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A Bone Marrow Disease With a Brighter Prognosis
Date:3/23/2008

New drugs, transplantation helping people with aplastic anemia live longer, fuller lives

SUNDAY, March 23 (HealthDay News) -- Blood is life. And the rare disease known as aplastic anemia robs the body of life by robbing the body of blood.

The aplastic anemia patient's blood thins as the bone marrow slows its production of blood cells. The results can range from chronic fatigue to heart disease or from endless infections to cuts that won't clot, depending on the type of blood cells that are lacking.

But there's hope: Considered fatal as recently as two decades ago, aplastic anemia is becoming a far more manageable disease. Advances in drug therapies and improvements in the field of transplantation have slashed the death toll, allowing patients to live longer, fuller lives.

"We are getting better at treating aplastic anemia, either in getting rid of it or treating its symptoms," said Dr. Jaroslaw P. Maciejewski, with the Cleveland Clinic's Department of Hematologic Oncology and Blood Disorders.

And those advances are helping doctors gain greater insights into other, more prevalent, health conditions, such as heart disease and leukemia.

An estimated 50,000 people develop aplastic anemia in the United States each year, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. (A related blood disorder, myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS, occurs when the bone marrow begins to produce poorly functioning or immature blood cells. About 20,000 to 30,000 new cases of MDS occur each year.)

It's important to note that many symptoms of aplastic anemia, such as fatigue and infection, can also be caused by other diseases, said Dr. Ronald Paquette, a blood disease researcher with the University of California, Los Angeles' Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"If everyone who was fatigued thought they had aplastic anemia, we'd be swamped," Paquette said.

Bone marrow -- the spongy materi
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