What is blood cancer?
Blood cancer affects the production and function of our blood cells. The soft, sponge-like substance in the middle of our bones is called bone marrow, this is where the majority of blood malignancies begin. Our bone marrow produces stem cells that develop into platelets, white blood cells, and red blood cells. In many cases of blood cancer, blood cell production processes are interrupted and promote the growth of abnormal cells.
Leukaemias and myelomas can prevent the bone marrow from producing healthy blood cells like platelets, red blood cells, and white blood cells when they progress within the bone marrow. Furthermore, myelomas produce a chemical that weakens bones as well. These types of blood cancer may also result in anaemia, recurrent infections, and easy bruising.
Lymphomas, most frequently manifest as lymph node swelling, can also hinder the body's capacity to fight infections.
Causes of blood cancer
The following factors have been linked to an increased risk of blood cancer:
- Weakened immunity
- Using tobacco products and smoking
- Family history of leukaemia
- Radiation exposure or previous cancer treatment
- Exposure to chemicalcompounds, such as benzene
- Genetic predisposition (e.g., Down’s Syndrome)
Signs and symptoms of blood cancer
Typical signs of blood and bone marrow cancers include:
- Fever and chills
- Persistent tiredness and weakness
- Nausea and loss of appetite
- Unaccounted weight loss
- Sweats at night
- Joint or bone ache
- Discomfort in the abdomen
- Breathing difficulty
- Recurring infections
- Skin irritation or a rash
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, underarms or groin
Management and treatment for blood cancer
Blood and bone marrow malignancies are treated differently depending on the type of cancer, your age, how quickly it is progressing, where it has spread to, and other variables. Some forms of blood cancer react well to specific treatments.
The following are some standard therapies for blood cancer:
Chemotherapy is the main form of treatment for blood cancer which can stop the spread of the disease, or slow its progression by eliminating cancer cells. Healthcare practitioners utilise numerous medicine classes for blood cancer treatment.
A treatment option for leukaemia, lymphoma, and myeloma is radiation therapy. Radiotherapy destroys the DNA of abnormal cells, which prevents them from multiplying. Radiation therapy is routinely used alongside other treatments.
This form of cancer treatment makes use of your immune system. Aside from helping your body produce more immune cells, immunotherapy may also help your body's existing immune cells find and destroy malignant cells.
This cancer treatment focuses on the genetic changes or mutations that lead to normal cells becoming malignant.
CAR (Chimeric Antigen Receptor) T cell therapy
Using T cell lymphocytes, a subtype of white blood cell, medical practitioners can treat cancer with CAR T-cell therapy. Medical professionals may use CAR T-cell therapy to treat multiple myeloma, non-lymphomas, Hodgkin's and B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia if other treatments have failed.1
How is blood cancer diagnosed?
A physical exam is often the first step in conducting a diagnostic to ascertain your general health. In addition to checking at your body and lymph nodes for any symptoms of bruises or infection, your doctor will review your medical history.
The diagnosis of blood cancer can be made using a variety of tests and procedures.
During a biopsy, cells are collected for a pathologist to examine in a lab. For some blood cancers, such lymphoma, a lymph node biopsy may be necessary to get a sample of lymph tissue or an entire lymph node.
Some forms of blood cancer respond better than others to imaging scans. An enlarged lymph node, a typical indicator of lymphoma, may be found during a scan. However, scans could show whether cancer has spread to other bodily parts.
Examples of scans are as follows:
- CT scan
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Positron emission tomography or PET scan
Complete blood counts (CBCs) show how many distinct blood cells including platelets, red blood cells, and white blood cells are present in the body.
How can I prevent blood cancer?
The majority of blood cancers cannot be prevented, despite extensive research.2 Although there are no known absolute risk factors for this malignancy, lowering the known ones is crucial. Additionally, carrying out some of these easy tasks will strengthen your immunity and help to somewhat lower the risk.
- Avoid radiation exposure
- Avoid chemical exposure
- Avoid all forms of tobacco, including cigarettes, snuff and chewing tobacco.
Who are at risk of blood cancer?
Although risk factors differ based on the particular kind of leukaemia, some of the more prevalent ones are as follows:
- Age - Generally speaking, people over 65 have a higher risk of developing leukaemia.
- Although leukaemia could affect anyone, people of caucasian heritage are statistically more likely to develop it.
- Exposure to radiation increases the possibility that leukaemia cells would form. Prior cancer treatment raises the risk of leukaemia in patients who have undergone chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
- Genetic conditions: The likelihood that leukaemia cells may form is increased certain genetic conditions, for example, Down’s syndrome.3
- Familial leukaemia history: A significant risk factor for leukaemia is genetic predisposition.
- Other environmental factors: Some data suggests that industrial solvents, insecticides, and tobacco smoke may all have a role in the development of leukemia.
What are the types of blood cancer?
There are different types of blood cancer, including:
Acute and chronic blood cancers
You might see blood cancers described as:
- Acute – this means a fast-growing cancer
- Chronic – this means a slower-growing cancer
Some types of blood cancer affect children. Symptoms and treatment can be different between children and adults.
What are the stages of blood cancer?
On the basis of metastasis, the types and stages of blood cancer are separated. Depending on the signs and the rate of metastasis, there are many scales to identify the various phases. Cancer stages are typically split into four categories:
The lymph nodes grow during the first stage. This occurs as a result of a sudden rise in lymphocyte density. Since the cancer has not yet progressed or impacted any other physical organs, the risk is quite minimal at this point.
The spleen, liver, and lymph nodes grow in the second stage of blood cancer. Although not all of these organs must be afflicted at once, at least one of them is undoubtedly harmed at this stage. At this stage, lymphocyte proliferation is highly rapid.
Anaemia develops in the third stage of blood malignancy, and the aforementioned organs are still found to be enlarged. It is certain that at this level, more than two organs are impacted.
The fourth stage of blood cancer is the stage with the highest risk ratio. Blood platelet count starts quickly declining. In addition to other organs that have already begun to be damaged, malignant cells begin to impact the lungs. In this stage, acute anaemia is more likely.
When should I see a doctor?
It might be challenging to determine whether you should be concerned because many early cancer symptoms are not very precise. Don't wait, though, as early diagnosis can result in quicker, more successful therapy.
If any blood cancer signs or symptomspersist for more than a few weeks without getting better, you should visit your doctor.
A wide variety of cancers that affect the components of blood are together referred to as blood cancer. Cancers of the bone marrow, blood, and lymphatic system—which includes the lymph nodes, lymphatic vessels, tonsils, thymus, spleen, and lymphoid tissue of the digestive tract are included in this category.
The most prevalent forms of blood cancer are leukaemia, myeloma, which begin in the bone marrow; and lymphoma, which begins in the lymphatic system. It is unknown what causes these cancers. However, significant advancements in the treatment of blood malignancies have enhanced survival and remission rates.
- Sterner RC, Sterner RM. CAR-T cell therapy: current limitations and potential strategies. Blood cancer journal. 2021 Apr 6;11(4):69.
- Baum J, Lax H, Lehmann N, Merkel-Jens A, Beelen DW, Jöckel KH, Dührsen U. Preventive health care in blood cancer survivors: results from the ABC study. Journal of Cancer Research and Clinical Oncology. 2023 Jul 3:1-0.
- Brown AL, De Smith AJ, Gant VU, Yang W, Scheurer ME, Walsh KM, Chernus JM, Kallsen NA, Peyton SA, Davies GE, Ehli EA. Inherited genetic susceptibility to acute lymphoblastic leukemia in Down syndrome. Blood, The Journal of the American Society of Hematology. 2019 Oct 10;134(15):1227-37.