According to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, one person gets diagnosed with a blood cancer every three minutes in the United States. Right now, over 1 million Americans are either living with or are in remission from blood cancer (Cancer Center). Today, we’ll cover common types and treatments for blood cancer.
There are multiple variations of blood cancer. A blood cancer is a type of cancer that originates in blood-forming tissue. Blood cancers usually begin in bone marrow, where the body produces blood, though how it starts can vary based on the particular blood cancer.
Leukemia can be found your blood and bone marrow. It’s caused by the rapid production and growth of abnormal white blood cells. These cells survive better than unaffected normal cells, which quickly become suppressed. Leukemia cells inhibit the growth of normal cells and render the body unable to fight infection. Unfortunately, these bad cells can spread to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, liver and spleen.
There are various classifications of leukemia, including acute myelogenous (AML), chronic myelogenous (CML), acute lymphocytic (ALL) and chronic lymphocytic (CLL). ALL is most prevalently found in children, while AML and CLL are most commonly found in adults.
There are a few rare types of leukemia, as well, including hairy cell, chronic myelomonocytic, juvenile myelomonocytic, large granular lymphocytic, and blasti plasmactyoid.
Lymphoma is the most common blood cancer, and it is categorized into two diseases: Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (Hodgkin’s Disease or HL) and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (Non-Hodgkin’s Disease or NHL).
HL is detected if lymphoma cells contain a specific abnormal “Reed-Sternberg cell,” while NHL is the classification of all other strands of lymphoma identified as not having the “Reed-Sternberg cell.”
HL is the most curable blood cancer. It forms when cells reproduce abnormally, grow, and form masses (usually in lymph nodes), making the body less able to fight infections. The cancerous cells crowd out normal white cells, and the immune system can’t guard against infection effectively.
NHL isn’t one disease. In fact, there are over 60 different types of NHL (Lymphoma Research Foundation). NHL is an assortment of lymphomas that develop in the same manner, and covers any lymphoma not classified as Hodgkin’s. NHL usually begins in the lymph nodes and lymphatic tissues, and can involve the blood and bone marrow.
Myeloma affects plasma cells. The cancer is caused when malignant cells form and build up in bone marrow, and it can spread to the outer portion of the bones. Myeloma that forms in the outer portion of the bones leads to the risk of tumor formation. Myeloma cells prevent antibodies from producing, and leave the body with a weakened immune system. The cells can also cause bone deterioration and destruction, leading to fractures and bone discomfort or pain.
Myeloma is classified as either isolated (solitary) plasmacytoma, or multiple myeloma. Isolated plasmacytoma occurs when only one plasma cell tumor, or plasmacytoma, is present in the body, while multiple myeloma exists when there is more than one plasmacytoma.
Unfortunately, unlike cancers with local tumors, blood cancers (with the exception of myeloma tumors) are not operable, as the cancer is spread through the body.
Common procedures that are more readily used when treating or curing blood cancers include chemotherapy, drugs, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, bisphosphonates, stem cell transplants, and plasmapheresis. Decades of research have helped us make tremendous progress, but there is much more to learn and many more lives to be saved.
A Sign of Progress
“The overall five-year relative survival rate for leukemia has more than quadrupled since 1960. From 1960 to 1963, the five-year relative survival rate among whites (only data available) with leukemia was 14 percent. From 2005 to 2011, the overall relative survival rate was 61.7 percent.” – Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Despite a direct cause of blood cancers being difficult to pinpoint, risk factors can be treated with prevention such as exercise, healthy eating, and limiting exposure to sun and radiation, benzene and other plastic and oil chemicals, herbicides, pesticides, and tobacco.
While experts still do not have a universal cause or cure for blood cancer, there is a lot of research currently being undergone to help identify further treatments and cures.
Clinical trials and promising research findings are helping to create new treatments and drugs, and patients are benefitting from advances such as stem cell transplants, antibody cloning, and genome profiling.
Though the cures for leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma have not yet been found, testing and treatments are certainly making promising advances to a better understanding of and fight against blood cancer.