What You Need to Know About Blood Cancer

What knowledge or awareness do you have about blood cancer? Blood cancer affects the production and functioning of the blood cells. Most of these blood cancers start in the bone marrow were the blood is produced. Stem cells in the bone marrow mature and develop into three types of blood cells which are red blood cells, white blood cells and the platelets. In most types of blood cancer the normal blood cells development process is interrupted by uncontrolled growth of abnormal types of cells. These abnormal blood cells prevent the blood from performing its functions such as fighting off infections or preventing serious bleeding. Below are some of the types of blood cancers, their characteristics and symptoms, the causes, the stages of the blood cancers and how they can be controlled/treated.

There are three main types of blood cancers:
Leukemia is a type of cancer found in the blood and the bone marrow, a spongy tissue found in the bone which is caused by the rapid production of abnormal white blood cells. The high number of abnormal white blood cells is not able to fight infections and they impair the ability of the bone marrow to produce red blood cells and the platelets.

The four main types of leukemia are: acute myeloid leukemia which is most common in people over 70, although people of any age can also get it, acute lymphoblastic leukemia that is common with children, chronic lymphocytic leukemia which is more common to people of over 60 years and is very rare in people under 40 years. Finally, chronic myeloid leukemia which is a rare type of leukemia.

This type of blood cancer affects the lymphatic system which is responsible for producing immune cells as well as getting rid of excess fluids from the body. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that fights infection. Abnormal lymphocytes become lymphoma cells which multiply and collect in the lymph nodes and other body tissues. Over time these cancerous cells impair the immune system.

There are two main types of lymphoma: Hodgkin lymphoma and nonhodgkin lymphoma.

Myeloma is a type of cancer of the plasma cells that is also known as multiple myeloma. The plasma cells are white blood cells that produce antibodies that help in fighting diseases and infections in the body. Myeloma cells therefore prevent the normal production of the antibodies leaving the body immune system weakened and susceptible to infection.

The causes of blood cancer
Exposure to radiation
Exposure to chemicals
Human T-cell leukemia virus (HTLV) and
Genetic factors

Most of the cancers are related to environmental, lifestyle, or behavioral exposures.

Some of the common symptoms of blood cancers include:
Unexpected weight loss
Feeling weak or breathless
Easily bruise problems or bleed
Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, underarms and groin
Swollen stomach or abdominal discomfort
Frequent and repeated infections and pain in bones or the joints
Itchy skin or skin rash
Constant headaches
Loss of appetite and nausea
Night sweats and fever.

Blood cancer undergoes the following stages:
The first stage includes the enlargement of the lymph nodes. This happens because of the sudden increasing number of the lymphocytes. The risk at this stage is very low as the cancer is not yet spread or affected any other physical organ. In the 2nd stage spleen, liver and lymph nodes get enlarged. It is not necessary that all these organs get affected at the same time. The growth of the lymphocytes is very high in this stage. In the blood cancer 3rd stage anaemia develops. More than two organs get affected in this stage. Lastly, the 4th stage has the highest risk ratio. The rate of blood platelets starts falling rapidly. The cancerous cells start affecting the lungs including the other organs which started getting affected in the early stages. Anaemia, in this stage, is more likely to be acute.

Treatment of blood cancer depends on the type of cancer, age, how fast the cancer is progressing, and also where the cancer has spread. Some of the cancer treatments include stem cell transplantation, a stem cell transplant can be used to infuse healthy stem cells into the body to stimulate new bone marrow growth, suppress the disease and reduce a possibility of a relapse. The stem cell transplant can be done in the bone marrow, circulating blood (peripheral blood stem cells) and umbilical cord blood. Types of stem cell transport are autologous stem cell transplant and allogenic stem cell transplant.

Chemotherapy is the treatment in which anticancer drugs designed to interfere with and halt the rapid growth of cancer cells in the body. This treatment consists of giving several drugs together in a set of regimen. It may also be given before a stem cell transplant. Chemotherapy may also be used as a primary treatment to destroy cancer cells, before another treatment to shrink tumors, after another treatment to destroy any remaining cancer cells and to relieve the symptoms of advanced cancer. Some of the chemotherapy delivery methods are by the mouth as a pill or liquid, by infusion into the vein, as a cream applied on the skin, through injection and also through a lumber puncture or device placed under the scalp. When the chemotherapy drugs travel through the bloodstream to reach cells throughout the body, it’s called system chemotherapy. When chemotherapy drugs are directed to a specific area of the body, it’s called regional chemotherapy.

Radiation therapy is another type of treatment which uses targeted energy such as X-rays, radioactive substances to destroy cancer cells, shrink tumors and or alleviate certain cancer related systems. The types of radiation therapy are the external beam radiation therapy a radiation that is directed from a machine outside the body onto the cancerous cells within the body. Examples are: 3D conformal radiation therapy, IMRT, IGRT and tom therapy. Internal radiation therapy is a treatment in which radioactive material is placed via a catheter or other carrier directly into or near a tumor example high dose rate brachytherapy. Systemic radiation therapy is last radiation type in which a radioactive substance is swallowed or injected and travels through the blood to locate and destroy cancerous cells. Radioactive iodine therapy is an example.

Keep a check on the body’s functioning by going for regular health checkups to asses risk factors and diagnose diseases at the early stage. This will enable effective treatment and better management of the condition.

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