A brief about Blood Cancer
Blood cells are of different types:
- White blood cells: fights infection
- Red blood cells: carry oxygen to parts of body and carbon dioxide back to lungs
- Platelets: helps in clotting
These originate from stem cells. These stem cells can develop into different types of blood cells through a process called ‘differentiation.’ If complications occur during this process, it can be the leading cause of blood cancer.
Though there is no official screening test to detect blood cancer, one can identify it with the symptoms caused by it. Also, with the extensive research conducted in recent years, the death rate due to blood cancer has been drastically reduced. Depending upon the type of blood cancer, there is at least a 63% chance that a blood cancer patient will live five years or longer.
What are the types of Blood Cancer?
Leukemia is caused by abnormal production of blood cells in the bone marrow of the body. In leukemia, white blood cells multiply abnormally and are unable to fight infections, harmful bacterias, and viruses entering the body. The large-scale production of white blood cells also hinders the production of red blood cells and platelets. There are four main types of leukemia :
- Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL): As it is acute, it develops rapidly and needs immediate medical treatment. In acute lymphocytic leukemia, white blood cells develop in a large amount and crowd the healthy white blood cells, making the body helpless against external infections.One can have ALL if they have a sibling who has ALL, have been exposed to radiation, undergone chemotherapy in the past for treatment of any other cancer or have a genetic disorder. This kind of blood cancer mostly occurs in children of the age group between 3-10 years.
- Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML): In the process of the development of stem cells into blood cells in the bone marrow, it first develops into myeloid cells. If one has Acute Myeloid Leukemia, their myeloid cells don’t mature into blood cells and remain as young cells called myeloblasts. These myeloblasts clog the bone marrow, hence refrain other cells from performing their functions as well.It mainly occurs in people who are in their 20’s. One can have AML if they have gone through chemotherapy, have a genetic disorder, or have been in contact with any toxic carcinogenic material.
- Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML): The word chronic means the cancer symptoms are not immediate and show after a long period. This occurs when two completely separate genes fuse and accelerate the growth of abnormal cells. These abnormal cells, called granulocytes, are the cells that form when the stem cells are still developing into white blood cells. These cells adversely affect the bone marrow, hence stop the growth of normal cells in the body.One is more likely to get it if exposed to radiation, and this kind of blood cancer is usually found in adults.
- Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL): This is the most common type of leukemia in adults. It develops slowly, and the symptoms are visible years after the blood cancer starts in the body. When stem cells are developing into white blood cells, also known as lymphocytes, they undergo a stage when they are in the form of immature lymphoblasts. CLL occurs when these lymphoblasts develop too quickly and are unable to work properly. They also accumulate and clog the bone marrow, stopping normal blood cells from functioning as well.If someone has a family history of blood cancer or has had prolonged exposure to toxic chemicals, they can have CLL.
Your lymph system is made up of lymph nodes, spleen, throat, thymus, and lymphatic tissue found in the small intestine. It has the primary function of moving the white blood cells to and from the lymph nodes. Cancer in the lymphatic system is called lymphoma. In lymphoma, your body produces large amounts of lymphocytes or white blood cells. These lymphocytes also live longer than they should. They weaken the immune system of the body as well as stop other blood cells from doing their functions. Lymphoma is categorized into two types.
- Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: This kind of lymphoma starts in B-cells that are responsible for forming antibodies for the body and can be identified by the presence of large lymphocytes at the lymph nodes, known as Reed-Sternberg.
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: This kind of blood cancer is observed in T-cells of the body and is more common than Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Myeloma is a type of blood cancer that affects the white blood cells that make antibodies called plasma cells. This blood cancer can be found in various parts of bone marrow. It occurs when B-cells do not develop into plasma cells, and these immature cells are produced rapidly. They produce antibodies that cannot ward off the body from infections and hinder the function of other normal cells as well. It also leads to the production of toxins that weaken the bones, causing thinning and weakening. This results in pain in the body and, in some cases, fracture. One can have this kind of blood cancer if they are obese, have a family history of myeloma, or have had prolonged exposure to radiation.
What are the symptoms and signs of blood cancer?
- Sudden and frequent bruising or bleeding
- Unexplained weight loss
- Lumps or swellings
- Drenching night sweats
- Persistent, recurrent or severe infections
- Unexplained and recurring fever
- An unexplained rash or itchy skin
- Bone, joint or abdominal pain
- Persistent tiredness
- Unusually pale complexion
- Swollen, painless lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin
What are the causes of Blood cancer?
They do not die as per their natural process. Instead, they live on and increase in population, outnumbering the normally functioning cells. They block the bone marrow and fail to produce antibodies, thus hindering the functioning of the blood cells.
Though doctors believe that the primary cause of blood cancer is the development of an unusual chromosome in the DNA, no definite cause of blood cancer has been found yet. The research behind the cause and how to prevent it at the beginning is still going on in several countries and is building pace as the years go by. Soon, medical science will be able to eradicate blood cancer at its elementary stage.
Risk factors involved in blood cancer
- Radiation: The factor which is considered highly responsible for blood cancer is prolonged exposure to radiation. This is possible in laboratories, nuclear reactors, and chemotherapy that was done for cancer treatment in the past.
- Exposure to toxic chemicals: Toxic chemicals such as benzene, present in hair dyes, and used as a solvent in chemical industries, insecticides, and pesticides, etc. can be a reason behind blood cancer.
- Genetic Disorders: People with some genetic disorders such as Down Syndrome are more prone to contracting blood cancer than people who don’t have any genetic disorder. This is because of the extra chromosome present in people with Down syndrome.
- Smoking: When blood cells come in contact with excessive amounts of smoke released from cigarettes, they may start to behave abnormally and begin to proliferate in large quantities, leading to blood cancer.
- Blood Disorders: Certain blood disorders such as polycythemia vera in which the body produces too many red blood cells, thrombocythemia, in which the body produces too many platelets, etc. can be responsible for any type of blood cancer, depending on the disorder.
- Family History: If a close relative, especially a sibling, has had blood cancer in the past, the chances of you getting blood cancer increases. This is especially seen in the case of Leukemia.
How to prevent Blood cancer?
- Say no to smoking
Smoking has been reported as a risk factor for developing various types of cancer, such as lung cancer, mouth cancer and blood cancer. If you are an active smoker, or you live in an environment where passive smoking is inevident for you, avoid inhaling the smoke at all costs.
- Avoid exposure to toxic chemicals.
Chemicals such as benzene, pesticides, and insecticides should be avoided. Coming in contact with these chemicals for a longer period of time can trigger the abnormal production of blood cells in the bone marrow.
- Avoid radiation
If you have a genetic disorder or a family history of leukemia and other blood cancers, then you should avoid exposure to radiation and chemotherapy.
- Stay Active
An active and healthy lifestyle is essential to prevent any type of disease, including blood cancer. Exercise regularly, eat nutritious food to adhere to a balanced diet and make sure to look after your overall physical health.
- Regular checkups
Recognizing the cancer symptoms in the initial stages can only be possible by undergoing regular check ups. Most importantly, if you have a family history of blood cancer, or you are subjected to an weakened immune system, make sure to consult your doctor over regular periods of time to diagnose any early symptoms of blood cancer.
Diagnosis for Blood cancer
The most common method for blood cancer diagnosis is through the means of a blood test. These blood tests are of different types:
- Full Blood Count: This test is conducted to count each kind of blood cells present in your body. These include red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. If the number is alarmingly high or low, then the blood is sent to a specialist for further checkups.
- Peripheral blood films: This test is done to check if your blood cells and platelets are of the right size or not by observing them under a microscope
- Infection Screening: This test is done to determine whether the patient is infected with diseases and viruses such as HIV, which might be needed to be treated during the treatment of blood cancer.
- Liver tests: If you have blood cancer, you will have to undergo chemotherapy and take medicines accordingly. For this, the functionality of your liver needs to be tested.
- Urea testing: To determine the condition of the kidneys of the patients, urea is tested before and after cancer treatment.
2.Bone Marrow Biopsy
In a blood cancer biopsy, a small part of the bone marrow is extracted from the patient’s bones to be observed under a microscope to determine if any abnormal cells are growing in the bone marrow. This is done periodically during the treatment to know the success of the cancer treatment.
3.Lymph Node Biopsy
To determine if the person has lymphoma, the person is made to undergo a small operation to extract a small part of the lymph node and examine it.
For the people with suspected myeloma, x-rays are really helpful to examine bones and how cancer treatment is affecting them.
In lymphoma, the size of your spleen increases. To examine this, the doctor may suggest an ultrasound before and after the cancer treatment.
To test which kind of cancer treatment would be best for you, the doctor may conduct a chromosomal test to identify if you have an extra copy of chromosome 8 or 21.
Treatment for various stages of Blood Cancer
- Stage 0: At this blood cancer stage, the growth of cancerous cells is still located at the place where it started and has not spread to neighboring tissues.The treatment of this stage is manageable, and the tumor can be completely removed with the help of surgery.
- Stage 1: Cancer has not yet spread to lymph nodes or affected any part of the body in this blood cancer stage, though the number of lymphocytes has drastically increased.Biological therapy and immunotherapy can be used to eradicate the cancerous cells from the body.
- Stage 2 and 3: Growth of lymphocytes increases in this stage such that organs of the lymphatic system increase in size, including spleen, lymph nodes, liver, etc.Also, anemia is detected in this stage. At this blood cancer stage, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are needed to treat the blood cancer.The survival rate for Stage 3 Multiple Myeloma is 48%.
- Stage 4: Cancer has reached its advanced stage and spread to other parts of the body. The number of cancerous cells is higher than healthy cells in the body. Organs such as lungs start to get affected by the abnormal cells, and anemia is now acute.The survival rate of cancer patients in stage 4 depends on their age and blood cell count. For adults, it is 65%.
Blood cancer is of different types and requires different measures to treat and cure it. Chronic blood cancer can be treated by daily medication as it grows slowly in the body, whereas acute blood cancer needs intense care and treatment immediately after detection. Cancer treatment may also depend upon the personal choice of the patient. Following are the options available for treatment:
- Chemotherapy: The main aim of chemotherapy is to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy done on blood cancer patients kills the abnormal cells by putting a stop on their production.
- Stem Cell Transplant: Stem cell transplant aims to produce new healthy cells in the body. The stem cells could be obtained from the patient itself, a blood relative, or a donor.
- Immunotherapy: In this treatment, medicines are provided to strengthen the patient’s immune system so that they can fight and diminish the number of cancer cells in the body.
- Radiotherapy: In this treatment method, high energy waves are used to kill the abnormal cells present in a specific area, especially in lymph nodes.
- Surgery: In rare cases, surgery to remove the patient’s spleen is required.
Life in Remission
- Fatigue: The most common side effect of cancer itself is that you will feel fatigued for days after the treatment. At such a time, it is important to listen to your body and rest when you have to. Also, try to remain active as much as you can to strengthen your bones.
- Infection and bleeding: After your treatment, your bone marrow is trying to recover through the blood cancer, and thus, the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets would be less than normal in your body. At such times, bleeding can occur, usually, through gums, etc. as platelets are low. Also, your body is prone to infection and can heat up with a fever. Rest if you feel your temperature is rising.
- Change in taste and smell: Usually, after chemotherapy and radiotherapy, one can experience some temporary change in their taste and smell. This lasts for months after cancer treatment but goes away with time.
- Hair loss: This is a common side effect of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The treatment affects the hair of the whole body in a varying manner, though this effect is temporary and hair regrows after 3 to 6 months of treatment.
- Bowels: Chemotherapy may affect the lining of your bowels. If you experience diarrhea after the treatment, tell your doctor immediately as this could be because of an infection.
- Nausea: A common side effect of chemotherapy, one may feel nauseous for days after treatment. One can ask for anti-sick tablets, which can help you not throw up every time you eat. One can also try eating smaller portions throughout the day instead of large meals.
- Mucositis: You may experience sore mouth after a couple of days of treatment as chemotherapy affects the lining of your mouth and gut as well. There is inflammation in the lining of the mouth, which can be eased with the help of painkillers. Moreover, one must take care to clean their mouth thoroughly to prevent any kind of infection in their mouth. This is also a temporary side effect and goes away once your blood count is back to normal.
How can ZenOnco.io help?
- Nourish Yourself
Cancer is a disease that, even when treated completely, leaves some part of it behind. One has to have a strong heart and will to fight through it. Once it is over, what is of utmost importance is to take care of the body. Eat healthy food, follow a meal plan, specially designed for people who have had blood cancer. Eat food rich in vitamins and minerals such as iron, as during blood cancer, one goes through acute anemia.
- Stay fit
Going through all that treatment for days is tiring. Once it is over, treat your body by maintaining its health. Work out regularly. Stay active. Blood cancer patients go through pain in their joints and bones and, therefore, must keep moving after treatment to make the bones and joints stronger.
- Stay calm
All the tests, therapy, and stays at the hospitals can take its toll on anyone. Rely on your close ones, your friends, and family and try to stay calm during the treatment and after it. Things will get better. Talk to people who have undergone the same experience, try to get back into your routine life so that you can feel normal and at peace again.
- Cancer-proof your home
Blood cancer can be genetic and caused due to family history. If you have had blood cancer, now is the time to transform your surroundings and make them cancer-proof. Make your home safer for your family members by radon-testing your home, replacing the non-stick cookware in your kitchen, delete paraben and sulfates from your toiletries, buying organic food to avoid pesticides and insecticides, etc.
- Get community support
We at ZenOnco.io have an active community that is always here to help you through any need, any query that you may have about cancer, cancer symptoms, cancer treatment, and how to deal with life after cancer. By becoming a part of our community, you not only obtain help for yourself at times of need but also can extend a hand to someone who needs it.
Join us to be surrounded by people who understand you and will listen to you. Our wellness program is catered to help patients and survivors get all the support and guidance they need to win over cancer.