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mast cell sarcoma

The MastAttack 107: The Layperson’s Guide to Understanding Mast Cell Diseases, Part 37

44. What is a myeloproliferative neoplasm? Is that what mast cell disease is?

First, let’s pull this term apart.

“Myelo” means marrow, like bone marrow. In this context, it refers to a specific group of blood cells that are made in the bone marrow. These cells are called myeloid or myelogenous cells. These cells all start as one kind of cell called a myeloid progenitor cell. Mast cells and eosinophils are myeloid cells. There are other myeloid cells, too.

“Proliferative” means making lots of cells quickly. In this case, it means making many cells too quickly. When too many cells are made too quickly, the cells are often not made correctly so they don’t work right.

“Myeloproliferative” means making too many myeloid cells very quickly, producing cells that often don’t work right.

“Neo” means new.

“Plasm” means the substance that makes up something living, like what makes up a cell or a tissue. “Plasm” is part of many words used in biology.

“Neoplasm” means the body growing new things, things that don’t belong there. For example, cancers are neoplasms. (Although not all neoplasms are cancers).

Myeloproliferative neoplasm means your body making too many myeloid cells that don’t work correctly.

Speaking generally, any condition where the body makes too many of these myeloid cells when they shouldn’t is a myeloproliferative neoplasm. This means all form of mastocytosis and mast cell tumors (mast cell sarcoma and mastocytoma) are myeloproliferative neoplasms.

However, when people ask if mast cell diseases are myeloproliferative neoplasms, they are usually asking about the WHO (World Health Organization) classification of mast cell disease, which is a little different.

The WHO puts out an exhaustive list of diseases for reference. They group similar diseases together under one category. This list is also revised periodically as new data becomes available or experts request it.

Under the 2008 WHO guidelines, mast cell diseases were classified as myeloproliferative neoplasms along with several other diseases. The other diseases also included in this category make too many myeloid cells too quickly, like essential thrombocythemia, in which the body makes too many platelets.

The mast cell diseases classified as myeloproliferative neoplasms were cutaneous mastocytosis: maculopapular cutaneous mastocytosis (MPCM), diffuse cutaneous mastocytosis (DCM), and solitary mastocytoma of the skin; systemic mastocytosis: indolent systemic mastocytosis (ISM), systemic mastocytosis with associated hematologic disease (SM-AHD), aggressive systemic mastocytosis (ASM), and mast cell leukemia (MCL); and mast cell sarcoma. Smoldering systemic mastocytosis (SSM) was mentioned as a provisional category rather than a formal category, meaning that the WHO did not agree that this diagnosis was different enough from ISM to warrant its own category. Neither monoclonal mast cell activation syndrome (MMAS) or mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) were classified anywhere in the 2008 WHO Guidelines as they were not yet recognized by the WHO as diseases.

Last year, the WHO revised the classification of myeloproliferative neoplasms. It removed all forms of mast cell disease from the myeloproliferative neoplasm category and made a different category for mast cell diseases. This was done because the WHO recognized that mast cell diseases differed from the other myeloproliferative neoplasms in specific ways. They also recognized that mast cell activation syndrome has a ton in common with other mast cell diseases even though it’s not a neoplastic disease. (Mast cell activation syndrome is not from the body making too many mast cells).

So all mast cell diseases were put together. In the new category, the following mast cell diseases were included: cutaneous mastocytosis: maculopapular cutaneous mastocytosis (MPCM), diffuse cutaneous mastocytosis (DCM), and solitary mastocytoma of the skin; systemic mastocytosis: indolent systemic mastocytosis (ISM), systemic mastocytosis with associated clonal hematologic non-mast cell lineage disease (SM-AHNMD), aggressive systemic mastocytosis (ASM), and mast cell leukemia (MCL); mast cell sarcoma; monoclonal mast cell activation syndrome (MMAS); and mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS).

The Provider Primer Series: Natural history of SM-AHD, MCL and MCS

Natural history of systemic mastocytosis with associated hematologic disease (SM-AHD):

  • SM-AHD is defined by systemic mastocytosis in the presence of another clonal hematologic disease. SM-AHD is thought to comprise 30-40% of all mastocytosis cases[i].
  • In about 90% of cases, the associated blood disorder is a myeloid neoplasm such as myelodysplastic syndrome, myeloid leukemias, or myeloproliferative diseases such as polycythemia vera or essential thrombocythemia[i] . Janus kinase 2 (JAK2) V617F mutation, which has a known association with myeloproliferative neoplastic conditions such as essential thrombocythemia and polycythemia vera, is sometimes present in SM-AHD patients[vii].
  • In this condition, SM and the other blood disorder are treated as separate entities as if they did not co-occur[i]. The conditions are synchronous and the associated hematologic disease does not occur secondarily to SM or treatment thereof. Prognosis in SM-AHD depends almost exclusively upon the associated hematologic concern. In multiple studies, fatalities are reported as result of associated malignancies[ii].
  • Myeloid neoplasms are the most common AHD, including chronic myelomonocytic leukemia or other leukemias, myelodysplastic syndrome, or myeloproliferative diseases[i].
  • In a 138 patient cohort: about 1/3 demonstrated Hgb <100 g/L and platelets<100×109/L; 51% had elevated white cell count; 31% demonstrated frank eosinophilia <1.5×109/L[vii].
  • SM-AHD patients are at increased risk of leukemic transformation relative to other forms of systemic mastocytosis (excluding mast cell leukemia) with a frequency of 14% in a 138 patient cohort[vii].
  • The SM aspect of SM-AHD is diagnosed and staged according to the SM diagnostic algorithm. It is therefore possible for a patient with SM-AHD to have mast cell leukemia or any other subtype of SM[vii].

Natural history of mast cell leukemia (MCL):

Table 1: Diagnostic criteria for mast cell leukemia[iii] 
Meets criteria for systemic mastocytosis Mast cells compromise 20% of all nucleated cells in blood smears


Table 2: C findings present in acute MCL[iii] 


C findings One or more cytopenias (absolute neutrophil count <1000/µl; Hemoglobin <10g/dl; platelets <100000/µl) Hepatomegaly with ascites, elevated liver enzymes with or without portal hypertension Splenomegaly with hypersplenism Malabsorption evidenced by low albumin and weight loss Large osteolysis and/or severe osteoporosis and pathologic fractures (2 or more fractures as direct result of mast cell activity)


  • Mast cell leukemia is defined by SM where ≥20% nucleated cells in marrow are mast cells. In leukemic variant, >10% of nucleated cells in blood are mast cells; in aleukemic variant, there are <10% mast cells[iii].
  • MCL can occur de novo or from a previous mast cell neoplastic condition such as aggressive systemic mastocytosis or mast cell sarcoma[iii].
  • CKIT D816V mutation is less common in MCL than in other forms of systemic mastocytosis (50-80%). Some patients have mutations elsewhere in the coding regions of CKIT or a non-D816V mutation at CKIT codon 816. An unusual feature of MCL is that when the disease progresses quickly, the patient may lose positivity for the D816V mutation[iv].
  • MCL patients do not typically demonstrate mastocytosis in the skin[iii].
  • In the absence of C findings, some MCL patients have stable disease without markers of progression. This is referred to as chronic MCL[iii] .
  • >90% mature mast cells is a positive prognostic indicator. Presence of mostly immature mast cells is associated with more aggressive disease[iii] .
  • Acute MCL rapidly causes catastrophic organ damage. Median survival in acute cases is six months, though some MCL patients live for years through the use of newer targeted therapies[iv].
  • Hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) is an experimental option for MCL patients. In one study, overall survival at the three year mark was 17% (2 of 12 patients)[viii].

Natural history of mast cell sarcoma:

  • Mast cell sarcoma is an exceedingly rare tumor with high grade cytology that can present in a variety of tissues[v].
  • Mast cells that comprise the tumor resemble neither morphologically normal mast cells or spindled cells often seen in SM. In mast cell sarcoma, mast cells are often bilobed and multinucleated tumor cells have been reported. Of note, mast cells compromising the sarcoma often express CD30[iv].
  • Mast cell sarcomas often have neither CKIT D816V mutation nor mutations elsewhere in CKIT coding regions[vi].
  • Mast cell sarcomas often induce only local symptoms at the time of diagnosis but systemic involvement rapidly follows. Mast cell sarcoma may progress to mast cell leukemia. Median survival is 12 months[vi].


[i] Gotlib J. (2013). Approach to the diagnosis and management of mastocytosis. The Hematologist, 10(1). Retrieved from:

[ii] Wang SA. (2013). Systemic mastocytosis with associated clonal hematologic non-mast cell lineage disease (SM-AHNMD): clinical significance and comparison of chromosomal abnormalities in SM and AHNMD components. Am J Hematol, 88(3), 219-224.

[iii] Valent P, et al. (2014). Refined diagnostic criteria and classification of mast cell leukemia (MCL) and myelomastocytic leukemia (MML): a consensus proposal. Ann Oncol, 25(9), 1691-1700.

[iv] Youk J. (2016). A scientific treatment approach for acute mast cell leukemia: using a strategy based on next-generation sequencing data. Blood Res, 51(1), 17-22.

[v] Ryan RJH, et al. (2013). Mast cell sarcoma: a rare and potentially underreecognized diagnostic eneity with specific therapeutic implications. Modern Pathology, 26, 533-543.

[vi] Georgin-Lavialle S, et al. (2013). Mast cell sarcoma: a rare and aggressive entity – report of two cases and review of the literature. JCO, 31(6), e50-e57.

[vii] Lim KH, et al. (2009). Systemic mastocytosis in 342 consecutive adults: survival studies and prognostic factors. Blood, 113(23), 5727-5736.

[viii] Ustun C, et al. (2014). Hematopoietic stem-cell transplantation for advanced systemic mastocytosis. J Clin Oncol, 32(29), 3264-3274.