This is a rare disorder where there is a complete failure in the production of all types of blood cell. The lack of cells within the blood means they are replaced with fat cells. In most cases the disease is acquired (which means it has developed during the patient’s life).
Aplastic anaemia will occur as a consequence of the use of high dose cancer drugs and radiotherapy, but this differs from the acquired form as the cells recover once treatment stops. It is thought that the cause of most cases of aplastic anaemia is due to an auto-immune reaction. This happens when the body’s cells become confused and start to attack body tissues. This reaction has no clear cause in around 75% of cases. For other cases, certain drug treatments, chemicals, infections and diseases may cause damage to stem cells. There are approximately 125 cases diagnosed every year and, of this number, 30 cases are children.
Added March 2012
Aplastic anemia is a disorder in which the bone marrow fails to make enough blood cells. The bone marrow is the soft, inner part of bones where the 3 types of blood cells are made:
- Red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the tissues from the lungs
- White blood cells, which fight infection
- Platelets, which seal damaged blood vessels to prevent bleeding
These cells are made by blood-forming stem cells in the bone marrow. In aplastic anemia, the stem cells are damaged and there are very few of them. As a result, too few blood cells are produced. In most cases of aplastic anemia, all 3 types of blood cells are low (which is called pancytopenia). Rarely, just one of the cell lines, such as red cells, white cells, or platelets, is abnormal.
Aplastic anemia is not a type of cancer but may be associated with certain cancers (especially those affecting the bone marrow, such as leukemia) or cancer treatments. A small number of patients with aplastic anemia may develop leukaemia.
Aplastic anemia can be inherited or acquired. Acquired aplastic anemia is much more common than the inherited type.
Added April 2013