For the last ten years, September has been followed as the Blood Cancer Awareness Month worldwide. This was designated by the US Congress in 2010, to enhance the awareness and public understanding about Blood Cancer. Public awareness helps immensely in prevention of any disease. The awareness programs are also meant for the government, as making cancer research a national priority will bring in more funding to the research, which will improve the treatment options. The fact that the five-year survival rate of multiple myeloma in the US nearly doubled from 27% in 1975 to 51% in 2011 is a testament to the above statement as their government had passed the National Cancer Act in 1971. This example underlines the importance of awareness, not only among the public but also among the decision-makers of the country.
It is with this interest in mind, September is considered as Blood Cancer Awareness Month every year.
What is Blood Cancer?
This type of cancer starts in the bone marrow, where blood is produced. It is also known as hematologic cancer. It occurs when blood cells start growing abnormally. This process affects the immune system of our body which fights off infections.
Blood Cancer Types
There are mainly three different Blood Cancer types: Lymphoma, Leukaemia, and Multiple Myeloma.
- Lymphoma: It is the type of Blood Cancer that affects the lymphatic system. People who have a weak immune system are more susceptible to Lymphoma. Lymphomas start in the white blood cells called lymphocytes. 64% of Blood Cancer cases in India are Lymphoma cases.
There are two types of Lymphoma: Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Non- Hodgkin’s Lymphoma:
- Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: It starts in the immune cells called B cells which make antibodies that fight off germs. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is characterised by the presence of an abnormal lymphocyte called the Reed-Sternberg cell.
- Non- Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: This is more common than Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It starts in the B cell or in another type of immune cell called T cell.
- Leukaemia: It is the cancer found in the blood and blood marrow, which is caused by the rapid production of abnormal white blood cells. These high numbers of WBC are unable to fight infection, and they impair the ability of bone marrow to produce RBC and Platelets. Leukaemia accords to 25% of Blood Cancer cases in India.
Leukaemia is divided into four types:
- Acute lymphocytic leukaemia (ALL)
- Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)
- Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL)
- Chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML)
- Myeloma: Myeloma is the cancer in the plasma cells. It leaves the body’s immune system weak and susceptible to infection. This is done by affecting the production of the antibodies. Myeloma is responsible for 11% of the Blood Cancer cases reported in India.
Blood Cancer Symptoms
There are several symptoms associated with Blood Cancer. But a common issue related to Blood Cancer is that most of these symptoms are not very profound and could be associated with something like mild flu or the common cold. So, people often tend to ignore these symptoms. If any of following symptoms persist for more time than the usual flu, you should contact a doctor for a diagnosis:
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Swollen lymph nodes in neck, underarms and groin.
- Persistent Fatigue and weakness.
- Fever, chills and shortness of breath.
- Loss of appetite and Nausea.
- Frequent vomiting sensations.
- Abdominal, bone or back Pain.
- Excessive sweating of body during nights.
- Headaches, along with visual difficulties.
- Frequent nosebleeds and infections.
- Tiny red spots on the skin called Petechiae.
Causes of Blood Cancer
Unlike cancers like lung cancer, the exact cause of Blood Cancer is yet to be found out. But there are several factors associated with the onset of Blood Cancer. These causes are:
- Exposure to benzene is considered as a prime cause for Blood Cancer.
- Weak immune system.
- Exposure to radiation, including that during cancer treatments, increases the chance of Blood Cancer.
- Family history of Blood Cancer will increase your chance of contracting the disease as well.
- Smoking and Alcohol usage can weaken the immune system and interfere with the production of new cells, leading to Blood Cancer.
- Inhaling chemicals like formaldehyde and heavy factory smoke also increases the chances of Blood Cancer.
Blood Cancer treatment: Is Blood Cancer curable?
Blood cancer has one of the best chances of survival if it is diagnosed early and treated with proper medicines. After treatment, they also have higher chances of leading a normal life than other cancer-type survivors. But early detection is required, for which extensive awareness need to be ensured throughout the world. This is the main aim of considering September as the Blood Cancer Awareness Month.
Like any other cancer, the treatment procedure is decided by considering the type of cancer, the area, its size, how fast it is progressing, the patient’s age, vitals, and other factors. Some of the standard treatment procedures include:
- Chemotherapy: Use of anticancer drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy: Using beams of intense energy to kill cancer cells.
- Stem cell transplantation: This transplant infuses healthy blood-forming cells into the body. These cells are collected from the bone marrow, circulating blood and umbilical cord blood.
- Bone Marrow Transplantation: A procedure used to replace damaged or destroyed bone marrow in the body with healthy bone marrow stem cells.
Need for Blood Cancer Month Awareness
The primary need for awareness of any disease is the fact that early detection can lead to a cure. This holds much more importance in the case of Blood Cancer since it can be easily cured compared to other cancers, given it is diagnosed early. Therefore, ZenOnco.io joins hands with every organisation to ensure maximum awareness about the disease around the globe.
Another challenge concerned with Blood Cancer is the fact that there are over 100 different classifications of it recognized by WHO. Thus, it is almost impossible to find a one- size- fits- all solution to it. Understanding the biology of each subtype is needed to find the treatment procedure that suits. These facts throw light on the fact that extensive research still needs to be continued, to bring the disease under control.