In 2019, more than 1.75 million new cases of cancer were diagnosed. This information was shared by the United States Cancer Statistics. It is the most recent data for such findings.
Blood (or hematologic) cancer is one type of more than 100 different kinds that can affect the human body. Understanding the different types, causes, and symptoms is important. This can lead to early diagnosis and effective treatment.
In the human body, blood cells form in the bone marrow. As they mature, they develop into either platelets or red or white blood cells. These will then serve functions like infection-fighting and preventing excessive bleeding.
When blood cancer occurs, normal cell production is disrupted. The abnormal cells grow rapidly and without control. They then cause problems for healthy blood cells.
The estimated survival range is from 55%-88%, depending on the type of blood cancer diagnosed. These rates have drastically improved over the past 50 years. Improvement in treatments, screening, and awareness have all led to higher survival rates.
Types of Blood Cancer
There are many variations of hematologic cancers. Some less common examples include:
- Chronic Myeloproliferative Neoplasms
- Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis
- Multiple Myeloma/Plasma Cell Neoplasm
- Myelodysplastic Syndromes
- Myelodysplastic/Myeloproliferative Neoplasms
However, the three main types of blood cancer are:
- Leukemia: Cancer in the bone marrow is called leukemia. This illness typically affects white blood cells. It can impact adults and children, depending on which of the five forms leukemia takes.
- Lymphoma: Lymphoma is a cancer of two main types – Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin. Forming in the immune system, lymphoma affects lymphocytes and lymph nodes.
- Myeloma: Plasma protects the body from infections. An overgrowth of plasma cells is called myeloma. This cancer interferes with the growth of normal cells in the bone marrow.
Blood cancer occurs when there is a mutation in the DNA of blood cells.
There are specific risk factors that may lead to a person’s genes mutating, such as:
- Males are at a higher risk
- Chemical or radiation exposure
- Weakened immune system
- Increased age
- Auto-immune disorders
- Previous infections or viruses (like EBV)
- History of smoking
- Race (African-Americans have a higher risk factor than people of other races)
- A previous blood cancer diagnosis
Some of the more common symptoms of blood cancer include:
- Unexplained headaches
- Chills and fever
- Night sweats
- Weakness and ongoing fatigue
- Appetite loss
- Unexpected weight loss
- Trouble breathing, including shortness of breath
- Skin rash and/or itching
- Recurring infections
- Pain in the bones and joints
- Lymph nodes of arm, neck, and groin swollen
- Tenderness in the abdomen
If there is a suspicion of blood cancer, an accurate diagnosis is necessary. This can be made by gathering the necessary information.
- Symptom Review: Discuss any out-of-the-ordinary symptoms with the doctor. Be sure to include even small changes. Every sign may lead to a quick diagnosis of the illness.
- Family History: Disclose any relevant family history to the doctor.
- Complete Testing: Medical tests will need to be completed, including bloodwork and biopsies. Ultrasounds can also be used to better see lumps or masses that have formed. Imaging scans may also be performed such as CT, MRI, or PET scans.
Options for how to treat the illness can be discussed once a diagnosis has been confirmed. A specific plan is crafted based on the type of cancer.
Treatments may include:
- Antibody therapy
- Drug therapies
- Observation (‘watch and wait’)
- Transplants of stem cells
- Transfusion of blood
- Targeted therapy
Part of the therapy involved in treating blood cancer includes a medication regimen. Different forms of cancer require differing medicines. An oncologist can decide the best course of treatment for each patient. This may include a combination of prescription drugs and other options.
Some of the medications used to treat leukemia are:
Some of the medications used in the treatment of lymphoma include:
- Adcetris (Brentuximab Vedotin)
- BiCNU (Carmustine)
- Matulane (Procarbazine Hydrochloride)
Medications used in the treatment of myeloma-type cancers may include: