What are blood cancers?
Most blood cancers, also called hematologic cancers, start in the bone marrow, where production of blood takes place. Blood cancers occur when abnormal blood cells start growing in an uncontrolled manner, disturbing the functioning of normal blood cells, which fight infection and produce new blood cells.
Types of blood cancers
Leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma are the 3 main types of blood cancer:
Leukemia is a cancer of the blood that starts in the blood and bone marrow. It occurs when the body makes 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 cancer of the blood that develops from cells called lymphocytes in the lymphatic system, a type of white blood cell that helps the body fight infection.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma is cancer of the blood that develops in the lymphatic system from cells called lymphocytes. Hodgkin lymphoma is characterized by the presence of a Reed-Sternberg cell, an abnormal lymphocyte.
Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the blood that starts in plasma cells, a type of white blood cell made in the bone marrow.
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Symptoms of blood cancer
Some common symptoms of blood cancer include:
- Fever, chills
- Persistent fatigue, weakness
- Loss of appetite, nausea
- Unexplained weight loss
- Night sweats
- Bone / joint pain
- Abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent infections
- Itchy or rash
- Swollen lymph nodes in the armpits, or neck
Blood cancer treatment and therapy options
Treatment for blood cancer depends on the type of cancer, your age, how fast the cancer is growing, where the cancer has spread and other factors. Some common treatments for blood cancer include:
Stem cell transplant: A stem cell transplant infuses healthy hematopoietic stem cells into the body. Stem cells can be taken from the bone marrow, circulating blood and umbilical cord blood.
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to interfere with and stop the growth of cancer cells in the body. Chemotherapy for blood cancer sometimes involves the administration of several drugs together in a defined regimen. Before a stem cell transplant also this can be given.
Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy can be used to destroy cancer cells or to relieve pain or discomfort. It can also be given before a stem cell transplant.