What is Blood Cancer?
Cancer is a disease that occurs when your body cells grow uncontrollably. Undoubtedly, your blood is made up of various cell types such as red blood cells which are used for carrying oxygen, platelets which are used to help clot the blood clot and white cells that help in fighting injections.
All these subtypes comes from stem cells and have the ability to develop into any type of blood cell. They divide and mature into different blood cell. The problem in this process is ‘differentiation’ and this is at the root of all blood cancers.
Blood cancer leads to your body producing a large number of immature blood cells that cannot function properly. They can also block your ‘bone marrow’ which prevents other types of blood cells from doing their function.
Let us go through the types of Blood Cancer –
What are the types of Blood Cancer?
There are three types of blood cells such as –
- White Blood Cells – White Blood Cells help in fighting infection as a part of the immune system.
- Red Blood Cells – Red Blood Cells carry oxygen to the body’s tissues and organs and bring carbon dioxide to your lungs so that you can breathe out.
- Platelets – Platelets help you clot the blood when you are injured.
Having discussed the type of blood cells, now we will discuss the major types of Blood Cancer. These cancers cause your bone marrow and lymphatic system to make blood cells that do not work as efficiently as they should. They all act differently and affect different white blood cells –
- Leukaemia – The people who have leukaemia make a lot of ineffective white blood cells that do not fight infections. Leukaemia is divided into four types based on the white blood cell and it also depends on whether it grows slowly (chronic) or quickly (acute).
Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia – this is a rapidly (therefore acute) growing cancer of the lymphocyte (which is a type of white blood cells)
It is the most common type of childhood cancer and children ages between 3 to 5 are most likely to be a victim of this type of cancer. The adults above the age of 75 can also be more prone towards it.
Acute Myeloid Leukemia – this is a rapidly growing tumour of myelocyte (which is a subtype of white blood cells) This form of Leukemia grows quickly and affects people over the age of 65 years.
It is more common in men .
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia – Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia is a common type of leukaemia in adults. It starts from lymphocytes in the bone marrow and it grows more slowly (therefore chronic) . There are cases when people do not show any symptoms until several years after cancer starts.
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia usually affects people in their 70s or even at older stages.
Chronic Myeloid Leukemia – This blood cancer starts in myeloid cells and the abnormal cells grow slowly (therefore chronic) . It is more common in men as compared to women. It also affects adults, but kids can also become victim to it.
- Lymphoma – Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system Lymphatic system network includes lymph nodes, spleen, and thymus gland. Lymphatic system store carry the white blood cells to help your body fight infections.
Lymphomas begin in white blood cells known as lymphocytes and there are two main types of lymphoma –
Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – It starts in immune cells called B lymphocytes or B cells. This disease generally affect young teen children.
Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – Non-Hodgkin starts in B cells or in another type of immune cell called a T cell. It is more common than Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells. Plasma cell is a type of white blood cells found in bone marrow. This usually affects people over 50 years .
What are the causes of Blood Cancer?
- Age – Leukemias like Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) is more common in older people whereas Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) is more frequent in children.
- Radiations – Radiations can also cause blood cancer. The people who had undergone radiation therapy for the treatment are more prone to be affected by blood cancer. The greater the amount of radiation, the more likely he/she will catch blood cancer. Apart from the treatment, imaging tests include X-rays, CT Scan and Radioactive Rays that may be a source of radiation.
- Family History – If anyone in your family is affected by the blood cancer previously, there are higher chances that you also become vulnerable to the disease.
- Chemicals – If you are exposed to a number of chemicals like Benzene (found in cigarettes) or the chemicals used in gasoline/oil/detergents; can also be a cause of Blood Cancer.
- Genes – The inheritance of the syndrome can also cause blood cancer. Some of these syndromes are Shwachman-Diamond Syndrome, Bloom Syndrome, etc.
Diseases and Infection – Infection with Human Immunodeficiency virus and autoimmune diseases are the causes for lymphoma.
Now, that we have discussed the causes of Blood Cancer, let us go through some of the symptoms that cause Blood Cancer –
What are Blood Cancer symptoms?
Usually, blood cancer symptoms come slow, hence, there can be a probability that you might not notice them. And it is not a surprising fact that some people have no symptoms at all, yet they are suffering from Blood Cancer.
A few signs and symptoms of Blood Cancer are –
Well, blood cells are made inside the bone marrow and that is where blood cancer begins. It causes your body to make white blood cells that otherwise grow out of control and live longer than they are supposed to. Unlike white blood cells, they do not help your body in fighting an infection.
There are many different forms of blood cancer and some get worse quickly while others take time. The very first clue may be abnormal results of a blood test. The others are –
- Anaemia – In Anaemia, your body does not make enough red blood cells and the one which is already there, do not function well. The signs of Anaemia are feeling tired and weak, shortness of breath, dizziness, pale skin, and chest pain.
- Blood Clotting – Platelets are the cells which make your blood clot. When your body does not make enough of them, small cuts may bleed more than usual. Say, for example, you have unusual bruising, bleeding gums, tiny red dots on your skin, and heavy periods, these are all signs of Blood Cancer.
- Other Symptoms – You will fall sick more often and take longer to get over it. You may suffer from fevers and night sweats, as well.
Cancer cells can also build in your lymph nodes, tonsils, liver, and spleen and cause them to swell. You may feel lumps in your neck or armpit or may feel full after eating only a small amount. Another possibility could be that you may also lose weight without trying and is also suffering from the pain in the bone.
- Multiple Myeloma – The plasma cell is another type of disease-fighting cell in your bloodstream and multiple myeloma causes bone marrow to make plasma cells. These plasma cells grow out of control and refrain your body from making enough healthy cells. They also release chemicals into your blood that can hurt your organs and tissues.
Sometimes it gets worse than others, but symptoms do not show up until you had them for a while.
- Bone Pain – The most common symptom of multiple myeloma is long-lasting pain, usually in back and ribs. The cancer cells release a chemical that stops the normal growth and healing process in your bones. The bones get thin and weak and are easily breakable.
This damage to your bone can put pressure on your nerves and cause weakness in your legs.
- Hypercalcemia – Multiple myeloma also causes a high level of calcium in the blood which can lead to nausea, stomach pain, excessive thirst and urination, constipation, and weakness.
After discussing the signs and symptoms of Blood Cancer, let us debunk a few myths related to Blood Cancer.
Blood Cancer – Myths and Facts
Here, let us bust some myths related to blood cancer –
Myth – Anaemia leads to blood cancer
Fact – Anaemia does not lead to blood cancer.
The patients with blood cancer can get anaemia but an anaemia itself does not cause cancer. Anaemia is a situation in which the body does not produce enough healthy red blood cells or haemoglobin. Red blood cells are crucial in delivering oxygen to the body. There must be insufficient red blood cells and oxygen which can lead to fatigue and affect the normal functioning of the various organs.
Anaemia can occur due to any medical conditions, but the most common reason is iron deficiency. Iron is required by the bone marrow to make haemoglobin.
Myth – Leukaemia is the only type of blood cancer.
Fact – There are three types of blood cancers – Leukaemia, Myeloma, and Lymphoma
Leukaemia is caused by the abnormal production of white blood cells in the bone marrow. The role of white blood cells is to fight infection and when the abnormal white blood cells divide quickly, they leave normal blood cells and affect the production of other cells. Leukaemia stays in the blood system and does not spread to other organs, hence, there are no stages in this blood cancer.
Myeloma affects the bone marrow and can develop in any part of the body that has bone marrow, such as the pelvis and spine. It can occur in several places at the same time, it is also known as multiple myeloma.
Lymphoma affects the lymph glands and the lymphatic system. There are two main types of lymphoma – Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The exact causes of lymphoma are hard to determine, but it has been linked to several factors such as HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), Epstein Barr Virus (EBV), genetic disorders, and exposure to a carcinogen in the environment.
Myth – Blood Cancer cannot be cured.
Fact – There are various treatments for blood cancer.
These days, the success rates of blood cancer treatment are improving significantly and patients are having a longer life than before.
There are a number of types of treatment that have been effective such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, targeted therapy, bone marrow transplantation, and immunotherapy.
Myth – During bone marrow transplantation, only siblings can donate.
Fact – Anyone can donate during bone marrow transplantation.
No doubt, the best donor during bone marrow transplantation is a sibling. However, blood cancer patients can also find donors who are unrelated.
Bone marrow involves taking healthy bone marrow cells from a donor and putting them into a patient with blood cancer. Whenever there is a successful match, the healthy donor cells grow and populate, replacing the damaged cells in the patient and eventually helping the body to fight cancer.
Blood Cancer Treatment
There are various types of Blood Cancer and they affect people differently. The treatment options will also majorly depend on the type of Blood Cancer, a person’s age, and the person’s health state.
The main treatments for Blood Cancer patients are Chemotherapy, Targeted therapy, Interferon therapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, and immunotherapy.
Get in touch with an oncologist, if you are facing any symptoms of Blood Cancer.