Blood cancers, also called haematological cancers, are the most commonly diagnosed cancer cases in the country. According to a report prepared by the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, India has the third-highest number of haematological cancers in the world with approximately 48 thousand cases just for leukemia (a type of blood cancer), and the count has been increasing with every passing day.
Although that number sounds alarming, there are treatments available that guarantee survival. Early detection, planning treatment, and implementation of therapy by well trained staff is vital for a successful outcome.
What Is Blood And Blood Cancer?
Blood is a liquid connective tissue formed by the bone marrow, a tissue found in the space inside the bones and is distributed all around the body. It has three cellular components: red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets suspended in fluid called plasma.
Red blood cells contain a protein called hemoglobin which transports oxygen to the other cells, white blood cells protect us against several infections, and platelets help the body form clots to stop bleeding. WBCs have several subtypes named as Neutrophils, Eosinophils, Basophils, Lymphocytes, and Monocytes.
When any of these blood cells start growing abnormally or go out of control interrupting the normal functioning of blood cells, then the condition is known as blood cancer.
Most blood cancers start in the bone marrow, which is where the blood is produced and then starts spreading to the rest of the body.
Types Of Blood Cancers
Blood cancers are of three types:
It is a type of blood cancer that originates in the blood and bone marrow. It occurs when the body starts producing an abundance of abnormal/unhealthy white blood cells and interferes with the bone marrow’s ability to make normal white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.
Common symptoms are fever, weakness, fatigue, green, black, red spots on skin.
In this type, the cancer targets the lymphatic system of the body. The lymphatic system comprises a network of vessels including lymph nodes, spleen, and thymus gland. Lymphoma quickly spreads to other tissues and organs in the body.
Enlarged lymph nodes are seen or palpable as lumps in the neck, armpit or groin. These nodes in the abdomen or chest are picked up by sonography, Xray, CT Scan, or PET Whole body scan.
This cancer typically occurs in the blood’s plasma cells. These cells multiply in an uncontrolled way, crowding out the normal cells in the bone marrow that make red blood cells, platelets, and other white blood cells.
Common symptoms include anemia, recurrent infections, or bleeding episodes. The condition also makes bones brittle, and they break easily without trauma. In some cases, the kidneys are also affected.
Symptoms Of Blood Cancer
Some common blood cancer symptoms include –
- Persistent fatigue or weakness
- Fever, chills
- Loss of appetite, nausea
- Weight loss
- Night sweats
- Bone/joint pain
- Abdominal discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent infections
- Itchy skin or skin rash
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, underarms, or groin
How Does Blood Cancer Start?
Cells make up every part of our body, including the blood and these cells are constantly dying and being replaced. Normally, these cells divide (split) in a controlled way, to make new cells when needed, but when this division goes out of control, it can lead to cancer.
In blood cancer, abnormal/unhealthy blood cells start and keep on multiplying. These cells may not be working properly and may stop the normal functioning of other healthy blood cells as well. The entire process stops the blood from doing the functions it normally performs to keep you healthy, like fighting off infections or helping to repair your body.
How Curable Is Blood Cancer?
The rate of cure is pretty high when it comes to blood cancer, but early detection is vital. Advances in treatment have actually improved the chances of survival for blood cancer patients.
Research shows that two thirds of people who have been diagnosed with leukemia have the probability of living five years or more. But even though the disease is completely curable, the severity does depend on the stage of disease, age, and the type of cancer. Having a healthy lifestyle, avoiding direct exposure to radiation or chemicals such as pesticides or benzene can reduce the risk of developing cancer.
Treatment Of Blood Cancer
Treatment for blood cancers depends on the type of blood cancer, the age, the pace at which the cancer is progressing, and how much it has spread in the body.
Some common blood cancer treatments are:
Chemotherapy – It uses anticancer drugs to interfere or stop the growth of cancer cells in the body. It sometimes involves giving several drugs together in a set regimen. This treatment may also be a precursor to a stem cell transplant.
Targeted Therapy – A type of cancer treatment, targeted therapy also uses drugs or other substances to precisely identify and attack certain types of cancer cells.
Bone Marrow Transplantation – It’s a procedure where damaged or destroyed bone marrow is replaced with healthy bone marrow stem cells.
Radiation Therapy – Its use in blood cancer is rare, but in some selected cases the therapy can be used to destroy cancer cells or to relieve pain or discomfort. It may also be given before a stem cell transplantation.