Blood is essential in the systemic biological functions of our organs as it brings oxygen and nutrients to different parts of the body. It also gets rid of waste materials from the lungs, kidneys, and digestive system; transports hormones; and fights infections. However, like the other organs in the body, it is also susceptible to being affected by one of the world’s deadliest diseases: cancer.
What are Blood Cancers?
Blood cancer, also known as hematologic cancer, happens when abnormal blood cells start to grow and disrupt the natural function of healthy blood cells. The blood is then unable to produce new normal cells or fight off infections.
Major Types of Blood Cancers
There are three types of blood cancers, and they attack the body differently.
Leukemia is characterized by the overproduction of white blood cells that multiply at a rapid rate and live longer than they are supposed to but fail to fight off infections. It usually starts in the bone marrow where the blood is produced.
There are four subtypes of this blood cancer:
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) – ALL is an overproduction of white blood cells called lymphocytes. These abnormal cells crowd healthy white blood cells, with the condition advancing quickly when not treated. Children ages three to five years old are the most common demographic to acquire this type of cancer.
- Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) – AML affects myeloid cells, which normally become white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. This type of cancer lowers the number of all three (3) healthy cells while also multiplying in numbers. People over 65 years of age are more likely to develop this cancer and is more common in men than women.
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) – CLL is the most common type of leukemia in adults. It also begins from growth abnormalities in the lymphocytes but does not show symptoms until years after the onset of cancer.
- Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) – CML is the slow growth version of AML. It is slightly more common in women than men, and both kids and adults alike can acquire it.
Lymphoma targets the lymphatic system, which houses the lymph nodes, spleen, and thymus gland. These vessels store and transport white blood cells throughout the body. This type of cancer starts in the lymphocytes and has two types:
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma – This primarily affects immune cells called B lymphocytes or B cells, which make antibodies that fight off bacteria. Hodgkin’s lymphoma causes the patient to grow large lymphocytes called Reed-Sternberg cells in their lymph nodes.
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – This may also start in B cells, as well as in T cells, another type of immune cell. This is more common than Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Myeloma is the cancer of the plasma cells, which are responsible for making antibodies. The cancer produces cells that are unable to fight off infections and outnumber the healthy blood cells in the bone marrow. This leaves the immune system weak and unable to fend for itself.
What are the Common Symptoms of Blood Cancer?
Below are some signs and symptoms across all types of blood cancer.
- Persistent fatigue and weakness
- Fever and chills
- Nausea and loss of appetite
- Consistent bone and joint pain
- Discomfort in the stomach
- Frequency of getting sick or infected
- Swelling of lymph nodes, liver, and spleen
Treatment Options for Blood Cancer
Blood cancer can be beaten. There are several treatment options for someone who is diagnosed with any type of blood cancer, though survival and cure rates vary.
- Chemotherapy – Chemo is an anticancer drug either administered intravenously or through a pill to kill cancer cells and stop their production.
- Radiation Therapy – Beams of intense energy are used to kill off cancer cells or relieve pain and discomfort associated with cancer symptoms. Radiation therapy may also be given before a stem cell transplant.
- Targeted Therapy – This treatment option uses drugs that attack specific genes and proteins which aid in the development of cancer cells, sparing healthy cells. Targeted therapy is standard in treating leukemia.
- Immunotherapy – A form of treatment that helps boost the immune system so the body can fight the growth and stop the spread of cancer cells.
- Stem cell transplantation – Also known as bone marrow transplant, this treatment option infuses healthy stem cells into the body and replaces damaged stem cells. This helps coach the body into producing healthy and normal blood cells after radiation therapy.
Understanding the Impact of Blood Cancer
Blood cancer is just one of the many devastating types of cancer that can damage the body. It can affect both children and adults and can progress in different timelines. Understanding the different types, along with their signs and symptoms, can help boost awareness and early detection.
If a loved one is exhibiting symptoms of blood cancer, do not hesitate to act quickly. Please take them to a doctor for an immediate check-up. Makati Medical Center has a team of specialized doctors in its oncology and cancer centers ready to examine and manage the condition of patients.