It might sound counterintuitive, but not every patient comes to Dana-Farber for cancer treatment. For example, the Institute’s experts regularly see patients seeking help with benign (non-cancerous) blood disorders.
Benign blood disorders such as anemia and sickle cell disease are often treated at cancer centers because such institutions are home to experts in hematology, which is a branch of medicine that involves studying the blood, blood-forming organs (such as the lymph nodes), and blood diseases. Because abnormalities in peripheral blood counts can either reflect primary hematologic disease or be a secondary response to systemic disease, hematologists deal with a broad array of diseases. These range from “primary” hematologic disorders, like sickle cell disease and hemophilia, to premalignant disorders, like myelodysplasia or myeloproliferative neoplasms, to cytopenias that reflect a complex response to renal disease, liver disease, systemic inflammatory disease, autoimmune disease, or systemic infections.
Most benign blood disorders affect the production and function of blood cells – often causing unusually low or high levels of blood cells, or preventing blood cells from properly forming or maturing. These problems often start in the bone marrow, where stem cells develop into red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. When a blood disorder is present, the blood can’t perform its usual functions, such as stopping bleeding (the job of platelets) and protecting the body from infection (the job of white blood cells). Unlike malignant (cancerous) blood disorders, such as leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma, benign blood disorders may be able to be resolved with therapy, or they may not cause symptoms and affect overall lifespan.
Some benign blood disorders can occur as the result of cancer or its treatments. For example, cancer patients may experience side effects of treatment such as low blood counts, blood clots, and bleeding disorders. When such issues arise, specialists can help patients address the problem so that they can resume cancer treatment safely and effectively.
Learn more about the Adult Hematology Treatment Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.