In September, we observe Blood Cancer Awareness Month. These cancers can affect the cells in our blood, bone marrow, and lymph nodes. More than 315,000 people will be diagnosed with some form of blood cancer this year. With so many people being effected, it’s important to raise awareness and learn the signs and symptoms of the various blood cancers.
What Is Blood Cancer?
Cancers are named after the area of the body in which they develop. Thus, blood cancers start in the blood tissue. These cancers affect the ability of healthy blood cells to grow and function properly. Blood cancer treatment depends on the type and stage of cancer, but many blood cancer patients receive treatment from a hematologist-oncologist.
Leukemia affects the bone marrow and blood of a patient. The bone marrow cells begin to spread and crowd the development of normal, healthy cells. The growth and progression of the cells depend on the type of leukemia a patient has:
- Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia
- Acute Myeloid Leukemia
- Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
- Chronic Myeloid Leukemia
- Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukemia
Lymphoma develops in the lymphatic system. This system of tissues and organs help detoxify the body by transporting lymph throughout. This fluid contains white blood cells that fight infection. There are two types of lymphoma: Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and Hodgkin Lymphoma, (in which there is a presence of Reed-Sternberg cells, large cancerous cells named after the doctor who discovered them).
Myeloma is a type of blood cancer that develops from the cells found in the bone marrow. It is a cancer of plasma cells, which are an important part of your body’s immune system. The immune system is the body’s way of helping fight infection, but when someone has myeloma, the cancerous plasma cell will grow uncontrollably. This makes it very hard for the body’s immune system to fight off the infection.
Warning Signs of Leukemia, Lymphoma and Myeloma
The signs of leukemia, lymphoma, and Myeloma are often different, even though they are all blood cancers. Below are the symptoms to look out for.
Early symptoms of leukemia
Many patients don’t experience symptoms during the early stages of Leukemia. In most cases, the symptoms develop slowly. Often, leukemia starts with flu-like symptoms, including night sweats, fatigue, and fever. However, if these flu symptoms go on for longer than usual, it’s best to contact a doctor.
Other early symptoms of leukemia include:
- Loss of appetite or sudden weight loss
- Bone or joint pain
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent infections
- Easy bruising or heavy bleeding
How is leukemia diagnosed? Most doctors will start with discussing a patient’s medical history to check risk factors. Also, the doctor will conduct a physical exam to check out the lymph nodes and other affected areas. Next, doctors may look for further evidence of leukemia through a blood test, bone marrow test, gene test, lymph node biopsy, or imaging tests.
Treatment of leukemia will depend on the type and stage of the cancer. Contact CCCN to learn more.
Warning signs of Lymphoma
There are two main types of lymphoma: Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Because these are two different cancers, they are associated with different symptoms as well.
Hodgkin Lymphoma: Often, patients notice a lump under their skin that indicates an enlarged lymph node (usually in the neck, underarm, or groin). Also, patients may suffer from fever, night sweats, sudden weight loss, itchy skin, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Symptoms of lymphoma in lungs can also occur. Swollen lymph nodes in the chest cavity can cause trouble breathing or some coughing.
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: Early warning signs for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma include: swollen lymph nodes, fever, sweating, weight loss, extreme tiredness, swollen abdomen, chest pain or pressure, and shortness of breath.
Myeloma signs and symptoms
There are several forms of myeloma, those include:
- Multiple myeloma is the most common and affects multiple areas of the body.
- Plasmacytoma only presents itself in one area of the body, such as a tumor in the bone, skin, muscle, or lung.
- Localized myeloma can be found in one site but has spread to the surrounding areas.
- Extramedullary myeloma effects tissue other than the marrow, such as the skin, muscles or lungs.
It’s not always clear why some cells become myeloma cells; however, some risk factors include medical history, race, age, and gender. Other risk factors are obesity and radiation or exposure to certain kinds of chemicals such as pesticides, fertilizers and Agent Orange. In the early stages of myeloma, some patients have no signs or symptoms.
Some physicians refer to the acronym, CRAB, to describe symptoms of myeloma:
C – Calcium elevation
R – Renal insufficiency
A – Anemia
B – Bone abnormalities