What is blood cancer?

What is Blood Cancer?

Firstly, we need to understand: “what is cancer?” Cancer is basically the abnormal growth of any type of cell in the body be it brain cells, muscle cells or blood cells. This abnormal growth occurs due to various controllable and uncontrollable factors. They could be carcinogens, viral agents, hereditary factors, immune-compromised states and so on. So, when we say blood cancer we are generally talking about the uncontrolled growth of the cells that we find in the blood. It is a collective term for all the cancers involving Blood, Bone Marrow and the Lymphatic System. Usually, the problem arises from the blood-forming stem cells in the bone marrow. This disrupts the normal functioning of the blood cells which includes transporting nutrients and oxygen, providing immunity etc. The common signs & symptoms of the disease are:

  • Weakness, Fatigue, and Malaise
  • Minimal body strain results in bone fractures
  • Excessive or easy bruising
  • Recurrent infections or fever
  • Sweating of body during the night
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent vomiting sensations
  • Anorexia
  • Lymph node (gland) enlargement
  • Lumps or abdominal distension due to enlarged abdominal organs
  • Abdominal pain, Bone pain and Back pain
  • Delirium and confusion
  • Abnormal bleeding in gums nose and cuts, which will lead to platelet reduction
  • Headaches along with visual difficulties
  • The occurrence of fine rashes on dark spots
  • Decreased urination and difficulty while urinating

What are its types?

Cancer occurs in different forms depending upon what type of blood cell is abnormally increased. But, the following three types of cancer occur most commonly among the masses.

  • LYMPHOMAS: It is the name given to the cancer of the lymphocytes (a type of white blood cells), which removes excess fluids from the body and also produces immune cells. Cancer leads to the formation of Lymphoma cells which collect in our lymph nodes and ultimately destroy the immune system. These are further classified into two types:
  1. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: It is basically the cancer of lymphatic system which occurs most commonly due to Epstein Barr Virus or in patients with family history with this particular type of blood cancer.
  2. Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: It is the cancer of a specific type of lymphocyte which occurs due to various immune-compromised states such as HIV/AIDS, autoimmune diseases etc.
  • LEUKAEMIAS: Generally thought of as children’s disease, Leukaemia is prevalent in both children as well as adults. Most of the cases are seen in white men rather than African-Americans. It is usually present in the blood and bone marrow and mainly involves white blood cells of the body. The abnormal white blood cells (WBCs) are not able to fight infection, and they impair the ability of the bone marrow to produce red blood cells and platelets.

Some kinds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy which are given to cure other cancers can sometimes lead to the development of Leukaemia. Genetic and family history also play a vital role in the development of leukaemia. Research shows that there is 20% chance of occurrence of the disease in identical twins. Other risk factors include tobacco smoking, exposure to certain chemical agents and radiation.

It is classified according to the type of WBC involved, and also depending upon whether it is acute (fast-growing), or chronic (slow growing).

In Acute Leukaemia, the cells don’t mature and cannot perform the normal body functions. It can get bad really fast.

In Chronic Leukaemia, some of the cells mature while others don’t so they can perform normal functions for a while. But, it also gets worse over a period of time.

  • MYELOMA: It involves the uncontrolled production of plasma cells which forms antibodies to fight the disease-causing micro-organisms that attack our body. So, as a result, patient becomes more prone to regular infections.

The development of a myeloma is complicated. Unlike many cancers, myeloma does not exist as a lump or a tumour. Most of the medical problems related to myeloma are caused by the build-up of abnormal plasma cells in the bone marrow. They thus produce a non-useful antibody in the body.

Since it affects many parts of the body, it is generally referred to as MULTIPLE MYELOMA. The most commonly affected body parts are bones of the spine, pelvis, skull, rib cage, long bones of the arms and the legs, and the areas around the should and hips.

Good news! This type of cancer can be controlled to a very large extent. Thus, relieving patient of the symptoms and complications, thus prolonging life.

  • CHILDHOOD LEUKAEMIA: It is the most common cancer of the children and pre-teens and is caused due to abnormal production of the white blood cells in the bone marrow. The cancer cells travel rapidly in the bloodstream to hinder the functioning of the healthy cells of the body. This makes the children more prone to infections.

But, thankfully the good news is that due to their rapid growth phase and younger age, the results are very promising.

Risk Factors: There are no such things as definitely proven causes of blood cancer in children. But over the period of time, doctors have discovered a few risk factors for the disease. These are:

  1. An inherited disorder such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Down syndrome, or Klinefelter syndrome
  2. An inherited immune system problem such as ataxia telangiectasia
  3. A brother or sister with leukaemia, especially an identical twin
  4. A history of being exposed to high levels of radiation, chemotherapy, or chemicals such as benzene (a solvent)
  5. A history of immune system suppression, such as for an organ transplant

Thus, regular check-ups are recommended for children with any of these risk factors.

Also, there are various other uncommon types of blood cancers such as Polycythemia Vera (abnormal production of red blood cells), Essential Thrombocytopenia, Myelofibrosis, Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS), which are a part of a group of disorders called as MYELOPROLIFERATIVE NEOPLASMS. All these types of neoplasm tend to disrupt the normal functioning of blood which is the most important connective tissue in the body.

So finally, is it curable?

 For so long we have been going on and on about this dreaded disease. The word “cancer” itself generates a sense of fear in the minds of patients as well as their families. It weakens not only the body but also crushes a person’s willpower as well.

We understand the hardships one face during the course of the disease. It is rightly said, “the cure of the cancer is in your own hands.” We cannot treat the disease but we can definitely make your lives a little easier.

According to the sources, Stem cell Transplant is the patient’s best chance for a complete cure. It basically works on the logic that donor stem cells will lead to the formation of a completely new immune system which might identify the cancer cells as foreign and therefore, eliminate them. Approximately 70 per cent of patients who need a transplant do not have a matching donor in the family and instead need to rely on the Be The Match Registry through the National Marrow Donor Program and other international cooperative registries. Even with an impressive 11 million donors in the registry, six in 10 patients cannot find a genetic match.