Related blood disorders
The Leukaemia Foundation supports patients and families living with:
- Myelodysplastic syndromes;
- Myeloproliferative disorders;
- Waldenstroms macroglobinaemia;
- Amyloidosis; and
- Aplastic anaemia.
Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are a group of diseases that affect normal blood cell production in the bone marrow. In MDS, the bone marrow produces too few red cells, white cells and platelets, and an excess of immature blood cells known as blast cells.
There are several different types of MDS and the disease can vary in its severity, and the extent to which blood cell production is disrupted. In mild cases, people may be anaemic, or have few symptoms of their disease. In more severe cases, a shortage of circulating blood cells can cause severe anaemia, increased susceptibility to infection, and bruising and/or bleeding more easily. In up to 30 per cent of cases, MDS can progress to a type of leukaemia and for this reason it is sometimes called a pre-leukaemic disease.
While MDS can occur at any age, the majority of cases (over 90 per cent) develop over the age of 60 years. Supportive care is the mainstay of treatment for the majority of people with MDS. Chemotherapy and occasionally a stem cell transplant is used in selected cases.
Chronic myeloproliferative disorders (MPD) are a group of diseases that affect normal blood cell production in the bone marrow. In this case the bone marrow causes an overproduction of one or more blood cell types (red cells, white cells or platelets). Complications arise over time due to the abnormally high number of blood cells that accumulate in the bone marrow and in the circulating blood.
There are six different types of MPD. They are generally distinguished from each other by the type of cell which is most affected. These are:
- Polycythemia vera – an overproduction of red blood cells
- Essential thrombocythemia – overproduction of platelets
- Chronic myelomonocytic leukaemia (CMML) – overproduction of white cells (granulocytes)
- Chronic neutrophilic leukaemia – overproduction of neutrophils (a type of white cell)
- Chronic eosinophilic leukaemia - overproduction of eosinophils (a type of white cell)
- Idiopathic myelofibrosis – a condition in which bone marrow tissue is gradually replaced by fibrous scar-like tissue, disrupting normal blood cell production.
In many cases these diseases develop slowly and get worse gradually. In some cases chronic myeloproliferative disorders can progress to leukaemia.
Treatment depends on the type of MPD a person has, its severity, and their age and general health. Treatment is generally aimed at reducing excessive number of blood cells in circulation, and at preventing and treating the symptoms and complications of the disease.
Waldenstroms macroglobinaemia (WM) is a rare, chronic (slow-growing) B-cell lymphoma. In WM, abnormal plasma cells produce excess amounts of a particular antibody (or immunoglobulin) called IgM. Overtime IgM builds up in the blood, causing it to become thicker. This can sometimes slow down the rate of blood flow, especially in smaller blood vessels, and affect the blood supply to various tissues around the body. Treatment of WM depends on its severity and may involve chemotherapy and a process known as plasmapheresis which removes excess IgM from the blood.
Amyloidosis is the name given to a group of conditions in which an abnormal protein called amyloid builds up in the blood and becomes deposited in different organs and tissues. Amyloid can be produced by abnormal plasma cells (myeloma cells) and deposited anywhere in the body. This is known as primary amyloidosis. The most common organs affected by primary amyloidosis are the heart, kidneys, nervous system and the gut. This condition may be treated with chemotherapy, and occasionally a stem cell transplant.
Amyloidosis can be primary (AL amyloidosis) or occasionally secondary to another condition.
Aplastic anaemia is a rare disorder in which the bone marrow fails to produce enough blood cells. This happens because the normal blood forming cells (stem cells) are replaced by abnormal fat cells.
Although aplastic anaemia is not a malignant disease (cancer) it can be very serious, especially if the bone marrow is severely affected and there are very few blood cells left in circulation. Without adequate numbers of blood cells people with aplastic anaemia can become anaemic and more susceptible to infections, and to bleeding and bruising more easily.
The treatment for aplastic anaemia depends on several factors including the cause of the disease, its severity and the person's age. It may include immunosuppresive therapy (drugs that suppress the function of the immune system). In some cases a donor (allogeneic) stem cell transplant may be recommended as a curative option for younger people.
Blood transfusions are often required to replace circulating blood cells while antibiotics may be used to treat infections.
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