Blood Cancer, The Signs You Need To Know! 1.2 Million People Are Diagnosed With This Cancer Annually
Blood has been described as the “fluid of health” because it transports oxygen, nutrients, antibodies, and other vital substances throughout the body. Cancer, however, can seriously interfere with the blood’s duties of providing nourishment.
Every year, an estimated 1.2 million blood cancer cases occur worldwide, with about 650,000 people dying from the disease. In fact, blood cancer is so prevalent that in the United Kingdom alone, somebody is diagnosed with the condition every 20 minutes.
What’s even more frightening is that one person is diagnosed with a blood cancer every three minutes in the United States, while every nine minutes, someone dies from a blood cancer, according to the National Foundation For Cancer Research (NFCR). The NFCR also reports that blood cancers account for almost 10 percent of new cancer cases in the United States annually.
Medical professionals and researchers say there are over 100 different types of blood cancers, but the most commonly diagnosed blood and bone marrow cancers are the following:
- Leukemia. Leukemia grows in the bone marrow and blood. Blood cancer occurs when the body produces an excessive number of abnormal white blood cells and prevents the bone marrow from producing platelets and red blood cells. Leukemias are the most common cancer in children and account for about 28 percent of all childhood cancers, according to the NFCR.
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This blood cancer originates in the lymphatic system from lymphocytes—a type of white blood cell that can grow abnormally and form tumors throughout the body. The lymphatic system is part of the immune system and includes bone marrow, lymph nodes, and lymphatic vessels that carry lymph and white blood cells.
- Hodgkin lymphoma. Hodgkin lymphoma also develops in the lymphatic system. However, Hodgkin lymphoma has a specific type of abnormal lymphocyte, called a Reed-Sternberg cell that causes tumors. Reed-Sternberg cells only make up a small portion of a Hodgkin lymphoma tumor, the rest are made up of normal lymphocytes, which can lead to inflammation.
- Multiple myeloma. This cancer originates in the blood’s plasma cells, a type of white blood cell made in the bone marrow.
Because there are many types of blood cancers, it is important to have an accurate diagnosis before deciding on treatment, according to Dr. Scott Frederick Huntington, a hematologist and medical director of Yale Cancer Center’s Hematology Outpatient Program at Yale School of Medicine.
Common Warning Signs of Blood Cancer
Medical experts says blood cancer is difficult to detect because many of the warning signs of blood cancer are also symptoms of other diseases. The condition is also hard to detect because some “blood cancers may show no symptoms and slowly progress over years,” Dr. Huntington said in an online article from Yale Medicine about blood cancer.
Some of the most common warning signs that indicate the possibility of blood cancer include:
- Frequent infections that are persistent, recurrent or severe
- Itchy skin or skin rash
- Loss of appetite
- Lumps or swellings
- Night sweats
- Paleness (pallor)
- Persistent fatigue, weakness that doesn’t improve with rest or sleep
- Pain in the bones, joints or abdomen (stomach area)
- Shortness of breath
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, underarms or groin
- Unexplained bruising or bleeding
- Unexplained weight loss
Swelling of lymph nodes, liver and spleen are also common signs.
People with blood cancer also have problems with blood clotting. Platelets are blood cells that form blood clots to help stop bleeding. When the body does not produce enough platelets, the platelet count is low, and this can cause trouble stopping bleeding.
How Does Blood Cancer Start?
The majority of blood cancers, also known as hematologic cancers, begin in the bone marrow, the soft, spongy tissue found inside of the bones. Blood cancer can also start in the lymphatic system which fights against infections.
Bone marrow contains blood stem cells that can produce red blood cells and platelets. Blood cancer develops when abnormal blood cells begin to grow out of control and interferes with the normal blood cells’ ability to fight infection and produce new blood cells.
Unlike breast cancer and colon cancer which have screenings to detect the diseases, there are no effective screenings that can help detect blood cancer in its early stages, according to medical experts. Because of this, people do not usually know they have blood cancer until they experience warning signs and symptoms.
Once blood cancer is suspected, healthcare providers conduct tests and procedures, including blood tests, bone marrow tests, X-rays, CT scans, and other imaging tests.
Treatments for blood cancer
As with other cancers, chemotherapy and radiation are the most common treatments for blood cancer. Chemotherapy involves an injection of anti-cancer drugs into the body to kill the production of cancer cells while radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells.
Another treatment is a blood stem cell transplant that involves transplanting healthy stem cells into the bone marrow or the blood. The transplant helps restore the normal production and function of blood cells. Before a transplant occurs, patients usually undergo a course of treatments, such as radiation or chemotherapy, to remove their own stem cells and prepare the body for the new stem cells.
Questions to ask your doctor
For people experiencing warning signs of blood cancer and believe they might have the disease, Blood Cancer UK recommends making a doctor’s appointment and provides a list of questions to ask the doctor:
- I’m worried about blood cancer—is that something you can rule out?
- Do I need a blood test?
- Do I need a lymph node biopsy?
- Do I need any scans?
- Do you need to take a urine sample?
- As my symptoms might be blood cancer, can I be referred for tests on the two-week suspected cancer pathway?
Even if you have only one symptom that you cannot explain, Blood Cancer UK suggests making an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.