- What Is Blood Cancer And What Causes It?
- Different Types Of Blood Cancer
- Blood Cancer Symptoms
- Diagnosis and Treatment
- Is Blood Cancer Curable?
- Every Minute Counts
- Final Thought
Did you know that September is know as Blood Cancer Awareness Month? Blood cancers include leukemias, lymphomas and multiple myeloma. Together these account for approximately 180,000 new cancers each year in the United States. There has been dramatic improvement in the treatment and outcomes for most blood cancers in the past two decades. Many of these cancers are more common as someone ages, but some leukemias and lymphomas are fairly common in children and adults. Continue reading further to learn more.
WHAT IS BLOOD CANCER AND WHAT CAUSES IT?
Most blood cancers, also called hematologic cancers, start in the bone marrow, which is where blood is produced. Blood cancers occur when abnormal blood cells start growing out of control, interrupting the function of normal blood cells, which fight off infection and produce new blood cells.
All blood cancers are caused by mutations in the genetic material—the DNA—of blood cells. Other risk factors vary based on the specific type of blood cancer. Furthermore, some risk factors for developing leukemia, one of the most common types of blood cancers in adults, include:
- Advancing age
- Gender: being male
- Exposure to industrial chemicals such as benzene
- History of cancer treatment
- Exposure to high doses of radiation
- History of other blood cancers
- Compromised immune system
- History of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus
- Obesity or extra body weight
DIFFERENT TYPES OF BLOOD CANCER
The three main types of blood and bone marrow cancer are leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma:
- Leukemia is a blood cancer that originates in the blood and bone marrow. It occurs when the body creates too many abnormal white blood cells and interferes with the bone marrow’s ability to make red blood cells and platelets.
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a blood cancer that develops in the lymphatic system from cells called lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that helps the body fight infections.
- Hodgkin lymphoma is a blood cancer that develops in the lymphatic system from cells called lymphocytes. Hodgkin lymphoma is characterized by the presence of an abnormal lymphocyte called the Reed-Sternberg cell.
- Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that begins in the blood’s plasma cells, a type of white blood cell made in the bone marrow. Also, learn about the stages of multiple myeloma.
BLOOD CANCER SYMPTOMS
Some common bone marrow and blood cancer symptoms include:
- Fever, chills
- Persistent fatigue, weakness
- Loss of appetite, nausea
- Unexplained weight loss
- Night sweats
- Bone/joint pain
- Abdominal discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent infections
- Itchy skin or skin rash
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, underarms or groin
DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT
Common diagnosis for blood cancer includes:
- Leukemia: Doctors will obtain a complete blood count (CBC) test, which can identify abnormal levels of white blood cells relative to red blood cells and platelets.
- Lymphoma: A biopsy is normally performed which removes a small portion of tissue to be examined under a microscope. In some cases, a doctor may also order an X-ray, CT pr PET scan to detect swollen lymph nodes.
- Myleloma: The doctor will order a CBC, or other blood or urine tests to detect chemical or proteins produced as a function of myeloma development. In some cases, bone marrow biopsy, X-ray, MRI, PET, and CT scan can be used to confirm the presence and extent of the spread of myeloma.
Treatments depend on several factors. These include the type of blood cancer a person has, age, how fast the cancer is progressing, and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Because treatments for blood cancer have vastly improved over the last several decades, many types of blood cancers are now highly treatable. Common treatments include the following:
- Chemotherapy: Anticancer drugs are introduced to the body (via injection into the vein or sometimes by taking a pill) to kill and halt the production of cancer cells.
- Radiation Therapy: This form of cancer treatment uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells.
- Targeted Therapies: This cancer treatment uses drugs that specifically kill malignant blood cells, without harming normal cells. Targeted therapies are most commonly used to treat leukemia.
- Stem Cell Transplant: Healthy stem cells can be infused into your body to help resume healthy blood production following therapy to destroy malignant blood cells.
- Cancer Surgery: This treatment involves removing the affected lymph nodes to treat some lymphomas.
- Immunotherapy: Treatment activates the immune system to specifically kill cancer cells.
IS BLOOD CANCER CURABLE?
In general, earlier treatment of cancer is more effective, but some blood cancers can be cured at any stage. This all depends on the type of disease. If the cancer is not curable the treatments could help relieve symptoms and improve survival. With the right timeframe in diagnosis and treatment, most people end up living longer than they would have expected to live in the past, or without treatment.
EVERY MINUTE COUNTS
Time is everything for patients, survivors, their families, and friends. Blood cancers can affect anyone – the disease doesn’t discriminate, from the young to the old. There are many ways you can get involved and show support such as:
- Donation: Donating to organizations for medical cancer research treatments such as: Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), St. Judes Children’s Research Hospital, MD Anderson Cancer Research, the American Cancer Society, and many more
- Volunteer: Anyone can be a volunteer for organizations such as LLS. There are a variety of opportunities available to help you make the most of your volunteering experience.
- Participate in Events: Host and/or get involved with a charitable fundraising event to benefit their organization. Whether you’re looking for a physical challenge such as a walk or run, or an evening event to raise awareness and funds, there are events tailored to almost anyone.
- Corporate Partnership: A few ways to get involved as a corporation is to sponsor an event, develop cause-related marketing programs that tie into your business objectives, or to even fund a patient-focused program.
- Be Your Own Advocate: Advocates who speak about their experiences with blood cancer can also help provide support to those living with cancer, raising public awareness of the disease, advancing cancer research, improving the quality of cancer care, or addressing legislative and regulatory issues that affect cancer care and research.
Nearly 1.3 million people in the United States are in remission or in treatment for blood cancer. Treatment has advanced greatly over the years, increasing survival rates, but there is still a long way to go. As September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month, not only do we want to recognize patients impacted by these diseases, but the entire cancer care community including the researchers, scientists, physicians, nurses and caregivers who make a difference in patients’ lives every day. Feel free to share your thoughts down below!