Blood cancers: Symptoms, Types, and Treatment

Blood cancer, also called hematologic cancers, affect the production and function of blood cells. Blood cancer usually begins in the bone marrow where blood is produced.

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Types of blood cancers

The most common types of blood cancer include:

  • Leukemia: Cancer that originates in blood-forming tissue.
  • Lymphoma: This cancer develops in the lymphatic system from cells called lymphocytes.
  • Multiple myeloma: This cancer starts in the blood’s plasma cells, a type of white blood cell that is produced in the bone marrow.

Symptoms of Blood cancer

Some common symptoms of blood cancer include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Chest pain
  • Frequent infections
  • Cough
  • Itchy skin or rash
  • Swollen, painless lymph nodes in the neck, groin, or armpits
  • Recurrent infections
  • Headaches
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of appetite or nausea
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Night sweats
  • Persistent weakness and fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Abdominal pain

Blood consists of different cell types including red blood cells and white blood cells. They all initially originate from stem cells, which have the potential to develop into any type of blood cell as they divide and mature. Problems in this process, known as ‘differentiation’, are at the root of all blood cancers. Different types of blood cancer depend on when and how these problems occur.

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These problems often lead to your body producing large numbers of immature blood cells that can’t perform their job properly. They can clog your bone marrow, thereby preventing other types of blood cells from performing their job.

Leukaemias

Leukaemia are cancers that affect your white blood cells and bone marrow. These cells often divide rapidly and don’t develop correctly. This affects your immune system and ability to fight infections.

Many types of leukaemia are either chronic or acute based on how they behave. Acute conditions develop very quickly and need treating aggressively straight away. Chronic conditions usually progress slowly and intensive treatment may not be needed straight away.

There are four main types of leukaemia:

  • Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)
  • Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)
  • Chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML)
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL)

Other types of leukaemia include:

  • acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APL)
  • hairy cell leukaemia (HCL)
  • large granular lymphocytic leukaemia (LGL)
  • t-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-ALL)
  • chronic myelomonocytic leukaemia (CMML)

Lymphoma

Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that affects your lymphatic system, an important part of your immune system that produces and transports white blood cells around your body. Lymphoma removes waste products from your blood. It can develop in many parts of your body, including your lymph nodes, bone marrow, blood, spleen and other organs.

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There are two main types of lymphoma, based on how they behave and their treatment:

  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Hodgkin lymphoma

Myeloma

Myeloma or multiple myeloma, is a blood cancer that affects a certain type of white blood cell called a plasma cell. These cells are produced in your bone marrow and form antibodies which help combat infection.

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Treatment

Blood cancer treatment depends on a patient’s age, type of cancer, how fast the cancer is progressing, and where the cancer has spread. Some common blood cancer treatments include:

  • Stem cell transplant: This treatment infuses healthy blood-forming stem cells into the body. Stem cells can be collected from the bone marrow, circulating (peripheral) blood and umbilical cord blood.
  • Chemotherapy: This involves the use of anticancer drugs designed to stop the growth of cancer cells in the body. Chemotherapy for blood cancer sometimes consists of giving several drugs together in a set regimen.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy may be given before a stem cell transplant. It may be used to destroy cancer cells or ease pain

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