What is blood cancer?
Blood cancer is a type of cancer that affects the bone marrow and eventually the production and normal functions of blood cells.
Normally, old blood cells die, and new cells replace them in a period.
But blood cancer affects the bone marrow where these cells are formed.
There are stem cells in the bone marrow which mature and develop into different types of cells.
Bone marrow can manufacture red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelet cells. This production is hindered by the growth of abnormal cancer cells.
There are many symptoms of blood cancer which can be determined easily.
We will discuss the types, symptoms, diagnosis and stages of blood cancer in this article.
Types of blood cancer
There are three types of blood cancer that have been categorised on the basis of the type of blood cells which is affected:
Leukaemia is the cancer of white blood cells. It causes the rapid production of defective white blood cells in the bone marrow.
These defective cells are not capable of fighting the infectious organisms entering the body.
It could be acute I.e., rapidly growing or chronic I.e., slower growing cells.
It could also affect the lymphatic system or immune cells. It also affects the bone marrow’s ability to produce red blood cells.
There are some common forms of leukaemia, namely:
Chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML)
Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)
Hairy cell leukaemia (HCL)
Acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APML)
Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)
Chronic lymphoblastic leukaemia (CLL)
It is the type of blood cancer that affects, especially the lymph nodes.
The lymphatic system is accountable to eliminate excess fluids in the body or to produce immune cells.
Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that fight the infection and lymphoma affects these cells.
Abnormal lymphocytes are produced in this blood cancer and these abnormal cells become lymphoma cells which massively grow in lymph nodes.
There are two common forms of lymphoma, namely:
- Multiple myeloma
Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell that produce antibodies to fight disease-causing organisms. Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that affects these plasma cells and eventually weakens the immune system of the patient. This makes the patient more prone to infections.
Prevalence of types of blood cancer
Different types of blood cancer is being observed differently in the population.
The table below shows how much prevalent a type of blood cancer is:
Symptoms of blood cancer
There are several symptoms of blood cancer which can be used to determine the condition early.
Early detection leads to efficient treatment and improved quality of life.
Here is the list of some of the common symptoms of blood cancer are:
- Cough –
Frequent coughing and chest pain are the common symptoms of leukaemia which occur due to the buildup of abnormal white blood cells in the spleen.
- Regular infection –
As the abnormal white blood cells are formed in large numbers but these cells are unable to fight any infectious entity hence regular infection is an ordinary symptom of blood cancer.
- Fever –
Fever is a secondary symptom that is observed as a result of infection. As the immune system of the body is not strong enough to fight those infection-causing organisms, fever and chills occur usually in blood cancer.
- Unreasonable rashes –
Bruising and unexplained bleeding with unreasonable rashes and tiny red dots on the skin are the most common symptoms of blood cancer in females.
- Nausea –
Nausea and the feeling of throwing up are common multiple myeloma symptoms. The possible reason behind it could be that the cancerous cells accumulate in the spleen which pushes the stomach.
- Weakness –
Feeling tired and weak may occur due to fewer red blood cells or anaemia. This is the most common symptom of blood cancer and can be seen in every type of blood cancer.
- Painless lumps in the neck or armpits –
Due to the accumulation of cancerous white blood cells in the lymph nodes, it forms lumps which can be felt. They are commonly painless and are often observed as a symptom of blood cancer.
- Itchy skin –
It is a common symptom of lymphoma. The skin gets rashes and becomes itchy. The reason is still unknown.
- Shortness of breath –
Most commonly observed symptom of blood cancer is shortness of breath. It is also a secondary symptom that occurs due to anaemia.
- Unknown weight loss –
This symptom is common in every type of cancer. As the cancerous cells grow rapidly, they take up all energy and food which causes the other normal cells to die. Hence eventually lead to weight loss.
These symptoms of blood cancer are very common and many of these depend upon the type of blood cancer a patient is suffering from. Some patients may experience different symptoms depending upon the severity of their condition.
Diagnosis of blood cancer
If the doctor suspects that the symptoms could be due to cancer, the medical professional will prescribe a diagnostic test to be sure.
A diagnostic test is a must in case of cancer to get essential information such as the location of the tumour, stage of cancer, affected organs etc. Different types of diagnostic tests are mentioned below complimentary to the type of blood cancer:
Some of the above-referred tests are
- Complete blood count (CBC) – This test is used to measure the number of red blood cells, white blood cells and other things.
- Biopsy – A small sample of tissue is taken out to examine for cancer cells.
- Imaging tests – Some imaging tests such as PET scan, CT scan, X-ray or MRI used to diagnose any type of cancer.
Stages of blood cancer
Staging is a method to characterise the degree how much the cancer has grown and spread to other organs.
The doctor uses these stages to plan a precise treatment plan for the patient according to their condition. The stages of blood cancer are:
- Stage 1 – Cancer has not spread that much but there are enlarged lymph nodes.
- Stage 2 – The organs near major lymph nodes are affected such as the liver, spleen, and other lymph nodes.
- Stage 3 – Problems like anaemia have started to appear in stage 3 along with the issues mentioned above.
- Stage 4 – In the 4th stage, other vital organs have started to get affected and the rate of blood platelets falls down sharply.
Symptoms of blood cancer are vaguely distant from any other condition, so might get hard to distinguish between them.
Consult your doctor if you observe more than two symptoms persisting for more than a week without any improvement in the condition.