a vein in the other arm.
Stem cell transplant (Step 2). The patient receives chemotherapy to kill blood-forming cells. The patient may receive radiation therapy (not shown).
Stem cell transplant (Step 3). The patient receives stem cells through a catheter placed into a blood vessel in the chest.

Supportive care

Supportive care is given to lessen the problems caused by the disease or its treatment. Supportive care may include transfusion therapy or drug therapy, such as antibiotics to fight infection.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs or other substances to attack cancer cells without harming normal cells. Targeted therapy drugs called tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) are used to treat myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasm, unclassifiable. TKIs block the enzyme, tyrosine kinase, that causes stem cells to become more blood cells (blasts) than the body needs. Imatinib mesylate (Gleevec) is a TKI that may be used. Other targeted therapy drugs are being studied in the treatment of JMML.

See Drugs Approved for Myeloproliferative Neoplasms for more information.

New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.

Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.

For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.

Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.

Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.

Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.

Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.

Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's listing of clinical trials.

Follow-up tests may be needed.

Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests. This is sometimes called re-staging.

Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.

Treatment Options for Myelodysplastic/ Myeloproliferative Neoplasms

Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukemia

Treatment of chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML) may include the following:

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with chronic myelomonocytic leukemia. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia

Treatment of juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JMML) may include the following:

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Atypical Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia

Treatment of atypical chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) may include chemotherapy.

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with atypical chronic myeloid leukemia, BCR-ABL1 negative. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Myelodysplastic/ Myeloproliferative Neoplasm, Unclassifiable

Because myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasm, unclassifiable (MDS/MPN-UC) is a rare disease, little is known about its treatment. Treatment may include the following:

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasm, unclassifiable. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Date last modified: 2014-06-17

To Learn More About Myelodysplastic/ Myeloproliferative Neoplasms

For more information from the National Cancer Institute about myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasms, see the following:

For general cancer information and other resources from the National Cancer Institute, see the following:

Changes to This Summary (06/17/2014)

The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.

Editorial changes were made and images were added to this summary.

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Date last modified: 2014-06-17

Last updated: 2014-06-25

Source: The National Cancer Institute's Physician Data Query (PDQ®) Cancer Information Summaries (http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq)