Leukemia treatments including chemotherapy and radiation therapy can destroy bone marrow, making it impossible produce new blood cells. In people with some types of leukemia, cancer cells can damage the bone marrow, preventing the generation of new blood cells. In either situation, levels of blood components such as red blood cells and platelets can become too low, leading to dangerous complications. Too few red blood cells (anemia) means the blood cannot carry enough oxygen to the body’s tissues. Symptoms of anemia include fatigue, weakness, dizziness, headache, leg cramps, fast heart rate, and pale skin. Platelets are cell fragments necessary for normal blood clotting. Low levels of platelets (thrombocytopenia) can cause abnormal bleeding such as nosebleeds, red spots on the skin, and skin that bruises easily.
Doctors differ in their views on blood transfusions for people with leukemia. Some doctors believe that transfusions are an effective treatment for low levels of blood components, while others feel the potential benefits of blood transfusions are not worth the risks. Some doctors prefer to treat anemia with Erythropoietin (EPO).
What does it involve?
Blood transfusions replace blood components in people who have dangerously low levels. Donated blood is generally filtered and separated into components. People with leukemia may receive red blood cells only, platelets only, or other components as needed. Less commonly, whole blood is transfused.
Blood transfusions are administered in a medical setting. A nurse will place an intravenous line (IV) and attach a bag of blood components to slowly enter the bloodstream.
The goal of blood transfusion is to replace blood components destroyed by leukemia or leukemia treatments. Blood transfusions can treat complications such as anemia and abnormal bleeding.
Blood transfusions have been accepted as effective treatments for anemia and thrombocytopenia for many decades.
Side effects of blood transfusions are not common. During or immediately after a blood transfusion, some people experience fever, chills, skin rash or an outbreak of hives, nausea, back pain, shortness of breath, or discomfort at the injection site.
Some potential side effects of blood transfusions do not occur immediately. Modern testing for HIV, hepatitis, and other infectious agents makes infection highly unlikely, but there is always a small risk of becoming infected with a viral or bacterial illness via blood transfusion. Some people who receive blood transfusions may develop an immune reaction to a subsequent blood transfusion. Rarely, white blood cells contained in the donated blood can attack the recipient’s immune system, causing graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). In some cases, GVHD can become life-threatening. The risk of GVHD is lowered by irradiating blood products or processing them to remove white blood cells before transfusion. People who receive multiple transfusions of red blood cells risk developing iron overload, which may lead to damage of the liver or heart unless it is treated.
Very rarely, blood transfusions can cause life-threatening side effects including kidney damage or a drop in blood pressure.
For more details about this treatment, visit:
Blood Transfusion – Leukemia & Lymphoma Society https://www.lls.org/treatment/types-of-treatmen...
Blood Transfusions for People with Cancer – American Cancer Society https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and...
Side Effects of Treatment: Anemia – CancerConnect