Blood is made up of three different types of blood cells, all of which are produced by the bone marrow:
There are several different types of white blood cells, each of which has a specific role in protecting the body from infection:
Many disorders can cause the bone marrow to produce too many or too few white blood cells, or to produce white blood cells that do not function as they should.
Patients with white blood cell disorders are treated at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's through the Blood Disorders Center. Continue reading about white blood cell disorders or visit the Blood Disorders Center to learn more about treatment options and our pediatric hematologists.
White blood cell disorders occur when the white blood cell count is too low or too high, or when the white blood cells are not functioning properly.
White blood cell disorders of neutrophils and lymphocytes are the most common. Disorders that involve monocytes and eosinophils are less common; basophil disorders are rare. Lymphocyte disorders are treated jointly between the Blood Disorders Center at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s and the Immunology Program at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Examples of disorders that occur when the white blood cell count is low:
Examples of disorders that occur when the white blood cell count is high:
Examples of disorders that occur when white blood cells malfunction:
Symptoms depend on the type of white blood cell
disorder a child has. Common symptoms when white blood cells are too few or
don’t function properly include:
Certain conditions can have unique symptoms, such
Depending on the type of white blood cell disorder
a child has, the doctor may order:
Doctors may order additional specific tests to
confirm or rule out certain disorders, such as:
After all tests are
completed, hematologists will be able to outline the best treatment options.
Treatment depends on the underlying problem (e.g., acquired, congenital) and severity and may include:
Stem cell (bone marrow) transplant may be an option for severe congenital diseases. Bone marrow transplant involves the replacement of diseased bone marrow with another person’s healthy bone marrow. Unfortunately, it may not be an option for everyone. The success of a transplant depends on many factors, such as how close the match is between child and donor (matched siblings are best; if your child has a sibling, there is a 1 in 4 chance they will be a match) and the patient's age. The decision to proceed with bone marrow transplant should be discussed with your child’s hematologist and a stem cell transplant team.
Thanks to ongoing research, treatment for patients with low white blood cell counts has improved significantly over the past 20 years. Genetic testing, which is now available for many congenital white blood cell disorders, including congenital neutropenias, has allowed better estimation of a patient's prognosis. Improved treatment and supportive care is helping patients with even the most severe of the neutrophil disorders to live longer.
For many children with rare or hard-to-treat conditions, clinical trials provide new options.
Leslie Lehmann, MD, explains stem cell transplants. Dana-Farber/Boston Children's has one of the most experienced pediatric stem cell transplant programs in the United States.