What is Blood Cancer ?
A cancer that attacks the lymphatic system, blood or bone marrow is known as blood cancer. Both the production and function of blood cells are affected by blood cancers. Blood cancers begin in the bone marrow from where blood is produced. An uncontrolled growth of an abnormal type of blood cell interrupts the development process of a normal blood cell. The cancerous cells or abnormal blood cells prevent the blood from performing functions such as preventing serious bleeding or fighting off with infections.
Types of Blood Cancer
Myeloma : Plasma cells are targeted by this type of blood cancer. Infection and disease fighting antibodies in the body are produced by plasma cells that are basically white blood cells. The normal production of these antibodies is prevented by myeloma that causes a weak immune system.
Leukemia : This type of blood cancer is due to rapid production of abnormal white blood cells. Leukemia can be found in bone marrow and in blood. These abnormal cells are no more able to fight off infection and also impair the bone marrow’s ability to produce platelets and red blood cells.
Lymphoma : Lymphatic system that produces immune cells and also removes excess fluids from the body gets affected by lymphoma blood cancer. Lymphocytes are considered as a type of white blood cell that helps in fighting off infection. Abnormal lymphocytes results in lymphoma cells that gets multiplied and collected in other tissues and lymph nodes. After a certain period of time, the immune system gets weakened due to these cancerous cells.
Causes of Blood Cancer
A number of factors are associated with the development of blood cancer. Older adults are commonly affected by blood cancer. Some of the causes include –
- Advanced age
- History of blood disorders
- Some types of infections
- Family history of blood cancer
- Exposure to some specific chemicals
- History of some genetic disorders
- Exposure to some types of chemotherapy or radiation therapy
- Weak immune system caused by AIDS/HIV conditions, by organ transplant or by taking corticosteroids
Symptoms of Blood Cancer
- Unexplained weight loss
- Abdominal pain specifically in the upper abdomen
- Frequent irritation
- Joint or bone pain
- Night sweats
- Bruising or easy bleeding
- Nausea can result in the feeling of queasiness, upset stomach, retching, wooziness, car-sickness or sea-sickness
- Chills and fever
- Enlarged glands and liver that include lymph nodes and the spleen
- Frequent urination
Some of the serious symptoms include –
- Heavy and uncontrolled bleeding
- Bluish coloration of the fingernails or lips
- Rapid heart rate
- Severe abdominal pain
- Change in the level of alertness or consciousness that include unresponsiveness or passing out
- Breathing or respiratory problems like wheezing, shortness of breath, labored breathing and difficulty in breathing
- High fever
- Sudden behavior or mental status change such as delusions, confusion, hallucinations, lethargy and delirium
- Palpitations, chest tightness, chest pain and chest pressure
Stages of Blood Cancer
Stage 1: There are enlarged lymph nodes in the first stage. The cancer has not spread to other organs of the body.
Stage 2: The presence of enlarged spleen and liver along with lymph nodes can be seen in the second stage. Both liver and spleen may not get affected but at least one of them except lymph nodes will get affected.
Stage 3: The development of anemia can be seen in third stage. Liver, spleen and lymph nodes may remain swollen. In the third stage of cancerous development, two or more organs are possibly to get affected.
Stage 4: A drastic fall in blood platelets can be seen in this last stage of blood cancer. Lungs can also get affected in the last stage of cancerous development. Acute anemia is seen in this stage.
Diagnosis of Blood Cancer
A number of tests are performed for diagnosing blood cancer they include –
- Blood Test : The number of some specific blood cells is determined by performing a blood test.
- Spinal Tap : Certain amount of clear fluid is taken that surrounds the spinal cord and brain. This test is done for checking the presence of cancer cells.
- Chest X-ray : This x-ray helps in determining the presence of swollen lymph nodes, bone damage or tumors growing in the bone marrow.
- Physical Exam : Swollen lymph nodes can be determined with the help of this test. Growth of tumors in the bone marrow or damage to the bone can also be determined with the help of a physical examination.
- Biopsy : The presence of cancer cells is determined by taking a sample of a bone marrow while performing a biopsy. This can be done through a bone needle biopsy or bone marrow aspiration.
- Cytogenetics : The change in the genetic material is determined by this test.
- Urine Test : High level of protein known as Bence Jones protein is determined by taking urine samples. Some specific cancers may have high level of protein.
Treatment of Blood Cancer
Leukemia blood cancer treatment is very complex. The treatment of leukemia not only depends on its type but also depends on the factors such as whether any leukemia treatment has been done before, leukemia cells and the extent of the disease. The treatment also depends on other factors such as general health, symptoms and age of a patient. There are three options of blood cancer treatment that include –
- Biological Therapy : Biological therapy, also referred to as immunotherapy, involves the treatment with those substances that affect the ability of an immune system to kill cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies and interferon are the two types of biological therapy. The purpose of monoclonal antibodies is to stick to cancer cells in order to draw the attention of the immune system to these cancer cells. On the other hand, interferon helps in stimulating the immune system so as to destroy the cancer cells. These two options are generally used for chronic leukemia instead of acute leukemia.
- Radiotherapy : Radiotherapy, also known as radiation therapy, makes use of energy rays such as X-rays for stopping the growth and multiplication of the cancer cells. This energy is directed at any particular part of the body such as the spleen or also to the entire body.
- Bone Marrow Transplantation : The cancerous cells are destroyed by using very big doses of radiotherapy and chemotherapy in this treatment procedure. Bone marrow transplant, also referred to as a stem cell transplant, is performed for replacing a damaged bone marrow with healthy bone marrow stem cells. In this procedure, healthy stem cells are taken from the bone marrow of one person and then transferring them to the bone marrow of another person. The conditions of damaged bone marrow are treated with the help of this procedure.