- What is blood cancer?
Blood cancer which could also be referred to as hematological malignancy in medical term is a type of cancer that when outbreaks ;starts contaminating the production of blood cells.Thus, the function of blood cells are are affected. It infects the blood forming tissues and the lymphatic system .Hence,considerable treatments are required for remission or atleast extension of the survival time. It initiates from the blood-forming tissues i.e bone marrow, the fundamental tissue where blood is produced or the basis of other cells of the immune system.
Stem cells have the ability to develop into many different cell types in the body during early life and growth; when they mature in the bone marrow the cells develop into three types of blood cells: red blood cell(RBC) ,white blood cells (WBC) and platelets. The normal development of blood cells and the production process of blood is hindered because of the unusual growth of abnormal blood cells. These cancerous cells obstruct the blood from carrying out its normal functions that it’s required to perform for keeping us healthy e.g. capable of fighting infections or normal blood clotting functions.
Types of blood cancer:
There are several different types of blood cancers but the three main types of blood cancers include:
- Leukemia: A malignancy (cancer) of blood cells that generates abnormal blood cells in the bone marrow by disrupting the normal production of white blood cells whose functions are not similar to the normal functions of white blood cells, that is, fighting off diseases or infections. These cancerous cells eventually mutates and reconstructs uncontrollably blocking out the normal blood cells. As a result of which the normal functions of blood cells like blood clotting in case of wounds or cuts, transporting oxygen and defensive mechanism against infections becomes ineffective. Leukemia could show in two ways: acute or chronic.
In Acute Leukemia abnormal blood cells multiply very quickly in the blood and bone marrow. As a consequence of which symptoms like vulnerability to infections, getting bruised easily, and exhaustion etc. shows up. On the contrary, Chronic Leukemia develops over time and the symptoms might not show up at the beginning. But if not treated at the right time; it deteriorates as the cells mutate and grow at an increased uncontrollable rate manifesting similar signs and symptoms like acute Leukemia.
Leukemias are categorized by how rapidly or slowly cancerous cells develops and also the type of blood cells are affected (lymphocytes or myelocytes).Four common types of Leukemia includes:
- Acute Lymphatic Leukemia (ALL)
- Chronic Lymphatic Leukemia (CLL)
- Acute Myelocytic Leukemia ( AML)
- Chronic Myelocytic Leukemia ( CML)
- Lymphoma: A type of blood cancer that disrupts the functions of lymphatic system and lymph nodes. This malignancy interrupts the defensive mechanism against infection of a type of white blood cells called Lymphocytes. These cells are present in the lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow and other parts of the body. The cancerous cells of the lymphoma mutate the lymphocytes (i.e.that plays a crucial role in the immune system). These abnormal blood cells don’t die like the normal blood cells do in their life cycle. The fact of the presence of lymphocytes in blood and that the lymphatic tissue is connected throughout the body; if these lymphoma cells develops in one part of the system it could in no time invade and infect the entire system and other organs. Most often the lymphoma might spread in the liver, the bone marrow or lungs. Lymphoma is quite different than Leukemia as each of the blood cancers begin and affect a different type of cells. Lymphoma starts in lymphocytes (infections fighting white blood cells) whereas, Leukemia develops in blood-forming tissues inside bone marrow. There are two main types of lymphoma:
- Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: This is the most common type of lymphoma affecting the lymph nodes randomly skipping some as they appear in disparate nodes.
- Hodgkin Lymphoma: In this type of Lymphoma the cancerous cells, tend to mutate one lymph node after another sequentially.
- Myeloma: Myeloma occurs when plasma cells are infected with cancer. It starts in the bone marrow, where plasma cells are normally found. A type white blood cells that plays a crucial part in immune system and also make proteins called antibodies to fight off infections are plasma cells (also known plasma B cells).This blood cancer type is also a part of a group of disorders named “plasma cell dyscrasias”.Myeloma shouldn’t be confused with Leukemia or Lymphoma (other types of blood cancer).
In this cancer type, plasma cells made from B lymphocytes (B cells found in the bone marrow) are mutated as cancerous plasma cells. These cells disrupts the functions of the immune system and plasma cells. If these myeloma cells are left untreated, it grows uncontrollably; unsettling the healthy blood cells. This leads to the immune system failing to defend against infections secreting increased levels of proteins in the blood and urine resulting in kidney abnormalities. Crowding out blood cells mean low blood counts which causes anemia. Other consequences are lower level of platelets in blood which leads to inability to clot blood and prone to bruises. Myeloma cells also affect the cells responsible to keep bones strong eventually making them prone to fracture and weakness.
Myeloma is grouped according to how it develops and spreads. There are two main types of myeloma:
- Asymptomatic or Smoldering Myeloma: It develops and spreads slowly and doesn’t show up any symptoms despite the presence of the disease.
- Symptomatic or Active Myeloma: Manifests the symptoms of anemia, kidney failure, and hypercalcemia and so on.
Signs and Symptoms of Blood Cancer:
There are over hundreds of blood cancers but three main types are: Leukemia, Lymphoma, and Myeloma. Some of the signs and symptoms might be common which can be a setback also. Each cancer might be confused for another and thus diagnosis through tests becomes important. Some blood cancers might not even portray any signs and symptoms until the last or serious stage when aggressive treatment must be given. But it’s always advisable to be aware of key signs:
- Persistent tiredness (fatigue), dizziness
- Breathlessness ( even while resting)
- Pale skin, rashes, itchy skin
- Recurrence of unusual bleeding e.g. through nose, gums, wounds or heavy periods.
- Continual infections
- Chest pains
- High temperature (fever)
- Abdominal problems ( swollen stomach or discomfort)
- Pains in bones ,joints or ribs/back
- Enlarged lymph nodes in armpits ,neck or groin(usually painless)
- Nauseousness or loss of appetite (significant weight loss)
Treatment for blood cancer:
Although these signs and symptoms are common for most blood cancers, they could propose to be other diseases too. So diagnosis are really important even if most symptoms are found to be matched with one’s condition. Tests recommended by doctors should be carried out in order to diagnose the exact issue. Some common tests include:
- Blood tests
- Bone marrow observation
- Diagnostic imaging tests-MRI scan, CT scan, PET scan and X-ray
- Physical examination
Treatment for blood cancer relies on various factors like the type of cancer, age and how rapidly it’s developing, where has it spread and many more. Some common treatments for blood cancers:
- Stem cell transplantation: It involves transplanting healthy blood forming stem cells in the bone marrow so that it reconstructs to attain a healthy and normal blood circulation around the body. They could be collected from a healthy person’s bone marrow or umbilical cord blood.
- Chemotherapy: It uses drugs designed to block the cell mutation and division by cancerous cells in the body. It might be conducted before a stem cell transplantation.
- Radiation Therapy: It uses ionizing radiation to destroy cancer cells or to retrieve any discomfort caused by these cells. It might be used in a synergistic manner with chemotherapy to treat cancer which could be followed by stem cell transplantation.
It is always a good idea to consult a doctor as soon as the symptoms are observed. The recommendation of treatment would be given by doctors and specialists if the condition seems malicious or the symptoms observed persists for a long time. The causes of blood cancer has been a questionable for decades. Researchers are still after the answer of why it occurs and how would it be preventable even though it seems too good to be true and far from reality.