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Blood cancer, also known as hematologic cancer, is a specific type of cancer that affects the bone marrow of a person’s body. The bone marrow is the spongy tissue inside the bones in a person's hips and thighs responsible for developing red blood cells and circulating oxygen throughout the body.
When cancer spreads to this vital body part, the entire body gets affected simply because your body cannot function without blood. Blood is how your body receives and distributes nutrients, similar to fuel for a car; blood also has the same purpose. This red liquid is how you get up every day out of bed and live.
There are three main types of blood cancer, which will be described in detail below:
Leukemia is a specific type of blood cancer is caused by an abnormal increase in the body’s white blood cells. This causes a disbalance in the composition of the ratio of the white blood cells to red blood cells. This imbalance restrains the white blood cells from doing the job they are responsible for correctly, combined with a lack of red blood cells and platelets; this combination becomes life-threatening.
On the other hand, lymphoma is rooted in the cells responsible for maintaining the immune system and fighting off infections in the body; these are known as lymphocytes. When a patient has lymphoma, the lymphocytes in their body start to mutate and grow out of control.
Lymphoma further has two types Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin. Hodgkin is the less common type of lymphoma, while Non-Hodgkins is the more common type. The difference is the type of lymphocytes that get affected in the two types of cancers.
Myeloma is the type of blood cancer that forms in the blood's plasma cells. Plasma cells are meant to help your body fight off infections and disease. However, plasma cells affected by blood cancer combine in the bone marrow, leaving no space for healthy plasma cells.
Therefore, the body’s defense is weakened as its immune system is now compromised. Moreover, the cancerous plasma cells cause mutations to form in the body, leading to the growth of an abnormal type of protein. These, along with the compromised immune system, cause complications in the body.
There are different symptoms for the different types of blood cancers. However, some common symptoms exist regardless of class. We will discuss both in detail.
Some common symptoms for the three types include fatigue that is so persistent that it causes somewhat permanent weakness. Fever and chills also become very common and exist for prolonged periods in the patient. Patients also complain of nausea, and therefore this causes a loss in appetite, which further creates a weakness in the body for the patient. This also leads to weight loss which could also be unexplained, depending on patient and case to case.
Patients also complain of cold sweats, knee pain, joint pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, and, importantly, compromised immune systems, leading to more and more prone to infections and disease. Patients have also complained of unexplained itching and random rashes, leading to possible swollen lymph nodes; these mainly occur under the armpits, neck, and sometimes even near the groin.
There are many causes of blood cancer. However, there are some common causes for this disease. These include factors such as family genetics and environment. Family genes play a very vital role in your overall health as is. However, it is of utmost importance when it comes to blood cancer. Especially in the case of an extended family history of blood cancer. Other factors include whether the patient is a smoker or not, the patient's overall health, whether they have a genetic disorder such as Down Syndrome, or if they have been exposed to radiation sometime in their life.
Some people become more at risk of developing blood cancer, especially in the case of whether they fall within a certain age bracket, that is, they are over the age of 65 or not. They also depend on where they live and the available facilities, which means the better access to doctors and hospitals, the better. However, with the advent of telehealth facilities, this risk has been contained to some extent.
The general treatment for blood cancer mainly includes radiation therapy, where the dangerous cancer cells are removed from the body using radiation. Chemotherapy is the more common solution and usually is the treatment for most types of cancer and not just blood. Chemotherapy involves using anti-cancer drugs for a prolonged period on the patient to stop the growth of the cancerous cells in the body. Other treatment plans include a bone marrow transplant which will prevent the bone marrow from producing the cancerous cells by replacing it altogether.
You should visit a doctor if you see some or all of the symptoms of blood cancer, especially if you are a high-risk patient. Suppose there is a vast family history or falls within a certain age bracket.
Sarwat Makkani, MD
Khurram Tariq, MD
Yanelquis Torres, MD
Raga Mohamed Ali Osman
Sipra Talvikki Autio