TLC’s T-Boz Secretly Fought Brain Tumor, Part 2

As reported a couple of days ago, TLC singer T-Boz recently revealed that she had been treated for a benign brain tumor, an acoustic neuroma, in 2006. The course of her illness was complicated by the fact that she also suffers from sickle cell anemia. This disease caused delay in her treatment. As she told People magazine: “Because of my sickle-cell disease, I have a high tolerance for pain. By 2006, I’d had headaches for six years. I thought it was stress. But when my vision went blurry, I got an MRI. “It also made her post-operative course more difficult, because she immediately went into a sickle cell crisis.

Sickle Cell Disease is an inherited disease of red blood cells. Hemoglobin B (Hb is a molecule in red blood cells that acts as a carrier for oxygen. In sickle cell disease, a change in the genetic code for hemoglobin has occurred, and the different hemoglobin molecule, Hemoglobin S (HbS), causes changes in the shape of the red blood cell, especially if exposed to lower levels of oxygen. These c-shaped sickle cells are less flexible than normal red blood cells, and can slow or obstruct blood flow in small blood vessels. They are also more fragile than HbB-containing cells, breaking down faster and leading to anemia.


Complications from the sickle cells blocking blood flow and fragility include:

  • pain episodes (known as pain crises-they are often severe and debilitating, and can lasting hours to days)
  • strokes
  • increased risk of infections
  • leg ulcers
  • bone damage
  • >yellow eyes or jaundice
  • early gallstones
  • lung blockage
  • kidney damage and loss of body water in urine
  • painful erections in men (priapism)
  • blood blockage in the spleen or liver(sequestration)
  • eye damage
  • low red blood cell counts (anemia)
  • delayed growth

Nearly 70,000 Americans have sickle cell disease. Another 2 million have sickle cell trait – where both HbB and HbS are present. These individuals do not have symptoms. In the US, sickle cell disease is most common  in people of African American descent, however it is also present in the Hispanic population, as well as individuals whose families come from the Caribbean islands, Mediterranean countries (such as Turkey, Greece, and Italy), India, and Saudi Arabia.

Early diagnosis of sickle cell anemia is very important. Children who have the disease need prompt and proper treatment. In the United States, all states mandate testing for sickle cell anemia as part of their newborn screening program. In the past, individuals with sickle cell disease did not live beyond 40 years old, however because of improved treatment and care, individuals today can now live into their 40’s, 50’s and beyond.

For more information:

Sickle Cell Anemia
Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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