What is the difference between myelofibrosis and leukemia?

Bobbie 1234 asked...

Has any one heard of myelofibrosis? My husband died of this in '04, It was so scary. He had 4 units of blood every week for 3 yrs, also platelets. I've still never understood the difference between this and leukemia?

Expert Answer

Jennifer Serafin, N.P. is a registered nurse and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Jewish Homes for the Aged in San Francisco.

Reading your letter, I want to give you my deepest sympathy on the passing of your husband. I am sorry that your experience of his illness was so scary to you. I hope that you have gotten the help you need to get over your grief.

Myelofibrosis is a rare condition, in which collagen builds up in the bone marrow and forms scar tissue there over time. Since our blood cells are produced in the bone marrow, the scar tissue in this disease makes ineffective blood cells. The spleen and liver will try to compensate for the lack of blood cells at first, but they cannot do the job nearly as well. Soon, anemia develops, which can often be severe. This is why your husband required blood and platelet transfusions so often.

Myelofibrosis is often associated with cancer, as it causes similar symptoms and the treatments can be the same. However, leukemia starts with immature or abnormal blood cells damaging the bone marrow, where myelofibrosis is damaged bone marrow producing bad blood cells.