Myelofibrosis (MF) is a cancer of the bone marrow wherein scar tissue builds up and prevents the production of normal blood cells, which may eventually lead to bone marrow failure. This results in anemia, low platelet counts, and the production of blood cells in areas outside the bone marrow, such as the spleen and liver, which become enlarged as a result. MF is a chronic type of cancer most common in people over 50 years old, though it can affect children as well.
MF is asymptomatic in about 20 percent of cases; however, virtually all patients with primary myelofibrosis have an enlarged spleen (splenomegaly). Common symptoms include pain in the upper left-side of the abdomen, a feeling of fullness, indigestion, and a loss of appetite. Abdominal discomfort can also result from an enlarged liver (hepatomegaly), which occurs in around two-thirds of cases.
Diagnosis is usually made via a blood test for other reasons, and treatment begins by controlling the symptoms with blood transfusions. Chemotherapy helps to reduce the sizes of the spleen and liver, and can help increase the number of blood cells. Radiotherapy is used to reduce the size of the spleen, but a splenectomy might also be considered to increase the number of blood cells, since the spleen may be retaining these cells and destroy them.
Primary MF patients can generally remain comfortable and symptom-free for some time, but this will vary considerably between individuals. In a small percentage of people, MF can progress to acute myeloid leukemia.
Information taken from Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada.