Blood cancers affect the formation and function of blood cells. Most of the time, the cancer begins in the bone marrow where blood cells are created. Normally, stem cells in the bone marrow develop into three kinds of blood cells: platelets, red blood cells, and white blood cells. In most blood cancers, the uncontrolled growth of an abnormal type of blood cell interferes with the development of normal blood cells. The cancerous cells interfere with the blood's ability to perform its functions, such as preventing serious bleeding or battling infections in the body.
There are several types of leukemia: acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), myelodysplastic syndromes, hairy cell leukemia, and myeloproliferative disorders. ALL is the most common type in children, while AML is most common in adults. Experts believe most leukemia cases are a result of a mutation in the DNA of blood cells. The mutated cells grow and divide more rapidly than normal cells and continue to survive when normal cells would typically die. Over time, these mutated cells outnumber healthy cells in the bone marrow, leading to the symptoms of leukemia.
Leukemia symptoms vary with the type of leukemia a person has. Some common leukemia symptoms include frequent infections, persistent fatigue and weakness, swollen lymph nodes, fever or chills, an enlarged spleen or liver, recurrent nosebleeds, unintentional weight loss, excessive sweating, especially at night, tiny red spots on the skin, bone tenderness or pain, and easy bruising or bleeding.
Lymphoma affects the lymphatic system, which creates immune cells and removes excess fluid from the body. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that helps fight infections. Lymphoma begins when a lymphocyte develops a genetic mutation, making the cancerous cell multiply rapidly. Lymphoma may develop in the lymph nodes (lymph glands), bone marrow, thymus gland, or spleen. There are several types of lymphoma. The most common subtypes are chronic lymphocytic leukemia, cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Hodgkin's lymphoma, Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia, and cutaneous B-cell lymphoma.
Some common signs of lymphoma include painless swelling of the lymph nodes in the groin, armpits, or neck, night sweats, fever, unintentional weight loss, persistent fatigue, and shortness of breath. Certain factors put some individuals at higher risk of developing lymphoma. Individuals who have a compromised immune system from immune system diseases or taking immunosuppressant drugs are more likely to develop lymphoma. Infections such as Helicobacter pylori infection and the Epstein-Barr virus also put people at higher risk for developing this cancer.
Multiple myeloma forms in white blood cells, plasma cells, which help ward off infections in the body by making antibodies that recognize and fight germs. The infected cells gather in bone marrow and push out healthy cells. These cancer cells create abnormal proteins that can cause complications in the body.
In the early stages of multiple myeloma, a person may not have any symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they vary from person to person. An individual with multiple myeloma may experience nausea, bone pain, especially in the chest or spine, mental confusion or fogginess, frequent infections, unintentional weight loss, fatigue, constipation, loss of appetite, excessive thirst, and weakness or numbness in the legs. Multiple myelomas may cause several complications, including thinning bones, bone pain, and broken bones, low red blood cell count, and reduced kidney function that can lead to kidney failure. Frequent infections also may occur due to the body's inability to fight infections effectively.
If a doctor suspects someone has blood cancer, she will likely order blood tests to measure the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in the blood. Blood tests can also look for the M protein produced by myeloma cells. A bone marrow biopsy can diagnose blood cancer as well. A doctor collects a sample of bone marrow with a long, thin needle. The bone marrow is sent to the laboratory for analysis. If a physician suspects lymphoma, she may recommend a lymph node biopsy, removing all or part of a lymph node and sending it to the lab for testing. Imaging tests can also spot bone damage caused by multiple myeloma or determine whether cancer has spread throughout the body.
Cancer treatment depends on many factors, such as age, what type of cancer is present, whether the cancer has spread in the body, and one's overall health. Chemotherapy is a common treatment for cancer; the procedure uses one or more drugs to kill cancerous cells. The doctor may administer the drugs as pills or injections.
In a bone marrow transplant, healthy replaces diseased. Before the transplant, a doctor collects blood-forming stem cells from the patient's blood. The individual will then receive high doses of chemotherapy to destroy his diseased bone marrow. The collected stem cells are injected into the body where they travel to the bones and start to regrow bone marrow.
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