Leukemia, lymphoma (both non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Hodgkin lymphoma) and myeloma are the most common blood cancers. They are called blood cancers because these cancers involve abnormalities in the blood cells, the lymphatic system (which includes the lymph nodes) and/or the bone marrow (the spongy center of the bone where blood cells develop.) Each of these blood cancers is a different disease, and there are many different subtypes of leukemia and lymphoma. The precise type of blood cell involved and other factors determine the type and subtype.
There are no routine screening tests for blood cancers, and many of the symptoms of blood cancers can occur with other illnesses. Therefore, it is important to be aware that these symptoms could indicate a blood cancer and seek the advice of a physician if they occur. Among the most common symptoms of a blood cancer are one or more enlarged lymph nodes, persistent flu-like symptoms such as fatigue or coughing, fever, excessive sweating (especially at night), bone pain, skin irritation, paleness, bruising easily, or unintentional weight loss.
An estimated 1,012,533 people in the United States are living with, or in remission from leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma, and a new case is diagnosed every four minutes. Blood cancers affect people of all ages. For example, leukemia causes more deaths than any other cancer among children and young adults, but there are even more cases and deaths in adults.
Although less common than leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, two other types of blood disorders that are listed as blood cancers are myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) and myeloproliferative disorders. As in other blood cancers, these involve abnormalities in blood cell production and/or the ability of the bone marrow to function normally.
Generally, the causes of blood cancers are not known. Some studies have suggested a link between one or more types of blood cancer and exposure to chemicals such as benzene, or environmental exposure such as to ingredients in pesticides or herbicides. Other potential causes could be a suppressed immune system or exposure to extraordinary radiation.
Remarkable progress has been made in treating patients with blood cancers, with survival rates for many having doubled or tripled, and in some cases quadrupled, since LLS was founded in 1949. Generally, the treatment includes one or more of the following: chemotherapy (may include oral and/or intravenous drugs), immunotherapy (drugs such as monoclonal antibodies that target specific cells), radiation, and/or bone marrow or stem cell transplant.
Unlike organ transplants that involve surgery to place a donor organ in the patient's body, in a bone marrow/stem cell transplant, stem cells are given to the patient through a vein. Depending upon the type of blood cancer and many other factors, the stem cells for the transplant may have been collected from the bone marrow or blood of the patient at an earlier time, or they may come from the bone marrow or blood of a donor. If using a donor's cells, the infused cells must be carefully matched to the patient. Donors are always needed. If you would like more information about being a bone marrow donor, you can call the National Marrow Donor Program at 1-800-Marrow2.
The increase in the number and kind of treatment options as well as advances that prevent complications has been the result of ongoing research. LLS strongly supports research and has spent has spent over $875 million on research since its inception. Despite the many advances and improvements in survival, the need for research continues because every ten minutes, someone in this country dies from a blood cancer.
For those touched by any of the blood cancers, LLS offers a many education and support services. These services include educational support groups, free teleconferences and booklets. In addition, LLS offers financial assistance for co-pays and other medically-related expenses for patients with financial need. There are also programs that match newly-diagnosed patients with trained volunteer survivors and help children being treated for cancer to transition back to school. For more information about blood cancer or any LLS program, visit http://www.lls.org/md or call the LLS Maryland Chapter Office at 1-800-242-4572.
In Harford County, LLS and the Upper Chesapeake Cancer LifeNet sponsor a monthly educational support group specifically for those affected by blood cancers. Meetings are held at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center and include speakers, demonstrations and discussion. Also in Harford County, there are two general cancer support groups that those affected by blood cancer are invited to attend.