Preleukemia, also referred to as myelodysplastic syndrome, is a medical condition that involves the bone marrow. When a person has preleukemia, his bone marrow fails to produce an adequate number of healthy, normal blood cells. In such a case, this condition may eventually develop into acute leukemia, which is bone marrow cancer. Unfortunately, scientists have yet to develop a cure for the condition; doctors usually focus on using treatments that minimize symptoms and help prevent complications. In some cases, doctors may even recommend bone marrow transplants as a way of helping patients to live longer lives.
When a person has preleukemia, he may not notice any symptoms at first. In most cases, there are no symptoms while the condition is in the earliest stages. Eventually, recognizable symptoms may develop, including fatigue, shortness of breath, and paleness. A person with this condition may also bruise easily and have more infections than the average person. Some people also develop small red spots under their skin, which are caused by bleeding and are referred to as petechiae.
Preleukemia usually develops when something happens to alter normal blood cell production. When a person has this condition, his blood cells do not develop normally and end up dying either while they are still in the bone marrow or after they enter his blood. As time goes on, the defective cells build up and begin to outnumber the patient's healthy cells. The result of this disruption is often frequent infections and abnormal bleeding. A person with this condition may also develop anemia.
Sometimes doctors diagnose preleukemia but aren't sure what caused it. In other cases, doctors may pinpoint such causes as chemotherapy and radiation as well as exposure to certain chemicals. Interestingly, preleukemia that does not have a known cause may be easier to treat than forms of the condition that develop because of factors doctors can pinpoint.
Since there is no cure for the concition, treatment often focuses on supporting the patient's health and managing his symptoms. Treatment may also include efforts to help prevent it from developing into acute leukemia. Blood transfusions are sometimes used to replace unhealthy blood cells, and various medications may be prescribed to help increase the number of healthy blood cells. In some cases, patients undergo bone marrow transplants, which involve using drugs to destroy unhealthy blood cells and then replacing the defective bone marrow with a healthy transplant.