Blood cancer is also known as hematologic cancer.
Blood cancer often affects the lymphatic system, blood, and bone marrow. It occurs when an abnormal blood cell begins to grow uncontrollably, which affects the usual blood cell function and production.
According to the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program, the five-year comparative survival rate is:
- 66.7% for Leukemia
- 74.3% for Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- 88.9% for Hodgkin lymphoma
- 59.8% for Myeloma
This number has greatly improved in the past 50 years. Note, that these survival rates are estimates based on historical data and past treatments. Further breakthroughs in medicine can make a patient’s survival and experience more hopeful.
Types of Blood Cancer
Each blood cancer type has its distinct features as well as varying genetic mutations, risk factors, and subtypes.
Blood cancers are of different types. This means that even though they all have a generic name, “blood cancer,” they exist in various forms and are classified as such. These name tags are derived from the affected spots in the body system.
This is a type of blood cancer that develops in the bone marrow where blood cells are produced. It entails the overproduction of abnormal and immature white blood cells as opposed to the red ones. It can be acute or chronic. Besides this segregation, it is also classified by the specific type of white blood cell that is being affected. Hence, there are different stages of leukemia;
- Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML): This is a quick-growing leukemia that affects the lymphocytic cells.
- Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML): As opposed to the other, this one progresses slowly.
- Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL): It is a fast-progressing leukemia type that affects the lymphoid cells.
- Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL): This usually affects mature lymphocytes but grows slowly.
This blood cancer type starts its growth from a part of the immune system known as the lymphatic system. It usually entails an unusual growth in the white blood cells known as lymphocytes. There are two types of this kind of cancer and they are:
- Hodgkin Lymphoma: It is identified by a particular type of abnormal cell known as Reed-Sternberg cells. It can happen to anyone regardless of their age. However, it has a higher cure rate compared to the other cancer types.
- Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL): It is more common than its counterpart and usually includes the growth of multiple lymphomas with different behaviours and features.
It is often referred to as multiple myeloma. This cancer stems from growth in the white blood cell that produces antibodies known as plasma cells. For this blood cancer type, abnormal plasma cells gather in the bone marrow and disrupt the production of the usual blood cells. In summary, this cancer type weakens the bones and affects the immune system.
Signs and Symptoms of Blood Cancer
There are various signs and symptoms patients suffering from blood cancer experience. These symptoms are tell-tales of how serious the illness has progressed and prompt a visit to the health professionals. These include:
- Intense weight loss.
- Frequent infections as a result of a weakened and battered immune system.
- Prone to bleeding and bruising.
- Shortness of breath.
- Loss of appetite.
- Swollen and painless lymph nodes in the groin, neck, or armpit.
- Ache and pain in the bones, especially around the ribs and back.
- Recurrent episodes of fever and soaking night sweats.
- Enlarged liver and spleen which causes abdominal pains and discomfort.
- Sallow or pale skin complexion.
Causes of Blood Cancer
Usually, blood cancers are caused by mutations in the DNA of blood cells. However, other risk factors may vary depending on the type of blood cancer. Some of these causes are:
- Old age.
- Compromised immune system.
- History of infection with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a cause of infectious mononucleosis (mono).
- Exposure to industrial chemicals such as benzene, herbicides, and insecticides.
- History of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
- Relapses from previous cancer treatment.
- Contact with high doses of radiation.
- Other blood cancers history.
Suitable Treatment Plans
There is no general treatment or prognosis for all types of blood cancer. The treatment plan depends on the type, stage of diagnosis, and general health condition of the patient.
It is important that people experiencing any of the symptoms above seek medical help from professionals in the field. For blood cancer, there are different treatment plans that you can explore. Below are some of them:
- Immunotherapy: This treatment is not suitable for all blood cancers. It usually involves using immunotherapy drugs to energise the body system and help it identify and attack the cancer cells.
- Biological therapy: Therapies like monoclonal antibodies help the body to create a defense mechanism against cancer.
- Chemotherapy: Most people are familiar with this name because it is the most popular cancer treatment widely known. The treatment process entails using drugs to kill the cancer cells or stop their growth before they move on to risky places in the body.
- Target therapy: This treatment type uses specific drugs to attack targeted proteins or genes that are actively involved in the growth of cancer cells. The medications are created to concentrate on cancer cells while reducing the damage it does to normal cells.
- Stem cell transplant: It is also called a ‘bone marrow transplant.’ The process involves replacing the already damaged bone marrow with healthy stem cells.
- Radiation therapy: Just like other treatment plans, this treatment concentrates on destroying cancer cells. It is often used for specific blood cancers. The treatment entails using high-energy particles or rays to destroy cancer cells.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to selecting the best treatment for blood cancer. The choice of treatment usually depends on the patient’s health condition and personal choice. So, for some people, the treatment is often personalised and may entail a couple of therapies to get the best result.
Lastly, note that early detection and the advancement of cancer treatment options have improved the cure rates for many people diagnosed with blood cancers. It is safe to assume that one can be cured if the proper treatment is administered in time.
Researched by Olamide Opebiyi