There are several types of blood cells, including red blood cells and white blood cells known as B and T or lymphocytes. Blood cancer, also referred to as hematologic cancer, is a disease caused by the abnormal replication of one or more types of blood cells in the bone marrow. Blood cancer grows in the bone marrow and disrupts normal function of blood cells. These negatively affected blood-forming tissues hinder antibody production as well as immune system response, limiting the body’s ability to fight infection and leaving a person highly vulnerable to life-threatening diseases.
Types of Blood Cancer
The three types of blood cancer are leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma.
Leukemia is a complex blood cancer that can originate in different parts of the bloodstream and bone marrow. In people with leukemia, the bone marrow produces an excess of white blood cells that don’t do their normal job of fighting off infection.
Who is at risk for leukemia?
Though leukemia is the leading cancer among children and teens, it can also develop in adulthood. Some factors that may increase your risk for developing leukemia include:
- Having a family member with a history of blood cancer
- Smoking or regular exposure to cancer-causing agents
- Genetic abnormalities
- Previous cancer treatment
Lymphoma is cancer that affects the lymphatic system or the body’s germ-fighting network. The lymphatic system includes the lymph nodes, thymus gland, spleen, and bone marrow and is heavily involved in producing important white blood cells that protect against infection.
The main subtypes of lymphoma are Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Hodgkin's lymphoma can affect anyone but is most common in individuals between the ages of 20 and 40 as well as those over 50. People with this disease develop large, abnormal cells in their lymph nodes.
This more common form of lymphoma develops in the T-cells in the blood. The patient's T-cells can produce pain, discomfort, tumors, and other growths. In non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, white blood cells grow abnormally and can produce pain, growths throughout the body, and even tumors.
Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that directly affects the plasma cells, causing overactivity in their growth, crowding out normal cells. Multiple myeloma affects all blood cell production and destroys and inhibits the production of crucial antibodies.
Blood Cancer Symptoms
While each blood cancer is unique and symptoms vary by disease, there are some that are common to all. These typically include:
- Fever and chills
- Weight loss
- Fatigue and weakness
- Petechiae (burst blood vessels appearing as small red dots on the skin)
- Night sweats
- Swollen lymph nodes
If you experience any of the above blood cancer symptoms, be sure to contact a health care professional. Be sure to write down all of your symptoms and concerns in advance of your visit. “It's important to report any of these symptoms to your health care provider,” says Jennifer Motley, APN, a member of Summit Health’s oncology and hematology team, “especially if they are persistent. Ignoring symptoms can result in a delay in critical treatment.”
Blood Cancer Treatment
Treatment is highly dependent on the type of blood cancer, age, and whether or not the cancer has spread. Thankfully, due to research over the years, many types of blood cancer are highly treatable. Some common blood cancer treatments are:
● Chemotherapy. A common form of cancer treatment, chemotherapy is a specific drug regimen aimed at inhibiting cancer progression. Regimen differs by case.
● Stem cell transplants. This is when healthy stem cell tissue is injected into the bone marrow, helping the body create effective blood cells and platelets. Before undergoing a stem cell transplant, a patient may undergo radiation therapy.
● Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy utilizes high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells.
Can You Prevent Blood Cancer? Avoiding harmful cancer-causing chemicals (including tobacco) and adhering to a healthy diet and lifestyle, can lower risk of blood cancer.
Final Thoughts on Blood Cancer
If you find yourself experiencing any blood cancer symptoms, be sure to contact a medical professional. The oncology and hematology department at Summit Health is dedicated to bringing patients comprehensive blood cancer treatments. For more information, explore the various oncology and hematology specialists at Summit Health, or call 908-273-4300 to schedule an appointment.