The Signs of Myelofibrosis
Although rare, myelofibrosis (MF) is a blood cancer that attacks bone marrow leaving scars, called fibrosis, in its wake. Ultimately, the disease impacts how many blood cells your body can create.
The blood is made up of important matter such as:
- White blood cells – Helps fight infection in the body.
- Red blood cells – Provides oxygen to organs and muscles which keep them operating properly.
- Platelets – Helps the blood to clot properly.
If blood cells are not being created, then your body’s immune system is compromised and makes it difficult for the body to repair itself or function correctly.
Because the condition usually develops slowly, it can be difficult to detect the signs of myelofibrosis. Some people live virtually symptom-free for years while others experience symptoms quickly and aggressively.
Most people are diagnosed around the age of 60, although younger people have also been diagnosed. However, in adolescents, girls are 50 percent more likely to be affected.
Sometimes MF shows up as a solitary illness while other times it accompanies other forms of cancer. While more research is required to understand MF, at this time it is known that those who suffer from the disease do so because of gene issues.
The genes cause the individual to create stem cells that don’t operate in the way that they should thus cause cells to get inflamed and develop scar tissue which later develops into cancer.
What to Look For
Because the medical world is still striving for answers about this elusive type of cancer, it can be difficult for individuals to detect signs and symptoms.
However, there are a few things to watch out for:
- Chronically tired and weak (usually due to anemia)
- Easily bruised
- Long-lasting bone pain
- Pain below the ribs (due to enlarged spleen)
- Night sweats
As you can see, the signs are vague and can be linked to many other health conditions. If you experience one or more symptoms, then you should seek guidance from your medical professional.
Keep in mind, the earliest stages of MF are essentially symptom-free. Regular physicals and being aware of risk factors may help for early detection.
Common Risk Factors
While there is no simple explanation for who is most likely to develop MF, there are some individuals who are in a higher risk category. Risk factors include:
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- Age – Older people are at increased risk.
- Exposure to radiation – Individuals who have been exposed to a significant amount of radiation are more likely to develop MF in their lifetime.
- Exposure to chemicals – MF diagnosis has been linked to regular exposure to certain industrial chemicals.
- Acquiring other blood disorders – Some MF sufferers have been diagnosed after contracting other blood disorders.
Don’t Ignore the Signs
If you suspect that you may have MF, do not ignore the signs. Complications from MF can be devastating and even life-threatening. Such complications include:
- Hardening of the bone marrow – This leads to acute pain and discomfort.
- Easy bleeding—as the disease progresses the platelet count may drop making it simpler to bleed. This can complicate your ability to undergo necessary surgeries.
- Tumor development – As blood cells develop outside the bone marrow, it can cause tumors. The tumors may lead to other complications such as seizures or compression of your spinal cord.
- Enlarged spleen – Increased pressure on the blood entering the spleen can lead to enlargement and vein rupture.
- Acute leukemia – Some people with MF may later develop leukemia that develops much more rapidly.
As mentioned, MF is not easy to detect or diagnose. However, there are a few options you should consider if you suspect you may be in a higher risk category. Diagnosis options include:
- Physical exam – Because MF impacts your spleen, liver, and joints a doctor may be able to detect early warning signs that warrant ongoing testing. Regular physical exams are important for staying healthy and identifying issues early on.
- Blood tests – MF directly impacts the blood count so blood work can certainly tell a lot about potential problems. White blood cells, platelets, and red blood cells are usually low if you suffer from MF.
- Ultrasound/Imaging – As MF progresses imaging may be able to offer insight into how advanced the disease is and what other areas of the body are also being impacted.
- Genetic testing – A blood sample will also indicate any mutations in your genetic makeup that may indicate MF. Keep in mind that your parents don’t pass along the trait nor can you pass along the trait to your children.
As the medical world researches and learns more about this rare disease, it is important for individuals to be diligent in early diagnosis.
Work with your medical provider to rule out MF if you do suffer from any of the early warning signs and ask your doctor for more information if you suspect you may be in a higher risk category.