Diagnosing MPNs and the Benefits of a Subspecialty Center

Diagnosing MPNs

Myeloproliferative Neoplasms (MPNs) can present with a wide range of symptoms depending on the subtype. Some patients report experiencing physical symptoms, and some do not. Symptoms are often vague and are sometimes noticed even before receiving an MPN diagnosis.

Among the most common symptoms are fatigue, abdominal discomfort, feeling full even after eating small portions of food, leg aches, difficulty concentrating, headaches, loss of appetite, bleeding, night sweats, shortness of breath, and itching or skin burning.

These symptoms can be vague and not always specifically linked to MPNs. Because these symptoms are also found in other conditions, MPNs cannot be  diagnosed without specific testing which can lead to frustration, and at times, delays in diagnosis.

Because MPNs are disorders of the blood-forming cells, diagnosing them correctly involves getting a detailed analysis of the blood and the bone marrow where blood cells are made. Evaluating blood cell counts and the proportion of cells in the blood relative to one another is an important step in ensuring a proper diagnosis. 

Whether you suspect you have an MPN or you have unusual symptoms that are outside of how you normally feel, communicating with your doctor and determining if you need bloodwork done is a helpful next step. Not only can this blood testing suggest the presence of an MPN but it can also help to rule out other conditions. It’s important to note that some physical symptoms of MPNs are common and most people experiencing some of these symptoms do not have an MPN.

Visiting a Subspecialty Center

In the case that blood test results show abnormal numbers of red blood cells, white blood cells, and/or platelets, this can indicate the presence of an MPN and transitioning your care to a specialized center that has a niche subset of hematologic expertise caring for people with MPNs can be beneficial. But it is important to note that abnormalities in blood counts alone are not enough to make a diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is made it is important that the specific type of MPN is identified. There are a number of different forms of MPNs and receiving specialty care at a dedicated treatment center like the Weill Cornell Medicine Silver Myeloproliferative Neoplasm (MPN) Center can help patients properly determine the specifics of their MPN, as well as provide access to a wide range of available treatments.   

“Making an accurate diagnosis of an MPN early on is very important to determine prognosis and identify the most appropriate treatment plan,” said Dr. Ghaith Abu-Zeinah, a hematologist and oncologist specializing in MPNs at the Weill Cornell Medicine Silver MPN Center. “The diagnosis is made according to criteria set by the World Health Organization, but also relies heavily on expertise.”

Approximately 20,000 people are diagnosed with a myeloproliferative neoplasm each year and there are around 295,000 people living with an MPN in the United States. The experts at a subspecialty center that routinely treats MPN patients and participates in cutting-edge research are knowledgeable in all the nuances that come with myeloproliferative neoplasms that others at non-specialized centers may not be.

Recent research demonstrated that patients with polycythemia vera (PV) treated at Weill Cornell Medicine have significantly better survival than the national average, showing the benefits of being treated at a specialized center. Our center is also dedicated to continued research initiatives that aim to advance the field and ultimately develop cures for MPNs.

“MPNs are rare but complex diseases,” said Dr. Joseph Scandura, Scientific Director of the Weill Cornell Medicine Silver MPN Center. “Treatment at a center specializing in the care of patients with MPNs ensures that not only the primary treating physician has a wealth of experience but also, that ancillary services and consultants – such as cardiology and dermatology – also have significant experience with these uncommon blood cancers.”

Being diagnosed with any kind of cancer or blood disorder can feel scary, but some MPNs are  associated with normal or near-normal life expectancy when they are appropriately diagnosed and treated.

“While MPNs are chronic cancers of the bone marrow that cause health complications, there are effective available treatments,” said Dr. Abu-Zeinah. “Close follow-up of patients and treatment is very important to achieve the best outcomes long-term – and this is emphasized at the Silver MPN Center.”

Learn more about visiting the Silver MPN Center and make an appointment here.

Richard T. Silver MD Myeloproliferative Neoplasms Center 525 East 70th St., Starr Pavillion, 3rd Floor New York, NY 10021 SilverMPNCenter@med.cornell.edu