Blood cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the bone marrow, precisely where this fluid is produced without which life would not be possible.
What is blood
Blood makes up about 8% of a person’s weight. It can be said that it plays a role in most organ functions, supplying oxygen, nutrients, hormones and antibodies to the organs.
It is made up of plasma (the fluid that carries cells, waste, and nutrients) and blood cells (red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets).
Most blood cancers occur when white blood cells start to grow abnormally.
Types of blood cancer
Leukemia. This cancer begins in the bone marrow. Healthy cells are modified in such a way that they become leukemic.
These bad cells, curiously, have more survival power, so much so that, as the disease progresses, their number begins to be greater than that of good cells.
There are 11 different forms of leukemia.
Lymphoma This type of cancer affects the lymphatic system, which is part of the inmune. SIt develops when a type of white blood cell called T cells become abnormal. These abnormal cells can spread to any part of the body. There are two forms of lymphoma: Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin, which develop and spread differently, and react differently to treatments.
Myeloma It affects the part of the blood known as plasma. Plasma fights infection, so when its cells begin to develop abnormally, the immune system becomes very vulnerable and opens the door to infection.
Symptoms of this cancer
The symptoms of blood cancer are the same as for dozens of conditions:
- Shaking chills
- Soft spot
- Abdominal pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Swollen glands
- Articulations pain
As with other cancer risks, the risk factors for developing leukemia, lymphoma, or myeloma are not fully known or understood.
However, it is known that they can be the product of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Among the factors that can impact the development of this cancer are:
- to smoke
- radiation exposure
- prolonged exposure to industrial chemicals such as benzene.
Certain medical conditions such as HIV and the Epstein-Barr virus can put the body at higher risk for developing these cancers. Also if you are born with genetic conditions such as Down syndrome.
Blood cancer statistics
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was number 11 on the list of most diagnosed cancers in 2018. There were 509,590 worldwide (3% of all cancers). Leukemia was the 13th cancer, with 437,033 cases (2.6%).
To compare the magnitude of cases, in the same year there were 2.1 million lung cancer diagnoses globally and almost the same number of breast cancer.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, 39,886 new cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, 38,256 of leukemia, and 15,184 of multiple myeloma were diagnosed.
In the United States, in 2020 there were an estimated 60,530 new cases of leukemia, 77,240 of non-Hodgkin lymphoma; and 8,480 for Hodgkin lymphoma. Myeloma cases were estimated at 32,270.
Why Children Suffer More From Leukemia
Researchers are still trying to figure out what the exact cause of childhood leukemia is. There are certain conditions that are passed down from parents to children (inherited) that increase the risk of childhood leukemia. But most childhood leukemias are not inherited.
Scientists have found changes (mutations) in the genes of bone marrow cells. These changes can occur early in a child’s life or even before birth. But they can also be random, that is, they occur without any specific cause.
Leukemia accounts for 25% of childhood cancers.
Diagnostics and treatments
Leukemia. The first step your doctor will take is to order a complete blood count (CBC) test, which can identify abnormal levels of white blood cells in relation to red blood cells and platelets.
Lymphoma The doctor will do a biopsy, which removes a small piece of tissue for examination under a microscope. In some cases, he may also order an X-ray, CT scan, or positron emission tomography scan to look for swollen lymph nodes.
Myeloma The doctor will order a complete blood count or other blood or urine tests to look for chemicals or proteins produced based on the development of myeloma. In some cases, a bone marrow biopsy, X-rays, MRIs, and a CT scan may be done to confirm the presence and extent of the myeloma spread.
The blood doctor is called a hematologist.
Treatments for blood cancer range from traditional chemotherapy to targeted drugs that interfere with abnormal cell growth.
Radiation therapy is also used to destroy diseased cells, and to relieve pain.
Lastly, stem cell transplantation helps the body to produce healthy cells again. These cells come from the bone marrow, circulating blood, and the umbilical cord.
For most types of blood cancer, the proportion of people who live five or more years after diagnosis has increased significantly over the past decade. The 5-year survival rates range from 42% for myeloma to 85% for Hodgkin lymphoma.
About 98% of children with leukemia go into remission weeks after starting treatment. About 90% of these children can be cured. Patients are considered cured after 10 years in remission (no new bad cells appearing).
Sources: Yale Medicine (Yale University), CDC, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, National Cancer Institute, Cedars Sinai, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada, St. Jude’s Children, Worldwide Cancer Data (World Cancer Research Fund International), MedlinePlus.