By Dr. Meenu Walia, Oncology
Blood cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer, which affects the functioning and production of your blood cells. This type of cancer originates from the bone marrow and occurs when your body’s control mechanism stops functioning, leading to abnormal or uncontrollable growth of blood cells. As cancer spreads, it hinders your body’s ability to fight off infections.
Types of Blood Cancer-
Depending on the type of blood cell that has been affected, blood cancer can be classified into three types –
• Leukemia – This type of cancer occurs when abnormal blood cells start developing rapidly in the bone marrow. This affects the bone marrow’s ability to produce platelets and red blood cells.
• Lymphoma – This form of cancer affects the lymphatic system. Lymphocytes are white blood cells that fight infections. Abnormal growth of lymphocytes in the lymph nodes and other tissues cause lymphoma.
• Myeloma – This refers to the cancer of the plasma cells, which are responsible for producing antibodies.
Causes and Risk Factors-
Blood cancer is mainly caused due to DNA mutations that may occur due to any number of reasons – in most cases, these reasons are related to things that are beyond our control. However, research shows there are certain factors that put you at risk of developing blood cancer.
These risk factors include –
• A family history of blood cancer/leukemia
• Genetic disorders like Down syndrome
• Certain infections
• Weak immune system
• Exposure to chemicals and radiation
• Previous cancer treatment like radiation therapy or chemotherapy
• Smoking – increases your chances of getting Acute Myeloid Leukaemia
Early Signs to Look Out For –
Many times, as the disease progresses slowly, the person may not notice any observable symptoms. However, if cancer spreads rapidly, the symptoms may show up clearly. In that case, you must watch out for the early signs –
• Fatigue and weakness
• Shortness of breath
• Easy bruising
• Bleeding gums
• Rapid or unintentional weight loss
• Minimal body strain resulting in fractures
• Recurrent fever or infections
• Vomiting tendency
• Excessive sweating at night
• Tenderness and bone pain
• Swelling of the lymph nodes
• Dark spots or fine rashes on the skin
• Enlargement of the liver or spleen
Certain types of blood cancer, like leukemia, may spread to affect other organs of the body – kidneys, gastrointestinal tract or the lungs.
Identifying the signs of the disease is crucial in seeking early diagnosis and treatment of blood cancer.
Treatment of Blood Cancer-
Once the disease is diagnosed, the doctor will recommend treatment depending on the stage of cancer. The main objective of the treatment should be the complete eradication of cancer.
Treatment options include –
• Chemotherapy – The doctor administers a combination of drugs in the bloodstream to destroy the rapidly growing cancer cells
• Radiation Therapy – High-energy radiation is directed to a specific part of your body or to the entire body in order to damage the cancer cells and prevent their growth
• Biological Therapy – Helps the immune system identify and destroy cancer cells
• Bone Marrow Transplantation – A procedure used to replace diseased or damaged bone marrow with a healthy stem cell
• Blood Transfusion – a procedure whereby blood components are added to replace the deficiencies in the bloodstream
Being diagnosed with blood cancer can be emotionally and physically taxing. However, with new advancement in medical science, treatment of the disease may be possible in the initial stage. Keep an eye on your health and consult an oncologist at the earliest if you encounter the above symptoms.