Aplastic Anemia

An aplastic anemia patient receives close-to-home care at Baptist Cancer Center

What is aplastic anemia?

Aplastic anemia, or bone marrow aplasia, forms when the body does not produce enough new blood cells. People with aplastic anemia experience a higher risk of infection and uncontrolled bleeding, and they often feel fatigued. Though rare, aplastic anemia may occur suddenly or develop slowly and worsen over time. 

While aplastic anemia is not technically a cancer, the therapies used to treat it are similar to cancer treatments for blood-forming cancers such as lymphomas and leukemias. According to the Aplastic Anemia and MDS International Foundation, 75 percent of aplastic anemia cases are idiopathic, or lacking a known cause.

What are the different types of aplastic anemia?

Aplastic anemia can be acquired (you develop the condition) or inherited (you are born with the condition).

  • Acquired aplastic anemia is common in adults. Possible causes for the condition include immune system triggers such as HIV, toxic chemicals, certain medications, and chemotherapy or radiation for cancer treatment.
  • Inherited aplastic anemia is most common in young adults and children. It is caused by gene defects and suggests a higher likelihood of leukemia and other cancers.

In addition to aplastic anemia, other common types of blood cancers include:

What are the symptoms of aplastic anemia?

Aplastic anemia may be short term or chronic. Symptoms of aplastic anemia can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Frequent or prolonged infections
  • Headache
  • Nosebleeds and bleeding gums
  • Pale skin
  • Prolonged bleeding from cuts
  • Rapid or irregular heart rate
  • Shortness of breath with exertion
  • Skin rash
  • Unexplained or easy bruising

Your doctor may suspect aplastic anemia if the quantity of three blood cell types is much lower than normal. If you experience these symptoms, your doctor may order a complete blood count test or perform a biopsy of your bone marrow to check for aplastic anemia.

What are the causes and risk factors of aplastic anemia?

In many people who have aplastic anemia, the cause is unknown. It develops when bone marrow is damaged and the production of new blood cells is reduced or halted. Bone marrow is a red, spongy material inside your bones that produces stem cells, which yield red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. In aplastic anemia, bone marrow is empty (aplastic) or contains very few blood cells (hypoplastic).

  • Risk factors for aplastic anemia may include:
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals
  • Pregnancy
  • Radiation and chemotherapy treatments
  • Viral infection
  • Use of certain drugs
  • Unknown factors

How is aplastic anemia diagnosed and treated?

If symptoms indicate that aplastic anemia may be a potential diagnosis, a doctor will perform a series of tests that may include a physical exam, blood test or a bone marrow biopsy. Further testing may be necessary to confirm an aplastic anemia diagnosis.

Aplastic anemia treatments for mild to serious cases include observation, medications, blood and platelet transfusions or therapy with immunosuppressive agents.

Severe aplastic anemia (SAA) can be life-threatening, and therefore requires hospitalization for treatment. For patients with SAA, an allogeneic stem cell transplant is recommended and requires blood stem cells or bone marrow from a suitable, healthy donor.

Aplastic Anemia Treatment at Baptist Cancer Center

Baptist Cancer Center collaborates closely with the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center to offer a comprehensive treatment program for blood cancer, including chemotherapy, inpatient and outpatient treatment centers, blood and stem cell collection centers, and an innovative stem cell transplant center.

Baptist Cancer Center's goals surrounding the treatment of blood cancers include:

  • Providing patient-focused, compassionate, advanced, team-based care through expert and dedicated providers
  • Delivering the highest quality care with the best possible outcomes
  • Participating and contributing to clinical research in the field of high-grade hematological malignancies and transplantation
  • Fulfilling community needs by providing leukemia and transplant services close to home
  • Providing alternative donor transplants to the large minority populations in the Mid-South

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