Did you know there are three major types of blood cancer? Leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma are types of cancer that affect the function of cells in the blood or the cells in the bone marrow that continually manufacture new blood cells to replace those that die off in the bloodstream. September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month, so let’s learn more about these types of cancers.
Leukemia is a blood and bone marrow cancer. In leukemia, white blood cells (leukocytes) are produced too rapidly—these white blood cells are not able to fight infection and disrupt the bone marrow’s ability to produce red blood cells and platelets. [1
] Red blood cells are necessary to carry oxygen throughout the body, and platelets help blood to clot—this is why common symptoms of leukemia are anemia (low hemoglobin, or iron), and having difficulty stopping bleeding from even small cuts.
Lymphoma affects the lymphatic system in the body, which is responsible to transfer fluids within the body, remove excess fluids to the kidneys, and also produce immune cells. In lymphoma, abnormal infection-fighting white blood cells called lymphocytes are formed. [1
] When lympthocytes become abnormal they impair the function of lymph nodes and other tissues, and impair the function of the immune system. [1
] The major symptom of lymphoma is swollen lymph nodes, but they are often painless—often swollen lymph nodes are in the neck, armpits and groin. [2
] Other symptoms of lymphoma, like other blood cancers, can seem similar to those of general illness like a cold or flu, and include general fatigue or tiredness, chills, fevers, night sweats, weight loss, appetite loss, headache, coughing and breathlessness, and persistent itching without a rash or other notable cause. [2
Myeloma affects plasma cells in the blood. Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell that produce antibodies that fight disease and infection. Myeloma cells prevent plasma from being produced properly and “crowd out” normal white blood cells, thus increasing susceptibility to infection. [1
] Early on, there may be no symptoms of the most common type, multiple myeloma. [4
] When there are symptoms, they may include bone pain, nausea, constipation, infections, weight loss, excessive thirst, and generalized symptoms of other blood cancers above. [4
Treating blood cancers
Most often, blood and bone marrow tests will be done to diagnose blood cancers. Sometimes, x-rays and urine tests will also be done. [4
] Most blood cancers are treated with one or a combination of therapies, including: chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapies that work only on specific cells, biologic therapies that help your own immune system fight the abnormal cells, corticosteroids to regulate/suppress the immune system’s growth of abnormal cells, or bone marrow transplant (also known as a stem cell transplant). [4
] Bone marrow is destroyed with chemotherapy, and healthy donor bone marrow is given via an IV and travels into the bone marrow to create a whole new, properly functioning immune system.
Medical ID for blood cancers
If you have leukemia, lymphoma, or myeloma, medical ID jewelry is important. Because of immune problems, extra precautions may need to be taken when providing care, including in an emergency, to help you stay healthy before, during, and when recovering from treatment. As well, a clinical trial medical ID
is important if you are on experimental medications, as changes in your health need to be promptly reported to the clinical trial coordinator and drug company.
Those with blood cancers will often require blood or blood products transfusions. Help those living with blood cancer and other health conditions by becoming a blood donor! You can also support those with blood cancers by wearing a red (all blood cancers), orange or lime green (leukemia) awareness bracelet