Topic of the Month: Hematologic Cancers: Leukemia, Lymphoma, and Myeloma
Hematologic cancers, (cancers of the blood, bone marrow, and lymph nodes) include leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. Every year, more than 100,000 cases of blood, bone marrow, and lymph node cancers are diagnosed in the United States, and more than 50,000 people die from these cancers. Among children and teens less than 20 years old, leukemia is the most common cancer and the leading cause of cancer death.
Blood cancers affect the production and function of your blood cells. Most of these cancers start in your bone marrow where blood is produced. Stem cells in your bone marrow mature and develop into three types of blood cells: red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. In most blood cancers, the normal blood cell development process is interrupted by uncontrolled growth of an abnormal type of blood cell. These abnormal blood cells, or cancerous cells, prevent your blood from performing many of its functions, like fighting off infections or preventing serious bleeding.
The Three Main Types of Blood Cancer
LEUKEMIA, a type of cancer found in your blood and bone marrow, is caused by the rapid production of abnormal white blood cells. The high numbers of abnormal white blood cells are not able to fight infection, and they impair the ability of the bone marrow to produce red blood cells and platelets.
LYMPHOMA is a type of blood cancer that affects the lymphatic system, which removes excess fluids from your body and produces immune cells. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that fight infection. Abnormal lymphocytes become lymphoma cells, which multiply and collect in your lymph nodes and other tissues. Over time, these cancerous cells impair your immune system.
MYELOMA is a type of blood cancer that specifically targets your plasma cells. Plasma cells are white blood cells that produce disease- and infection-fighting antibodies in your body. Myeloma cells prevent the normal production of antibodies, leaving your body’s immune system weakened and susceptible to infection.
Understanding your Diagnosis
Doctors use several different lab and imaging tests to help detect (diagnose) a blood cancer (leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma, myelodysplastic syndromes or myeloproliferative disease). You may need to undergo additional tests to confirm your diagnosis.
Once your diagnosis is confirmed, your doctor may need to test you for certain genetic, cellular or molecular characteristics that will help him or her treat you for your exact diagnosis.
Types of Treatment
Cancer treatment's goal is to harm or kill cancer cells. Your treatment options are based on several factors that vary depending on the disease.
After considering the type and stage of your disease, your health status, and many other factors, your doctor will recommend one or more of the following treatments:
- watch and wait
- other drug therapies
- radiation therapy
- immunotherapy, such as immune cell treatment, antibody treatment or vaccine therapy
- bone marrow / blood stem cell transplantation
Understanding Blood Test Results
A complete blood count (CBC) is a common blood test that is used to help diagnose some blood cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma, tell if a cancer has spread to the bone marrow, and help determine how your body is tolerating cancer treatments. If you are being treated with chemotherapy, your doctor will likely monitor your blood cell counts regularly using CBCs.
- American Society of Hematology
- Be the Match: National Marrow Donor Program
- Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Lurie Cancer Center
- Breakthrough in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia from ASH 2011 (video) Dr. Steven Rosen, Director of Northwestern’s Lurie Cancer Center, shares his perspective on the latest news from the American Society of Hematology's 2011 annual meeting in Chicago, focused around major advances in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL).
- Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant Program