Does “blood cancer” exist?

We’ve had quite a few people asking questions about “blood cancer”, so we asked Dr Download the book cover. Leanne to answer them for you:

Have you heard that someone you know has been diagnosed with “blood cancer”? What is it actually? Blood Cancer isn’t quite the correct term. There are 3 different types of conditions that people may sometimes call ‘blood cancer’:

  • leukaemia
  • lymphoma
  • myeloma

Leukaemia

This cancer occurs in the blood itself and in the bone marrow (where blood is produced).

There are 4 main types: AML, ALL, CML, CLL.

Myeloma

When a tumour forms in the bone marrow, from plasma or white blood cells, we call it a Myeloma. There are 2 types:

  • Multiple: meaning it’s found in many sites in the body. This type is more common.
  • Solitary: meaning it’s found in only one place. This is a rare type.

Lymphoma

The lymph system is similar to the blood-system: there are tubes that run through your body, and certain fluid, called lymph, is channeled through these tubes. Your defence-cells is found in your lymph-system, and you’ll notice your lymph nodes swelling when you have infection.

Cancer of the lymph system is divided in two groups, with the one main difference being how the cancer spreads through the body:

  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

“So what exactly is Leukaemia then?”

In leukaemia, the patient’s bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells (called leukaemic cells and leukaemic blast cells).

These leukaemic cells divide repeatedly, producing an increasing number of copies of themselves. Unfortunately, these leukaemia cells don’t die when they become old or damaged (as normal blood cells would). Hence, they build up and crowd out the normal blood cells.

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These cells can also spread to the lymph nodes, brain and spleen.

“How do I know if I have Leukaemia?”

Cancer symptoms can be very different from person to person. With a single symptom, you won’t be able to say if it’s cancer, unless you have tests. Usually, a doctor will only do a blood test if you have several symptoms that make them worried.

Some of these symptoms are:

  • easy bruising/bleeding
  • infections
  • feeling tired/weak
  • unexplained weight loss
  • fever or night sweats
  • enlarged lymph nodes
  • bone or joint pain (especially, the back and ribs)
  • a swollen stomach
  • itchy skin
  • chest pain, shortness of breath, coughing
  • broken bones (especially, the back)

Remember, that these symptoms can also be due to other causes, besides cancer. This makes it important to see a doctor, to make the correct diagnosis.

“What causes blood cancer?”

Unfortunately, scientists still do not fully know what the causes are. If someone in your family has leukemia, there may be a higher risk for you to have the disease. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case with lymphoma or myeloma.

“What about the treatment?”

There are many different treatment options, and these depend on:

  • the patient’s age
  • the type of cancer
  • if it is progressing slowly or rapidly
  • where the cancer may have spread to
  • any other medical conditions the patient may already have

If you are worried, why not give one of our doctors a call? We can help you make the best decision about what to look out for, and which specialists you may need to visit.