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Blood cancer: Types, symptoms, causes, and treatments

06 Aug, 2023

Blog author iconAshutosh

Blood cancer is a term for a group of diseases that start in places where blood is made, like the bone marrow. These diseases cause too many abnormal blood cells to be produced, which messes up the normal functions of our blood cells. Normally, our blood cells have three big jobs: fighting off germs, stopping us from bleeding too much, and carrying oxygen all over our body. When these jobs aren't done properly because of blood cancer, it can lead to serious health problems.

Types of blood cancer

There are three main types of blood cancer

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1. Leukemia

This type of blood cancer is characterized by the rapid production of abnormal white blood cells in the bone marrow. These abnormal cells are not able to perform their regular disease-fighting functions and also impair the ability of the bone marrow to produce red blood cells and platelets.

2. Lymphoma

Lymphoma affects the lymphatic system, which removes excess fluids from your body and produces immune cells. Lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, fight infection. Abnormal lymphocytes become lymphoma cells, which multiply and collect in your lymph nodes and other tissues. Over time, these cancerous cells impair your immune system.

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3. Myeloma

Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells. Plasma cells are white blood cells that produce disease- and infection-fighting antibodies in your body. Myeloma cells prevent the normal production of antibodies, leaving your body's immune system weakened and susceptible to infection

General Blood cancer symptoms

Blood cancer symptoms can vary widely, depending on the type of blood cancer and individual patient factors. However, there are some common symptoms that many people with blood cancer experience. These include

  • Fatigue and weakness: This can occur due to a lack of red blood cells, causing anemia, which can make you feel tired.
  • Unexplained weight loss: Rapid and unexplained weight loss can be a sign of cancer, including blood cancer.
  • Frequent infections: Since blood cancers affect the immune system's ability to fight infections, patients may find themselves falling ill more often.
  • Fever or chills: A persistent or recurring fever can indicate blood cancer.
  • Easy bruising or bleeding: This can occur due to a low platelet count, as platelets help the blood to clot.
  • Shortness of breath: This can be a result of a low red blood cell count.
  • Swollen lymph nodes: are often a sign of lymphoma, but can occur in other types of blood cancer as well.

These symptoms occur because the cancerous cells interfere with the normal functioning of the blood, leading to a lack of healthy blood cells and a weakened immune system.

Blood cancer symptoms specific to each type

Each type of blood cancer has its own specific symptoms

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A. Leukemia symptoms

In addition to the general symptoms, leukemia often presents with frequent bruising or bleeding, bone or joint pain, and excessive sweating, especially at night. These symptoms occur due to the rapid production of abnormal white blood cells, which crowd out healthy cells in the bone marrow.

B. Lymphoma symptoms

Lymphoma can cause swollen lymph nodes (which can often be felt as lumps under the skin), chest pain, coughing or trouble breathing, and abdominal pain or swelling. These symptoms occur due to the accumulation of abnormal lymphocytes in the lymphatic system.

C. Myeloma symptoms

Myeloma often causes bone pain, especially in the back or ribs, increased thirst and urination, nausea, loss of appetite, and constipation. These symptoms occur due to the buildup of abnormal plasma cells in the bone marrow, which can damage the bone and affect the kidneys.

Causes of blood cancer

While the exact cause of most blood cancers is unknown, they all start in the body's blood-forming tissue, such as the bone marrow, where mutations in the DNA of blood cells cause them to grow and divide uncontrollably. This abnormal growth can result in the formation of a tumor or can interfere with the body's ability to produce enough healthy blood cells.

Several factors can increase the risk of developing blood cancer:

  • Genetic Factors: Certain genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome, are associated with an increased risk of blood cancer.
  • Environmental Factors: Exposure to certain chemicals and radiation can increase the risk of developing blood cancer. For example, exposure to benzene and certain pesticides has been linked to an increased risk of leukemia.
  • Previous Cancer Treatment: People who have had certain types of chemotherapy and radiation therapy for other cancers have an increased risk of developing certain types of blood cancer later on.
  • Certain Infections: Certain viral infections such as Epstein-Barr and HIV can increase the risk, as can autoimmune disorders.
  • Age and Family History: The risk of blood cancer increases as you get older, although certain types can occur at any age. Having a close family member with a history of blood cancer can increase your risk.

It's important to note that having one or more risk factors does not necessarily mean you will get blood cancer. Many people with risk factors never develop the disease, while others with no known risk factors do. Therefore, regular check-ups and being aware of the potential symptoms of blood cancer are crucial.

Treatment of Blood cancer

The treatment of blood cancer can vary greatly depending on the type of blood cancer, the patient's age and overall health, and the stage of the disease. Here are some of the most common treatment options:

1. Chemotherapy

This is often the first line of treatment for many types of blood cancer. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. It can be administered orally or intravenously.

2. Radiation therapy

This treatment uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. It can be used alone or in combination with chemotherapy.

3. Stem Cell transplantation

This procedure involves replacing diseased or damaged bone marrow with healthy bone marrow stem cells. Before the transplant, high-dose chemotherapy or radiation therapy is used to destroy the diseased bone marrow. Then, the patient receives the new stem cells through an infusion.

4. Immunotherapy

This is a type of treatment that uses the body's own immune system to fight cancer. It can involve stimulating the immune system to work harder or smarter to attack cancer cells or giving the immune system components, such as man-made immune system proteins.

5. Targeted therapy

This type of treatment uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells. These treatments can block the growth and spread of cancer cells while limiting damage to healthy cells.

6. Watchful waiting

For some slow-growing types of blood cancer, immediate treatment may not be necessary. In these cases, doctors monitor the patient closely and start treatment when symptoms appear or change.

It's important to note that each patient's treatment plan will be individualized based on their specific circumstances. The goal of treatment is not only to eliminate the cancer but also to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.

If you or a loved one are diagnosed with blood cancer, it's important to discuss all treatment options, including potential side effects, with your healthcare team to make the best decision for your individual situation.

The importance of recognizing blood cancer symptoms:

Recognizing the symptoms of blood cancer is crucial for early detection. Early detection of blood cancer can significantly improve the prognosis and increase the effectiveness of treatment. This is because treatments can target the cancer cells before they have a chance to spread or cause significant damage to the body's systems.

Moreover, recognizing blood cancer symptoms can lead to early diagnosis, allowing for prompt treatment that can prevent or delay the progression of the disease. This can significantly improve quality of life and increase survival rates.

Understanding and recognizing blood cancer symptoms is a crucial part of the fight against this disease. The importance of this knowledge cannot be overstated, as it can lead to early detection, prompt treatment, and improved outcomes.

If you or a loved one experience any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, it is essential to seek medical advice immediately. Remember, early detection is a powerful tool in the fight against blood cancer.

In conclusion, awareness and understanding of blood cancer symptoms are vital in the early detection and successful treatment of this disease. Let's continue to spread this knowledge and work together in the fight against blood cancer.

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Blood cancer is a disease that starts in the blood-forming tissues, primarily the bone marrow. It leads to the production of abnormal blood cells that disrupt normal blood functions. The three main types are leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma, each affecting different types of blood cells.