Bone marrow is the soft, spongy tissue in the inner part of large bones, such as the hip and thigh bones, where blood cells are produced. The cells are then released into the bloodstream. Red blood cells carry oxygen; white blood cells fight infection in the body; and platelets allow the blood to clot. Bone marrow sometimes malfunctions due to a number of reasons, including overproduction or underproduction of blood cells, production of abnormal blood cells or initial defects in the stem cells. When this happens, it can result in such bone marrow disease as polycythemia vera, leukemia or lymphoma. Aplastic anemia and multiple myeloma are also diseases related to bone marrow malfunction. Common symptoms of bone marrow disease include infection, anemia, fevers and weight loss.
Polycythemia vera (PV) is a type of bone marrow disease in which the bone marrow makes excessive amounts of red blood cells, making the blood extremely thick. This condition is associated with an increased risk of heart attack, blood clots and stroke. PV can often be treated with phlebotomy treatment, which normally removes one pint of blood per week to thin the blood. Certain medications, such as hydroxyurea and interferon-alpha, can also be used to help prevent the bone marrow from making excessive red blood cells. In some cases, radiation is used to stop the bone marrow from making too many red blood cells.
Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the white blood cells, which causes them to continuously multiply and mature to the point that they crowd out the normal cells. Leukemia can either be acute or chronic — acute lymphocytic leukemia primarily affects children while acute myeloid leukemia affects mostly adults. Many types of leukemia can be treated, and some can be cured. Some treatments include bone marrow transplant, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and stem cell transplant. Treatments also may include antibiotics, blood transfusions and surgery.
The lymph nodes and the immune system can also be affected by a bone marrow disease called lymphoma, which is a cancer involving cells called lymphocytes. The exact cause of this bone marrow disease is not known, but there are several risk factors involved. Some of them are infections, autoimmune disease, age and family history. Treatment options for lymphoma may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and biological therapy.
Aplastic anemia is a bone marrow disease that hinders or completely stops the production of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. More often, though, red blood cells are most affected by this disease. Aplastic anemia is often caused by exposure to radiation or to toxins, such as those used in pesticides and insecticides. Some medications, such as those used to treat arthritis, can also be a causal factor, as can viruses that attack bone marrow, such as hepatitis and HIV. In aplastic anemia the stem cells, the precursors of the other three blood cells, do not replicate normally. Therefore, the bone marrow produces a very decreased amount of healthy blood cells. Treatment for aplastic anemia can include bone marrow transplant, bone marrow transfusion, and oxygen therapy.
A bone marrow cancer called multiple myeloma can occur when plasma cells are overgrown, causing tumors. These cells accumulate and circulate through the blood, eventually overwhelming the production of healthy cells in other parts of the body. The renegade cells of this bone marrow disease then interfere with the immune system’s ability to fight infection. Causes of the condition are unknown, but it tends to be more common in the elderly and black populations. This type of cancer is difficult to cure and doctors often focus on treating the symptoms to keep patients comfortable. Some treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, bone marrow transplant, medication and surgery.