Blood cancers are cancers that affects the blood cell and bone marrow which help in the production of blood. They can also be referred to as hematologic cancers, most of which begin in the bone marrow.
There are several types of blood cancers, the major ones being, leukaemia, Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin lymphomas and myeloma. A weak immune system, certain infections and family history are some of the risk factors for blood cancers. Symptoms of these cancers include easy or excessive bruising, frequent vomiting sensations and recurrent infections, among others.
A complete blood count test, tumour marker tests and blood protein testing are some of the tests that can be used to diagnose blood cancers. Treatment of blood cancers can be done using chemotherapy, biological therapy and bone marrow transplant. The risk of these cancers can be reduced by avoiding exposure to radiation and certain chemotherapy drugs and getting regular check-ups if you are at a higher risk of developing blood cancers.
Causes of blood cancers
There is certainly no exact known cause of blood cancers, just like most cancers. However, there are several risk factors that can increase a person’s chance of developing blood cancer. These include:
- Exposure to radiation: Getting exposed to radiation during previous cancer treatments or at the workplace can increase the chance of developing blood cancer. For previous radiation treatments, the higher the dose, the higher the risk of developing blood cancer.
- Exposure to certain chemotherapy drugs: Some chemotherapy drugs such as alkylating, and platinum agents have been linked to an increased risk of blood cancers like myelodysplastic syndrome.
Certain genetic syndromes: People with genetic syndromes like down syndrome and neurofibromatosis type 1 have a higher risk of developing certain blood cancers.
- Certain infections: Infections such as HIV/AIDs and HPV (Human Papillomavirus Virus) weaken the immune system increasing the risk of developing blood cancer.
Family history: Having a close family member with blood cancer can increase the risk of developing the same type of cancer.
- Exposure to certain chemicals: Being exposed to chemicals such as benzene which is found in cigarette smoke, glue, detergents and other cleaning products as well as paint strippers, can increase blood cancer risk.
- Gender: A higher percentage of people who develop blood cancers are men as compared to women.
Symptoms of Blood Cancers
When blood cancers occur, they affect blood, the bone marrow or the lymphatic system which is responsible for protecting the body against infections. They basically affect the production and function of blood cells. This can bring about symptoms such as:
- Frequent infections
- Frequent vomiting sensations
- Headaches accompanied by visual difficulties
- Abdominal discomfort
- Excessive sweating especially at night
- Unexplained weight loss
- Easy or excessive bruising
- Enlargement of lymph node(s)
- Bone, back and/or abdominal pain
Blood Cancer Diagnosis
After explaining to a doctor or specialist the symptoms you are experiencing, the doctor carries out a physical examination to look for any visible signs such as swollen lymph nodes and enlargement of the liver. A blood test and other laboratory tests to help in diagnosis may include:
- Blood tests: These may include:
1. Blood protein testing: An electrophoresis test examines various proteins in the blood which can help in detecting certain immunoglobulins which can become raised in people with some blood cancers like multiple myeloma.
2. Tumour marker tests: Tumour markers are basically chemicals that are produced by tumour cells but because normal cells can produce them, other tests would have to accompany this test to confirm the presence of cancer cells in the body.
3. Complete blood count (CBC): This test measures the amount of different blood cells in the blood.
- Bone marrow biopsy: A sample of bone marrow is taken from the hipbone to check for cancer cells.
- Lymph node biopsy: Certain blood cancers like lymphomas can be diagnosed by examining a sample of tissue from the affected lymph node.
- Imaging tests: Advanced imaging tests like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerised tomography (CT) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans can be used to diagnose some types of blood cancers such as lymphomas.
Treatment for Blood Cancers
Depending on the stage of the blood cancer and the type of the cancer, the following treatment options can be used:
- Chemotherapy: This common cancer treatment is used to kill cancer cells using anti-cancer drugs that are administered orally or intravenously.
- Radiation therapy: Uses high energy beams to destroy or kill cancer cells and prevent them from growing further and multiplying.
- Targeted therapy: Through this treatment, specific cancer genes and proteins that contribute to the growth of cancer cells are targeted eliminating the conducive environment they create for cancer cells to grow.
- Biological therapy: Also referred to as immune therapy, this treatment option is aimed at improving the body’s immune system and make it able to identify and fight cancer.
- Stem cell transplant: Stem cells either from the patient’s body or from a donor are used to replace the damaged stem cells or bone marrow and this is usually done after other treatments (chemotherapy and radiation therapy) have been carried out.
Blood Cancer Risk Reduction
Preventing cancer may be difficult as the causes of most cancers are uncertain. The most that you can do is reduce your risks for this disease, and as far as blood cancers are concerned, these are some of the steps you can take to reduce your chance of developing these cancers:
- Not smoking, because cigarettes contain benzene which is a chemical that can increase the risk for blood cancer.
- Avoiding exposure to chemicals that can increase blood cancer risk such as benzene in detergents and other products like glue and paint strippers.
- Avoiding exposure to high radiation, for instance, by wearing protective clothing if you work in a place where you are at risk of radiation exposure.
- Getting regular check-ups if you are at a higher risk of developing blood cancers, especially if your family has a history with these cancers or you have a genetic disorder like down syndrome which can increase blood cancer risk.
- Preventing yourself from infections like HIV and HPV which lower your immunity increasing your risk for blood cancers.
If you or your loved one has been diagnosed with blood cancer, International Medical Treatment Ltd (IMT) can help you find high quality medical treatment in our state-of-the-art partner hospitals overseas in India, The UAE, Thailand and Turkey. Get in touch with us today and let us walk with you in your treatment journey.