Blood cancer is also known as hematologic cancer. It originates from the bone marrow, where the blood is formed. The blood cells start multiplying rapidly at an abnormal rate. This interference with the functioning of normal cells such as fighting the infections and production of new blood cells. Depending upon the type of blood cancer may be of the following types:
- Leukemia - When the white blood cells or leukocytes become cancerous, the condition is known as leukemia.
- Lymphoma - When blood cells known as lymphocytes become cancerous, the condition is called lymphoma.
- Myeloma - The plasma cells become cancerous when you have myeloma.
Additional information - Best cancer doctors in India
How is blood cancer diagnosed?
The most common diagnostic tests which are done to diagnose blood cancer are:
- Blood Tests
- Radiological examination such as CT scan, PET scan, and X-ray.
- Physical examination
- Bone marrow examination
- Lymph node diagnosis
The blood tests are done to check the following things in the blood cells:
- Measures of white blood cells, red blood cells and other types of cells in the blood.
- The blood smear test, which is done if the blood count is not clear. The test tells us the appearance and measure of the cells.
- Blood sugar, cholesterol, proteins, hormones, and other important substances in the blood.
- While cell differential is done to see the number of different types of white blood cells. This helps in knowing the ability of the body to fight infections as well as check the signs of any blood cancer like leukaemia along with its stage.
- Fluorescence in situ hybridization is done to check the genetic blueprint that affects the growth of cancer cells.
- Flow cytometry to measure the number, size, shape and a few other features of white blood cells.
- Immunophenotyping to indicate the difference between the type of cancer cells in order to decide the most accurate treatment.
Other than this, there is a process called staging which indicates the extent to which the cancer is spreading and also its severity. It also helps in knowing the exact type of cancer, and its location. However, each kind of blood cancer has its own criteria for staging.
Continue reading to know if blood cancer is curable and blood cancer treatment.
What are the 3 types of blood cancer?
Blood cancer is broadly divided into 3 types:
Abnormally rapid production of white blood cells is referred to as leukemia. It is usually found in the blood or in the bone marrow. Leukemia is of 3 types:
Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) - It originates from the WBCs present in the bone marrow. If not curbed on time, it may rapidly grow into an advanced stage and crowd the normal white blood cells. ALL is mostly found either in children between 3 to 5 years or aged people above the age of 75 years. Other than this, people who fall in the following categories are more likely to have Acute lymphocytic leukemia:
- Having a sibling with ALL
- Having previously received chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
- Being exposed to excessive radiation
- Having down syndrome or any other genetic disorder
Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) - Myeloid cells are responsible for dendrite formation and normally grow into the white blood cells, red blood cells and the platelets. In cases of AML, the number of healthy blood cells is reduced. Acute Myeloid leukemia grows more rapidly as compared to the other types. It mostly affects people of age more than 60 - 65 years. It is more common in men than in women. The following categories of people also have more chances to acquire AML:
- Being previously treated with chemotherapy or radiotherapy
- Being exposed to toxic substances like benzene.
- Being exposed to blood disorders like myelodysplasia, polycythemia vera, or down syndrome.
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia - This is similar to acute lymphocytic leukemia. However, the symptoms in CLL are not detected for several years. It also affects people who are older than 70 years, having a family history of blood cancer, or those who have been exposed to substances like weed killers or insecticides.
Chronic myeloid leukemia - This starts in myeloid cells and progresses gradually. This is more common in men than in women and affects adults more commonly than children.
If you wish to read in detail about Leukemia, check it out.
Lymphoma affects the lymphatic system of the body. Consequently, there is excessive removal of fluids and production of immune cells in the body. Lymphoma can either be Hodgkin’s lymphoma or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma initiates in the immune cells called B cells. People having Hodgkin’s lymphoma have larger lymphocytes which are called Reed-Sternberg cells. This is a fatal condition but thankfully with new methods and techniques, we have now had the treatment. Here is a picture of swollen lymph nodes from the armpit area.
On the other hand, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma may start in B cells or T cells, which are another form of immune cells. This is more common than Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells. Plasma cells are responsible for producing antibodies that fight infections. Usually, the myeloma cells are produced in the bone marrow and travel to the bloodstream. However, sometimes, the cells get collected in the bones. This condition is called multiple myeloma. The signs and symptoms include anaemia, kidney damage, weight loss, excessive calcium in the blood etc.
Blood cancer symptoms
Most common signs and symptoms of blood cancer
- Loss of appetite
- Fever with chills
- Unintentional weight loss
- Body aches
- Night sweats
- Pain in the abdomen
- Itchiness on the skin
- Swollen lymph nodes
There might be some other signs indicating blood cancer:
- Frequent bruising
- Bleeding in gums
- Frequent infections
- Confused mind
- Abnormal bleeding even in small cuts
To know more about the signs and symptoms noticed in blood cancer click here.
What is the main cause of blood cancer?
The most common cause of any type of blood cancer is a change in the genetic system. These mutations cause the blood cells to grow and divide. The actual problem starts because these abnormally grown cells do not die on their own when the life cycle ends, like the healthy cells. However, they continue to grow and occupy more space. These cancerous cells when start crowding the normal cells, they create hindrance in the growth and function of normal cells.
The risk factors involved are:
- Virus - The human T-lymphotropic virus is directly linked leukemia.
- Excessive exposure to benzene - Benzene is the most commonly used solvent in cleaning substances and hair dyes. It has a tendency to cause blood cancer.
- Artificial ionizing radiation - Excessive exposure to radiation therapy for the treatment of any previous cancer.
- Chemotherapy - People who have received chemotherapy, also has a higher risk to develop leukaemia.
- Certain genetic conditions - Certain children having Down syndrome have three copies of the 21st chromosome. This increases the risk of having AML or ALL.
Some other risk factors include,
- Family history
- Exposure to electromagnetic fields
- Exposure to chemicals like gasoline, diesel or pesticides
- Hair dyes
Is blood cancer curable?
This is a much broader question and cannot be answered in one single sentence. The answer greatly depends upon several factors such as the stage of cancer, location of cancer, overall medical health of the patient, body’s ability to take the treatment without much damage etc. The treatment may be high or low-intensity treatment. It depends upon the fact that up to which stage the cancerous cells are malignant.
The intensive forms of blood cancer treatment include:
- High-dose chemotherapy, which is used to kill the cancerous cells.
- Stem cell transplant, which is done after giving the high-dose chemotherapy to promote the production of new healthy cells. Read more about the stem cell treatment.
- Immunotherapy - Drugs used to boost the immune system to fight the cancerous cells.
- Radiotherapy - High energy rays used to destroy cancerous cells in a specific area.
- Surgical removal - In rare cases, where a particular organ or area is greatly damaged, it may be needed to be removed.
The non-intensive treatment for blood cancer includes:
- Low-dose chemotherapy - This is also used to kill the cancerous cells. However, unlike high-dose chemotherapy, it is done where the cancer is still at the initial stages.
- Biological therapies - Some mild drugs that are used to boost the immune function of the body.
- Three blood cancer patients with less than 8% of life expectancy were brought back to life at Apollo hospital, India. Further details.
Chemotherapy for blood cancer
Chemotherapy is one of the most commonly used treatments for blood cancer. The drugs may be given orally or administered into the vein. These medicinal substances travel in the bloodstream and kill cancerous cells. Chemotherapy is mostly used in combination with some other form of therapy such as stem cell transplant.
New methods and techniques are being innovated to increase the effectiveness and reduce the unwanted effects such as,
- New combinations of drugs
- New ways to tackle cell resistance to chemotherapy drugs.
- Trying to give shorter courses with more efficacy.
- Differentiating the patients who really need intensive treatment and those who can do well with the lesser intensive treatment.
What precautions are needed for patients who take chemotherapy?
Certain categories of patients need extra precautions if they are taking chemotherapy such as,
- Older patients
- Pregnant women
- Patients with immune deficiency
In some cases, chemotherapeutic drugs are injected into the cerebrospinal fluid, so that the drugs are also infused into the brain and the spinal cord, if needed. Due to the blood-brain barrier, not all the drugs are able to reach the brain and the spinal cord, which gives cancer cells, a place to hide.
What is the survival rate of blood cancer?
Usually, when it comes to checking the five-year survival rate of some fatal illness, one checks the percentage of people who are able to live for 5 years after diagnosing cancer.
For leukemia, the five-year survival rate is around 25% for patients who are below the age of 20 years. However, for the patient above the age of 20, the survival rate rises to 65%.
For multiple myeloma, the five-year survival rate is more than 50 per cent. The patients who were diagnosed at an early stage, the five-year survival rate is increased to 72%. In case, the cancerous cells spread to any distant parts of the body, the rate may also be reduced to 50%.
For lymphoma, the survival rate is 71% on average. For men, it is 69% and for women, it is 72%. As the stage is advanced, the survival rate drops down.
How does the role of Vaidam Health come into play?
Vaidam Health acts as a digital mediator helping you to get an accurate treatment in India with a pleasant experience. Right from choosing the best cancer hospital in India and the best doctor to the drop off to the airport before you leave back to your home, Vaidam is here to assist you for everything. The patients need to post a query on the website, and they receive a call back by a case manager. Thereafter, the case manager will assist in everything.
Other than from accommodation options in the country, we also help in visa application, pick up and drop from the airport and keep a tab of all the recreations that you require on your medical tour to India.